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Bars: A pleasant introduction to 2017 with five swell tunes

Kick back with Sampha, DMX, Migos, Half Waif, and Vagabon

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Weekly updates

It’s been two weeks since the beginning of the 2017 and I’m already inundated. With every man and his dog lauding the year ahead like it was the second coming of the almighty, naturally I had high expectations. And no beating around the bush here, I’m yet to be disappointed. This week we have a smorgasbord of surprising, ground-breaking and innovative new tracks for the readers. Sink your teeth in, folks. And remember, as bad as you think 2016 was, look on the bright side and remember RTJ3 is out, DMX is back, and Sampha finally has an album on the way.

If you want to put us on to your favourite new tracks, send your tips to [email protected]

01. DMX - 'Bane Iz Back [ft. Swizz Beats]'

DMX is back… or ‘Bane’ is back. I’m not sure what’s being referred to here but it makes the backbone of the beloved MC’s return to the game. It’s been a tough few years for the New York MC who’s battled several health and legal issues since his last release in 2012’s Undisputed. With nostalgia being the dominant narrative of pop culture, DMX has decided to once more team up with producer Swizz Beatz – who produced the rapper’s past megahits in ‘Ruff Ryder’s Anthem’ and ‘Party Up’ – to deliver a comeback single that’s as muscular as it is reaffirming. Why the influential MC refers to himself here as ‘Bane’ is anyone’s guess. But that’s not what matters. X’s game is as strong as ever here. The same goes for Swizz Beatz’ production, which is sparse but cruisy; flowing on the back of blaring samples and X’s unflinching lyricism. I take back what I said about this being a ‘return’ or ‘comeback’. DMX never lost it to begin with.


02. Half Waif - 'Severed Logic'

“My mood is a pendulum, I don’t think you can handle it” so goes the surprisingly earnest line from Half Waif’s latest track. ‘Severed Logic’ is one half subtle balladry and one half discotheque floor-filler. But being the curious artist she is, it’s no surprise that Brooklynite, Nandi Rose Plunkett would employ varying styles in the space of three-and-a-half-minutes. Then again, this synth pop project rides on the back of Plunkett’s limitless composition and sense of humour. After turning heads with last year’s ‘Turn Me Around’, Half Waif continued its proclivity for dense song structure underwired by catchy lyricism. Without seeming too surface-oriented, these lyrics also revel in observational and self-deprecating humour. When Plunkett sings “Will you listen when I’m talking in my severed logic?/ If you agree, you open yourself up to something tragic” obviously she’s taking shots at her own flawed personality just as much as anyone else’s. This is something sorely missing in contemporary music; write a great tune, chew out others in the process then turn the pitchfork on yourself.


03. Migos - 'T-Shirt'

The rap group is going through a bona fide golden age right now. Think Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers. Both groups of loveable lads, doing lad stuff, having fun and getting fame and exposure in the process. But no other group represents the cultural zeitgeist better than Migos. The North Atlanta trio made a name for themselves back in 2014 with the trap-defining, earworm ‘Fight Night’. Coupled with last year’s ‘Look At My Dab’ – which was arguably responsible for one of the most annoyingly persistent memes of 2016 – Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset have been taking over popular culture one skrrt at a time. ‘T-Shirt’ is the group’s first take from their upcoming record, Culture. If you ever expected the trio to veer even slightly left of the status quo then you’ll be left bitterly disappointed. ‘T-Shirt’ is Migos at their most orthodox. Rolling trap beats hammer as the trio lay bare their affinity for riches and success. The accompanying video also makes a poised statement. Migos could be anywhere in the world – even in the freezing arctic – and still be gluttons for gold chains and diamond watches. Even in the face of fading out – or certain frostbite – Migos continue to reappear and make popular culture check itself. Is it possible to be too thankful?


04. Sampha - '(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano'

I heard you were having a good day, is that right? I also heard you haven’t had a good cry in years, is that also true? Well, I’ve got bad news for you. Actually, British singer-songwriter Sampha has bad news for you. You see, Sampha has a beautiful piano at his mother’s house which he’s been tapping away at since he was a young child. It just so happens that this influential producer and multi-instrumentalist wrote a song about this particular piano. It’s a piano ballad to be exact. This all seems nice, doesn’t it? Well, Sampha may think so. He probably thinks he’s written a nice, comfortable little piano piece to give longstanding fans a hint of some highly anticipated new solo material. But be warned. While it certainly is ‘nice’, it’s nowhere near as ‘comfortable’ a listen as you may think. What was originally intended to be a teaser tune, is actually something much, much more. For those more ‘stoic’ members of Sampha’s fanbase, I urge you to avert your eyes and ears. No? So be it. You can be as tough as you want; as emotionally immoveable as a stone obelisk. But once you listen to ‘(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano’ I promise you, you will breakdown, curl into a foetal position and begin gently sobbing to its otherworldly beauty. I did.


05. Vagabon - 'The Embers'

The last Bars of 2016 was published back on December 16, and it seems my laziness finally caught up with me. An absolute cavalcade of awesome music has been released since that date, and it’s my duty to keep you – the admiring public – updated as such. Enter Laetitia Tamko, aka Vagabon. For a young girl to migrate to the US in her teens, feel hopelessly out of place, then find refuge in New York’s fickle indie rock scene is applaudable. It’s also clear as day that such meek, but noisy music has become a bedrock for Tamko. The Cameroon-via-New York transplant has been raising eyebrows since dropping two very impressive tracks in ‘The Embers’ and ‘Fear & Force’ at the tail-end of 2016. The former is perhaps her most triumphant yet. ‘The Embers’ unapologetically shows her gratitude for soft-loud structure; luring the listener in with soft harmonies then dragging them around with layers of reverb. Despite a somewhat abrasive turn of pace, Tamko’s lyrics are cheerful and impelling. “I feel so small/ my feet can barely touch the floor/ on the bus where everybody is tall” soon turns into “run and tell everybody Lætitia’s a small fish”. Such affinity for the smallness in our own self-image is a winning conclusion. Perhaps we should all take note.