The Mic Recommends

New year, same Mic Recommends – back to rounding up the biggest and best tracks of the past week (or in this case two!). Our first instalment sees experimental chaos in the least predictable way possible from Black Country New Road, the current national anthem of TikTok from Olivia Rodrigo, alongside tracks from indie bigwigs Good Hustles, Pale Waves, and The Fratellis.

‘Madlib’ – Dirtknock

As hiphop reels from the shock announcement of the death of rapper and producer MF Doom, his onetime collaborator Madlib has released the latest instalment from his forthcoming album Sound Ancestors. Heavy bass runs through this track, pretty innocuously, but it’s broken up with all the usual sonic quirks that blend in effortlessly without sounding bolted-on. Such a paired-back instrumental makes for easy listening and the disparate vocal samples – most notably, the husky chant of an unnamed female artist – give the track a real sense of space. Because of its indistinguishable lyrics, the listener might have absolutely no idea what it’s supposed to mean (and nor do I) in a profound sense – but does it really have to mean anything? The cut follows two other previously released singles that form part of a meta-hip-hop concept album produced in collaboration with English musician Four Tet. Sound Ancestors pulls together hundreds of pieces of music from decades of inspiration and debuts publicly on 29th January 2021. Joe Hughes

‘drivers license’ – Olivia Rodrigo

Taking the internet by storm since going viral on TikTok and earning sixty-seven million Spotify streams within six days of release, drivers license depicts an hauntingly raw tale of heartbreak. After a bit of internet sleuthing, the track appears to be based on a true story, in which the boy who Rodrigo loves (assumed to be fellow High School Musical: The Musical cast member Joshua Bassett) betrays her for a “blonde” girl (assumed to be Sabrina Carpenter). The song itself is an emotional whirlwind, rich with the purest honesty and real feelings of experiencing heartbreak. The comparisons to Taylor Swift in terms of both sound and lyrical content are to be expected, but they are something that both Rodrigo and Swift are embracing; the Nashville starlet referring to her as “my baby” on Instagram and expressing her pride in the seventeen-year-old’s success. Despite drivers license being Rodrigo’s debut single, prior to which her name was practically unknown, it’s unprecedented viral success is hardly surprising through the combination of celebrity approval and heart-wrenching lyricism, alongside the captivating and intriguing drama surrounding the track. Gemma Cockrell

‘Too Far’ – Good Hustles

As the final conclusion of their trio of singles including Smile and Coffee, Too Far sees the promising Nottingham outfit spread their wings to soar with the winds of change heralded by the pandemic and a shift in their lineup. Beginning by lulling its listeners with something of a false sense of security, Piercewright’s vocals centre stage, the track quickly dives into a triumphant chorus, with propulsive drums and a galloping bassline building to a crescendo aching to be shouted back through the chaos of a live performance. Yet again, their deft blend of alt rock, pop punk and pure heart doesn’t miss the mark. Louise Dugan

‘Easy’ - Pale Waves

The third single released in anticipation of sophomore record Who am I?, set for release on 12th February, Easy is a romantic ode to a relationship that is effortless, and a love that comes naturally. It depicts love’s powerful ability to change your entire perspective on life, causing things to make sense in a newfound and previously unexperienced way. Much like the two previous singles for the album, Changes and She’s My Religion, Easy also channels the energy of early 2000’s alternative pop punk, with warm guitars and slick, clean production. The most notable comparison is with pop-punk princess Avril Lavigne, who serves as a huge musical inspiration for Pale Waves’ lead vocalist Heather Baron-Gracie. “Love can change your whole perspective, not only of yourself but of life too,” Baron-Gracie explains. “It’s the most heartfelt moment throughout the album and it is a genuine, feel-good love song.” Originally a piano ballad, it was adapted into a more upbeat track to successfully capture the uplifting and inspiring spirit of love. Gemma Cockrell

‘Pukebox’ – Psychedelic Porn Crumpets

Despite their name, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets are a band to be taken seriously' delivering an expert blend of delirious psych rock. With plenty of teaser tracks building excitement as the release of their latest efforts SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound fast approaches, the Aussies herald PukeBox as the centre focus of the album, a tale of two characters with lives who mirror one another’s, unknown to the other. Admitting that the latest track didn’t exactly slot neatly into their previous albums, amongst the fuzzed out riffs and signature storytelling, undercurrents of hard rock swirl through the track more strongly than their usual whirlwind of sound, hinting at perhaps a development of style on the horizon. Louise Dugan

‘IRL’ – Fickle Friends

A track from their latest EP Weird Years (Season 1) released on January 15th, IRL strikes comparison between the nature of communication via the internet with communication in real life, abbreviated as IRL in the song’s title, cleverly using a text abbreviation to depict the currently online-only nature of the relationship. It expresses the intense desire and craving to speak to someone face-to-face and in-person rather than over text message, making for perfect listening during the UK’s third Covid-19 national lockdown, with everyone desperate for IRL interaction, rather than the impersonal nature of text messages and a face on a screen of a Zoom call. Simultaneously, however, the track worries about whether the relationship can last when it is transferred from the online world into the real world, and is no longer only taking place on a screen. Sonically, the track embodies Fickle Friend’s renowned sound based on their previous releases. The track is an upbeat and catchy sunshine indie-pop track, with a fast, punchy pace which perfectly conveys the exciting yet mysterious nature of online romantic interactions. Gemma Cockrell

‘Action’ – The Fratellis

A far cry from the band’s brash, breakout anthem Chelsea Dagger, Action Replay reflects a more delicate sound in the vein of slower cuts from their most recent album, In Your Own Sweet Time, rather their acoustic offerings. Nuanced lyricism – “one plus one makes three, I guess that's true to some degree/ but only if you squint the right way” – also bring a deeper sense of introspection than the usual landscape of self-indulgence. Dusted with wispy synths, the track paints a slowed down and laid-back picture, driven by gentle piano, in anticipation of their upcoming LP Half Drunk Under A Full Moon. Louise Dugan

‘Track X’ – Black Country, New Road

Track X is a remarkable achievement. Black Country, New Road are a band usually known for the most experimental of guitar music, furiously smashing as many conventions as possible in under 10 minutes. So, for them to release a ballad in the run-up to their debut album is... unusual. Of course, being Black Country, New Road, this isn’t a ballad in the usual sense of the word. Over a gently unspooling guitar line, Isaac Wood talks of professing love “in front of Black Midi.” Not quite the typical proposal – but somehow, it completely works. It turns out the band have as much power over quiet tracks as they do loud; the anticipation for their debut album is reaching fever pitch. Louis Griffin

Edited by: Louise Dugan

Featured image courtesy of Black Country, New Road via Facebook. Article image courtesy of Olivia Rodrigo via Facebook. Article image courtesy of Pale Waves via Facebook.