WHENEVER Robyn is played (whether that be in my bedroom, car, living room or club), my feet immediately autopilot into dance mode.
With her “don’t fuck with me” attitude, Robyn employs hypnotic synth bass lines, coaxing everyone into the club no matter their location or mood. I never thought I could enjoy dance music this much, but here I am: a long-term, committed fan who has followed her for a good six years.
Robyn somehow facilitates the intimacy of a journal or bedroom. The songs are some of the saddest and most honest songs I’ve ever heard. They feel nostalgic but weirdly present and continually look forward with focus in attempt to move on from someone or something.
You can’t pick what year the songs have been released. They are timeless. She calls the shots and is a one-of-a-kind, true queen of pop music.
One of the coolest fan interactions I saw on Twitter was when Robyn was asked who chooses her release dates (it had been eight years since her last release). She replied in a single tweet “I do.”
She has a sense of control and power but remains relatable over time and has stayed in direct contact with her fans cultivating a community of long-term music listeners and lovers. The fact her fans have stood by her over all this time is a huge testament to that, I think.
Just as Robyn started her own label at 24, and released her self-titled album Robyn I want to release my debut album independently. She has shaped how I view my “ideal music career” in so many ways, and I can’t thank her enough for being so brave and paving the way for so many young female/non-binary artists.
‘I’ll Never Want A BF’ and ‘ANIMAL’ were the first songs of mine I released independently. A lot of people thought I was crazy releasing it by myself, but I feel incredibly proud to go DIY. Everything is tailored and finally a true reflection of who I am.
“A lot of people told me that they thought I was crazy, and that I would lose a lot of money,” Robyn has said. “If I would have followed their advice, none of this would have happened.”
And so Robyn is here, yet again, eight years on with Honey.
At a time where there seems to be such an immense pressure to release everything right now, as quickly as possible and while you’re young, this record gives me hope. Robyn at 40 has done it again.
She has ignored what is “cool” and has done exactly what any artist should do: follow what you like. As a young queer female I want to do just that. Release bangers whenever I want and however I want, just as Robyn does and will continue to do.
“The whole industry knows not to fuck with me,” sings Robyn on ‘U Should Know Better’ – and that’s where this playlist begins.
Collaborating with Snoop Dogg on this song, Robyn sings about speeding her way all over the world, claiming and solidifying herself as a pop icon throughout the verses. She has integrity everywhere and she knows it. I think the main reason this stands is because she has ensured that she has creative control, she knows what she wants to say, and she also has made sure that everyone knows and respects that decision. Nobody else runs the show and nobody else could.
Her debut album Robyn is Here solidifies that sentiment. Robyn’s career is one that I would love to follow. She puts her foot down, doesn’t care about time, age or what is ‘trendy”. She exists within her own means. Almost separating herself from the average artist she sings: “If you knew better, you would do better.”
This is the newest Robyn single. It feels so familiar but has a slight shift in voice to her earlier work from eight years ago. Upon first listen, Robyn feels like she’s shuffled in a more scientific and aware kind of way. She sings about “strands of saliva,” “emeralds on the pavement” and “heart of a flower”, which feels kind of reminiscent of Björk’s work Biophilia but with her classic/own club twist.
It feels as if Robyn has a new awareness of her place in the world and how she interacts with it and others. Still as direct and intimate as ever, she opens the song, “No, you’re not going to get what you need. I have what you want.” She is so sure of herself. She demands us to come get some more of Robyn. It feels like the start of something new.
Her first single after eight years. Yes Robyn, we’ve been “missing u”. For me, Robyn has always been an artist that just has a knack of capturing what it feels like to have lost something or to have someone gone, tragically. She so honestly and transparently navigates the feeling of trying to come to terms with missing someone. ‘Missing U’ is that in a nutshell. The feeling of vacancy and trying to fill that void. In her New York Times interview she talks about how someone becomes more 3D or real when they’re gone. You notice them everywhere, unlike when they are around all the time. I love how she describes that.
She sings about how when time stops, or feels like it does, that is when you truly notice details about someone. “That empty space you left behind/I still think that you’re right beside me/All the love you gave me still defines me” is one of my favourite Robyn lyrics of all time. It stabs me right in the gut and gives me chills.
This has been my most played song atm (casually on repeat x 1000000000). I can’t believe this was released nine years ago! Whooshka. The stabbing string section kind of reminds me of Cyndi Lauper’s rendition of Roy Orbison’s ‘I Drove All Night’ meets Kate Bush’s ‘Cloudbusting’. It’s such an unattractive sound that is so contained/constrained but so drivey, and allows the chorus to be huge and so open. I love how the drums are the same for the entire song, too. Loops for the win. There’s something so mechanical about her music which is just so cool. All this being said, my favourite part is the amazing ’80s-eque speaking part at 2.10. She’s just too cool, all round.
What perfect placement of a song. Everyone can relate to giving it all and it not being enough, everyone can relate to editing and re-editing and editing again a Twitter or FB status post breakup so that your ex sees it. Thank you Girls for bringing this song into the ears of so many, including my own. All you need is good friends and Robyn for a good bedroom boogie.
This is the first song I heard of Robyn’s surprisingly not via Girls. I was doing a video clip at the time in London and wanted to incorporate choreographed dance moves and the film director (Rose Hendry) sent me this link. We discussed finding naturalistic moves that were intrinsically my own/my every day movements exaggerated or dramatised. I saw this and I fell immediately in love. Robyn somehow captures street and melodrama in the most beautiful way.
Released in 2011 this song feels well before its time. I re-listened to this today and it feels like artists such as Janelle Monae (‘PYNK!’, ‘Make Me Feel’) and Kimbra (‘Top Of The World’) feel so inspired by. Interestingly, I think Robyn wrote this when she was in her 30s, considering having children, and she was arguing that humans and robots are somewhat similar on auto-pilot mode and going through the cycles or stages of life. Whenever I listen to Robyn, there’s this anthemic quality to her songs that makes everyone feel included. We’re all the same, I think at the heart of it – that’s what makes her music so important.
This is (my very rare) workout song. I’ve started getting into bushwalking and lifting weights. It’s really empowering. It’s the only time I get to switch off from my musical brain and this song is perfect. It also feels like every part of me “hurts with every heartbeat” when I exercise. I’m so unfit.
This is the last song on Robyn’s new record Honey. My mum and I listened to this on my move from Melbourne to Wollongong this week. It’s the perfect driving song. It feels like it’s where disco meets beach and the perfect end-of-album song. It feels like Robyn has moved into a more band-y, naturalistic and live way, not dissimilar to some of my favourite releases of recent times (Haim, Lorde). The songs are restrained, nodding to old Robyn but never revisiting any trodden or old ground. She’s a tastemaker. This song is my favourite on the record.
Laneway Festival’s Dom O’Connor picks out the best tracks of the month including a smooth collab from Anderson .Paak’s backing band and the return of Chicago MC Mick Jenkins.
Sydney post-punks 100 have hit pay-dirt on their second single ‘Groove’, all restrained tension and a shredding payoff. There’s a kraut-rocky energy to the track as it remains fixed on a central rhythmic figure; one that’s shared in the grit and grime of the squealing guitars. It’s a perfect match of ingrained power-pop melodicism with rough-shod production and a likeable toughness.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Chicago MC Mick Jenkins, and ‘Understood’ has the warm, comforting embrace of a return to it. Guest producer Kaytranada provides Jenkins with a laidback, double-bass heavy beat for him to spit over, and Jenkins uses it to drop both an insouciantly cool verse and a deep-voiced counterpoint of a chorus. A showcase of one of modern music’s most talented producers with a technically gifted, non-showy MC. Made for repeating during the dog days of summer.
‘Heart’ has the swoon and sweep of a ’90s teen movie classic and the sparkling, watery guitars to match. Ali Flintoff (also of Perth punx Boat Show) dials down her usual vocal fury for a lovelorn sig; the loose, shoegazey sway of the instruments matching her nicely as the song reaches its fizzy crescendo. It’s a startlingly confident first single from the recent Barely Dressed signing, and a song that fans of Hatchie/Alvvays will find a lot to love in.
Former Royal Headache singer Shogun finally returns with ‘Pissing Blood’, a dramatic, organ-affected number with Tim ‘Shogun’ Wall in his finest crooner mode. It’s slower, and less immediate than any Royal Headache track, but his pained, emotional delivery is truly one of a kind. “No one could hurt you like I could,” he warbles near the track’s crescendo, the offspring of Bobby Womack and Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s Brendan Huntley. If only Shogun himself liked the song as much. He recently called it “ordinary” in an interview with Noisey.
Who could’ve guessed a collaboration between Anderson .Paak’s band, Daniel Caesar and Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruben Nielson would be unfeasibly smooth? ‘Beauty and Essex’ isn’t particularly left-field, but it’s a perfectly succinct slice of future-funk. Caesar’s perfect falsetto and Nielson’s warped higher register contrast wonderfully over a G-funk bass line. It’s the type of music made for late-night listening, and an enticing first taste of their upcoming debut record.
“I think about dying everyday” is one of the strongest first lines of the year, a jolt to the system that feels singularly unique in modern pop music. ‘Saint Nobody’ only grows from there, building on its bed of celestial synth pads and layering Reyez’s powerful voice over itself several times. It’s the most confident Reyez has sounded on record yet, and it’s immensely satisfying when the song’s drums kick in during the second chorus. The most memorable song she’s done.
Melbourne jazz/disco supremo Harvey Sutherland continues to grow on ‘Amethyst’, his first single in almost a year. As tenor saxophones rise under a frantic, ride-heavy dream beat, Sutherland showcases the producer chops he’s been honing for the last few years, never overloading the arrangement but keeping it busy enough. The tension continues to rise as the groove locks in during the track’s second half, where swelling strings and a busy bass line become the track’s focal point and let the groove ride out into aural nirvana.
Playing Laneway Festival 2019
George Van Den Broek (pka Yellow Days) is 19 years old, but he doesn’t sound that way. His howling, aching voice is the most immediately noticeable aspect of Yellow Days’ music, however that’s not to undersell his startling jazz chops, which permeate the musicianship on display.
Over two albums, George has created a genre in and of itself – a smattering of King Krule’s jazzy scuzz, the internet fandom of Boy Pablo, and the croony soft-rock influences of fellow Laneway ‘19 artist Rex Orange County.
We hand-picked five Yellow Days songs to provide an introduction to this singular, precociously talented songwriter.
For many people this was their first introduction to Yellow Day – and what an intro. Swirling synths give way to George’s pained croon and twinkling organ chords. There’s a Motown lilt to the entire reverie, both in the skipping drums and the way he stretches his voice to its elastic breaking point in the song’s chorus. “A gap in the clouds, the sun comes out,” he intones. It’s atmospheric without losing sight of his gift for concise melodies.
The woozy, slow-moving ‘Your Hand Holding Mine’ is another prime example of George’s preternatural talent for arrangements and songwriting beyond his years. Guitars are pitch-shifted to within an inch of their life, while halcyon synths search for a root note. His voice is the only consistent in the song; an oasis of calm in a sea of wanting and longing that becomes untenable for the song’s narrator. A real treat of a pop tune.
You’ve probably guessed a pretty common lyrical theme for Yellow Days by now: longing, loneliness, and the absence of a partner in life. But on ‘How Can I Love You’, George isn’t pining for a lost love. He’s found one, but he’s struggling to understand the point of it all. Over skittering, jazzy drums, slap bass and ragtime piano, he croons of being “lost again with thoughts of you”. His voice is smoother than it’s ever been, as he desperately tries to find contentment in the one place he can: his dreams. The song’s denouement is indicative of Yellow Days’ growing confidence as a composer and arranger, layering on coo-ing harmonies and Destroyer-esque sax to create the world’s smoothest fade-out into oblivion.
‘The Way Things Change’ has the ominous, encroaching feel of an anxiety attack, crawling along at a walking pace and slowly ramping up the paranoia. The guitars have the same watery sound as the dreamiest Connan Mockasin tune, but George’s deep, resonant voice urges the listener to “keep going”, bringing in a welcome sense of unease to proceedings. While the song never reaches a welcome crescendo, the menacing mood throughout never wanes, establishing Yellow Days as an auteur and master of atmosphere.
‘A Little While’ has a casual strut to it that contrasts with the croaky vocals, which sound like George is shouting at the bottom of a well, desperate to be heard. The guitars shine with single upstrums, while the bassline continues to wander around, the embodiment of the searching inner-monologue that makes up the song’s lyric. There’s a soulful quality to the song’s stark, minimal production that contrasts with the classicism of George’s songwriting. It’s another example of his remarkable skill at fusing disparate genres, sounds and moods to create the Yellow Days sound.
Words by Laneway’s Dom O’Connor
Sat Nam and welcome to The Witching Hour, a podcast exploring the metaphysical side of music. My name is Sophie Miles and it was a real joy to talk music and spirituality for this month’s podcast with someone whose music I have always treasured, Chan Marshall aka Cat Power.
In the same generous and gentle spirit which has always guided her music, Chan shared her thoughts about the spiritual journey that has led to her new album, Wanderer.
We talked about trauma, compassion and empathy, and the sense of responsibility she feels as an artist to speak out on the issues of our times.
Please enjoy, the Wonderment of Cat Power.
(Photo by Julien Bourgeois)