The best (and worst) new singles: Courtney Barnett, Barkaa and an aimless Twenty One Pilots
16.07.2021

The best (and worst) new singles: Courtney Barnett, Barkaa and an aimless Twenty One Pilots

Barkaa - image by Luke Currie-Richardson
Words by August Billy

Courtney Barnett is back with another no nonsense classic.

Our singles column fires up for another fortnight with spots for Courtney Barnett, Barkaa, CHVRCHES and Twenty One Pilots. We’ll let you decide which artists hit the spot and which ones didn’t.

Best

Courtney Barnett – ‘Rae Street’

On the first single from her just-announced third solo LP, Courtney Barnett returns to the intimate observational style of her earlier work. ‘Rae Street’ is a song about life in lockdown, a topic which has generally been a bit of a creative dead-end. But ‘Rae Street’ works largely because Barnett doesn’t dodge the subject’s ordinariness and leaves out any contrived gratitude.

But like all of Barnett’s best work, the detailed descriptions of everyday minutiae bring her to a much bigger acknowledgement. “Time is money and money is no man’s friend,” she sings in the song’s chorus.

Despite all of the instability and inequality revealed over the last 16+ months – not to mention the hollow platitudes about how “we’re all in this together” – we remain similarly enslaved to the capitalist machine and only moderately placated by our creature comforts.

Worst

Twenty One Pilots – ‘Saturday’

‘Saturday’ is the sound Twenty One Pilots going disco, just like Kylie Minogue, Roisin Murphy, Dua Lipa and Jessie Ware have all done in recent times. So, no, the Pilots are not ahead of the curve, but that’s never where you’d expect to find them.

If something’s popping, then the duo of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun will give it a red hot crack (or rather, a corporatised, lime green crack). But you’ve come to the wrong place if you’re looking for original ideas or a trace of individuality. Or even a fun spin on the zeitgeist.

What about competent execution? Yeah, I can give them that. But even the Foo Fighters – hardly paragons of originality themselves – know well enough to crank up the ridiculousness on their disco turn. If you haven’t heard Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, then that record deserves your attention long before ‘Saturday’.

Beast

Barkaa – ‘King Brown’

‘Let’s Get Loud’, written by Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan and performed by the Nuyorican megastar Jennifer Lopez, was a sly feminist anthem. “Be what you wanna be make no excuses,” is one of many lines promoting independence. It’s also a Latin dance song that went Platinum in Australia in the year 2000.

The rapper Barkaa, a Malyangapa and Barkindji woman from western New South Wales, admits she “[doesn’t] even speak Spanish,” but the spirit of ‘Let’s Get Loud’ can be felt throughout the artist’s jayteehazard-produced single, ‘King Brown’.

To be clear, Barkaa doesn’t need to engage in retro-revivalism to grab our attention. The track’s salsa beat is a fun curio, but Barkaa’s audacious, teeth-baring flow is what keeps you listening. Inspired by a dump truck of an ex-boyfriend, ‘King Brown’ is a showcase of confidence for Barkaa. With more tracks like this, it’ll be hard to dispute the artist’s claim that “they keep running back to me cause Barkaa is a beast”.

Love hate

CHVRCHES – ‘Good Girls’

CHVRCHES have long presented a conundrum. Lauren Mayberry is one of contemporary pop music’s most passionate and compelling lead vocalists. She’s an emo singer fronting an indie dance band with a flair for pop hooks and lyrical candour. She brings her various talents and individual ingenuity to bear on ‘Good Girls’, the third single released in anticipation of the Glasgow trio’s fourth LP, Screen Violence.

‘Good Girls’ features a searing lyric about gender inequality, with Mayberry evidently exasperated by the notion that if she simply toes the line, she’ll get everything she needs. So what’s the conundrum? As ‘Good Girls’ rises to an arena-ready chorus, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty’s production can’t decide whether it wants to be pure pop or IDM. We end up with a cluttered yet strangely hollow production that ultimately waters down Mayberry’s singular presence.

Keen on another fun read? Check out the latest instalment of our indie artists column.