The best (and worst) new singles: Phoebe Bridgers, RVG and more

The best (and worst) new singles: Phoebe Bridgers, RVG and more

Words by Augustus Welby

Plus Mambali and the return of Steve Smyth.

Phoebe Bridgers – ‘Garden Song’

Phoebe Bridgers has never been shy about how much she loves Elliott Smith. The influence shines through in ‘Garden Song’, chiefly in the chorus’ unexpected tail. There’s a couple of chords too many, which gives it a sort of frizzy uncertainty. But ‘Garden Song’ doesn’t sound like Smith so much as Bridgers uses his idiosyncrasies as a platform to assert her voice. Calling it her best song to date will only sound like hyperbole, but it’s eerie, funny and musically enchanting.

Label: Dead Oceans

Mambali – ‘Legend of the Devil Dance’

The groove here is a bit Latin rock, a bit Ricky Martin. The lead guitar shreds like it’s playing in a thrash metal band. The overall mood is like a prog rock band taking a South Pacific vacation. I know this sounds like a disastrous combination on paper, but ‘Legend of the Devil Dance’ is more than the sum of its parts. It’s infectious, spiritually uplifting and delivered straight from the heart.

Label: Skinnyfish Music

RVG – ‘I Used to Love You’

Romy Vager knows how to pen an opening line. Previous single ‘Alexandra’ began, “Come Monday morning you may find me dead.” ‘I Used to Love You’ takes a less macabre, more personal slant: “I used to love you, but now I don’t/And I don’t know why.” It’s an excellent set-up for a melancholic, mid-tempo rock song that shelves bitterness for bleeding heart honesty. Vager enters the upper regions of her vocal range to explain, somewhat tearfully, that, “We’re just not the same anymore”.

Label: Our Golden Friend

Steve Smyth – ‘Stages’

Steve Smyth has been MIA for six years. He moved to Barcelona, ditched the Tom Waits-aping blues rock band and recorded an EP live in one of the city’s cathedrals. Nylon string guitar takes centre stage, supported by a swaying, elegiac horn section. Smyth’s earlier work occasionally suffered from sounding like a surfer dude who’d just discovered Howlin’ Wolf, but there’s no doubting his sincerity here. It’s a moving return that shows Smyth can rock just as hard without the electric guitars and junkyard drumming. 

Label: Independent