Seven Plays VII

For Seven Plays, each week one of our contributors will keep a personal music diary for seven days, then hand the feature over to another Truant at the end of the week. The idea is to keep sharing great music with our readers, but with a more individual touch than our more objective posts and reviews. Our latest instalment comes courtesy of Tayyab Amin, dipping into RnB jams, hip-hop party-starters, and rampaging club aftershocks.

Thursday: Lauryn Hill – Just Like Water (Live) (Columbia)

Lauryn Hill sings about accepting Christianity with an intimate, physically and emotionally enchanting passion. Everything about her performance, from the circling self-reflective melodies to the confessional ecstasy of her voice, seems to channel her newfound relationship with faith. It’s more than falling in love – it’s being accepted for all that you are with open arms. It’s something that I tried to hold onto after my visit to Pakistan, a place I had kept my distance from for eleven years as I grew from childhood into becoming a young adult. Having always lived in the UK, I was anxious about returning as this new, foreign person. Yet the more I came to know myself, the more I felt that this land was doing all that it could to welcome me. It’s a strange sensation, leaving home to experience a homecoming somewhere else, and I don’t ever want to forget the warmth with which I was embraced and enveloped in.

When Lauryn Hill sings “Water”, she speaks in the present but it translates as an impossibly vivid memory. Over the course of her first verse, she rediscovers her experiences and takes herself back to that place where she was so connected to, enthralled in, and protected by her belief. The unwavering openness with which she does that is part of what makes it so powerful, every time this track loops over on repeat. It’s a power that takes my hand, looks me in the eye and inspires me to hold onto the things I shouldn’t ever forget.

Friday: Rostam – Wood (XL Recordings)

It’s no secret that Rostam Batmanglij has been integral to Vampire Weekend’s idiosyncratic arrangements, something that was naturally the first thing on my mind when news he was diverging from the group appeared. The extent of his involvement is made even more evident by his solo work. Written in 2011, “Wood” retains many familiar qualities, ranging from the charming vocal line to the faltering percussive step and yes, the general twee-ness. Rostam sings about slowly waking up in curtain-piercing morning sunlight. Beautifully, his voice carries the lazy hesitance and low hum of someone just waking up. In its few minutes, there’s plenty going on in the song: Persian classical string melodies, a mimicked sitar solo, crescending violins, bass guitar wandering over tabla, backmasked instrumental bridges and the most merrily irresistible folk-ish outro chant. Yet it never feels like forced fusion, all the elements are weaved together in perfectly fluid harmony. It translates as a message to enjoy moments while they last, never letting them pass too fast. Adorably, Rostam’s mum thinks it’s the best thing he’s done.

Saturday: Sicko Mobb – Expensive Taste ft. Jeremih (self-released)

There are a few really great tracks on Super Saiyan Vol. 3 but it’s hard to not celebrate a collaboration with Jeremih, my most-listened to artist these past six months. Sicko Mobb and Jeremih don’t exactly deal in the same trade and the dazzling hyper-jubilance of bop isn’t necessarily a strain of rap that begs for an RnB hook. But both parties specialise in melody, resulting in the glistening sugarcube of a track that is “Expensive Taste”. Their wispy flows go together like silk and gold, whilst CryptoniteBeatz’ colourful instrumental teeters on the edge of full-on fanfare. When you’re putting the finishing touches on your outfit, this is the joint to throw on.

Sunday: Ty Dolla $ign – Horses In The Stable (Taylor Gang/Pu$haz Ink/Atlantic)

Since its release last fall, I cannot recall a single day when I haven’t sung “Horses In The Stable” to myself. I mean, it perfectly fits the time it takes for me to get from my local train station to my front door. My love of it surely stems in some part from from the many, many times I listened to Ginuwine’s “In Those Jeans” growing up. Guitar-led steamy RnB jams are just really important in the grand scheme of things, and Ty Dolla’s “Horses In The Stable” is the pick of the bunch in current times. The title metaphor is totally crass, and the song is basically an elaboration of his various area code dalliances mentioned in “Blasé” (“I think I’m Nate Dogg”). The song features the phrase, “Pussy like quicksand,” followed by the ad-lib, “Suck me in.” One can only marvel at how Ty Dolla can all but belt out a ballad about this stuff, where the most romantic he gets is, “If you give me something good I’ll come back.” He’s straight up about his bad behaviour, singing, “They know the way that I’m living ain’t right.” Well, as long as everyone’s on the same page about all this. Almost in spite of itself, it compels you to belt it out too.

Monday: Toni Braxton – You’re Makin’ Me High/He Wasn’t Man Enough (LaFace)

These have been my go-to tracks this week – songs to get ready for work to, songs to get home and wind down to, songs to just crash out at 10pm with the lamp still on to. The songs deserve more justice than that but such is adulthood, apparently. One of the things I really liked about the Ty Dolla $ign album was how he teamed up with the new school (Trey Songz, Sevyn Streeter) whilst paying homage to RnB saints (Brandy, Jagged Edge). One person in the latter group is Babyface, co-founder of LaFace and a huge proponent behind new jack swing. Toni Braxton worked with Babyface a lot, and he was one of the producers for “You’re Makin’ Me High”, an undisputable classic. It’s a sleek and restrained hot-under-the-collar waltz that coaxes you out of your shell. Braxton’s intoxicating and I’m a sucker for how far back the strings sit in the mix. Her vocals are like an unfaltering gaze, and when combined with the crunch of the drums and the singe of those synths you’re sipping on the most potent of love potions.

Conversely, Braxton comes out swinging on “He Wasn’t Man Enough”. Everything from the ad-libs to the opening lines is pure power: “Darkchild. Toni Braxton. Listen girl, who do you think I am?” The vindication that comes with Braxton setting the record straight is thoroughly infectious – I end up bickering with some imaginary adversary, telling them what’s what as I sing along. On production is Darkchild, the OG who could effortly reach that place which so many RnB edit crews aspire towards. His basslines move you without you even realising, his instrumentation is impossibly sexy, and when he chops the track towards the end it’s an applause-worthy level of audaciousness. The songwriting is fantastic too – the satisfaction packed within, “I think he’s just the man for you,” is so real.

Tuesday: Gage – Mercury (Crazylegs)

There are records that leave you with your jaw wide open, and there are records that slap it right off the front of your head. Mercury falls in the latter camp. From “Telo” to “Bad Bitch” and his dJJ remix, Gage has been a high impact producer. His tracks can be a racket, a ruckus, a rumble. Mercury is the most royal of rumbles, as Gage siphons his physical, pneumatic inspirations into twenty minutes of terse shadowboxing. Walking through these streets with the visceral “Talon’s Reach” transforming into the punishing yet invigorating “Gruellin” is like playing survival mode. Then there’s “Hyphema” which oh so kindly shoves your jaw back onto your face, locked in a silly grin. It’s an EP that pulls no punches and is reduced of any fat. It’s raw and more than anything else, it makes me want to move.

Wednesday: Hildur Guðnadóttir – Without Sinking (Touch)

Hildur Guðnadóttir’s name crops up all over the place, though it was a long while before I finally sat down with her music. I was left kicking myself afterwards, ‘cause her work is exceptional. Released in 2009, Without Sinking features cello compositions that are as moving and entrancing as they are exhausting; They take you from where you are to another place, but you’re gonna feel the journey there. “Erupting Light” is the most standout movement, leading into the album’s consistently brilliant middle third. Time stands still for “Circular”, whereas “Opaque” is pure knuckle-whitening tension. It’s an album of darkly ornate passages, rich textures and intimidating beauty, one that truly lingers in your chest long after it’s over.

Read our previous instalments of Seven Plays here and make sure to catch the next edition coming from Truants’ own snazzy-shirt specialist Antoin Lindsay.