Now Hear This: New music from Jonas Brothers, Bon Iver, Pixies, Sampa the Great and MUNA, plus spotlight artist The HU

In her weekly column, our music correspondent goes through the best new releases of the week

Roisin O'Connor
Music Correspondent
Friday 07 June 2019 16:37 BST
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Mongolian metal band The HU
Mongolian metal band The HU

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Louise Thomas

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I’ve been thinking about pop comebacks, and the “return to form” this week. Partly because of the Jonas Brothers, who have just released their first album in a decade, and also because of Katy Perry, whose recent single “Never Really Over” has been on a near-incessant loop on my speakers since last week.

There’s something truly gratifying about witnessing an artist return, whether it’s after an official hiatus or from a period of misfires. Katy Perry’s song falls into the latter category – “Never Really Over” has hooks galore and harks back to her “Teenage Dream” days of uplifting, bright pop music. The Jonas Brothers, meanwhile, took the time away to establish themselves as individuals before reforming and using their respective solo careers to inform Happiness Begins, which is probably the best and biggest pop comeback of 2019. You can read more about that in my review, here.

Elsewhere in music releases this week, there’s a smoky new track from R&B star Mabel, “Mad Love”, and a catchy albeit predictable number from Liam Gallagher (to be fair, he’s never claimed to be anything other than a meat-and-two-veg rock artist). Bon Iver’s latest release (his first in three years), “Hey Ma”, is gorgeous – a captivating portrait of a child’s love for his mother. Pop trio MUNA have a superb single, “Number One Fan”, which has me very excited about their next album.

Madonna’s fifth and final single to land before her new album Madame X is her boldest statement yet, one which addresses the many nuances of the queen of pop herself, but also the more universal themes of greed, persecution and false prophets. You have to check out the stunning video that accompanies it – artist Mykki Blanco offers a powerful performance as Joan of Arc in lavish visuals directed by Emmanuel Adjei.

There’s another astonishing video from rapper Sampa the Great, which was shot in Zambia ahead of her homecoming show that took place there last week. There are definite Little Simz vibes in the guttural bass and funk-driven rhythms of “Final Form”, but also something of Rhymefest’s “Wanted” in Sampa’s delivery – a fierce, swaggering snarl.

Irish singer ROE, born Roisin Donald, has a slickly produced, defiant pop track called “Girls” that makes the most of her crystal-clear vocals. ANOTHER Roisin (Murphy, this time) has dropped “Incapable”, a pulsating, disco-influenced synth number with a killer bass hook. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time in history that three Roisins have been name-checked in the same article (including the writer).

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Pixies are back! I love the grinding guitars of “On Graveyard Hill”, the first single from their forthcoming album Beneath the Eyrie, and Black Francis’s hoarse shouts of mysterious, haunted characters “in the witching hour”. And in country music there’s an exquisite new song, “Let You Go”, from Irish folk band Beoga, featuring the wonderful Anderson East, who lifts his voice from its typically low, husky tone to mingle with those soaring violins.

You know when you find an artist you’re so enraptured and excited by that you want to tell anyone and everyone who’ll listen about them? That’s how I feel right now about The HU, a Mongolian metal band who are pioneering what they call “Hunnu” metal, performed on traditional instruments that they made themselves. They just released a new track, “Shoog Shoog”, which continues their method of incorporating traditional Mongolian music traditions and themes with western-influenced rock and heavy metal.

They were founded in 2016 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, and are made up of lead throat singer and horsehead fiddle player TS Galbadrakh, G Nyamjantsan (aka Jaya) on throat singing, woodwind and jaw harp, and Temuulen (aka Temka) on Mongolian guitar – plus their producer Dashka. At the end of last year they went viral with their first two tracks, and are now preparing to make their UK festival debut at Download next weekend. Presale orders for their debut are also available now.

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I had a quick chat with TS (via a translator) about the band’s formation, the reaction to their music so far and the message they want to send to fans around the world.

Check it out, plus their incredible video for "Wolf Totem", below ("Shoog Shoog" is on our Spotify playlist)

How did the band form and what are the origins of Hunnu rock?

The HU was formed in 2016 when we were all working with Dashka our producer. After writing 3 songs together we decided our sound was Hunnu Rock. The origin of Hunnu Rock started with Dashka. Eight years ago, when creating a song, he got this idea of combining traditional Mongolian music with rock music.

What was your initial reaction after your first two tracks went viral?

We were delighted and so happy. Most of all it gave us a desire to make more songs.

It's been suggested that Westerners might interpret your lyrics differently to how they are intended: while the visuals evoke pride in your heritage and express the importance of preserving culture - the lyrics are critical of modern Mongolian society its propensity for “emptily boasting about the past” - is that on the right track?

We are singing to the modern Mongolian people, "Why are you just taking your ancestors names in vain? When you aren’t honouring your ancestors with the way you are treating the world they helped create?" What we are asking Mongols to do is to rise up and unite to help save our beautiful planet.

Could you tell me a bit about the instruments you use in the band and their significance?

The history of our instruments is so ancient, it goes back thousands of years. We know that back in the day people used to play these instruments. It is involved in our culture deeply, so it was important to include these instruments in our band. It makes such an interested sound when mixed with western rock music. The instruments The HU use are all custom made and designed by us. On one hand we want to keep the original sound an acoustics, but on the other we want them to look visually interesting on a rock stage.

What are your plans for the band, and did they change at all after you attracted worldwide attention?

Our plans haven’t changed, we have always had this plan from the very beginning. From day one we wanted to introduce our unique beautiful old culture and music to the rest of the world. We are still on this plan and we hope it will continue to grow. We never expected this much attention.

I've seen some comments about Western influence on Mongolian music, but what kind of impact do you hope to have on Western music, if any?

We want to bring something new to this big music family. We have had a very good start. We are bringing something different to the table right now and that’s why we think so many people are reacting to our music. Nobody has it and it’s always nice to see something fresh and new. It’s not only our songs but even our techniques and guitar tunings so they create something unique to listen to.

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