On what is a shoo-in for one of the best singles of 2013, John Grant sculpts an elaborate diss track over an electrostatic 4/4 beat, twisting his tongue around scathing couplets. His verbal virility on “Black Belt” produces a series of memorable turns of phrase, each more delicious than its predecessor. During the first verse, for instance, he cuts down the song’s target with, “You are supercilious, pretty and ridiculous / You got really good taste, you know how to cut and paste.”
Not content to leave well enough alone, Grant comes back during the second verse to drop a certain heretofore unsung adjective that would make your SAT prep instructor blush. “You are callipygian, but look at the state you’re in / You got really nice clothes; bet you didn’t pay for those,” he quips. This follows his taunt from earlier in the verse, when he asks, “You really think that you can school me in semantics?” Nope. I, for one, would not step to that.
Of course a keen vocabulary is but one of the many charms “Black Belt” has to offer. There is Grant’s vocal delivery, a melodic near rapping which has been digitally tweaked to better mesh with the track’s robotic groove. Synthesizers croak like frogs–an old New Order trick put to better use here–and zap out low bass tones, lending a little elasticity to the feel. Given how brilliantly executed the whole thing is, it’s even more remarkable considering that tunes like this one aren’t Grant’s bread and butter but rather a glimpse of breadth the spectrum of his upcoming sophomore LP, Pale Green Ghosts.
The record, which will be released via Partisan Records on May 14th, is the much anticipated follow up to Queen of Denmark, a critical darling which snagged MOJO’s Album of the Year among other plaudits back in 2010. Grant was far from a newcomer, though: his stellar LPs as the voice of The Czars speak for themselves. Still, it seems that it wasn’t until he ventured out on his own that Grant realized his full potential, and “Black Belt” is emblematic of that potential continuing to grow in both quality and scope.