Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Singles Bar - 17/10/11

Now you can go and choose any track you like from iTunes or the digital music service of your choice, you could say we’ve re-entered the age of the single. Of course, albums will always be special, soundtrack our lives and provide a fascinating narrative arc in the way a single never can, but there’s something about a perfect three minute pop song that simply can’t be bested.
So, this week, why not forego albums for a bit, and maybe see what the singles market has to offer. Plus, if you’re in the UK, it appears that Steps are top of the albums chart, so that’s another good reason to steer clear of the long-player format for a little while.
The Joy Formidable – Cradle
The Joy Formidable seem to be one of those bands that a lot of your friends like, but you never really seem to get round to investigating properly (well, they do to me anyway). Cradle crackles with energy, and lead singer Ritzy Bryan has an arresting vocal style which makes this track difficult to ignore. However, it masks its lack of invention behind walls of guitars and provides a fairly forgettable experience. Cradle is quite joyful, and pretty formidable too, but nothing to write home about. Shame, my parents love my letters. 5/10
Nero – Crush On You
On-air, on-sale is a great idea and could go some way to reducing piracy. The plan is that as soon as tracks are available on the radio, they’re also available to purchase. However, not all acts and labels have signed up, and Nero must be amongst that number, because it feels like Crush On You has been on the airwaves for ages now. In his review for No Ripcord, Craig Stevens wrote that Crush On You’s parent album,Welcome Reality, struggles to find its identity between pop and underground dubstep. Here, it sounds like they’re having that problem all in the space of one track. The repeated vocals don’t sound too dissimilar to something by European trance-muppets Scooter, but there’s some real heavy bass, squeals and other indefinable sound effects to sate the appetite of your more discerning dance-head. Overall, a bit of a mess, but a rather enjoyable one at that. If only it had been available last month, we’d all be much happier. 7/10
Fanfarlo – Deconstruction
In an utterly shameless bid to win the coveted single of the week award, Fanfarlo have written something very much up my street. Deconstruction is wonderful, bouncy indie pop with boy/girl vocals that stays just the right side of twee. There’s also a bit of substance about the track, with squalls and echoes that are strangely reminiscent of Sigur Rós. Just when you think Deconstruction needs a bit of life injecting into it, the cavalry arrives. Think the energetic post-punk of The Futureheads mixed with a dash of electro and a smattering of Los Campesinos! A hearty congratulations to all involved in this track. I’m in a rather good mood now. 9/10
Niki & The Dove – The Drummer
Now that The Singles Bar has been going for a few weeks, trends are starting to emerge. One such pattern is the weekly appearance of an imaginative, idiosyncratic pop artist attempting to break new ground in an electronic/chart crossover (that, sadly, always seems to go precisely nowhere in the charts). Last week it was Icona Pop and today it’s the turn of Niki & The Dove, with the off-kilter, skittering The Drummer. Her oddly halting vocal tics bring Stina Nordenstam to mind, but imagine a Stina Nordenstam fronting insane,ravey, poppers o’ clock dance tracks. Sound odd? It is, but the world quite clearly needs more things like this. Yes, MORE PLEASE. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK
Metronomy – Everything Goes My Way
Metronomy appeared to sneak onto the Mercury Prize shortlist without anyone really noticing and after not winning, they look to have returned to relative anonymity. After having already released two cracking singles this year (The Look and The Bay), the Totnes foursome return with an altogether different beast. Everything Goes My Way is a chilled-out slice of wistful pop, which uses Latin rhythms and recalls Beck’s Deadweight. It’s understated, sure, but it’s lovely stuff that seeps under your pores and sets you at ease. Album The English Riviera may not be a world beater, but there’s a strong case to be made for Metronomy being the singles band of 2011. 8/10
Nicki Minaj – Fly (feat. Rihanna)
It would seem that, between them, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna are on a mission to dominate the entire charts. Everything Rihanna touches sells like hot cakes and this is the eighth (yes, eighth) single to be taken fromMinaj’s Pink Friday LP. It would be nice to start hearing some new material from Nicki Minaj, especially as the release of Fly means she’s now released every half-decent song from her album (and some less than half-decent ones too). Fly is a mid-tempo track which suits Rihanna’s style more than Minaj, who seems to struggle to rein herself in during the verses. The emergence of Nicki Minaj in the last eighteen months or so has been nothing short of remarkable, but perhaps we’d all be more impressed if she didn’t spread herself so thinly. 5/10
Bombay Bicycle Club – Lights Out Words Gone
You know how some tracks just instantly make you bob your head so that you look like a loon to anyone who can see you? Lights Out Words Gone is such a track, with gorgeous backing harmonies and a smooth, laid-back groove. If this all sounds a bit drive-time AOR, then you’d be mistaken, as Lights Out Words Gone is, like Everything Goes My Way above, liable to bury itself in your brain and spend the next 24 hours playing cards with your subconscious. It’s a real exercise in restraint and a perfect example of letting a track breathe. There’s an argument to say it’s possibly too laid-back for its own good, but it’s a perfect showcase of what a good band Bombay Bicycle Club have become. 8/10
Kelly Clarkson – Mr Know It All
It was all going uncharacteristically well. There had been seven tracks and none of them had scored less than 5/10. That was until Kelly Clarkson showed up with her comeback single; the over-sung, uninspired Mr Know It All. Over a tired, formulaic backing track, Kelly Clarkson provides searing insights such as, “Mr Bring-me-down, you like to bring me down” – great. The track is really just a vehicle for her voice, which isn’t particularly powerful or distinctive enough to carry it single-handedly. The track’s strangely pitched too – it’s too lacking in oomph for a pop banger, but devoid of the soaring choruses or emotional climax you’d expect from a ballad. Really, it’s just a bit forgettable. 3/10
Toddla T – Streets So Warm
I often find myself reading articles about Toddla T which make his music sound fantastic, then find the reality to be sadly lacking. Streets So Warm is no exception – in theory a collision of auto-tune, dancehall and politically-charged polemic sounds thrilling, but in practice it all falls a bit flat. The handclaps and buoyant synth are good touches, but Streets So Warm needs a shot of caffeine – or something stronger – to give it a kick up the backside and pique the interest of the listener. I’m sure I’ll read something great about Toddla T soon enough to make me give him another chance though. 4/10
The Japanese Popstars – Take Forever (featuring Robert Smith)
More head-nodding? Maybe I’m becoming one of those irritating toys you see in the back windows of cars. Anyway, there’s a menacing, ominous feel to Take Forever, which remains until the vocal completely spoils any mood that’s been created. Robert Smith’s voice isn’t always easy to love, but here he seems at his most whiny and petulant. It’s not until around two-thirds of the way through that the track builds sufficiently to erase the annoyance. Take Forever is an above-average, engrossing dance track that would probably have worked far better as an instrumental. 6/10
Baxter Dury – Trellic
He may not make music like his old man, but those unmistakeable Estuary vowels mean that when you hear Baxter, you hear Ian. Trellic is complimented by an extremely simple arrangement and a honeyed female vocal, allowing Dury’s insouciant singing style to come to the fore. Its strength is also its weakness, as all this simplicity means Trellic doesn’t really jump out of the speakers and is over almost as soon as it begins. There’s nothing much to say except for that it’s pleasant enough. 6/10
Alex Clare – Up All Night
Well, here’s a funny thing. Up All Night sounds like a mix of folk, dancehall, rock and genre-bending dance. The vocals are incredibly similar to Josh Kumra’s in Don’t Go by Wretch 32, which is slightly off-putting, but the clash of all these styles, along with breakbeats and sirens, is thrilling stuff. In fact, it provides the kind of excitement that you read about in Toddla T articles. It tries to fit a few too many ideas into under three minutes, but is still to be commended, even if it would benefit from a little refining. 6/10
Lana Del Rey – Video Games
You know there’s that stereotype of gaming nerds who have no idea how to deal with pretty girls? Well, it’s been pretty funny to watch the massed ranks of music journalists get themselves in a tizzy over Lana Del Rey and awkwardly put a cushion over their collective crotch at the mere mention of her name. After such hyperbole, anything less than an era-defining track would be a disappointment and Video Games certainly isn’t going to change the world. It is, however, an extremely competent and promising debut, if a little grandiose and over-done. Her voice sounds like she doesn’t quite open her mouth wide enough, but Video Games does well to be an emotional and powerful ballad without being too mawkish for the most part. The harp and marching drums are a bit much, but there’s a lot to like here. If only the fuss would die down so she could be primarily judged on the quality of her records. I can dream, can’t I? 7/10
Asa – Why Can’t We
There have been a number of relaxed tracks with more than a hint of summer about them this week, which seems odd as it’s the middle of October and damn freezing outside. Why Can’t We has a likeable reggae backing, liberal splashings of brass, euphoric backing vocals and a large dose of cowbell. There’s literally nothing not to like about it and although it’s hardly going to be your favourite song of 2011, there are far worse ways to spend three minutes. If you can listen to this and not feel happier afterwards, then I can only conclude that you, my friend, are dead inside. Sorry. 7/10

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