Thursday, 20 December 2012

Top 10 Tracks of 2012

My blog has been neglected of late but no matter, for here are the best ten songs of the year, officially, as decided by me.

10. Haim - Forever

9. Little Mix - Wings

8. Azealia Banks - Liquorice (NSFW)

7. Carly Rae Jepsen - Call Me Maybe

6. The Internet - Cocaine (feat. Left Brain) (NSFW)

5. Solange - Losing You

4. Jessie Ware - 110% (now retitled "If You're Never Gonna Move")

3. Tindersticks - Chocolate

2. AlunaGeorge - Your Drums, Your Love

1. Friends - Friend Crush (Leo Zero remix)

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Singles Bar: 06/08/12

As if the feats of the Olympians weren’t making you feel inadequate enough already, a cursory browse through Wikipedia revealed that your humble author was born on the exact same day as one Usain St. Leo Bolt. Not only that, he lives in Kingston and I live in (well, quite near) Kingston (upon Thames) too! But of course, there is one crucial difference – Usain Bolt can’t write singles reviews for toffee. Onwards!

Slow Club – Beginners

And so we start with the sublime Slow Club and their new single, Beginners. While a decent enough track in isolation, the most notable thing about this song is the video, which stars big Slow Club fan and boy-wizard, Daniel Radcliffe. Anyone who thinks Slow Club are still a cutesy twee duo would be well advised to listen to Beginners with its bassy tom-toms and urgent vocals. OK, the guitar riff seems to be echoed by a recorder but it’s a well-crafted, mature song where Rebecca’s yearning vocals contrast against Charles’ lower tones. As far as tracks from parent album Paradise go, Beginners doesn’t exactly scream ‘single’, and it’s perhaps a bizarre choice to glean more sales from an album that’s now almost a year old. Still, it’s Slow Club, and as we all know, Slow Club are brilliant. 8/10

P!nk – Blow Me (One Last Kiss)

For over a dozen years now, P!nk has infected our lives with her comfortable, pre-packaged brand of faux-rebellion for solipsistic, first-world-problem teens. Blow Me (One Last Kiss) (see what she did with that title there, the rogue) picks up exactly where her career left off, with a load of moaning, lyrics about how everything is someone else’s fault and about as much pathos and insight as a tea cosy. There are some decent melodies in here, but they’re overshadowed by P!nk’s bellowing and horribly compressed production. It’s yet another song for P!nk to swear (gasp!) and whinge (yikes!) her way through and if you think this song “speaks” to you or “gets” your situation on any level, I suggest you take a long hard look at yourself. 3/10

Alex Clare – Humming Bird

After the success of his it’s-everywhere-but-still-no-one-really-knows-who-he-is-or-where-the-song-came-from smash, Too Close, Humming Bird has flown in (b’dum-tish, etc.) slightly under the radar. The cantering drum beat that gives the track its rhythm is scarily reminiscent of Dog Days Are Over by Florence + The Machine and while the vocals really take off (and again) in the chorus, the music doesn’t really mirror that ascent (wahey!). Humming Bird was always going to struggle to match the intensity of Too Close, but it’s still a disappointment, and the disparity between production and voice really doesn’t do Alex Clare any favours. 4/10

Spiritualized – Little Girl

Spiritualized are now in that odd position of their albums being a big event for around a week after their release, before disappearing off the radar altogether. It’s almost as if everyone sticks around to see if they’ll make another Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space and when it becomes clear they’re not going to, their attention goes elsewhere and, like someone running for the bus, missing it and pretending they never wanted it anyway, they tell themselves they knew it wouldn’t live up to expectations. They could be missing out though, because Little Girl has the kind of epic, uplifting feel that Rolling Stones tracks used to have when they were good. Jason Pierce’s voice sounds particularly flat, unfortunately, and Little Girl, rather than being something fantastic, sounds like the kind of half-decent track Richard Ashcroft or Ian Brown used to somehow produce about once a decade. So there you go. Little Girl: a bit like A Song For The Lovers or F.E.A.R.. 7/10

Redlight – Lost In Your Love

After announcing himself to the world earlier this year with the addictive Get Out My Head, Redlight has returned with a song that sounds like it’s been taken straight off the Energy Rush Safe Six compilation cassette I was bought for my birthday in 1993. There’s a resurgence of early 90s rave and house for sure, but this is as blatant a recreation as I think I’ve seen. Breakbeat drums and piano loops play behind repeated vocal phrases; the whole thing is likely to send segments of the population of a certain age off to a warehouse in the country for a night of illegal fun. Yes, it’s well put together, but when a track from 2012 permanently seems about five seconds away from morphing into U Sure Do by Strike, it’s not exactly going to inspire rhapsodising. 4/10

Dry The River – No Rest

Come on, popular music beat combos, sort it out. Are there really so few good band names left in the world that people are happy to saddle themselves with this kind of thing? Dry The River is the kind of name that conjures up anything but excitement and in addition, I always think they’re called Dry The Rain, which is a Beta Band song. On the evidence of No Rest, Dry The River are better than their name suggests (though it would be near impossible not to be) with the smooth croon of frontman Peter Liddle similar to Beirut’s Zach Condon. However, halfway through, No Rest takes an about-turn and really dials everything up to eleven with soaring strings, huge guitars and impassioned vocals leading to a huge climax. It’s the kind of thing a few groups tried to make a career out of in the middle of the last decade (Hope Of The States, Haven, Longview) and Dry The River make a decent fist of it too, turning No Rest into a genuinely affecting song. 7/10

Jay Sean feat. Tyga – Sex 101

Just the title of this song is enough to make you want to take a vow of celibacy, move to a Tibetan monastery and spend sixteen hours a day working a loom. If you’ve heard any pop music radio in the past five years, I’m sure you can imagine exactly what this song sounds like. It could be a Chris Brown track, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Pitbull turn up halfway through and it’s about as sexy as varnishing a windowsill. Why do myriad R&B artists fail to understand that sexiness is more about what’s implied than what’s revealed? There’s absolutely no mystery or intrigue in Sex 101 (like you wouldn’t have guessed from the title) and when Jay Sean purrs, “I really wanna test your body”, it sounds like a terrifying threat from a psychopath. If I were a woman and somebody tried to “impress” me with this song, I would laugh in their face and then call the police. 0/10

Niki & The Dove – Somebody

Look, can we just take it as read that all Niki & The Dove songs are amazing? Harking back to an age when the most successful groups wrote their own material and tried to make music as crowd-pleasing as possible, Niki & The Dove pluck solid gold choruses from the ether as if it were the simplest thing in the world. Synth riffs collide, cymbals crash, vocals are brash and the overriding sensation is one of pure joy. It’s said it’s harder to write a happy song than a sad song, and more difficult to write a simple song than one that’s complicated, and if that’s true then Niki & The Dove deserve some kind of medal. A huge sounding record that’s fun, that you can dance to, that you can sing along in the mirror to and that you can spend three minutes getting entirely lost in. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Dizzee Rascal feat. Pepper – Scream

Now while I like the Olympics as much as the next person (actually, probably more – I’ve gone entirely Olympics mad), the seemingly never-ending glut of Olympics-related singles is somewhat wearing. While clearly a talented and important artist, it can’t be overlooked that Dizzee’s been involved in an awful lot of collaborations and commercial tie-in tracks lately – a key sign of someone losing their inspiration and thinking more about the money than their music. Admittedly, the Olympics are on Dizzee’s doorstep (slight tangent: Dizzee’s Doorstep sounds like a great name for a kids’ TV show) but he’s about as far from Boy In Da Corner now as it’s possible to be; the boy who’s centre stage, if you will. Scream is full of well-worn hip-hop braggadocio, harp in abundance and a chorus from Dizzee’s latest protégée. I sincerely hope he’s not going the same way as so many rappers before him and putting business first, but the signs aren’t good. 4/10

Madonna – Turn Up The Radio

Seeing as it went soaring into the bargain bin faster than a British cyclist round the velodrome, you’d be forgiven for having completely forgotten Madonna had an album out recently. She’s still trying to flog the dead horse that is MDNA though, and Turn Up The Radio is the latest attempt. Whereas Give Me All Your Luvin’ had a bit of life to it (we gave it Single Of The Week – no, really!), Turn Up The Radio is the sound of someone who isn’t even trying. It seems inconceivable that Madonna’s career could be coming to an end (despite what Elton John says) and she’s probably planning her next move as we speak, but the failure of MDNA must have been a wake-up call. Turn Up The Radio is dance-by-numbers that Scissor Sisters would reject for being too obvious; you’d feel cheated if this turned up as a free bonus track. 3/10

Channel ORANGE

Frank Ocean - Channel ORANGE
released 18 July on Mercury

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but Frank Ocean might have a thing or two to say about that. Since he published a certain Tumblr post (which was initially planned to be included within Channel ORANGE itself), he’s become one of the most talked-about artists on the planet. There have been countless features, articles and op-ed pieces about him, though depressingly few have focused primarily on his music. Sure, he’s had some healthy record sales in the aftermath but you can’t help but think that nobody would want the scrutiny of the media turned on them in such a fashion.

Ocean’s Tumblr post and the ensuing hubbub revealed several things – notably that he writes absolutely beautifully – but it really said more about us than it did him. It told us that, despite it being 2012 (2012?!), who an artist fancies is still more newsworthy than the art they create. It told us that many people fall into two groups: homophobes and people who are so desperate to show they’re not homophobic that they loudly congratulate themselves for being comfortable with the sexual preferences of others –  you know, standard human behaviour that you’d hope would be the norm and needn’t be accompanied by a fanfare of self-recognition. Finally, it taught us that, by and large, people have a poor understanding of the spectrum of human sexuality. Ocean had spoken about sleeping with women previously; therefore his falling in love with a man doesn’t make him gay any more than eating a tofu burger makes you a vegetarian.

Of course, all this scandalised whispering and hypothesising has overshadowed the release of this record and, in the rush to make a point or three, this review has fallen into the same trap as so many before it. Channel ORANGE has been one of the most anticipated albums of the year and rightly so; on his 2011 mixtape, Nostalgia ULTRA, Ocean demonstrated that he’s an exciting addition to the world of popular music, with a wealth of ideas and a willingness to experiment which far outstrips the majority of his R&B peers. Such was  the quality of Nostalgia ULTRA, it was difficult to keep three things in mind: that it was only a mixtape, that he is affiliated with the controversial and violent hip-hop collective, Odd Future, and that with the style of music he makes, Ocean’s contemporaries are actually acts like Usher and Ne-Yo.

What’s most striking about Channel ORANGE is how unlike most modern-day R&B singers Frank Ocean is. His style, his vocals, his grammar and his unwillingness to self-mythologise are extraordinarily refreshing. In fact, Frank Ocean may be the only R&B artist who you’d like to hear talk about themselves more. This doesn’t mean he’s entirely a closed book though; indeed, first track proper Thinkin Bout You displays a naked vulnerability that’s as disarming as it is eloquent.

Throughout Channel ORANGE, Ocean shows what a good ear he has, as he pilfers from other musical genres and adapts them to fit his own style. Soul, funk, hip-hop, pop and blues are all subsumed into Ocean’s world and become part of his polished aesthetic. The results aren’t always as spectacular as you might expect – with a few notable exceptions, Channel ORANGE is solid rather than spellbinding – but his magpie instincts look set to ensure his longevity. It’s an incredibly strong album lyrically though; we may not know how autobiographical it all is, but there’s a strong sense of a lack of fulfilment, especially when accompanied by copious amounts of wealth. Sweet Life (co-written with Pharrell Williams) builds into a huge chorus about someone who’s “had a housekeeper and a landscaper since [they] were born” before the haunting and melodious backing vocals frame the throwaway yet revealing line: “my TV ain’t HD – that’s too real”. Fellow Odd Future associate Earl Sweatshirt joins the pity party on the ponderous Super Rich Kids“point my clicker at the tube / I prefer expensive news” – an almost satiric tune that threatens to end in tragedy (“We end our day up on the roof / I say I’ll jump – I never do”). It’s so incongruous against the crass commercialism and consuming greed that pervades so much of popular culture that it’s astonishing.

Of course, we then have the mind-melting epic that is Pyramids; the track Ocean previewed in advance of this album (yet another unlikely move). For the uninitiated, Pyramids is a near ten-minute epic that starts life as a funk-induced behemoth captained by the catchiest riff you’re likely to hear all year before imploding and finishing up as a smooth jam. However, there’s far more to it than that. It’s a morality tale; an intergalactic story of glamour and Ancient Egyptian excess that eventually morphs into a detached rumination on the daily grind of being a stripper. The pyramids are no longer a symbol of prosperity, but the local strip bar. Ocean repeats the phrase, “she’s working at The Pyramids tonight”, with such frequency, that stripping sounds like the most humdrum and least appealing profession in the world (yet another shot in the eye for more “traditional” R&B tropes).

It’s an exhausting, exhilarating tour de force that’s difficult to surpass and the album undoubtedly loses some steam after the zenith of Pyramids. Actually, it’s fair to say that the last third or so of Channel ORANGE is a little on the dull side. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the songs on offer, but they have little to hook you in or get the pulse racing. The appearance of André 3000 on Pink Matter brings a welcome extra voice into play, but the business end of Channel ORANGE is overlong and self-indulgent. By the time the album peters out with the lacklustre End, your attention will have likely wandered elsewhere.

Despite its faults, Channel ORANGE still marks Frank Ocean out as an intriguing and exciting artist. It’s a contradiction in many ways: a far-from-perfect album that suggests a long and prosperous career; an artist without an exceptional voice who looks like he will instead become an exceptional voice. We’re going to be hearing a lot more about Frank Ocean in years to come – let’s hope we’re hearing about his music and let’s hope it’s better than this.

The Singles Bar: 30/07/12

At Singles Bar HQ, fewer than forty miles from the Olympic Park, we’ve been celebrating the finest athletes in the world pushing their bodies to the limit of human endeavour in the only way we know how – sitting in front of the television all weekend and roaring advice to these finely honed specimens while we hoover up junk food. Of course, the real story for music fans was the fantastic medley in the opening ceremony (we also loved the NHS tribute, artistic, Socialist, lentil-munching, yoghurt-knitting leftie liberals that we are) which ran from The Beatles to Tinie Tempah via Bowie, Blur and more. All of which makes this week’s selection that much more of an ordeal…

Drake feat. The Weeknd – Crew Love

Never knowingly short on confidence, Drake recently told The Jewish Chronicle that he was “the first person to successfully rap and sing” (which, as Popjustice pointed out, cruelly ignores Alesha Dixon’s contribution to the world of music). However, on Crew Love, Drake hands melody duties to The Weeknd, and the two poster boys for solipsistic, minimalist, first-world-problem rap certainly don’t disappoint. He may not be the first to rap and sing, but Drake deserves some credit for taking music so uncommercial into the mainstream. It doesn’t have traditional choruses, it doesn’t rely on bells and whistles, and it’s defiantly simple. Crew Love, while lyrically a little on the generic side, is another great track from Drake, and maybe it’ll push The Weeknd to more sales-based success too. 7/10

A$AP Rocky – Goldie

A$AP Rocky and his crew won plenty of friends, admirers and column inches last year with their Southern-influenced hip-hop tales of purple drank on the LiveLoveA$AP mixtape, and now it’s time for the official releases. Like the mixtape, Goldie suffers from paucity of ideas in places, and it’s an almost stream-of-consciousness flow that’s simply one long verse with a repeating woodwind (piccolo?) riff that’s gratingly twee after a while. Rocky’s style is great, and he’s certain to be around for a long while yet, but it doesn’t get the juices flowing in anticipation of his debut album. Goldie shows promise, but it’s perhaps a step back from the man who brought us Peso et al. 6/10

Wiley feat. Ms D – Heatwave

Wiley recently claimed to The Guardian that he “could have been as big as Tinie Tempah” and “anyone from [the grime] scene can play the O2 if they make the right music.” Sour grapes, perhaps? While Wiley’s seen his contemporaries from the early days of grime, most notably Dizzee Rascal, storm to success in recent years, Wiley’s remained on the outside, with little more than the odd critical ovation to his name. Those who know Wiley might point to his profligacy, unpredictability and, ahem, use of relaxing substances as more pertinent reasons as to why he’s not bothering the traffic systems of North Greenwich. Strange then, that Heatwave is Wiley’s most blatant bid for commercial success than his last big chart hit, Wearing My Rolex. Wiley’s never dull and his flow and rhymes are engaging and propel the song along on a pulsing rhythm, but Ms. D’s contribution, a chart-friendly, facile ode to partying, drags the track down into a less exciting realm, and the overriding feeling in this track is one of unfulfilled promise. 5/10

Yolanda Be Cool feat. Crystal Waters – Le Bump

Yolanda Be Cool are the artists behind the irritatingly ubiquitous monster hit, We No Speak Americano, so please try and contain your excitement at their return. Here, they’ve teamed up with Crystal Waters, best known in the UK for her classic earworm Gypsy Woman (La Da Dee La Da Da). Like We No Speak Americano, there are annoying brass riffs and a bizarre fetishisation of big band music. That’s all that really separates it from a million other Europop smashes of the past two decades or so and, without a memorable hook to speak of, is likely to disappear from your mind the second it finishes. The same can’t be said of Gypsy Woman (La Da Dee La Da Da) though, which I’ll now probably be humming for the next fortnight. 2/10

Parade – Light Me Up

Girl group Parade scored a Top 10 hit last year with the frankly dismal Louder before seemingly disappearing without a trace. Usually, in these situations it signals the end of a career altogether (yes, you Girl Thing, and you Girls@Play, and whither Precious?) but against all odds, Parade are back. And to be perfectly honest, it's a good job they are, because Light Me Up is a huge-sounding record which doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel but does pure pop in an unabashed, full-force way that a lot of groups could learn from. The Saturdays had better watch their backs because if Light Me Up gets any decent airplay and Parade have got a few more songs like this up their sleeve, they could well be going places fast. 8/10

M83 – OK Pal

M83 breaking into the UK Top 40 singles chart still feels a bit like a dream that didn’t happen and the more I hear of M83, I can’t believe they’re so critically acclaimed. This isn’t to say the work of Antony Gonzalez is bad, far from it, but M83’s style is so kitsch, is so in thrall to music that’s often not fondly remembered, and is so openly pop-focused that it’s the kind of thing that’s normally met with a sneer by earnest, beardy, Appalachian woodsman-loving hipper-than-thou folkie types. However, anyone not letting M83 into their life is missing out, because OK Pal is life-affirming, uplifting music that seeks the beauty in the world, amplifies it and then chucks a load of star-sprinkled synths all over the top of it. It’s a rich chocolate cake of a track, maybe a little rich over a whole album (and don’t forget M83’s last was a double) but utterly fantastic over four minutes. Stick it on repeat, lose any notion you may have of what tastemakers say you should be listening to, and if you’re wondering what’s putting pressure on your cheeks, that’ll be the massive grin spreading across your face. 9/10

Rumer – Sara Smile

The last time Rumer, aka Sarah Joyce, turned up on the Singles Bar, I questioned the point of her career (although I hope I was a bit nicer than that about it) but said she had a decent voice. Well, now she’s put her voice to good use with this cover of a Hall & Oates track. Her velvety, Karen Carpenter-esque croon works well with the jazz-flecked blue-eyed soul of the original and serves to remind you what a great song this is. The production is a little muddled – Muzak backing vocals and a little too much going on in the instrumental breakdown, perhaps – but Rumer steers this ship well all told. It doesn’t improve on the original in any way though, so again, it’s difficult to see the reasoning behind this. But then maybe that’s my problem and I should just concentrate on whether her records are any good or not that try and solve any existential questions through the medium of a mildly successful singer. 5/10

Chemical Brothers – Theme From Velodrome

So, Theme From Velodrome is the official song of the London 2012 Olympics. But hang on, isn’t that Muse abomination the official song too? And I’m sure I heard Dizzee Rascal was doing one? That’s not to mention that awful Mark Ronson and Katy B thing that turned up endorsed by a certain teeth-dissolving soft drinks company. Seems like the organisers want to have their cake (made by the official bakers of the London 2012 Games, natch) and eat it. Theme From Velodrome starts off with epic synths before a Kraftwerkian “VEL. O. DROME.” looms over the top and Orbital-style synth patterns pepper the building beats. The whole thing gives a real sense of intensity and cumulative endeavour, though it’s not surprise a track with such an obvious motorik motif and repetitive riffs should be associated with cycling. It’s a defiantly non-commercial choice from the always-interesting Chems (though a radio edit is available) though it remains to be seen whether Sir Chris Hoy and Vicky Pendleton whizz their way round The Pringle (that’s what they’re calling it) to this, but either way, it’s a brilliant song, ravey yet still cerebral. Dance’s love affair with cycling continues. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Far East Movement feat. Cover Drive – Turn Up The Love

Obviously it’s wrong to be against people by name alone but consider this. Far East Movement are Kev Nish, Prohgress, J-Splif and DJ Virman. Cover Drive have a member named Bar-Man. Sometimes it’s difficult to do the right thing. Responsible for a handful of genuinely awful singles between them, the two quartets join forces which, on paper, looks tragic for anyone in the possession of functioning ears. Both groups attempt to stamp their particular styles on this track, so Cover Drive’s Caribbean-influenced pop meets Far East Movement’s boneheaded club rap. It’s a trick that’s been done relatively seamlessly before, but these two make it look like a combination that’s about as well-suited as cod and custard. A pretty sorry exercise with *counts on fingers* precisely no redeeming features. 0/10

Calvin Harris feat. Example – We’ll Be Coming Back

The two artists who rival Rihanna for sheer output come together presumably in a concerted attempt to save effort and only do half a track each. Their musical styles are so similar that it seems strange they decided to work together at all. They’ve clearly suffering from dance music fatigue (I know the feeling) because this is barely a track at all. It’s more like a mechanically recovered Calvin Harris or Example song, with tired keyboards, a lazy tempo and an uninspired vocal. Boring, boring, boring, this has got contractual obligation written all over it (the song, not this column, how dare you even suggest that). 1/10

The Singles Bar: 23/07/12

It’s a continuing trend sales-wise. The current number one album in the UK, by Elton John vs. Pnau, has the lowest sales for a chart-topping album of any record this century, yet single sales go from strength to strength. So, instead of mourning the album, let’s celebrate the single, starting off with this little lot.

Clock Opera – Belongings

Clock Opera’s clever, intricate indie seems to have been overshadowed by the success of Alt-J in recent months, but they still have enough quality to make them worthy of your time. Belongings starts unspectacularly – a simple piano line and an unadorned voice – but then the bassline hugs the melody and the piano notes become quickly doubled octaves, making the track a little disorienting, but also strangely beautiful and sounding like raindrops falling on the street below. It’s a wonderful, delicate song that displays sufficient deftness and expertise to let the song breathe and never try to crowd the arrangement. At the three minute mark, the cymbals seem to signal the beginning of something epic, but we actually get Futurehead-style a cappella vocals for a minute until the track finally breaks loose with buzzing bass and funk-inspired drumming. A really accomplished work, reminiscent of Elbow from a decade or so ago. 9/10 – JOINT SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Madeon – Finale

Madeon is young. No really, do a Google Image Search of him now – he’s implausibly young. Despite being born in 1994 (that fact alone makes me want to weep tears of pure rage and frustration), the young man from Nantes certainly knows his way around a set of decks. Like last single, Icarus, Finale is a huge sounding record which skirts the edge of the dubstep-inspired dance of the charts without ever becoming formulaic or dull. However, it hasn’t quite got Icarus’ killer hook and, rather worryingly, it sounds not entirely dissimilar to thankfully-defunct Australian generic drum n’ bass peddlers, Pendulum. There’s enough here to dispel any ideas that Madeon might be a one-trick pony, but this is unlikely to propel him to the next level. Incidentally, Madeon’s real name is Hugo Pierre Leclercq, which is an infinitely cooler name – he really should use that when he DJs. 6/10

Major Lazer feat. Amber Coffman – Get Free

Major Lazer is certainly a busy boy. As well working up with Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman on this track, it’s been announced he’s teaming up with Snoop Dogg on a reggae album, where the self-styled Doggfather will be going by the name Snoop Lion. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned Major Lazer’s military responsibilities. Anyway, Major Lazer (ostensibly just Diplo these days) is putting a hyper-modern spin on dub with Get Free, a track which features skank-friendly, ponderous bass, a laid-back tempo and the odd cutting-edge synth break. This combination, plus Coffman’s vocals (and the odd sax phrase), actually works far better in practice than on paper, and Major Lazer makes it sound as if this is the way dub has always been made. An incredibly chilled, melodic and smartly-created track which bodes well for the rest of Diplo’s projects in the remainder of the year. 8/10

Passion Pit – I’ll Be Alright

I’ll Be Alright starts off by sounding like about five different songs are playing at the same time, the exact kind of thing which would make you anything but alright. Passion Pit clearly have issues surrounding their collective attention span, as I’ll Be Alright jumps from tempo to tempo, from hook to hook, from line to line, without ever really having time to settle on one style. The downside of this is that anything slower than the frenetic opening sounds tired and laboured. It’s difficult to get a grip on anything, it’s messy and it’s not an experience I’d be keen to repeat in a hurry – similar to what being in an actual passion pit might be like, should such a thing exist. 5/10

The Enemy – Like A Dancer

On Spotify, the list of related artists for The Enemy reads like a who’s who of lumpen, uninspiring, derivative landfill indie: The Courteeners, The Twang, The Pigeon Detectives, Jamie T, The View, Reverend And The Makers, The Rifles, Milburn… If that lot doesn’t make you want to burn every acoustic guitar in the country and make synthesisers mandatory in all school music lessons, I don’t know what will. Unlike many Enemy songs, Like A Dancer actually appears to have a slight semblance of melody to it (a happy accident, presumably). Also, thankfully, it doesn’t try to make some kind of “social commentary” (ugh) on small-town living and feeling trapped by industrial wastelands (we get it, you’re from Coventry – it’s a hole). By Enemy standards, this isn’t bad at all. However, by the standards of all other recorded music ever, it’s still a total aberration. I blame Oasis, I really do. It used to be the case that guitar bands would try to be clever or insightful, then it became de rigueur for groups to be as knuckle-draggingly boneheaded as humanly possible. On a brighter note, The Enemy’s latest album is performing far worse in the charts than their previous two, so hopefully they’ll get the hint and call it a day. 1/10

Mac Miller – Party On Fifth Ave.

I wonder if this party Mac Miller speaks of is on Fifth Avenue in New York. If so, I don’t know how he’ll host it, the queues from the Abercrombie & Fitch store usually stretch for a block or so, and then you’ve got the Apple store, and then Tiffany’s… basically, it’s a crowded place. Party On Fifth Ave. is a laid-back hip-hop track with an old school sound, most notable for its horn sample, which UK readers will know from Hear The Drummer (Get Wicked) and American No Ripcorders from DJ Kool’s Let Me Clear My Throat or The 900 Number by DJ Mark The 45 King. That riff is basically all there is to this track, which makes it hard to say more about it. It’s an ok song, and would probably go down well at the kind of house party Mac Miller’s rapping about, but past that, it hasn’t got an awful lot going for it. 4/10

Marina & The Diamonds – Power & Control

I wonder how Marina Diamandis feels about her new-found success. After an idiosyncratic debut album that didn’t sell too well, she’s trimmed away her rougher edges and emerged as a sleek, identikit electro-popper. It’s a shame because, while her first record had more than its fair share of faults, it showcased her as an emerging and interesting star. But hey, she’s got a number one album to her name and I haven’t (at the time of writing, anyway), so perhaps she’s doing things right after all. In fairness, Power & Control isn’t a bad pop song by any stretch of the imagination – it’s well put together with some decent stuff going on in the background, but in being less ambitious, she’s headed more towards the middle ground, and that’s a real shame. 5/10

The State Broadcasters – Trespassers

Doing their bit for the under-represented waltz in rock are The State Broadcasters, a Glaswegian collective who bonded over a shared love of Clem Snide and Lambchop. There are certainly shades of Kurt Wagner’s group in Trespassers, which is a gorgeous, contemplative slice of alt-country which is never boring or worthy. It’s careful, sure, but it comes across as attention to detail more than hesitation. Small snatches of melody and harmony adorn Trespassers like jewels, and it has the kind of accomplished, well-fashioned quality which makes you wonder why The State Broacasters aren’t the darlings of the Americana scene. Slights shades of Arcade Fire too in Trespassers, a genuinely wonderful song that makes further investigation of this band practically compulsory. 9/10 – JOINT SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Conor Maynard – Vegas Girl

After Can’t Say No, Conor Maynard’s paean to the crippling struggle of sex addiction, Brighton’s answer to Justin Bieber returns with a track showing that despite only being two singles in, he’s got his signature sound well established. Namely, it’s R&B with a decidedly bubblegum pop flavour, as if he’s Justin Timberlake’s younger brother and, check this everyone, he’s absolutely MAD for girls, right? He can’t get enough of them and judging by his lyrical content, it’s absolutely all he talks about. As if the concept of a singing, perma-horny teenager isn’t enough to put you off, it’s also a pretty tired and derivative record. If you’re a glutton for punishment though, Maynard over-emotes his way through Marvins Room by Drake on the B-side (note to Conor Maynard fans who are presumably about twelve: ask your Dad what a B-side is). 2/10

Joss Stone – While You’re Out Looking For Sugar

The fact her new album is called The Soul Sessions Vol. II suggests that the royalty cheques may have dried up for everyone’s (read: no-one’s) faux-American, bare-footed, melismatic Devonian. Just to confirm everyone’s preconceptions, While You’re Out Looking For Sugar displays Stone, once again, attempting to establish her credentials as a 1960s soul diva despite sounding more like a cruise ship singer. This song has Hammond organ, jazz-style percussion and loads of other retro/vintage sounds that have been done a million times before but will virtually guarantee her an invite to Jools Holland’s end-of-year hootenanny. Stone has somehow painted herself into a corner and will probably spend the next five decades recording tracks that sound like things Aretha Franklin wouldn’t have given a second glance. This kind of thing can really get a man down. 2/10

The Singles Bar: 16/07/12

The Singles Bar took a break last week due to the marvellous and comprehensive No Ripcord Top 100 Albums of 2000-2009. However, we’re back and to celebrate, we’re reviewing twelve singles this week instead of the usual ten. Any link you wish to draw between the increased word count and the terrible recent British weather is, of course, entirely coincidental and without credence. So, what’s been making its way into our ears on this grey and windswept day?

King Charles feat. Mumford & Sons – The Brightest Lights

The tagline to Jaws 2 was, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water”, and the same might apply here. Perhaps you’d forgotten about Mumford & Sons and their David Cameron-friendly brand of tepid folk-pop, but no, they’re back, and for some reason, they’ve brought a 17th Century monarch with them. For somebody who died in 1649, Charlie’s in remarkably good voice but if you were expecting a departure from the Mumfords’ usual schlock and hokum, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s country-tinged Americana packed with more banjo and fiddle-eye-di-dah than doctors recommend tolerating in one sitting. Also, bizarrely, it sounds like Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver, but with bagpipes. Perhaps I’m missing something in the fetishisation of all this ye olde hoedown stuff, but The Brightest Lights isn’t going to make me change my opinion. 1/10

Daniel Powter – Cupid

As we all know, the correct response when faced with a Daniel Powter record is, “KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE!” but I guess he should be given a fair crack of the whip. After all, Cupid can’t be quite as awful as Bad Day, can it…? Well, it’s not as bad, no, but only in the same way that a week as Courtney Love’s housekeeper isn’t as bad as two weeks as Courtney Love’s housekeeper. Cupid is a jaunty, syrupy ode to Powter’s significant other that contains all the emotional depth and hard-hitting impact as the memoirs of Kim Kardashian. It makes Jack Johnson sound like Lou Reed; it’s trite, irritating, facile and condescending, and I hate it. Killing it with fire might not be such a bad idea after all. 0/10

Post War Years – Glass House

Now here’s an interesting one. I was planning on leading with a weak joke (for a change) about not throwing stones while listening to this song, but instead I was entirely captivated by Post War Years doing their best Human League impression. Analog synths buzz and burble, and even the vocals sound as if they’ve been touched by the hand of Phil Oakey. Get a couple of female backing vocalists in and we’re all set to make Dare! Part 2. A great track, though it’s difficult to give Post War Years too much kudos when they’re adding so little that’s original to their work. We’ve got 80s nostalgia tours for this sort of thing and, if you go and see them, you get to hear ABC too and you might even bump into Steve Strange. So, Glass House is certainly enjoyable but it’s difficult to see the reasoning behind it. 7/10

Little Boots – Headphones

Headphones may be a relatively lightweight piece of electro-pop with a “la-la-la” refrain, but that doesn’t stop it being addictive and full of giddy joy. Like most music about the brilliance of music and dancing, it’s infectious, fun and – like the best dancing – entirely free of any notions of cool or self-consciousness. And as for that “la-la-la” bit, it’s an exceptionally catchy hook that will stay with you long after the track finishes. Little Boots sings, “I wear my headphones at the disco / And nobody ever has to know”, which seems like quite an odd thing to do in such an environment, but if it helps her make ridiculously good, disco-inspired pop tunes like this, then it’s clearly very much a ‘good thing’. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Misha B – Home Run

Misha B obviously comes from a musical family, being as she is the sibling of Plan, Mel and Katy (props to my friend Matt for that joke). Apparently, Misha B was fourth in the last series of X Factor, which was news to me, finishing higher than such musical luminaries as Nu Vibe (no, me neither), Craig Colton (*shrugs*) and The Risk (*"WTF?" face*). Anyway, for the product of a televised talent show, Home Run is really not a bad effort at all. It’s frantic and jerky, has a real dancehall influence and, crucially, doesn’t succumb to any vocal gymnastics or melisma. Misha B may have got the balance between hip-hop edge and mainstream pop just right on Home Run and, given some decent airplay, this has the potential to do really quite well. Still not a scooby who she is though. 7/10

Hot Chelle Rae feat. New Boyz – I Like It Like That

Despite sounding like it might be the name of the younger sister of Blu Cantrell, Hot Chelle Rae are in fact a four-piece pop-rock band. There’s a touch of Gym Class Heroes to I Like It Like That, and the whiff of Foster The People isn’t too far away either. It’s an entirely lightweight, substance-free piece of party-fixated fluff about, y’know, pretty girls and that. I haven’t seen the video but I can imagine it features slo-mo shots of girls in bikinis stopping at traffic lights in a topless car. If you had a teenage child and heard them listening to this in their room, you’d be entirely within your rights to throw their laptop into the street and subject them to some Clockwork Orange style mind-altering techniques. You may find this morally dubious but it’s fine, I said you can do it. 0/10

Bat For Lashes – Laura

When she’s not dressing as a horse, throwing make-up at her face, prancing around reciting Edgar Allan Poe or holding up an enormous placard that says, “Look at me – aren’t I kooky?!”, in four different fonts, Bat For Lashes occasionally finds time to make pop records. Laura starts off as a pensive piano ballad which is pleasant enough but, of course, comes replete with Khan’s entirely unnecessary vocal histrionics. But then it turns into… well, actually, it doesn’t turn into anything at all. It’s just an uninteresting dirge of a track that seems to be all first verse and nothing else. It’s the kind of track that, during a gig, would signal that it’s time to nip out and have a cigarette or get another drink and yet, strangely, it’s been chosen as a single. Dispiriting stuff. 2/10

Cypress Hill X Rusko – Lez Go

Now here’s a combination to conjure with. Lez Go is the opening track to the Cypress X Rusko EP 01, which opens up the possibility of further collaborations to come in the future. Typically, it’s an all-out aural assault from Rusko that’s straight in at the deep end, with deep bass growls and synth arpeggios flying in from all directions. It’s a thrilling collision of styles, between the Cypress Hill flow we all know and the ultra-modern, in-your-face dubstep of Rusko and, for the most part, it works. Minor gripes are that it finishes just when it feels it’s getting going and that, if anything, Cypress Hill are actually underused. However, it’ll certainly get your toe tapping if nothing else, and it shows Cypress Hill are, thankfully, still willing to take risks. 6/10

Matthew P – Long Way Home

Matthew P is best known in the UK for writing the Girl On The Platform song from the adverts and… no, wait, come back! If you were to judge Matthew P on the basis of that one track then you’d be missing out. Acoustic singer-songwriters tend to get a rough deal in The Singles Bar, but Matthew P has got something that sets him apart from the usual band of solipsistic troubadours. First and foremost, he’s got a great way with a melody, and Long Way Home has been really well put together; think Turin Brakes rather than Ben Howard. If Newton Faulkner can get to the top of the UK album charts, then Matthew P deserves to go platinum. Sure, it’s not going to change the world, but it’s a well-crafted pop song that certainly deserves a wider audience. 7/10

Bloc Party – Octopus

After the soap opera surrounding Kele Okereke’s place in the band, Bloc Party are back. Musically, Octopus shows the progression towards a more dance-oriented sound that was hinted at on their last record and, more obviously, Kele’s solo record. As with a lot of Bloc Party tracks, the drums are the real star of the show, and they propel Octopus along and save it from being something entirely unremarkable. It has its moments, but Octopus bears the hallmarks of a band who have been making themselves busy with extra-curricular activities and have returned to the studio a little rusty. Two-thirds through, there’s a very un-Bloc Party guitar solo which, if anything, is actually more reminiscent of Daft Punk. There’s the potential here to suggest Bloc Party could return to – or even surpass – former glories, but Octopus doesn’t quite hit all the right notes. 6/10

Elton John vs. Pnau – Sad

Sir Reginald of Dwight has never been averse to employing the tutelage of hip young bucks so he can desperately cling onto relevance and – ill-advised 2Pac collaboration aside – he’s usually pretty astute when it comes to this sort of thing. Pnau are an Australian dance duo, one of whom is the guy from Empire Of The Sun who isn’t in The Sleepy Jackson (do keep up at the back) and on Sad, they’re pitched somewhere between 70s AOR, disco and blissed-out euphoric dance. The overall effect is something rather wonderful, as the uplifting horns and swirling synths cut through the melancholy of the lyrics, taking it to another plane altogether. There’s a whole album of this Elton John vs. Pnau stuff knocking around and, on the evidence of Sad, it sounds like it could be well worth further investigation. 9/10

Kasabian – Switchblade Smiles

Oh good, finally some real music for real music loving lads. It’s great that Kasabian have named their new single Switchblade Smiles, because it’s all about knifing, yeah, and it shows they’re double plus well-hard legends. This track is perfect to listen to when you’re spending too long artfully styling your facial hair and wearing a tracksuit top. You may want to complete the look by employing a simian-like strut as you walk through the town centre, glowering at anyone who threatens to usurp your alpha-male superiority and, most importantly of all, a cheeky wink at any ‘birds’ who happen to be in the vicinity. This isn’t the worst Kasabian track of all time, but that’s like saying there have been worse wars – everyone still loses. Desperately cobbled-together from a recycling bin of half-finished riffs and vaguely threatening couplets, Switchblade Smiles constitutes a real stumbling block for anyone trying to explain the theory of evolution to a creationist, as it seems to provide tangible counter-evidence. If you enjoy this song, and the music of Kasabian in general, why not get, “I’m an easily led puppet and a product of the Tim Lovejoy generation”, tattooed on your forehead post-haste? It helps the rest of us distinguish you from people we might want to actually talk to. 0/10

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The End Of The Word

Aged 16, I found myself facing a long coach journey to Brussels for a school trip, inexplicably funded by the European Union. The day before, I went to the local newsagent in search of reading material, and came across a magazine I hadn't seen before. The cover picture of Elvis Costello wasn’t exactly your typical, teenage boy fare, but a quick flick through revealed enough to keep me interested and I thought I’d give it a shot. Over the next 48 hours, in between getting caught up in anti-war protests in Ghent and taking furtive swigs from an illicitly purchased bottle of toffee vodka, I read the whole thing from cover to cover. That was April 2003 and the magazine’s name was Word.

Even though I was far from the target demographic for this new magazine, something about it kept me coming back. It became my default purchase when faced with a long journey on public transport and, before long, I was buying it every month.

When I went to university on the other side of the country, my self-imposed budgetary constraints were so strict I regularly used to do my weekly shopping for under £10, yet I always managed to cobble together enough change for Word. Then, once I'd graduated, I was able to subscribe and had the luxury of the magazine hitting my doormat on a monthly basis.

Being a keen fan of a magazine was nothing new. At various points over the previous decade, I’d been a subscriber to The Beano, Shoot!, Smash Hits! and Q. However,'Word' (or, as it later became, The Word) was the only one with which  I’ve ever felt such a strong connection. And it changed my outlook on the world.

I was initially drawn to the enthusiastic recommendations and the quality of the writing. Unlike most Word readers, I had no idea who David Hepworth and Mark Ellen were, and so had no preconceptions or fond memories. It didn't matter. Since 2003, The Word has turned me on to more great music, past (John Martyn) and present (Rilo Kiley, Burial), wonderful films (Oil City Confidential, Dig!), addictive television series (The Wire, The West Wing) and brilliant books (Flat Earth News, Le Freak) than I care to remember.

The Word’s lasting effect on me is the reason you’re reading this now. I’ve always been a huge fan of pop music with a slightly unhealthy obsession with chart placings and sales figures. However, The Word’s combination of fascinating, in-depth articles and short, snappy featurettes, slowly but surely turned me into an aspiring writer, with the magazine as my guide. It wasn’t something I’d seriously considered before (as my university degree will attest), but after penning my first tentative review for the student newspaper, I was addicted. Because The Word was so entertaining, informative and delightful it spurred me on.

Of course, the world of music journalism is hardly overflowing with steady jobs for those keen to learn but next to no experience. In fact, it’s hardly overflowing with steady jobs full stop. That’s why you’ll still find me, a full four years after first seeing my name in print, dedicating my spare time to filling various corners of the internet in a series of attempts to get my name known. My writing has taken me from websites with so few readers you could fit them all in a Vauxhall Corsa, to album reviews for a softcore pornography magazine (not something I’d recommend). I've even scaled the dizzy heights of the NME website. I never managed to get any of my numerous pitches commissioned in The Word though, despite vowing that I would. I came tantalisingly close, but sadly it wasn’t to be.

And now it’s gone. The forthcoming issue will be the magazine’s last and there’s a definite sense of loss. The media has been awash with tributes and elegies and, to me, it feels as though something that accompanied from youth to adulthood has disappeared.

It wasn’t just the magazine though. There was the easy bonhomie of the regular podcast and the constant, lively discourse on its website, which later spilled out into 'real world', with meet-ups and gatherings around the country.

There are so many people who will now feel something missing from the music and entertainment world (my story of kinship with the magazine is hardly unique). However, the words in The Word, from the smallest photo caption to sprawling, multi-issue investigations, made me want to do something different with my time. And for that I’m grateful.

For now though, we have to resign ourselves to the fact it’s the end of The Word as we know it.

Monday, 16 July 2012

The Singles Bar: 02/07/12

Recent events show that these are hard times for the music industry. Figures released today reveal that for the first half of 2012, album sales were down 13.8% year on year in the UK. Also, just a few days ago, monthly music magazine The Word announced it was soon to print its last issue after nearly a decade on the nation’s newsstands. Uncertainty lies ahead but in the here and now, we have a seemingly booming singles market, and the following are ten choice cuts available to purchase from today.

Citizens! – Caroline

You can’t help but admire a band that like to use superfluous punctuation in their name. Londoners Citizens! are produced by Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, and he’s certainly left his parent band’s fingerprints over Caroline (that wasn’t meant to sound as rude as it does, by the way). There’s a very Franzish, chugging bassline and jerky, post-punk energy but with a more electronic feel than the Scots. There’s a decent hint of glam in there too, and Citizens! are obviously fine scholars of this world we call pop. A solid effort, but nothing more than that really. It’s a relatively catchy, nicely put together indie tune, but not one that’s going to make you fall in love with this band and write their name on your schoolbag, exclamation mark or not. 6/10

South Four – Cougar Town

You’ve probably guessed from the name that South Four are a boyband.”Sussex’s answer to One Direction” (Says who? The Brighton Argus – that’s who) have reportedly signed a £1 million deal – how very exciting for them. Now, we all know the target market for teenage boybands is teenage (or younger) girls, so releasing a song about cougars seems a little bizarre. Musically, it’s like most UK boyband tunes in 2012 but, if anything, even more anaemic and processed than The Wanted et al. However, lyrically, it’s awful and embarrassing in equal measures (“I wonder what she looks like with her daughter’s t-shirt on.”). So, young girls, fall in love with these guys, join their fan club, follow them on Twitter and rest safe in the knowledge that what they really want to do is have sex with your Mum. Interesting marketing angle… 0/10

The Darkness – Everybody Have A Good Time

Listen up, South Four (and loads of others, actually), if you want to know how to do tongue-in-cheek fun, you could do far worse than turn your attention to The Darkness (first album vintage, obvs). It might be the comeback no-one asked for, but they’ve got a support slot for some Lady Gaga gigs, so they must be doing something right. As you’d expect, it sounds largely like a Darkness song, i.e. Thin Lizzy in spandex, but they’ve lost some of the lust for life that made Permission To Land such a huge success. It’s got the big riffing, the solos and it’s even got plenty of cowbell, but The Darkness have misplaced their unselfconsciousness and, as such, they can’t recapture that 2003 (or should that be 1976?) magic. 4/10

Dirty Projectors – Gun Has No Trigger

Dirty Projectors tend to split opinion quite fiercely, but I tend to generally sit on the ‘I find them pleasantly listenable’ side of the fence. For a Dirty Projectors track, Gun Has No Trigger starts off surprisingly conventionally; hip-hop inspired drums, haunting background vocals, a striking vocal line and not an awful lot else. It’s all rather beautiful, if not exactly the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from the Brooklyn sextet. Does this signify a shift into more mainstream territories? Let’s hope not, because as good as Gun Has No Trigger is (and make no mistake, it is very good), Dirty Projectors are at their best when combining pop with the avant-garde in increasingly more imaginative and unlikely ways. 8/10

Will Young – I Just Want A Lover

On his new single, Mr. Young is exclaiming the polar opposite of Sharleen Spiteri in the 80s, which as a corollary, must mean that he doesn’t need a friend. I Just Want A Lover follows the template of Will Young’s more recent forays into the charts, in that it’s more electronic yet AOR-focused than his work from the last decade. He seems to be pitching more towards the Scissor Sisters/Pet Shop Boys market, and on the evidence of this, he’s rather good at it. I Just Want A Lover shimmers throughout its three and a half minutes, and although it never entirely breaks free of its shackles, the hints of disco are more than enough to sustain your interest. The vocals are perhaps a little too vulnerable and fey for the production, but for someone who’s been at the forefront of pop for over a decade now, it’s the kind of song that should be applauded. 7/10

Plan B – Lost My Way

A few months back, I wrote that Plan B’s iLL Manors could well be one of the most important singles in chart history. I stand by that, but you couldn’t help but wonder where Ben Drew would go next. Would he keep up his hard-hitting aural attacks or would he retreat to the soul sound that had served him so well commercially? The answer is… both, in a way. There’s a definite soul influence in the sample that makes up the chorus, but he’s sticking to rapping for the time being, and it’s another morality tale full of deprived children with nowhere to turn. Lost My Way lacks the potency and immediacy of iLL Manors and, really, it just treads the same lyrical ground but with less flair and verve. Plan B has manoeuvred himself into a position where he could potentially become the voice of an under-represented generation – now he just needs to decide if that’s the role he wants and, if so, how to do it properly. 6/10

Gossip – Move In The Right Direction

What do you do when somebody’s standing in the way of control? Well, a move in the right direction if probably a good start. Ridiculous not-even-really-a-pun puns aside, this is track is a slick dance number, presumably designed to further complete Beth Ditto’s transformation into disco glamazon. Like the Will Young single above, there’s more than a touch of Scissor Sisters about it and in time-honoured disco tradition, there’s a strong sense of melancholy cutting through the seemingly joyous music. With their thrashing introduction into the wider world, there was a distinct danger of Gossip being one-trick ponies but, against all the odds, they’ve carved out a niche for themselves and Move In The Right Direction is a thoroughly brilliant record. 8/10

DJ Zinc & P Money – Reload

If you’ve not heard any of Zinc’s oeuvre, you may expect him to be metal (ok, sorry, the terrible puns stop here) but it’s actually as a dubstep DJ that he’s more in his element (I’m sorry, I’m sorry, that’s definitely the last one). With frenetic wobbles and beats from Zinc and fevered spitting from P Money, there’s something pretty exciting about Reload. It’s almost a throwback to the days when Kano and Wiley were starting to make their names on the grime scene and their collision of genres and uncompromising styles threatened to take the music world by storm. Reload isn’t quite up to that level of quality, but it’s certainly got plenty to recommend it. It seems the mixture of the two protagonists hasn’t alloyed (ok, I lied) Reload. 7/10

Martin Carr – Sailor

On the same day that the internet went into overdrive as Blur premiered two new tracks on Twitter, one of their Britpop contemporaries, erstwhile Boo Radleys lead guitarist Martin Carr, quietly releases his latest single. Over two decades in the biz obviously haven’t blunted Carr’s ear for an exquisite hook, and Sailor has them in spades. There’s a charming, almost ramshackle, magpie-like feel to the instrumentation – end-of-the-pier organ, scuzzy guitar and shimmering, psychedelic chords – that provides an unexpected delight. While many of the class of ’95 have either remained stuck in the past or resigned themselves to bucolic, sedate indie-rock, Carr deserves a hearty pat on the back for keeping the fires of invention still burning. Shades of peak-era Super Furry Animals live throughout Sailor – it’s simply wonderful, spellbinding stuff. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Pet Shop Boys – Winner

Winner is intended as a track for the Olympics which means it’s already got an advantage; namely that it can’t possibly be worse than that God-awful Muse concoction that’s the official song. PSB inspire fevered devotion and love the world over and, by rights, they should be as up my street as it’s possible to be but, for whatever reason, with the odd exception, they leave me completely cold. They’re just too tasteful and mannered, and to me, their songs usually sound like they’ve been composed via an algorithm. Winner is another one of those; there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but the celebratory platitudes and inoffensive electronic blips really don’t move me in the slightest. As nice as it is to have an Olympic-themed track which encourages some humility and acknowledges the transcendental nature of success, this is by no means a classic. Just to reiterate though, still about a thousand times better than the Muse song. 4/10

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Singles Bar: 25/06/12

Well, boys and girls, it’s finally happened. The British population have experienced the inevitable, and Justin Bieber has his first ever #1 album in the UK. As we know, this is one of the signs of the inevitable apocalypse, so why not enjoy the impending cavalcade of natural disasters by reading this week’s Singles Bar?

Chris Brown – Don’t Wake Me Up

If I’m ever captured and held behind enemy lines, the baddies could probably glean any information they wished from me by subjecting me to repeated plays of Chris Brown records (apart from Run It!, which is reasonably listenable). I’m not entirely sure what useful information I’d have though, and such torture wouldn’t be necessary; I’d sell my No Ripcord password for a drumstick lolly and a shiny sixpence (Note to editors: I wouldn’t really). Anyway, Don’t Wake Me Up starts as a mid-tempo, Bruno Mars-alike ballad, before turning into the kind of Ibiza-friendly dance-pop that gave Brown such a mega-hit with Yeah 3x, except with more grating deployment of autotune. There’s less originality on show here than on an average night’s programming from UK Gold, and rarely will three minutes and 42 seconds have seemed so long. The most complimentary thing I can say about this track is that it’s not his worst ever song, but it doesn’t get any better than that. 0/10

Casiokids – Dresinen

Seeing as I was born in nineteen-eightysomething, I’ve got a pretty good claim to being a Casio kid. I certainly came up with some pretty righteous compositions in my high school music class on those bad boys. How they’ve not become underground blogosphere hits is beyond me. While it’s unclear whether Dresinen is actually being performed on a Casio or not, there’s certainly a plasticky, chintzy quality to some of the riffs and melody lines, which actually suits the jaunty feel of the track quite well. Like Singles Bar favourites Katzenjammer, Casiokids are also a Norwegian group, and they share something of their fellow countrymen’s way with a hook and a fondness for all things twee. It’s a catchy number with lyrics about… well, I don’t know because the lyrics aren’t in English. 7/10

Animal Collective – Honeycomb

Sometimes you feel like you’re ploughing a lonely furrow and the whole world is against you. That’s how I felt when Merriweather Post Pavilion came out in early 2009, because while pretty much everybody – especially the online music press – fell head-over-heels for its psychedelic charms, I thought it was unlistenable claptrap. Honeycomb may well be more style over substance, but at least it’s pretty interesting. It’s a quirky, upbeat track with massively distorted drums, Eastern-sounding squelches and blips, and a hypnotic, repeated vocal line. The verse and chorus appear to be in different keys altogether, yet somehow the whole thing hangs together and works. Repeated listens could potentially make Honeycomb sound gimmicky and irritating, but there’s something oddly thrilling about the chaotic, thrown-together nature of the track. Word of advice though: don’t listen to the B-side, Gotham. It’s even less enjoyable to the ears than the sound of someone repeatedly clicking their pen. 8/10

Benga feat. Bebe Black – Icon

Before we get started, if you haven’t seen the video for Benga’s last single, I Will Never Change, you simply have to go and watch it RIGHT NOW because it’s one of the cleverest and most original promos you will see this year. The little I know of dubstep producer Benga suggests that he’s much better when he keeps it raw and frenetic rather than when he aims for the mainstream, often with a guest vocalist, and loses a little bit of edge. Sadly, Icon falls into the latter category, and while this is an entirely passable slice of radio-friendly crossover dubstep-pop, there’s really something lacking about it. The whole way through, the track is screaming out for a huge bass drop, a regulation dubstep wobble, or just something to give it a much-needed boot up the derriere. It seems a lot of dubstep producers on the cusp of a breakthrough are caught in two minds, and Benga is simply following where many have before him. Not his best work. 4/10

Justice – New Lands

One of the most fun things about French dance act Justice is saying their name out loud. Go on; do it. It’s not, “juss-tiss”, it’s “juss-steess”, which is much more pleasing to roll around the tongue. Now, this may just be me, but the beginning of New Lands sounds an awful lot like an electro version of Don’t Stop Believing… or perhaps the song the Jack Black-led student group take to Battle of the Bands in School Of Rock. Justice have clearly been taking inspiration from fellow Gallic twosome Daft Punk, because the guitar solo in this track is pure Digital Love. Also, New Lands takes its fondness for 80s AOR beyond belief. There are shades of hair metal, synthesised pop, and soft-rock groups like Cutting Crew. It’s difficult to think of a song that could be more out-of-step with what’s trendy in 2012 (especially having just listened to Benga). The longer the song goes on, the more you realise what an audacious move this is and, ultimately, against all the odds, it actually works. 7/10

Dan Le Sac feat. Sarah Williams White – Play Along

Dan Le Sac, as well as being one of the worst stage names of recent years, is also the non-vocal half of socially-conscious Brit hip-hoppers Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip. The two of them have been releasing material away from their partnership throughout their recording career, and presumably this is Le Sac’s outlet for breaking away from his more hectoring bandmate and making the kind of beats he wants. While Play Along starts promisingly enough, it ends up sounding like a sterilised version of a Le Sac vs. Pip song, and is largely forgettable. Unfortunately for Dan Le Sac, it looks like he hasn’t quite pulled it out of the bag. Do you get it? Pulled it out of the bag! You see, because he’s called Dan Le Sac and… ah, forget it. “Just-steess” would’ve loved that joke. 4/10

Macy Gray  - Sail

Music’s answer to a drunk Marge Simpson keeps on plugging away, seemingly forever destined to live in the shadow of her hugely successful On How Life Is album (which was thirteen years ago… THIRTEEN!). Sail hasn’t got much of a chorus (it’s just the word, “sail”, repeated a few times) but it’s got a decent arrangement; haunting, distant strings in the verse make way for crashing cymbals, a plaintive, repeated piano note and epic strings. Gray’s voice is instantly distinctive, but she seems stuck making the kind of nu-soul that was briefly popular around the turn of the century. There’s an encouraging turn of pace before the last chorus with some hip-hop beats, but they’re swiftly dispatched from whence they came and we’re back on rather safer, more innocuous ground. Sail has its moments, but it’s not going to change the fortunes of Macy Gray. 5/10

R. Kelly – Share My Love

Today sees the release of Kelly’s umpteenth studio album, Write Me Back, but like most right-thinking people, unless he’s doing an update to his peerless hip-hopera, Trapped In The Closet, it’s going to be hard to pique my interest. Maybe it’s a sign of his advancing years, but R. Kelly seems to have ditched his sexually-charged R&B and moved towards the music which inspired him in the first place. That means funk, soul, the sounds of Philadelphia and, on Share My Love, 1970s disco. Consider my interest piqued. The result is… well, I’m lost for words – it’s utterly fantastic. It’s such a well-produced and faithful adaptation of the classic disco sound that I was certain that it had to be a cover version of a popular hit. It isn’t though, it’s an R. Kelly original, and it sounds like a cross between McFadden and Whitehead’s Ain’t No Stopping Us Now and Hall & Oates. This track will likely get no airplay or attention, it will sell next to nothing and your parents would probably love it if they heard it, but that’s not the point. Somehow, out of nowhere, R. Kelly has made one of the most catchy, uplifting and downright wonderful songs of recent times. I definitely didn’t see that one coming. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Taio Cruz – There She Goes

While we’re talking cover versions, or more accurately, not cover versions, I pressed Play on this in the vain hope that British R&B poppet Taio Cruz had inexplicably decided to take on The La’s paean to “the brown”. It’s not the case (unlike, hilariously, simpering Christian “rock” band Sixpence None The Richer, who missed the point entirely), but it’s certainly got some bizarre lyrics. Apparently, the object of Mr Cruz’s affections has a “body shaped like a rock guitar”. Is this a good thing? Surely this means she’s got an abnormally long neck? And what’s the difference between a rock guitar and any other kind of guitar? Does he just mean an electric guitar? Musically, this is by-numbers hotties-in-the-club-I’m-in-the-VIP-lounge music that bears more than a passing resemblance to J-Lo’s On The Floor (but doesn’t sample The Lambada). I’d much rather have heard him tackling the line, “I just can’t contai-ee-ain this feeling that remai-ee-ai-ee-ains”. 1/10 feat. Eva Simons – This Is Love

Fresh from his career highlight, running the Olympic torch through the Somerset town of Taunton *turns to camera, does a “no, me neither” shrug*, is back to assault the world’s eardrums and pop charts. This Is Love has a badly bolted together verse and chorus, and vocally, Eva Simons appears to be a dead ringer for Fergie. In fact, this song is so much like various components of a number of Black Eyed Peas songs that it’s almost like a BEP megamix (I’d advise you now to pray to the deity of your choice that such a thing doesn’t exist). So, the ridiculously-dressed entrepreneur adds yet another stinker to his never-ending list, dancing around like a reject from Glee, singing about the club and telling people how to sing properly even though he’s as tone deaf as a hammer. William James Adam, Jr. is 37 years of age. 0/10

Yet more self-promotion

A piece I wrote a few months back has been kindly published by the people at feminist blog, The Vagenda, so why not have a read?

Please note that I did NOT choose the title that the article is published under... :)

Monday, 18 June 2012

Different Colours

My review of the new Marconi Union record, Different Colours, is now available on the Clash Magazine website. It actually forms the second half of a two-part review on similarly-themed albums, the first of which is Ghosting Season's The Very Last Of The Saints.

Both of those reviews, plus my thoughts on Passion, the latest album by French producer Para One, are published in the 75th edition of Clash, which has already hit the shops.


Sunday, 17 June 2012

No Love At Lovebox

Last week, like many people, I read Eve Barlow’s blog on crowd behaviour at the Download Festival, the thrust of which was her disappointment and surprise at girls being pressured into flashing their chests on the main stage’s big screen. It wasn’t at the forefront of my mind as I went to the first day of this year’s Lovebox Festival in Victoria Park, but after a few hours, that situation had certainly changed.

I tend to stand on the periphery at any live music event, and thanks to the incredibly loud and frequent bass drops on show at Lovebox (24 hours later I’ve only just recovered), I was doing my usual killjoy impersonation. However, the planets seemed to align for some reason during Madeon’s DJ set. I’m not sure why really; it wasn’t particularly better than anything else I saw that day, and, when you’re my age, there’s something a little odd about raving your face off to someone who looks young enough to be your son.

This is Madeon. No, really, it is.

However, I found myself near the front, jumping around, limbs flailing and generally having a jolly old time.
As is often the case, a selection of girls (and some boys) were spending time sitting on their friends’ shoulders. The cameras would then focus in on these totem-people, display their image on the big screen, and the person on top would realise a split second too late to wave frantically at themselves. So far, so normal.

However, around 40 minutes in, a girl on her friend’s shoulders was subject to chanting from a group of lads in front of me (I think it’s fair to call them ‘lads’ here). First came a single, repeated word, “Boobs! Boobs! Boobs!”, before they decided to embark upon a chorus of, “Get your tits out for the lads” (see, they even self-identify as ‘lads’). The fact their singing was out-of-time with the pulsating beats of Madeon was far from the worst part; this girl looked genuinely distressed by what was happening. She started by just shaking her head at them but the longer the ordeal went on, the more sheepish she became, before she eventually got down from the shoulders of her friend. After another five minutes, she was gone, and I didn’t see her in the crowd again. The boys in front of me carried on dancing regardless, unaware the girl was even upset in the first place, let alone the fact she had left.

At this point, I was feeling pretty ashamed of my whole gender, but then the ‘lads’ turned their attention to another girl-on-shoulders. However, this girl seemed delighted to be the object of such attention, and lifted her top up to cheers and hoots of approval. This wasn’t enough for these people though, as she was wearing a bikini top. The chant of, “Boobs! Boobs!”, started up again, but this girl didn’t seem too bothered by it, and just descended and carried on dancing. Again, the boys lost interest.

I was genuinely baffled by this point. It’s fair to assume that many people in the crowd – me included – had had a few drinks by this point and, of course, that can lead to a loss of inhibition. Plus, many men change their behaviour when they’re exclusively in the company of other men (I’m not immune to this, my expletive rate certainly goes up when there’s an abundance of testosterone). But it didn’t stop me being amazed that men would be so blatant in their desire to see a woman take her top off and that there were women who didn’t see this as a problem. In fact, later in the set, a woman appeared on the big screen who had written the word, “TITS”, on her chest in red paint. Unsurprisingly, this won the much-coveted seal of approval from our good friends in front of me. What ‘legends’, eh?

However, the worst was yet to come. Near the end of Madeon’s set, one of the bantersauruses broke cover to go it alone and turn his attentions to another 11 foot female. His chat-up technique was extremely efficient. No timewasting with niceties such as conversation for our protagonist, no – he simply walked up the open-shirted girl, pointed at her chest and then grabbed one of her breasts. I expected him to get slapped, or at the very least a glower from the girl in question, but no, this didn’t seem to faze her one iota. Presumably buoyed by his previous ‘success’, he then proceeded to do it again. If you’re now thinking, “well, at least he wasn’t so lust-driven that he attempted to ‘motorboat’ her”, I’ve got news for you – he did that too. Following this, she climbed down from her friend’s shoulders, approached him, and they proceeded to happily bump and grind throughout the rest of the show.

Clearly, something’s wrong with this picture. Music festivals are, sadly, not renowned for being the safest places in the world. Even the Latitude Festival, an event whose USP is effectively family-friendliness – has been the setting for a sexual assault in its relatively short history. At a festival, you’re in a big crowd and most people are inebriated in some way – mostly through alcohol but Lovebox was also awash with drugs. I’ve led a pretty sheltered existence, so I was a little flummoxed by being offered drugs on six separate occasions during the course of the day.

Obviously this kind of male behaviour is deplorable, but I think I was more shocked and disheartened by the acceptance and even encouragement from the female side that I witnessed. The fact that, to some women, suggestive remarks and even blatant groping are taken in good humour or, in the most extreme example I was part to, are regarded as a substitute to an introduction, was an eye-opener to say the least.

There are a great number of brilliant feminist blogs and writers online, and in the media-centric, liberal bubble of the little corner of the internet I – and probably you – inhabit, it’s tempting to think we’re all well-balanced people with tolerant attitudes. But, as the popularity of sites such as UniLad have showed, there’s a huge following and lots of encouragement for this kind of thing and, scarily, it looks as if people are increasingly starting to see this as part of normal society.

Saturday, 16 June 2012


This blog's been a little neglected of late. So, for a round-up, here's what I've had published on the Clash Magazine and NME websites over the last couple of weeks.



There, lovely.

The Singles Bar: 11/05/12

As the late Roy Castle of Record Breakers once said, “Dedication’s what you need”. He could well have been talking about this week’s Singles Bar column. Because while the rest of England were watching the national football team stagger their way to a creditable draw against the French in the European Championships, I spent a good portion of my evening slaving away over a hot laptop. One day I’ll get my reward, I’m sure, but in the meantime, here’s this week’s pick of the pops.

Azealia Banks – 1991

Miss Banks stokes the fire of excitement ahead of the release of her debut album yet more with the release of 1991, the title track from her EP of the same name. 1991 may be the year she was born, but it’s also the year from which this track takes most of its musical inspiration. There’s a definite nod to house, a style of music that Banks’ hometown of New York was quick to adopt, and she’s equally quick to acknowledge the influence of her birthplace in developing her sound (“NY rose me”). The cheeky, witty, foul-mouthed flow that the world fell in love with on 212 is still very much there, and her rhymes are clever as well as providing fantastic soundbites – on both 1991 and another track from the EP, Liquorice, she tells us, “I make hits, motherfucker”. Often when an artist is hyped to such a degree, all subsequent output can’t help but be a disappointment, but on the evidence of her body of work thus far, Azealia Banks could well be the most exciting and vital MC of a generation. 9/10 – JOINT SINGLE OF THE WEEK

The Murder Barn – America

There’s something rather wonderful about songs that take unexpected turns. America, the debut single from London sextet The Murder Barn, begins quite unspectacularly – just simple piano chords and a lone voice – but there’s a hint of what’s to come before the minute mark with what sounds like a distant Theremin. From then on, the track builds superbly, with layers and layers of atmospheric strings creating a landscape that’s dramatic and grandiose. The voice of frontwoman Chesca Dolecka is marvellous too, swooping and soaring as the arrangement reaches ever more dizzying heights. For a first single, America is ridiculously assured, and The Murder Barn’s ambitious orchestral pop could take them great places. 8/10

Stooshe – Black Heart

Mouthy girl-group trio Stooshe have divided opinion this year; you either found their breakthrough hit, Love Me, a much needed breath of fresh air or exceptionally irritating. It’s the kind of schtick that could easily make them a one-hit wonder, so they’re likely to be plugging Black Heart like they’re a mythical Dutch boy faced with a leaky dike. What separates Stooshe from any number of identikit girlbands is their big personalities and idiosyncrasies, and Black Heart does its best to hide them entirely. It’s a bit of an enormo-ballad, with warbling aplenty, and the only clue it’s Stooshe at all is the odd glottal stop. Black Heart is the kind of thing En Vogue at their peak wouldn’t have even recorded as a B-side, and whoever chose this for Stooshe’s second single needs to be imprisoned in a darkened room and forced to listen to the sound of polystyrene packaging being taken out of cardboard boxes for all eternity. 2/10

Cheryl – Call My Name

Celebrity raci[STOP IT – Legal Ed.] Cheryl Cole has ditched her surname for this stage of her solo career. Call My Name is a pretty infectious slice of Calvin Harris-produced Eurodance-pop, but I can’t review it quite as well as Cheekymonkey12312, who was the most recent commenter when I watched the video for this song on YouTube. Cheekymonkey12312, over to you:

“I have never come across such an inspiring women [sic] ever. I was watching the Graham Nortan [sic] show and she came across with an amazing humour. It made me instantly feel that she is caring inside and out. She is so talented and everything she does is for her soldiers. I love her because she is amazing and real and if most of you dont [sic] already know she is the nicest and most down to earth celebrity ever. I love how she is able to put her feelings into songs in an amazing way, I love her for who she is :)”

Brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it? I might get Cheekymonkey12312 to review all the singles in the future. With such insightful comment and masterful command of the English language, that would surely be a treat for all of us. 4/10

Chew Lips – Do You Chew?

Cheekymonkey12312 is sadly reticent on the subject of Chew Lips’ Do You Chew?, so it looks like I may have to review this one myself. Do You Chew? has an icy, 80s electro feel but doesn’t particularly do much to bring that sound into the 21st Century. In fact, Chew Lips seem so keen on wearing their bleeding-edge influences on their sleeve, they’ve neglected to write a memorable tune or include a decent hook. It’s certainly stylish, and the kind of track you could imagine being played at an über-cool European fashion show, but it doesn’t really go anywhere and has little that’s memorable about it. Oh, and apart from that time I nearly choked to death while swallowing a jam doughnut whole (I wish I were making that story up), yes, I do chew. 3/10

Jake Bugg – Lightning Bolt

Nottingham teenager Jake Bugg seems to have come out of nowhere in the last few months, generating huge buzz wherever he goes and even bagging a national UK television appearance to boot. Bizarrely, for someone so young, his music owes an enormous debt to the sounds of the 1950s, particularly skiffle. Props to him for going against the grain, and Lightning Bolt is a pleasant enough ditty, but it’s practically a direct copy of a style that was at its most popular over half a century ago and, like Chew Lips above, he’s bringing  absolutely nothing new to the table. In a similar way to CW Stoneking, he’s resurrecting an oft-neglected genre, but it just comes across as a curious affectation and, like nearly all facsimile records, you have to wonder why anyone would listen to this when the original recordings which perfected this style are still available. Rebooting the 50s can be done, just check out Willy Moon’s thrilling collision of old-time rock n’ roll with compressed beats, but Jake Bugg’s simply living in the past. 3/10

Emeli Sandé – My Kind Of Love

Stooshe’s Black Heart sounded like a bad En Vogue song, and there’s a 90s R&B ballad feel to My Kind Of Love too. After the exciting, fractured beats that featured early in her career, Sandé has shown herself to be more traditional and vanilla than we might have expected, and My Kind Of Love is the kind of track you can imagine reality show hopefuls belting out in an attempt to “make the song their own”. It’s a post-Adele world though, so big voice ballads are likely to be a dime a dozen, and while this is hardly the worst example of the form, it’s not particularly going to get you singing into your hairbrush either. If you’d ever heard my singing or lived in close proximity to me though, you’d probably see that as a plus point. 3/10

Jay Z and Kanye West feat. Frank Ocean – No Church In The Wild

The UK has gone Jay and Kanye crazy recently, with their recent Watch The Throne shows at the O2 Arena apparently being attended by every music journalist within a fifty mile radius of London (well, not quite every music journalist…). If nothing else, this track shows what a phenomenal eighteen months or so Frank Ocean has had, going from practically unknown to guesting on a track by rap’s two biggest names. The fluid bassline to this track even sounds like it could have come from Ocean’s Nostalgia, ULTRA. mixtape, and this is arguably the best cut to have been released from the Watch The Throne album. It still never quite achieves the lift-off that it threatens to and there are signs that Jay-Z and Kanye are sussing each other out here, both too nervous to take risks and do something truly innovative for fear of being shown up by the other. Hip-hop’s biggest stars being insecure egomaniacs, eh? Expect the next major news story to concern the favoured toilet habits of ursine creatures. 6/10

Baddies – Rewire

In the video to Rewire, Baddies do something that more bands should do; they all dress the same. If it’s good enough for The Beatles, then it’s certainly good enough for any other group. It’s all gone a bit 2005 on Rewire; it’s a frenetic burst of post-punk energy with deft one-bar time signature changes here and there. It also features a great synth line and a glorious melodic hook in the chorus. It’s all exciting stuff, though the verses get a little repetitive after a while. Rewire’s parent album, Build, has been produced by Sean Genockey, who has engineered tracks for The Futureheads and Reuben in the past, and that influence certainly shows here. If rock wasn’t quite so out of fashion right now, Rewire could be knocking on the door of the Top 40, and deservedly so. 8/10

AlunaGeorge – You Know You Like It

There’s a real buzz about AlunaGeorge at the moment, the R&B duo made of members Aluna and, yep, you’ve guessed it, George. You Know You Like It is a woozy, psychedelic track which bears hallmarks of the chopped and screwed movement. Add that to the slightly cutesy, Martina Topley-Birdesque vocals, and you’ve got a song that’s as addictive and enjoyable as it is inventive and confusing. There’s springy bass and percussion that lurches from bar to bar. It’s almost as if someone’s fed a traditional R&B track though a nightmarish, trippy filter, and the end result is like Odd Future offshoot, The Internet, but leaner and with more focus. Azealia Banks has already been mentioned, but with her, AlunaGeorge, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, THEESatisfaction and more, the future looks exceptionally bright for leftfield R&B and hip-hop. Put quite simply, this song is, and I don’t say this often, “the tits”. 9/10 – JOINT SINGLE OF THE WEEK

The Singles Bar: 04/06/12

Shops, streets and pubs have been going Diamond Jubilee mad this weekend. But not here at The Singles Bar, oh no. We’ve got no bunting up, no Union Flags and no cucumber sandwiches. Instead, we’ve spent the entire festivities sitting in near darkness, listening to Generation Terrorists and ordering several copies of "The Idiot’s Guide To Starting A Republic". While we wait for those to drop through our letterbox though, we found time to cast an eye over ten new tracks available to purchase from today.

Perfume Genius – Dark Parts

A simple idea, yet one executed extremely well. Perfume Genius’ Dark Parts is built around simple, two-note piano oscillations and fragile, haunting vocals, and it’s certainly effective. The way it builds up for the first two minutes gets at your emotions and is really quite majestic. The downside, however, is that the last minute or so is pretty superfluous, and all the momentum and feeling that had been previously built up is lost. It’s a real shame, because otherwise Dark Parts would be a wonderful track, reminiscent of Regina Spektor at her best. 7/10

Gotye – Eyes Wide Open

It seems that Gotye’s plan to take over the entire world continues apace. There’s a travelling, chugging quality to Eyes Wide Open, which was actually originally released in Australia over eighteen months ago. It’s not as irritating as Somebody That I Used To Know, but that’s hardly a recommendation. On Spotify, Gotye’s filed alongside Foster The People and Fun., which seems about right; groups who are just sort of there, don’t do much, and their music doesn’t really excite yet sells in industrial quantities. This probably wouldn’t be a hit if it were by an artist without much commercial success, but since it’s the STIUTK guy, this will sell regardless. 3/10

Maximo Park – Hips And Lips

It’s difficult to believe that Maximo Park’s debut album, A Certain Trigger, was released over seven years ago. Sadly, they haven’t managed to recapture that vital, engrossing feeling since, and Hips And Lips won’t be changing that. It’s a perfectly listenable track, but doesn’t have the wit and invention you’d expect from Maximo Park, and Paul Smith’s vocals sound positively disinterested for the most part. The refrain of, “You’re a puzzle to me / And you always will be”, harks back to better days for the band but like so many before them, it seems they said all they had to say with their first record. 5/10

Marcus Collins – Mercy

Recent X Factor runner-up, Marcus Collins, follows the formula set in place by his reworking of White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army. Namely, a big voice, big horns and a kind of watered-down, gutless approximation of classic soul and the Motown sound. He’s clearly singing like his life depends on it and although that’s sounds extreme, on the evidence of this track, his career might well be hanging in the balance. A bizarre arrangement and style that’s completely out of kilter with everything in modern pop and a song that someone forgot to write a chorus for. Oh dear. 2/10

Hot Chip – Night And Day

With each passing year, musical trends seem to get closer and closer to what electronic group Hot Chip have been doing for ages. The vocals of frontman Alexis Taylor may be an acquired taste, but Night And Day should be thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. It has that elusive quality that leads you to the dancefloor, an urgent twitch, and a fantastic 80s-inspired breakdown after the chorus. Due to their appearance, Hot Chip are often written off as a merely academic proposition, but Night And Day just reaffirms what’s always been the case – they’re an under-the-radar treasure capable of writing phenomenal pop songs. 9/10

DJ Fresh feat. Dizzee Rascal – The Power

It really illustrates where the UK music industry is at the moment that a drum n’ bass producer, unheralded outside of his chosen field for a dozen years, can now be releasing a new single off the back of consecutive Number Ones. The inclusion of Dizzee Rascal makes me nervous though – commercial success has turned Dizzee from an era-defining MC with grit to a party-chasing pop star. However, the fact remains that Dizzee is enormously charismatic, and his rhymes transform an otherwise average-quality dance track into something much more memorable. He’s still only concerned with having a good time, and the fear remains that he’ll soon jump the shark, but for now, both Dizzee Rascal and DJ Fresh are on top of the world. 7/10

Coldplay feat. Rihanna – Princess Of China

Looking back at previous Singles Bars, it’s been a whole week since RiRi’s been involved in a new track, so it’s high time she was featured again. From the moment it was announced she was teaming up with Coldplay, the resulting track had ‘single’ written all over it, whatever the musical result. Like much of Mylo Xyloto, Princess Of China has a more electronic, experimental edge than Coldplay’s previous work. Cheap-sounding synths pulse in Princess Of China’s verses and the vocal hook has Coldplay’s trademark earworm quality. Despite being potentially a pointless exercise, having a distinct female vocal works well in a Coldplay track, and provides a welcome contrast to the sound of Chris Martin, who’s never the most appealing of singers. Between these two, they could keep the world powered just through the rage of their legions of haters, but they certainly do what they do very well. 7/10

Usher – Scream

After the failure (or at least, by his standards) of the lurching Climax, it’s interesting to see what Usher will do next. Unfortunately, after showing signs of breaking free of the dance/R&B template, it’s back to business as usual for Mr. Raymond with Scream. There’s a lot of “Woo! Baby, baby!”, big beats and allusions to that place where so much chart music is based: the club. Usher’s been making hits for over fifteen years now, but this could be any of the artists that followed in his wake (Ne-Yo, Chris Brown), and it’s disheartening to see him following rather than leading. If you find yourself enjoying this track, hit yourself in the head with a frying pan and go and listen to Climax instead. 1/10

Chris “Kammy” Kamara – Sing 4 England

England’s disastrous Euro 2012 campaign begins next week, and it appears this is the team’s official song. For the uninitiated, Chris Kamara is a former professional footballer who is now a commentator and, let’s be honest, figure of fun for his hugely enthusiastic style and uncanny knack of getting things wrong. So yes, he’s absolutely no business making a record. Despite his persona, this track is, bizarrely, played completely straight, which seems like a huge opportunity missed. Like the vast majority of football records, it’s insipid, lumpen and jingoistic, and it’s hard to believe anybody could be inspired by this turgid mess of a record. 1/10

The Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made The Radio

Is anything about this a good idea? Seminal band with mentally damaged genius at the helm put out new material for the first time in who-knows-how-long. You almost don’t want to listen to it because it could spoil so many memories but… it’s utterly fantastic. No, really, it is. It’s a little slow to get going, but once you’re at the first chorus, those harmonies come in and they sound just as heart-meltingly marvellous as they always have. Shameless nostalgia, perhaps, but there are few sounds on this earth as life-affirming and beautiful as The Beach Boys’ harmonies, and the relief that this song is so good is almost overwhelming. It’s no God Only Knows, or Good Vibrations, or Heroes And Villains. Hell, it’s not even In My Room or Wouldn’t It Be Nice, but against all the odds, it’s a triumphant return and the sound of the sun bursting through the clouds. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK