Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Singles Bar - 02/01/12

As The Singles Bar creaks open after a well-earned break and the fog of New Year’s Eve begins to lift, what are we left with? Well, it’s 2012 as you’ve probably noticed, which means business as usual (unless you’re Mayan, in which case, best start flogging your stuff on eBay fairly soon). The opening week of the year is a chance for acts to steal a march on a stagnating singles chart and for new, hotly-tipped acts to finally break through into the mainstream. Fret not though, there are also a host of people releasing the same old rubbish too. Happy New Year!

JLS – Do You Feel What I Feel?

It seems poor old JLS have slightly lost their way of late. After the insipid ballad, Take A Chance On Me, they’ve returned with the inevitable club-style “banger”. However, it sounds like a poor replica of some of the group’s better efforts (Eyes Wide Shut, Beat Again) and passes without too much incident. JLS are one of the more successful X Factor alumni and churn out the odd good track now and then, but two poor efforts in a row mean that the alarm bells should be ringing. In the dog-eat-dog world of pop, their next single really could be make or break. 3/10

S.C.U.M – Faith Unfolds

You can just imagine the conversation. “Mum, we’ve formed a band.” “How exciting – what are you called?” “We’re called S.C.U.M.” “That’s nice dear, would you like some mashed potato?” With a name like that, you’re expecting some kind of assault on the eardrums. Instead, Faith Unfolds sounds like a downtempo Placebo who have been given a new keyboard for Christmas. Apparently, S.C.U.M claim to be not influenced by any other groups at all, which is fairly laughable considering this track sounds like about a million other ones you’ve already heard. It must be some kind of incredible coincidence. 4/10

Mark Lanegan Band – The Gravedigger’s Song

It’s been a long while now since Lanegan has released a record without the assistance of the gossamer-light vocals of Isobel Campbell. The Gravedigger’s Song is the kind of track that’s definitely more suited to just his voice, as it’s all lumbering low end and menace. There’s a brooding scuzziness to the song that complements Lanegan’s threatening, throaty growl rather well, and there are signs of an electronic influence creeping into his work. Although Lanegan/Campbell collaborations offer a bit more light and shade than the full-on gravelly assault of Lanegan himself, this is a pretty damn fine return. 7/10

Various Cruelties – Great Unknown

There’s something rather unappealing about such a will-this-do? band name as Various Cruelties. That said, Great Unknown starts off intriguingly, with pretty, almost cheap-sounding keyboards and vocals that pitch up somewhere between Plan B and Maverick Sabre. Sadly, the chorus is fairly standard rock-by-numbers which doesn’t do much to quicken the heart rate. Various Cruelties claim to make “shabby Motown pop”, and there’s one word in that description that doesn’t seem to belong at all. I certainly can’t hear an ounce of Marvin Gaye et al on Great Unknown, and it sounds like a trick to get people talking about them, which I will NOT be falling for. Oh… 5/10

Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again

Michael Kiwanuka is on the BBC’s Sound of 2012 longlist, and Home Again is all over the radio, so there’s a decent chance he’s going to making a few quid in the coming twelve months. On the evidence of Home Again he certainly deserves to, and it’s a beautiful, tender acoustic ballad framed by his wonderfully rich voice and a smattering of strings. He’s the kind of artist who’s so clearly got “it”, you wonder why he’s not a household name already. Home Again has been produced wonderfully – it’s not over-egged at all – and the gospel influences get a chance to come through. But it’s that voice that’s the star; understated, exceptionally clear and capable of displaying emotion almost effortlessly. Remember where you heard of him first (unless you’d heard of him before reading this, in which case just pretend you heard of him first here). 8/10

Bombay Bicycle Club – Leave It

Bombay Bicycle Club are an interesting proposition. Adored in some quarters and roundly ignored in others, they seem to have changed style altogether with each passing album without so much as a round of applause from many critics. Leave It showcases a band who have firmly got to grips with being part of the furniture in the indie scene – there’s a good melody, a big chorus and bits for people to sing along with. It’s a little on the average side, but there’s a little bit of afropop creeping in around the edges, which sets it apart from your standard four-to-the-floor hitmakers. BBC should probably be bigger than they are, but not on this evidence… if that makes sense, which it probably doesn’t. 6/10

The Maccabees – Pelican

And speaking of standard four-to-the-floor hitmakers, here’s The Maccabees, a band whose appeal – the sublime Toothpaste Kisses aside – completely mystifies me. Anyway, they’re back with a new album, Given To The Wild, and Pelican is its lead single. It appears that three years away hasn’t changed their musical palette whatsoever, as Pelican could easily have come off their last record, the disappointing Wall Of Arms. There’s some choppy guitar, some two-part harmonies, some bits you think you’ve heard before but actually haven’t and an overwhelming sense of indifference (Can you be overwhelmed by indifference? I’m saying yes). It’s the same as it ever was; the NME will get excited about this, no-one else will really care and somehow, the world will continue to spin on its axis. 4/10

Rihanna – You Da One

We’re not even 48 hours into 2012, and already Rihanna’s releasing yet another track. I’m starting to believe that she can’t be just one person due to the sheer amount of music she puts out. She can’t have had a holiday since she was in school. But, I digress. You Da One is the opening track from last year’s Talk That Talk LP, and one of the better songs on that album. It’s relatively slow for a Rihanna track, but it still fizzes with energy and is underpinned with sparingly utilised bass. There’s also a glitchy, dubstep-inspired bridge which gives You Da One a little edge and saves it from being too fluffy. Not the best thing she’s ever put out, but still the kind of track a million wannabes would commit murder to be able to put their name to. 7/10

Taio Cruz – Troublemaker

Taio Cruz’s real first name is actually Jacob, which has completely shattered my ideas of him. Actually, that’s not entirely true, because hit single, Dynamite, aside, he’s one of those singers that’s indistinguishable from a plethora of others. Troublemaker was released in France in August 2011 but don’t worry, everyone, we haven’t missed too much. It’s Guetta-esque house pop with some Euro-dance tomfoolery in the chorus and lyrics generated from the big book of dull pop clichés (“I throw my hands up”; “I love the way you dance, it makes me crazy”; “Let’s take it to the top, push it to the limit”). If Mr. Cruz informs me Troublemaker is actually a scathing diatribe on the behaviour of government officials during the Biafran War then I might revise my opinion but for the moment, I think this is a load of old toss. 1/10

The 2 Bears – Work

See, Jacob, this is how you do house-infused pop music. The 2 Bears (Raf Rundell and Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard) follow up last year’s sublime Bear Hug with this great track. Imagine, if you will, that Ian Dury had been born about 40 years later and spent his formative years in Pacha. Then, you might have some idea of what Work sounds like. OK, the lyrics aren’t exactly vintage, acerbic Dury, but the half-talked vocals replete with glottal stops are here, and they’re joined by a nodding dance beat which is impossible to ignore. Even better, about 20 seconds from the end, the whole thing climaxes with an incredibly fun, fuzzy bass breakdown. More of this sort of thing, please. 8/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

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