Sunday, 26 February 2012


Pulp - Separations (Reissue)
released 13 February 2012 on Fire Records

The third of Pulp’s reissued trio of early albums is the most accomplished, but also the most frustrating. Separations documents a band on the cusp of greatness, yet failing to realise their potential and taking their cues from their contemporaries rather than ploughing their own furrow. Pulp’s '80s albums – It and Freaks – were patchy and largely the work of a different group altogether. On Separations, the building blocks of the Pulp aesthetic were in place; Jarvis as the soap opera poet laureate and sing-along tracks with rousing choruses that raced towards thrilling climaxes. However, the quality of the songwriting isn’t quite up there with the classic albums that followed: His n’ Hers and Different Class. Countdown – a track which is the musical brother of She’s A Lady but is lyrically similar to Babies – contains a couplet that is quintessentially Pulp. Half-whispering, half-threatening, Jarvis compellingly purrs, “I brought this town to its knees / can you hear it begging to be pleased?” The alliterative Holy Trinity of Pulp – sex, seediness and Sheffield – in just fifteen words.

The first half of Separations sees Pulp trying various musical styles to see what fits best. Don’t You Want Me Anymore? has a distinct Spanish feel, She’s Dead echoes the lounge approach later used on Underwear, and the title track starts off sounding like the theme to a spaghetti western, before disjointedly morphing into tinny reggae in 12/8 time. Gratingly, the genre Pulp settle on eventually in Separations is one that was popular at the time but hasn’t dated particularly well: acid house. The whole second half of the album contains dance rhythms, drum machines, and more synth burbles and stabs than you can shake a stick at. Even though Cocker remains on top lyrical form, it’s musically uninspiring and derivative, with the crackling, fizzing arpeggio of Death II probably the best of the sounds side two has to offer. On Separations, the golden ticket is there for Pulp; it’s just slightly out of their reach.

Jarvis is ahead of the rest of them, with his evocative wordplay and winning character (notice he always refers to “women” and “ladies”, never “girls”). The other band members aren’t yet ready to become the sound of a decade and are prone to self-indulgence (the empty, quasi-rave of This House Is Condemned is particularly over-long and tedious). Separations is the last chance to see Pulp still green. There are a handful of tracks to make it worth your time, but it’s too tied down to the era from which it came and, as such, makes it difficult to love here in 2012. Less than two years after Separations hit the shops (it had been delayed since 1989), they’d unleash His n’ Hers, and victory would be theirs.


Pulp - Freaks (Reissue)
released 13 February 2012 on Fire Records

In the life and career of Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, one section that tends to get glossed over is his stint as one half of gothic electro duo Relaxed Muscle. Relaxed Muscle released one album in 2003, A Heavy Night With…, and promptly disappeared from view. However, this dark, brooding menace must have been part of the Cocker armoury for some time, as it’s one of the overriding emotions on 1987’s Freaks. Freaks is subtitled ‘Ten Stories About Power, Claustrophobia, Suffocation and Holding Hands’, and it’s a very apt description. As well as the nightmarish, hall-of-mirrors theme – one which doesn’t seem to crop up on any other Pulp album – there’s the bedsit balladry and tales of intense (and mainly unrequited) relationships that became Pulp’s calling card on future records.

Freaks begins with Fairground, which features chromatic scales, a wurlitzer, maniacal cackling, references to circus freaks, and generally sounds like the music played in a big top at the apocalypse. Russell Senior takes lead vocal duties, and his sinister narration lends an even more spooky theme (“nature sometimes makes a mistake”). Being Followed Home begins with ominous echoing footsteps and also makes use of descending, funfair-style chords, while Master Of The Universe is full of jeopardy and creeping dread - and touches upon BDSM (“a master masturbates alone in the corner of your home”).

Unfortunately, Freaks charts a transitional period in the history of Pulp and doesn’t fit together well as an album at all. It’s a battle between two sides of Pulp. The above paragraph covers the 'power, claustrophobia and suffocation', but the album’s stronger tracks are the 'holding hands' side, giving the first real indication of what the band were capable of. Life Must Be So Wonderful is more like the Pulp we know and love. It’s vintage Jarvis – a third person outsider ballad about a council estate femme fatale. Despite the cheap sound of the percussion and not being sung by Cocker, Anorexic Beauty follows this template too, though it also contains a little of the macabre; the object of our hero’s affections, rather than traditionally beautiful, is “corpse-like” and “erotic and skull-faced”.

For those wishing for Pulp at their best though, Freaks provides in the form of I Want You. Following the largely character-free It, you can practically hear Jarvis becoming a frontman as I Want You progresses. His wistful persona sounds fully-formed and honed, and he zones in on lust, longing and obsessions expertly. I Want You is the only track from this era performed regularly by Pulp, and it’s not difficult to ascertain why. Freaks is an album of contrasts, differences and growth. It’s to everyone’s benefit that they ditched the Hell’s Carnival theme and focused more on what they were good at as the band and their sound developed. Freaks will likely be enjoyed by dedicated Pulp disciples only, but there’s the odd snatch of what they were about to become buried amongst the rubble.


Pulp - It (Reissue)
released 13 February 2012 on Fire Records

In retrospect, Pulp’s elevation to the Britpop top table looks more than a little incongruous. They’re inextricably linked to the movement, yet their age, music and lyrical themes were always out of step with the wave of Cool Britannia that was sweeping the nation. They were outsiders, and the liner notes of Different Class marked out this difference between them and their peers: “We don’t want no trouble, we just want the right to be different. That’s all.” This wilful individuality seems very much at odds with the Pulp of It, their first album from 1983. This Pulp are completely in thrall to the popular music of the times, and many of the songs could be the work of any number of early '80s British indie bands. Despite having been a going concern for five years by this point, Pulp clearly still hadn’t found their voice, and preferred to purloin from Aztec Camera and Echo & the Bunnymen instead. In a world about to embrace The Smiths, It offers little to write home about. Album opener, My Lighthouse, is a pretty, acoustic-led track which makes good use of Cocker’s fruity voice and some de rigueur jangle. In Many Ways is The Byrds if they’d studied at a Northern polytechnic and lived in a flat with a temperamental electric storage heater. Looking For Life is a rockier Cocteau Twins by way of the first Doors record. However, there’s still a lack of direction that scuppers the entire album. Listening to It in 2012, it’s impossible not to keep an ear out for clues of what Pulp were to become, or any evidence of genius that simply needed refinement.

The best, most interesting, track is Love Love, which goes far deeper than its horn and barroom-joanna music-hall sounds (strangely reminiscent of Parklife-era Blur actually) would suggest. Jauntiness and life-affirming aren’t often qualities you associate with Pulp, but Love Love has them in spades, and shows a willingness to break away from type that the rest of the album lacks. It also gives us the first taste of the Cocker persona that would go on to become a national treasure. It’s a little more cheeky than '90s Jarvis, but lines like “I recall a special girl, I invited her round for tea / and while my mum was cooking the meal she was under the table with me,” show the fascination with the sex lives of normal people, and the willingness to combine the seedy with the humdrum. In reality, It is more of an interesting historical document than an enjoyable album. For the most part, you’d be hard pressed to reconcile the Pulp of It with the Pulp who shot to fame less than a decade later, but it’s not without its ramshackle charm. We should be grateful that It belongs to a more innocent time, where bands were allowed to make mistakes, develop and flourish before realising their potential.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The Brits 2012: LIVE BLOG

For the second consecutive year, I sat in front of the TV, laptop poised, live-blogging the Brit Awards as if my life depended on it. Despite missing Adele's middle-finger salute (I was typing, sorry), it was still a right old laugh and, should you wish, you can re-run the fun here.

The Singles Bar - 13/02/12

One of the good things about this brave, new world of instant technology is that, if you so desire, you can get a single released yourself almost as soon as it’s recorded. It’s exciting to think that next week’s Singles Bar may feature a track that hasn’t even been written or recorded as I type this. So, a slow hand-clap for Polydor, please, who, cashing in on the zeitgeist a full five months too late, have decided to grant Azealia Banks’ 212 an official release on 25th March. Really, well done everyone, you’ve certainly got your finger on the pulse there. No wonder we’re constantly being told the record industry is in crisis.

Anyway, since last week we’ve had the Grammys and lost a musical icon in Whitney Houston. What a difference seven days can make; here are the releases to see you through until next Monday.

Blink-182 – After Midnight

Unbelievably, Blink-182 formed twenty years ago and, even more incredibly, have sold 28 million albums. They’ve mellowed a bit since in the last decade and also seem to have ditched their infantile japes (which seemed to be one of their main selling points, come to think of it). After Midnight is standard late-period Blink: intricate drum fills, themes of loneliness and alienation, and walls of guitar in the chorus. Sadly, some of the vocals are handled by Toooom DeLooooonge, which means you have to put up with his ridiculous vowel-mangling, and that pushes After Midnight firmly towards “irritating” territory. 4/10

Martin Solveig & Dragonette feat. Idoling!!! – Big In Japan

Martin Solveig & Dragonette were responsible for the absurdly catchy Hello in 2011, so hopes are high for this track (no idea who Idoling!!! is/are though, but they’re clearly very excitable). Unfortunately, Big In Japan is musically almost identical to Hello, in a way that late 90s/early 00s dance acts used to hastily follow up breakthrough hits by releasing the same song (yes, you, Wamdue Project and Madison Avenue). Lyrically, it’s a slightly more wholesome version of Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night, and even has the chanting of letters like Perry’s tune (though here it’s “S.T.A.R.”). A really disappointing effort, and I’m still none the wiser about Idoling!!! either. 2/10

Allo Darlin’ – Capricornia

In case you’re wondering, ‘capricornia’ refers to the parts of Australia that reside within the tropic of Capricorn. Never let it be said that The Singles Bar isn’t educational. Maybe Antipodean Allo Darlin’ singer Elizabeth Morris is starting to feel homesick, as there’s a slight wistful air to Capricornia. However, there’s also something triumphant about it too, and it represents a significantly beefed-up sound compared to the ramshackle charm of their self-titled, debut LP. In fact, they’ve thickened out the music so much that we’re almost into early 90s shoegaze territory. However, Capricornia represents a step forward for Allo Darlin’, and they now look set to cement their place in the indiepop establishment. 7/10

Lianne La Havas – Forget

On Forget, La Havas’ voice comes across like a much more soulful Lily Allen. The track begins with choppy guitar licks, before deep bass and hip-hop beats give it a nu-soul feel which sounds pretty incongruous here in 2012. There are hints of a dancehall bounce too, but it’s all a bit too tasteful and lacking in any real bite. La Havas was on the BBC Sound of 2012 longlist on the strength of her debut EP, Lost & Found, and on the evidence of Forget, she should perhaps stick to the folk/soul crossover she explored there than try and go for something more urban-influenced. Or, even better, she should have released the Two Inch Punch remix of this track that can be found on the single. 5/10

Snow Patrol – In The End

Snow Patrol have been very successful over the years peddling a dire line of music to fill self-assessment tax forms to. But hark, what noise comes from yonder Norn Iron bore-rockers? Why, it’s the sound of a kick drum, setting out a reasonably pacey rhythm. And wait, the guitar’s going at a fair chug too. As a matter of fact, this track manages to get above their standard 80bpm, which is a pleasant surprise in itself. Of course, that alone doesn’t make In The End any good, because it’s still full of empty platitudes and forgettable melodies over an uninspired arrangement, but it’s nice of the boys to give it a little bit of welly and crank out something that will break up the monotony of those arena gigs. 3/10

Goldfrapp – Melancholy Sky

Goldfrapp are a band who have changed musical form with every passing album. Melancholy Sky has been released to promote their new singles collection, which presumably is a mish-mash of fantastic tracks that in no way hang together. It’s a sedate song with Alison Goldfrapp in especially breathy vocal form and gentle nudges of electronic synth warmth. It also recalls the bucolic, pastoral folk of their Seventh Tree album but as Melancholy Sky progresses, it builds into something more affecting and dramatic. It’s interesting how Goldfrapp appear to be attempting to channel all of their styles into one track, and even more surprising that it all comes off. A really gorgeous, uplifting song from one of the most criminally ignored British groups of the 21st Century. 8/10

Emeli Sandé – Next To Me

Songstress Emeli Sandé is going to be everywhere soon. She’s already got a chart-topping single under her belt, and will receive the Critics’ Choice award at the BRITs ceremony next week. Does this impending success indicate a genre-straddling and exciting talent on the block preparing to sweep all before her? Not particularly, as her voice isn’t particularly distinctive, but is prone to the dreaded melisma. Next To Me sounds like an inferior, slower version of Adele’s Rolling In The Deep with its rumbling bass, gospel inflections and tales of inner strength. Though in Sandé’s song, you’ll “find him next to me”, as opposed to Adele telling us “you’re going to wish you never had met me.” So whereas Adele’s track is a pop classic, Sandé’s is an instantly forgettable re-hash. 3/10

One Direction – One Thing

X Factor finalists and singing foetuses One Direction have done pretty well in the charts since launching, helped in no small part by the boisterous, hook-laden pop-rock of What Makes You Beautiful. Keen to repeat a winning formula, they’ve attempted to do something similar with One Thing, which is full of non-specific compliments to the object of their affections (“I don’t know what it is, but I need that one thing; you’ve got that one thing”) and a chorus underpinned by springy guitars for pre-pubescent girls to jump around their bedrooms to. A load of fluffy nonsense, of course – though I’m not really the target market for this sugar-coated stuff – but it follows in a fine tradition of non-threatening, boy-band anthems, and there are far worse crimes than this kind of thing. Bless ‘em, the lovable scamps. 6/10

Azari & III – Reckless With Your Love

There’s an awful lot of music around at the moment that brings to mind early 90s house and breakbeat. The 2 Bears and Jamie xx in particular clearly have a fondness of the simple piano riffs of Chicago house, and to their number we can now add Azari & III. Reckless With Your Love aims more for the handbag house end of the market, but it’s a really great, fun track, even if the lyrics are tinged with melancholy and sadness (“Reckless with your love; you just give it away”). The layers of the song are built up perfectly, and there’s a brilliant 2am, darkened room, dance-like-your-life-depends-on-it feel that’s near impossible to put into words. 8/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Scissor Sisters vs. Krystal Pepsy – Shady Love

And continuing the 90s house theme we have Scissor Sisters, who have gone for something more sleazy and less polished for their return to Planet Pop. Krystal Pepsy, as you probably know by now, is Azealia Banks performing under a soubriquet and although she doesn’t rap on Shady Love, her singing suits the euphoric chorus perfectly. There’s some great, filthy synth in the trashy verses, which is more camp than a row of tents, though it would be best for all involved if Jake Shears didn’t take up rapping full-time, as his “flow” is stilted and awkward. Funny how you can work with one of the most promising MCs in the game and decide to handle spitting duties yourself, eh? Anyway, Shady Love is a bit of a departure for Scissor Sisters and quite a bold move, but one that largely pays off. After those last two tracks, I’m off to dance in some form of illegal warehouse rave (that I think was popular at the time; I’m a bit too young to remember). 8/10

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Lana Del Rage

“Wow watching this “singer” on SNL is like watching a 12 yearold [sic] in their bedroom when theyre [sic] pretending to sing and perform. #signofourtimes” – Juliette Lewis on Twitter

“It wasn’t just me! Seems like the OVERWHELMING consensus is that @LanaDelRey was horrible on SNL last night!” – Perez Hilton on Twitter

“Slut whore. I’d bang her hard” – comment left beneath YouTube clip of Lana Del Rey's Video Games

It may have come to your attention in recent months that singer Lana Del Rey is rather physically striking. Of course, the fact she’s attractive means she can’t have any discernible talent and she certainly can’t have invented a persona that would cause the entire music industry to chase its own tail in a frothy-mouthed frenzy for weeks on end. Definitely not, I mean, everyone knows women can’t be both pretty and clever; they’re mutually exclusive qualities.

If you’re now thinking, “that’s clearly a load of nonsense, you troll,” then well done, give yourself a gold star on your wallchart in the row marked, ‘Being a well-balanced, reasonable human being’. But the collective tizzy that music writers, fans and commenters have gotten themselves into over Lana Del Rey’s authenticity, or perceived lack thereof, could lead you to the conclusion that the bunkum in the above paragraph must be true. At its best, it’s lazy stereotyping and bad journalism. At its worst, it hints at a nasty streak of misogyny endemic in the music appreciation community. I don’t recall notoriously “not ugly” singer-songwriters James Taylor and Cat Stevens being put under such a spotlight in the 1970s because of their aesthetic qualities.

The reviews for Del Rey’s debut album, Born To Die, are mostly in now, and the general sense seems to be that people are underwhelmed. However, given the media circus that’s surrounded her, it’s hard to know how any album could have lived up to that level of hype and expectation. A feted artist releasing a curiously flat first record is nothing new, but the sheer breadth of opinion in the reviews is a little unusual, with Born To Die receiving scores at both extremes of the spectrum.

All the reviews reference her image, dizzying rise to fame and sadly inevitable backlash. That’s to be expected; pop music has been about more than just the music pretty much since it was invented. However, the more negative and scathing reviews tend to review the actual content of the record noticeably less. Some, but not all, of these write-ups seem to be fuelled in part by anger; maybe the writer is annoyed with themselves for having been hoodwinked into championing what they thought was a “serious” artist. For a certain type of music critic, there’s kudos in discovering an artist and having the measure of them almost immediately. To see the indie queen reveal herself as a pop starlet – and thus, consequently, not be a “real” artist – must have stirred up some conflicting emotions. This phenomenon was summed up rather neatly in the following open letter on

Both PopMatters and The AV Club likened Lana Del Rey to Ke$ha in their reviews of Born To Die, with the clear implication being any similarity between the two is a slight on Del Rey. You get the impression if Del Rey hadn’t appeared so fully-formed and “fooled” us all, but had been a straight-up pop performer from the start, she wouldn’t get such short shrift. Sputnik says there is “little substance” to the music, The Independent calls the album’s content “almost morally objectionable” and The AV Club (again) asserts “she exists only to titillate”. Clearly, in the eyes of these people, music is only worthy if it plumbs the depths of the human condition and reveals something new to us; being transient, trashy and immediate is clearly unacceptable.

The most extreme example of this reviewers’ backlash comes courtesy of Tiny Mix Tapes, who don’t bother to properly assess the album on its own merits at all. Instead, it’s simply a face-saving job, a defence to keenly protest they knew what Del Rey stood for all along. No comments on instrumentation or album cohesion here, simply evidence that TMT have never been fans followed by a damningly comprehensive index of the lyrical themes of Born To Die, held up as an indication of the album’s – and by extension, Del Rey’s own – vacuity and materialistic urges.

Would this have happened if Lana Del Rey hadn’t had the sheer temerity to seduce the world with her angelic looks, stylish videos and adept button pressing of the indie cognoscenti? Would anyone care so much if she hadn’t released an album previously under her real name to little fanfare? Would she have stoked such ire and opprobrium if she wasn’t the daughter of a rich businessman with links to the record industry? Would the knives have been sharpened quite so much for Lennie Del Rey? Probably not, and in particular, the issues of wealth, class and entitlement are hot potatoes in music that could be debates until the end of time.

No, Del Rey’s “crime” was that she purported to be something she wasn’t, and got found out. Curiously, we don’t mind artifice, just so long as it’s flagged up from the beginning with either a knowing wink or over-the-top flamboyance. French dramatist Jean Giraudoux once said, “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Lana Del Rey failed at the first hurdle, and even though she’s on the verge of selling millions of albums, there are plenty of furious people with loud voices who aren’t going to let her forget she’s been rumbled as a “fake”.

The Singles Bar - 06/02/12

As the Singles Bar makes its way into February, it’s interesting to note the juxtaposition between old and new in this week’s selection. Madonna, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney all crop up below, but we also have new kids on the block, Friends, and 23-year-old rapper, Big Sean. Does this prove anything in particular? Maybe not, but we’ll see if the old guard can still do it faced with the latest crop of young pretenders.

Childish Gambino – All The Shine

I can’t help but think Childish Gambino is a kind of endearing nickname a parent would give to their mischievous offspring. Anyway, All The Shine starts with simple beats, a repeated “yeah”, and a guitar solo that sounds like it’s being played in another room. Then the rap comes in, and it’s cuss-laden, aggressive and the kind of thing record companies normally prevent artists from releasing as singles. The verses have an imperious feel like Kanye West’s Jesus Walks, but the chorus removes the anger and tension by being a bit too straightforward. There’s a wince-inducing reference to Mumford & Sons at one point too – ouch. Overall, All The Shine comes across as a little melodramatic and, while a decent track, Childish Gambino doesn’t quite have the acumen to hold it all together. 6/10

J Mascis – Circle

Despite J Mascis having been around for years, double-tracked, reedy vocals over an acoustic backing now immediately make you think of Bon Iver. Whether you like Circle or not will largely depend on your opinion of Mascis’ voice. This track is simply guitar, vocals and a thin synth line, so a lot of your attention will be drawn to Mascis’ cracked, self-pitying drawl. Circle suggests J Mascis hasn’t moved on too much from Dinosaur Jr.’s heyday, as this could have conceivably been released in the early 90s and rivalled The Lemonheads’ Into Your Arms. It’s a simple, unadorned song which isn’t going to set the world alight but, as a way to pass three minutes or so, it’s really rather lovely. 7/10

Friends – Friend Crush

Since discovering Friends via an article I wrote on critics’ tips for 2012, I’ve been playing last single, I’m His Girl, an awful lot. They’re a band I’m really excited about and capable of great things, which is why it’s hard not to feel a little let down by Friend Crush. It’s still a great track, but there’s little of the zip and invention on display that sets them apart on their other work. The vocals seem a little disinterested and the synth line is very MGMT. The core ingredients of Friends are still there; it’s a lean production with no superfluous embellishments and there’s a slight funk swagger to it, but it’s just a little lacklustre. It’s all relative though, and Friend Crush is still a darn sight better than most tracks you’ll hear. 7/10

Madonna feat. Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. – Give Me All Your Luvin’

Madonna’s indefatigable longevity means she’s now getting begrudging applause from even the hardiest of cockroaches (or at least, she would be if they had the requisite motor skills… and the inclination… and an understanding of human customs… ok, that’s a terrible analogy). Anyway, she’s somehow got a knack of coming up with absolutely belting lead singles and Give Me All Your Luvin’ is no exception. This is despite the fact there are numerous flaws with the song. The production isn’t beefy enough, Nicki Minaj’s rap is too self-serving, the slower section rids the song of all the momentum it had built up, M.I.A.’s contribution is largely forgettable – yet somehow we’re left with something ridiculously catchy and utterly addictive. Madonna’s not setting a ground-breaking agenda with this song, but neither is she following the crowd with a slice of Euro-trance pop. She remains a force to be reckoned with and – as the Superbowl show proved – Give Me All Your Luvin’ is fit to go toe-to-toe with her finest moments. I’m not always a fan, but on this occasion I L-U-V Madonna. 8/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Kelly Rowland feat. Big Sean – Lay It On Me

While Madonna may not be following the crowd, one solo artist who certainly does cling desperately to the shifting zeitgeist is Kelly Rowland. Lay It On Me is a tired slab of dance-pop which could be by just about anyone. As with Down For Whatever, Rowland demonstrates that she simply can’t play the smouldering siren, as she displays about as much personality and erotic appeal as a wicker basket. The plot – should you care – is that Kelly Rowland is in the mood for some form of loving, and Big Sean is (as well as being a terrible rapper) a ladies’ man of some repute, who has just the skills to ensure Ms. Rowland won’t be disappointed. It’s as convincing as James Murdoch’s protestations of innocence in the Leveson Inquiry though, and just as disheartening. 1/10

Paul McCartney – My Valentine

Let’s get this out of the way right now. Paul McCartney’s new album is called Kisses On The Bottom. Yes, I know. We can now move onto this track. McCartney’s in a no-win situation, really. His canon of work is unsurpassable, plus he’s been without his songwriting partner-in-crime (and, crucially, the man who would curb his more sentimental instincts) for over three decades now. My Valentine is a pretty ballad which contains several chord changes which are unmistakeably McCartney, plus a tasteful Spanish guitar solo. However, it’s also far too syrupy and cloying – both lyrically and musically – and, as such, is an unessential track. It’d be too easy to go down the “Why does McCartney still bother?” route – especially when if anyone has earned the right to do what he chuffing well likes, it’s Sir Wacky Macca Thumbs-a-Loft – but you can’t help but feel the world wouldn’t have been particularly different if this track hadn’t been made. 4/10

M83 – Reunion

Only someone with a heart of stone wouldn’t be delighted that M83’s Midnight City is currently enjoying its fifth week in the UK singles chart. Like that track, Reunion owes a heavy debt to slick, over-produced pop of the 1980s. M83 may be an incredibly popular group with the tastemaking blogosphere, but that doesn’t mean they don’t sound like Duran Duran. In fact, if they weren’t several albums into their career, this could all come across as some exceptionally trendy, arch in-joke. However, the reason those pop hits this track recalls have endured is because of the quality of the songwriting, and Reunion luckily taps into that tradition too. There are warm layers of synth, a singalong chorus, and a commanding bassline to propel the track forwards. Joyful, uplifting stuff, and you shouldn’t care less that it doesn’t contain even the slightest hint of originality. 8/10

Kelly Clarkson – Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)

Oh good, the usual Kelly Clarkson, throw-everything-in, you’ve-wronged-me-but-I’ll-get-over-it, I-Will-Survive-lite, Pro-Tooled-to-death, self-obsessed, about-as-inspiring-as-Athlete’s-Foot nonsense that Christina Aguilera used to release about a decade ago. I listened to this all the way through. It didn’t kill me, yet I feel significantly weaker, in mind, body and spirit. Thus, as well as being relentlessly terrible, it’s also factually inaccurate. 0/10 feat. Mick Jagger and Jennifer Lopez – T.H.E (The Hardest Ever)

Having endured Kelly Clarkson, this wasn’t exactly what I was looking for to provide some kind of respite. As anyone with even one functioning ear knows, is a musical abomination who should be the subject of a restraining order from every recording studio in the world. To start with, the vocal is auto-tuned so heavily it’s genuinely uncomfortable to listen to. As far as the music goes, it sounds exactly as you’d expect a song to sound in 2012, i.e., like Black Eyed Peas with a smidgen of David Guetta thrown in while raps some old toss about how great the track is. Two-thirds of the way through, it morphs into a marginally different, faster track, then Mick Jagger makes his entrance and claims he’s “hard like geometry and trigonometry”. God knows what he’s doing on this track; it’s enough to make you want to throw all your Rolling Stones records out of the window. The fact thousands and thousands of years of human achievement and progress have led to this moment makes me want to take a vow of silence and live in a kibbutz and OH I GET IT NOW HIS STAGE NAME IS A PUN ON HIS REAL NAME OF WILLIAM THAT’S HILARIOUS LOLOLOLOLOLOL !!1!!12!!1! *throws self off Mount Everest*. 0/10

Atom Eye – Trilogy 120 Part 1

After that track, I am incredibly grateful for Atom Eye. Trilogy 120 Part 1 is the first of a – you’ve guessed it – three-part project, where each section will be released as a separate EP. From the off, this is dark and atmospheric. The beats lurch cumbersomely from bar to bar, like the walk of an elephant, and a repeated piano motif ratchets up the tension. There’s a filmic quality to Trilogy 120 Part 1, and it builds superbly into something quite unsettling. We rarely tackle the ambient stuff here at The Singles Bar but this is a thing of wonder. As the track progresses, African rhythms enter the mix, and there are expertly-employed hints of granular synthesis sprinkled in too. If this were to be used in cinema, it would soundtrack the build-up to the kind of awful event it’s impossible to tear your eyes away from. Then, it fades away, leaving just a low-level drone and a feeling of exhaustion. This isn’t the kind of track you’d want to listen to on a regular basis but as a stand-alone mood piece, it’s hard to fault. 8/10

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Various bits and bobs

Hello. In the past few weeks I've been published in a variety of places, so here's a trio of links to check out.

Firstly, my articles on the best and worst gimmicks in pop music, published in the physical edition of Clash Magazine (February 2012 edition) has now been uploaded.

Next, I wrote a piece for Bearded Eloise on "lads' mags", and why they're a worrying part of our society.

Finally, the people at brilliant pop confession blog, Popfessions, have seen fit to publish my story on my teenage love of Incubus.

Read, enjoy and tell your friends.

The Singles Bar - 30/01/12

With the furore surrounding the release of Lana Del Rey’s debut album, you’d be forgiven for forgetting there were even singles being released today. But being released they are, and not only that, there are tons of the things. So many, in fact, that we’ve had to leave a fair number out of this week’s Singles Bar just in order to meet the publication deadline. If you listen closely, you can hear them now, just outside the double-locked doors, begging to be let in, but meeting firm resistance from our crack-team of Singles Bar security guards.

Anyway, hope you enjoy this week’s selection and apologies if your favourite was one of the unlucky few that missed out.

Radiohead – Bloom (Jamie xx remix)

Bloom, the opening track to last year’s disappointing The King of Limbs LP, already sounded like a glitchy, dance-influenced remix anyway, so it’s interesting to see what producer du jour Jamie xx can bring to the party. It’s clear soon enough that Jamie xx has taken Bloom in a far more traditional dance-led direction than the original, but that’s not to say it’s without its inventive touches. The background synths sound regal and ominous, and the twitchy bass and percussion mean the track holds your attention, even in the more repetitive sections. It doesn’t bear too much resemblance to the Radiohead version and, if anything, Thom Yorke’s wails get in the way of a skilled, atmospheric creation. We already knew Jamie xx had significant skills behind a mixing desk and this reworking of Bloom simply reinforces his burgeoning reputation. 8/10

Baddies – Bronto

Southend’s Baddies have built up their reputation through relentless gigging and this song is also available for free download through their Bandcamp page. It’s an immediate rock attack with fearsome drums and thrilling electronics coming from all angles. There’s a strong track under all this, though it’s slightly let down by some decidedly dodgy lyrics (“Kilo-BYTE! Mega-BYTE! Giga-BYTE! Terra-BYTE!”). The mountain of squall and feedback where a bridge should be smacks of a lack of ideas, which is a real shame because there’s enough on show here to demonstrate that Baddies are capable of great things. Think a more aggressive Futureheads or Hadouken! with singalong choruses instead of rapping and you’re halfway there. 6/10

Pixie Lott – Kiss The Stars

You know what? Pixie Lott’s been around for a while now, is a strong media presence, and yet I don’t know the first thing about her. The image she projects is one of a dizzy blonde, which is either extremely unfair on her, indicative of a bizarre and sexist campaign on the part of her record company, or means I’m extremely judgmental and not very observant. Whatever the reason, it means she doesn’t project an awful lot of personality, and that means that tracks like Kiss The Stars struggle to really make an impact. It’s a perfectly decent dance-pop song which is redolent of what countless other singers are doing in this day and age, but because of Lott’s presence, or lack thereof, you can hear it many times without really noticing it. 4/10

The Kills – The Last Goodbye

Do you ever forget that some bands are still going? With Alison Mosshart’s extra-curricular musical activities and Jamie Hince’s elevation to tabloid fodder, The Kills have taken something of a backseat in the last few years. But, they’re still recording and releasing material and here’s their latest single – a simple, piano-led ballad that sounds like it’s been recorded on slightly dampened, out-of-tune instruments. This gives it a much warmer feel, which is a boon as the track hasn’t got an awful lot else going for it. Mosshart handles all the vocal duties and – along with a sweeping string backing – ensures that there’s a whiff of show-tune about The Last Goodbye. However, it’s got “album filler” written all over it; give it a few hours and I’ll have probably forgotten about The Kills’ existence again. 3/10

Sebastian Rochford, Ranjana Ghatak & Gina Loring – Love A Sacred Path

Exceptionally-coiffeured jazz sticksman Seb Rochford (Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland) has launched a new Singles Club venture, which sounds very much like a certain internet-based new music weekly review column if you ask me. Anyway, his first offering from the series (known as Days And Nights At The Takeaway) sounds absolutely nothing like the free jazz experimentation he’s best known for. Love A Sacred Path is an affecting spoken-word piece with foreboding synth and Asian influences. As it builds, there are some seriously heavy synths, which mirror the vocals as they get more and more fevered. An unlikely collaboration which has really come up trumps – it’s very reminiscent of the 1 Giant Leap project which had brief success a decade or so ago. Love A Sacred Path matches world influences with contemporary pop adroitly, and is certainly worthy of your time. 8/10

Lil Wayne feat. Bruno Mars – Mirror

Some artists are so ubiquitous, you assume they must have access to embarrassing Polaroids of all the senior figures in the music industry. If Bruno Mars and Lil Wayne are joining forces for one track, I guess this spares the world two separate releases, so every cloud has a silver lining. Mirror is a brooding, reflective track with a haunting backing but, like much contemporary hip-hop, it does introspection terribly, sounding solipsistic and trite. Rappers can be enormously verbally dextrous when it comes to listing their strengths and roll call of material goods, yet fall victim to repeated cliché when attempting to verbalise doubt and vulnerability. Could that be because it’s all a calculated sales move and they’re incapable of even the smallest modicum of modesty and self-awareness? Surely not… 2/10

Clock Opera – Once And For All

Several of the more pretentious and scenester-led music publications gave art-rock collective Everything Everything short shrift upon the release of their debut album in 2010. This seemed enormously unfair to a band looking to fuse dance and rock together in an exciting manner, so we can only hope Clock Opera are given a bit more of a chance as their reputation and fanbase grows. Once And For All features a raft of kaleidoscopic electro shimmers, purposeful bass, post-punk percussion, soaring vocals and – crucially – a well-crafted song underpinning the whole thing. It also grows and develops in a way few tracks can manage, and shows the maturity and understanding of a band with far more experience. 8/10

DJ Shadow feat. Little Dragon – Scale It Back

Poor DJ Shadow seems like he’ll be forever destined to disappoint people by not delivering Entroducing….. part 2. However, if he can put out more tracks as good as Scale It Back, the world may be more prepared to move on. Featuring the sweet vocals of Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano, Scale It Back has the feel of an early 90s soul track, but with a little more bite. There’s a fairly traditional ballad at the heart of this, but the head-nodding, heavy hip-hop drums pull it away from “insubstantial” territory while electronic and squealing guitar embellishments give it heaps of character. It’s a wonderfully lazy, flowing track that has a gorgeous feel from start to finish. Like great hip-hop from twenty or more years ago, there’s a real effortless presence to Scale It Back that invites repeat listens and descriptive superlatives. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Cloud Nothings – Stay Useless

It’s not you, Cloud Nothings, it’s me. I have a severely limited tolerance for distortion-heavy, breakneck-speed punk with rubbish vocals. Without wishing to sound pretentious, given the wealth of musical options available to artists these days and over a half-century of pop music history to mine, I fail to see why any group would decide to play four-to-the-floor songs with power chords that sound like they’ve been written in five minutes. Clearly, this kind of thing is very popular, and the success of The Thermals amongst others has shown this, but I prefer to give it a miss. It’s a decent pop track but Cloud Nothings are doing their best to roughen it up and make it lo-fi. So, along with soap operas, alcohol-free beer and the appeal of Miranda Hart, we can now add Cloud Nothings’ garage punk stylings to the ever-growing list of things I just don’t “get”. 4/10

Youngman – Who Knows?

A bit of hasty internet research reveals Youngman to be an up-and-coming grime MC, and this track has been produced by Skream of Magnetic Man. Who Knows? has Skream’s fingerprints all over it, with its dub bass and whip-crack snare, but it’s entirely ruined by Youngman’s vocals, which are heavily auto-tuned and exceptionally reminiscent of Chris Brown’s. What could be an exciting, forward-thinking dubstep track has been completely spoiled by this fool emoting all over it like he’s both K-Ci and JoJo. The dubstep/pop crossover has been picking up pace rapidly over the past year or so, and this is the inevitable conclusion – radio-friendly dubstep designed to appeal to the largest possible audience. This is what Craig David would sound like if he were breaking through today; it’s official – dubstep is the 2-step garage of the 2010s. 2/10

The Singles Bar - 23/01/12

One of the joys of getting to write The Singles Bar on a weekly basis is the sheer variety of music you get to hear – old and new, mainstream and obscure. In just a dozen tracks below, we cover the return of a singer well into his 70s, the latest single from music’s great new hope, African-tinged R&B, Caribbean pop, hip-hop, soul, country and more. Of course, if you listen to any twelve songs released on a given day, the chances are one of them will be by David Guetta, and so it proves here. So, if you’re sitting comfortably, I shall begin.

Nerina Pallot – All Bets Are Off

Our first song wastes no time in getting started; there’s no time for anything fussy like “intros” with All Bets Are Off. Pallot’s voice is like a slightly more gutsy Norah Jones and the music’s even more tasteful. A perfectly nice mid-tempo, slightly rocky track with a sweet melody and eager strings at every turn but that’s all it is – nice. It’d be almost impossible to dislike this song but by the same token, I can’t really see how you could passionately love it either. I do wonder why people dedicate their lives to making music like this, but then again, there’s plenty about this world I don’t understand. It’s completely fine, but doesn’t tickle my fancy in the slightest I’m afraid. 5/10

Charlotte Gainsbourg – Anna

Singer, actress, real-life French person – is there anything Charlotte Gainsbourg can’t do? Her last album, IRM, was a disappointment and contained little of the elegant beauty that made its predecessor, 5:55, really stand out. However, on the evidence of Anna, Gainsbourg has decided to pursue the direction introduced on IRM – a direction that’s not particularly inventive or exciting, and one that puts her back amongst the crowd. Of course, there’s still that croaky voice with its prim vowels and deliciously enunciated consonants, but Anna has no dynamic, no jeopardy, no direction, and it’s disheartening to hear. 4/10

Arctic Monkeys – Black Treacle

Sadly, despite only just being old enough to have left their paper-rounds behind, it seems Arctic Monkeys are forever destined to spend their career failing to replicate the magic and electricity that resulted in their record-breaking debut LP. Black Treacle sounds like the kind of track Arctic Monkeys wouldn’t have even put on an album five years ago, let along released as a single. There’s a tired, sludgy pace to the song, and although Alex Turner’s lyrics are still reasonably sharp, even he seems bored by the whole affair. Maybe that’s the point and with a name like Black Treacle, it’s some kind of quasi-onomatopoeic satire designed to make music critics look stupid. Either way, like Charlotte Gainsbourg above, it’s disappointing when an artist you love is making music of such inferior quality to their zenith. 5/10

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

Welcome to the review of the new Lana Del Rey single, Born To Die. I’d like to make one thing clear: I shall be reviewing the content of the song, and that alone. I shall not be reviewing her background and childhood, nor shall I be reviewing her appearance and the poutiness of her lips. I’m also not going to review her previous work under her real name and I’m not going to review her “authenticity” or “realness” because I’m fed up of it and I don’t wish to align myself with the myriad, pretentious, white, misogynistic, self-appointed arbiters of taste that appear to have engulfed the internet in the last six months.

Anyway, the track then. The tone of Del Rey’s voice is still something I’m finding difficult to warm to, and there’s always a suspicion with her work that the abundance of strings is masking something, such as the lack of a tune, perhaps. However, the more Born To Die progresses, the more Del Rey’s vulnerabilities come to the surface, the less assured she seems, and the more emotionally affecting the track becomes. The huge drum crashes in the chorus provide a stark contrast to the restraint of the vocals and while it’s a little too similar to Video Games, taken in isolation it’s probably a better track. See, it is possible to review her music properly. 7/10

Leonard Cohen – The Darkness

Like the later work of Johnny Cash, there’s an ominous mood and, yes, a darkness to this track right from the get-go. The guitar figure is simple – quick, finger-picked arpeggios finished with a two note riff, repeated over a twelve bar blues pattern – yet it’s incredibly effective. Also, Cohen’s voice is absolutely extraordinary, a low rumble that sounds effortless yet like it’s lived several lives too. The tone only really changes from throaty growl to hushed whisper, but holds the listener entirely rapt. It’s an old cliché, but Cohen could sing the phone book and it would sound great. The saxophone and the female backing vocals are a little on the schmaltzy side perhaps, but those are the only criticisms of what is a fantastic comeback single. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Amadou & Mariam feat. Santigold – Dougou Badia

There are some collaborations that fill you with excitement before you’ve heard a note of the music and this is one such example. The Malian husband and wife duo have teamed up with boundary-ignoring singer/producer Santigold for Dougou Badia. It’s the collision of African and Western influences you’d expect, and the squealing, atmospheric guitar lines are supplied by Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. There’s a lovely feel to this track which gives it the sense that you could quite happily listen to an hour of stuff that sounded a bit like this. Despite its wonderful elements, there’s something a little lacking in execution and the spark Dougou Badia requires never quite arrives. A minor quibble perhaps, but it’s one that prevents a good song becoming a great one. 7/10

Professor Green – Never Be A Right Time

Inexplicably popular rap wally Professor Green seems to be keen on revealing his sensitive side. However, in this poorly-written wallow-fest, he seems to be so morose he’s forgotten to write the lyrics until he got to the studio, giving the feeling he’s making it up on the spot. That’s the only explanation for the constant repetition, the lines that don’t quite fit properly and have syllable stresses in awkward places, and the sheer awfulness of some of Green’s “rhymes” (“Struggling to find the way to word it / And I’m supposed to be a wordsmith”). The gospel-lite melody in the chorus is simply dull and it sounds like Professor Green’s hardly bothered with this track. It would have been better for everyone if he hadn’t bothered at all. 1/10

Ren Harvieu – Through The Night

I’ve actually pretty much reviewed this track before for No Ripcord, so apologies if I repeat myself slightly if I repeat myself slightly (LOL, ROFL, etc.). BBC Sound of 2012 Longlist nominee Ren Harvieu has a simply gorgeous voice; one that envelops and comforts, and one that – given the right material – could see her pressing the buttons of consumers and industry tastemakers worldwide. Like the rest of her available material, there’s a strong 1960s, Dusty Springfield feel to Through The Night, and even though the build-up to the chorus is clearly signposted, the unexpected chord change at the crucial point still induces goosebumps when played at a certain volume. Expect to hear a lot more about Ren Harvieu as 2012 progresses. 8/10

David Guetta feat. Sia – Titanium

That David Guetta just will not go away, will he? As much as I admire anyone with a strong work ethic, his monopolising of the charts and commercial radio has reached critical mass, and the very mention of his name is enough to make me rock gently in a corner, weeping like a broken shell of a man. However, can the delightful and underrated Sia bring any respite to the Guetta juggernaut? Well, not really. Sia’s idiosyncratic voice brings such much needed humanity and warmth to Guetta’s faceless, club-friendly creations, but as the track builds, Sia’s voice strains and the techno tosspot ends up drowning out the only good thing on the track. There’s an appealing chord progression buried somewhere here, it’d be really interesting to hear an acoustic version of Titanium if one exists where the vocals don’t need to struggle so much. As it is, the unfortunate Guettaisation of music continues apace. 4/10

Bon Iver – Towers

While I’m by no means the biggest fan of Bon Iver or his alt. country, mountain-dwelling beardy ilk, I’ll happily concede his records contain some genuinely heart-melting, beautiful moments. However, Towers isn’t one of them. When the drums and backing vocals finally come in at around the two minute mark, it’s a welcome change of pace, but nothing more. The sound of a full band certainly suits Bon Iver more than the lone woodsman sound, but the double-tracked falsetto is now merely annoying, and there’s little of substance going on in Towers to lift it away from the realm of the forgettable. 5/10

Cover Drive – Twilight

After the horrific Lick Ya Down didn’t sound the death knell for the atrocious Cover Drive, they’ve decided to bestow a new single upon us. Like Lick Ya Down, it follows all the tropes of mega-selling dance-pop in the 2010s while adding a few Caribbean rhythms. If you’re thinking that sounds like an inferior version of a Rihanna record, then you’d be exactly correct, because that’s pretty much what Twilight is. Just when you think it’s reached its nadir, there’s an exceptionally weak rap that’s slathered with layers of autotune. Also, oddly for dance-pop, it seems to be at slightly too slow a tempo to actually dance to, which means it basically fails on all fronts. Well done, everyone involved in this, you should be proud – have you ever thought of turning your skills to running the world’s largest financial institutions? 2/10

Flo Rida feat. Sia – Wild Ones

After years of being largely ignored, it appears Sia has chosen January 2012 to make her bid for global domination, being involved in two singles with pop mega-stars released on the same day. The good news is that Mr. Rida hasn’t decided to murder the Suede classic, but the bad news is that Wild Ones is another Ibiza-influenced club track that completely wastes Sia’s talents. Flo Rida gives the impression of being an incredibly impatient man who can’t wait to “get the party started” so has to repeatedly add huge beats and jump in for a verse when the song’s progressing perfectly well without him. In case you’re wondering about the lyrical content of Wild Ones, I’m struggling to penetrate the multiple gnomic doctrines of Flo Rida but I think it’s about what a thoroughly marvellous chap he is, how he’s exceptionally popular with members of the opposite sex and how he enjoys nothing more than having a jolly time with some of his closest friends. Marvellous. 2/10

Allo Darlin' - Interview

In 2010, Allo Darlin’ transcended the indiepop scene and, in their self-titled LP, released one of the debuts of the year. Full of heartfelt lyrics on love, loss and life, magical melodies and whimsical instrumentation flourishes, it proved that fun and emotional weight aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Having spent the latter part of 2011 in the studio working on album number two, the forthcoming Europe, Allo Darlin’ are now ready for their comeback. But before the wheels of the promotional train get fully rolling, frontwoman Elizabeth Morris found time to talk to No Ripcord’s Joe Rivers about album plans, the perils of being an up and coming band in the 21st Century, and what happens when you have a difference of opinion with a journalist on Twitter

It’s been 18 months since the first album was released, what have you and the band been up to in the meantime?

It feels like such a long time! We’ve toured in America four times and around Europe twice. We travelled about 12,000 miles on the second trip, which in its own way very much shaped this new album. Plus, lots of shows in London and around the UK, some festivals like Indietracks and End of the Road, and making a new album!

How are preparations for the new album coming along? It’s got a release date; does that mean all the songs are now in the bag?

Oh yes, all the songs are done, we’re finalising the artwork as we speak and then it’s off to the manufacturers. This last weekend we’ve been recording some covers for a bonus disc, which has been loads of fun.

What can people expect from the new album? Do you feel it’s a progression from the first record?

It’s very much a progression in terms of effort and sound – the first album was written very quickly and recorded even faster and we’d only been a band for a couple of months. I feel like my songwriting has come along quite a bit, and as a band we know much more what we’re about now. We listen to each other and play off each other quite a lot.

I think Europe is more of an album to listen to in one go than our first record; the songs are interconnected. We also took a lot longer to record it, and we were more considered about things. Basically we took our time about it trying to get it right!

Are you looking forward to going out on tour?

Always! For me, playing the songs to people is the whole point. We all get a kick out of playing live and I think we’re getting better at it all the time. We love it.

On the first album, many of the lyrics paint you as an old-fashioned romantic. Do you think that’s a fair assessment and are you attracted to the idea of nostalgia?

I am certainly a romantic, although I find it hard to think of many songwriters who aren’t. Certainly all my favourite ones are, like Jonathan Richman or Lou Reed or Cole Porter. Even if you’re writing about politics or ideals, those are big romantic topics! Well, my idea of romance anyway. All the songwriters I’m friends with are big romantic suckers.

There’s also a recurring lyrical theme about job dissatisfaction and lack of money – is that something that chimes with your own experiences?

Is there? I can only think of two songs that mention lack of money, Silver Dollars and Europe, but maybe there are more I’m forgetting. Well the answer is, ‘yes’. These days if you choose to be a musician in an indie band, you are choosing a life where money is scarce. But you know, we could stop if it got too hard, so I try not to complain about it. We get to do some pretty amazing things and we’re grateful for those.

Do all the members of Allo Darlin’ have other jobs to make ends meet? If so, is it frustrating that you can’t put all the time into the band that you’d like?

Yes, we all have jobs to pay the bills. Obviously they can’t be proper jobs – not many employers are happy for their employees to be on tour three months a year, so we get what work we can.

Last week, you became embroiled in a minor Twitter argument with journalist Simon Price over his use of the term, ‘twee’. You called the word “misogynist and homophobic” – what makes you think that when it’s a word often used to describe a particular kind of music?

To be clear about it, I certainly wasn’t calling this Simon Price guy homophobic or a misogynist. I wanted to ask our Twitter followers what they thought about the word twee, because most bands in our indie pop scene are called it, even bands that are clearly rocking like Shrag or The Wave Pictures. There’s something unpleasant about it, and it goes back to the days of The Pastels being called ‘limp-wristed’ by the mainstream British press. I think when people use the word ‘twee’, what they’re actually referring to is that they think this kind of music isn’t macho. Somewhere along the line the idea came along that bands had to have this kind of swagger. I mean The Stones are a great band, but ultimately bands that are influenced by The Velvet Underground are more interesting than bands influenced by The Stones!

So, would you prefer not to be labelled twee by writers and journalists?

Well, yes, of course. It’s such an overused word, it’s lazy to use it and it puts people off unfairly. Most of the time I think it’s a sign of bad writing.

What are your hopes and dreams for Allo Darlin’ in 2012?

You know, I don’t really have hopes and dreams for us this year. I kind of feel like where we are is beyond what I ever imagined. I hope people like the new album, I hope we play some great shows and with some other great bands. I hope we keep getting better. That’s it, I think!

The Singles Bar - 16/01/12

Distressing news reaches us here at The Singles Bar. Distressing, desperate news likely to frighten small children and household pets. It seems Jessie “money, money, money” J and Ed “my shit’s cool; I never went to BRIT School” Sheeran (nominated for seven BRIT Awards between them) have announced plans to record a duet. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they’re planning to duet with each other rather than with different people altogether. The results of this collaboration between the King and Queen of The New Boring don’t bear thinking about. Quick, let’s listen to this week’s singles before doing something we’ll all regret.

Swedish House Mafia vs. Knife Party – Antidote

We’re not even three weeks into 2012, yet already it seems the sound of Skrillex will be hard to avoid this year. This full-on trance attack has the in-your-face dubstep squelches and squees of the man his parents know as Sonny Moore and, as a result, it sounds like being smacked in the face by a lorryload of sub-woofers. The three-note riff that makes up the refrain also sounds uncannily like the dance track that plays on a school keyboard when you press the ‘Demo’ button. The vocals to Antidote are pretty superfluous; the track sounds like every dance song from the last twenty years played simultaneously. It just about hangs together, but I can’t help but think that while they may not be a match made in heaven, Swedish House Mafia vs. Knife Party sounds like the title of the best film ever. 5/10

War Of Words – Battleground

As well as Battleground, War Of Words are releasing another single, Panic, today, but frankly they’re not both getting reviewed because I’m a busy man with other songs to write about and dinner to eat. Battleground is being released on Popjustice Hi-Fi, the label set up by website,, who are often tip-top with their, er, tips for the top. Battleground has a lovely, enveloping string feel, though a slightly cheap sounding drum accompaniment and some incongruous early-90s woah-ing buried fairly low in the mix. In fact, it’s not entirely dissimilar to a less epic and spine-tingling version of Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy. It’s a little one-dimensional and all its ideas are used up in the first ten seconds, but it’s a rather nice little pop song that you’ll probably enjoy if you decide to listen to it with your ears. 7/10

Oberhofer – Gotta Go

Oh dear, it appears someone’s been to the Luke Pritchard school of irritating vocal inflections. Oberhofer do indie rock with a few stabs of keyboard, à la Big Pink, but it’s the fact there are more glottal stops than a Lily Allen hiccup marathon that immediately grabs the attention. There’s an anthemic feel to Gotta Go which means you shouldn’t be surprised to see it crop up on an American teen drama near you. There’s a big dumb chorus (“I don’t want you to go-oh-oh-oh-oh” x4) but despite itself, there’s more than a hint of charm to this record. It’s far from breaking any moulds, but there’s a solid tune underpinning this track and, in the end, it’s that that carries it through. 7/10

The Ting Tings – Hang It Up

The prospect of a Ting Tings comeback doesn’t exactly fill my heart with joy (though Great DJ is one heck of a song) but we’ll approach these things with an open mind, shall we? Hang It Up has a beat almost identical to Dizzee Rascal’s Fix Up Look Sharp, an incredibly simplistic riff and blasts of fuzzy guitar. Whereas earlier singles seemed like a band looking to innovate and employed a minimalistic approach to arrangements, Hang It Up sounds like the home recording of a bratty teenage girl. Rather than Le Tigre or Tom Tom Club, Hang It Up sounds more like the unholy meeting of Daphne & Celeste and Lenny Kravitz. I don’t even think it has the earworm factor – facile, tedious stuff. 2/10

Yasmin feat. Ms. Dynamite – Light Up (The World)

It always brings a smile to my face how Ms. Dynamite’s accent gets more and more Jamaican sounding with each passing release. Yasmin, singer of last year’s excellent Finish Line, here lends her vocals to a song so indebted to the breakbeat sound of the early 90s, you half expect it to be produced by Baby D or N-Trance. It’s actually a fairly weak track that’s exposed once you look past those heavy beats – the arrangement, the vocals and rap verse don’t hang together properly at all, so all you’re left with is yearning nostalgia for Let Me Be Your Fantasy and a vague sense of disappointment. 4/10

Evanescence – My Heart Is Broken

On My Heart Is Broken, Evanescence ditch their usual formula and go for an avant-garde yet restrained take on the events leading up to the formation of NATO. Not really, it sounds like every other Evanescence song in existence – formulaic, melodramatic, grinding riffs and with lyrics that sort of touch on a feeling of injustice, loss and some kind of heartbreak. In the age of the Twilight über-franchise, it’s surprising that Evanescence aren’t hugely popular again, but let’s be grateful they’re not. So, Evanescence, why not go to the beach and get a bit of sunshine, then go home and tidy your room (yes, yes, lazy criticism/hack cliché) and maybe change the record once in a while? 2/10

Florence + The Machine – No Light No Light

While we’re talking unrestrained gothic melodrama, here’s young Florence. If you’d like to play Florence + The Machine bingo, please have your cards at the ready. Vaguely churchy organ? Check. Over-reliance on harp glissandos? Check. Quiet singing getting louder? Check. Vocals that could strip paint? House! I saw Florence’s performance on the Jonathan Ross show on ITV on Saturday, just after Take Me Out host Paddy McGuinness had been interviewed, and at first thought this song was called No Likey No Lighty in homage to McGuinness’ show, which would have made it roughly 37 times better, but sadly not (Note to people outside of the UK: sorry, that last sentence would have made precisely no sense to you, just take my word that it was an hilarious juxtaposition of events). This doesn’t have the hooks of last single, Shake It Out, and at one point, Florence holds the same note for about twenty seconds like she’s trying to annoy me on purpose. 1/10

Little Cuts – Plastic Disaster

Little Cuts are fronted by former Shins man Dave Hernandez, and there are hallmarks of Hernandez’s alma mater all over Plastic Disaster. It’s melodic, sunshine alt. rock, but with more of a scuffed, punk edge than you’d hear in a Shins song. The vocals aren’t quite as polished as James Mercer’s either, but taken on its own terms (as it should be, of course), Plastic Disaster is a well-crafted if scruffy track, which shows promise for future releases. The playing is simple, but the chord progression and melody are certainly there – this guy has proper pop chops. A little too unrefined for my tastes, but a decent track all the same. 6/10

The Shins – Simple Song

Ah, sweet, sweet serendipity. Of course, all Shins songs are simple songs really, but they get a bad rep on account of their prevalence in indie films, their insistence on writing happy sounding tracks and the fact that they’ve had almost a wholesale line-up change since 2004. The Shins are still unmistakeably James Mercer’s band though, and he’s lost none of his magic touch in the five years (five years?!) since their last album. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but there’s a deftness and addictive quality to Simple Song that makes you think you could listen again and again without getting fed up. There are also some great harmonies which are sure to sound even better as the summer draws closer. They say simple songs are the hardest to write and sometimes, simple songs are the best. 8/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

The Rifles – Sweetest Thing

My love she throws me like a rubber ball – WOAH-WOAH! Oh, it seems it’s not Bono and the lads on this one. Anyway, The Rifles are one of those bands who have been knocking around for ages, occasionally turn up in the NME looking mildly aggressive, but don’t really follow through on any of their threats. Sweetest Thing encapsulates that herd mentality well – it’s a forgettable track that could conceivably be by any of their similarly uninspiring contemporaries. Like so much British rock, there’s a post-Oasis ersatz anthemic feel that would go down well at Glastonbury (although there isn’t a festival this year) but the vocals don’t soar enough to carry it off. It’s all pretty limp and lifeless, truth be told. 3/10

Pulled Apart By Horses – V.E.N.O.M.

Argh! It’s some kind of nightmarish, psychobilly punk! Mind you, get over the initial shock and there’s something quite exciting going on under the hood. The early 2000s post-hardcore shouting isn’t exactly endearing, but there’s a thrill to V.E.N.O.M. that you just don’t experience with your average Coldplay track. The trouble with playing at such a speed, however, is that even three minutes can seem like a long time to fill and consequently, the track has nowhere really to go after 90 seconds or so. Therefore, we end up with some sludgy riffing, elaborate drum fills and the odd scream for good measure. But still, good, loud rock and roll with which to annoy the neighbours and your significant other. 6/10

Overlooked Albums: The Noise Made By People

Early in 2011, Broadcast vocalist Trish Keenan sadly passed away at the age of just 42. In the days that followed, websites and blogs ran articles about what a marvellous frontwoman Keenan was, and Twitter was awash with fans sharing their love of the group and their Trish memories. Consensus seemed to be that not only were Broadcast a fantastic and important band, but Keenan was a kind, unassuming woman, and many people were telling their tales of how friendly and personable she was.

This response to the news really shocked me. Not because I disagreed of course, and not due to the nature of the news itself, but because – rather shamefully – I’d never heard of Broadcast at this point. I’ve no idea how or why, but they’d just completely passed me by and now, I was learning that people whose tastes and opinions I listened to and respected regarded Broadcast as one of their favourite bands.

This being the age of the internet, a little research was exceptionally easy. On a web forum I frequent, several contributors had posted YouTube videos of their favourite Broadcast tracks. I was instantly hooked; this was music unlike any other I’d previously heard. This was the electronic experimentalism of Stereolab, but with wonderful pop tunes behind it. This was the past and the future at the same time. This was impossibly debonair and glamorous, yet weighted with just the right amount of detachment. I listened to Come On Let’s Go, I listened to Papercuts, and then immediately ordered Broadcast’s debut album, The Noise Made By People.

There’s something so utterly different about The Noise Made By People that being a fan of it feels like you’ve been let in on an amazing secret, or been allowed to join an exclusive club. That’s not to say it’s pretentious, difficult or avant-garde – it’s very much none of those things – but it exists in its own environment so out of step with mainstream culture, that it can’t help but transport you to another planet altogether.

The world in which The Noise Made By People immerses you is one that has cherry-picked certain aspects of the previous half-century of popular music, and used them to create something else entirely. It’s a very analogue sounding album; the electronic effects resonate warmly, and you can practically hear the valves opening and closing. However, rather than the genre-expanding experimentation or motorik beats of the Krautrock movement, Broadcast use this style as the backdrop for their exquisite pop songs. Trish Keenan’s vocals are pure and unadorned, and this creates a slight feeling of distance and insouciance. Thus, what could maybe pass in the background unremarkably is slightly left of centre and will knock on the door of your subconscious until you give it your full attention.

Musically, it’s well-crafted pop songs set to retro-futuristic electro, interspersed with instrumental tracks that sound more like cuts from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. But when Broadcast go for the well-treaded verse-chorus-verse three minute track, they really excel. Long Was The Year has ominous tolling bells, Come On Let’s Go shows beautiful restraint and Papercuts is utterly compelling. In fact, the lyrics of Papercuts bubble with such intrigue that, matched with the French exoticism of the rhythms and instrumentation, it’s almost a four and a half minute film in itself.

Despite its wonderful, standout songs, The Noise Made By People remains an album that is best listened to as a whole. Then, the mood pieces join it together expertly, and the mood the music creates can fully permeate and consume you. It’s also exceptionally rare in that it’s one of those records you don’t want to play too often in order to not wear out its intoxicating effect. Truly though, The Noise Made By People remains one of the most fully-realised and rewarding debut albums of the last twenty years.

James Cargill, the only remaining member of Broadcast, spent 2011 largely away from public life. However, towards the end of the year, he gave an interview in which he confirmed that he’s currently at work on a new Broadcast record, using tapes of vocals left behind by Keenan. If the resulting album is even as half as good as The Noise Made By People, it will have been an exercise well worth completing.