Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Singles Bar - 27/02/12

What with the Brits and the Oscars, it’s been a busy week in the world of entertainment. Therefore, it’s refreshing to get back to normality and what better way than with your weekly dose of ten new tracks at The Singles Bar?

On the 27th February 2012, these are the platters that matter.

The Magnetic Fields – Andrew In Drag

A welcome return for The Magnetic Fields and the exact kind of song title you’d expect. There’s a lo-fi, almost cheap feel to the verses, but when the chorus breaks and the harmonies hit you, it’s a thing of wonder. Lyrically, it’s a fruity number that does exactly what you’d think with a title like Andrew In Drag (“stick him in a dress and he’s the only boy I’d shag”). It doesn’t outstay its welcome either, clocking in at a little over two minutes. Basically, if you don’t like The Magnetic Fields, this won’t change your mind and if you do, it’s another classic. I’m firmly in the ‘yes’ camp, and Andrew In Drag is one of the best things Stephen Merritt’s come up with in the last decade or so. 8/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Ladyhawke – Black White & Blue

It must be welcome return week here at The Singles Bar. Four(!) years after her under-appreciated debut album, the woman known to her parents as Phillipa Brown is back on the scene. Her mixture of 80s-inspired electropop and new wave was very à la mode back in 2008, and you can’t help but wonder whether her comeback will be entirely triumphant. Most of the hallmarks of her sound are still there on Black White & Blue, but it’s just a little devoid of inspiration. The chorus doesn’t hook you in quite as much as it should, and Ladyhawke attempts to hide its deficiencies by bursts of scuzzy guitar, which are a bit too brash to go with the rest of the arrangement. She hasn’t lost what made her first record such a joy, but this isn’t quite Ladyhawke firing on all cylinders. 6/10

The Drums – Days

After being hotly-tipped, it’s never quite taken off for The Drums. Maybe the world realised that the music didn’t quite match the hype. Whatever the reason, they’re still ploughing on, and Days is a bass-driven, understated melodious track that’s near impossible to dislike. It’s an exceptionally simple arrangement that barely gets out of second gear, but when you’ve got a song this strong, there’s no need to throw the kitchen sink at it. It’s a tale of defiance (“days go by and I never needed you”) that doesn’t quite match the laid-back tone of the accompaniment, but the song is none the worse for it. One-note riffs and warm bass carry Days through to its conclusion and while it’s not going to set the world alight, it’s never anything less than lovely. 7/10

Niki & The Dove – DJ Ease My Mind

Following last year’s The Drummer EP (which won Single of the Week at the time, no less), Niki & The Dove are now full of bombastic drums and melodramatic vocals. There’s a pounding feel to DJ Ease My Mind, helped in no small part by the snatches of dubstep wobble that sneak in around the edges. It’s dark and atmospheric, and Niki prowls the track like a panther, panting heavily before pouncing on a phrase and sinking her teeth into it. It’s another brilliant track from one of the most inventive and exciting pop acts of the current scene and although it’s probably missing a little something to flesh out some parts of the song, it stands up well to repeat listens. 8/10

Ed Sheeran – Drunk

And it was all going so well too. Four promising tracks followed up by the Brit Award-winning pioneer of The New Boring. Unlike his biggest hits, The A Team and Lego House, Drunk isn’t an acoustic ballad but more of a mid-tempo plodder. Sheeran croons his way through a building verse, but just when it seems like the big chorus is going to come in, the whole thing falls away and we’re just left with sparse beats. There’s something which is bit like rapping, but it’s tuneful enough that we’re not subjected to the wince-inducingly bad Sheeran “flow”. He also manages not to fall into the lyrical pitfalls that blight his other work too (“on cold days the cold plays like the band’s name” aside). It’s dull, of course, but it’s also nowhere near as offensively bad as his other singles and is comfortably the best thing he’s released to radio. A note of caution though; Ed Sheeran has been tipped for big things in the USA over the course of 2012. America, don’t say we didn’t warn you. 3/10

Alt-J – Matilda

Recent No Ripcord interviewees Alt-J are an interesting proposition. They’re named after a Mac shortcut (which I won’t demonstrate, as I’m writing on a PC) and their songs are intricate, tightly crafted affairs. Matilda is no different; the acoustic guitar lines and wire-brushed drums weave in and around the main melody line. The vocals are a little, idiosyncratic, shall we say? It’s a rich voice where the syllables tend to crash into one another and could take a little getting used to. Alt-J are making waves and, as predicted by us here at NR, could well do big things in 2012. They ought to have a word with Spotify though; at the time of writing the track cuts out about two minutes and 45 seconds, halfway through the word, “Matilda.” Techy gremlins at work or the most unlikely ending to a track I’ve ever heard. 7/10

Chiddy Bang – Ray Charles

The latest track from young Chidwell (I think it’s fair to assume that’s his full first name) is all about the legendary bluesman. However, as pointed out by many people, every time the name is mentioned it sounds a lot more like Craig Charles – DJ, soap actor and television personality – which makes it many times more hilarious. Comparing yourself to such a huge musical figure (Ray, not Craig) is always a dangerous game, and Chidwell doesn’t do himself any favours with some questionable vision-related lyrics (“I make the music with the soul of the blind man”; “You’re too blind to see it”). Musically it’s actually pretty good fun, and there’s more than a touch of Charles (again, Ray, not Craig) in the piano arrangement as well as hallmarks of old blues and Stax records. However, it’s all let down by Mr. Bang (ok, ok, it's a duo, not one person, I know), and what could have been a great homage comes across flat. 5/10

Dappy feat. Brian May – Rockstar

Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela? How about Einstein and Newton? No, the real double act the world has always wanted to see have finally come together: stupid-hat wearing, ersatz gangsta Dappy from N-Dubz and perma-permed, guitar-mangler Brian May. This appalling track starts with the words, “they say that I’m dangerous”, when the only danger Dappy’s really capable of causing is if the dangly bits of his daft headgear were to get caught in an escalator. Musically, it’s Pro-Tooled, autotuned R&B that sounds just like his previous musical abomination, No Regrets. Rockstar tells about – yawn – how complicated fame can be and how Dappy’s dealing with it like a real rockstar while still staying true to himself. There’s also a bizarre, two-second silent “tribute” to Amy Winehouse, presumably included to… no, I’ve no idea why it’s there. In case you’re wondering where May is in all this tomfoolery, he turns up thirty seconds from the end to play a completely unnecessary squealing guitar solo with his regulation sixpence. An absolutely sorry exercise; everybody involved in this should take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror… and then punch themselves in the face. 0/10

Icona Pop – Top Rated

The latest single from Icona Pop starts with none-more-80s synth riffs and is fairly restrained until the chorus, at which point the vocals seem to double in volume and the buttons marked “brash” and “epic” are firmly pressed. However, the start of verse two removes any momentum the track had gathered, starting once again from barely any instrumentation. That synth riff that starts the track is a winner and it crops up at various points throughout the song, but it’s not so good it can carry Top Rated all by itself which is what it’s required to do at various points. It actually sounds quite a lot like an inferior version of the Niki & The Dove track above, and doesn’t hit the heights of last year’s Nights Like This. 5/10

Graham Coxon – What’ll It Take

Fresh from backing an atonal, yelping Damon at last week’s Brits ceremony, Graham returns with his first single release in almost three years. As with all his work, it’s not too flashy and it’s sung in his own, inimitable way. The verse simply repeats, “What’ll it take to make you people dance?” multiple times, almost as if it’s a threat. There’s scuzzy guitar, looping electro arpeggios, flashes of feedback and a chugging rhythm that underpins the whole thing. What’ll It Take is incredibly repetitive and blunt, but as with much of Coxon’s solo work, there’s an infectious enthusiasm about the whole thing that wins you over and makes you root for this underdog. It can’t match his best work circa Happiness In Magazines, but it’s certainly a damn sight more enjoyable to listen to than what he was involved in less than seven days ago. 7/10

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