Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Singles Bar: 09/04/12

There’s a running theme in The Singles Bar that when I pick a track to be Single Of The Week, that song invariably goes on to be one of the worst-selling singles by that artist. Even big-hitters like Beyoncé and Madonna aren’t immune to this curse. However, the baton was passed on to Andrew Baer last week for his first appearance in this column and what happens to his Single Of The Week by Carly Rae Jepsen? Of course, it goes straight in at the top of the charts.

So, let’s see who I can curse this time round in this Easter edition of The Singles Bar. I apologise in advance to the winner.

Lana Del Rey – Blue Jeans

Oh no, I’m really confused. I haven’t had a memo for a few weeks – are we allowed to like Lana Del Rey now? As you know, us writers in the music biz get together in a dark room every few weeks and decide who we’re going to hype, and who we’re going to trash. I must have lost my invite to the last meeting – now I’ll have to judge her on the quality of her music alone; OH NOES! The submissive starlet routine is a little wearing over an entire album, but LDR still puts out great singles, and Blue Jeans ticks those boxes. It’s got a little more weight and pep to her previous releases and there’s a great vintage, scuzzy feel to the instrumentation. Whoever this guy is that Del Rey is so devoted to, he must be an incredible catch. Blue Jeans is vocally great, a bit gothic and pretty catchy too. Of course, if I’ve been misinformed on what my opinion should be, I reserve the right to take all the above back. 7/10

Usher – Climax

Now, here’s an interesting one. Usher’s decided to come out of his comfort zone and work with Diplo for this track, so do we give props to Usher for that decision, or question what the hell Diplo’s doing teaming up with the crown prince of 21st Century bedroom-eyed soul? Instantly, this is about 1,000% better than anything Usher’s done in seven years or so – there’s a real emotional distance to the music which works brilliantly against the vocal. It builds and envelops wonderfully, but never quite spills over into a euphoric, er, climax, like you’d expect it to. The production shows that slow jams can still be inventive and affecting; Usher’s “I’m-a-bit-sad-I-am” vocals are a little on the strained side, but it’s a fantastic song nonetheless. 8/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Santigold – Disparate Youth

Santigold’s one of those artists you want to be great, but never seems to quite deliver. Initial signs aren’t promising here, as the opening arpeggios recall Kate Nash’s ghastly single, Mouthwash. However, once the vocals come in, there are buzzsaw guitars, atmospheric strings and off-beat, reggae piano loops, dispelling any such fears. Santigold is never anything less than intriguing, but Disparate Youth shows that she could still do with adding a few hooks to her songs before stepping into the recording studio. There are expert touches all over this piece, but there’s no chorus and, as such, it seems to meander along without reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Whereas the Usher track above builds and wrong-foots you with its lack of chorus, here, it just seems like a jigsaw puzzle that’s missing a vital piece. 6/10

Bombay Bicycle Club – How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep

I’m not sure whether it’s simply down to a lack of decent competition, but Bombay Bicycle Club seem to have carved a niche for themselves as one of the UK’s most consistent and inventive guitar groups. How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep starts with around a minute of delicate guitar and swirling vocals, before drums which are almost hip-hop in style enter the fray to get things really going. As the track develops, it becomes clear that it falls between two stalls – not heartfelt and melancholy enough to be truly affecting, and not energetic enough to set the pulse racing. Therefore, it isn’t a classic, but it’s still a decent effort. If you’re waiting for new BBC material, this will probably tide you over nicely. The kind of thing that will keep existing fans happy, but is unlikely to win them too many new ones. 6/10

Monica & Brandy – It All Belongs To Me

When this duo released their mega-hit, The Boy Is Mine, in 1998, they were billed as Brandy & Monica. It’d be fascinating to know what legal wrangling and internal battles have been fought to change this billing around (there’s a good chance that you and I have different views on the meaning of the word, ‘fascinating’). Anyway, onto the track in question, and it’s all a bit of a mess. The heaviness of the beats doesn’t match the thinness of the production in any way. There’s a good deal of sass on display, as a man who’s wronged our heroines (What? Both of them?) gets told to return the goods that aren’t his. It’s in a similar vein to Beyoncé’s Irreplaceable or Destiny’s Child’s Independent Women (Part One), except nowhere near as good as either. Also, hearing an impassioned warble enunciate, “Log off your Facebook – it all belongs to me”, is genuinely funny, though not for the right reasons. Perhaps it was all an evil ploy by Brandy, so The Boy Is Mine gets more attributed to her, and the blame for this track lies more with Monica. Cunning. 2/10

Joker – Lost

Whenever I’ve heard this track on the radio, the DJ has always felt it necessary to mention that Joker is from Bristol, as if it were some dim and distant place where talent could never come from, rather than a city of nearly half a million people only 120 miles from London. There’s some pretty decent dance-style production work on Lost, and there’s a bit of an early 21st Century R&B/two-step feel to it as well, but both the MC in the verses and the children’s vocals in the chorus are irritating. It feels as if Joker is trying a little too hard to make something relevant to today that could push him into the mainstream, when he may be better off sticking to beats. Lost shows promise, but there’s a fair way for Joker to go just yet. 4/10

Cornershop – Milkin’ It

Whether they’ve been successful or not, in fashion or persona non grata, Cornershop have just carried on regardless, and there’s something kind of admirable about that. Milkin’ It has a real whiff of cartoonish, old-skool hip-hop about it (the lyrics even contain the line, “Let’s take it back to ‘88”). In fact, it seems to be a tribute to that golden age, but it’s not really fit to hold a candle to it. There’s just a list of references, a wandering bassline, the odd effect and some laid-back beats. It feels like a first attempt at a collage piece, and contains none of the invention and quality songwriting that Cornershop are renowned for. In fact, having just listened to this, I’m still surprised to learn it is really Cornershop and I’d probably believe anyone who told me it was someone else. 3/10

Drake feat. Lil Wayne – The Motto

I bought the latest Drake album, Take Care. I went into a shop, handed over money and received a CD in exchange. Now I learn that The Motto is a “digital bonus track”, meaning I’d have received this single if I’d have just sat on my sofa and purchased the album as a series of zeroes and ones. How is that fair? I’d ask Drake myself, but he’s probably too busy having emotionally unfulfilling sex with a procession of jaw-droppingly beautiful women, the poor guy. The Motto is a stripped-back, sparse track, with hand-clap percussion and warm, bouncy bass underpinning the MCing. While the lack of other instrumentation can draw attention to Drake and Lil Wayne’s grating drawls, it does add a real atmospheric edge to the composition. The Motto is a lean song, and all the better for it. It’d be nice if it had been on the album I legitimately purchased though. THANKS, GUYS! 7/10

Quickbeam – Seven Hundred Birds

The debut single from Glaswegian trio, Quickbeam, is a careful, considered and gorgeous piece of work. It’s difficult to place what producer Chris Gordon has added to the sound, but somehow there’s a real organic, live ambience to the song, as if all the instruments were recorded simultaneously. The vocals are delicate and come replete with an appealing Scottish burr. Quickbeam have been compared to Low and Sigur Rós and, on the evidence of Seven Hundred Birds, it’s a valid comparison. A slow, ponderous track, laden with beautiful strings; the only complaint is that it doesn’t come with the climactic, noisy release that some of the best post-rock epics do. At under four minutes, it’s actually a little too short, and it cuts away when it just feels like it’s getting going. As a mood-setting, melancholic work though, it’s absolutely wondrous. 8/10

Rizzle Kicks – Traveller’s Chant

When Rizzle Kicks released their last single, Mama Do The Hump, I posited they may have run out of goodwill and would soon be on the way out. I was then roundly laughed at by a Singles Bar reader (and rightly so) when the track went on to be a huge success. Despite that, I’m going to make the same assertion with Traveller’s Chant. Whereas Rizzle Kicks’ previous singles have had an admirable amount of excitement and zip about them, Traveller’s Chant is a contemplative song, unsurprisingly about the concept of travelling. In truth, it’s laid-back to the point of being sleep-inducing and although it’s got a head-nodding groove to it, it’s ultimately a pretty forgettable song. It’s three and a half minutes which has got ‘album track’ written all over it and as the fourth single from their debut LP, it could be a pretty futile attempt to wring out those final few sales. What do I know though? Given my track record, it’ll probably sell a bajillion copies and make Rizzle Kicks bigger than Adele. 4/10

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