Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Singles Bar: 11/05/12

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

Azealia Banks – 1991

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

The Murder Barn – America

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

Stooshe – Black Heart

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

Cheryl – Call My Name

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

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

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

Chew Lips – Do You Chew?

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

Jake Bugg – Lightning Bolt

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

Emeli Sandé – My Kind Of Love

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

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

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

Baddies – Rewire

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

AlunaGeorge – You Know You Like It

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

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