Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Singles Bar: 21/05/12

If you were perusing the music blogosphere last week (fret not, I’ve just punched myself in the face for using the word, ‘blogosphere’), you may have chanced upon this impassioned diatribe from one Neil Kulkarni (warning: contains some choice language). While in parts unnecessarily mean-spirited and entirely unsympathetic to the concept of deadlines, it does raise some valid points about the nature of music writing.

Here at the Singles Bar, get this, we love music. We love listening to it, we love writing about it and – like Neil Kulkarni – we love all the ephemera that surrounds it. So, while this column isn’t always entirely polished, is prone to wild and unnecessary tangents, it truly is driven by love. The reason tracks often get a trashing is because it’s so disappointing to discover something that has no invention, no spirit and no desire to do something new or interesting. The Singles Bar is fixated on the Holy Grail of finding the perfect song and, to be perfectly honest, we hope we never get there.

After that, there had better be some good tracks this week. So, what’s first up? Oh dear…

Pitbull – Back In Time

DONK-A-DONK ADONKA DONK-A-DONK! &c. The appeal of Pitbull continues to elude me, especially as his lyrics are unremittingly predatory as to make the listener feel more than a little uncomfortable. Back In Time is the theme tune to the new Men In Black film (Why no Will Smith? WHY?!) and, considering the majority of his tunes concern being surrounded by nubile ladies in the VIP area of some unspecified club, it’s a little lacklustre. He still manages to be lecherous enough to make you think he should be on some sort of register though (the way he heavily breathes, “Let’s make a movie, baby”, makes me want to ensure my daughter never leaves the house again and that’s despite the fact she’s entirely fictional). A pretty insipid effort – including the regulation dubstep breakdown – containing nothing within to recommend it whatsoever. 1/10

Spector – Celestine

While searching for this track online, I was hoping – nay, praying – it would be an ode to Chelsea and Newcastle’s former Nigerian left-back, Celestine Babayaro. Unsurprisingly, it proved to be not the case but, stupid niche references aside, it’s got a bit more fizz to it than I’ve heard from previous Spector efforts. It offers entirely nothing new to the indie-rock genre, but then what does these days? There’s a slight 80s feel to the anthemic chorus, but the huge chords, chugging guitars and clear vocals see it just the right side of mediocre. It appears the band aren’t named after Birmingham City’s American defender Jonathan Spector either. I tell you what; it’s a sad day for fans of terrible, shoehorned jokes featuring semi-obscure footballers (i.e. me). 6/10

The Wanted – Chasing The Sun

Much like the Leveson Inquiry, popular beat combo The Wanted are Chasing The Sun. But unlike Rebekah Brooks and co., there’s no suggestion the boyband have any connection with hacking the voicemails of [BEST STOP THERE – Legal Ed.]. The Wanted seem to be ploughing a furrow along with JLS as practitioners of kiddie-friendly Ibiza dance-pop, and this track seems to be a facsimile of many chart hits that have gone before it. There’s even the ascending “oh-oh-oh” refrain that’s featured so frequently over the past couple of years. Given The Wanted’s attempt at a ‘bad boy’ image, Chasing The Sun is so tame and anaemic it’s laughable, but it does have a decent-ish hook, and doesn’t particularly outstay its welcome either. They’re going down a storm Stateside too, so it’s looking good for the 21st Century’s answer to East 17. 5/10

The Black Keys – Dead And Gone

The phenomenal success story that is The Black Keys seems to have taken everybody by surprise. Completely going against the music industry trend, they’ve cultivated a loyal fanbase, broadened their scope with each passing record and are now reaping the rewards. It fair warms the cockles. Although Dead And Gone – like all their recent songs – lacks the rawness that made earlier Black Keys work so thrilling, it’s an extremely professional effort that still has just enough edge to it. The real secret of the band’s success though, is that they know their way around a decent tune, and Dead And Gone is another one of those. It’s not going to make you want to tear your shirt off, whirl it above your head and dance around the room (which is good news for my neighbours, if nothing else), but it’s another solid effort from a band who rarely put a foot wrong. 7/10

This Many Boyfriends – (I Should Be A) Communist

In my university days, I was briefly in a band with a prodigiously talented guitarist who thought it great larks to use the word, ‘communist’, as a catch-all insult. It got old incredibly quickly, though he was an extremely lovely chap. It’s difficult not to hold a smidgen of affection for any song called (I Should Be A) Communist and this track is just as great as its title suggests. It’s a charming, ramshackle romp that’s equal parts funny, addictive and tuneful. This Many Boyfriends have created an indiepop gem, albeit a gem that’s extremely lo-fi and sounds as if it were recorded in a cardboard box. The kind of track everybody should enjoy, though you might have to be rather forgiving of twee, shambling indulgences if you’re to truly love it. 8/10

We Are Augustines – Juarez

Hey, my birthday’s in August, so that must make me an Augustine too! So, us Augustines are… oh, wait… apparently it’s something to do with monks. WAA’s lead vocalist sounds like he spends his days sitting on his porch, nursing his shotgun and gargling grits. But, crude stereotypes aside (I’m from the English countryside, I don’t even really know what grits are), it’s an extremely unusual voice and one that’s entirely at odds with the muddy yet haunting chords cascading from the guitars. Juarez is an atmospheric track that builds admirably but, seriously, that voice! Perhaps I’m being unnecessarily harsh, but it sounds so mannered and deliberate it’s as if he’s trying to channel every singer who ever wore a Stetson and woke up one morning to find their dog had died. Perhaps there are environments where Juarez works, but I’m certainly not in one of them right now. 4/10

School Of Seven Bells – The Night

Despite having spent years cultivating a heady brew of post-rock, electronica and chillwave that couldn’t be more now if it were carrying the Olympic Torch, School Of Seven Bells seem to have slipped off the map somewhat of late. The Night is SOSB at their excellent best; vital, pulsing and with the kind of ethereal vocals and chiming, dreamy guitars that recall the Cocteau Twins at their finest. With Austra so feted and subsequently failing to deliver last year, the air is right for a School Of Seven Bells takeover, so why isn’t it happening? Don’t ask me, that was a rhetorical question, but you could do far worse than to give The Night a spin or twelve. It’s a hungry track that demands your attention, balances beauty and energy with a deftness rarely encountered, and creates a gorgeous, enveloping atmosphere to boot. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Rumer – P.F. Sloan

Rumer’s beautiful, soothing, Karen Carpenter-alike voice has won her many plaudits, not to mention record sales, but often the songs themselves are beyond soporific. P.F. Sloan, a cover of the much-reworked Jimmy Webb number, certainly falls into that category. Measured pedal steel and pretty, inconsequential backing ensure nothing ever gets too exciting, and Rumer’s smooth croon is given centre stage. It’s easy to be snobbish about this kind of MOR stuff and maybe call it “coffee table music” but I hate to be dismissive about songs just because they’re not bleeding edge or going to frighten your grandmother. However, it really is difficult to see what this is for. I can’t imagine it being particularly enjoyable to make or fun to play live and – at the risk of falling into my own trap – I struggle to see what kind of experience fans would really get from this song. So, since there’s not much to say about it, I’ll use the word you use when there’s not much to say – it’s nice. 4/10

Paloma Faith – Picking Up The Pieces

Oh Jessie J, what have you done? While Paloma Faith always appeared she was always trying too hard to appear kooky on her debut album, Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful? (Exhibit A: that title), her voice was always relatively reined in. However, post-J, we’re living in a world where The Voice is primetime entertainment and the cult of melisma demand the warbling is turned up to 11. Picking Up The Pieces is a piano ballad that Faith wrings every possible ounce of emotion and drama out of, while singing about seven times more notes than are strictly necessary. If I were a judge on a TV talent show, I’d be duty bound to say that Paloma Faith showed passion with this performance, and then I’d reiterate just how important passion is in popular music. However, I’m a music fan, and a writer, and passion doesn’t mean one jot when it comes down to actually producing a listenable track, and I’m extremely keen for Picking Up The Pieces to never invade my lugholes again. 1/10

Newton Faulkner – Write It On Your Skin

Dreadlocked twonk, spiritual predecessor to Ed Sheeran and the thinking man’s Swampy the Eco-Warrior, Newton Faulkner, is back with yet more acoustic, guitar tippy-tapping, hippy-dippy, henna-tattooed non-sequiturs for people who find the real world too tough to acknowledge. Seemingly mistakenly equating dreadlocks with talent, Faulkner is continuing his never-ending quest to record and release all the songs that buskers on gap years in Cambodia ditched for being too facile and patronising. With Faulkner, Sheeran, Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz and Ben Howard, we’re clearly entering a time when the charts are riddled with the kind of dreary, sexless man-children you’d normally find in Lisa Simpson’s copy of ‘Non-Threatening Boys Magazine.’ And for this, I blame the Radio 1 Live Lounge for encouraging acts to do ‘credible’ (i.e. acoustic) cover versions of pop songs and I blame Travis for their execrable cover of the sublime …Baby One More Time. In the time it’s taken me to write the preceding 145 words, I’ve entirely forgotten how the song goes. Says it all, really. 0/10

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