Saturday, 19 January 2013

World's biggest catch-up

It would appear I've posted nothing on here that's been published since the beginning of August, which is pretty shoddy blogging. I'll remedy that by a massive batch of links rather than a tortuous reproduction of all the articles. So, take a deep breath:

No Ripcord

The Vagenda
New Statesman
And if you've read all them, you're a braver person than I. Give yourself a biscuit.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Top 10 Tracks of 2012

My blog has been neglected of late but no matter, for here are the best ten songs of the year, officially, as decided by me.

10. Haim - Forever

9. Little Mix - Wings

8. Azealia Banks - Liquorice (NSFW)

7. Carly Rae Jepsen - Call Me Maybe

6. The Internet - Cocaine (feat. Left Brain) (NSFW)

5. Solange - Losing You

4. Jessie Ware - 110% (now retitled "If You're Never Gonna Move")

3. Tindersticks - Chocolate

2. AlunaGeorge - Your Drums, Your Love

1. Friends - Friend Crush (Leo Zero remix)

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Singles Bar: 06/08/12

As if the feats of the Olympians weren’t making you feel inadequate enough already, a cursory browse through Wikipedia revealed that your humble author was born on the exact same day as one Usain St. Leo Bolt. Not only that, he lives in Kingston and I live in (well, quite near) Kingston (upon Thames) too! But of course, there is one crucial difference – Usain Bolt can’t write singles reviews for toffee. Onwards!

Slow Club – Beginners

And so we start with the sublime Slow Club and their new single, Beginners. While a decent enough track in isolation, the most notable thing about this song is the video, which stars big Slow Club fan and boy-wizard, Daniel Radcliffe. Anyone who thinks Slow Club are still a cutesy twee duo would be well advised to listen to Beginners with its bassy tom-toms and urgent vocals. OK, the guitar riff seems to be echoed by a recorder but it’s a well-crafted, mature song where Rebecca’s yearning vocals contrast against Charles’ lower tones. As far as tracks from parent album Paradise go, Beginners doesn’t exactly scream ‘single’, and it’s perhaps a bizarre choice to glean more sales from an album that’s now almost a year old. Still, it’s Slow Club, and as we all know, Slow Club are brilliant. 8/10

P!nk – Blow Me (One Last Kiss)

For over a dozen years now, P!nk has infected our lives with her comfortable, pre-packaged brand of faux-rebellion for solipsistic, first-world-problem teens. Blow Me (One Last Kiss) (see what she did with that title there, the rogue) picks up exactly where her career left off, with a load of moaning, lyrics about how everything is someone else’s fault and about as much pathos and insight as a tea cosy. There are some decent melodies in here, but they’re overshadowed by P!nk’s bellowing and horribly compressed production. It’s yet another song for P!nk to swear (gasp!) and whinge (yikes!) her way through and if you think this song “speaks” to you or “gets” your situation on any level, I suggest you take a long hard look at yourself. 3/10

Alex Clare – Humming Bird

After the success of his it’s-everywhere-but-still-no-one-really-knows-who-he-is-or-where-the-song-came-from smash, Too Close, Humming Bird has flown in (b’dum-tish, etc.) slightly under the radar. The cantering drum beat that gives the track its rhythm is scarily reminiscent of Dog Days Are Over by Florence + The Machine and while the vocals really take off (and again) in the chorus, the music doesn’t really mirror that ascent (wahey!). Humming Bird was always going to struggle to match the intensity of Too Close, but it’s still a disappointment, and the disparity between production and voice really doesn’t do Alex Clare any favours. 4/10

Spiritualized – Little Girl

Spiritualized are now in that odd position of their albums being a big event for around a week after their release, before disappearing off the radar altogether. It’s almost as if everyone sticks around to see if they’ll make another Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space and when it becomes clear they’re not going to, their attention goes elsewhere and, like someone running for the bus, missing it and pretending they never wanted it anyway, they tell themselves they knew it wouldn’t live up to expectations. They could be missing out though, because Little Girl has the kind of epic, uplifting feel that Rolling Stones tracks used to have when they were good. Jason Pierce’s voice sounds particularly flat, unfortunately, and Little Girl, rather than being something fantastic, sounds like the kind of half-decent track Richard Ashcroft or Ian Brown used to somehow produce about once a decade. So there you go. Little Girl: a bit like A Song For The Lovers or F.E.A.R.. 7/10

Redlight – Lost In Your Love

After announcing himself to the world earlier this year with the addictive Get Out My Head, Redlight has returned with a song that sounds like it’s been taken straight off the Energy Rush Safe Six compilation cassette I was bought for my birthday in 1993. There’s a resurgence of early 90s rave and house for sure, but this is as blatant a recreation as I think I’ve seen. Breakbeat drums and piano loops play behind repeated vocal phrases; the whole thing is likely to send segments of the population of a certain age off to a warehouse in the country for a night of illegal fun. Yes, it’s well put together, but when a track from 2012 permanently seems about five seconds away from morphing into U Sure Do by Strike, it’s not exactly going to inspire rhapsodising. 4/10

Dry The River – No Rest

Come on, popular music beat combos, sort it out. Are there really so few good band names left in the world that people are happy to saddle themselves with this kind of thing? Dry The River is the kind of name that conjures up anything but excitement and in addition, I always think they’re called Dry The Rain, which is a Beta Band song. On the evidence of No Rest, Dry The River are better than their name suggests (though it would be near impossible not to be) with the smooth croon of frontman Peter Liddle similar to Beirut’s Zach Condon. However, halfway through, No Rest takes an about-turn and really dials everything up to eleven with soaring strings, huge guitars and impassioned vocals leading to a huge climax. It’s the kind of thing a few groups tried to make a career out of in the middle of the last decade (Hope Of The States, Haven, Longview) and Dry The River make a decent fist of it too, turning No Rest into a genuinely affecting song. 7/10

Jay Sean feat. Tyga – Sex 101

Just the title of this song is enough to make you want to take a vow of celibacy, move to a Tibetan monastery and spend sixteen hours a day working a loom. If you’ve heard any pop music radio in the past five years, I’m sure you can imagine exactly what this song sounds like. It could be a Chris Brown track, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Pitbull turn up halfway through and it’s about as sexy as varnishing a windowsill. Why do myriad R&B artists fail to understand that sexiness is more about what’s implied than what’s revealed? There’s absolutely no mystery or intrigue in Sex 101 (like you wouldn’t have guessed from the title) and when Jay Sean purrs, “I really wanna test your body”, it sounds like a terrifying threat from a psychopath. If I were a woman and somebody tried to “impress” me with this song, I would laugh in their face and then call the police. 0/10

Niki & The Dove – Somebody

Look, can we just take it as read that all Niki & The Dove songs are amazing? Harking back to an age when the most successful groups wrote their own material and tried to make music as crowd-pleasing as possible, Niki & The Dove pluck solid gold choruses from the ether as if it were the simplest thing in the world. Synth riffs collide, cymbals crash, vocals are brash and the overriding sensation is one of pure joy. It’s said it’s harder to write a happy song than a sad song, and more difficult to write a simple song than one that’s complicated, and if that’s true then Niki & The Dove deserve some kind of medal. A huge sounding record that’s fun, that you can dance to, that you can sing along in the mirror to and that you can spend three minutes getting entirely lost in. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Dizzee Rascal feat. Pepper – Scream

Now while I like the Olympics as much as the next person (actually, probably more – I’ve gone entirely Olympics mad), the seemingly never-ending glut of Olympics-related singles is somewhat wearing. While clearly a talented and important artist, it can’t be overlooked that Dizzee’s been involved in an awful lot of collaborations and commercial tie-in tracks lately – a key sign of someone losing their inspiration and thinking more about the money than their music. Admittedly, the Olympics are on Dizzee’s doorstep (slight tangent: Dizzee’s Doorstep sounds like a great name for a kids’ TV show) but he’s about as far from Boy In Da Corner now as it’s possible to be; the boy who’s centre stage, if you will. Scream is full of well-worn hip-hop braggadocio, harp in abundance and a chorus from Dizzee’s latest protégée. I sincerely hope he’s not going the same way as so many rappers before him and putting business first, but the signs aren’t good. 4/10

Madonna – Turn Up The Radio

Seeing as it went soaring into the bargain bin faster than a British cyclist round the velodrome, you’d be forgiven for having completely forgotten Madonna had an album out recently. She’s still trying to flog the dead horse that is MDNA though, and Turn Up The Radio is the latest attempt. Whereas Give Me All Your Luvin’ had a bit of life to it (we gave it Single Of The Week – no, really!), Turn Up The Radio is the sound of someone who isn’t even trying. It seems inconceivable that Madonna’s career could be coming to an end (despite what Elton John says) and she’s probably planning her next move as we speak, but the failure of MDNA must have been a wake-up call. Turn Up The Radio is dance-by-numbers that Scissor Sisters would reject for being too obvious; you’d feel cheated if this turned up as a free bonus track. 3/10

Channel ORANGE

Frank Ocean - Channel ORANGE
released 18 July on Mercury

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but Frank Ocean might have a thing or two to say about that. Since he published a certain Tumblr post (which was initially planned to be included within Channel ORANGE itself), he’s become one of the most talked-about artists on the planet. There have been countless features, articles and op-ed pieces about him, though depressingly few have focused primarily on his music. Sure, he’s had some healthy record sales in the aftermath but you can’t help but think that nobody would want the scrutiny of the media turned on them in such a fashion.

Ocean’s Tumblr post and the ensuing hubbub revealed several things – notably that he writes absolutely beautifully – but it really said more about us than it did him. It told us that, despite it being 2012 (2012?!), who an artist fancies is still more newsworthy than the art they create. It told us that many people fall into two groups: homophobes and people who are so desperate to show they’re not homophobic that they loudly congratulate themselves for being comfortable with the sexual preferences of others –  you know, standard human behaviour that you’d hope would be the norm and needn’t be accompanied by a fanfare of self-recognition. Finally, it taught us that, by and large, people have a poor understanding of the spectrum of human sexuality. Ocean had spoken about sleeping with women previously; therefore his falling in love with a man doesn’t make him gay any more than eating a tofu burger makes you a vegetarian.

Of course, all this scandalised whispering and hypothesising has overshadowed the release of this record and, in the rush to make a point or three, this review has fallen into the same trap as so many before it. Channel ORANGE has been one of the most anticipated albums of the year and rightly so; on his 2011 mixtape, Nostalgia ULTRA, Ocean demonstrated that he’s an exciting addition to the world of popular music, with a wealth of ideas and a willingness to experiment which far outstrips the majority of his R&B peers. Such was  the quality of Nostalgia ULTRA, it was difficult to keep three things in mind: that it was only a mixtape, that he is affiliated with the controversial and violent hip-hop collective, Odd Future, and that with the style of music he makes, Ocean’s contemporaries are actually acts like Usher and Ne-Yo.

What’s most striking about Channel ORANGE is how unlike most modern-day R&B singers Frank Ocean is. His style, his vocals, his grammar and his unwillingness to self-mythologise are extraordinarily refreshing. In fact, Frank Ocean may be the only R&B artist who you’d like to hear talk about themselves more. This doesn’t mean he’s entirely a closed book though; indeed, first track proper Thinkin Bout You displays a naked vulnerability that’s as disarming as it is eloquent.

Throughout Channel ORANGE, Ocean shows what a good ear he has, as he pilfers from other musical genres and adapts them to fit his own style. Soul, funk, hip-hop, pop and blues are all subsumed into Ocean’s world and become part of his polished aesthetic. The results aren’t always as spectacular as you might expect – with a few notable exceptions, Channel ORANGE is solid rather than spellbinding – but his magpie instincts look set to ensure his longevity. It’s an incredibly strong album lyrically though; we may not know how autobiographical it all is, but there’s a strong sense of a lack of fulfilment, especially when accompanied by copious amounts of wealth. Sweet Life (co-written with Pharrell Williams) builds into a huge chorus about someone who’s “had a housekeeper and a landscaper since [they] were born” before the haunting and melodious backing vocals frame the throwaway yet revealing line: “my TV ain’t HD – that’s too real”. Fellow Odd Future associate Earl Sweatshirt joins the pity party on the ponderous Super Rich Kids“point my clicker at the tube / I prefer expensive news” – an almost satiric tune that threatens to end in tragedy (“We end our day up on the roof / I say I’ll jump – I never do”). It’s so incongruous against the crass commercialism and consuming greed that pervades so much of popular culture that it’s astonishing.

Of course, we then have the mind-melting epic that is Pyramids; the track Ocean previewed in advance of this album (yet another unlikely move). For the uninitiated, Pyramids is a near ten-minute epic that starts life as a funk-induced behemoth captained by the catchiest riff you’re likely to hear all year before imploding and finishing up as a smooth jam. However, there’s far more to it than that. It’s a morality tale; an intergalactic story of glamour and Ancient Egyptian excess that eventually morphs into a detached rumination on the daily grind of being a stripper. The pyramids are no longer a symbol of prosperity, but the local strip bar. Ocean repeats the phrase, “she’s working at The Pyramids tonight”, with such frequency, that stripping sounds like the most humdrum and least appealing profession in the world (yet another shot in the eye for more “traditional” R&B tropes).

It’s an exhausting, exhilarating tour de force that’s difficult to surpass and the album undoubtedly loses some steam after the zenith of Pyramids. Actually, it’s fair to say that the last third or so of Channel ORANGE is a little on the dull side. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the songs on offer, but they have little to hook you in or get the pulse racing. The appearance of André 3000 on Pink Matter brings a welcome extra voice into play, but the business end of Channel ORANGE is overlong and self-indulgent. By the time the album peters out with the lacklustre End, your attention will have likely wandered elsewhere.

Despite its faults, Channel ORANGE still marks Frank Ocean out as an intriguing and exciting artist. It’s a contradiction in many ways: a far-from-perfect album that suggests a long and prosperous career; an artist without an exceptional voice who looks like he will instead become an exceptional voice. We’re going to be hearing a lot more about Frank Ocean in years to come – let’s hope we’re hearing about his music and let’s hope it’s better than this.

The Singles Bar: 30/07/12

At Singles Bar HQ, fewer than forty miles from the Olympic Park, we’ve been celebrating the finest athletes in the world pushing their bodies to the limit of human endeavour in the only way we know how – sitting in front of the television all weekend and roaring advice to these finely honed specimens while we hoover up junk food. Of course, the real story for music fans was the fantastic medley in the opening ceremony (we also loved the NHS tribute, artistic, Socialist, lentil-munching, yoghurt-knitting leftie liberals that we are) which ran from The Beatles to Tinie Tempah via Bowie, Blur and more. All of which makes this week’s selection that much more of an ordeal…

Drake feat. The Weeknd – Crew Love

Never knowingly short on confidence, Drake recently told The Jewish Chronicle that he was “the first person to successfully rap and sing” (which, as Popjustice pointed out, cruelly ignores Alesha Dixon’s contribution to the world of music). However, on Crew Love, Drake hands melody duties to The Weeknd, and the two poster boys for solipsistic, minimalist, first-world-problem rap certainly don’t disappoint. He may not be the first to rap and sing, but Drake deserves some credit for taking music so uncommercial into the mainstream. It doesn’t have traditional choruses, it doesn’t rely on bells and whistles, and it’s defiantly simple. Crew Love, while lyrically a little on the generic side, is another great track from Drake, and maybe it’ll push The Weeknd to more sales-based success too. 7/10

A$AP Rocky – Goldie

A$AP Rocky and his crew won plenty of friends, admirers and column inches last year with their Southern-influenced hip-hop tales of purple drank on the LiveLoveA$AP mixtape, and now it’s time for the official releases. Like the mixtape, Goldie suffers from paucity of ideas in places, and it’s an almost stream-of-consciousness flow that’s simply one long verse with a repeating woodwind (piccolo?) riff that’s gratingly twee after a while. Rocky’s style is great, and he’s certain to be around for a long while yet, but it doesn’t get the juices flowing in anticipation of his debut album. Goldie shows promise, but it’s perhaps a step back from the man who brought us Peso et al. 6/10

Wiley feat. Ms D – Heatwave

Wiley recently claimed to The Guardian that he “could have been as big as Tinie Tempah” and “anyone from [the grime] scene can play the O2 if they make the right music.” Sour grapes, perhaps? While Wiley’s seen his contemporaries from the early days of grime, most notably Dizzee Rascal, storm to success in recent years, Wiley’s remained on the outside, with little more than the odd critical ovation to his name. Those who know Wiley might point to his profligacy, unpredictability and, ahem, use of relaxing substances as more pertinent reasons as to why he’s not bothering the traffic systems of North Greenwich. Strange then, that Heatwave is Wiley’s most blatant bid for commercial success than his last big chart hit, Wearing My Rolex. Wiley’s never dull and his flow and rhymes are engaging and propel the song along on a pulsing rhythm, but Ms. D’s contribution, a chart-friendly, facile ode to partying, drags the track down into a less exciting realm, and the overriding feeling in this track is one of unfulfilled promise. 5/10

Yolanda Be Cool feat. Crystal Waters – Le Bump

Yolanda Be Cool are the artists behind the irritatingly ubiquitous monster hit, We No Speak Americano, so please try and contain your excitement at their return. Here, they’ve teamed up with Crystal Waters, best known in the UK for her classic earworm Gypsy Woman (La Da Dee La Da Da). Like We No Speak Americano, there are annoying brass riffs and a bizarre fetishisation of big band music. That’s all that really separates it from a million other Europop smashes of the past two decades or so and, without a memorable hook to speak of, is likely to disappear from your mind the second it finishes. The same can’t be said of Gypsy Woman (La Da Dee La Da Da) though, which I’ll now probably be humming for the next fortnight. 2/10

Parade – Light Me Up

Girl group Parade scored a Top 10 hit last year with the frankly dismal Louder before seemingly disappearing without a trace. Usually, in these situations it signals the end of a career altogether (yes, you Girl Thing, and you Girls@Play, and whither Precious?) but against all odds, Parade are back. And to be perfectly honest, it's a good job they are, because Light Me Up is a huge-sounding record which doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel but does pure pop in an unabashed, full-force way that a lot of groups could learn from. The Saturdays had better watch their backs because if Light Me Up gets any decent airplay and Parade have got a few more songs like this up their sleeve, they could well be going places fast. 8/10

M83 – OK Pal

M83 breaking into the UK Top 40 singles chart still feels a bit like a dream that didn’t happen and the more I hear of M83, I can’t believe they’re so critically acclaimed. This isn’t to say the work of Antony Gonzalez is bad, far from it, but M83’s style is so kitsch, is so in thrall to music that’s often not fondly remembered, and is so openly pop-focused that it’s the kind of thing that’s normally met with a sneer by earnest, beardy, Appalachian woodsman-loving hipper-than-thou folkie types. However, anyone not letting M83 into their life is missing out, because OK Pal is life-affirming, uplifting music that seeks the beauty in the world, amplifies it and then chucks a load of star-sprinkled synths all over the top of it. It’s a rich chocolate cake of a track, maybe a little rich over a whole album (and don’t forget M83’s last was a double) but utterly fantastic over four minutes. Stick it on repeat, lose any notion you may have of what tastemakers say you should be listening to, and if you’re wondering what’s putting pressure on your cheeks, that’ll be the massive grin spreading across your face. 9/10

Rumer – Sara Smile

The last time Rumer, aka Sarah Joyce, turned up on the Singles Bar, I questioned the point of her career (although I hope I was a bit nicer than that about it) but said she had a decent voice. Well, now she’s put her voice to good use with this cover of a Hall & Oates track. Her velvety, Karen Carpenter-esque croon works well with the jazz-flecked blue-eyed soul of the original and serves to remind you what a great song this is. The production is a little muddled – Muzak backing vocals and a little too much going on in the instrumental breakdown, perhaps – but Rumer steers this ship well all told. It doesn’t improve on the original in any way though, so again, it’s difficult to see the reasoning behind this. But then maybe that’s my problem and I should just concentrate on whether her records are any good or not that try and solve any existential questions through the medium of a mildly successful singer. 5/10

Chemical Brothers – Theme From Velodrome

So, Theme From Velodrome is the official song of the London 2012 Olympics. But hang on, isn’t that Muse abomination the official song too? And I’m sure I heard Dizzee Rascal was doing one? That’s not to mention that awful Mark Ronson and Katy B thing that turned up endorsed by a certain teeth-dissolving soft drinks company. Seems like the organisers want to have their cake (made by the official bakers of the London 2012 Games, natch) and eat it. Theme From Velodrome starts off with epic synths before a Kraftwerkian “VEL. O. DROME.” looms over the top and Orbital-style synth patterns pepper the building beats. The whole thing gives a real sense of intensity and cumulative endeavour, though it’s not surprise a track with such an obvious motorik motif and repetitive riffs should be associated with cycling. It’s a defiantly non-commercial choice from the always-interesting Chems (though a radio edit is available) though it remains to be seen whether Sir Chris Hoy and Vicky Pendleton whizz their way round The Pringle (that’s what they’re calling it) to this, but either way, it’s a brilliant song, ravey yet still cerebral. Dance’s love affair with cycling continues. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Far East Movement feat. Cover Drive – Turn Up The Love

Obviously it’s wrong to be against people by name alone but consider this. Far East Movement are Kev Nish, Prohgress, J-Splif and DJ Virman. Cover Drive have a member named Bar-Man. Sometimes it’s difficult to do the right thing. Responsible for a handful of genuinely awful singles between them, the two quartets join forces which, on paper, looks tragic for anyone in the possession of functioning ears. Both groups attempt to stamp their particular styles on this track, so Cover Drive’s Caribbean-influenced pop meets Far East Movement’s boneheaded club rap. It’s a trick that’s been done relatively seamlessly before, but these two make it look like a combination that’s about as well-suited as cod and custard. A pretty sorry exercise with *counts on fingers* precisely no redeeming features. 0/10

Calvin Harris feat. Example – We’ll Be Coming Back

The two artists who rival Rihanna for sheer output come together presumably in a concerted attempt to save effort and only do half a track each. Their musical styles are so similar that it seems strange they decided to work together at all. They’ve clearly suffering from dance music fatigue (I know the feeling) because this is barely a track at all. It’s more like a mechanically recovered Calvin Harris or Example song, with tired keyboards, a lazy tempo and an uninspired vocal. Boring, boring, boring, this has got contractual obligation written all over it (the song, not this column, how dare you even suggest that). 1/10

The Singles Bar: 23/07/12

It’s a continuing trend sales-wise. The current number one album in the UK, by Elton John vs. Pnau, has the lowest sales for a chart-topping album of any record this century, yet single sales go from strength to strength. So, instead of mourning the album, let’s celebrate the single, starting off with this little lot.

Clock Opera – Belongings

Clock Opera’s clever, intricate indie seems to have been overshadowed by the success of Alt-J in recent months, but they still have enough quality to make them worthy of your time. Belongings starts unspectacularly – a simple piano line and an unadorned voice – but then the bassline hugs the melody and the piano notes become quickly doubled octaves, making the track a little disorienting, but also strangely beautiful and sounding like raindrops falling on the street below. It’s a wonderful, delicate song that displays sufficient deftness and expertise to let the song breathe and never try to crowd the arrangement. At the three minute mark, the cymbals seem to signal the beginning of something epic, but we actually get Futurehead-style a cappella vocals for a minute until the track finally breaks loose with buzzing bass and funk-inspired drumming. A really accomplished work, reminiscent of Elbow from a decade or so ago. 9/10 – JOINT SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Madeon – Finale

Madeon is young. No really, do a Google Image Search of him now – he’s implausibly young. Despite being born in 1994 (that fact alone makes me want to weep tears of pure rage and frustration), the young man from Nantes certainly knows his way around a set of decks. Like last single, Icarus, Finale is a huge sounding record which skirts the edge of the dubstep-inspired dance of the charts without ever becoming formulaic or dull. However, it hasn’t quite got Icarus’ killer hook and, rather worryingly, it sounds not entirely dissimilar to thankfully-defunct Australian generic drum n’ bass peddlers, Pendulum. There’s enough here to dispel any ideas that Madeon might be a one-trick pony, but this is unlikely to propel him to the next level. Incidentally, Madeon’s real name is Hugo Pierre Leclercq, which is an infinitely cooler name – he really should use that when he DJs. 6/10

Major Lazer feat. Amber Coffman – Get Free

Major Lazer is certainly a busy boy. As well working up with Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman on this track, it’s been announced he’s teaming up with Snoop Dogg on a reggae album, where the self-styled Doggfather will be going by the name Snoop Lion. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned Major Lazer’s military responsibilities. Anyway, Major Lazer (ostensibly just Diplo these days) is putting a hyper-modern spin on dub with Get Free, a track which features skank-friendly, ponderous bass, a laid-back tempo and the odd cutting-edge synth break. This combination, plus Coffman’s vocals (and the odd sax phrase), actually works far better in practice than on paper, and Major Lazer makes it sound as if this is the way dub has always been made. An incredibly chilled, melodic and smartly-created track which bodes well for the rest of Diplo’s projects in the remainder of the year. 8/10

Passion Pit – I’ll Be Alright

I’ll Be Alright starts off by sounding like about five different songs are playing at the same time, the exact kind of thing which would make you anything but alright. Passion Pit clearly have issues surrounding their collective attention span, as I’ll Be Alright jumps from tempo to tempo, from hook to hook, from line to line, without ever really having time to settle on one style. The downside of this is that anything slower than the frenetic opening sounds tired and laboured. It’s difficult to get a grip on anything, it’s messy and it’s not an experience I’d be keen to repeat in a hurry – similar to what being in an actual passion pit might be like, should such a thing exist. 5/10

The Enemy – Like A Dancer

On Spotify, the list of related artists for The Enemy reads like a who’s who of lumpen, uninspiring, derivative landfill indie: The Courteeners, The Twang, The Pigeon Detectives, Jamie T, The View, Reverend And The Makers, The Rifles, Milburn… If that lot doesn’t make you want to burn every acoustic guitar in the country and make synthesisers mandatory in all school music lessons, I don’t know what will. Unlike many Enemy songs, Like A Dancer actually appears to have a slight semblance of melody to it (a happy accident, presumably). Also, thankfully, it doesn’t try to make some kind of “social commentary” (ugh) on small-town living and feeling trapped by industrial wastelands (we get it, you’re from Coventry – it’s a hole). By Enemy standards, this isn’t bad at all. However, by the standards of all other recorded music ever, it’s still a total aberration. I blame Oasis, I really do. It used to be the case that guitar bands would try to be clever or insightful, then it became de rigueur for groups to be as knuckle-draggingly boneheaded as humanly possible. On a brighter note, The Enemy’s latest album is performing far worse in the charts than their previous two, so hopefully they’ll get the hint and call it a day. 1/10

Mac Miller – Party On Fifth Ave.

I wonder if this party Mac Miller speaks of is on Fifth Avenue in New York. If so, I don’t know how he’ll host it, the queues from the Abercrombie & Fitch store usually stretch for a block or so, and then you’ve got the Apple store, and then Tiffany’s… basically, it’s a crowded place. Party On Fifth Ave. is a laid-back hip-hop track with an old school sound, most notable for its horn sample, which UK readers will know from Hear The Drummer (Get Wicked) and American No Ripcorders from DJ Kool’s Let Me Clear My Throat or The 900 Number by DJ Mark The 45 King. That riff is basically all there is to this track, which makes it hard to say more about it. It’s an ok song, and would probably go down well at the kind of house party Mac Miller’s rapping about, but past that, it hasn’t got an awful lot going for it. 4/10

Marina & The Diamonds – Power & Control

I wonder how Marina Diamandis feels about her new-found success. After an idiosyncratic debut album that didn’t sell too well, she’s trimmed away her rougher edges and emerged as a sleek, identikit electro-popper. It’s a shame because, while her first record had more than its fair share of faults, it showcased her as an emerging and interesting star. But hey, she’s got a number one album to her name and I haven’t (at the time of writing, anyway), so perhaps she’s doing things right after all. In fairness, Power & Control isn’t a bad pop song by any stretch of the imagination – it’s well put together with some decent stuff going on in the background, but in being less ambitious, she’s headed more towards the middle ground, and that’s a real shame. 5/10

The State Broadcasters – Trespassers

Doing their bit for the under-represented waltz in rock are The State Broadcasters, a Glaswegian collective who bonded over a shared love of Clem Snide and Lambchop. There are certainly shades of Kurt Wagner’s group in Trespassers, which is a gorgeous, contemplative slice of alt-country which is never boring or worthy. It’s careful, sure, but it comes across as attention to detail more than hesitation. Small snatches of melody and harmony adorn Trespassers like jewels, and it has the kind of accomplished, well-fashioned quality which makes you wonder why The State Broacasters aren’t the darlings of the Americana scene. Slights shades of Arcade Fire too in Trespassers, a genuinely wonderful song that makes further investigation of this band practically compulsory. 9/10 – JOINT SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Conor Maynard – Vegas Girl

After Can’t Say No, Conor Maynard’s paean to the crippling struggle of sex addiction, Brighton’s answer to Justin Bieber returns with a track showing that despite only being two singles in, he’s got his signature sound well established. Namely, it’s R&B with a decidedly bubblegum pop flavour, as if he’s Justin Timberlake’s younger brother and, check this everyone, he’s absolutely MAD for girls, right? He can’t get enough of them and judging by his lyrical content, it’s absolutely all he talks about. As if the concept of a singing, perma-horny teenager isn’t enough to put you off, it’s also a pretty tired and derivative record. If you’re a glutton for punishment though, Maynard over-emotes his way through Marvins Room by Drake on the B-side (note to Conor Maynard fans who are presumably about twelve: ask your Dad what a B-side is). 2/10

Joss Stone – While You’re Out Looking For Sugar

The fact her new album is called The Soul Sessions Vol. II suggests that the royalty cheques may have dried up for everyone’s (read: no-one’s) faux-American, bare-footed, melismatic Devonian. Just to confirm everyone’s preconceptions, While You’re Out Looking For Sugar displays Stone, once again, attempting to establish her credentials as a 1960s soul diva despite sounding more like a cruise ship singer. This song has Hammond organ, jazz-style percussion and loads of other retro/vintage sounds that have been done a million times before but will virtually guarantee her an invite to Jools Holland’s end-of-year hootenanny. Stone has somehow painted herself into a corner and will probably spend the next five decades recording tracks that sound like things Aretha Franklin wouldn’t have given a second glance. This kind of thing can really get a man down. 2/10

The Singles Bar: 16/07/12

The Singles Bar took a break last week due to the marvellous and comprehensive No Ripcord Top 100 Albums of 2000-2009. However, we’re back and to celebrate, we’re reviewing twelve singles this week instead of the usual ten. Any link you wish to draw between the increased word count and the terrible recent British weather is, of course, entirely coincidental and without credence. So, what’s been making its way into our ears on this grey and windswept day?

King Charles feat. Mumford & Sons – The Brightest Lights

The tagline to Jaws 2 was, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water”, and the same might apply here. Perhaps you’d forgotten about Mumford & Sons and their David Cameron-friendly brand of tepid folk-pop, but no, they’re back, and for some reason, they’ve brought a 17th Century monarch with them. For somebody who died in 1649, Charlie’s in remarkably good voice but if you were expecting a departure from the Mumfords’ usual schlock and hokum, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s country-tinged Americana packed with more banjo and fiddle-eye-di-dah than doctors recommend tolerating in one sitting. Also, bizarrely, it sounds like Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver, but with bagpipes. Perhaps I’m missing something in the fetishisation of all this ye olde hoedown stuff, but The Brightest Lights isn’t going to make me change my opinion. 1/10

Daniel Powter – Cupid

As we all know, the correct response when faced with a Daniel Powter record is, “KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE!” but I guess he should be given a fair crack of the whip. After all, Cupid can’t be quite as awful as Bad Day, can it…? Well, it’s not as bad, no, but only in the same way that a week as Courtney Love’s housekeeper isn’t as bad as two weeks as Courtney Love’s housekeeper. Cupid is a jaunty, syrupy ode to Powter’s significant other that contains all the emotional depth and hard-hitting impact as the memoirs of Kim Kardashian. It makes Jack Johnson sound like Lou Reed; it’s trite, irritating, facile and condescending, and I hate it. Killing it with fire might not be such a bad idea after all. 0/10

Post War Years – Glass House

Now here’s an interesting one. I was planning on leading with a weak joke (for a change) about not throwing stones while listening to this song, but instead I was entirely captivated by Post War Years doing their best Human League impression. Analog synths buzz and burble, and even the vocals sound as if they’ve been touched by the hand of Phil Oakey. Get a couple of female backing vocalists in and we’re all set to make Dare! Part 2. A great track, though it’s difficult to give Post War Years too much kudos when they’re adding so little that’s original to their work. We’ve got 80s nostalgia tours for this sort of thing and, if you go and see them, you get to hear ABC too and you might even bump into Steve Strange. So, Glass House is certainly enjoyable but it’s difficult to see the reasoning behind it. 7/10

Little Boots – Headphones

Headphones may be a relatively lightweight piece of electro-pop with a “la-la-la” refrain, but that doesn’t stop it being addictive and full of giddy joy. Like most music about the brilliance of music and dancing, it’s infectious, fun and – like the best dancing – entirely free of any notions of cool or self-consciousness. And as for that “la-la-la” bit, it’s an exceptionally catchy hook that will stay with you long after the track finishes. Little Boots sings, “I wear my headphones at the disco / And nobody ever has to know”, which seems like quite an odd thing to do in such an environment, but if it helps her make ridiculously good, disco-inspired pop tunes like this, then it’s clearly very much a ‘good thing’. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Misha B – Home Run

Misha B obviously comes from a musical family, being as she is the sibling of Plan, Mel and Katy (props to my friend Matt for that joke). Apparently, Misha B was fourth in the last series of X Factor, which was news to me, finishing higher than such musical luminaries as Nu Vibe (no, me neither), Craig Colton (*shrugs*) and The Risk (*"WTF?" face*). Anyway, for the product of a televised talent show, Home Run is really not a bad effort at all. It’s frantic and jerky, has a real dancehall influence and, crucially, doesn’t succumb to any vocal gymnastics or melisma. Misha B may have got the balance between hip-hop edge and mainstream pop just right on Home Run and, given some decent airplay, this has the potential to do really quite well. Still not a scooby who she is though. 7/10

Hot Chelle Rae feat. New Boyz – I Like It Like That

Despite sounding like it might be the name of the younger sister of Blu Cantrell, Hot Chelle Rae are in fact a four-piece pop-rock band. There’s a touch of Gym Class Heroes to I Like It Like That, and the whiff of Foster The People isn’t too far away either. It’s an entirely lightweight, substance-free piece of party-fixated fluff about, y’know, pretty girls and that. I haven’t seen the video but I can imagine it features slo-mo shots of girls in bikinis stopping at traffic lights in a topless car. If you had a teenage child and heard them listening to this in their room, you’d be entirely within your rights to throw their laptop into the street and subject them to some Clockwork Orange style mind-altering techniques. You may find this morally dubious but it’s fine, I said you can do it. 0/10

Bat For Lashes – Laura

When she’s not dressing as a horse, throwing make-up at her face, prancing around reciting Edgar Allan Poe or holding up an enormous placard that says, “Look at me – aren’t I kooky?!”, in four different fonts, Bat For Lashes occasionally finds time to make pop records. Laura starts off as a pensive piano ballad which is pleasant enough but, of course, comes replete with Khan’s entirely unnecessary vocal histrionics. But then it turns into… well, actually, it doesn’t turn into anything at all. It’s just an uninteresting dirge of a track that seems to be all first verse and nothing else. It’s the kind of track that, during a gig, would signal that it’s time to nip out and have a cigarette or get another drink and yet, strangely, it’s been chosen as a single. Dispiriting stuff. 2/10

Cypress Hill X Rusko – Lez Go

Now here’s a combination to conjure with. Lez Go is the opening track to the Cypress X Rusko EP 01, which opens up the possibility of further collaborations to come in the future. Typically, it’s an all-out aural assault from Rusko that’s straight in at the deep end, with deep bass growls and synth arpeggios flying in from all directions. It’s a thrilling collision of styles, between the Cypress Hill flow we all know and the ultra-modern, in-your-face dubstep of Rusko and, for the most part, it works. Minor gripes are that it finishes just when it feels it’s getting going and that, if anything, Cypress Hill are actually underused. However, it’ll certainly get your toe tapping if nothing else, and it shows Cypress Hill are, thankfully, still willing to take risks. 6/10

Matthew P – Long Way Home

Matthew P is best known in the UK for writing the Girl On The Platform song from the adverts and… no, wait, come back! If you were to judge Matthew P on the basis of that one track then you’d be missing out. Acoustic singer-songwriters tend to get a rough deal in The Singles Bar, but Matthew P has got something that sets him apart from the usual band of solipsistic troubadours. First and foremost, he’s got a great way with a melody, and Long Way Home has been really well put together; think Turin Brakes rather than Ben Howard. If Newton Faulkner can get to the top of the UK album charts, then Matthew P deserves to go platinum. Sure, it’s not going to change the world, but it’s a well-crafted pop song that certainly deserves a wider audience. 7/10

Bloc Party – Octopus

After the soap opera surrounding Kele Okereke’s place in the band, Bloc Party are back. Musically, Octopus shows the progression towards a more dance-oriented sound that was hinted at on their last record and, more obviously, Kele’s solo record. As with a lot of Bloc Party tracks, the drums are the real star of the show, and they propel Octopus along and save it from being something entirely unremarkable. It has its moments, but Octopus bears the hallmarks of a band who have been making themselves busy with extra-curricular activities and have returned to the studio a little rusty. Two-thirds through, there’s a very un-Bloc Party guitar solo which, if anything, is actually more reminiscent of Daft Punk. There’s the potential here to suggest Bloc Party could return to – or even surpass – former glories, but Octopus doesn’t quite hit all the right notes. 6/10

Elton John vs. Pnau – Sad

Sir Reginald of Dwight has never been averse to employing the tutelage of hip young bucks so he can desperately cling onto relevance and – ill-advised 2Pac collaboration aside – he’s usually pretty astute when it comes to this sort of thing. Pnau are an Australian dance duo, one of whom is the guy from Empire Of The Sun who isn’t in The Sleepy Jackson (do keep up at the back) and on Sad, they’re pitched somewhere between 70s AOR, disco and blissed-out euphoric dance. The overall effect is something rather wonderful, as the uplifting horns and swirling synths cut through the melancholy of the lyrics, taking it to another plane altogether. There’s a whole album of this Elton John vs. Pnau stuff knocking around and, on the evidence of Sad, it sounds like it could be well worth further investigation. 9/10

Kasabian – Switchblade Smiles

Oh good, finally some real music for real music loving lads. It’s great that Kasabian have named their new single Switchblade Smiles, because it’s all about knifing, yeah, and it shows they’re double plus well-hard legends. This track is perfect to listen to when you’re spending too long artfully styling your facial hair and wearing a tracksuit top. You may want to complete the look by employing a simian-like strut as you walk through the town centre, glowering at anyone who threatens to usurp your alpha-male superiority and, most importantly of all, a cheeky wink at any ‘birds’ who happen to be in the vicinity. This isn’t the worst Kasabian track of all time, but that’s like saying there have been worse wars – everyone still loses. Desperately cobbled-together from a recycling bin of half-finished riffs and vaguely threatening couplets, Switchblade Smiles constitutes a real stumbling block for anyone trying to explain the theory of evolution to a creationist, as it seems to provide tangible counter-evidence. If you enjoy this song, and the music of Kasabian in general, why not get, “I’m an easily led puppet and a product of the Tim Lovejoy generation”, tattooed on your forehead post-haste? It helps the rest of us distinguish you from people we might want to actually talk to. 0/10