…this week. Don’t let it ever be said this blog isn’t bang up to date.
Jenny Lewis - ‘Just One of the Guys’ (Warner Bros)
We haven’t done a singles column in a few weeks and no-one’s seemed to notice. Well, you can’t help but take that one personally. Nonetheless, let’s do what this column does best - review singles badly. First on the endless production line of over polished creations is Jenny Lewis. This twee track sounds like Lana Del Ray lite. A sugary dose of retro mid West pop that occasionally slurs and grrrs but mostly purrs. It’s too soft for my palate but a while ago we panned Rita Ora’s ‘Never Let You Down’ for being too cutesy and now you can’t escape the thing. So a hit? Perhaps. A great song? Not really. 6/10
My Glass World - ‘Until the End’ (Luxury Noise)
From twee pop to twee indie with My Glass World who lament about anything and everything with a single piano, a swaying synth line wot sounds a tad like a violin and a warbling vocal. It’s like Birdy’s writing team has taken them aside and told them how to do “miserable”. However, to their credit, this song is truly subtle and emotive in a way that most singles aren’t these days (think anything by Sam Smith or Coldplay). It’s a man, with some keys, pouring his heart out on record and you can’t knock that can you? 7/10
The Talks - ‘Radio’ (All Our Own Records)
Ska. The home of the original skinheads. The home of the mods, the Jamaican musicians, Trojan Records and racial integration. The first musical genre to stretch across the boundaries of race and nationality to preach peace and unity. Then something awful happened. Being a skinhead was hijacked by the far right and overnight everything became confusing. Ska lost its potent unification vibes and no-one really knew where they stood. All of this was a terrible blight on a seriously important musical movement, but conversely, could be considered a mere fly in the ointment the moment pseudo-geezer Olly Fucking Murs decided to release a ska pop record and start wearing a pork pie hat. Fuck. So thank goodness The Talks have arrived to at least bring the genre back to a reasonable level of objectionableness. I mean, the lead singer is a bit too happy for his own good, but everyone’s allowed to have a good time. This tune is a feel good, party hard slice of syncopated madness that even my ska-obsessed mate Keith would enjoy after a few Red Stripes. Heartly approved. 8/10
The Naked & Famous - ‘What We Want’ (Universal) New Zealand five piece The Naked & Famous have been around for a while now, slowly building a sturdy following. No-one can be blamed for not taking these guys seriously in the beginning. They sounded like every other synth pop MGMT bandwagon jumper and whilst this gave them a good shoe-in to the charts, it also meant they appeared throw away. This of course was almost certainly down to their label, whose A&R man probably said something like “Guys, I love the vibe of the shit you’re selling but let’s talk numbers” before forcing them to release something that sounds more “now”. But that was then. ‘What We Want’ is a hundred times deeper. It’s a real song, not a dancing synth puppet. It’s full of sorrow and lament, it’s a long sigh of resignation with a giant chorus and everything you’d expect from a band who has done nothing but hone their art since 2010. 9/10
Skillet - ‘Not Gonna Die’ (Atlantic)
Like overblown, nu-metal melodrama? Then you’ll love Skillet’s new single. It’s a heady cross between Disturbed and Evanescence, with dual male-female vocals and many, many fist in the air moments. The huge call to arms chorus is as epic as expected, but whilst singing about “not dying tonight” it still sounds more like a complaint about having to eat dinner at the table with the rest of the family, and not in your bedroom watching TV. Also, the lead singer is wearing a waistcoat. Subversive. Still, it is what it is (the song, not the waistcoat) and just when you thought they don’t make them like that anymore, it turns out they do. 7/10
Damian Lazarus & The Ancient Moons - ‘Lovers’ Eyes’ (Crosstown Rebels)
Straight outta Delhi with this Bollywood dance mix by Damian Lazarus. A dirty bassline hums and growls whilst a relentless, head nodding rhythm rolls throughout, as several Indian male vocalists skat and yell through their own rhythmic patterns. It’s a simple, stripped down mix but impossible to keep the old noggin from bouncing back and forth to the infectious beat. Bollywood has churned out some of the best dance tunes even before they started getting remixed by the likes of Panjabi MC. This simple but perfect track is no exception to the rule as less-is-more rules the roost. Fantastic. 9/10
Agnes Obel - ‘Dorian’ (Play It Again Sam)
More introspective piano warbling, this time from silky voiced Agnes Obel who offers up the whispering ‘Dorian’ for public consumption. It’s a thick, ethereal fog of a song, that would make Bat for Lashes green with envy. Tightly layered and full of mystery, the song spins and weaves around itself. Greater than the sum of its parts, the track sounds huge and weighty as Obel woos all with her luxurious voice. A truly great song worthy of your attention. 10/10 Song of the Week
Smoke Fairies - ‘Shadow Inversions’ (Full TIme Hobby)
Dark and creeping, ‘Shadow Inversions’ sounds like a bluesy, rock and roll band that that’s been told to keep it down as the neighbours are trying to sleep. Still full of swagger and attitude, the girl duo Smoke Fairies pull no punches but do it in their own, half paced, hushed style. It makes for an oddly pleasant track that never takes off, but makes no qualms about even trying. A lazy, blues slump that sounds all the better for the large dose of so-what apathy that comes with it. Good stuff and see you never week, yeah? 8/10
Queen and Blur are two bands I’d stick in a single pot labelled “Monstrously over rated, twee shit taken seriously by fans and critics alike for reasons unexplainable”. As if Radio Gaga, Country House, Parklife (what a joke that song truly is!) or Bohemian Rhapsody were anything other than nonsense.
Even when I was very young, I couldn’t see the value in Queen. It felt dumbed down even then. During the awful Britpop shite of the early to mid-90s that infected British music like a plague, everyone around me was jizzing in their pants over Blur. I was like “Seriously? This speaks to you? It actually means anything?”
Although no matter how stupid Blur’s music seemed, that atrocious fanny Damon Albarn still didn’t smile, as if he was creating Picasso masterpieces rather than singing about dustbins to jaunty major chord bollocks. Oi.
Dreadful bands, both of them. Twee bubblegum nonsense that oddly people seem to like up ‘em. Blur and Queen’s entire back catalogue could be erased from history by a do-gooding time-travelling music critic (if there is one who would dare stand up and point out this tripe is actually tripe) and our musical landscape would not suffer one bit. All the good stuff would still be there, all atrocious shite like this, would not. These awful bands have a lot to answer for.
Colin Macleod - ‘California’ (Middle Of Nowhere Recordings)
Hello and welcome to this week in singles, where we’re immediately drowning in sorrow and lamentation as singing-songwriting-Geffen-Records-fleeing Colin Macleod thrusts upon us his dreamy ode to the great west coast state of California. This is his first single since going independent and is an emphatic love song full of beauty, finger picking and yearning ambient wails. The production is glossy and thick, with obvious influences coming from Ben Howard’s Every Kingdom album, as there is a Rizla paper’s worth of difference between these two in terms of sound. A charming single that bathes all in a warm orange sunbeam even if you’re listening to it in an 70s prefab office block in Dundee. 8/10
Until the Bird - ‘Nightingales’ (Meta Limb Records)
More folk you say? Well ok, how about Until the Bird with their swooning new single ‘Nightingales’? The band call the epic melodrama of their music “post-apocalyptic alt-folk”, but more apt perhaps is the label “big music”, a name the Waterboys gave to their own brand of giant folk back in the 80s. For ‘Nightingales’ recalls many an influence from the guitar strummers of yesteryear, all which blend together in this soup of sound that swirls and moves with abandon. At over five and a half minutes in length, there’s nothing small or compromising about this release, and thank goodness, as it’s all the better for it. 8/10
Black Submarine - ‘Here So Rain’ (Self Release)
Band membership isn’t normally important when it comes to dissecting new singles, but Black Submarine sure have a notable line up. An ex-Verve guitarist and an ex-Verve bassist, an ex-Portishead drummer and a Goldfrapp/Coldplay multi-instrumentalist have all joined forces with warbler-extraordinaire Michele Schillance to create slabs of shoegaze tinged alt-rock. ‘Here So Rain’ is a noisy, multifarious ride through layers of instrumentation that ends up sounding like Garbage from 15 years ago. Perhaps it is the band’s own 90s roots, but the song, for all its perfect guitar tone and expert craftsmanship, sounds dated. Not retro, not nu-gaze revival, just dated. Of course, lest we forget how appealing this can be, but that doesn’t change the fact that, no matter how well executed this single is, it takes us nowhere new, and familiarity breeds contempt. 5/10
The Crookes - ‘Play Dumb’ (Fierce Panda)
Angular, too cool for school strutting from the house of Fierce Panda with The Crookes. Trite but unavoidable comparisons for this single could include Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, The Vaccines and any other bunch of cheeky chappies with guitars and art pop sensibilities. Yet, a fantastically addictive bassline and an usual video save this mid-noughties guitar romp from an otherwise certain doom. 7/10
Terry Emm - ‘Starlight’
Scintillating and dexterous guitar playing coupled with rich and warm vocals make Terry Emm’s ‘Starlight’ the best folk offering of this week. Or perhaps, any week. All the usual boxes are ticked, but somehow, like all great artists, Emm creates something special from the ordinary. Every chord and every key has been used before but these three intimate minutes ring out clear and pure above all else. Emm’s voice is close and confiding whilst violins soar and wound metal strings snap against maple guitar necks in effortless melody. It’s raw, lucid, and the whole song far outweighs the sum of its simple parts. Fantastic. 9/10
More attention needs to be paid to this excellent unsigned band of bizarreness
'I'm Not Part of Me' by Cloud Nothings
So good it’ll force and drink into your hand and make you dance even if you’re a teetotaller with two left feet.
‘All I Wanna Do Is Break Some Hearts’ - Kreeps
Sexual Bass and flute intercourse for funk perverts.
‘The Night Shift Lullaby’ by Magnolia Electric Co.
A heart breakingly pure country lament.
‘Twisted’ by Zeke
Drunk guitars kick you in your stupid face.
‘Steady Rollin’’ by Two Gallants
Disenfranchised whiskey soaked alt-country hates everyone.
‘Cutsman’ by Horse the Band
Nintendocore turned up to 11.
‘The Rattler’ by Goodbye Mr Mackenzie
80s’ tinged Celtic big music for big quiffed romantics.
‘Sun Brother’ by Brant Bjork
Brant Bjork explains why he’s cooler than you via stoner ambience.
‘Battleships’ by Baddies
Angular and sharp grooves that need gloves to handle.
‘Queen of Apology’ by The Sounds
Scando-pop strutting from the mid noughties.
‘Yoga Means Union’ by Ambulance Ltd.
Instrumental, multi-guitar meanderings.