Category Archives: singles round-up

March in singles: Dutch soul anyone?

Animal Collective

This month’s round-up includes Mancunian rock, weird folk and… Dutch soul. But is any of it any good?

With bands like M83 and School of Seven Bells being hyped to the rafters, it looks like the lush dream-pop that Ladytron have been plying for years is suddenly the indie zeitgeist. And Tomorrow (****, 2 Mar) is a typically sultry number, revealing the Liverpudlians at the height of their powers. Contrast that with Micachu & The Shapes, who sound like practically nothing you’ve ever heard. Twenty-one-year-old Londoner Mica Levi revels in off-key tinkering, unidentified found sounds and extreme brevity, on the evidence of the 79 seconds of Lips (***, 16 Mar).

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February in singles: Morrissey, Guns ‘N’ Roses, and some non-oldies too

My singles round-up column for The Skinny:

Boy-girl-boy trio Sky Larkin make raw, in-yer-face garage rock, but it feels like there’s something missing from Beelines (***, Out Now). That is, until it dares to go all discordant and nuts in the 30-second outro. As I’ve said before in this here column, the word ‘epic’ gets bandied about far too often these days. The works of Milton or Wagner are perhaps epic; not so the latest Ministry of Sound compilation. Some bands still aim to be ‘epic’ though, such as Future Loop Foundation, whose The Sea And The Sky (***, 2 Feb) is at least approaching the true definition of the word.

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January in singles: Not-so-new names for a new year

TV on the RadioWe might have a fresh, shiny new year on our hands, but there was a distinct lack of fresh, shiny new talent among the pile of plastic I had to review for my monthly singles column in The Skinny magazine. That’s not to say it was one big ear assault though…

Travis have moved on from the traditional method of singing pop songs for other people. Now they sing a Song To Self (**, 5 Jan). Like much of their output since The Man Who, it’s inoffensive and melodious but largely forgettable, so just as well no-one’s listening.

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December in singles: Forget the X Factor

The Notwist

Since this is the last singles round-up of 2008 what better time to take stock of my singles of the month from the past year…

January: The Mae Shi – Run To Your Grave

February: Alice and the Majesty – I Could Love You

March: M.I.A – Paper Planes

April: Lightspeed Champion – Galaxy of the Lost

May: Frightened Rabbit – Fast Blood

June: Lykke Li – I’m Good, I’m Gone

July: Attic Lights – Bring You Down

August: Nacional – Telephone

September: Alex Cornish – Until the Traffic Stops

October: Dananananaykroyd – Pink Sabbath

November: Late of the Pier – Bathroom Gurgle

December: Read on…

First to shake yer mother’s finest china this month are Belgian rockers dEUS, flaunting their filmic tastes with The Vanishing of Maria Schneider (1 Dec, ***), which proves that bare-cheeked arthouse cinema, brooding post-rock and Elbow’s Guy Garvey (guest vocals) are easy bedfellows.

Teenage indie hopefuls The Wireless can’t thank their PR for describing them as “barely pubescent”, but in musical terms that’s exactly what Been Here Before (1 Dec, **) is: a bit chirpy and a bit superficial. The same can’t be said for Joan Wasser, who, ‘As Police Woman’, has roped in old pal Rufus Wainwright on her latest, To America (1 Dec, ****), an evocative ballad that treads the lesser-trod path between Vaudeville and 70s rock. Equally individual but utterly different, The Streets’ Mike Skinner comes over all thirty-something (well, just turned 30) and comfortable on Heaven For The Weather (1 Dec, 3stars). As per usual, the lyricism is a cut above the ordinary; as a song it’s a non-event.

Stirling band Jack Butler return from an apparent hiatus this month with Are You a Hustler? (15 Dec, ***). And by the sound of it they’ve been at funky/indie/disco training camp, because this is a catchy rump-shaker, if not a life-changer. James Yorkston, on the other hand, crafts the kind of intelligent, sonorous balladry that might just alter your life should you let it. Tortoise Regrets Hare (8 Dec, ****) comes backed with King Creosote’s fuzzier rendition of the same song. That brings us neatly on to Fence Collective associates Pumajaw, who kickstart the annual Christmas singles round-up with the double A-side Spangler/The Holly King (8 Dec, ***).

More ‘haunting Winter Solstice’ than ‘cosy Crimbo’, Louis Barabbas & the Black Velvet Band also dwell on the dark side of the deep midwinter with Writing My List (Out Now, ***). Imagine, if you will, a Santa-suited Nick Cave stalking your living room with a sack full of rootsy country. Yuletide optimism finally arrives in the form of Frightened Rabbit. It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop (15 Dec, ***) has been given the choir-and-strings treatment since last year’s release, and its exhortation to stop bickering for one day is as cockle-warming as it was last Christmas. Leaving the festively inclined aside, it’s a three-way race for single of the month.

October’s Skinny cover stars Neon Neon bombard us with more elemental electronica and automotive allure on Dream Cars (8 Dec, ****). Don’t be put off by the concept: Gruff Rhys’ pop sensibilities have never been so sharp. Like Rhys, M83’s Anthony Gonzalez has learned to love the synth-smothered sound of his youth. An exquisite song from an exquisite album, We Own the Sky (1 Dec, ****) piles on the giddy romanticism, cranks up the Moog and somehow sounds completely fresh in 2008. It was a photo finish, but German stalwarts The Notwist claim single of the month for Boneless (1 Dec, ****). The track itself is about as simplistically flawless as indie-folk gets, and you get a typically dreamy remix from Animal Collective’s Panda Bear for your dosh.

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November in singles: Better late than never

Late of the Pier

I’d forgotten to post November’s singles round-up from The Skinny. Must have been the post-traumatic stress disorder associated with exposure to Razorshite…

And November’s single of the month goes to… Razorlight. Sorry, wrong envelope. I meant to pick up the one for ‘Most nauseous, mock-sincere rock ballad of the month’. That one goes to them for ‘Wire to Wire’ (*, Out Now), Johnny Borrell’s latest rectum-dwelling soliloquy. Presumably the misspelling of Isle of Man band Loverman‘s debut single, ‘Crucifiction’ (**, 17 Nov), is deliberate. At any rate, they’re trying to be the new Bad Seeds but veer far too close to Jet-style rock-schlock for their aim to be taken seriously. Employing a similar low-wave distortion frequency, The Hold Steady do a much better job of keeping blue-collar rock’n’roll alive. ‘Stay Positive’ (***, Out Now) is a brazen, fists-in-the-air chant-a-long (insert other masculine rock clichés here). A very different proposition, Haunts open ‘London’s Burning’ (**, 17 Nov) with a gothic, kitsch, Hammer Horror intro, then break into a much sunnier indie-pop chorus, which they alternate throughout the song. Interesting? Yes. Enough to sustain a career in the music industry? Perhaps not.

With newcomers like Gavin Gordon, Alex Cornish and Rob St John, the Scottish singer/songwriter scene is blossoming, and now we can add another name: Brendan Campbell. On ‘Burgers and Murders’ (****, Out Now) the Glaswegian Campbell sings evocatively about a summer walk through his native Pollock, in all its dubious glories. In this respect it’s a bit reminiscent of the Paul Weller song ‘Stanley Road’, which brings me neatly onto the Modfather’s latest effort. The double A-side ‘Sea Spray/22 Dreams’ (***, 3 Nov) reveals nothing new from him, but it’s still good enough to warrant his eternal presence on the covers of the nation’s dad-rock magazines.

I have so far managed to live my life in complete indifference to Tracy Chapman. And after a swift spin of ‘Sing For You’ (**, 3 Nov) I’m happy to remain undisturbed in this respect. Can Gabriella Cilmi, the just-turned-17 Aussie songstress, follow Chapman’s path to MOR success? If she keeps churning out Radio 2-ready songs like ‘Sanctuary’ (**, 10 Nov) it’s quite likely. Lykke Li, on the other hand, is the real deal. The Twilight Sad voted her single of the month in their anarchic singles round-up takeover in June, and ‘Little Bit’ (****, Out Now) is another stripped-down gem.

There really isn’t enough electro in this column. So Mr Beasley (not a man but a boy-girl duo) has attempted to right this wrong with ‘Right As Rain’ (***, 10 Nov) which, if there were electro calories, would be twice your recommended daily intake.

The battle for single of the month comes down to two of the most hyped bands to break this year. Friendly Fires have put the funk firmly back into, er, punk-funk, their debut album a pulsating onslaught of slap bass and cowbell. ‘Paris’ (***, 10 Nov), though, is let down by a rare burst of Hallmark schmaltz: “And every night we’ll watch the stars / They’ll be out for us.” In truth there was never any contest. Late of the Pier couldn’t fail to win in this or any month with ‘Bathroom Gurgle’ (*****, Out Now). Let me break down this extraordinary four-minute song: a long intro of Sparks-esque electro; slows, stately stadium rock guitars crash in behind soaring falsetto chorus; double-speed with vocoder backing; stadium rock bit; speeds up again; stadium rock again; falsetto soars off the scale; ends. Bands take note: that’s how you win single of the month.

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October in singles: lad-rock veterans, zingy pop tarts, local upstarts

Dananananaykroyd

Another month, another instalment of my singles round-up for The Skinny

If this was the mid-90s and Oasis were in their pomp, The Shock of the Lightning (**, Out Now) would be an album track at best, and certainly not the lead single from a new album. But that says more about what Oasis have become than it does about the track, which tries to hide daft lyrics (“love is a litany, a magical mystery”) behind Noel’s bludgeoning guitar barrage. At least Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner knows when people are getting tired of the same-old. The Last Shadow Puppets, his side-project with the Rascals’ Miles Kane, attempts to recapture the lush orchestral pop of the 1960s with some success, yet My Mistakes Were Made For You (**, 20 Oct) is still strangely underwhelming. Another band with an eye on the past are Attic Lights. Wendy (***, 6 Oct) is further proof of these Glaswegians’ harmony-heavy talents, but it doesn’t quite hit the dreamy heights of July single of the month Bring You Down.

Following in Noel and Alex’s footsteps before them, the Ting Tings can lay claim to being the most hyped band of the year, but will they sustain the adoration of the mainstream with this fourth single? Well, probably, and it doesn’t matter that Be The One (***, 13 Oct) is nothing like as brainlessly infectious as their preceeding efforts. It’s easy to see why Fight Like Apes are currently supporting the Ting Tings on their sold-out UK tour, because Jake Summers (**, 20 Oct) is just the kind of disposable, sugar-rich indie-pop that their audeince digs with a JCB. CSS were sorta like the Ting Tings of 2007: their dumb-but-fun electro-pop injected a shot of colour into our cloudy British summer. But judging by the frankly rubbish Move (*, 13 Oct) it looks like Brazil’s best musical export since Os Mutantes have misplaced their former charm.

You can’t beat a good song title, and Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants (****, 13 Oct) is a classic. It’s a pleasure to hear the singer of the band responsible, Wild Beasts, strain his falsetto around this tongue-twister, so who cares what it means? Edinburgh’s Kid Canaveral meanwhile prefer to focus their energies on crafting old-fashioned indie-rock. Second Time Around (***, 27 Oct) keeps it simple, down to the chugging beat, ragged riff and chorus of (something like) bah-bada-bah-bah-badaaa-bah-bah-bada-bah. Ace.

In the history of unlikely cover versions, Tricky taking on Kylie Minogue is up there with Johnny Cash doing Nine Inch Nails. Slow (***, 13 Oct) isn’t as disastrous as you might imagine, with the Knowle West Boy’s custom growl adding a layer of menace to the Minogue gloss. Staying urban for a second, we turn our attention to hyped Chicago hip hop duo The Cool Kids. Mikey Rocks (****, 20 Oct) is a good snapshot of their crystal-clear beats and inventive rhyming.

One of the best things about sifting through a pile of circular plastic every month is when you come across a sublime little tune from a relative unknown. Moscow State Circus (****, 27 Oct) by young Liverpudlian Eugene McGuinness is one such tune, packed full of haunting Midlake-style chord shifts and priceless lines like “I’m as subtle and as playful as a hammer-headed shark.”

Lastly Dananananaykroyd, Glasgow’s best syllable-heavy thrash-pop act, who can already retire happy having met Bill Murray on a plane recently, and also finally winning the coveted Dirty Dozen single of the month. Pink Sabbath (****, 6 Oct) is a full frontal assault of sinew-stretching shouts and finger-bleeding guitars. Oh, and B-side Chrome Rainbow might just be even better.

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September in singles: Stopping at England, Iceland, America… and Scotland

Alex Cornish

This month’s instalment of my singles column for The Skinny. Better late than never.

No-one is averse to a bit of sensual seduction. So when newly-formed Londoners Rock City Sixteen send me a 7″ of Lunettes Noires Pour Nuits Blanche (****, 8 Sep) in appropriate black and white design with creative press release, I am easily swayed. The effortlessly cool Velvets-aping song is good too, mind. This month’s brainless-indie-romp comes courtesy of The Zutons. What’s Your Problem (**, 8 Sep) is more of the same sax-led 70s rock, and the trick is wearing thin. As the leaves wither like that band’s career, maybe it’s good that White Lies make no attempt to cheer us up with Death (***, 22 Sep). But their stately, dare-I-say epic indie marks them out as ones to watch. If one band do merit the wearisome ‘epic’ tag, then it’s surely Sigur Rós. Inní mér syngur vitleysingur (****, 8 Sep) translates as “Within me a lunatic sings”. If so, he is a remarkably tuneful lunatic, and heralds a return to form for these enchanting Norsemen.

We’ve had Dinosaur Jr, T-Rex, and now another extinct creature is revived in bandname form, with the arrival of San Franciscan duo The Dodos. Fools (***, 15 Sep) is a likeable little breeze of stick-drumming, chugging guitar and indiscernible muffles. On the subject of band names, Johnny Foreigner can be contracted to JoFo, and there’s more to like: Salt, Peppa and Spinderella (***, 8 Sep) is another hi-NRG rock-out from this talented trio. Never having fallen for his Bright Eyes work, it was unlikely I would perform somersaults of praise for Conor Oberst‘s new solo venture. And while Souled Out!!! (**, 1 Sep) is a decent rock’n’roller, I can barely summon a critical starjump, never mind a somersault.

And now it is with hushed excitement that I present a specially themed and hastily conceived ‘part deux’ of this month’s singles round-up: The Scottish Selection. And what melodious, home-grown treats we have in store…

Those now-ubiquitous favourites Frightened Rabbit offer a double serving of their alt.folk majesty with I Feel Better / The Twist (***, 22 Sep), a double A-side offering a mirror image of their fragile/blustering sound. Broken Records may be swatting the record deals away like flies at the moment, but in the meantime they’ve produced another tantalising glimpse of their talent. Slow Parade (****, Out Now) is a wistful, delicate paean that swells to a stirring, brassy coda. Idlewild singer and one time punk contortionist Roddy Woomble is maturing into a respected folk troubadour and, along with John McCusker and Kris Drever, he has spun a shimmering wee song in Silver And Gold (****, 1 Sep). Although born and bred in London, Alex Cornish still qualifies for this celtic love-in, since he now writes and records from his Edinburgh bedroom. “I’m not breaking new ground,” Cornish sings in Until the Traffic Stops (****, 29 Sep), but who cares about that when he can turn out rousing, honest tunes like this? A deserving single of the month.

And just when you thought Scottish music had been completely ensnared by whisky-blooded folkie types, Mogwai emit one of their atomic waves of distortion to knock us clean off our barstools. Batcat (****, 8 Sep) is a taster of their forthcoming sixth album and reveals the Glaswegians back in earth-shattering form.

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