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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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June in singles: reviewed by The Twilight Sad

The Twilight Sad admire a copy of Gavin Rossdale's new single
[Images: John Lewis]

Instead of my usual ramblings on the month’s singles for The Skinny magazine, this time we decided to let someone else do the slagging. The Twilight Sad are one of my favourite bands of the past year, and even produced The Skinny’s album of 2007. I met them before their gig at Tigerfest in Dunfermline to play them some CDs. It went well until they started stamping on them…

James Graham – vocals
Andy MacFarlane – guitar
Craig Orzel – bass

THE RASCALS – FREAKBEAT PHANTOM

James: I don’t mind that.
Andy: It just sounds like that other band, the Shadow Puppets.
me: D’you not think he sings like Alex Turner?
Andy: Aye I’ve listened to that Shadow Puppets record and I get confused.
me: Rating out of ten?
James: Six.
Andy: Aye, it’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s just aaaaverage.
[Craig enters]
Andy: Ye missed the first one. A scouse band. Would you be intae that?
Craig: Aye why not?
James: He doesnae need tae hear that one.

6/10

James: Put on Little Man Tate, cause I know that’s gonnae be pish! I heard one song by them and I nearly spewed.

LITTLE MAN TATE – WHAT YOUR BOYFRIEND SAID

Andy: They should just give up man.
me: Rating out of ten?
James: One. Two. One and a half. That was bollocks. I knew that was gonna be bollocks. I could dae this for a living. This is great.

1.5/10

LEVELLERS – BURN AMERICA BURN

Andy: Is What A Beautiful Day getting reissued? That’s a ten!
James: How old are the Levellers? Pretty old.
me: I didn’t know they were still together.
James: Neither did I.
Andy: It sounds like a gypsy version of The Associates. I dunno why they’re still together.
James: Four, at the best. One for the fans!

4/10

GAVIN ROSSDALE – LOVE REMAINS THE SAME

Andy: See if it sounds like Gwen Stefani, it might be awright! Anyone who’s boabin’ her gets five marks straight away!
James: This is gonnae be shite. [sings] Swallowed. This sounds like a drummer’s old band. Pure pop rock. They were amazingly bad. This just sounds like too American, like that band Daughtry. Slash played wi them once, and that’s what this sounds like.
Craig: The start of it sounds like the Velvet Underground.
[play intro again]
Andy: Aye, Heroin.
James: It sounds like Heroin, plus he’s got five bonus points for shagging Gwen Stefani.
Andy: Two points for Heroin and five for Gwen Stefani, so that’s seven.
James: Naw ye cannae give it seven!
Andy: But if ye read the review it’ll be explained!

7/10

JASON MRAZ – I’M YOURS

Andy: What’s he got tae dae wi anything?
me: “San Diego-based troubadour”, apparently.
James: Eek.
Andy: This sounds like Jack Johnson or something.
James: I think a wee minus point might be in order.
Craig: [copying a lyric] I can’t take no fucking more either!
Andy: That’s no even worth talking about!
James: Gie that nothing. They were signed for tax reasons.

0/10

JOAN AS POLICE WOMAN – TO BE LOVED

James: She used tae go out wi Elliot Smith. [It was actually Jeff Buckley – easy mistake to make]
Andy: He’s pure deid but.
James: It’s pretty shite that eh?
Andy: It sounds like that lassie fae High Fidelity. She can get five bonus points for being in Rufus Wainwright’s band, but she can get minus three for sounding like that lassie fae High Fidelity.
me: Equals two.
Andy: Aye but ye’ll need tae explain that.

2/10

LYKKE LI – I’M GOOD, I’M GONE

me: Have you heard of Lykke Li?
James: Aye I like her. I’ve seen her name all over the place. She’s touring wi that band that we played wi, Shout Out Louds.
Andy: Sounds like Feist.
James: Aye she is quite feisty but!
All: Hahaha!
James: I seriously didnae mean it like that!
Andy: I quite like it. I’d say a seven.

7/10

IRON & WINE – LOVESONG OF THE BUZZARD

James: I’ve got this album but I’ve no listened to it yet.
Craig: It sounds like Sex and the City!
Andy: It pure does!
James: I could take or leave it.
Andy: It gets a point off for them being in that cheesy film Garden State.
James: I liked that!
Andy: Was a seven, point off for Garden State.
James: So six.

6/10

HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR – YOU BELONG

James: It’s meant tae be quite good this.
[CD fails to play]
Andy: Give it a zero. A big fat zero cos it doesnae work!
James: Gie it a ten!
Andy: Nut! Zero.
[CD eventually plays]
James: Orzel you like it already! Orzel likes Italian disco.
Craig: It sounds like Streets of Rage 2. It’s got a dance soundtrack like this.
Andy: Is that Antony [Hegarty] singing?
James: Naw it cannae be. Pitchfork gave it like 9.8 or something.
Andy: Fuck Pitchfork!
Craig: It sounds like a wild night of sex and cocaine and it’s all gone fucking wrong and they’re fucking each other and there’s coke everywhere and they thought, we’ve got tae do a song!
Andy: Give it two.

2/10

DOES IT OFFEND YOU YEAH? – EPIC LAST SONG

me: Will this offend you, yeah?
James: Yeah I’ve heard that and it’s bollocks. Nearly as bad as the new Fratellis one.
Andy: It sounds like it should be on Skins. It sounds a bit like The Dykeenies.
James: They’re no American enough tae be The Dykeenies! Give it two.
Andy: Dae gie it fuckin two, gie it zero!

0/10

PANIC AT THE DISCO – THINGS HAVE CHANGED

James: They did that Nine in the Afternoon song that was in Heroes. I liked Heroes. I didn’t like the song though.
me: I thought they were an emo band but this isn’t emo at all.
James: It seems like they’re trying to go for the Queen vibe.
Craig: Give it 4.4.
James: One point for trying to sound like Queen, but take it off for sounding like The Feeling!
me: So that’s a healthy zero?
Andy: Aye.
James: Andy, none of your ratings have got anything to do wi the tunes but.

0/10

ELBOW – ONE DAY LIKE THIS

Andy: He cannae sing.
James: He’s a really nice guy but.
Andy: Who cares if he’s a nice guy? He cannae sing!
James: Apparently he was one of the top 20 hottest guys in Glamour magazine.
Andy: He’s a scruffy bum! Is there a B-side? We should review that instead.
Craig: A lot of bands just focus on one part. There’s no chords in there. It’s like a vacuum of noise. You can’t identify the chords or bassline or anything.
James: I wanted tae be nice in these reviews.
Andy: Why kid on that you like something when ye clearly don’t? Give that one.

1/10

The results have been collated and there is a tie for single of the month, but given that Gavin Rossdale’s rating consisted entirely of bonus points for, ahem, being Mr Gwen Stefani, and sounding like The Velvet Underground, it seems fair to hand this month’s accolade to the perfectly feisty Lykke Li.

The Twilight Sad resort to violence

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