Tag Archives: The Hold Steady

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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July in singles: a bored actress, Pammy’s ex, and the next Arcade Fire?

Attic Lights
[Attic Lights: recipients of July single of the month]

To look at bespectacled Glaswegian Ross Clark, you might expect him to be a modest, sensitive, home-spun folkster. But, au contraire, Silversword (****, Out Now) is a raucous, joyous, full-band-with-horns blitzkrieg, taking the populist bent of The Fratellis and filtering out all the bad stuff. Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences almost use up their entire word quota with You Can’t Make Somebody Love You (***, 7 July). Which only leaves me to say that this Nick Cave-inflected rock’n’roller is worth a listen. This month’s ‘Next Arcade Fire’ award goes to Californian art-popsters Port O’Brien, with I Woke Up Today (***, 7 July). Chanted chorus? Check. Scrappy folk aesthetic? Check. Ye olde world charm? Check. Sticking with upbeat West Coast (of America, that is) tunesmithery, She & Him‘s debut single This Is Not A Test (**, 7 July) is pleasant, inoffensive guitar pop. Just what you might expect from a collaboration between actress-turned-singer Zooey Deschanel and Portland singer/songwriter M Ward.

At the risk of ‘not getting it’, I have no time for Hadouken! The hoodie-clad, Nintendo-referencing Northerners may set some kind of record for genre agglomeration, but the result, Crank It Up (*, 7 July), sounds like a 15-year-old Liam Howlett’s demo-tape. Officer Kicks are a much more straight-up proposition. But Pictures Of Me (*, 9 July) is attention-sappingly homogeneous rock: not only stale, but well past its sell-by-date. Back in May I praised chipper Londoners The Thirst for their Enya-erasing single ‘Sail Away’, and they stay on form with follow-up My Everything (3stars, 14 July). Sure, the lyrics scream of Radio 1 ambitions, but the musical quality wins out. The Brute Chorus aren’t quite as tight as their Cockney neighbours; just as well the charm of Grow Fins (***, 14 July) lies in its ramshackle, bar-room vibe then.

As a fashion choice, White Denim should be avoided. But as a band, this Texan outfit receives a firm seal of approval. All You Really Have To Do (****, 7 July) is a manic 138 seconds of psychedelic blues-rock. While we’re on the subject of unpretentious American rock, let’s have a listen to The Hold Steady. New single Sequestered In Memphis (****, 7 July) is possibly the best single these Church of Springsteen elders have given us so far – blaring horns, a drum solo and a lesson in legalese to boot. He is just as overtly American, but Kid Rock is American in all the wrong ways. All Summer Long (*, 7 July) is a cringe-inducing Lynyrd Skynyrd pastiche, but what else would we expect? As the shivers of disgust recede, it’s back on home soil for July’s single of the month. Attic Lights are the latest purveyors of jingly-jangly pop to sprout from the fertile West Coast (of Scotland, that is) music patch. Bring You Down (****, 7 July) has more than a hint of Teenage Fanclub; not surprising really, since it was produced by Fannies drummer Francis McDonald.

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