Music Features

The Singles Bar: 19th November 2012

As the UK charts recover from their sixtieth birthday celebrations, the march of the Yuletide offerings is starting to gather pace. It may only be the middle of November, but seasonal tunes from the likes of Mariah Carey and The Pogues have already made their annual trip to the Top 100. There aren’t any Christmas-themed songs in this week’s round-up but that doesn’t mean you can’t be full of the joys of the season.

Dan Deacon – Crash Jam

Having been ploughing away for some time now, Deacon is actually teetering on the verge of some kind of mainstream crossover success. Not only that, Charlotte Church is a big fan, which I’m sure he’s delighted about. Crash Jam is a loopy, lo-fi 8-bit tune with a chugging beat and vocals that sound like they’ve been recorded underwater. There’s more than a hint of Animal Collective here, and there are actually some really lovely harmonies buried somewhere deep within. Mostly, Dan Deacon keeps his experimentation on just the right side of look-at-me precociousness, but Crash Jam isn’t one of those occasions. While invention is obviously a good thing, you can’t help but shake the feeling that this would be a better track if Deacon had just played it straight a bit more. 6/10

Chris Brown – Don’t Judge Me

Violent misogynist and perennial Singles Bar “favourite” Chris Brown certainly has some front asking people to not judge him. Perhaps, Chris, people wouldn’t judge you if you showed one iota of remorse for your previous actions. And by “remorse”, this means sorrow for the events rather than the harm it did to your career or how it means you’re dogged by awkward questions every day. Don’t Judge Me is a syrupy ballad about how he’s done bad things in his past, but should be judged on his current actions. Two-thirds of the way through the video, there’s a plot twist so crassly manipulative and saccharine that Richard Curtis would write off as being a bit much, where Brown goes on a suicide mission to save the earth, à la Bruce Willis in Armageddon. Oh, we’ve got him all wrong, it turns out that he’s the saviour of mankind after all. And if you believe all of that I’ve got some very reasonably-priced magic beans you might well be interested in. 0/10

Tame Impala – Feels Like We Only Go Backwards

In the description beneath the video for this track, Tame Impala are described as a “psychedelic groove rock band” – how could you not love a group described as that? Feels Like We Only Go Backwards has got its feet firmly in the late 60s, and could easily be an offcut from a latter-days Beatles album. That’s not only due to its sound, but also the quality of the melodies and songwriting, which feel like those of a band who have really found their own headspace and have got this music lark nailed down. The fluid bass is high in the mix, which works fantastically, and there’s an intoxicating feel to this track which, when coupled with the floating vocals, make for a stunningly evocative experience. Tame Impala may be blatantly mining the past, but they certainly know how to do it. 8/10

Alicia Keys – Girl On Fire

“She’s just a girl and she’s on fire”, sings Alicia Keys. Who is this girl? Why is she on fire? Won’t somebody please get an extinguisher or a blanket at the very least? Anyway, Girl On Fire is an uninspiring mid-tempo track featuring incongruously huge drums which is seemingly designed purely to showcase the power of Keys’ voice (which, admittedly, is pretty damn good). Alicia Keys always seems to get a free pass from critics and seems to exist in her own portion of the Venn diagram, away from all other R&B artists. I’ve been trying to ascertain why this is, and I think it’s because she’s seen as prodigal because she can play the piano. Seriously, that’s all I’ve got. Girl On Fire is instantly forgettable, has about as much funk as a Fray Bentos pie and, yawn, no, sorry, I’m falling asleep. 2/10

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

With First Aid Kit releasing this single and the new album by Clinic hitting the shops, it’s a good time for medically-named artists. Perhaps this means we can expect some new material from Nurse With Wound some time soon, or maybe a Dr. Feelgood revival. It may be a cliché to bring up the Scandinavians’ deftness with melody, but First Aid Kit certainly show it in abundance on this, the title track from their second album. It could loosely be described as folk-pop, but those of you fearing a Mumfords-style faux hoe-down (a faux-down, perhaps?) will be pleasantly surprised, as any folkie flourishes are firmly in service to the song. There’s an almost Mediaeval, madrigal feel to The Lion’s Roar, which represents the best trad.-influenced crossover music since the first Fleet Foxes record or Midlake’s Trials Of Van Occupanther. 8/10

Rudimental feat. John Newman & Alex Clare – Not Giving In

Rudimental’s Feel The Love came practically out of nowhere earlier in 2012 to hit the top of charts and stake its place as one of the singles of the year. The beguiling mix of brass and drum n’ bass worked in practice far better than in theory and provided the UK with the sound of the summer. While Not Giving In is a pretty decent track, it can’t help but feel like a disappointment when held up against its predecessor. It’s got the hallmarks of Feel The Love – the frantic beats, the uplifting horns – but it’s marginally inferior in every way. It’s a real shame because the freshness of Rudimental made you hope they had a few more tunes up their sleeves and Not Giving In only serves to highlight their shortcomings. It’s not often a song this strong can leave you concerned for a promising artist’s future, but it’ll certainly be interesting to see where Rudimental go from here. Hopefully they do actually go somewhere and don’t just end up standing still. 5/10

Laura Mvula – She

Well, here’s an oddity. Hotly-tipped Laura Mvula combines traditional R&B vocals with ethereal, looping bells and a harmonious choir that give She the effect of a soul-laced Dirty Projectors. Then, two minutes in, the strings soar, the percussion ramps up and the song has a complete about-turn. You’ll rarely hear vocal collaboration used to such beautiful effect as on this song, which is ridiculously accomplished for someone only just releasing their debut EP. Classically trained and a “priority act” for her label in 2013, Mvula instantly has that special something that sets her apart from her currently better-known peers. There’s really no-one in the mainstream doing this kind of thing. The closest comparisons may be Lianne La Havas or Corinne Bailey Rae, but Mvula shows invention and technique far above those two. Bold prediction time here at The Singles Bar: Laura Mvula will be on the next series of Later… With Jools Holland, she’ll go down a storm and from then, the sky’s the absolute limit. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Vessels – The Sky Was Pink

So, just so we’ve got our facts straight, this is a cover version of a James Holden remix of a Nathan Fake track. Now we can begin. The Sky Was Pink begins with diminished, off-beat chords and a feeling of dread before the metronomic kick-drum enters and turns into something altogether more dancey. That sense of creepiness never completely leaves, but the body of the track is a little less difficult, even if it does feature gothic synths and a rumbling, shaking bass. The Sky Was Pink would be a perfect song to play very, very loud late at night; it’s dark, atmospheric and explores unexpected yet welcome avenues. It’s pretty difficult to conjure such a strong mood through five minutes of vocal-less music, but Vessels execute it with aplomb. 8/10

Girls Aloud – Something New

“GO GIRLS G-G-GO GO GO! WE GIRLS GONNA TAKE CONTROL!” When you’re the best pop group of the 21st Century (no arguments – they just are), that’s some way to announce your return after over three years away. The first verse has a slightly embarrassing, quasi-rap feel to it (and, to be honest, the second verse isn’t much better) but Something New is all about the chorus. It’s a behemoth, it’s got the kitchen sink in it, and it’s quintessential Girls Aloud. It’s brash, it’s loud, it’s simple yet it’s utterly addictive. It’s a shame that it’s not a fully-formed song, and they’ve certainly made better, but when a chorus is this good, it’s difficult to complain too much. If you’d now like to open your spreadsheet where you’ve got all the Girls Aloud song ranked in order of how good they are (with Biology at the top, obviously), please place Something New between Wake Me Up and Something Kinda Ooooh. Click save, close the file and go about your day as normal. 8/10

Olly Murs feat. Flo Rida – Troublemaker

He may have recently been (entirely accurately) described as a “tuneclown” by Peter Robinson of Popjustice, but the irritating professional “cheeky chappy” does have a habit of knocking out the odd irresistible tune from time to time. He may mostly be the equivalent of Robbie Williams’ more annoying younger brother, but when he has singles like Heart Skips A Beat in his arsenal, he’s certainly earned his place on Planet Pop. Frustratingly, or refreshingly, given your point of view, Troublemaker is another one of those brilliant songs. There’s something almost retro in the production of Murs’ songs – his keenness to appeal to the supermarket Mum demographic means he’s more nineties than noughties – but it has a great chorus and even the presence of Florence Rida, Esq. (yet another tuneclown) can’t derail this one. Pure, unashamed, melodic, sunshine pop – and all the better for it. 8/10

A strong week but the newcomer steals the show. What do you think of this week’s choices? Do you agree with the scores? Who would you like to nominate as a tuneclown? As usual, we’re taking your comments in the Disqus box below.