Music Features

The Singles Bar: 1st October 2012

OPPA GANGNAM STYLE! Now that Psy has made history with the first K-pop number 1 in the UK, does this signal a shift in the way things will be? Will the singles release schedule become flooded with exciting music and styles from all over the world, from Bahrain to Bolivia? Will the term ‘world music’ become redundant as Westerners accept music from all countries to their hearts? Are we entering a brave new era?

On the evidence of this week’s Singles Bar… no.

Ellie Goulding – Anything Could Happen

Quintessential English rose and, bizarrely, paramour of Skrillex, Ellie Goulding looks to have ditched the wispy, barely-there music on the lead single from her second album. There’s a marching bass, shimmering synths and more than a slight nod to 80s production ideals. On one hand, it looks as if she’s just followed countless others before her by diving into Eurodance-pop, but there’s more to this song than meets the eye. The cut and paste chorus refrain is likely to get lodged in your subconscious and around the three minute mark when you think it’s all going to peter out, she puts on her best throaty growl and brings it home with that addictive riff. Her voice is still perhaps a little fey and girlish to pull off a record with so much going on, but it’s a darn sight better than anything else she’s done before. 7/10

Mika feat. Pharrell Williams – Celebrate

Aren’t there laws against this sort of thing? The most irritating character in pop is back, and just as cloying and self-involved as ever. In an industry renowned for its solipsism and lack of altruism it takes a lot to stand out, and Mika certainly manages that (clarification: not in a good way). Listening to a Mika record is not too dissimilar an experience to a six year old “decorating” the walls with their paint set while screaming, “LOOK AT ME, EVERYONE!” Celebrate is disco-infused disco pop and, like his contemporaries The Scissor Sisters, Mika looks to be moving further towards the middle of the road with each passing release. Apparently Pharrell is on this track, but clearly he was entirely embarrassed because his cameo is barely noticeable. 1/10

Madeon – The City

French electropop pioneer Madeon is so implausibly young and fresh-faced he makes One Direction seem like a Mark E. Smith lookalike convention. After primarily vocal-less tracks thus far, The City is more of an attempt at a traditional chart-dance track with a distinct verse and soaraway chorus. Madeon’s clearly studied his fellow Frenchmen Daft Punk and Modjo because The City is never dull – there’s always tons going on behind the vocals, whether it’s riffs, held synth chords, enormous beats or cut and paste DJ trickery. It was starting to look like his earlier smash Icarus was a one-off but, if anything, The City is even more of an accomplishment. It’s doubly impressive because HE’S CLEARLY ONLY TWELVE. 9/10

Rihanna – Diamonds

Phew! That’s a relief! It’d been a matter of WEEKS since Rihanna had released a new single and here at The Singles Bar we were all extremely concerned for her welfare. After the thrust-my-crotch-in-your-face pop of the Talk That Talk era, Diamonds is remarkable for being a restrained mid-tempo ballad. An odd choice for a lead single potentially, but perhaps this marks a slightly calmer period in RiRi’s career. The production doesn’t swamp the track either and, unusually for a Rihanna track, seems designed primarily to show off her vocals. It’s fair to say this isn’t much of a progression – in fact, if anything it sounds similar to Umbrella-era Rihanna – but she’s barely put a foot wrong in years and it doesn’t seem like she’s about to now. 6/10

Seb Rochford & Drew McConnell – Joy In The Morning

The be-afro’d sticksman’s Days And Nights At The Takeaway has included an array of interesting collaborators, but Rochford teaming up with Babyshambles bassist Drew McConnell seems a particularly unlikely partnership. Joy In The Morning is a low rumble of an indie track with the stellar tubthumping you’d expect from someone who usually plays with jazz quintet Polar Bear. It’s far better than you’d imagine from such an unusual pairing, and there’s a simple yet effective riff in the chorus, but it’s all a bit low down the register. The bass is thick, the percussion focuses on toms, and I think we’ve discovered the reason why McConnell tends to stick to backing vocals. Brave and interesting, but a little lacking and slightly ragged around the edges. 6/10

One Direction – Live While We’re Young

ARRGGGHHHHH IT’S ONE D OH EM JEE I HEART THEM SO MUCHHHHHHHHH!!!11!1!!ONE! So goes the call of practically every girl between the ages of eight and fourteen. They’ve built a huge fanbase thanks to their cherubic appearance and songs where they pay girls a series of incredibly non-specific compliments (seriously, check it out, it’s marketing genius). Live While We’re Young pilfers the opening riff from The Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go? before descending into a wall of bubblegum guitar riffs and lyrics about fun and having no responsibility. The call to “go crazy, crazy, crazy” sounds a bit obvious and, while I appreciate 1D’s core audience have little concept of context with these things, it relies heavily on the tropes from boybands of yore. A little hackneyed and without the same charm and giddy sugar rush of What Makes You Beautiful, but it’ll still sell to the screaming masses in its millions. 5/10

Drake feat. Rick Ross – Lord Knows

Just to say once again a much-repeated Singles Bar “joke” – there’s a rapper called Rick Ross! You know, like the guy from Deacon Blue! Lord Knows is the gazillionth single to be taken from Drake’s Take Care, and probably the best track from the record that hadn’t already been put out. It’s an utterly epic-sounding song with Drizzy ruminating on… well, himself mainly, and a gospel choir in the background ratcheting up the tension. It doesn’t take long for Lord Knows to remind you of Kanye’s Jesus Walks, from the religious tones to the repeated gospel stylings, but Lord Knows is willing to take more risks – the verses deviate from the winning formula, with the result that it’s much more effective when the central theme returns to the fold. He may be easy to hate, but Drake certainly knows what he’s doing – Lord Knows is deeply affecting stuff. 9/10

Richard Hawley – Seek It

Hawley’s latest album, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, is a huge space-rock behemoth which is a bold step and completely at odds with his entire solo career up to that point. Therefore, it’s a little bit of a shame he’s decided to release the one track from that record that sounds the most like classic Hawley. It’s a plaintive, simple song that makes excellent use of Hawley’s distinctive, velvety croon and, while hardly reinventing the wheel, carries that unmistakeable whiff of quality that all his work does. It’s lyrically evocative, beautifully sung and performed with real care and attention – I just hope it’s not a sign Hawley’s turning his back on his interesting and exciting new direction. 8/10

Alt-J – Something Good

As someone baffled by the hype that surrounds Alt-J, I’ve been waiting for them to release something good for ages (ho ho, ha ha, hee hee, etc.). From its complex opening drum pattern onwards, Something Good is an intricate, tentative track and, like practically everything Alt-J commit to tape, it’s a victory for technique and musical aptitude over actual songwriting. Without wishing to turn the sacred cow into Big Macs, Alt-J’s music exists only to be technically challenging, as far as I can see, and is devoid of emotion or anything remotely pertaining to joy, I’m surprised anyone other than boys who refuse to be exposed to natural sunlight can actually stomach it. Like Foals without the energy, like Radiohead without the inventiveness, I cannot, for the life of me, see the point of Alt-J. Message to Alt-J fans: turn the laptop off, put a Chic record on, and go and talk to people. 2/10

Kendrick Lamar – Swimming Pools (Drank)

After working myself up unnecessarily over that Alt-J track, I’m hoping for big things from Mr. Lamar. Swimming Pools (Drank) begins with a dark and brooding tone, before coming across like a more polished version of A$AP Rocky’s cloud rap. There’s obviously something in the water (or, more likely, the codeine syrup) because there’s a thrilling scene on the edge of the mainstream, inspired by slow beats, chopping and screwing, and cinematic sounds. After the constant self-aggrandisement of gangsta rap, it’s fantastic to hear stuff like Swimming Pools (Drank) and for it to be relatively successful too. Lamar has a great flow and, on the evidence of Swimming Pools (Drank), we’re going to be hearing a lot from him in the future. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

So, Kendrick Lamar comes in at the last minute and steals the hotly contested crown. But what do you think of this week’s releases? Be sure to let us know using the Disqus form below, and see you back here at the same time next week.