The Singles Bar: 22nd October 2012
Glancing at the website of a certain venerable music publication, it looks like it’s been a fairly momentous few days for music with the news of the end of one career as James Blunt, the man behind the best-selling album of the last decade let’s not forget (as if we could) is calling it quits… sort of; the re-emergence of another, with the unveiling of Girls Aloud’s comeback single (more on that another time, as for one I haven’t made up my mind up about it yet); and perhaps even, the start of another (give it a few years) now that Adele’s giving birth. Not that such exciting developments reflect much on this week’s singles releases, as, other than the debut of one deliriously hyped act, it appears to be a rather low-key week.
As with most NME-hyped acts, its inevitable that Palma Violets’ debut will be met with a bit of scepticism. Or rather a lot of scepticism, considering that they graced the front cover of the magazine before releasing anything. And now that they actually have released something? Well… going on the basis of Last Of The Summer Wine, it’s not hard to see why they’ve captured the publication’s attention, what with their jangly invocations of unfashionable Englishness practically screaming “Our favourite bands are The Smiths and The Libertines”. Judging by the evidence of this double A-side though, they’re currently operating more at the level of The Drums (unexpected freak-out coda notwithstanding), which isn’t a particularly bad place to be, I suppose. 5/10
Even following its Mercury nomination, I’d written off Conor O’Brien’s debut as Villagers as generic acoustic wetness of the most inessential type, and to be honest, I don’t think I could face going back to it to see if I was wrong. Based on The Waves, I’m almost willing to give him a second chance though as he’s apparently ditched his Bright Eyes leanings in favour of following Sufjan Stevens down a distinctly Age Of Adz-style path, albeit on a much lower budget. Not that I actually enjoyed listening to the track itself much, as it's fairly formless and quite unsatisfying, and I’ve never been very good with whispered vocals, so having to sit through a whole five minutes of them got on my nerves considerably. But still, it feels like a step in the right direction. 4/10
Following the cursory bit of web-based research I conducted into Brighton/London four-piece Fear Of Men (don’t say that no effort goes into putting The Singles Bar together), I was fully prepared to hate them. I might have only bothered reading the one article (we might not put a lot of effort into it), but as it started by invoking The Velvet Underground and largely focused on their art-degree based soundscape projects, I was expecting a bunch of dour noir-clad hipsters. To be honest, they might still be that, but, other than a few well-deployed snatches of spoken word samples, their almost twee fuzzy guitar-pop suggests otherwise. On the one hand Mosaic is a slightly pleasant surprise, yet on the other, it’s not like there’s not already a vast amount of stuff out there that sounds pretty much like this. 5/10
It feels like this generation’s obsessive nostalgia for the late 80s and early 90s has been so well-documented that complaining about it again would be almost a nostalgic act in itself. Yet it’s necessary to make an exception for Shinies as Ennui is so completely saturated in it – from the fuzzy shoegaze production and “life was less boring when we were kids” lyrics to the Nirvana t-shirt featuring, Ninja Turtle mask-donning, Pat Sharp cameoing of the actually fairly unlikable video – that the only appropriate response is to just tell them to grow up. 3/10
In their one previous appearance as fodder for The Singles Bar, The Joy Formidable did not fare particularly well, but will Cholla – a taster for their upcoming second album – meet with more enthusiasm? In short, no, as it suffers from the same problems that have plagued their previous releases; it may be big and ballsy (not least in the slightly off-kilter time signature) but once it grabs your attention it does precisely nothing with it. It’s the musical equivalent of attempting to get any sense out of a toddler mid-tantrum. 4/10
Against all odds (well, going by past form, and this single’s spectacularly uninspired title), the first minute or so of JLS’ latest is pretty damn exciting. Much like Cher Lloyd’s grunt and groan-driven Want U Back, the incomprehensible yet forceful spitting (and fairly good MJ impersonation, which, to be fair has been JLS’ stock in trade for a while now) that opens Hottest Girl In The World raises questions as to whether Cowell-approved pop has actually discovered some balls. Shame that the whole thing goes limp once the chorus is revealed to just be that title repeated over and over in a powerfully unerotic falsetto, and the less said about the let down of the climax the better. 3/10
We’re very much on record here at the singles bar as being fans of Ms. Ware, although we do recognise that her almost Sade-like smoothness can be a bit on the underwhelming side, especially when viewed in relation to the amount of excited chatter that has greeted every one of her releases. However, Night Light is worthy of recommendation to even the most staunchly unconverted ears, not so much for the gloriously sophisticated late night soul of the track itself (although that is, of course, incredibly pleasurable in itself) but for the remix treatment that the track has gone through on this EP. Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard twists it out of recognition into an almost bona fide disco number, although as that’s pretty much to be expected from him, the more striking effort comes from Wild Beasts, who drops in just enough of their own unique vocal style to genuinely hit upon something new, without (hopefully) going so far as to make the track as divisive as their own work often can be. 8/10
In a nice quirk of release-date scheduling, Ware’s sometime producer Dave Okumo also has a single out this week. Although, even if I wasn’t aware of The Invisible’s frontman collaborating with Ware, I’d eagerly recommend putting Night Light and Generational together as a double bill as this is essentially the former’s dark flipside. Vocally its more understated than Ware, and the rough edges perhaps make it a little harder to love, but the jagged guitars and clattering beats work to quite beguiling effect. 8/10
With yesterday’s ninth anniversary of his untimely death serving as a reminder as to just how missed Elliott Smith still is, this release by Italian group Pipers couldn’t have been more well timed. While there have been plenty of young troubadours bearing Smith’s influence who have popped up in the years since, none have managed to really capture the exquisite mix of melancholy and pop melodies that made him so unique, yet out of the many who have tried though, Pipers arguably get the closest, the thick accents of their harmonies aside. What really sets Ask Me For A Cigarette apart from the field though is the naïve sweetness of its contents, resulting in something warmly familiar but a little different and pleasantly romantic without being too cloying. 8/10
There are few things I like writing more than a neat and tidy segue, so I was all set to take a trip over the border from Italy to France, in order to discuss this week’s final single .Turns out though, that while I was convinced that Rhye was some winsome Gallic songbird, they’re actually a LA-based duo, which still seems a bit hard to swallow, although I’m not entirely sure why – perhaps because The Fall bears more than a passing resemblance to Sebastian Tellier’s La Ritournelle (one of the greatest almost-hits of recent years), mixed with a pinch of this year’s unlikely musical touchstone, Donnie and Joe Emerson’s Baby. Unmet expectations, and potential accusations of derivativeness aside, this really is a wonderful piece of work, slowly unfurling around a blissful piano motif and subdued vocal to bring in occasional stabs of strings and horns, which are always deployed with restraint, class and, most importantly, intelligence. Even taking into account the rather on the nose opening ‘Make love to me baby’ gambit, it manages to make the most overdone, even comically blunt sentiments ring true. 9/10 - SINGLE OF THE WEEK
So that’s it for another week. Despite initial unpromising signs, it turned out to be quite a good one, didn’t it? I’m afraid you’ll be most likely have to put up with my take on next week’s singles too. Although I’m hoping that I’ll manage to do a better job of getting that one in on time.
See you then (whenever then may be), then!