Music Features

The Singles Bar - 23rd July 2012

It’s a continuing trend sales-wise. The current number one album in the UK, by Elton John vs. Pnau, has the lowest sales for a chart-topping album of any record this century, yet single sales go from strength to strength. So, instead of mourning the album, let’s celebrate the single, starting off with this little lot.

Clock Opera – Belongings

Clock Opera’s clever, intricate indie seems to have been overshadowed by the success of Alt-J in recent months, but they still have enough quality to make them worthy of your time. Belongings starts unspectacularly – a simple piano line and an unadorned voice – but then the bassline hugs the melody and the piano notes become quickly doubled octaves, making the track a little disorienting, but also strangely beautiful and sounding like raindrops falling on the street below. It’s a wonderful, delicate song that displays sufficient deftness and expertise to let the song breathe and never try to crowd the arrangement. At the three minute mark, the cymbals seem to signal the beginning of something epic, but we actually get Futurehead-style a cappella vocals for a minute until the track finally breaks loose with buzzing bass and funk-inspired drumming. A really accomplished work, reminiscent of Elbow from a decade or so ago. 9/10 – JOINT SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Madeon – Finale

Madeon is young. No really, do a Google Image Search of him now – he’s implausibly young. Despite being born in 1994 (that fact alone makes me want to weep tears of pure rage and frustration), the young man from Nantes certainly knows his way around a set of decks. Like last single, Icarus, Finale is a huge sounding record which skirts the edge of the dubstep-inspired dance of the charts without ever becoming formulaic or dull. However, it hasn’t quite got Icarus’ killer hook and, rather worryingly, it sounds not entirely dissimilar to thankfully-defunct Australian generic drum n’ bass peddlers, Pendulum. There’s enough here to dispel any ideas that Madeon might be a one-trick pony, but this is unlikely to propel him to the next level. Incidentally, Madeon’s real name is Hugo Pierre Leclercq, which is an infinitely cooler name – he really should use that when he DJs. 6/10

Major Lazer feat. Amber Coffman – Get Free

Major Lazer is certainly a busy boy. As well working up with Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman on this track, it’s been announced he’s teaming up with Snoop Dogg on a reggae album, where the self-styled Doggfather will be going by the name Snoop Lion. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned Major Lazer’s military responsibilities. Anyway, Major Lazer (ostensibly just Diplo these days) is putting a hyper-modern spin on dub with Get Free, a track which features skank-friendly, ponderous bass, a laid-back tempo and the odd cutting-edge synth break. This combination, plus Coffman’s vocals (and the odd sax phrase), actually works far better in practice than on paper, and Major Lazer makes it sound as if this is the way dub has always been made. An incredibly chilled, melodic and smartly-created track which bodes well for the rest of Diplo’s projects in the remainder of the year. 8/10

Passion Pit – I’ll Be Alright

I’ll Be Alright starts off by sounding like about five different songs are playing at the same time, the exact kind of thing which would make you anything but alright. Passion Pit clearly have issues surrounding their collective attention span, as I’ll Be Alright jumps from tempo to tempo, from hook to hook, from line to line, without ever really having time to settle on one style. The downside of this is that anything slower than the frenetic opening sounds tired and laboured. It’s difficult to get a grip on anything, it’s messy and it’s not an experience I’d be keen to repeat in a hurry – similar to what being in an actual passion pit might be like, should such a thing exist. 5/10

The Enemy – Like A Dancer

On Spotify, the list of related artists for The Enemy reads like a who’s who of lumpen, uninspiring, derivative landfill indie: The Courteeners, The Twang, The Pigeon Detectives, Jamie T, The View, Reverend And The Makers, The Rifles, Milburn… If that lot doesn’t make you want to burn every acoustic guitar in the country and make synthesisers mandatory in all school music lessons, I don’t know what will. Unlike many Enemy songs, Like A Dancer actually appears to have a slight semblance of melody to it (a happy accident, presumably). Also, thankfully, it doesn’t try to make some kind of “social commentary” (ugh) on small-town living and feeling trapped by industrial wastelands (we get it, you’re from Coventry – it’s a hole). By Enemy standards, this isn’t bad at all. However, by the standards of all other recorded music ever, it’s still a total aberration. I blame Oasis, I really do. It used to be the case that guitar bands would try to be clever or insightful, then it became de rigueur for groups to be as knuckle-draggingly boneheaded as humanly possible. On a brighter note, The Enemy’s latest album is performing far worse in the charts than their previous two, so hopefully they’ll get the hint and call it a day. 1/10

Mac Miller – Party On Fifth Ave.

I wonder if this party Mac Miller speaks of is on Fifth Avenue in New York. If so, I don’t know how he’ll host it, the queues from the Abercrombie & Fitch store usually stretch for a block or so, and then you’ve got the Apple store, and then Tiffany’s… basically, it’s a crowded place. Party On Fifth Ave. is a laid-back hip-hop track with an old school sound, most notable for its horn sample, which UK readers will know from Hear The Drummer (Get Wicked) and American No Ripcorders from DJ Kool’s Let Me Clear My Throat or The 900 Number by DJ Mark The 45 King. That riff is basically all there is to this track, which makes it hard to say more about it. It’s an ok song, and would probably go down well at the kind of house party Mac Miller’s rapping about, but past that, it hasn’t got an awful lot going for it. 4/10

Marina & The Diamonds – Power & Control

I wonder how Marina Diamandis feels about her new-found success. After an idiosyncratic debut album that didn’t sell too well, she’s trimmed away her rougher edges and emerged as a sleek, identikit electro-popper. It’s a shame because, while her first record had more than its fair share of faults, it showcased her as an emerging and interesting star. But hey, she’s got a number one album to her name and I haven’t (at the time of writing, anyway), so perhaps she’s doing things right after all. In fairness, Power & Control isn’t a bad pop song by any stretch of the imagination – it’s well put together with some decent stuff going on in the background, but in being less ambitious, she’s headed more towards the middle ground, and that’s a real shame. 5/10

The State Broadcasters – Trespassers

Doing their bit for the under-represented waltz in rock are The State Broadcasters, a Glaswegian collective who bonded over a shared love of Clem Snide and Lambchop. There are certainly shades of Kurt Wagner’s group in Trespassers, which is a gorgeous, contemplative slice of alt-country which is never boring or worthy. It’s careful, sure, but it comes across as attention to detail more than hesitation. Small snatches of melody and harmony adorn Trespassers like jewels, and it has the kind of accomplished, well-fashioned quality which makes you wonder why The State Broacasters aren’t the darlings of the Americana scene. Slights shades of Arcade Fire too in Trespassers, a genuinely wonderful song that makes further investigation of this band practically compulsory. 9/10 – JOINT SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Conor Maynard – Vegas Girl

After Can’t Say No, Conor Maynard’s paean to the crippling struggle of sex addiction, Brighton’s answer to Justin Bieber returns with a track showing that despite only being two singles in, he’s got his signature sound well established. Namely, it’s R&B with a decidedly bubblegum pop flavour, as if he’s Justin Timberlake’s younger brother and, check this everyone, he’s absolutely MAD for girls, right? He can’t get enough of them and judging by his lyrical content, it’s absolutely all he talks about. As if the concept of a singing, perma-horny teenager isn’t enough to put you off, it’s also a pretty tired and derivative record. If you’re a glutton for punishment though, Maynard over-emotes his way through Marvins Room by Drake on the B-side (note to Conor Maynard fans who are presumably about twelve: ask your Dad what a B-side is). 2/10

Joss Stone – While You’re Out Looking For Sugar

The fact her new album is called The Soul Sessions Vol. II suggests that the royalty cheques may have dried up for everyone’s (read: no-one’s) faux-American, bare-footed, melismatic Devonian. Just to confirm everyone’s preconceptions, While You’re Out Looking For Sugar displays Stone, once again, attempting to establish her credentials as a 1960s soul diva despite sounding more like a cruise ship singer. This song has Hammond organ, jazz-style percussion and loads of other retro/vintage sounds that have been done a million times before but will virtually guarantee her an invite to Jools Holland’s end-of-year hootenanny. Stone has somehow painted herself into a corner and will probably spend the next five decades recording tracks that sound like things Aretha Franklin wouldn’t have given a second glance. This kind of thing can really get a man down. 2/10

True, a joint single of the week award is something of a cop-out, but both the Clock Opera and State Broadcasters songs are of such good quality, they’d have likely walked (or, in the case of The State Broadcasters, waltzed) to the title in any other week. But what do you think? Let us know using the Disqus form below.