Music Features

The Singles Bar - 31st October 2011

The nights are getting darker, the days are getting colder and Christmas albums are already beginning to hit the shops (both Justin Beiber and She & Him released their festive efforts today). Luckily, you can still rely on the Singles Bar to give you a warm glow and put a spring in your step, as well as giving you the lowdown on all that’s going on this week in music. You lucky, lucky people.

Charlie Simpson – Cemetery

Six years is practically a lifetime in pop music and a lot has changed since Charlie Eyebrows left Busted in 2005. First, McFly took their crown as kiddie-friendly pop-punks du jour, and then children decided they wanted to listen to Rihanna and didn’t like guitars that much anyway. Simpson has made a pretty decent fist of his post-mainstream career, initially with hardcore quartet Fightstar and now solo. Cemetery is a jaunty, singalong strum-fest that meanders along quite harmlessly. It’s spoiled somewhat by young Charles’ insistence of injecting “emotion” into every syllable by growling and/or over-enunciating, but hey, it’s a decent three-minute pop song. Melodious, hummable and well-written, just stop trying to “keep it real”. 6/10

Beyoncé – Countdown

You’re never quite sure what to expect from the fragrant Ms. Knowles. Her album, 4, has already produced one stormer (Run The World (Girls)) and one clunker (Best Thing I Never Had) so a lot could hinge on Countdown. Luckily, it’s pure genius from start to finish. It races through its allotted time with frenzied percussion and genuinely thrilling horn stabs throughout. There’s also a – you’ve guessed it – countdown which samples Boyz II Men. Mixing dancehall, hip-hop, R&B and mariachi, Countdown appears to be about everything and nothing all at once. It’s also had me walking round for the last week or so singing, “Grind up on it girl, show him how you ride it!” which is entirely inappropriate for a man in his mid-20s. It’s so strong that it’s fit to go toe-to-toe with the best R&B singles of the past decade: Kelis’ Millionaire, Janelle Monáe’s Tightrope and, of course, Crazy In Love. So, is it Single of the Week? More like Single of the Year. 10/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK (AND POSSIBLY THE WHOLE YEAR)

Kelly Rowland – Down For Whatever

Cruel, cruel alphabet, making the title of the new Kelly Rowland track come immediately after that of her erstwhile bandmate. Whereas Beyoncé is pushing the boundaries, Kelly Rowland is following the tried and tested tropes of pop music in 2011. Down For Whatever is yet another example of the continued Guettaisation of music which sounds like countless other anonymous house-inspired tracks. There’s also more than a passing resemblance to the music that backs Pitbull’s rap sections in Jennifer Lopez’s monster smash, On The Floor. Cynics may like to point out that Ms. Rowland is mostly devoid of clothing in the video for this song and is currently enjoying much prime-time exposure on British television as an X Factor judge. Well, I’m a cynic then. 3/10

Connan Mockasin – Faking Jazz Together

I wrote an opening sentence mocking (hur hur) Connan for his ridiculous stage name, but did some research and, as far as I can make out, it’s his genuine name. Anyway, Faking Jazz Together is one trippy, psychedelic mind-messer of a song; marginally discordant notes reveal themselves all the time and there are swimmy, reverb-soaked background vocals. The first three minutes or so sound like a chillwave Flaming Lips backed by tribal percussion, but then it all fades away before starting up again. Faking Jazz Together is the kind of otherworldly track that completely transports you and is an utterly gorgeous, immersive experience. Highly recommended and a staggering piece of work. 9/10

Sean Paul – Got 2 Luv U (featuring Alexis Jordan)

Sean Paul records tend to be exceptionally irritating and Got 2 Luv U, from its text-speak title downwards, is no exception. It features his usual blend of dancehall and Caribbean rhythms, but it appears even he isn’t immune to the creeping influence of David Guetta, the man responsible for all that is homogenous is today’s pop music. Alexis Jordan’s voice is fairly indistinguishable from a handful of other female singers and the whole thing ends up sounding like a calculated attempt at staying relevant. Well, hats off and well done to these two for creating the mix of tired dancehall and ubiquitous early-90s house that precisely no-one was waiting for. 2/10

The Drums – How It Ended

It always seems like the amount of column inches dedicated to The Drums is inversely proportional to their popularity and the quality of music they actually make. How It Ended is a case in point, it’s nice enough but there’s nothing particularly of any note to report. It sounds a bit like something from Vampire Weekend’s cutting room floor spruced up with vibrato-heavy synths and annoying “eurgh eurgh eurgh” backing vocals. If this is a particularly short synopsis, then it’s because it represents the lack of interesting aspects of this track. How very post-modern of me. 5/10

Little Dragon – Little Man

Little Dragon released a rather fine album earlier this year, Ritual Union, whose title track was a thing of sheer delight. Little Man doesn’t quite reach those heights, but its icy synths and nonplussed percussion sure are compelling. In the chorus, the vocal line matches the keyboard melody effectively, and the track continues to build and add elements throughout its playing time. It also achieves the all-too-rare feat of not sounding over-crowded, and as such it shows admirable restraint. At less than three minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome either, so while it may not be a heart-stoppingly breathtaking piece of music, it’s a great listen and has that all-important go-back-and-play-again factor. 7/10

Doctor P – Neon

A quick bit of online research reveals that Doctor P is a dubstep producer known to his Mum as Shaun Brockhurst, and this is a new version of a track that’s been available for over a year. He’s also not a real doctor. Sounds like those on Neon would have seemed unusual a couple of years ago, but dubstep has infiltrated the mainstream to such an extent that this doesn’t seem like anything particularly new or refreshing. It’s fairly low BPM as dubstep goes, and would be better off soundtracking a video game or clips montage than being released as a stand-alone single. It’s a little faceless, and needs more ideas to justify its running time. Is dubstep in danger of jumping the shark? 3/10

Birdy – People Help The People

The Singles Bar can be a touch on the caustic side occasionally, but I’ll try and be nice here because Birdy – the nom de rock of Jasmine Van den Bogaerde – is a mere 15 years old. This is the third single from her forthcoming solo album, and they’ve all been piano-based cover versions (following Skinny Love and Shelter). Originally, this was a hit for Cherry Ghost and it’s difficult to see what Birdy’s added to it. This trend for stripped-down reimaginings of songs is reaching critical mass, likely prompted by Radio 1’s Live Lounge cover version policy and television talent shows, and it’s completely baffling. Presumably, reducing a song to its elements displays some level of “authenticity” in the minds of the artist or arranger, but more often than not, it’s simply dull. Birdy has a fantastic voice that belies her tender years, but her career is unlikely to have any longevity if she continues to be marketed in this way. Her management will likely spend the next few months getting themselves in a flap trying to contact anyone who worked on the Adele album. 4/10

Toploader – She Said

Poor Toploader, they’ve become a byword for everything that was wrong with early 21st Century British indie. Dancing In The Moonlight was everywhere, Jamie Oliver liked them, and there was THAT hair. After several years away, they’ve made a low-key comeback and She Said is certainly rockier than ‘ver Loader were in their heyday. As expected, they’ve managed to crowbar in an anthemic chorus that’s signposted from a good few miles away; like a Jennifer Aniston film, you know everything that’s going to happen when you’re only 5% of the way through. They’ve had a rough time of it and are nowhere near as hateful as they’re made out to be, but She Said means they rank alongside Feeder, Athlete, Embrace et al as insipid stadium indie practitioners. 2/10

Gruff Rhys – Space Dust #2

Well this was a surprise. Super Furry Animals are generally known for their progressive, forward-thinking pop-rock, but frontman Gruff Rhys teams up here with Sarah Assbring (a.k.a. El Perro del Mar) for a beautiful slice of lounge music. It’s an old-fashioned duet with each singer replying to a line sung by the other and it’s beautifully adorned with sweeping strings. The drumming is jazzy and loose too; it’s not at all the kind of thing you expect to see released as a single in 2011 and it’s a real breath of fresh air. Gruff Rhys has been making music for nearly two decades now and is still producing inventive, interesting, vital work. How many people can you say that about? 8/10

Avril Lavigne – Wish You Were Here

Despite having seemingly been playing a stroppy teenager for around a decade, Sk8r G1®L Avril Lavigne is actually 27 years old. Once every few years, she stops with the bratty persona and releases a ballad to prove to everyone that she’s a real person with, y’know, feelings and stuff. Sadly, ladies and gentlemen, that time has come around again. Wish You Were Here is a drab mope-fest with as much get-up-and-go as a mortuary in the middle of a power cut. The chorus mainly consists of Lavigne wailing “Damn, damn, damn”; perhaps the nadir of this whole sorry exercise. At times, she can be good fun (like on Girlfriend) but this is the kind of insipid ballad even the Goo Goo Dolls would balk at. 1/10

Cher Lloyd – With Ur Love

Cher Lloyd has followed up the frankly bizarre Swagger Jagger with a much more restrained song. However she still can’t refrain from alluding to “swag” during the verses – extremely apt, as Cher hails from Malvern in Worcestershire which, as we all know, is the spiritual home of swag. Swagger Jagger was a mind-melting mix of heavy dubstep and nursery-rhyme pop and there’s a suspicion she may have put all her eggs in one basket, as With Ur Love contains none of the edge that propelled her to fame. In fact, it’s a relatively insubstantial R&B track with a grating cameo from Posner, although it does have an extremely catchy melody. Her album will certainly be an interesting listen, if nothing else. 5/10

So, we’ve bestowed our first perfect score in The Singles Bar – do you agree? As usual, comments and feedback welcome in the Disqus box below.