Music Features

The Singles Blog: January 2013

January's Singles Blog saw the return of David Bowie. Need we say more?

26th January 2013

The Flaming Lips - "Sun Blows Up Today" (from "The Terror," released 1st April on Warner Bros./Bella Union)

For an upcoming album that’s supposed to be the “darkest” entry from The Flaming Lips catalog, the band’s newest track, Sun Blows Up Today, seems to catch them on one of their better days. Gone are the repeating bass riffs and moody, jazz-tastic synth lines of Embryonic. No more fuzz guitars. No more spoken-word bits. No more raw, unwieldy, walls of feedback. Instead, we have something closer to the sound of At War With The Mystics which, to me, is a huge bummer. Yet again, this is a non-album track written for a Super Bowl half-time car commercial, so the actual sound of the album isn’t entirely defined yet. But still, even at face value, there’s a lot to love about this track. It’s got a pretty infectious set of lyrics and the random synth noises around the song’s end are cool too. But really, who knows what The Terror will sound like? All of this could just be one big, fantastic April Fool’s joke and their “darkest” effort could turn out to be their most reaffirming, optimistic album since The Soft Bulletin. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Andrew Ciraulo

23rd January 2013

Peter Swanson - "Life Ends At 30" (from "Punk Authority EP," released 12th March on Software)

Honestly, my previous exposure to Peter Swanson’s outlandish electronic manipulation was nil at best. I had heard various ruminations and rumblings about his previous effort, Man With Potential, but never quite got around to listening to it myself. With that being said, Life Ends At 30 is an odd entry point into his work, yet it seems to make perfect sense. It’s essentially what Swanson is all about ; creating a unique synergy between harsh, static-y frequencies, off-kilter drones, and distorted dance beats in a way that almost seems to make them more palatable in unison, while still remaining utterly chaotic. While the track is a bit lengthy (over 12 minutes long), it still makes for a pretty interesting, engaging listening experience… if you’re patient enough. Andrew Ciraulo

Youth Lagoon - "Dropla" (from "Wondrous Bughouse," released 5th March 2013 on Fat Possum)

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what did it – the vulnerable, childlike vocals, the warm synths, the fact that “youth” is in the artists name – but regardless, there is an undeniable feeling of young innocence and wonder that comes from the music of Trevor Powers with his debut album, 2011’s The Year of Hibernation, sounding as if it was conjured from a child’s daydream. And while it would certainly be fitting to say there’s a newfound sense of maturity with his latest single, Dropla, I feel that the more appropriate adjective would be “expanded.” With its crisp, gorgeous production, a myriad of bright and bouncy flourishes, and emotional crests that rise and fall through six robust minutes, the first single off of Power’s new album proves to be bigger, brighter, and more significant than anything he’s put out previously, and acts as a perfect example as to how an artist with their own definitive sound builds upon what they initially created. Power’s pipsqueak vocals will certainly continue to invoke feelings of infancy and innocence, but Dropla’s massively quaint sonic landscape offers a vast world of possibilities for such childhood wonder and imagination to explore. Peter Quinton

15th January 2013

Justin Timberlake - "Suit & Tie (feat. Jay-Z)" (from "The 20/20 Experience" - release date TBC - on RCA)

After several years off to do things like The Social Network, Justin Timberlake has released his first song since his 2006 album, FutureSex/LoveSounds. Named after the good-looking, self-esteem-enhancing look that is the Suit & Tie, the song is able to disguise a couple of missteps. The overly-long intro may be a deterrent for some impatient fans, and likewise, a rap from Jay-Z sounds as phoned-in and awkward as the, “get out your seat, Hov,” that introduces it. Luckily, none of that matters: the other four minutes of Suit & Tie are an infectiously confident dance number filled out by Timberlake’s suave falsetto and Timbaland’s great percussive flourishes in the background. The lyrics are simple and cheesy, but when you put it all together, it’s a light-as-a-feather ode to a fun night out with your love that makes you feel just like the song’s speaker, looking good and ready to show off “a few things.” Forrest Cardamenis

9th January 2013

Iceage - "Coalition" (from "You’re Nothing," released 19th February on Matador/Escho)

2011’s New Brigade, the debut album from Danish punk band Iceage, was such a purely distilled and fully formed post punk statement that it was hard to imagine any drastic changes coming from the group, or if that would even be necessary in the first place. But with Coalition, the first new track off of their Matador debut You’re Nothing, they might as well be on the verge of power pop. The riffs sound brighter and frenzied in an almost celebratory way, with guitar lines that oddly resemble bouncy synths rather than guitars. But if this is power pop, it’s power pop with metallic, serrated edges and forced to run a treadmill at full speed, as the track is as bloody and confrontational in its delivery as anything found on their debut. Frontman Elias Ronnenfeldt cries “Excess” in the tracks chorus, but Coalition is another stellar example of the mess this band can create in such pure form. Peter Quinton

Fuzz (Ty Segall & Charles Moothart) - "This Time I Got A Reason" b/w "Fuzz's Fourth Dream"

I honestly donʼt know how Ty Segall has the time to make so many records and tour persistently throughout the country. After an amazingly prolific year for the California guitar slinger, Segall returns once again! Collaborating with fellow Ty Segall Band member, Charlie Moothart, Segall has formed a new band with the appropriate moniker Fuzz. The duoʼs first single, This Time I Got a Reason b/w Fuzz's Fourth Dream, sound like just about any other pair of tracks featuring Segall -- moaning vocals, super saturated riffs, a grooving rhythm section -- but the pacing is dialed back to a slow-moving, psychedelic jam. While not entirely revelatory, this does provide a nice change-up for an artist that many have become quite familiar with. Overall, if this is any indication of the quality of output we can expect from Segall in 2013, than I might as well hand him my cash now and get it over with. Andrew Ciraulo

8th January 2013

David Bowie - "Where Are We Now?" (from "The Next Day," released March 2013 on Columbia)

With the news that a new David Bowie record will soon be upon us, one has to wonder which Bowie this album is coming from.  Ziggy Stardust?  The Thin White Duke?  The highly-experimental and often overlooked electronica Bowie?  Judging by the lyrics of Where Are We Now? and its references to various parts of Berlin (Nurnberger Strasse), this is a return to the themes explored during the critically-acclaimed Berlin Trilogy.  Produced by Tony Visconti (a familiar face), the single sounds like a sobering reflection on Bowie’s time in Berlin featuring people walking “with their fingers crossed” and constant references to “walking the dead.”   The instrumentation may be a little unimaginative, but it’s ultimately Bowie’s vocal performance that lifts this ballad from a forgettable afterthought to an intriguing reflection from the artist on his own career. David Hogg

7th January 2013

AlunaGeorge - "Thinkin' 'Bout You" (recorded live for Trevor Nelson's Radio 1Xtra show, 7th January 2013)

Some heavily hyped acts are just that – all PR and momentum but without anything to back it up. However, anyone who had doubted AlunaGeorge at all needs to have a listen to this, a cover of one of 2012’s most celebrated tracks. Aluna’s beautiful voice soars through the melody and the arrangement shows enough musical understanding and invention to prove that they’re the real deal. Frank Ocean’s plaintive ditty is turned into a radiant, funky monster of a tune with the kind of syncopated handclaps that bring tons more groove to pretty much any track. Apparently we have to wait until June for the AlunaGeorge album. The countdown starts here. Joe Rivers

Toro Y Moi - "Say That" (from "Anything In Return," released 22nd January on Carpark)

While many of the major artists from the chillwave movement have either decided to lay low or released disappointing sophomore albums, Toro Y Moi (a.k.a. Chaz Bundick) has flourished in his versatility as a songwriter.  In anticipation of his third album, two singles have been released: So Many Details, and his most recent, Say That.  It’s a funk-tinged, deep house, Groove Armada-influenced work of synthy seduction.  Its complexity of influences and styles only adds to its overall brilliance.   The laid-back vocal delivery that’s become associated with Toro Y Moi accents the infectious cool of the single, a cool that is entirely absent from modern pop music.  Looking for an infectiously catchy dance single that strays from the narcissistic four-on-the-floor mold?  Bundick’s got you covered. David Hogg

5th January 2013

George Maple – "Uphill" (stand-alone single on Justus Records)

A couple of years ago, you wouldn’t have imagined that Sade, Everything But The Girl and quiet storm would be the reference points de nos jours, but that’s before the breakout success of Jessie Ware in 2012. Listening to Uphill, parallels between Ware and Maple are obvious, though Maple’s voice isn’t as powerful and, if anything, her music is even more restrained. Don’t let that fool you into thinking Uphill is boring though; its shimmering beauty will envelop you entirely and the icy insouciance of Maple’s voice will make you want to know more. There’s also just the tiniest hint of some Balearic sounds in there too, and the blissed-out feeling of Uphill could potentially make it ideal for coming out of a codeine-laced cloud rap fug. This is George Maple’s first single proper, and she’s already working with Bondax and Two Inch Punch on further material. Let’s hope the results are as special as this. Joe Rivers

4th January 2013

Factory Floor – "Fall Back" (from the upcoming album – release date TBC – on DFA)

The post-holiday return to the factory floor is very much the worst, but fortunately the aptly named London threesome have released this teaser for their long-awaited debut album (expect it sometime in May, hopefully), to make the daily commute somewhat more bearable. For those who have been following their career so far, the contents of Fall Back will seem instantly familiar; a lengthy (eight and a half minutes, in this case), steady synth beat underpins Nik Colk Void’s distant Nico-esque moan and bursts of more unpredictable live percussion and outright noise. For those that haven’t, all you need to know is that, despite such seemingly dry components, their spaced-out sound and insistent rhythms are almost hypnotically irresistible, and this is no exception. Mark Davison

3rd January 2013

Josh Ritter – "New Lover" (from "The Beast In Its Tracks," released 5th March on Pytheas Recordings)

Listen as part of NPR's Winter Music Preview

I think I once read that the beginning of winter is the peak season for relationships to fall apart. Perhaps I’ve been pondering this idea since I’ve seen far too many relationships devolve of late, but so it goes with the human heart. Either we begin to build the links of communication or we decide it’s best to just get out. It’s the most universal of themes, and for Idaho singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, the subject has recurred time and time again throughout his modestly celebrated career. Ritter has dabbled with more ambitious projects recently, but as New Lover indicates, he’s heading back towards the sparse songwriting of efforts like Hello Starling. A track like New Lover would suffice had it kept its chugging, classic-by-design fingerpicking, except that its surrounding intricacies brim with enchantment. Ritter reminisces on a past love that’s still etched to his memory, struggling to move on as her former significant other begins life anew. It could almost be described as deviously satirical, how he juggles whether to wish her happiness while a blissful scene paints over his anguish. But as every troubadour knows, the path to redemption always lies in one’s own innermost being. Juan Edgardo Rodriguez