Part Two: Jul - Dec
“Don’t Wanna Go Home”: JASON DERULO (2 weeks)
Goodness gracious me! Why am I only hearing this for the first time now? Bizarrely mashing up early 90s dance standard “Show Me Love” and Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O”? And coming out with 2011-R-n-B-by-numbers? Surely that can only be the work of some kind of twisted leftfield visionary genius? Well, that or an idiot unblessed with any imagination or self-awareness. “Jaason Deruuulo”!
“Louder”: DJ FRESH feat SIAN EVANS (1 week)
Summery and faceless rave-pop with attendant vidjo featuring roller-skating honeys. For what it’s worth, although this barely moves me musically it still succeeds in doing all the things that that LMFAO single fails to.
“Glad You Came”: THE WANTED (2 weeks)
Chart-topping Boy Bands are usually interchangeable no matter what year it is, and this bunch of testosterone-free reality-show rejects are no exception. Heavily seasoned with Ibiza synths to sound like they know what year it is – as if the Little Girls care!
“She Makes Me Wanna”: JLS feat DEV (1 week)
Pretty similar to the preceding Wanted track only very slightly better – I can’t believe these guys are already on their third album. Contains a ‘guest slot’ (i.e. eight lines in the bridge) from some lady called Dev who is apparently a pop star in the States, though that’s presumably in the same way JLS are pop stars here, i.e. 'not particularly'.
“Swagger Jagger”: CHER LLOYD (1 week)
Proving that it doesn’t matter whether you win X Factor or not, 2010’s fourth-placed finalist Cher Lloyd still got signed by Simon Cowell anyway. The gist of the song is that we (i.e. music critics I suppose) can’t stop writing about her or looking her up on YouTube, which is a bit rich given that I’d never heard of her till just now. I think the shouty verses are supposed to conjure up images of Gwen Stefani ‘hollering back’, but actually they remind me more of Daphne & Celeste, should you have cause to remember them (shudders). This is badly judged, badly constructed balderdash.
“Promises”: NERO (1 week)
The first number one for this London-based electronic duo, and a pleasingly intriguing slice of 21st Century Pop. You can hear their drum & bass roots but it’s close enough to the mainstream too to appeal to the T4 watching kidz. Certainly stands out among most of the other tracks to top the charts this year. Nice one. It’s no Crystal Castles or Robyn, fo’ sho’, but I actually quite like it. If I was giving out an award for my favourite #1 of the year it’d be this. But I’m not.
“Don’t Go”: WRETCH 32 feat JOSH KUMRA (1 week)
In the Vodka Boy camp we really enjoyed Wretch’s debut single “Traktor” at the start of the year, it’s one of the year’s best - but this is an altogether gentler affair. I’m all for UK rappers topping the hit parade, but it’s a shame it’s usually their more palatable ballady tracks that seem to manage it. This is a shrugged shoulder of a song, shame.
“Heart Skips A Beat”: OLLY MURS feat. RIZZLE KICKS (1 week)
Limp but amiable enough reggae-pop from the hat-wearing X Factor ’09 silver medallist. The video features him looking all urban in a graffiti-covered skate park, and the likeable middle-eight cameo from rising Brit-hoppers Rizzle Kicks helps. He’s one of the least intolerable of his cohort, I suppose. And that’s a compliment.
“Stay Awake”: EXAMPLE (1 week)
Not as catchy as “Changed The Way You Kiss Me”, but a similar template. I just think there’s something about the way he comes across which makes me reluctant about him. Not sure what though. Maybe it’s cos he looks like one of those simian Northmen who populated all those post-Oasis lad-rock bands in the late 90s – my mortal enemies!
“All About Tonight”: PIXIE LOTT (1 week)
Incredibly, Pixie Lott has already had as many Number 1 singles as The Kinks and Frank Sinatra, and as many as Madness, The Beach Boys and The Who combined! Even more incredibly she’s a new young pop star who hasn't come from X Factor or any other reality TV show. Although it doesn’t make any difference to how she sounds – it’s essentially a British (i.e. politer) equivalent of Ke$ha’s chart-topper from February. (sighs)
“What Makes You Beautiful”: ONE DIRECTION (1 week)
And talking of the X Factor... Literally created by the TV programme moguls from five unsuccessful solo boy entrants, this is sappy, non-threatening pretend-edgy-pop for ten-year-old girls. Remember North & South? No, me neither.
“No Regrets”: DAPPY (1 week)
It’d be a nice journalistic device to be able to say here that all this X Factor dross makes even Dappy sound good, but the twatty-hatted goon has let me down with his debut solo single. Looking moody behind a chain link fence in an American suburb even though he’s from Camden, this is heavily diluted RnB with only some – possibly unintentionally! – funny lines in the rap sections to redeem it.
“Loca People”: SAK NOEL (1 week)
Haha! One of those Eurobeat dancefloor fillers I thought had long died out – like “Encore Une Fois”, “Would You (Go To Bed With Me?)” or “Short Dick Man”, it hinges on a posh-voiced chica (Dutch in this case, though it’s set in Spain!) drawling swear words over repetitive bleeps. Makes me wistfully nostalgic and cheerfully bored at the same time. But I’m glad of some respite from Cowell & Co at least.
“We Found Love”: RIHANNA feat. CALVIN HARRIS (6 weeks)
Rihanna’s fifth UK Number 1, and a bit less forgettable than the rest of them apart from “Umbrella”. Calvin Harris adds the now-compulsory 2011 clubby synth production, while Rihanna herself goes through some pretty grim emotional turmoil in the video – which is not reflected in the diet-euphorix pop song one iota. Still, it was the first track since July to hang onto pole position for more than a solitary week – even returning to the top after a fortnight from Professor Green (see next)! And after a couple of listens it does seem to have started burrowing into my brain.
“Read All About It”: PROFESSOR GREEN feat. EMELI SANDE (2 weeks)
Prof Green takes the “British Eminem” comparison to the logical next level – which sadly means airing his turbulent family history in confessional rap mode. The point missed I’m afraid is that the songs where Eminem bangs on remorselessly about his Mom are among the worst tracks he’s done. I don’t mind some of the Professor’s earlier singles, in point of fact – but this smacks of taking himself too seriously too quickly.
“Wishing On A Star”: THE X FACTOR FINALISTS (1 week)
Okay. Let me get this straight... they get to have Number 1 singles now just for getting to the final? Then they can have another couple next year even for finishing ninth or whatever? Could Cowell perhaps be gearing up for a year where EVERY SINGLE #1 is down to him? Oh, sorry. This is for charity, of course. So I’m not supposed to hate it with every fibre of my being.
“Dance With Me Tonight”: OLLY MURS (1 week)
Again, I find Murs’ output harmless enough – in fact this airy slice of 50’s rock-infused pop makes me nostalgic for my own youth and the output of Mr Shakin’ Stevens. Though I’m not sure that was his intention. On the plus side, he’s at least finally taken that damn hat off!
“Cannonball”: LITTLE MIX (1 week)
I can almost hear YC Olie’s teeth grinding from here. And I can feel his pain. I wonder if next year’s winner will get their obligatory #1 single covering “Brother My Cup Is Empty” by Nick Cave? Stranger things have happened. I’m not going to review this single, by the way. You all know the answer.
“Wherever You Are”: MILITARY WIVES with GARETH MALONE (1 week)
Still... at least there was (kind of) a happy ending to the charts in 2011. A far more Christmassy single than we’ve had in some years sitting proudly atop the tree. Looks like though he may be all-powerful, Simon Cowell can’t compete with the notion of our brave boys overseas fighting for all our freedom (it sez here). Or maybe he just knew that and deliberately released the Little Mix single a week early so as to still get a week at the top. I wouldn’t be surprised.
And that’s it! Blimey, that was fun. Sort of. If you made it this far, you've probably realised that there's no real philosophical point behind any of this - it's mainly just been an excuse for me to write sarcastic things about mainstream pop on the internet! Yeeha! See ya next year, kidz!
Words by MMT.
Thursday, 29 December 2011
Part Two: Jul - Dec
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
In the interests of The History Of Pop Music, oh ye merry blog-readers, I thought I’d mark the end of this fine year by casting a genially paternal eye over each of the Number One Singles in the UK chart for 2011. Y’know, a kind of State Of The Union from the front line of contemporary rhythm sounds.
There were 30 number 1 singles this year, and as is now the standard, most of them only reached the top for a single fleeting week – though we did have some bona fide smashes: one shit / ironic / shit ironic dance anthem; one from an über-successful R’n’B mega-star (and not Beyoncé!); and one from a chunky lass with a shapely set of lungs on her.
Of those 30, you’d realistically not expect me to like very many in any given chart year. How has 2011 fared? Let’s have a look, innit.
Part One: Jan – Jun
“When We Collide”: MATT CARDLE (2 weeks)
A festive hangover lingering into mid-Jan like dry turkey sarnies from the X Factor – their fifth Christmas #1 out of the last six years. But I’m not going to get into that again here. Yet. Anyway, from what I gather Matt Cardle is one of the more ‘realistic’ characters Cowell & Co. have elevated over the years, but that doesn’t mean this isn't a disinfectedly limp rendition of the Biffy Clyro anthem – even down to the sanitisation of the title from the original “Many Of Horror”. Tiresome.
“What’s My Name?”: RIHANNA featuring DRAKE (1 week)
R’n’B Pop would appear to be by far the dominant musical genre of the age, if you flick around the music channels at least – and inexplicably, ‘Ri-Ri’ is one of the top predators of the ecosystem. Maybe it’s just me, but didn’t chart pop used to be a lot more fun than this? Still, it’s the first example of what turns out to be the typical 2011 phenotype: basic pop with some gently clubby flavours and what I can only describe as “ravy synths” for seasoning. Mid tempo, middle of the road. Clearly Rihanna finds her own output as forgettable as me, otherwise she’d be able to remember her own name.
“Grenade”: BRUNO MARS (2 weeks)
There’s a very mild flavour of soul on this, but the shiny production has ironed out any interesting wrinkles into a flat featureless surface. I know Bruno Mars (one of this year’s biggest new chart ‘playas’) is somehow hailed as an exciting character in the world of pop because he can write his own songs and play his own instruments, so he gets at least half a point for that, but otherwise meh.
“We R Who We R”: KE$HA (1 week)
Even though most of it is drawled in her annoying accent rather than sung, at least Ke$ha seems to get that pop music is supposed to sound exuberant, youthful and catchy. Sadly this ode to going out and ‘dancing like we’re dumb’ still sounds tacky and low-rent, though I suppose that could be what she was intending... And she’s “looking sick and sexyfied”? Um, no. In the vidjo she looks for all the world like hard-faced harridan Jordan. Yeesh.
“Price Tag”: JESSIE J feat. B.o.B. (2 weeks)
I guess Jessie J is probably 2011’s biggest new break-out pop star, but whether she’ll end up becoming a Lily Allen or merely a Natasha Bedingfield is yet to be seen. My favourite memory of this cheery bounce-pop single is seeing her playing it live on Comic Relief – when the lyric “it’s not about the money, money, we don’t need your money, money” turned out to be not perhaps the best-judged choice of song for such a mega-charidee telethon.
“Someone Like You”: ADELE (5 weeks)
A notable chart-topper in that it wasn’t officially ‘out’ as a single when she performed it at the Brit Awards, but so many people downloaded it off the album that it hit the top anyway. I’m not a fan of this kind of thing either, but even I will grudgingly accept that it is ‘quite a good song’ (though given a choice I prefer “Rolling In The Deep”), and Adele is at least less airbrushed than yer standard chart character, so I don’t mind her elevation to the big leagues this year. And she managed to keep the worst Lady Gaga single so far (“Born This Way”) off the top of the pops.
“Don’t Hold Your Breath”: NICOLE SCHERZINGER (1 week)
I always believed that Pussycat Dolls were genetically created by some US über-producer, SO soulless and generic were their pop ‘tunes’, and Nicole Scherzinger seems to have carried this ethos on into her implausibly successful solo career. This is grown in a test-tube, from equal parts Gaga, Rihanna, Beyoncé and ‘flavour of the moment’ (in this case synthy diet-dance beats) and almost indistinguishable from almost everything else you hear in the charts these days.
“On The Floor”: JENNIFER LOPEZ feat. PITBULL (2 weeks)
Ah, the Lambada! (wipes a nostalgic tear from the eye) I mean, it’s hardly “Stairway To Heaven”, but the addition of some euphoric synths and whomping noises and an actual tune – even one cribbed from a shit late 80s dance craze – means that this pisses all over the previous tracks by Ke$ha and Scherzinger. If you do have to do this kind of music, I suppose this is how it should be done. An unexpected return to the top of the charts for the big-bottomed señorita. This Pitbull bloke looks like a dick though.
“Party Rock Anthem”: LMFAO feat. LAUREN BENNETT and GOONROCK (4 weeks)
OMG. Fun for about the first two minutes and then you can just see a million exercise classes across the globe clapping their hands in time as they kick out their legs in a lame hokey-cokey. Disco music for eight years olds, dance music for people who find the Black Eyed Peas just a bit too edgy. I do however fear that repeated listens may cause infection. Proceed with caution.
“The Lazy Song”: BRUNO MARS (1 week)
Another chart-topper from one of the ‘faces’ of 2011, and as sonically lazy as the title implies. His ambition to have “some really nice sex” probably says it all. I quite like the chimp masks in the vidjo though. And am pleasantly surprised we’ve not encountered any covers of this at MK open mics this year (yet!)
“Give Me Everything”: PITBULL featuring NE-YO / AFROJACK / NAYER (3 weeks)
This is like a who’s who of modern-day acts I have heard of but know nothing about! The quirky synth production slathered all over this year’s RnB standards continues, and is insistent at least. Compared to some of the rest of these #1s it’s… alright. I see (from Wikipedia) that this Pitbull character is also “a spokesman” for Kodak, which is presumably why he mentions them several times at the start.
“Changed The Way You Kiss Me”: EXAMPLE (2 weeks)
He may look like a proper dick, but I’ll take the Nineties Rave flavours of this ubiquitous Summer ‘chart banger’ every single time over the bloodless R’n’B of Rihanna or Scherzinger or the pap pop of Bruno Mars. The opening “I’ve never been afraid of the highest heights” hook is even one which I’ve found stuck in my head from time to time this year, which is something, to be sure.
To Be Continued...
Words by MMT (feat Pitbull)
Tuesday, 4 October 2011
THE SECRET SCREENS – “Relics Part 1” and “Relics Part 2”
Words by MMT
So I was in the kitchen at MADCAP telling The Secret Screens’ Spatts (Drum Programming, Synths and “Determinism”!) that I didn’t have enough of a musical vocabulary to do justice to reviewing their epic double-album “Relics” (parts 1&2). "There’s so much in it", I was saying, "and I’m honestly not sure what bits to describe as what. Electro, Big Beat, Hip Hop, Scuzzy Indie Dance, Rave, Scratch, Soul, I don’t know where one begins and another one ends..."
Spatts told me not to worry, that he wasn’t sure either, and I felt better. On their website they describe themselves as a “collision of breakbeat, britcore rap, punk, acid house and experimentallica.” So I didn’t get any of those right! But whatever labels you want to stick on this vast swathe of music, it’s extremely impressive stuff!
My indie-kid guitar-band credentials also don’t prepare me for the sheer length of these two CDs. Between them they contain over two and a half hours’ worth of music, three or four times what I would expect a ‘regular’ album to be. But the concept behind the release is that it spans more than two decades’ worth of styles and work by the figures behind The Secret Screens, all mixed up with new production and tracks - just another reason why it’s hard to pin down.
Another is that though there are seven members of The Secret Screens listed on the CD inserts, there were only four (or possibly five) when we saw them live in action at MADCAP last week, and there’s also an extended family of guest stars, samples, collaborators and ‘supporting characters’ past and present along for the ride. The live incarnation focused heavily on the “Scuzzy Indie Dance” I mentioned earlier, but with the sheer amount of other minds and voices at work it’s surely no surprise that the album/s are a diverse ride!
The production throughout is excellent: fully polished and entirely professional. Though there’s plenty of atmospheric instrumentals (the uptempo beats of the infectious “Lost Boy”, the sci-fi zooms and swooshes of “No Tongues / Crazy Legs”, the synth washes of “A Tribute To NYC”, the bleeping trancy shuffle of “My DMX Killed A Man”), there’s also plenty for the likes of me who enjoy a well-turned vocal/lyric.
I enjoy the drawled vocals and punky electronics of the kind of tracks we saw performed by the “live” Secret Screens line-up – I doubt anyone reading this will remember bands like Renegade Soundwave mixing indie and dance together over twenty years ago, but it’s like a superior update of that vibe. And for a pretty dancey album all round there’s a reassuring amount of loud guitars too!
But I particularly enjoy the range of styles which the guest stars also bring with them: MK’s supreme soul singer Nicky Prince appears on “I’m Hearing You” and the frenetic “The Game” with her delicious voice. And if she brings the class, then rappers Graffik (from the legendary The Criminal Minds, one of Spatts’ previous bands) and long-term Monkey Kettle favourites True Element between them bring the energy and urgency of the very best of local rap on tracks like “My Dark Places” or the scratchtastic “On Pause”. There’s even guest samples from the next generation, on the hypnotic “Drum Lord” it’s clearly a young Secret Screen daughter advising us “my Daddy’s a genius, he is a drum lord. If you don’t believe me, check this...” Brilliant! (and she returns again to tell us about her Mum on the second CD too!)
Overall, the sense is that of a bunch of extremely creative and talented musicians and producers coming together for a party that’s never going to stop. And you can’t say fairer than that. Have a listen, whatever your tastes. There’s so much in here that you could easily get lost. But join the party anyway.
Thursday, 22 September 2011
The Further Adventures Of Vodka Boy - "Triple Filtered"
Words by Phil W.
There’s a man; not an old man but maybe not such a young man either. He stands in front of the bathroom mirror and examines the faint lines creeping around the far edges of his eyes. He makes cocoa and reads a little by the light of the bedside lamp. It’s late and he is tired and he turns out the light and lays back in his bed and pulls the covers up close to his chin. For a minute he looks up at the ceiling where the orange light from the street lamp beyond the bedroom curtains make turbulent shapes out of the ceiling paper that seem to blend and swirl into each other as if the contours of a rolling Atlantic sea. As he closes his eyes he can still see the dark, burning sea rolling beneath his eyelids and far away across the ocean he can see ships like mountains that float on the sea breaking over the horizon….
The Further Adventures Of Vodka Boy's third album and first with drummer / percussionist James Türl begins with the gentle strum of an acoustic guitar, some distant percussive thumps and an understated horn section that literally carries you off with the tide into the dream-like world of Triple Filtered. It’s a feeling that infects the whole record, as dozens of disjointed images and ideas are played out in the lyrics of songs like Brady Flinched and Iridium Layer, creating the soundtrack for a dreamy night’s sleep. Even the more straight-forward songs here sound like they’re breaking through a dreamy haze only to drop back into it again like the more memorable episodes of a restless night. Obvious single April sounds like a collection of teenage memories all combined into the personification of a girl you’ve never met but miss when you wake. The song is beautifully balanced at the end of the record by Humanist Love Song that is perhaps one of the most honest love songs about love and being in love I’ve ever heard.
The dream-like world that The Further Adventures Of Vodka Boy have built here seems to have freed them to write some very honest observations of their world. Cleavers Avenue and the brilliant Cougar Bait both rock and both contemplate issues of growing older and moving on but both in very different ways. Cougar Bait sounds like comic relief on the surface but underneath seems to be making some shrewd observations about age and finding your place in the world. Awkward Much delivers up a painting of people who prefer to talk about themselves in the detached third person, who don’t feel they fit in with the world around them. But this also means Humanist Love Song sounds so completely honest – it’s humorous, clever and totally heartfelt. And by the end of the record Vodka Boy seem quite happy to wake up and quite at peace with themselves in Cheerful Is The New Miserable as Matthew tells everyone to turn left to the rising sun breaking over the horizon. The song starts with some angular punk momentum and stories of girls building spaceships in their sheds, before breaking into a cheery sing-along that turns Bob Dylan’s frown upside-down before clattering into the impulsive round of clapping that closes the album.
Guitarist Martin Ibbotson pens two songs on the record, both of which slot seamlessly into the mix, albeit with Martin’s trademark songcraftsmanship. Hold Out Your Arms combines some dark imagery with a broad uplifting sentiment and one of the catchiest choruses on the record. He also produced the album and the result is a record that sounds very cohesive and focused, and meticulous in a well assembled kind of way. Vodka Boy don’t sound like anyone else here and this album doesn’t sound much like the previous two records but this all works to their advantage as they forge out confidently on their own path. At times this is an album that can make you smile or frown, that feels at odds with the world but can still smile when the sun rises again. It is an album full of all the contradictions of the human psyche and gives no explanation or apology for the ideas that swirl around inside its insular, dreamy world. It’s not worried about making a fool of its self in the pursuit of something great, and that’s what actually makes it truly great. The xylophone solo on The Cats Of Queen Berúthiel and the goofy smiles at the end of Cheerful Is The New Miserable sound like genius next to wonderful pop of April, Humanist Love Song and Hold Out Your Arms, the dreamy Brady Flinched, Cleavers Avenue and Iridium Layer, the bold Cougar Bait and the dark Awkward Much. And for all these reasons, this may be the Vodka Boys’ finest record to date.
Friday, 12 August 2011
Bands: The White Moths / Phil Sky / The Further Adventures Of Vodka Boy / The Baron Makabre Band / Harikiri Heartbreak
Words: MMT & Phil W.
We think its criminal - given the amount of talent on show - that the recent MADCAP Fundraiser gigs have been so thin on the ground for audience. Not that we’re biased or anything, given that these gigs currently operate under the name of “The Dudebox Chronicles”! But if another one comes around, you really should check it out – whether it’s cos you dig the bands on offer, or just because it’s all for a good cause! And when you see the lights flashing and hear the sounds pumping, you’ll wish every night could be a MADCAP night!
The opening chapter of this second volume in The Dudebox Chronicles was written by THE WHITE MOTHS, who I hope won’t be offended if I describe them as having an impressively hard rock sound given that they all look very young indeed! Powerful bass and pummelling drums topped off with squalling electric riffs and very strong vocals which don’t like they should physically be able to come out of the body of the singer! I’d not seen them before, but I very much liked what I saw – definitely excited to see how they progress. Check out the live footage from this very gig on their Facebook group!
What The Dudebox Chronicles aim to do is mix together some of the best up-and-coming talent from the young bands who play in and around the MADCAP Music Centre along with some of the more established acts around. And I think the “lo-fi King of Milton Keynes” (© MK Citizen) PHIL SKY very much falls into that second category. Playing some totally new songs, the dude seemed totally at home framed by the beautiful old proscenium stage. I’m fast thinking his newish track “Supergirl” with its Evan Dando charm might be one of his best yet.
The second of the more established acts on this evening were none other than Milton Keynes's premier acoustic three-piece ‘man band’ THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF VODKA BOY, who this evening were also launching their third and probably best album yet – “Triple Filtered”. The band tore through a set of hits both old and new, plus a couple of covers reflecting the broad range of skills this band have accumulated over the last few years. I probably enjoyed the last two songs of the set best - a brilliant Eddie Cochran cover followed by their own new song “Cheerful Is The New Miserable”.
If you’ve never before seen Baron Makabre in action, I’m honestly not sure how to describe it to you! But if even if you have, if you’ve not seen him in action with THE BARON MAKABRE BAND then you totally have to! It makes the whole experience at least a thousand times better, if you can imagine such a thing! With a whole backing band of henchmen – sorry... Igors! – the songs become fully fledged monsters of rock. Literally! Plus the Baron’s use of stage props and his commitment to the role (he comperes the evening too) puts other acts to shame.
Final act of the night - HARIKIRI HEARTBREAK – seemed a little cross that their drummer couldn’t be with them because he’d gone on holiday! All sounds pretty rock n’ roll to me... We’ve seen them before as a full-on electric proposition, but it was actually interesting to see them perform as a duo, with just one acoustic guitar and a bass. The vocalist’s particular vocal technique was effective in a very different way stripped of the usual background sound. Intriguing!
All in all a fascinating night of musical variety – if you see a third volume advertised, get along. It doesn’t matter that you may not have read the first two in the series... it could still prove the read of your life! (yes... this metaphor is going to run and run!)