A Symphony of Swagger
eek nine, and T.I.'s hat is still not on properly. In other news, Girls Aloud do that whole "putting out a ballad" thing and get more or less exactly the response you'd expect; Miranda return to slightly diminishing fanfare; Hot Chip have had a hit single, somehow; and, er, Mattafix. Whoop. But first, Stylus editor Todd Burns discovers what happens when UK TV talent show fourth place finishers get to #1. He is reportedly 'nonplussed'.
Chico - It's Chico Time
Doug Robertson: It almost seems pointless to slag Chico off as, like a particularly stupid puppy, it doesn’t seem to matter how many times you kick him, he’ll still keep coming back for more—NOTE: Stylus Magazine does not condone puppy kicking or any other form of painful pet punishment—but slag him off we must, as this is probably the most awful record to be released off the back of a reality show since Sam & Mark optimistically informed us that they’d get by with a little help from their friends. Chico was the most pointless contestant in last year’s X Factor—to put this into context the whole shebang was won by Shayne Ward, a photograph of whom possesses more personality than the real thing—but despite this managed to win over the British public’s hearts by virtue of the fact that we can be really stupid and love to embrace both novelty and the underdog, without ever thinking for a second that there might be a good reason why they’re the underdog. It’s the same instinct that makes us believe we have a chance in major sporting tournaments, or that the Tory party actually stand a chance of being elected, despite their only major change being to have a leader with slightly better hair than before. This is as unpleasant as that prospect, and we can only hope that, having got this out of his system, the grains of sand which make up his fifteen minutes have finally drained away and he can stop inflicting his dreadful brand of ‘entertainment’ upon us. What time is it? Amateur hour, clearly.
Edward Oculicz: This song is basically "Bag It Up" by Geri Halliwell meets (the rather underrated) "Girls On Top" by comedy girl-group failure Girl Thing. Actually the verses are terrific in a Xeroxed Ricky Martin style-ee, but the whole thing has clearly been built around the worst bit: the self-love chorus. Pity, that.
Todd Burns: If you add a spot of guitar, change the male singer to five women, I would be all over this. As it is, the best moment of the song comes when the alarm clock rings at the end, signaling that, yes, I indeed should have been sleeping throughout the whole thing. But. Fun fact: Chico changed his name from the original Yousseph Slimani, which someone once misheard as Useless Salami.
Bonka - El Problemon
Martin Skidmore: It's got an accordion on it, which is good. I don't know how much Latin American pop sounds like this, but it's on the edge of being a novelty number—if someone told me Bonka was the Colombian equivalent of Chico, I'd believe them.
Hillary Brown: Pop song with cumbia roots! This is the sweetest little nugget of handclap and accordion-fueled loveliness. There are certain radio stations in Atlanta on which you can pick up the traditional stuff this takes its cue from, and they always provide a few blocks worth of unmediated joy. Think “If You Want to Be Happy” with Colombian flava.
John M. Cunningham: This seems like quintessential good-time fiesta music—which is fine and everything, and probably deservedly popular in Latin America—but I can't help thinking it's the sort of song that some crappy chain like Chi-Chi's would use in their commercials for "color" and "authenticity," while some drenched head of lettuce and pair of tomatoes came careening down onto a chopping block.
Be Your Own Pet – Adventure
Martin Skidmore: Punky rawk guitars, female singers. They sound like loads of other acts—I thought first of the Avengers, but it's a pretty loose comparison, and this lot are not in that class on the basis of this.
John Seroff: “Adventure” leaves me torn; I really wish I liked it more than I do. Pros: goofy premise, fun lil' vibrato in the lead singer's voice, inescapably hooky rock guitar. Cons: if you've adventured everyplace in the world, how come your song is so boring?
Doug Robertson: In Britain, of course, they’d be given ASBO’s and told to stop making such an unholy racket, but in America, land of the free, these feral teens are encouraged to make as much noise as they like and, when it results in something this good, we can only concur. Sounding like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ should, it’s an illicit guitar pop thrill with Jemima’s yelp adding a certain something to the mix that a girl of her age really shouldn’t be able to. It’s a hormone driven rush of excitement that fires straight into the excitement centre of your brain, bypassing any of the boring old reasoning synapses. It’s like touching an electric fence and having your arm feel all sparkly and numb afterwards. It’s, well, it’s just ace, and that’s all you need to know, really.
Miranda - El Profe
Jonathan Bradley: It starts with a drumbeat. A really upbeat, chirpy sort of drumbeat, that’s joined by a way too chirpy keyboard and then some even chirpier vocals, which are fun and welcome in the same way Robin Williams as Patch Adams is fun and welcome. And then because the whole thing is still not chirpy enough, a chirpy guitar solo enters to complete the impression of this being the musical equivalent of one of those hats with the propellers on top. You can’t criticise something that sounds like it wasn’t even made with the intention of being good.
Peter Parrish: This song is a Red-shanked Douc. A colourful and exotic monkey, the Red-shanked Douc is mysterious yet also appears playful. If observed in the wild for long enough, you will no doubt be able to witness one simulating and hilarious sex act. Clearly agile and with a genuine sense of fun, this monkey will deftly rush through forest foliage emitting well-timed barks and slapping the tree trunks with its hands to create a notable beat.
John Seroff: Argentinian new wave bubblegum with a lil' bit of Prince, a pinch of Belle + Sebastian and a whiff of Chuck Berry on guitar? Yes, please. And more, if you've got it.
Ivete Sangalo - A Galera
Martin Skidmore: She's an exceptionally bright and energetic singer, sounding rich and warm even when singing very quickly, which is an extremely rare skill. I'm not surprised she's a big star in Brazil—she could be a star anywhere, I would think, with a voice like that. This is a very enjoyable tune, party pop-samba stuff.
Ian Mathers: So even after reading up on it a bit I'm still not sure what “axé-music” is, other than this song. If I was going to go solely on “A Galera” I'd have to assume it's just another regional variation on highly polished adult pop, and lacking the local context that might make some of the lyrics or musical flourishes meaningful, it’s pretty boring at that. Sangalo's singing style is more declamatory than anything else, and the song, horns and all, sounds too dignified and restrained to actually have any fun. I'm not even sure after five or six listens whether this actually has a proper chorus.
John Seroff: "Carni-pop" is a not untogether unreasonable description of the style of music known as axé; it's sunnier and lighter than Brazilian funk, not so far removed from soca. Sangalo is the genre's current undisputed queen and “A Galera” gives some idea why. It's a party-sized cocktail of blaring horns, booty-shakin' percussion, echoing synths, insistent bass guitar backbone and Sangalo's honeyed voice, served up sweet, twisted and frosty. While “A Galera” never quite makes the leap past fun to exciting, it doesn't ever wear out its welcome either.
Mattafix - To & Fro
Tom Ewing: Languid lo-fi soul tune enlivened and betrayed by its slipped-beat rhythms: at once the most distinctive thing about the track and nowhere near as clever or sustainable as Mattafix think they are. Points for originality, though: this had me groping for references like orchestral trip-hoppers Bows, or that Scritti record with the rappers. Take away the irritating jitters and you've got a solid tune and some nice sample string work, with the un-rap midway coming as a genuine surprise. There's an ex-Sugababe on backing vox, if you care.
Peter Parrish: This song is a snake. Meandering slowly through the aural grass it is possessed of a serious sense of melancholy, perhaps stemming from always being portrayed as the evil party in popular religious literature. Despite its underlying predatory nature, the snake is also a symbol of phallic disappointment and unfulfilled desire. Though potentially venomous, this specimen wishes only to slither back into a willing body and wrap itself around the heart.
Doug Robertson: Have you ever wondered what an aimless wander around some particularly dull and grey part of a nameless city would sound like? Whether Mattafix have or haven’t is open to question, but they’ve certainly stumbled upon the answer here with this entirely inconsequential and forgettable track. As interesting as street after street of faceless office blocks, there’s no emotional connection here at all, just a vague feeling of having wasted your time traveling when you were already exactly where you needed to be.
Juvenile - Rodeo
Edward Oculicz: Juvenile suffers from what I like to call "Nelly Disease," in which the sufferer has the assumption that any line or word that makes no sense will acquire both meaning and catchiness if repeated frequently enough. Too slow, too slow, you can hear tumbleweeds rolling through rather than a rodeo, and, yes, Juvenile sounds far too pleased with himself for something that could have been bashed together in 15 minutes.
Ian Mathers: Absent the brief relevance of “Got Ya Hustle On,” Juvenile retreats instead to a tamer, less annoying retread of “Slow Motion.” The production is a bit nicer but the rapping certainly hasn't gotten any better, and this is probably just a personal thing but I can't stand the way he produces the word “rodeo.” Still, nice to know that in the midst of a disaster zone Juvenile can be counted on to remind us of what's really important: tits and ass. Especially ass.
Jonathan Bradley: Australia is just heading into autumn, which diminishes the listening experience of “Rodeo” slightly; Cool & Dre’s fluttering guitars and vocal samples sound as if they’re being delivered by the burgeoning warmth of summer, so in the northern hemisphere, this would be a beautiful accompaniment to a slow awakening from winter. Down here, I’ll just have to imagine how good it must feel to hear “Rodeo” as spring creeps in. That’s not too hard to do though, since it is a little brother to R. Kelly’s Ignition (Remix)—nowhere near as good, of course, but still reveling in the same lazy charm. Also, for thematic reasons, it calls Ginuwine’s “Pony” to mind, and that’s never a bad thing.
L'Skadrille ft. Sniper - Bons Moments
Edward Oculicz: Smooth like a slushy love song if you ignore the beat; strolling and confident if you ignore everything but the beat. Fantastic use of the voice on here; apart from the pleasing Francophone flow, large parts of the backing are made up of vocals, and the whole thing's rather interesting and inventive, not to mention catchy.
Hillary Brown: I think for a long time, I’ve thought that I do generally like French rap. I just don’t like a lot of the examples of it I’ve heard. But eventually, evidence must be weighed, and the scales seem to be tipping in the: sounds self-righteous, not interestingly produced, etc. direction. This is a bit cheerful, but just not ear-catching enough.
John Seroff: L'Skadrille’s politically charged hip-hop has thrust them into the public eye in their pays d'origine of France, where messages of fighting the power have a whole different currency than they do in the States. For those of us anglos who don't parlez français, the flames are a lot less obvious and we're left with a solid beat, swift flow, and a track that would light up anyone's dance floor. Good Times, indeed.
Girls Aloud - Whole Lotta History
Edward Oculicz: A striking, startlingly affecting ballad. Alternately poised in spite of loss and lovingly awkward, this is a vocal tour-de-force—Nadine has never sounded as felt as she does here, and Sarah Harding's closing "Monday/funky" verse is goose-bump inducing.
Jonathan Bradley: With a big chunk of tunes to get through each week, the superficially interesting ones tend to stand out on first listen, even if they are not actually that good. Typical of too much of the high-rating shiny girl-pop, “Whole Lotta History” is vaguely appealing on first listen, but the melody is entirely too every day for its charm to last long. Girls Aloud’s name alone seems to attract fungus-like growths of 10s here, but even with the benefit of a catchy hook, the blogosphere’s answer to the Arctic Monkeys is extraordinarily dull; the thin delivery of the vocals is so monotonous it sounds like the Girls are at a karaoke bar and reading the lyrics for the first time. Bill Murray’s “More Than This” was better.
Martin Skidmore: Inarguably (yeah right) one of the greatest bands Britain has ever had. I'm sure everyone who likes them has the album already, but if not, this is a slow strummy one, the third-single ballad, so relies far more on their singing talents than the punchier up-tempo numbers, where the mighty production can hide limited vocal abilities. Thankfully, their abilities are actually very good, and it's a pleasure to sit back and enjoy the performances on this. The lyrics aren't exactly coherent and purposeful, if that matters, and I think it does a little.
Hot Chip - Over And Over
Martin Skidmore: I don't know what equipment and instruments they use to make their music. It's kind of a lo-fi dance, more or less, like house or techno by people who can't afford the kit, or can but have lost the manual. A couple of albums in, this can hardly be the correct explanation, clearly, but whatever, it's top indie-dance music and I like it a lot.
Hillary Brown: Hot Chip’s stuff always sounds a little like someone sat on the song to me. Everything is squashed into a very small auditory range, and I like stuff that is big and expansive. Still, if this were turned up extremely loud, I think I might not resist.
John M. Cunningham: Until recently, I'd only heard Hot Chip's name in conjunction with the DFA, so when I downloaded some assorted mp3s, I was surprised that they didn't have more of a dance-punk edge. "Over and Over," however, does push them closer to their label's hallmark style, a rhythmically persistent track with deep squelching synths not entirely unlike, say, LCD Soundsystem's "Tribulations." Though they'll surely get heat when their new album comes out for aping an au courant sound, if the results are as spirited as this, I can't imagine I'll be bothered.
B.G. - Move Around
Jonathan Bradley: When the articles about New Orleans started appearing in broadsheets post-Katrina, a lot of words were spent on the impact the hurricane would have on the city’s thriving music scene. Nearly every one of these discussed to great length the jazz and Dixieland music that attracts tourists, but made precious little mention of hip-hop, the music being made by and for the city’s contemporary residents. Nevertheless, New Orleans rap has bounced back from Katrina in full force, with Lil’ Wayne making his best album yet and, in surely the best indicator of success, Juvenile and B.G. both have tracks in the Jukebox this week. B.G. may not quite be at the level of Lil’ Wayne, although he does sound a lot like him, and along with Mannie Fresh, he’s made “Move Around” pretty irresistible. “I was raised on bread and baloney” does not sound like a hit making chant, but try to stop yourself hollering along.
Ian Mathers: I am unduly amused by the “bread and baloney” line, and not just because of the presence of baloney sandwiches in my own diet. Mannie Fresh sings the line with such gusto that it becomes a mark of pride—and between that and his production he's easily the best thing about “Move Around”. B.G. may have a history in rap, but here aside from a few cursory references to post-Katrina New Orleans and the unusually honest admission that he doesn't bother dealing drugs any more because rapping is easier, safer, and more lucrative. Honesty aside, though, his delivery is as dry as toast and his extended “ennnnngh” near the end is painful.
Tom Ewing: This week seems to be a procession of cod-orchestras: here the fake strings are in service to a loping, shoulder-dropping beat and some lovely programming—subtle tempo shifts, flurries of rabbit-punch beats, a good balance between tension and stroll which BG's fashionably half-there style tips a little too much.
The Cardigans - Diamonds (Don't Blame Your Daughter)
Jonathan Bradley: In the same way doomed stars orbit black holes, The Cardigans keep circling around the perfect pop song, coming ever closer to fulfilling their hit-making potential. “Don’t Blame Your Daughter,” is the best they’ve done since the “Lovefool” follow-up “My Favourite Game,” and although it’s not quite arresting enough to suggest the Cardigans have reached the zenith they keep aiming for, it comes tantalisingly close. Spinning out the pop with a slight country edge, it’s lovely, but lacking the spark to really ignite something magical. One day though, the Cardigans will comfortably occupy the top end of yearly singles lists, and by the sound of this track, that day is not too far away.
Martin Skidmore: Mostly I've been able to ignore the Cardigans, except when they have big hits and I get irritated. I don't imagine this will be a hit, so I can ignore it, once I've written this. This is in their whiny indie style, with no hint of a rocking tune or any fun.
Peter Parrish: This song is a lion. Noble stalwart of many an intriguing nature programme, but now sadly superseded by new and dramatic tales of animal daring. Like penguins or something. The lion can still muster up a good antelope chase scene, but may more often be found lazing around in the afternoon sun and having a relaxing snooze. However, even whilst sleeping this creature remains graceful and hints at majesty. Large dozing cats are written off at your peril.
Bobby Bare - Are You Sincere?
Martin Skidmore: The sound is cocktail-lounge countrypolitan, as much Sinatra as Willie Nelson, a suitable mode for a stylish and dignified veteran like Bare. He made some of my favourite country tracks ever, but for the album that got him out of retirement he's not terribly ambitious in some respects: quiet music, space for his strong and relaxed voice (sort of like a less desperate Johnny Cash) to interpret some songs he likes but hadn't recorded—this one is best known by Andy Williams and Elvis. I really like it, but I can't see it converting people who didn't love “Detroit City” and “500 Miles From Home,” decades back.
Hillary Brown: There’s something that gives this away as a recent recording (a sharpness on the strings in the left ear, maybe, or a telltale retro chic tone to the chorus of sirens in the background), as a song that’s doing the David Lynch thing of revisiting with a total lack of irony (appropriately enough) and a vaguely sick love as opposed to a simpler cover. We need more harking back to Andy Williams in our music.
Todd Burns: Late in “Are You Sincere?”, after a number of plain-spoken queries about the relative sincerity of his song’s subject, the backing singers start to chant “Bobby” and I start to stop questioning myself and turn the question back on to him. It makes me feel a lot better about the whole thing.
Mark Ronson – Just
Martin Skidmore: This is an odd one. Ronson is the son of Bowie's guitarist Mick, and is a noted turntablist, but this has none of the scratching I'd expect. I dare say it is made up of samples, and it's terrific DJing, fun and funky, but then there is indie singing by one Alex Greenwald over the top, spoiling it for me—he's lazy and whiny and without a tenth of the bounce and invention of the music. Apparently it's a Radiohead song, if song is the word (a couple of firm hints of misogyny in it, I think)—don't know who thought that was a good idea, but it isn't. Since the music-only parts are great here, I would like to hear some DJing by Ronson without a guest indie vocalist and indie-rock song, please.
Jonathan Bradley: Rich Harrison, Pharrell Williams… Thom Yorke? This is the first indication that Radiohead’s long-awaited follow up to Hail To The Thief will be an R&B record, with Phil Selway expected to announce next week that they’ve titled the LP Radiohead & B: The Masterpiece. OK, that’s not true, but damn, it does make me hope that someone somewhere can get the Oxford quintet into a studio with Timbaland. Meanwhile, Mark Ronson’s horns and hip-hop drums take is surprisingly effective. Shame that Alex Greenwald, who does OK fronting Phantom Planet, doesn’t have the soul to make this the smash it should be. If Amerie or John Legend were on vocals, it’d go straight to the top of the charts. As it is, it’s an enjoyable diversion.
John M. Cunningham: Here's a cover every bit as good as the original, and probably more interesting, as it trades Radiohead's prog guitar heroics for a zesty funk treatment. The interplay between Greenwald's slack SoCal vocals and the boisterously arranged horns (courtesy the Daptones) even gives the song a warm multicultural flavor miles away from pale English boys with feedback pedals. The video certainly reinforces this feel—it's a paean to colorful urban graffiti—but you can also imagine it being played in cars riding low past summer street vendors.
T.I. - What You Know
Ian Mathers: T.I.'s real strength is in his refrains (see also “ASAP”, “U Don't Know Me”, even the sample in “Bring 'Em Out”)—he's an excellent rapper, but the way “What You Know”'s triumphant production bursts out of the gate with the hard, bullying chorus right out in front is a little breathtaking. His next album is called King and “What You Know” sounds exactly like a coronation.
Jonathan Bradley: This is absolutely magnificent, of course. Regal production with T.I. flowing lazily, like he’s so good he can’t even be bothered putting effort into his rapping anymore. What you really need to do, though, is get over to YouTube and watch the video, not only because it has roller skates with the wheels spinning like they’ve got rims, but for the following exchange between T.I. and one of his buddies:
“Got a midget pregnant last night.”
“Need some counseling on it?”
Got a midget pregnant! And the song’s even better!
Tom Ewing: T.I. builds a symphony of swagger out of the sounds of old presets and ancient console games: vulgar, catchy and piss-elegant. His flow pitches midway between drawl and bark, shot through with perpetual amused disbelief. He's a hard man to love, but the rich hookfulness of his tune does enough to make me try.
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-03-15