The Singles Jukebox
Gloriously Faceless



week 2 of Stylus’ new multi-national singles war, and this time we’re leaning a bit more heavily on the international side of things. Last week we had a fat bloke from Australia, this week: German Euro-boshing that’s doing oddly well in the US! Japanese epic indie that’s doing predictably well in Japan! Argentine electro-pop that’s all the rage in Mexico! Dutch two-step that’s doing well in far more places than it ought to! And A-ha, because, y’know… A-HA, man. You gotta love A-Ha, unless you’re some kind of skank. Then again, this new single’s a bit bleh, but, y’know. Morten Harket, man. Morten Harket! First, though – Finnish lady-goths! No, no, restrain yourselves, please


Nightwish – Sleeping Sun
[3.61]


Brad Shoup: Female-sung Finnish goth metal. I’m sorry, but only in Europe. Please?
[0]

Hillary Brown: Take Nomi. Slow to 5 mph. Take nap. Awake refreshed to discover song is still going on. Grunt in weak annoyance.
[3]

Koen Sebregts: This starts off promising: a Belinda Carlisle ballad from the '80s, perhaps, or "Like a prayer". And then it turns out to be one of those swollen goth rock ballads. "Winds of Change" is subtle and tasteful in comparison. And sung in something resembling English more closely.
[2]

Mike Barthel: Of course it's a horrible song; it's horrible in a way seemingly unimaginable in 2006 (1988, sure), horrible in a way that can't really be described, except by me smiling a really goofy smile and pumping my fists. This is the perfect example of a particular kind of song: one that I come across purely by accident while controlling the radio and that I listen to, fascinated, while everyone around me asks and then yells and then threatens me to turn off, and I never do get to hear the whole thing, but I say things like "oh man, that was awesome!" for some time afterwards. Why? Well, it's just so ridiculous, isn't it? They say "a moment for the poet's pain" for heaven's sake! It's bombastic and overserious, not as good as Meatloaf or Evanescence, but damn good nevertheless.
[9]

Mike Powell: Nightwish rerecorded “Sleeping Sun” this year because frankly, it’s marginally awesome. Heavy handed, operatic, and not exactly goth so much as darkly new-agey; still, it’s not every night you feel like sitting in high-backed chairs on the edge of a cliff drinking wine out of a skull while the waves crash against the rocks by the glow of the moon.
[5]

John M. Cunningham: I'm told that Nightwish is a metal band, but even among metal acts that dabble in goth-angelic styles, there's really no excuse for the kind of pseudo-operatic sub-Sarah Brightman warbling on display here. Wretched.
[2]


Remioromen - Konayuki
[3.88]


Koen Sebregts: What the world needs now, more than anything, is a Japanese Snow Patrol. Wait, no it doesn't.
[4]

Mike Atkinson: Until discovering that Remioromen were a Japanese band, I had blithely assumed that they were of Scandinavian extract. Finnish, maybe – or Icelandic, at a stretch. God knows why: a particular quality in the phonetics, perhaps, combined with a kind of widescreen melancholy which I have grown to associate with northern Europe. Anyhow, such lyrical impenetrability does have the benefit of lending universality to the music, regardless of what specific sentiments are actually being conveyed. The effect is not unlike listening to Sigur Ros, albeit wedded to the sort of midtempo indie-AOR chug that would normally turn me right off. However, any potential dreariness is staved off by a glorious refrain, in which the singer switches to a soaring upper register which displays all his strengths, while a sympathetic string arrangement strikes up behind. As the whole song shifts into a higher gear, moody introspection is dispelled by a yearning, expansive intensity – which reads to me like a final, desperate, doomed plea for redemption, rising up from the smouldering wreckage of a shattered love affair. So please don’t tell me that it’s about, I dunno, believing in yourself and following your dream or some other sort of Martin-esque cod profundity. Some stones are better left unturned.
[8]

Martin Skidmore: I imagined top Japanese pop fun when I saw this one on the list, so the disappointment may have something to do with hating it. It's dismal and weak and tedious and it goes nowhere. It sounds most like the kind of misguided serious Eurovision entry we occasionally get from somewhere like Albania, the sort of thing where they want candles and wind machines (preferably not together) in the video to make it look moving and dramatic.
[1]

Ian Mathers: An adolescence spent partially watching anime, and more important getting anime music from my friends (because we were geeks) has probably forever slightly tainted my context for Japanese pop and rock. So to me the chorus of this totally sounds like the sort of strainingly anthemic thing that'd work well over the opening credits of some Neon Genesis Evangelion knock-off. But that chorus' not incredibly impressive are only diluted by being sparingly employed during the course of a fairly plodding five and a half minutes. When the chorus does kick in, the track feels momentarily cinematic; the rest of the time it's just there. A good edit would improve things immensely.
[5]

Patrick McNally: So determined to be epically yearning that it’s stomach churning. I’m sure that if there is a Japanese equivalent of The O.C. that this track will soundtrack a floppy haired boy running tearfully through the rain in slow motion or something but as I’m not a fifteen year old Japanese girl that doesn’t do me much good.
[3]

Edward Oculicz: Not engaging enough and too long. The music - mostly the guitars - makes the right moves in the journey towards felt and anthemic, but the melody and the singing aren't up to it; it's so subdued and anaemic-sounding - actually, muffled might be an even better descriptor. Far too polite to have any actual impact, even when it reaches its climax, which feels more like a contractual inevitability than anything else.
[2]


Sunblock – I’ll Be Ready
[4.12]


Hillary Brown: I like fun as much as the next gal, even disco fun and manufactured fun, but I’m not sure what I’d have to ingest to see “completely fucking boring” as fun.
[2]

Tom Ewing: My idea of musical heaven is some Mitteleuropan DJs playing a filterhouse version of "Livin On A Prayer" accompanied by several kitchen appliances so you can imagine how rote this effort must be to only rate a 4. Crucially I never watched Baywatch so where you may hear this and see beachballs et al bouncing I just see a couple of geezers looking enviously at Eric Prydz' current account.
[4]

Joris Gillet: I never go to the gym - I just run a couple of laps around the park twice a week - but I suspect this is the kind of music they play in such places.
[1]

Peter Parrish: A whole lot less hateful than you’d expect a remix of the Baywatch theme to be, really. Worth it for the section where the whole thing drops out into UNDERWATER AUDIO MODE, so it feels as if you’re REALLY DROWNING and introduces the possibly that you may be about to be rescued by HOT BABES. Or Hasselhoff. Either way you’ll have a tale to tell, right?
[4]

Dom Passantino: What's the point of this? You can't dance to it. It's not enjoyable. It's neither funny, nor fun. It's not a “guilty pleasure”, it's not as if the world was crying out for the Baywatch theme with Ashley Olsen-thin beats tacked onto its arse... If you've made a joke about how David Hasselhoff is big in Germany, or referred to him as “The Hoff”, in the past two weeks, you'd probably enjoy this, but that's only because you're a cretin.
[0]

Brad Shoup: It really was a dire week for singles, so this 8 is more in comparison to A-Ha than anything else. “I’ll Be Ready” is like gospel house, jigsaw-precise, with all the uplift of an A on a civics quiz. Still, put some Jagermeister in me and slot this after “Voodoo Magic” and I’ll be dancing. Oh yes, I will be dancing.
[8]


Party Squad ft. Gio & Ambush – I’m Sorry
[4.25]


Mike Barthel: This was the week I decided exactly what each number means, rating-wise. 1 means that it's a really, really bad song. 0 means that it's an offensively bad song. "I'm Sorry" is offensively bad mainly because it sounds like it was created from an abstract definition of porno music: cheaply-produced, faceless, unctuous, primarily electronic, and ultimately like the first draft of a beat some dudes in a gym got a hold of and sang over, every first idea hideously intact, every vocal like your uncle hiring someone to make fun of reggaeton.
[0]

Martin Skidmore: A bright, poppy and perky hip-hop tune. Lots of bright plinky noises over some lively enough electro beats. It's totally weightless, and some of the typically nasal R&B singing parts rather deaden the mood, but it's an extremely pleasant record, though the breezy tone doesn't go at all well with the apologetic, regretful lyrics. Are they a boy-band, possibly with some cute facial hair to look street?
[5]

Joris Gillet: The previous Party Squad-single, Wat Wil Je Doen, was one of my favourite tracks of 2005. It was Nederhop at its best: a raw, mechanic production with loads of sci-fi-ish, electronic bleeps and clever, funny, nonsensical lyrics by some of Dutch hiphop's more colourful names, such as Willy Wartaal and the Opposites. “I'm Sorry” is nothing like that. First of all it is in English, the horror of which becomes immediately apparent in the awkward pseudo-American accents in the opening shout-outs. Musically it's a cheap, some sort of reggaeton-ish concoction with a droopy r&b vocal hook and terrible, terrible rapping.
[1]

Patrick McNally: How unimaginative do you need to be to name your group Party Squad? Maybe about as creative as you need to be to call yourself Rmx Crew, who also appear on this track. Kids Party Squad would have been closer to the mark. Perhaps this is unfair as English is their second language, but the generic-and–proud-of-it contents of the record say otherwise. M.C. Miker 'G' & Deejay Sven remain the undefeated champs of Dutch rapping.
[4]

Koen Sebregts: Party Squad gathered the cream of Dutch hiphop for their last single, "Wat wil je doen?", and the result was one of the best tunes of 2005. Now they're back with a bunch of people who are obviously also all Dutch, but for some reason rap in English. Dutch people rapping in English has been proven by science to be a bad idea in 1986 (yes, I mean The Holiday Rap), and as far as I know this is still an unchallenged universal law. New evidence is brought to bear on this issue here, in the form of a sorry-Atari-Safari-party rhyming verse, as well as a Kevin Lyttle reference and the worst “aiight” this side of Ali G. The backing track, however, is great. As is the chorus (which isn't the bit that goes "I'm sorry"). And the video. And their extremely modest rider, which uses the Dutch word for 'tea' just to MESS WIT YO HEDZ.
[7]

Mike Powell: The dark world of perfunctory club tracks begins to slowly air heartless blends of breakspeed reggaeton, grime-speckled pop and R&B vocals; aboveground, the confused amongst us twinge involuntarily as tarnished boats pass along the harbor before our glazed eyes, each as eerily similar and forgettable as the next.
[4]


Little Big Town - Boondocks
[4.69]


Dom Passantino: You know the “You Got Served” parody episode of South Park? Remember the dancing duck? Remember his owner with the fiddle? “You snort 'caine, and I'll snort 'caine baby”? Someone got inspired.
[8]

Hillary Brown: It’s like the worst of 70s country and the worst of what Big and Rich hath wrought (with anything that might smack of humor vacuumed out) combined. The only question is whose campaign it’ll be fueling in about a year.
[2]

Ian Mathers: Do you ever notice that songs about the city tend not to be as jingoistic as songs about the country by hicks? I say hicks because it's clear from “Boondocks” that Little Big Town would take that vaguely insulting term and “reclaim” it. The way they sing that the boondocks is where they learned about “workin' hard” and “Jesus” makes it sound like those things are mysterious and inaccessible to anyone except them, and that kind of smugness taints the rudimentary melodies of “Boondocks”. I'm sorry I can't separate the multiple kinds of unpleasantness represented by that kind of ignorance from the song, but the fact that it's pure grade A CMT cheese means I wasn't going to like it anyways.
[0]

Tom Ewing: Stomping roots pride anthem which comes with a lot of shove but not enough swing or wit for me to shake off my snobbery and embrace it. It's not until the coda's fishin' and card-playin' fantasy that the Boondocks actually sound like a good place to visit, let alone live - no coincidence the song gets a lot more fun then too. Drumming up tourism isn't this song's job, of course, but this outsider feels no great envy.
[4]

Edward Oculicz: In this post-Big And Rich world, you either learn to like country, or you're just a bigot. And you might occasionally have to deal with slightly cloying allusions to the fact that people from the poor places have better morals that don't desert those that fight their way out, because they learned about work and Jesus and such. But oh, the ear candy is exquisite. The chorus had me on listen one, and when it got repeated as a communal chant on subsequent airings, that just melted me further. The slick, sweet harmonies in the verses are just the icing on the cake. Yes, it's absolutely trite, but it's a dripping, marzipan kind of trite, corn piled upon corn.
[8]

Brad Shoup: As if the citadel of corporate country truly hungers for another defiant hometown ode. Everyone’s from the sticks, or says they are, and everyone thinks that’s swell. Still, that’s some neat steel guitar, and unlike, say, MuzikMafia, it doesn’t pretend it’s shaking the foundations. It’s a fine multivocal showcase, and country’s gonna love this until Toby Keith’s “I Love This Boggy Marshland” hits retail.
[7]


Pharrell Williams - Angel
[4.56]


John Cameron: Sounded better when Beck did it.
[2]

Mike Atkinson: A potentially delightful exercise in classic soul stylings of the Marvin Gaye/Prince variety is obstructed by the harsh, lumbering lower half of the arrangement, which awkwardly disrupts the flow of the upper half, all sweetly honeyed falsettos and beatific piano figures. Maybe that was the intention: to subvert the surface innocence of Pharrell’s vocal performance by hinting at the more directly libidinous intentions which he cannot convincingly conceal. After all, are we really expected to buy his “respectful son” act, as he first seeks the advice of his mother, before reassuring his girlfriend’s father that his intentions are honourable? Maybe the tell-tale moment comes with the line “I won't touch your girl in your sight”. Well, that and referring to her “ass like a loaf of bread” at the top of the track, before asking whether anyone wants a “slice”. Bit of a giveaway, that. This light-hearted combination of the sacred and the profane could have worked – but ultimately, its opposing musical and lyrical themes create messy confusion rather than intriguing dynamic tension.
[5]

Martin Skidmore: Not much of a song, production that sounds almost random at times (shall we try a bit of this? Oh dear, not working, let's do something else...) though it is always interesting, none of it coalescing into anything that carries us forward, and Pharrell's voice would have to be Curtis Mayfield's to really lift this, and it's much weaker than that. I love the Neptunes totally, and they've been behind loads of my favourite music since the late '90s - but this is really kind of ordinary.
[5]

Mike Barthel: Irredeemable aside from the drums, but damn those drums get a 4. Maybe Pharrell should join U.N.K.L.E. or something.
[4]

John M. Cunningham: I'm a little mystified at all the hate directed at Pharrell among certain message-board denizens and hip-hop protectors (most of my non-music-crit friends like him just fine). Sure, his voice is thin and frequently characterless, and his metaphors are overcooked, but few others are capable of the syncopated bounce and lush harmonies that he brings to winning singles like this.
[7]

Patrick McNally: Now we know for sure what Chad does in the Neptunes – slaps Pharrell’s plastic face in order to bring him to his senses when he thinks of releasing something as cheesy as this under their name. Despite Pharrell’s coasting on his reputation for sonic invention this is as by the book and charmless as any clunking filter-house take on an eighties soft rock track. On the new Clipse mixtape there’s a skit where Pusha T denies that he ghostwrites Pharrell’s raps for him and if you were being credited with coming up with lines like “she’s got an ass like a loaf of bread, you want a slice” you’d deny it at every opportunity too.
[2]


Ne-Yo – So Sick
[4.78]


Dom Passantino: And to think that some people have the front to say that Def Jam may possibly have lost sight of what it originally stood for! FM R&B, pretty and inoffensive like Usher would be if he wasn't a complete twat. Hopefully Ne-Yo won't use the proceeds of this track to buy a watch with his own face on it.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: Swoon, goes Ne-Yo, moping around this track like a kicked puppy. Swoon, go all the little tinkly sounds. Swoon, goes the meta-cleverness of having a love song on the radio about how tiresome love songs on the radio are – Yes, in Ne-Yo’s hands, even cleverness swoons. Unfortunately, all that swooning doesn’t really translate into something emotionally captivating, and Ne-Yo sounds less like he’s had his heart broken and more like his first crush picked the captain of the football team over him. “You’re like a little brother, Ne-Yo,” she probably said.
[3]

Mike Barthel: The best thing I can say about this song is that I went to skip it and didn't, but that doesn't mean it's so horrendously bad, just that it fulfills its function well and nothing more. I enjoy the clap sound and I enjoy the line about the answering machine message and I enjoy the synth tone in the chorus, but it's basically interchangeable with a hundred other songs, all fairly good and right for a particular mood, either reflected or conjured. Plus it talks about the radio, so bonus points there.
[5]

Ian Mathers: I originally had this rated a bit higher, and listening to it again I'm wondering if I didn't do it a disservice during the marking phase. I do love the little quiver that runs through the track as he asks “so why can't I turn off the radio?”, and the fact that it's a song about a guy who can't stop listening to “sad and slow” love songs even though he's sick of them, months after You have left, appeals to me immensely. But the way he veers from the devastatingly low key delivery he uses on most of “So Sick” into really sub-sub-Usher wailing ruins bits of the song, and except for a few little touches like that chorus noise the production is deadly bland. Still, in six months I have the sneaking suspicion you'll find this still haunting my hard drive.
[5]

Koen Sebregts: Well, I like the handclaps. Nice lazy timing on them, too. And the song very cleverly manages to sound exactly like the type of songs you feel bad listening to (but can't turn off) when you're lovesick. But, much like the Hawley track, in all its heartfeltness and beauty it doesn't move me beyond a little shrug of the shoulders.
[6]

Brad Shoup: Bit like Yacht Rock, innit? Fred Bronson’s queueing up Billboard’s Chart Beat Chat now to tell us all the songs that charted at number 17 R&B with two-syllable titles and artist names. God love ‘im.
[0]


Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – Ramblin’ Man
[4.81]


Mike Powell: Lanegan will always be the guy from the Screaming Trees and sometime Queen of the Stone Age. Campbell will always be the girl in Belle and Sebastian. As for the former, it’s completely obvious how a life of heroin would lead you to this kind of faux-lonesome idiot rust blues; as for the latter, it sounds like an extremely unconvincing bid at trying to have us think that she’s a sultry neo-torch singer and not, again, a girl who’s solo project was called the fucking Gentle Waves. I guess I could imagine that after years being around charming sissies like Stuart Murdoch you’d think that moody ex-junkies with soul patches like Lanegan were sort of cool and edgy or something.
[3]

Hillary Brown: Indie film soundtrack ready, and yet the whispering of both Campbell and the snare transcend what could be irritating retro, resulting in a perfectly listenable song.
[5]

Joris Gillet: I love it all: the obvious Lee & Nancy-ness, the Tom Waits-y bits, his dark Johnny Cash vocals, her barely-there whispering. But I think my favourite moment is just before she starts to sing. You know what's gonna happen and you know it's gonna send shivers down your spine. And after a while you start to enjoy the anticipation more than the act itself. A bit like Pavlov’s dogs but, you know, completely different and with singing instead of food.
[9]

Peter Parrish: The downbeat Southern Gothic tune lives on--hurrah! Much beloved of Nick Cave before he discovered mimsy piano ballads, the atmospheric tones on offer here effortlessly transform the imagination into a realm of dust and sun-parched outposts of sin and more dust and psychotic cowboys and firebrand religious types. And dust. As the female vocals dance airily around the lead, you just know he had no choice but to became a Ramblin’ Man after murdering her and dumping the body in the shallow lake by his lonely farmstead.
[8]

Edward Oculicz: This is just a mess - a twangy riff, the bash of half a drum kit with Isobel's distracting whispering over it and a creaky, creaky tune that doesn't stick. When I listen to this, I feel as if I've drunk too much whiskey. I hate whiskey. Nice whistling, though.
[2]


A-Ha – Analogue (All I Want)
[5.39]


Dom Passantino: A-Ha are back! Again! The boyish good looks are gone, to be replaced with the kind of chiseled features that see 15 year old girls briefly attracted to their drama teacher, and the bubblegum new-wave we all knew and love has been replaced with... Embrace doing a Savage Garden cover. Morten, where have you been? “I DON'T KNOW!”
[5]

John Cameron: They're back? Holy fuck, they're back. I've heard that piano line before, but if you ignore the verbal clunkers then it's been recontextualized in pretty much the best way possible. Hell, along with the lyrics, the only thing I can say I don't like about the song is the alt-metal "chk-chk" before each chorus. Beyond that, there's some seriously killer old-school power-pop going on here. Now they just have to top "Take On Me" and they'll be in the clear.
[8]

Mike Atkinson: It’s hard to believe that A-ha have been having hits – in mainland Europe, at least – for the past twenty years, quietly notching up the sort of sneaking, how-did-they-do-that longevity which has also been bestowed upon fellow 1980s survivors Depeche Mode. As someone who hasn’t exactly paid much attention to them over those twenty years, I find myself struck, on the evidence of this at least, by a sense of natural generational progression, successfully sidestepping the sort of Faded Teen Hero/Peter Pan syndrome that would have scuppered a lesser act. Pleading for a second chance from both his wife and his son, Morten Harket – in as fine a voice as ever – articulates a kind of mournful desperation that is particular to a man in his time of life. The band hasn’t lost the knack of fashioning an instant hook, either. Like “Take On Me” before it, “All I Want” is centred upon the sort of emphatic, ascending three-note figure which – as recent personal experience can testify – can lodge in the brain for days.
[6]

Edward Oculicz: In which Norway's greatest musical export (Annie who?) answer the question "What, they're still going?" (even though this is their third album of the decade) by asking Max Martin to co-write a massive radio-friendly unit shifter to disguise the fact that their album is awfully gloomy. He does, and it's magnificent stuff - their biggest-sounding single ever. Melancholy verses drip with piano, giving absolutely no indication of the massive hooky chorus that sweeps all before it. They've still got it, and Morten Harket is, with a bit of age and weariness, a much stronger, forceful vocalist than he's ever been, and he delivers the show-stopping notes with panache. The guitar crunch is just splendid too.
[9]

Brad Shoup: That intro is Roman Candle-era Elliott Smith, yeah? Anyone? Minus four for sounding like Vertical Horizon, minus one due to the lack of “voodoo magic,” and minus three points because I know someone in this band has a killer falsetto, and he’s withholding it.
[2]

Mike Powell: Moody diary rock for guys that walk around at night collecting pictures of bridges and passing traffic for their flickr page. It’s times like this that I shake my fist at Swygart from across the ocean to the tune of “at least if you’re going to offer us crap please make it really bad instead of just hopelessly mediocre;” in a sense, my total lack of response to this song is essentially the best way to make manifest its white-rice-and-water vibe. Apologies to fans of moany, post-Bends guitar garbage.
[3]


Cascada – Everytime We Touch
[5.41]


Hillary Brown: Ugh, 90s drag-queens-are-people-too-movie music, down to the synthetic drumroll. Fingers, I command you to stop the mild tapping along you are doing.
[3]

Martin Skidmore: Oh good, some dance music, and with a top pop tune as well. Musically it's a touch clumsy, the lyrics are vacuously uplifting ("Your heart is my sky") and her singing is about 1% short of being good enough for the demands of the song (I sometimes dream of such music with Darlene Love's voice) - all of which makes it very much in the greatest traditions of happy hardcore, so right up my street. This is a good example of the modern chart offshoot of the genre - a little less techno and more housey, a touch less boshing and aggressive - and surely a solid hit.
[8]

Mike Atkinson: Like so much of the best pop-oriented Euro-NRG-Trance, this manages to strike just the right balance between the plaintive and the ecstatic. While the verses offer up a yearning plea for emotional/sexual fulfilment, the storming choruses illustrate just what a joyous release that fulfilment can be – at which point, we lurch into a rasping, brutal, deliriously dumb slab of Scooter-esque stadium techno, built around one of those insanely catchy melodic figures which are a speciality of the genre, and further emphasised by a gonzo-militaristic insistence on the down-beats. It’s wilfully dumb, not unlike the wilful dumbness of the early Ramones: a tightly constricted formula which can be endlessly re-jigged, each slight re-jigging topping pleasure levels back up to their maximum. In this case, it falls to the second verse and chorus to tinker with the expectations of the dancefloor: with each successive four-bar section, you can never precisely forecast where you’re going to be taken next.
[7]

Tom Ewing: Euphoric Eurobosh house like this makes up about 25% of my leisure listening and I'm still not sure how to critique or write about it. Hopeful love/drug messages plus drums that go DOOF DOOF DOOF plus hoover synths - that's all there is to it and it's a hundred times more uplifting than anything else out this week.
[9]

Joris Gillet: I haven't been paying a lot of attention at what's been happening on the eurodance circuit lately, but judging from this storming track it seems that the Scooter-type happy hardcore has merged with the Alice Deejay-style trance-pop. Which, after some initial suspiscions, is very much A Good Thing. The unrelenting boom-boom-boom-boom of the beats somehow even enhance the shallow melancholia of the vocals.
[8]

Peter Parrish: What’s with dance tracks and using that effect which transforms harmless synths into something akin to a seriously hyperventilating elephant riding unsteadily in the carriage of a malfunctioning steam train? That sound has never been used successfully in the entire history of humanity; it’s time to let go. The words are saying ‘I love you lots’, but the beat is saying ‘hi, I’m delivering these rapid kicks to your dangerously exposed genitalia’. Want to cripple your fertility and listen to massive, wheezing mammals with a penchant for train spotting AT THE SAME TIME? Now you can!
[2]


The Shortwave Set – Repeat To Fade
[5.71]


Dom Passantino: A middle class suburban indie band, Tom and Barbara Shortwave Set, decide to go back to the 19th century and turn their feeble sub-Avalanches whimsy into some cross between Kid Carpet and Charles Dickens joining a jam band, making their own instruments, searching through antiques shops to find new ones, and producing an insufferable... it doesn't have enough energy to be a racket. It's like being kept awake by the snores of a bed partner you don't even particularly fancy.
[1]

Mike Barthel: Look, here's a new rule: if your song is so boring that you feel the need to inject a bunch of random noises to at least bring it up to the level where it registers as music, don't do that. Do something much more dramatic. Record someone running over an elk. Kick the guitar player in the back while he tries to play his part. Have a whole verse about dolphin-fucking. But not random noises. At this point, random noises are like the fat guy wearing vertical stripes: everyone knows what he's trying to do, and he's just calling attention to what he's trying to cover up.
[2]

Martin Skidmore: This is easily the best guitar-band record I've heard doing these reviews, one of my favourites in years I think (I don't like indie or rock much nowadays). It's probably the woman's voice that makes a key difference for me. Not that she sounds like Sally Timms, but there's something about her voice - laid-back without sounding like she'd hate you to think she's trying to sing well, somewhat ethereal - that has an appeal for me similar to those old Mekons records. On top of that, the odd blip of well-placed glitchiness in the acoustic guitar sounds prevents it ever becoming limp or insipid, and even rather energises the whole thing (cf the scratching on “Mmmbop”). Terrific.
[9]

Brad Shoup: The promise is in the opening 20 seconds or so, when the potential for great shambles is highest. But the singer comes out with her horizontal melodies and a confusion as to where the chorus goes, and I start typing “anthems seventeen girl” into iTunes.
[3]

Ian Mathers: I admit it: I have a soft spot for tracks that can be described as “lurching”, and “Repeat To Fade” definitely fits the bill, especially near the end. It's a graceful lurch, though, and it uses the vocalist's voice effectively in the midst of the stitched-together sounds (aren't there both a sitar and a melodica at points here?). It feels more like a reverie than a song, the kind of music that makes you want to sprawl back into a hillside or some pillows; the kind that you put on to lull yourself to sleep.
[8]

Peter Parrish: So gentle, so languid. Like picking up a broken transmission of the exact genetic structure of a perfect flower, from the 1800’s--should such a thing be possible. Which it should. Here is the fragility of an ancient pressed petal, crossed with the beauty of wasting time and condensed into a four minute spell. So convincing is this incantation that I felt honour bound to idle away a good hour before writing this blurb. What splendid lazy bliss.
[8]


Richard Hawley – Just Like The Rain
[5.94]


Jonathan Bradley: I will never understand the fascination with this guy. Remember back when Yankee Hotel Foxtrot came out, and people were calling it Dad Rock? Well, this is Grandad Rock. Richard Hawley could be singing about anything here, but all I’m hearing from this dreary, semi-crooned bullshit is, “Bring me my pipe and slippers.” Can’t wait for the collaboration with Michael Bublé.
[0]

John Cameron: With each song I hear off Coles Corner, the more I think that Hawley is the very incarnation of the good music from the 1940's. While his other singles were very orchestral and melancholy, this one is, well, shuffling and melancholy. But hey, at least I feel like I could maybe hoe-down to it. It's got great harmonies, a generally depressing lyric sheet, twangy guitar leads, and fun acoustic guitars. Yee-haw and stuff!
[9]

John M. Cunningham: Maybe I've just been listening to Johnny Cash a lot lately, because this sweet country shuffle really hits the spot. It's not as momentous as "The Ocean," but Hawley's smooth baritone croon saves it from seeming like tossed-off jangle, and having not heard Coles Corner in its entirety, I'm actually glad to discover that it's not all Scott Walker-performs-Sea Change.
[7]

Mike Atkinson: As many have observed, Hawley’s songs really do sound like they have been around forever: lost standards, plucked from the ether and made into living, breathing flesh. Besides which, South Yorkshire has always been big on Country & Western – and indeed, you can almost imagine a Sheffield version of Don Williams belting this out on a Friday night, at the sort of working men’s club where the teenage Hawley first cut his musical teeth. However, what separates “Just Like The Rain” from any number of MOR C&W standards is precisely that quality of the ethereal: a shimmering lightness of touch, where the exquisite intricacy of the gently tumbling arrangement adds weight to what might otherwise have been a perilously slight song structure. There’s precious little musical movement to the verses, which simply hang in the air, content to state and then re-state their purpose, just as Hawley – here cast as the returning prodigal wanderer – states and re-states both his remorse and his relief. Faced with this blend of lachrymose regret and shining-eyed hope, you sense that redemption is mere moments away.
[9]

Edward Oculicz: In comparison to his last two singles which were gloomy epics, Hawley switches tack to a jaunty country number, still swoonsome, but in a delicate manner. Guitars tinkle rather than sweep, the double-tracked chorus is just lovely and the lyrics have an authentic 60s-country quality to them. Lee Hazelwood would be proud, and jealous.
[10]

Koen Sebregts: Who is this man? Why have I heard everyone rave on about him? This track does little to clear things up. Is he supposed to be 'our' David Gray or James Blunt? The Sunday morning coffee table soundtrack it's OK to like? His website informs us his songs are heartfelt and beautiful, and isn't this one indeed? It's all warm and acousticky, and there's this lightweight-Johnny Cash vocal melody that coasts along nicely. But God! does it lack cojones. It could make me want to punch someone. Well, maybe later. Finish my latte first.
[5]


Bodies Without Organs – Voodoo Magic
[6.12]


Patrick McNally: When Deleuze and Guattari delineated the concept of the ‘body without organs’ I don’t think that they had some lumpen dance pop by the ones without the cleavage from Army of Lovers in mind as one of the results. This is so desperate that it thinks mentioning i-pods and e-mail (email!) will make it seem modern. It doesn’t.
[4]

Peter Parrish: I’m a great big sucker for certain things in music. Referencing voodoo or other DARK MAJICKS is one of those things. Including a passage near the end which is read in a husky voice by a female participant is another. Several layers of blatantly unnecessary production revelling in their own decadent excess makes it a wonderful hat-trick. Three saving graces for what otherwise sounds suspiciously like a stab at ‘Euro-dance emo’ to me. One cringeworthy iPod lyric is particularly deserving of many pins to the dolly’s eyes.
[6]

Tom Ewing: Precision-tooled for Sweden fetishists, which includes me, so I get off on the glide, the camp, the melody and even the breathy spoken bit, and I discreetly overlook the apalling lyrics and the group's knowing naffness. Like a musical Ferrero Rocher ad, if Ferrero Rocher were really tasty.
[8]

Ian Mathers: This song makes me feel vaguely dirty. Not because of content, but because I really didn't like it at first and every time I hear it some things still come across as affected, silly, etc. But Alexander Bard clearly possesses some magic of his own, because no matter how much I try to resist I keep listening to it, and I become more addicted each time. It puts the lie to the idea that I'm in control of my own taste more effectively than anything else I've ever heard. It probably has, or at the very least deserves, an utterly ludicrous video. It is nearly perfect, and I imagine it will be widely loathed.
[9]

Mike Powell: Green Gartside did all kinds of funny things dragging French philosophy into Scritti Politti, so when I saw the name of this band I thought “oh hey yeah that Deleuze thing was neat wasn’t it” but it turns out this song is just a New Media graduate student with some curdled cleverness regarding pop music posing as “Mr. Roboto”-era Styx singing about the fucking internet. I wish I’d given it fewer points, but I think when I first listened to it I was shoveling shit or something equally less pleasant.
[2]

Brad Shoup: There was a point in Western civilization when songs about CBs were a novelty, because the technology hadn’t reached a saturation point. Now the damn things are everywhere, and every couple months, a CB-themed pop tune charts, without anyone even realizing because they’re so commonplace. Computers and e-mail, however, are still quite gimmicky, rendering this piece of Zelda-biting instacamp... wait. WAIT. Did he just say “Cos I can’t help repeating/Your sweet hymn on my iPod”? OH NOES BEST SONG EVAZ
[7]


Miranda – Don
[6.53]


Mike Powell: I was in Mexico and saw this on MTV Latin America and it pretty much destroyed my vacation; eventually, my girlfriend left me glued to the television with a bowlful of vitamins, a bedpan, and a body full of atrophying muscles. How economically the treats are dispensed: first, you’re taken with the blippy intro, then there’s the vocal – oh wait, there’s harmony, this is tickling my thigh – and before you know it you’re delivered into the falsetto vocal line of the chorus; wrapped tightly in wax paper, a bunch of flash animation butterflies pile out of a tub full of candy Valentine’s Day hearts. One verse later, he climactically announces the guitar solo, which – as a guitar solo – is as clumsy and charming Bach arranged for 3rd graders: all lines trimmed, everything simplified, impossibly unadorned. The kitschy synth pop song I never knew I needed, and the best experience I’ve had with Argentina since Roquefort on pizza and long afternoons at the dog run.
[9]

Mike Barthel: Basically it's skipping down the sidewalk and banging your head at the same time, which means it'd be perfect for blasting out the windows of your car as you drive to the beach, like "MMMBop." The fact that I can't understand the lyrics emphasizes the way it expresses wordless joy, my ignorance turned into transcendence, sure, but we're not supposed to pay attention to the words in a song like this after all, bop bop doo-wah. There's so many wonderful things you could take route 20 to the lake every weekend it's warm and still never be able to explain just how they got the guitar tone so perfect or how the guitar's shift from stopped power chords to chiming picking in the second verse registers as such an aesthetically apropos move, or why those cooing backing vocals are only there for so short a time. You'll just have to listen to it again, to the little pling-drop of the high hat, to the announcement of the guitar solo, to the best song I've heard in recent memory.
[10]

Mike Atkinson: Whereas with some foreign language songs, the absence of literal meaning can open up all sorts of possibilities for subjective interpretation, in the case of this bizarre little Latino-pop confection, I must confess to remaining utterly mystified. For what it’s worth, my guess is that some sort of lightly comic narrative is being conveyed, as a youthful sounding boy/girl duo deliver the verses in chiming unison over jerky triplets, a fuzzed-out rock riff, and next to no bass. But if a story is being told here, then why does the track keep skidding off into the most ridiculously chirpy bubblegum interlude, featuring a preposterous one-note synth melody which could have been lifted from an early 1990s Nintendo platform game? Daft, disconnected and disorientating – but at the same time, perversely effective.
[6]

Hillary Brown: Well constructed in theory, with a bleep-bloop keyboard only a little more polished than that of an early arcade game soundtrack and drums that could be straight from kids’ TV tunes, this is a song I want to like more than I do. It’s perky, and it’s only three minutes long, and I can’t understand the lyrics. These usually bode well. But maybe it fails in not making more of a splash.
[5]

John Cameron: The album title that iTunes gives is 2004 Sin restrincciones which I hope means "Restrictions on 2004 Sins" or something like that. I imagine it to be a concept album about the socio-political climate of the world in 2004, perhaps an alternate history. The timeline is changed and as a result we're all zombies under the mind-slavery of the Australian prime minister. Each year is a desolate, numbing hell, interrupted only when our Supreme Overlord comes to summon us to destroy cane toads. And, in a very roundabout way, that's kind of what this song sounds like: bouncy, a little aggressive, but overall mindless.
[4]

Koen Sebregts: Fabulous concoction of a relentless disco rhythm, 1981 video game beeps and bleeps, Helmet-like guitar stabs, and Spanish indie boy/girl singing. And that's just the first minute. Glee on a stick for me. BUT NO HANDCLAPS.
[8]


Morningwood – Nth Degree
[7.00]


Koen Sebregts: Having read the reviews for the Morningwood album, I was sure I was going to hate this. I don't. I LOVE it. I was sure it would sound like all the worst bits from Art Brut and The Darkness combined. It doesn't. It sounds like all the best bits from The Go-Go's and Van Halen combined. Their album might still be terrible, but I'm not going to take anyone's word for it. This is excellent bubblegum powerpop. A point off for not including handclaps, though, especially because anyone can hear exactly where they should have fitted.
[9]

Tom Ewing: Dayglo playschool pop in a 'disco-punk' format - think United States of Electronica, as Morningwood certainly did. Of course I'm too cynical, but this evangelical glee seems disingenuous somehow, even if they do give good hook once or twice. If you like your pop twee and trebly then please take my second-guessing and indie guilt with a pinch of sugar and gorge away.
[5]

Patrick McNally: I really hate it when people say that they like a song despite themselves or that it’s a guilty pleasure but I like this song despite myself and it’s a guilty pleasure. The cynical, all bases covered approach is far too obvious and even as it plays, the rollover puppy dog eager-to-pleaseness bugs me. And that bit where the dude hollers out “heavy metal late show,” it makes me shudder. But I’m still powerless to resist.
[8]

Peter Parrish: Ho ho, their name is slightly rude! They’re so proud of this that they have to spell it out near the end of the song in a whispery-to-shouty-climax style. That device actually turns out to work quite well though, so .. err .. well done, actually. There’s also a pleasingly egalitarian approach to sharing out vocal parts, blotted slightly by the terrible decision to let some guy scream the end of the chorus in a somewhat demented fashion. Exactly how diminishing the returns on this are can be expressed diagrammatically, like so: Amusing --> Slightly Annoying --> Wish I Could Destroy All He Holds Precious. That aside, even Avian Influenza aspires to being quite this infectious.
[6]

Dom Passantino: The main joy with Morningwood isn't just that we finally have an indie-sex band who sound like they may have had a finger up their ass before (Maximo Brut, take note), but its the return of the Blondie/Sleeper dynamic for a new generation! The guys here are gloriously faceless, and fantastically stalkable frontwoman Chantal Claret is alternately melts over and kicks the shit out of any instrumental backing they can provide. This is near perfection, music for fat girls on Myspace to strip to. Fuck the haters.
[10]


By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-01-23
Comments (4)
 

 
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