Singles Round-up featuring Super White Assassin, The Black Keys, Chris Isaak, Lianne La Havas and more Singles Review
With the announcement that vinyl sales are up by 30% and singles being comparatively relegated to the dumper, it does make you wonder how the beloved 45-rpm single has become the chosen medium to promote utter rubbish. If your local shop sold you something labelled as fresh creamy organic milk, only to find that it's elephants' piss, you'd have every right to hurl it through the manager's window. The same goes for music.
Take Low Duo ("Ambulance" out 6th Feb – 2 stars) for example. Supposedly acclaimed by The Guardian, The Fly and Tom Robinson, this is a lo-fi plod of a tale about meeting a traffic-accident casualty and how the singer 'took her to the hospital and laid her in a bed/drips and tubes did go into her body and her head'. If this is an example of the future sound of music, I'm off to find a career in pencils or sell toothbrushes.
Polish pop-ballad peddlers Zenon ("Love You Forever" out 13th Feb – 2 stars) are an Eastern European 'Roxette', minus the personality, the look (pardon the pun) or the variety of gender. In fact, I had to check that I hadn't accidentally loaded Scorpions, Bryan Adams or Westlife into my player – and trust me, if you like those artists, then you'll love this lighter/mobile-phone waving classic. Its saving grace is the Hammond-organ, noodling around towards the end of the chorus. It's not the worst piece of song-writing you'll ever hear, in fact, it might even be a Eurovision-winning classic of the future. But, like those padded Valentine's cards, it's high on the cringe-worthy scale. Guff.
I soon realise that things are about to get worse with the discovery of yet another bilious Awolnation single ("Not Your Fault" out 20th Feb – 2 stars). To be fair, this urinates all over the previous airplay-choice (the risible "Sail"), offering a perkier rhythm, punchier synths but still loaded with derivative shouty vocals, styled on cod-indie Mockneyesque diction. Gah, but at least they haven't used the word 'stoked' in their lyrics. Next!
Anthems away!! Here come Angels and Airwaves with a cracking opening melody (a bit like The Killers or Muse), but another annoying vocalist who pronounces 'heart' as 'hort' and babbles a string of 'uh-oh-oh-o-oh's throughout. This ("Anxiety" out 20th Feb – 2.5 stars) is from their upcoming fourth album which, quite honestly, might have to be a crossover success or else. They've written far worse though and I reckon this might swing their fortunes for the better. It's OK.
Older and wiser and with a hairstyle that now actually resembles his ole film-making buddy, David Lynch, Chris Isaak is the American man's-man it's OK to like. Blessed with a sub-Elvis croon, chiselled features, quiff and an acting career that most blokes would die for (Twin Peaks, nuff said), Isaak pays homage to Memphis, Sun Sessions and a lil bit o' rock and roll with this milk-bar 'n' cherry-pie retro-rocker ("Live It Up" out 23rd Jan – 3 stars). It's all beautifully played, though lacking the heart-tugging sentimentality of his finer moments.
Picking up the pace with a breezy strumalong is nu-folkie Rob Thom ("Just The Kind of Thing" out 27th Feb – 3.5 stars), a relative newcomer to my radar. He looks like Flaming Lips' singer Wayne Coyne (in the PR photo, at least), but couldn't sound any different. I have to say that this literally is a breath of fresh air when compared to the detritus filling up my time tonight. Musically, I'm reminded of The Jayhawks, Society and many similar roots acts around at the moment and, with the right songs, Thom could become a serious player.
Back to Earth with a bump we come with the vastly-overrated The Black Keys ("Gold on the Ceiling" out 30th Jan – 3 stars). Sounding like 'Jean Genie', T-Rex and 'Son of my Father' (look it up) and not a hint of irony, The Black Keys choice of single, taken from their massive "El Camino" album, sports a natty, buzzy little keyboard riff, but little else that's hugely inspiring. Get the album instead.
Award for bonkers outfit of the week goes to Leeds-based Maggie 8 ("Charming Lady EP" out 16th Jan – 2.5 stars), signed to Death to the Radio. Mixing psychedelia, Bollywood and The Smiths (the title-track has a guitar-hook lifted straight from "This Charming Man"), Maggie 8 deliver a curious 5-track limited-edition 12" vinyl that, by turns, is engaging, laboured or just good fun, depending on your mood-swing. Imagine Gogol Bordello hitting up Asha Bhosle for a jamming session and you are someway there.
With a quartet of London shows coming up in February, it seems St.Spirit ("Pigeon" out 20th Feb – 3 stars) might eventually reach out to the right label-impresario with a stack of cash to spare and a penchant for powerful angsty rock or fragile melancholia. But it won't be because of this EP – aside from the rowdy title-track, Myles McCabe's vocals are an acquired taste but, with an average age of 19, you sense they'll grow into the harmonious band I can hear on "Tooth and Nail".
Just about every music blogger, magazine and network has been chiming on about Londoner Lianne La Havas and it's not hard to see why, at least on the strength of the opening song here ("Forget" out 13th Feb – 3 stars). This EP feels like a showcase of all that La Havas can possibly provide to cover all bases – there's a premier studio-track ("Forget") which is naggingly catchy, an intimate live reading of "Au Cinema", a demo version of "Gone" with sultry autumnal vocals, a stripped-back studio-track ("Same As Me") which would pass muster as a b-side (if they still existed) and a remix of "Forget" by Two Inch Punch, a sub-James Blake meander through a range of bass-frequencies and studio-trickery which does little for the song or the artist. The album ought to be a must-have.
*** Single of the Week ***
At the risk of appearing biased, Hacienda Records have hit an oil-well with this mysterious electro-pop outfit – Super White Assassin ("Dark Teenage Fantasy" out 20th Feb – 4 stars). You get wistful breathy girly-vocals, underpinned with the deftest of electronic and chilled-out bliss that wouldn't sound amiss if Royksopp, Goldfrapp or Francois and the Atlas Mountains popped their name on the sleeve instead. Opening song "Russian Doll" isn't the highlight on this EP, but serves a purpose as a perfectly-reasonable 'come-on' to the likes of 6Music to add it to their playlists. Darker and slinkier is "White Noise", while the final two songs are offbeat explorations into esoteric synth-patter and (a shame) rather banal lyrics. Things get even more left-field with the Bjork-like "Out in the Snow". Not perfect, not life-changing but I'd be happy to sit down or stand up to an album's worth of their material, which is more than can be said for most of the above.