Dirty Projectors, “Stillness Is the Move”
It’s a sign of the times (mid-July, I mean, not 2010) that the hippest names around are on their third single of the year, making it fairly redundant to review them. Kode 9… These New Puritans… and so on. Dirty Projectors combine melismatic warbling, sparse but tonally rich instrumentation, gibberish lyrics that make the criticism levelled at Vampire Weekend seem rabid (Dave Longstreth’s words may sound like an Ivy Leaguer’s marginalia, but it’s still just marginalia). All things forgiven, this was the best R&B single of 2009, and it’s good enough to be the best of 2010.
Betty & the Werewolves, “Paper Thin”
Possibly coming late to the party for ampersand bands, Betty & Her Chums have at least come early to the party for names derived from all the Paranormal Romance the kids love right now (Vampire porn is so-o-o-o 2009; werewolves are where we’re at…), without actually being remotely goth / emo / new wave. Actually, teen trends be damned, because this is delightfully lo-fi retro-pop, like Vivian Girls using practice amps; the rhythm has an endearing jerkiness as the guitarist fumbles a key change, and Betty does indeed sound paper thin.
RPA & The United Nations of Sound, “Born Again”
“Cancel my subscription / to the resurrection…” growls Richard Ashcroft with characteristically Mancunian hubris. Like Ian Brown before him, and the Brothers Gallagher after, Messianic allusions aren’t worn lightly. Quite why someone would have a subscription to the Second Coming… who knows? Still, it all sounds terribly postmodern, Richard Percival Ashcroft must have thought, the idea that the Resurrection will be RSS-fed to us… and therein lies the problem. Throwing together a stodgy blues riff, a loop bleating something about “soul / body / mind”, a near subliminal Public Enemy siren , and a middle-8 cribbed from “Hey Jude” as if sung by drunks, he seems to have convinced himself he’s united the world through cultural syncretism; that enough half-ideas would add up to a really clever one.
A singer-friend once explained why I really shouldn’t sing when other people are around: “hearing atonal singing grates on my nerves the way bad English grates on yours”. Approaching the new single by SVIIB, it occurs to me that the Dehaza twins’ clumsy way with words never bothered me much before – seeing as how they had such a deft way with interlocking vocals and post-shoegaze swooshiness, it was easy to overlook ‘Cabal’ being pronounced ‘cable’; the prepositions in “Iamundernodisguise”; questions about what a “White Elephant Coat” might be; and so on. Coming after the wince-inducing “Babelonia”, though, the tautologous “Windstorm” is especially unfortunate. With no particularly interesting hook to distract you (and nothing offensive enough to turn it off), you’ll spend most of its duration imagining the creative process: ‘“Sandstorm”?’ – ‘Nah, been done too often.’ – ‘“Thunderstorm”?’ – ‘Too many syllables.’ – ‘“Bloodstorm”?’ – “Too goth.” – “Beestorm”?’ – ‘Huh? Too weird.’ Oh… it’s finished.
Dangermouse & Sparklehorse (feat. Wayne Coyne), “Revenge”
It’s the obvious single, given that the opening track of Brian & Mark’s all-star album features the artist with the highest profile (currently). Unfortunately, given that Wayne Coyne has a painfully thin voice – best juxtaposed with the F.Lips squelchy basslines and/or massive drums – pairing it (as here) with slow, rickety music is liable to expose the weaknesses of vocals & music alike. How to describe this? Slow-to-mid-tempo drum programming plus inoffensive melody plus mildly distorted vocal line; none of it “slick”, per se, but certainly not lo-fi enough to defamiliarize any of its constituent-parts, as Brian & Mark separately earned their rep for doing. The parent album’s been receiving kind critical notices, in part due to the loss of Mark Linkous and Vic Chestnutt, but the best way you can commemorate either of them is to listen to anything but this.
Seth Lakeman, “Hearts & Minds”
Not to be confused with Jens Lekman. Absolutely NOT to be confused with Jens Lekman, EVER. This has gruesome fiddles, and even more gruesome vocals; oddly reminiscent of Levellers crossed with Candlebox. In other words, it’s the sound of 1994, coming at you from both sides of the Atlantic at once, before Britpop came along to save the day (or, at least, present a lesser evil).
For a while now, I’ve been considering a re-evaluation of MIA, following the recent discovery of Bow Wow Wow (Malcolm MacLaren’s post-Pistols project, bringing together African high-life and post-punk playing, courtesy of Adam’s former backing band, The Ants, paired instead with the controversial-but-actually-quite-talented Annabella Lwin). As a result, I’m well disposed towards MIA as an actual do-believe-the-hype artist for the age of accelerated globalization, at the very moment every other critic seems to be turning on her. Basically, “XXXO” is as progressive as pop music ever gets; crunchy, but not abrasive; danceable, but un-embarrassing. If there’s anything remotely subversive about this particular song, it’s in the way that you’re baffled by its trite, apolitical lyrics, that happen to be indistinguishable from 90% of all chart-music. ‘Hang on…’ you might think, ‘Isn’t Ms. MIA supposed to have a message?’ It’s almost as if the emperor in his new clothes, and the child pointing out what he’s really wearing, are the same person.
Adam Lambert , “Whataya Want From Me”
Stitched together from three different songs, this punctuation-free monster is, at least, honest about its cynicism, judging by the title. D’you want Strokes-y guitars (the scratchy intro), Evanescence-style bombast (the crunch-pedal chorus), or synth-pop (the middle-8)? Also, d’you want a boy, a girl, or undecided? No wonder Adam Lambert won American Idol! Adam looks like Kelly Osbourne with a double mastectomy, or Brian Molko, before he started balding (Oh – the curse of the androgyne rockstar! Mind it doesn’t happen to you with all that stress, Adam…).
Joking apart, this is painfully catchy, and it would be churlish to deny the twenty-strong production team their credits (that’s: ‘Greg Wells, Ryan Tedder, Max Martin, Sam Sparro, RedOne, Dr. Luke, and Linda Perry, among others’; Lady Gaga also co-writes). Even Adam’s name seems focus-group approved to appeal to rightwing America (he’s the First Man, and the Son of God in one: Adam the Lamb!) in case haters & homophobes worry he might tempt them down Satan’s path with those smouldering eyes. America’s been patting itself on the back for electing an openly gay idol… which might mean something if this weren’t a shamelessly commercial exercise. Good for them, by their own feeble-minded standards, but until the USA votes for Jamie Stewart (from Xiu Xiu), and puts Chuck D in the White House, it’s going to remain the cultural backwater it always was.