New Releases 5th May 2008

by MV

Single of the Week: Santogold – L.E.S. Artistes
Simply head-and-shoulders above everything else released this week. While it’s an entirely different prospect to previous low-key release Creator, it puts all those M.I.A. mk.II labels to the side, exposing Santi White as, if less interesting than her former tour-mate and collaborator, a little more diverse and potentially a lot more mainstream. Moves effortlessly from an almost restrained, cutesy verse into a skyscraping, overblown chorus. The video is also awesome. Whatever she does next, she’s already released one of the singles of the year. Ticks all the boxes, really. Let’s see…
Powerful, distinctive, female vocals? [TICK]
Vaguely alternative/quirky? [TICK]
Nice, modern production? [TICK]
Bland? [X]
Singer looking imposing on a horse? [TICK]
Single of the Week [TICK!]

Scarlett Johansson – Falling Down
Certainly the week’s most interesting single release, and against all odds, one of the best. While the idea of Hollywood A-lister Johansson releasing an album of (mainly) Tom Waits covers seemed initially strange, it seems to have produced some intriguing results. While my knowledge of Waits is limited, his songs seem to have an underlying melody, often lifted by slightly eccentric delivery, that could easily be translated, in cover form, to something pretty bland and subdued. Scarlett’s vocal performance on this track, however, while not remotely rivalling the great man himself, does set her apart as a singer with unique vocal talents, which don’t rely on perfect delivery or high-note acrobatics. The biggest win is probably the fact that this is likely to draw people in to listening to more Tom Waits, as the character’s still there, rather than acting solely as a standalone album by a megastar, which would have been the danger had blandness won out. Almost single of the week, but not quite. Still great, though.

Chromeo – Fancy Footwork
Another one of those songs that’s been kicking around for an absolute age and is belatedly seeing a release that’ll let the general public have a listen. It’s a pretty retro-sounding, but lively, slice of electro that’s great on the dancefloor and sounds pretty good on the radio, too. One of the better tracks of the week, in fact, but loses out on the basis that I’m a little bit tired of it now. If you haven’t heard it though, very much worth a listen.

Kylie Minogue – In My Arms
After the moderate curveball that was Two Hearts, Kylie seems to have been covering old ground with recent singles. The trouble is, that even without a spark of originality, Kylie’s pretty much incapable of putting out a totally duff pop record. The chorus is a bit of a performative work, wrapping itself around you in a cuddly ball of familiar Kylie joy. The video even seems to acknowledge the back-referencing, with a hooded dress not unlike the ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ example making an appearance, and candy-shop colourings recalling the ace video for ‘Confide in Me.’ While that serves to remind you that ‘In My Arms’ is entirely unremarkable by comparison, it also drives home the lovely reassuring Kylieness of the whole thing. I like!

Martina Topley-Bird – Poison
Martina’s Carnies, out a few months ago, was an instant classic for me. This isn’t in quite the same league – and certainly loses something in the live Jooools version above (MySpace for the more refined single take) – but it’s still beautiful, brilliant stuff, that’s leagues ahead of the rest of the current wave of wannabe soul-stars out there. But then, she was making Tricky’s career while they were still in short trousers, and out-Winehousing Winehouse 4 years ago. Great stuff.

Cut Copy – Lights And Music
Comeback release from Australian band on label of the moment Modular (Muscles, Van She, MSTRKRFT, etc.) Dance music with guitars on top, rather than guitar music attempting to be dancey, which is very much a good thing. It’s a slow build that only really kicks off in earnest about 30 seconds from the end, which is a shame, but it’s danceable, atmospheric and screams quality.

Digitalism – Pogo
Worth placing next to the Cut Copy video, as it’s cut from a similar cloth, but lacks some of the subtlety and, as a result, a lot of the power. It’s still good enough 2008 electro-rock (with an excellent video) and you can definitely see it soundtracking sports round-up packages. Nice stuff, then, from the German duo, but perhaps a bit on the polite side.

Larry Tee & Princess Superstar – Licky (Work It Out)
Larry Tee, allegedly, coined the word electroclash, and (if I remember rightly) unsuccessfully tried to copyright it. He was certainly a pioneer of the 2002/3 wave of electro, helping launch Fischerspooner, the early (pre-pop) career of the Scissor Sisters, and, um, some lesser acts. Princess Superstar, well, a couple of hits a few years apart, but not much else. Anyway, enough rambling. The single is exactly what you’d expect of a collaboration between these two – i.e. full of single-entrendre hardly-innuendo, reeking of 2003, and, well, ultimately a lot of fun. Also starts out by taking a bit of a poke at the Mason video linked above. Good harmless, if a bit silly, fun.

The Lodger – The Good Old Days
Not to be confused with Britpop ‘supergroup’ Lodger (I’ve just been reminded how absolutely GREAT that single is, by the way. Click it!!), this is nontheless great stuff, and one of the best indie-pop singles I’ve heard all year. Fizzy, effervescent, summery jangle-pop that takes a fair bit from Orange Juice et al, but has a nicely distinct sound all of its own.

Laurel Collective – Vuitton Blues
London 6-piece who seem to be throwing quite a lot of different influences into the mix. Starting off sounding like it’s going to go all electro on us, before adding some jangle-pop guitars, then a Gaz-from-Supergrass style vocal for a bit, before settling down into something exuberantly twee, summery and nicely offbeat. Definitely worth a listen, and looking forward to hearing more from them. (Video is a live take, go to their MySpace for a proper listen.)

Noah & The Whale – Shape Of My Heart
I’ve previously found acoustic-guitar wielding twee-poppers Noah & the Whale a little over-earnest, whiny even. Here though, they seem to be loosening up a little, with a pleasingly breezy whimisical number which benefits from a smattering of Mariachi horns and winds up sounding like a happy coming together of Adam Green and Beirut.

Animal Collective – Water Curses
Established Baltimore experimentalists going ever-so-slightly pop. This is pop of a dreamlike, hypnotic, buried kind, though, hidden beneath fluttery, skittish beats and samples, but still possessed of an addictive melodic quality.

The Charlatans – The Misbegotten
Fresh from giving away their new album through XFM, this is the Charlatans back on form they’ve not seen since about 1994. Appropriate, really, given that it’s a shameless piece of early-nineties retro, harking back to Regret-era New Order/ Electronic. Tim Burgess has a surprisingly nice, almost pretty voice, which is too often buried beneath guitar sludge and previously best exploited in collaborations with the likes of Saint Etienne and the Chemical Brothers. This is more like it, though.

Fleet Foxes – Mykonos (from Sun Giant EP)
No video available for this, just the track, but worth including as this Washington band are currently attracting quite a lot of flapping and shouting from those who know. Signed to Sub Pop in the US, Bella Union over here, and thus cool by default, this is charming, pleasant, slightly psychadelic, melodic acoustica. It’s got a touch of Midlake/Arcade Fire/Flaming Lips about it, but also recalls some more homegrown talents, like the Super Furry Animals and, here, early Coral. It’s very marketable stuff which will sit nicely on the current indie-rocker-in-the-know’s wishlist, but it’s hardly reinventing the wheel.

Oppenheimer – Look Up
Loveable indie-pop-punk (with a bit of synth thrown in) from Belfast. Clocking in at just over 2 minutes, it has a pleasingly old-school focus on melody (recalling, while not exactly sounding like, countrymen the Undertones and Ash.) And it sounds pretty perfect in these early summer days.

Kelly Rowland feat Travis McCoy of Gym Class Heroes – Daylight
While Kelly usually comes into her own in collaborations, the presence of a Gym Class Hero man on this didn’t exactly inspire confidence. As it turns out, it’s sort of OK. Kelly’s voice is more powerful than usual, and it’s got a nice summery 70s funk vibe about it (perhaps filtered through a bit of mid-90s production). Hardly memorable, though.

These New Puritans – Swords Of Truth
Surprisingly powerful beats on this one, albeit ripped off wholesale from ‘Get Ur Freak On’ and thus not exactly cutting-edge. Massively let down by the overly whimsical affected vocals, but a definite improvement on previous single ‘Elvis’ and showing promise.

Kenna – Out Of Control (State Of Emotion)
Kenna, apparently, has been touted as the Next Big Thing for a few years now. But it’s never quite happened. With material produced by Chad Hugo (Neptunes) you’d think it might have, but instead he’s achieved notoriety primarilly in marketing circles. This song sounds like it’s made for radio, all sweeping synths and urgent beats. All being well, it should be the track that breaks him, but then who knows?

Shaggy feat Akon – What’s Love
Surprisingly not as awful as you’d think, mainly because Akon largely keeps his mouth shut, leaving Shaggy to be his usual daft but entertaining self.

Attic Lights – God
Pleasant Teenage Fanclub-indebted indie strum from this relatively new Glasgow band. While previous single Never Get Sick of the Sea ambled along for a while before throwing away a chorus at the end, this one is stronger overall, a more solid effort, and much more likeable.

Captain – Keep An Open Mind
Like Delays (reviewed last week), Captain appeared before the current fad for lightweight mum-friendly guitar-weilding pop bands like the Feeling kicked off in earnest. This has more convincingly grabbed on to those bands’ coat-tails, and should be able to pick up some of their fanbase as a result. Qualitatively, it’s a nice enough early-summer pop tune, very safe and entirely lacking in edge, but not really the worse for it.

Wideboys feat Shaznay Lewis – Daddy Oh
UK Garage/general late 90s revival continues apace. It’s got energy, and a bit of a modern edge to it, but Shaznay’s vocals are pretty flimsy and it seems to trip over itself a bit too much, losing the melody in the process.

Wiley – Wearing My Rolex
Electro/grime crossover which has been all over Radio 1 for months. It sounds great on the radio, and is generally very good, tasteful stuff. A bit too tasteful though, perhaps? Lacks bite. feat Cheryl Cole – Heartbreaker
Mainly enjoyable for playing a game of ‘Spot the Cheryl’, as though credited, she barely features. It’s also lacking Will’s usual sense of fun, and is, truth be told, a bit bland.

Natty – Cold Town
Oh good, it’s the return of ‘UK Pop Reggae’, in Strummer’s immortal words. It’s fairly inoffensive stuff, I guess, summery and tuneful. Also curiously reminiscent of Lily Allen’s Smile. It’s fine, but the world still doesn’t really need lightweight Bob Marley wannabes…

Ejectorseat – Not My Girl (EP)
One of those local-type bands (from Derby, in this case) that list a bunch of bands (including ‘any band capable of making meaningful pop songs’, ahem, in this case) that don’t seem to bear any relation whatsoever to their sound. So then, not much of the Clash or the Manics in here, rather a US-influenced pop-punk sound that could actually rank as one of McFly’s better moments. So not doing especially well under the Trade Descriptions Act – but it’s urgent-sounding, cheery pop music that it’s hard to hate.

Cazals – Somebody Somewhere
A distinct improvement on weak ‘comeback’ single ‘Life is Boring’, this still doesn’t really punch above it’s lightweight indie-rock category. It buzzes along like a lesser version of previous touring companions The Rakes, before kicking into an all too brief decent-ish chorus that recalls early Jam (if we’re being kind) or early Ordinary Boys (if less so.)

Death Cab For Cutie – I Will Possess Your Heart
Despite having a very real soft spot for Death Cab’s singer Ben Gibbard’s 2003 side project The Postal Service, I’ve never really got the music he makes with his day-job. Dntel’s Jimmy Tamburello clearly added some more interesting electro-influenced production to the Postal Service, but it’s not just production that’s lacking here, rather melody and depth. This, to me, sounds like a weaker version of latter-day Nada Surf records, which isn’t entirely negative, but not thrilling either.