Tag Archives: single

Yeasayer – Ambling Alp

I like the fact that Yeasayer appear on Bat For Lashes’ thoroughly excellent Two Suns LP, even though I’m still not exactly sure what they contributed to the album. Both artists are big on percussion; both major on otherworldly sounds that creep into memorable melodies. Now, as a taster of Yeasayer’s second album, Odd Blood, we have the free single “Ambling Alp”, whose title captures perfectly the loping, jaunty rhythm of the song.

“Ambling Alp” emerges from a pool of electronic gurgling and ethereal, percussive cries of joy. The beat is triplet-heavy and rolls about between the channels; Chris Keating’s vocals recall a bygone era of impassioned pop music, occasionally breaking into a spectrum of harmonies. The chorus benefits from parps of brass, and the repeated couplet of

Stick up for yourself, son; Never mind what anybody else done

is going to be sticking around in my head all week. Unsurprisingly, it’s a blast. As the song rides out on a turbocharged tropical melody, I was left relentlessly upbeat and perfectly content with the freezing cold weather outside. Yeasayer have brought the summer back to the world, even in the harshest depths of winter. Can we ask for anything more satisfying?

Yeasayer – Ambling Alp

Songs of 2009 – Out of the limelight.

I’m not going to do a list of my favourite songs of 2009 because that would be boring and unoriginal, and chances are you’ve probably read about the exact same songs in a million other places. Instead, here’s my playlist containing fifteen album tracks, none of which were released as singles, which I notched up on my bedpost as having loved dearly over the course of the year. When you’ve read through it all, you can also feel their brilliance as nature intended, by hopping over to the superconnected playlist I’ve made over on Spotify (though the Tortoise track will be absent because their oeuvre is not yet available). Continue reading Songs of 2009 – Out of the limelight.

Hot Chip – One Life Stand

Much as I enjoyed Hot Chip’s third album, Made In The Dark, I’ll admit that it was a slightly cluttered, claustrophobic listen. There was a lot going on in some of the tracks – “Shake A Fist” and “Don’t Dance” in particular – and though this was offset by the sparser, more low-key numbers (the title track, for instance, was  a masterpiece of concision), the overall vibe was very busy and slightly unfocused. Which is why I’m very excited by the literature surrounding the band’s forthcoming fourth album, entitled One Life Stand because a range of sources have suggested that it will be a more stripped-down and focused affair – an album’s album, if you will.

The album’s release is being preceded by a digital release of the title track which, in truncated form, occupies a radio-friendly three-and-a-half-minutes. And it’s a great pop song, in the catchy mould of “Ready For The Floor”, albeit with an added jaggedness and bite. “Tell me where you’ve been… where you’ve been staying” whispers Alexis Taylor in his most conspiratorial tone, backed by clattering steel drums and a synth line rich in overtones. After a time, synth-wizard Joe Goddard pipes in with a somewhat supernatural moan which continues throughout the chorus, followed by one of the most glorious, buzzing synth melodies I’ve heard in a long time. “One Life Stand” is foreboding and seductive; its relatively simplistic structure belies the love of pop music beating at its core. It’s a wonderful addition to the band’s catalogue of cult classics, and I really do expect it to break high into the charts.

Hot Chip  – One Life Stand (embedding disabled by Parlophone, joyless souls that they are)

These New Puritans – We Want War

UPDATED: The stunning video for the song has been released to YouTube.

I thought there were a pair of comparable albums to come out of the post-Klaxons beats+thrashy guitars+searing synths movement. The first, released in 2007, was These New Puritans’ Beat Pyramid; the second, Late Of The Pier’s Fantasy Black Channel, exhumed from some twisted nightmarish grave in 2008. For me, Beat Pyramid was the superior beast, displaying a lot less cheese, an attempt to tackle disparate conspiracist topics like numerology and doppelgängers, and generally coming across like the work of artists with a little more focus and sensibility. Fantasy Black Channel was more messy and sprawling and clumsy, while Beat Pyramid tried out some interesting conceptual manœuvres (refrains, lyrical and music themes that re-surfaced elsewhere on the album, intra-album remixing) that they pulled off with some aplomb.

And so I’m rather glad that These New Puritans are back, this time wielding a seven-minute-plus single called “We Want War”, which precedes the 2010 release of Hidden, their sophomore album. “We Want War” is undoubtedly a more ambitious and high-budget affair, boasting woodwind arrangements, choirs, and the actual sounds of warfare. It’s also lost some of the DIY charm of the band’s previous work – where before they had beats that sound like they’d been punched in the chest and run over by an articulated lorry, this new material rides in on suspiciously crisp taiko drumming. Though the tone is supposed to be foreboding and doom-laden, it’s actually much less harrowing and brutal than songs like “Infinity ytinifni”.

For all that, it’s still a storming track, boasting several sudden shifts in tone and pace, and a combination of samples and loops and kitchen sinks that thrills and astonishes me. They’re clearly a band of wild ambition and excess, but key to “We Want War”‘s appeal is that it reins in any really extraneous excess, and we end up with a long, long song, that doesn’t outstay its welcome. The comparison I imagine will be made will be with Massive Attack – this song shares that Bristol group’s unnerving sense of dread and apocalypse. “We Want War” also rides along the same kind of lazily terrifying beat as Massive Attack’s “Inertia Creeps”. Expect Hidden to be a less unkempt album, but certainly no less indicative of the band’s manifold talents and experiments.

These New Puritans – We Want War

Vampire Weekend – Cousins

I’m going to pretend that the last few months haven’t happened – just assume that the extended hiatus of this blog is a figment of your imagination. Yes, I’m a slacker. I’m also a stupidly busy student/journalist/trouble-maker.

OK, poor excuses over, let’s crack on with the music. One of my favourite albums of last year was Vampire Weekend’s eponymous debut – not only because it was a smart, concise album of intelligent and fun pop music, but also because it was pretty much the soundtrack to my first year at university. Having seen them open for Blur at the Hyde Park gig, during which they treated anyone who could muster a smile to a selection of new tracks, it was evident to me that their follow-up might be riskier and bit more grown-up, but would still provide maximum enjoyment.

On the evidence of the new single, “Cousins”, taken from the album Contra, fans of the band will have very little to be disappointed about. The song is snappy and catchy; it has frequent frenetic breakdowns; Ezra Koenig’s famous wit and skills of observation are still very much intact. More intriguingly, the song reminds me of early Police – there’s something about the punky tone of the guitar and the fluid bassline that had me hearkening back to the delights of “Can’t Stand Losing You” and “Message In A Bottle”.

“Cousins” displays a fondness for experimentation, too: the bells at the end certainly do little to link the band with the Afro-pop of their first record. It would appear that the band’s searching for innovative and fun sounds have taken them further afield than Africa, this time round, and this was probably crucial, lest they continue to be considered in thrall to a singular sound. Furthermore, the frantic twin-guitar interplay that fills every chunk of air in the song shows off some fascinating echoes of Arabic music.

The evidence so far suggests that Contra is going to be a bit of everything, musically: the opener, “Horchata”, is heavy on twinkly keys, tribal percussion and programmed beats; live favourite “White Sky” is like a supercharged Afro-pop hit of yesteryear, with call-and-response backing vocals recalling tropical adventures. Now, we have “Cousins” – a brave stab at poppy punk that sees the band unafraid to fill the space that so characterised their debut effort, with chaotic percussion and delightful fretwork. Hopefully, the album’s release will excite and amaze existing fans, while drawing in a new batch of pop music lovers. Because when you cut through all the global/world-music hype, Vampire Weekend excel at making truly special popular music.

YACHT – Psychic City (Voodoo City)

Jona Bechtolt is an intriguing proposition – part electronic artist, part PowerPoint-wielding humorist. His musical entity, YACHT, recently became a DFA-based duo, with the assistance of the dazzling Claire L. Evans, and their new album, See Mystery Lights, is a release that I am eagerly waiting (Amazon UK’s shipping estimate is three weeks; no joy on Spotify as yet). I’ve been tipping them for glory in much the same way as I did Hercules And Love Affair two years ago, having heard earlier incarnations of “Summer Song” floating around cyberspace.

In any case, that’s not why I’m writing all this. I listened to new single “Psychic City (Voodoo City)” this afternoon for the first time in a while, and ever since, its catchy and endearing vocal chant/hook has been ingrained in my head, bugging me constantly. I’m pretty certain it’s been borrowed/lifted from somewhere else, but I really can’t think where. My guess would be a Talking Heads song, but I could be wrong.

If anyone can solve this mystery, please provide your answer in comment-based form, and you will receive my profound thanks and gratefulness.

I need your help, Dearest Internet!

The Big Pink – Dominos [FGHOTS 2]

The second of my Feel Good Hits Of The Summer bears, according to Pitchfork, an uncanny resemblance to MGMT’s “Time To Pretend”, which is in my mind an inferior creature. Much-vaunted duo The Big Pink release their debut, entitled A Brief History Of Love, next month, but in the meantime they are treating us to a free single, “Dominos”, which should be blitzing through summer playlists like a falling block of ice. Over the top of a crisp, pumping beat blasts through romping, fuzzy synths, and a ludicrously catchy vocal hook, delivered in a voice that is equal parts whiny as it is memorable.

There’s no video, and there isn’t likely to be one anytime soon, but grab the free download while it lasts, because this song is a scorcher. It manages the previously unimaginable, channelling the spirit of shoegaze through the raw energy of great pop music. Let’s hope they’re onto a winner.

The Big Pink – Dominos

Friendly Fires – Kiss Of Life [FGHOTS 1]

This evening I have two official Feel Good Hits Of The Summer about which to briefly extoll.

The first comes from the finest dancers in St. Alban’s, Friendly Fires, who I have already heaped praise upon on previous occasions. They release new single “Kiss Of Life” on 31st August, which if anything is a bit too late to win the hearts of summer festival-goers, who will already have been grooving away to the song’s feel-good samba rhythms all season. The video, filmed in Ibiza, ties in perfectly with the song, which pits a flowering romance against the impermanence of lines drawn in the sand, waiting to be washed away by the tide. The music is unflinchingly euphoric and dancefloor-friendly, a fact impressed upon us by Ed MacFarlane’s inimitable beach-front jiving. My my, he has rhythm.

If this song isn’t a hit, I will despair. It is fully ready for the radio, and yet it doesn’t miss a beat in providing sophisticated, shimmering pop music for music connoisseurs. Expect Friendly Fires to be officially elected as rulers of summer by 2011 at the latest.

Muse – Uprising

After last month’s protracted treasure hunt and resulting download-only ‘treat’, “United States Of Eurasia”, today’s radio waves were dominated by exclusive first plays of Muse’s official lead single for The Resistance, entitled “Uprising”. That this new song is the album opener suggests that it is a definitive introduction to the prevailing themes on the album; judging by what Matt Bellamy has said in a video interview with Zane Lowe, we can definitely think of The Resistance as a set of songs that are carefully structured to tell a story. From Mr. Bellamy’s intimations, this unifying conceptual story is one of a conflict-defying romance taking place amidst the geo-political strife of the 21st century, replete with corrupt governments and shady transgressions of democratic ideals.

You may have read just how much of a hammering “United States Of Eurasia” received from music writers, myself included. This criticism was completely justified – it’s a messy, thoughtless, overblown piece of work that does nothing to play to the strengths of the band. “Uprising”, then, has been dealt an easy hand, for to trump the only previous sneak preview fans have had of the band’s latest creation requires no great effort.

The song begins with a neat sonic trick, with the bass emerging from the sound of a record accelerating up to speed. From there on, we are plunged head-first into a glam-rock schaffel, where an octave-skipping, gurgling bass line dovetails with a Doctor Who-aping synth melody. It’s catchy, enjoyable and instantly more edifying than “United States…”, with periodic hand claps leading into a solitary, tasteful squeal of guitar that is much more in keeping with Matt Bellamy’s style, and certainly does not digress into Brian May-style stupidity.

The vocals, when they appear, fifty seconds in, are nonetheless surprising and out of character, with Bellamy singing in a substantially lower register than he is famous for. Perhaps more alarmingly, his pronunciation and intonation is all over the shop, with many of the lines slurring into the kind of gloopy drawl I last detested on Green Day’s “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” – a song that ingrained in me a deep-seated hatred of Billie Joe Armstrong. Lyrically, we’ve got all the traditional Bellamy-isms: shady government propaganda; drugs being pumped into the water supply; the unspecified “truth” being kept from the public. It’s all there, and it’s all unintentionally rather amusing in its naïvety. For me, there’s always been a substantial gap between Matt Bellamy’s undoubted curiosity and intelligence (look at the books he reads, and the stuff he quotes in interviews) and his ability to write sophisticated lyrics that mirror these concerns, and “Uprising”, sadly, is going to do little to dispel this notion.

Musically, the song is definitely a good egg, in a perfectly harmless manner. Perhaps the Devon three-piece really do believe they are pushing the boundaries of rock music with their tasteful synth arpeggios and crisply distorted bass tones. If so, they’re sadly mistaken, because “Uprising” breaks fewer genre conventions than a non-stick frying pan. Nevertheless, the song is solidly written (complete with entertaining interplay between guitar solo and synth backing) and efficiently executed, with minimal flab, and a well-constructed structure that builds effectively, and leads to a satisfying conclusion. Just don’t expect too many surprises.

I’m seeing double and triple: does this ever happen to you?

Yo La Tengo are one of those bands that I really should have got into around the time I got into Wilco, Modest Mouse and Sonic Youth. They’re one of the great cult indie groups of the last twenty years, and I regret not hearing wonderful albums like I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass and And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out earlier on. Many critics would say that the band are at their strongest when exploring polar opposites in quick succession – witness the 11-minute freak-out of “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind” being followed by the succint pop of “Beanbag Chair” – and, on recent evidence, their forthcoming twelfth album, entitled Popular Songs, will be a continuation of their present form.

Two tracks have been released on the sly, for free, into the wider cybernetic community, and each reveals a very different facet of the band. The first to be tentatively revealed was the tight, bluesy “Periodically Double Or Triple”, which contrasts Ira Kaplan’s nervous, hushed vocals with a storming organ groove and an insistent, shuffling beat. Halfway through, in place of a middle-eight, the song suddenly cuts to a burst of dissonant lift-music in one of those unexpected about-turns that is sure to leave some listeners scratching their heads. For me, it’s the perfect antidote to what has gone before it in the song, and when the regular riff cuts back in, I felt pleasingly refreshed, an effect intensified by the barbershop backing vocals.

The latest track to be set free is the opening track of Popular Songs, entitled “Here To Fall”, and it couldn’t be more different from “Periodically…”. Emerging from a noisy squall of reverb and wah-wah reminiscent of The Verve at their prime, a buzzing bass guitar leads into a beautifully evocative psychedelic passage, with soaring strings and lilting electric piano. Here, Kaplan’s vocals are equally anxious and lacking in confidence, which fits perfectly with the tentative exploration and frontier-breaking of the music. The percussion is intricate and precious, and washes of effected noise break out between the channels. The chorus, offering the dubious opening couplet of “I know you’re worried / I’m worried too,” is a thing of wonder and amazement, with the lyrics falling between gaps in the music in a manner that could so easily have been messy and ill-thought out. There are lovely little passages of instrumental virtuosity, and the song finally resolves into a neat string arrangement that sets up the rest of the album perfectly.

I really can’t wait for Popular Songs and I encourage you to check out these two early gems. Yo La Tengo’s finest albums are known for veering between wildly divergent styles without compromising on a consistent feel and thematic link, and I dearly hope that their twelfth LP will deliver on these qualities. I don’t think I’ll be disappointed.

Yo La Tengo – Periodically Double Or Triple

Yo La Tengo – Here To Fall