Singles Round-Up 07/12/11

ventennerThis week is always going to be a challenge for anyone releasing a single that doesn’t involve sleigh-bells, dense choral harmonies and references to things happening under or around the Christmas tree. Yes, it’s time to dust off the tinsel and baubles and start hanging things on other things. These brave souls have deemed their music worthy of listening to during your annual decoration spree, and have had the cheek to avoid any mention of that fat bearded guy who we’re pretty sure is fictional. No, not Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington – the other, cuddlier one. I’ll be keeping a keen ear out for appropriate levels of cheer and goodwill, although every yuletide needs a scrooge or two…

From the distant, echoing opening chords of FAMY’s Dogg Dogg, you won’t be surprised to hear that they recently toured with fellow acronyms WU LYF. Perhaps if I tell you that they recorded the song with that band’s guitarist, Evans Kati, I might at least get an ‘Oooh, really?’ – No, wait; you just heard the guitar solo. For most of Dogg Dogg, though, they can wear their influences like a badge of honour and just about get away with it. Bruce Yates’ vocals are markedly more restrained than the pseudo-constipated screams of WU LYF’s Ellery Roberts, giving a more literal edge to the recurring lyrical theme of being ‘understood’. For some, Roberts’ animal yelps are essential to his band’s visceral, anthemic sound, but Dogg Dogg retains this with a more textured musical approach. WU LYF’s sheer wall of reverb is stripped back a few yards, and in comes something more delicate. A simple weave of backing vocals washes in and out of tribal, pounding drums. Crescendoes come and go, reaching a false summit and cutting back to the serenity of the introduction. Then, Kati’s trademark guitar sound cuts straight through the mix and might just give you those goosebumps you’ve been waiting for.

Dogg Dogg by FAMY

Every now and again, a band has a bash at that jerky, Gang Of Four art-students-with-guitars thing. Foals did pretty well out of it. Trophy Wife haven’t so far. Shame. London four-piece Woman’s Hour have taken on the challenge, and by the strength of their debut double A-side Jenni/Human, they’ve gone at it with a bit of gusto. The perky strut of Jenni features some of the most entertaining guitar and bass interplay I’ve heard this year, while Fiona Burgess sings ‘I don’t know why you are here’ as if she couldn’t care less about the subject of her apparent rejection. The second track is more introspective – If Jenni is playfully dismissive, Human begins by sounding painfully resigned. ‘I’m so bored of you’, breathes Burgess, her distinctively relaxed delivery only piling on the tragedy of a relationship’s collapsed promise. The music grows with the lyrics, as Burgess’ hopeful cry of ‘I’ll get there’ rides along on ever more frantic bass and drums. While Human ends in the same mood as Jenni, it has an emotional depth that is lacking from much of its ilk, and shows a band that can do something fresh with an otherwise tired sound.

Jenni by Woman’s Hour

A quick glance at Ventenner’s online presence makes it very hard not to see him as little more than a Nine Inch Nails tribute act. I mean, that little backwards N in those little square brackets? Really? The industrial crunch of Urge is hard to listen to without hearing little screams of indignation from the tiny Trent Reznor that lives in everybody’s head (No? Just me then…), but it’s listenable nonetheless. It’s aggressive, it’s angry and it’s very electronic. The appeal of Reznor’s music lies in his ability to find a sort of organic beauty in the harshest, most unnatural sounds; but Urge has something different about it. The robotic drum loop and droning bass are devoid of any tangible emotion, but Charlie Dawe’s vocals are twisted into a snarl of rebellion, as if disgusted at the emptiness he has surrounded himself with. The heartlessness of the music is frustrating, but it makes the furious nihilism of Dawe’s delivery all the more affecting. When he sings: ‘All that surrounds me/I want to smash it/this dull machine is caving in’, he’s close to capturing the anger of a society increasingly detached from itself as it sinks into the self-imposed isolation of technology. Ventenner may draw on the past, as all music does, but he’s trying to make a sound with a distinctly modern relevance.

Urge by Ventenner

Portland troubadour Laura Gibson is all aboard the folk train with the title track from her new album La Grande. She describes the town from which the album takes its name as a place that “people usually pass through on their way to somewhere else, but which contains a certain gravity, a curious energy.” There’s no mistaking the same qualities in the song. While it rolls along on a beat as straight as a highway, Gibson’s warbling delivery creates the same “curious energy” as she plays with her own vocal rhythm, toying with whatever force is pushing and pulling her along. To me, it’s a song about the thrill of the ride, and the dualistic nature of travel – she sounds as if she’s caught up in a journey of her own making, and is trying to wrestle back control of whatever it is she’s riding on. Gibson has played with Portland icons like Laura Veirs and various members of The Decemberists, and has clearly picked up their keen ear for the dynamic potential of a traditional, folksy style. While there’s nothing really new about her sound (the similarities with Veirs are particularly obvious), it’s the kind of catchy, quirky song that’s bound to appear on a family-oriented car advert sometime soon.

Laura Gibson – La Grande by cityslang

Mmmm, post-rock. The problem is, that’s pretty much all I can say about This Will Destroy You’s latest offering Black Dunes. The atmospheric, dynamic instrumentals of the genre make great listening, but the major proponents of the sound seem largely incapable of progressing onto pastures new. While Mogwai’s latest effort made at least an effort to diversify, it just didn’t match the quality of their old sound. Explosions In The Sky keep making pretty much the same noises, and they still sound great, but after a while it just gets tiresome. Black Dunes is one of TWDY’s strongest efforts yet, combining a shimmering ambience with the white-noise cacophony that they do so well, but it’s no big change from their previous body of work. It’s all too easy to find your way in your hometown, and there’s a fair few post-rock acts out there that could do with venturing somewhere new. It’s a genre with its roots in the 90s, and with the notable exception of Sigur Ros, most of it has stayed put. The strength and originality of the best acts has always come from their ability to tease out incredibly emotive, primal sounds from contemporary instrumentation – why not diversify into modern ways of making noise? The success of James Blake in applying post-rock tonality and ambience to the instrumental and sonic palette of dubstep has opened up a whole world of new options for those wanting to experiment with sound, and post-rock should be leading the way, not falling behind into irrelevance. That said, Noel Gallagher got to number one the other month by simply curling up into the musical equivalent of a foetal position, so who am I to advocate the need for progress?

Black Dunes by This Will Destroy You

I’ve never really been able to get into We Were Promised Jetpacks. If you’ve a burning desire to watch We Are Scientists and Frightened Rabbit run into each other so fast that they sort of mince themselves into a whole new band (We Are Promised Rabbits?) then I guess WWPJ could be your cup of tea, but otherwise I’ve been unimpressed. That’s why I’m so surprised by the immediacy of new single Human Error’s quality. From the very start, Adam Thompson’s half-shouted, half-sung ‘If I was a writer/I’d write my opinions/and save them for later/just to see how wrong I could be’ sounds like it couldn’t come from any other voice, as the fragile anger of his singing combines perfectly with the screech of a lone, distorted guitar. It’s a song about imperfection, and the way that Thompson’s voice is almost drowned out by his band towards the end only serves to underline its core concept. His vocals are strained, as if reaching desperately for the more precise volume and tone of the music around him, mirroring the frustration at his own limitations that pervades the lyrics. The verses are short but perfectly measured, breaking into the chorus just as their brutal drone feels like it’s gone on too long. The chorus itself is the real treat: It’s got one of those melodies, backed up by the power of the band’s full weight for the first time, that hits you right in the emotional centre of the brain. Or heart. Or wherever that kind of thing happens. It’s the kind of song that you want to just scream at the top of your lungs on some dingy indie dancefloor at whoever’s willing to listen. Consider me officially converted.

Finally, that bit of Christmas warmth we were all looking for. There’s something about Mystery, the lead single from Irish singer-songwriter Don Scannell’s debut album ‘Three Silver Pieces’, that fills a room with a comforting, fireside glow as soon as you press play. From the quiet power of the faded-in drums at the start to the subtlety of the gorgeous vocal harmonies throughout, this song takes you completely by surprise in the most gentle, unassuming way. Mystery is intimate without being overly intense – Scannell’s acoustic guitar is high in the mix, and the squeak of every finger on the frets is so clear that he might as well be playing in the room with you, but the softness and intricacy of his harmonies should impress even the most devoted fan of Simon & Garfunkel – a duo Scannell clearly has a high respect for. In the verses, those harmonies wrap themselves around a melody that rises and falls, inching ever closer to a soaring chorus that is as delicate as it is powerful. ‘Hold up your heart before the moon, see it glow/don’t be afraid, I am here to share the wonder,’ repeats Scannell throughout the song’s cadenza, willing the subject – and the listener – to open themselves up to the beauty that surrounds them. So if like me, you find yourself sitting shivering in a badly heated room on some frigid winter night, put on your biggest pair of headphones and lose yourself in this – it’ll warm up your ears, at the very least.

If there’s one overwhelming emotion that drives me through the first freezing weeks of a Scottish winter, it’s nostalgia – by entertaining my own Ghosts of Christmas Past, I remind myself that there’s a bit of warmth just around the corner. There’s a lot of nostalgia and perhaps even revivalism going around in this week’s batch of singles too, but that’s not always a bad thing – Each of these artists is pretty heavily influenced by those who have come before them, but moves from there to cut their own path through the present. I’d say the song that took me most by surprise was from We Were Promised Jetpacks, but my song of the week has to be from Don Scannell At first it didn’t hit me as hard as Woman’s Hour or WWPJ, but today has been face-numbingly freezing and Scannell’s harmonies made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. The prize for grumpiest old scrooge goes to Ventenner for having the gall to say nasty things about machines just before we all ask Santa for iPhones.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.