What's happened is the five songs have been ripped from the Myspaces of artists, almost all unsigned, who are gaining a lot of industry buzz at the moment and presented untagged, so none of them had any background to go on and this post is the first time they'll find out what they were listening to, to five volunteers for review to see what 'the people' really think of the bands the industry are after. The results have turned out, well, interestingly. Obviously, let us know what you think and if it works out well I'll put another set together in the near future.
The guinea pigs for 5x5 are Ben, Damo, Jonathan, Mike and Swiss Toni. The songs are:
1) The Ting Tings - Great DJ
Mancunian electro duo who booked a national support tour before they'd played a proper gig. "The White Stripes reversed with a synthesiser and massive bass drum" say the label.
Ben: It’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs with bleepy bits and a disco vibe! And a chorus that will run and run and run... Clearly this sort of thing will fit in well at a time at which Klaxons are worshipped as minor deities, and it’s certainly not bad, even if it does run out of steam a bit towards the end.
Damo: This starts sounding a little like the sort of thing the NME (have you seen the cover this week? Just wondering...) would term as new-rave before becoming something so worryingly nondescript that I can find nothing particularly to say about it. I’ll try. It sounds like The B-52s, sounding very bored indeed, singing over backing rhythm number 52 on a cheap Casio keyboard. "The strings - ee ee eeeee ee ee ee ee eeeee" - if I want gobbledegook passed off as entertainment I’ll dig out my old Black Grape records, thanks. Sounds a little like the couple of tracks I’ve heard by New Young Pony Club. Not a compliment.
Jonathan: I'm not surprised that this catchy, very 2007 tune has caused people's ears to prick up, but that's no guarantee it'll sound good in 12 months. It sounds like an attempt to marry the style of gregarious indie-funk which has been so successfully pioneered by the likes of CSS to the bombastic, semi-kitsch choruses of Gwen Stefani. It's boisterous and confident, and well executed, and actually features a pretty nice guitar line, albeit one which I'm not sure actually belongs to the song, which is so totally dominated by it's catchy chorus as to render the rest almost irrelevant. A deft remix of this would go down a storm in a club, or even on a passing radio, but something about it's construction irritates me somewhat. Perhaps it's an innapropriate criticism, but this sounds so of it's time that curiously, it feels almost nostalgic. Not bad, but nothing special.
Mike: It's a little bit CSS, it's a little bit New Young Pony Club - it's yer standard issue dance-punk, basically. I'm seeing studied 'anti-cool' cool, artfully dishevelled 'anti-fashion' fashion, plastic sunglasses, day-glo backdrops, and directional haircuts. What I'm not (yet) seeing is much evidence of creative thought outside of the usual template, but presumably it's early days, and this does its job efficiently enough. I like the chiming guitar lines during the chorus, the New York New Wave yelping, and the over-extended faux-dumb repetition of "the drums, the drums, the drums, the drums..."
Swiss Toni: I like the intro, but it's not terribly challenging or orginal sounding. Oooh, but those Casio blips suddenly mark this out as being a little bit different, and I wasn't expecting the prominent female vocal either (somehow made all the more prominent by the male vocal tracking underneath it). This is infectious: it's slightly spiky and awkward, but has a fantastic little hook that gives this great earworm potential. Mind you, I think that the whole "the drums, the drums, the drums..." thing is overdone. Less would be more, and perhaps this is about 60 seconds too long. It's good. Different but catchy and memorable. Would it be a big seller? No, it screams small but devoted indie audience to me. It's the Rescue Rooms, not Rock City for me.
2) The Teenagers - Sunset Beach
Originally from Paris, now in London, they're taking the style magazines by storm, as much for their remixes as their (it says here) Velvets-meets-Arab Strap lo-fi drone.
Ben: Whipcrack snare and ominous bassline supplemented by some moody guitar, and then it clicks into gear - and goes downhill very rapidly. "This fucking bitch deserves to die" - well, thanks for proving that casual misogyny isn’t the exclusive preserve of 50 Cent and pals. Probably ironic, though, eh? The spoken word bits (do I detect a Scandinavian accent?) are equally offensive, though simply by virtue of being rubbish. So, she stole your "fucking Jazzmaster"? Good.
Damo: Oooh, shoegazing is back, and this time it’s goth-tinged. At least that’s how it starts. Then someone who sounds like the evil cousin of Dieter Meier from Yello starts intoning. The refrain "this fucking bitch deserves to die" is repeated throughout. I realise that's a description of the track rather than a review of it but it possibly tells you as much as you need to know. The bass player wishes he/she was Peter Hook, and overall it’s the sound of one or more people trying far too hard to sound cleverer than they actually are.
Jonathan: This is more interesting than it initially seems, opening with a grinding bassline and guitar stabs which immediately mark this out out as a too-familiar post-Interpol, post-punk record, but it, in fairness, quickly throws you off the scent by leading straight into an odd, pretty chorus sung in a home counties drawl which recalls Ride's Mark Gardener. From there, it twists into a spoken word section which details a one night stand which ends with the theft of, erm, a Fender Jazzmaster. It's actually reasonably impressive, well recorded and distinctive. But lyrics like "this bitch deserves to die" make me want to turn it off straight away and so, on the second listen, I do. Oh well.
Mike: You could beat-mix into this quite easily from Track One, with which it shares a certain rhythmic similarity - at least for the relatively sparse first minute, before the meat of the track kicks in, and those all too familiar and somewhat tired sounding 'angular post-punk' stylings take over. Then, just as you're thinking that it’s really too soon for a Spring 2005 revival, you catch the lyrics "this fucking bitch deserves to die", casually mumbled rather than vituperatively snarled, and before you know it, you’re into a weird film noir monologue, delivered in what sounds like a London indie kid’s best approximation of Schwarzenegger-esque menace. The bass/drum breakdown needs more work, and the ending's a touch too abrupt and inconclusive, but this has its moments of interest.
Swiss Toni: Ah, A bass intro. You can't go wrong with a bass intro. So far so hackneyed, but not in an unpleasant way, and the low guitar notes here are starting to take this somewhere else. Before the singing starts, it's actually reminding me a bit of a less produced version of Editors. Oh God, but then the vocal starts. Instead of that rich, deep voice that Tom Smith of the Editors has, this is some awful mumbling. It's almost tuneless and it seems to be paying only the scantest of attention to the melody. But just as I'm growing bored of this when an accented voiceover turns up and holds my attention. Sadly, it's hard to understand and the bits that I can make out aren't at all interesting. I don't care enough to want to know what this guy is talking about. I'm losing the will to listen to more of this. It's amateurish. They clearly like this voiceover technique too because the bloody thing keeps coming back. Ooooh, swearing! Naughty boys. Bobbins. Although I do like the bass.
3) Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong - Lonely Buoy
Hopelessly named quintet in the midst of a big A&R scrum. The titular Joe also drums for the Pipettes and was Sophie's brother in the recent series of Peep Show.
Ben: Obviously it’s time to bow at the altar of Carl ‘n’ Pete. It’s the busy drums of the verse that sets this apart from the pack, but the chorus lets it down, at least until the scratchy guitar riff comes in. There’s a bubbly youthfulness about this that irritates slightly, but you can probably put that down to the curmudgeonly spirit of the listener.
Damo: The two words you hear most on this track are 'sweat' ("the sweat surrounds us all", apparently) and 'sparks'. Funny that - words you associate respectively with perspiration and inspiration, those words commonly used by reviewers when trying to elucidate whether a band is doing something genuinely interesting or just going through the motions. I think you can see where this is going. What we've got here is generic indie pop with no distinguishing features at all. Pay a visit to your nearest pub on a local bands night. One of them will sound great. Three of them will sound like this, and you’ll never hear or remember a note by them again, unless the reason you were there was that one of them is one of your mates is in the band and keeps pestering you to check their demo out on Myspace and wants your feedback. Listen - there’s a reason they keep 'forgetting' to check it out, and that’s because they didn’t forget at all. They heard it and don’t want to have to lie to you. They don’t want to have to say "that was interesting stuff" whilst the giveaway facial expression literally screams "that virtually redefined pointlessness and I’ll never get those few minutes of my life back". I didn’t think much of this one.
Jonathan: Hmm, let's start with the negative stuff. I'm so weary of hearing so many near-exact fascimiles of this early 80s thing! This song contains so many traces of Josef K, The Smiths and Joy Division that it's almost impossible to not conclude I've heard it before. But adding to this impression is the fact that it's actually a very pretty piece of pop, enlivened by some inventive drumming and a restless energy which means it shifts shape delicately on several occasions. Moving from yearning choruses to angular, jittery bits, it's very well performed and melodically interesting. But bands like this (whoever they are), doubtless handsome, talented teenagers, are coming late to a sound I tired of a couple of years ago. Whether the public have the energy for another band like this I'm not sure. A good song though, the best of the five.
Mike: "I need to watch the sparks made by the trains as they rattle on the deadbeat tracks" might be an unlikely choice of wording for a crowd-pleasing chant-along, but that would seem to be the intention here, and so one has to applaud its ambition. Fey yet muscular indie-pop, not a million miles removed from Los Campesinos!, with distinct signs of intelligence and personality. It twists and turns hither and thither, with hooky bits and riffy bits, and pleasing displays of intricate, focused musicianship. That drummer of theirs is definitely one to watch; he’s a showy bugger, of the John Maher/Clem Burke more-is-more school, and as such deserves our full encouragement.
Swiss Toni: Oh, this sounds like a classic indie intro: I can hear various classic US indie bands in that intro? The main guitar melody is wearing its Smiths influences on its sleeve, but sadly for the band, the guitarist is no Johnny Marr and the singer is certainly no Morrissey... no matter how much he wishes that he was. Oh God, perhaps I'm getting too old for this. I think that rather than being directly influenced by the Smiths, the singer is actually trying to be Pete Doherty doing Morrissey, and there's a definite Libertines edge to this too, and perhaps via the Libertines influence there's just the tiniest hint of The Clash about this too. I can see this singer wearing one of those stupid pork-pie trilbys that Docherty wears. I don't really like this particular song, and the band sound a bit rough on this recording, but I do think it's at least a little bit interesting and that perhaps this lot might even have some potential.
4) Does It Offend You, Yeah? - Weird Science
I know good band names are running out, but really. The quasi-anonymous Reading duo follow where electro housesters Justice and MSTRKRFT have recently gone.
Ben: At night the machines come awake... Really rather marvellous electro hitched to a stomping 80s beat that has prime party-mode Daft Punk written all over it. For the video I’m picturing a 200ft tall silver robot striding through a city crushing buildings and people in its path.
Damo: Ah! I can deal with this one. There seems to be a bit of a revival of ‘fun’ electronica at the minute (see: Digitalism, Justice, Simian Mobile Disco) which sends some people running for the hills but chucks a great big smile on my face. I miss Bentley Rhythm Ace; sue me. This is the sort of thing I would dance like a loon to if drunk. It’s a shame I rarely get drunk anymore. I might have to just so I can make a fool of myself to this - it also brings to mind bits of Daft Punk’s Discovery, one of my favourite records of all time. Do we have to nominate a favourite out of the five? This is mine.
Jonathan: Ah, well, this is an agreeably squelchy and nostalgic piece of nostalgic Gallic house music, and yet, somehow, for all it's pleasing analogue noises and snatched samples, it somehow completely fails to deliver an interesting breakdown or diverting loop. That's not to say that it isn't in many ways the most fun song on offer here, but there's nothing groundbreaking and at the same time nothing displeasing, and it's tempting to be rude and suggest that, frankly, it's all a bit lazy and derivative. A waste of a good palette of sounds, and at the same time, a nice enough groove.
Mike: Hot new undiscovered Myspace act my arse - this is just Daft Punk trying to claw back lost ground after that bloody awful album from two years ago, isn't it? Or if it isn't, then maybe this is just The Continuation Of Daft Punk By Other Means, in which case, I applaud it for improving on the fatally tarnished original article. A chunky, propulsive, vocoder-driven robot-rock riff is cut up and interspersed with the usual array of squiddly, squelchy noises, with sufficient variations on the theme to sustain interest throughout. It does its job, and I'm not complaining.
Swiss Toni: Is this Daft Punk? Seriously? Or is it Lonely Town doing Daft Punk? You know, that guy who had that number one hit from his bedroom? (White Town - Ed.) I'm not sure that I can take this seriously. Was it written on one of those Casio synthesisers that has the buttons you press to get a drumbeat out? It's not really going anywhere... and the places it does go have already been extensively mined by other bands. I bet they'd put robots in the video to this, or - get this - perhaps the artists could dress up as robots themselves? You know, and throw a few jerky robot moves? How long is this? 5 minutes? What charm it has has disappeared after 2 minutes. No thanks. B-O-R-I-N-G.
5) Laura Marling - New Romantic
As we move from New Didos to New Lilys this 17 year old Reading native is getting a lot of attention between A-levels, as well as a guest spot on the recent Rakes album.
Ben: This has its own distinct character, but does it really have to be so hurried? You get the impression the lyrics are just tossed off and thrown together, such is the pace with which they're garbled. It would be a boring world if every female singer-songwriter took her cue from the best i.e. Chan Marshall, but surely the words could be invested with a little more than insouciance? The namechecking of Ryan Adams also really annoys me - perhaps irrationally, but so it goes.
Damo: And if we have to nominate the track we like the least out of the five, this is it. By a country mile. This sounds like Kate Nash, only acoustic. I am, however, guessing that it is not her. And it namechecks Ryan Adams. I largely distrust anyone who namechecks another act in their own music, because I think of when you visit someone you know and they try to impress you by putting on something that they’re not really into, but want you to think they are so that you’ll realise just how cool they are. This sounds like the sort of thing Jo Whiley would go mad for. In fact, it sounds like an attempt by Jamie T’s sister to cover P!nk. If the person behind this becomes successful, I will never turn my radio on again ever.
Jonathan: I don't know who the artist is, but I'm going to hazard a guess that it's someone who is very nearly half my age - it seems to fit squarely into the template established by the likes of Lily Allen and Kate Nash, and it that context it's perfectly valid, and probably heart-felt. But I find the Cockney vocal ticks and mannered pronounciation deeply irritating, and while the youthful UK vocabulary might be empowering for teenagers used to hearing American slang in pop music, it grates with me. I've not got this far in life without wincing with pain at the use of the phrase 'fit' to mean 'attractive' and I suspect it's too late for me to change. Anyway, as a piece of music, this is pretty folk pop which has one lovely chord change and melody, right where the singer croons "in this new romantic way". That aside, it's not my cup of tea, I'm afraid.
Mike: I could have done without the de rigueur post-Lily Allen/sub-Kate Nash middle-class-girl-goes-Mockney conversationalism, as it dulls the individuality of what sounds like a promising and talented singer, who would be better served by not trying to fit into the prevailing musical climate in such an already over-familiar, wearing way. That aside, the sparse acoustic arrangement, the double-tracked harmonies and the overall air of wry frailty serve the song well.
Swiss Toni: Ah, it's Sandi Thom. This is quite brave actually. Somehow when I think of a female singer-songwriter, I think of them as having beautiful, fragile voices. This one is (I think) London accented and a tiny bit rough around the edges. God help us, it also seems to have some interesting lyrics, with an amusing reference to Bryan Adams catching my attention immediately. The playing and performing here is actually OK. It's simple and stripped, with just the sound of the voice and a single guitar (with the tiniest hint of layered voices here and there). The melody is simple and slightly traditional sounding, but the singer's accent and the wordiness of the lyrics is drawing me in and making me want to listen. In a strange kind of way it's reminding me a bit of Jamie T... there's a hint of street poetry here, even. She sounds like she's got bags of character. If Joni Mitchell had grown up in Essex in the 1990s, then perhaps she might sound something like this. Having said all of that though, I wouldn't say that I liked this song particularly, but it has certainly interested me. Of all of these five songs, this is the only one that I actually want to listen to again to see if I can pick out the lyrics. I bet she'd hate to be compared to Lily Allen, this one. (And on second listen, this is actually starting to annoy me a bit. That voice grates as it is ever-so slightly mannered. Is the accent put on or is she just doing her best folk voice? Street poetry? I think that's probably a bit strong.)