Monday, November 17, 2008

5x5 II

Remember May 2007? Glastonbury was an event everyone wanted to be at, Scooch were being victims of a continental conspiracy, Mark Ronson was never going to get anywhere reworking old songs like that and a young Joe Piscopo taught us how to laugh. It was also the month of the first 5x5, a concept in which five volunteers were given five unmarked songs belonging to five bands who were then unknown but were being tipped in the industry for big things. You have to say our hit rate was pretty good - picking up on an unsigned Ting Tings, evidently, but also Does It Offend You, Yeah? and Joe Lean And The Jing Jang Jong, who joined the Tings on the NME tour at the start of this year, and Laura Marling a few months before her stock really began to rise. You also have to say, mind, that you don't hear a lot of people now comparing Joe Lean etc to Josef K or Los Campesinos!, or them Ting Tings being described as "the Rescue Rooms, not Rock City" is ironic given which Nottingham venue they played last month.

Anyway, time and fashion moves on, and we've picked out another five bands subject to much A&R chatter, taken all incriminating evidence off mp3s of a demo each (although in one song's case, as you'll see, this proved to be partially redundant) and handed them on to five new subjects - Ian, James, Jonny B and a returning Mike and Swiss Toni. Their tracks for debate, we can now reveal to them, are:

1) Kid British - Sunny Days
"They" say Manchester is on the rise again and this set of four vocalists are at the forefront, self-proclaimed jangle pop rudeboys with massively eclectic influences.
Ian: Between the post-Streets larking about and constant reference to beans and toast this may just be too 'British' for me, but the manic flip-flopping between “I’m happy!” “I’m sad!” is deeply annoying. It’s like the grating inverse of a song like 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love.” Admittedly, I’m normally a fan of pop songs that smuggle in crushing depair under all the happy-clappy crap, but the problem here is that one clumsily rapped verse about table settings and Sky Sports doesn’t qualify. And that fucking constant up!up!up! string and piao refrain could probably give you a headache.
James: This one begins a little quirky, a little ‘Country House’, a little Housemartins. This makes it instantly too jaunty for me. The verse arrives and it is a Just Jack-alike. I am not sure I am enjoying the everyday provincial references. It was sweet when Saint Etienne did it. These guys make me just want to encourage them to get out more. I am also uncomortable about the contrast between the upbeat chorus and the downbeat, verses about heartbreak. It doesn’t quite fit to me. It is not unpleasant, but it could get annoying very quickly – actually about 2 and a half minutes in. This is certainly not for me. 2/5
JonnyB: Was it just me, or did the 'Countdown' line seem forced? One pop culture reference too many? I liked this immediately, though - in fact what's not to like? Very English pop/rock music - bom, bom, bom, bom square four on the bass, down a semitone, bom bom bom bom - that sort of melodic thing that developed here because we didn't take everything we had from the blues, with the vocals fused in very naturally - yes, they make it sound like a natural genre. Possibly very slight hint of 'man performs over backing track', which I think is down to the drums - I'd prefer something more organic as the song goes on but then I'm a sucker for a ride cymbal occasionally. Thumbs up.
Mike: This didn’t begin well – bouncy, breathless, Blur-derived Britpop revivalism not exactly being at the top of my wishlist for the Future Sound of 2009. Hell, even the chuffing Ordinary Boys were never quite this obvious. Then again, “Sunny D” (as I have wittily re-titled it) isn’t aimed at anyone much over the age of fourteen – and as such it’s a clear step up from the witless clod-hopping of Scouting For Girls. And while not exactly subtle, there are some encouraging signs at work here. The incessant staccato pounding, with its faint whiffs of ELO (specifically “Horace Wimp” and “Mr Blue Sky”), has a certain merciless charm, and I’m particularly taken by the overstuffed “badada, badada” backing vocals which run throughout. Meanwhile, the chipper geezer-ishness of the refrain would swiftly grate, were it not offset by the melancholy of the spoken-word verses, in which the band’s Skinner Junior (possibly quite promising) takes over from its Albarn Minor (probably quite irritating). Of the five songs on offer, this is the one which I could most readily see charting.
Swiss Toni: In many, many ways, this is nothing but annoying, derivative shit. It sounds like the bastard offspring of "Mr Blue Sky" and the worst kind of sub-Blur Britpop rubbish. Actually, that's exactly what this is.... and yet... and yet.... after a couple of listens, other stuff slowly starts to emerge from the detritus: there's hints of the urban delivery of The Streets and Jamie T in here, and behind that upbeat, bouncy melody, there's a rather more downbeat story about someone trying to live their life with one less plate at the table and it's beans on toast for tea. I'm still leaning towards this being irritating beyond measure (and that rap bit in the middle is awfully reminiscent of how anyone and everyone in the USA has to have a guest rapper on their record, like it's the law or something). Blur did melancholy better, too, even if they never did namecheck Sky Sports and Countdown (preferring the more highbrow Shipping Forecast). But in spite of all this, it's managed to climb into my head, if nothing else. I actually read about this in the Guardian the other week.... Kid British, innit?

2) Rod Thomas - Good Coat
A part-time London Underground busker who melds folky laments with electronic beats for what's been dubbed acoustic disco, Thomas was a hit at Glasto and Latitude this summer.
Ian: I find myself liking this one almost against my will. It’s just so weedy, and the lyrics are at best weird (“Don’t mind if it rains, as long as I get to wear a good coat”? What?), but the dead simple indie jangle + hand claps arrangement is nice in an understated, minimal way. And even if our narrator comes across as a bit slappable, he’s got a nice enough voice (in a twee kind of way), and having the lyrics remain so personal and idiosyncratic actually works in their favour, even once they start being a bit more universal with “If I put my head on anyone’s shoulders, one day I’m bound to feel like I’m home.” Sure, the band sounds a bit like a narcotized Life Without Buildings without the great vocal performance and the singer really should stop trying to stretch his voice, but this is still oddly loveable.
James: This track leaves me short of words, but not in a good way. It reminds me of a dozen nameless songs or bands – I cannot pick anything out, but it gives me no reason to care too. It has a sort of non-descript catchiness, handclaps and all, and consequently isn’t objectionable. If I was feeling picky, I’d have to point out the buzz on the lead guitar line. The drums and vocal section makes me feel that they simply ran out of ideas on what to do with this – and I am not surprised, it feels like bankruptcy. Finally, I just don’t buy the emotion at the climax – I think he lies!! 2/5
JonnyB: As the intro goes on I thought 'home recording' and 'this is gonna be bland' - it has that nondescript guitar sound. But it surprised me. I can imagine this being a great live track - you can see how they'd do it, and the guitar nicely fits in and locks everything together, keeping it rattling on. Given that he's clearly a singer, the vocals seem a bit low in the mix? Music like this really wants the lyrics to beckon people to lean in and listen closer, but I couldn't make out a lot of the non-repeated phrases. That might be just me. I like it - whether I'd sit down and repeatedly listen to an album of it I'm not sure, but I'd definitely give it a go.
Mike: There’s no point in pretending otherwise for the sake of conceptual purity: I know this one! Why, it’s only “Good Coat” by Busking Indie Troubadour Rod Thomas and his Loop Pedalled Clappity-Claps! This came out as a single just over two years ago, and it’s good to make its acquaintance again – although I still prefer Rod’s 2007 single “Your Love Is A Tease”, which has notched up 36,000 views on YouTube as opposed to a measly 3,500 for “Good Coat”. No matter; there’s a fetchingly open-hearted breeziness and insouciance to all of Rod’s vocal performances, and his instinctive gift for a catchy tune is bound to bring him to wider attention sooner or later. And in the current post-Marling, post-Noah and the Whale climate, I’m thinking “sooner”.
Swiss Toni: For the first ten seconds of this, I had the horrible feeling that someone like Enrique Iglesias or Ricky Martin was going to turn up, but thankfully this feeling dispels as the electric guitar comes on and takes this into Badly Drawn Boy territory... you know, very slightly jazzy indie singer-songwriter stuff. You might hear this being performed by a busker and think they were quite good, but I'm not sure that it works as well on record. Actually, this sounds suspsiciously like a song that Mike T-D put on my shuffleathon CD last year - "Your Love is a Tease". That was by Rod Thomas, who is in fact a busker. It's probably against the rules, but I've nipped across to MySpace to check, and it is indeed Rod Thomas. It's pleasant enough, and I think I'd happily go and see him perform live. Not as good as "Your Love is a Tease", perhaps, but this song is growing on me, and some of the lyrics are quite interesting. Heavens, if Paulo Nutini can make it big, then why the hell not Rod Thomas? Great clapping on this too. You'll go a long way with some good clapping.

3) Mumford and Sons - White Blank Page
London Americana-ites; the titular Marcus Mumford was until recently the centrepiece of Laura Marling's band and has clearly learnt a thing or two about folky wiseness beyond youth.
Ian: Damien Rice, much? I feel kind of like he’s going for more of an Elbow feel, especially once the actual arrangement kicks in (it’s not bad, especially the accordion or whatever that is). That intro is brutally pretentious, though, and it makes it hard for you to listen long enough to get to the nice bits. Lyrics continue to be the guy’s weak suit, however, and while overly serious university students may swoon along mostly this is a case of decent potential not yet realized.
James: I thought it was going to be ‘Avalanche’ by Leonard Cohen initially. It has a nice folky, almost troubador quality about it – all nicely understated. I am unmoved by the lyrics, but the build-up of the instruments is very pleasant to me. It reminds me of gothic Americana band, 16 Horsepower, but slightly lighter and prettier. I like the bass and fiddle especially. Overall, it is nothing special, but it has engaged me. Would I rush out and buy a CD on the strength of this? Probably not – but I would certainly entertain another listen. 4/5
JonnyB: Confession time. I laughed a bit during the first verse - it's just such Earnest Poetry. Which is horribly unfair, as if it'd been the opening track on - say - a new Nick Cave album, I'd have thought 'golly, that's intense and profound'. Of all the tracks, this is the one that both interests and frustrates me most. Half of me wants Mr Heartbroken Overwraught Romantic to sing the bloody thing properly - it's a big, strong song with a lovely arrangement and production behind it, even if they do flog the melody gasping to its death as the needle passes the four-minute mark. But if you overblandify something like this it turns into the Corrs, and nobody wants that. I don't suppose they'd thank me, but I loved the early Steeleye Span stuff with that dark, droney Peter Knight fiddle sound, and this brought that to mind a bit. I'd like to hear more of their stuff as it sounds like My Sort of Thing.
Mike: Hmm, there’s something about the vocals – clenched, histrionic, overwrought – which I don’t quite care to buy into. And there’s a plodding earnestness to the songwriting which makes me want to take the piss out of its pretensions to Great Portent. (I sense that we’re a short step away from folderol-milady-Guinevere, forsooth-I-do-beseech-thee territory.) All of this is particularly exposed at the start of the track, before the unexpectedly agreeable folk-influenced backing arrangement kicks in, all mandolins and squeeze boxes and rippling pastoral lushness. By the time we get to the multi-tracked choral coda, I’m really quite the convert.
Swiss Toni: Goodness, the bit before the singing here sounds suspiciously like Belle & Sebastian, although the careworn vocal soon puts paid to that idea. Then I thought that the next minute or so had quite a Jeff Buckley feel to it (or, less flatteringly, a touch of the Starsailors), but at 1m20s it all turns a bit Levellers with some accordion and fiddles and things. I'm not sure what to make of the mixture as I find it a bit confusing: the lyrical content and the style with which it is delivered is potentially quite interesting, but that flicker of interest is pretty much killed stone dead by the instrumentation which will give me nightmares of white blokes with stinking dreadlocks and filthy bare feet. The lyrics are a bit overblown too, a blank white had a swelling rage? Really? How so? The more I listen to this, the more I think of Starsailor and the less I think of Jeff Buckley, I'm afraid. It's a personal taste thing, I know, but those fiddles are a real deal killer for me. Sorry.

4) Detroit Social Club - Black And White
Remember back when everyone was anticipating how huge The Music would be? This Newcastle six-piece similarly channel powerful bluesy riffs and soulful vocals to much A&R excitement.
Ian: I actually really like the music here, from the chiming, old fashioned-feeling instrument that keeps popping up to the steady drum/acoustic guitar stomp. But as soon as the chorus reveals itself as “you are nothing without me,” the song is pretty much dead to me. I can take and even enjoy songs that are petty, bitter, even pointlessly mean, but they have to be at least clever about it. This is just three and a half minutes of a guy trying to either stomp on someone’s self-esteem or reassure himself that she’s the messed up one, in the bluntest and dumbest way possible.
James: I like the sound on the drums and the lead guitar line – some reverb or other effects. However, that is about all that I like about this song. It is without any substance. The singer wants to sound like Malcolm Mooney, but without the rest of Can behind him, he sounds careless and empty. The musical structure is awfully predictable. On my first listen I had it somewhere between T Rex and Quo. On a third listen I think that this is a little unfair, someone in the band makes a nice guitar sound with an echo box. But sadly, this isn’t enough to make it a worthwhile song. One interesting sound is not enough. I will happily put this one away... 1.5/5
JonnyB: This reminds me of Johnny Dowd, the 'drums set up in the stairwell' sound and a man who walks the line between sounding very pissed off and with turning to violence. This is sung beautifully - he really means it. I admire the restraint of the arrangement that surrounds him, but I could do with a bit more excitement by the end - for me, it's crying out for the guitarist to share a bit more of that anger during the outro.
Mike: More so than its predecessors, I sense we should treat this as the rough working demo that it must surely be. There’s a strong central thrust to the song, whose dogged march-like tempo suits it well, and there’s a serviceably ragged, throaty quality to the singer’s wounded declamations and recriminations. (“You! Are! NOTHING without me!”) However, it’s not yet quite enough to sustain interest, the general lack of detail rendering the track laborious where it could be anthemic, pedestrian where it could be cathartic. Hopefully, this is nothing that a decent dollop of studio time and a sympathetic producer couldn’t cure.
Swiss Toni: This song feels like a rock song that brews but never really takes off. The backwards looping bit at the beginning calls to mind the Stone Roses, but the vocal conjures up a rather more mundane image of one of those sub-Oasis bands (although possibly more creative with that backing track than Oasis have been for more than a decade, which isn't saying much....). The singer has quite a smokey sounding voice, but the song never really allows him to cut loose. It's alright, but for me it just doesn't go anywhere. I think this might have made a great one or two minute section of a song before the drums come in and we really launch into a proper, loud rock anthem...but we never get there. This is as good as it gets, and as a result, I feel a touch cheated.

5) We Have Band - Oh
The sons of Hot Chip are filing out of the woodwork, not least this Mancunian trio who label themselves "disco-rock", which basically means it's dancey but with instruments.
Ian: This is very anonymous but competent in a kind of autistic-Hot Chip kind of way – no emotional depth, and not exactly a dancefloor killer, but serviceable. The multi-tracked “oh oh oh”s on the chorus are a nice touch and they keep the whole affair moving in sleek and mildly pleasurable fashion, but I’m not sure those verses are adding much of anything. This could stand to be a lot brasher and more active, although there’s a certain pleasure to the way it just slides past.
James: I like this, although it strikes me as a dreadful throwback musically. I cannot place what it reminds me of (it is late), but whatever it is, I am quite liking it. It is mostly dumb and stupid, but a dumb and stupid I can get along with – kinda catchy and uplifting. I am a sucker for a good noise, and the repeated ‘oh, oh, oh’ has me hooked. I could listen to this again. 4/5
JonnyB: I can't think of much to say, which probably says enough. It builds well. It's a very competently constructed piece that has a good hook but not the killer hook that would distinguish it from anything else like this that a million people could put together in their bedrooms. Over to the others for a more useful review - sorry.
Mike: Doomy indie-dance with pronounced post-punk influences, you say? And hark, is that the syncopated tinkle of the LCD/!!!/CSS/DFA cowbell? Now look here, you dour bellowers of the disco-pocalypse, hasn’t 1981 revivalism been done to death yet? And isn’t this all a little bit, well, Spring 2005? True enough, true enough. And yet, and yet… somewhere along the production line, punches have been packed. The bassline rumbles, the chants accumulate, the looped and layered “ow ows” build the mood – and by the last minute or so, we’re steaming along quite nicely. Eighteen months ago, the Ting Tings’ “Great DJ” blindsided me. Maybe this track is its logical successor?
Swiss Toni: I'm sure I won't be the only person to mention this, but it sounds very much like Hot Chip.... right down to the slightly geeky sounding vocal. I listen to this, and it's hard to get the image of a small guy in big glasses out of my head. That said, it's very catchy and repetitive, and I quite like it. Not that I'm an expert (as anyone who has seen me doing it will readily testify), but it's clearly designed to get you up and dancing, and even stone cold sober I've found myself tapping my foot to the beat, so it must have something. It's just impossible to shift the idea that this could have been done by Hot Chip though, which doesn't make this a bad record by any means, it just means that I'm forever going to think that this was done by a different band. Good, after a fashion. Along with Rod Thomas, this is my favourite of this selection, I think (although Kid British is the only one that I've actively earwormed).

7 Comments:

Blogger Ben said...

The common thread with the first 5x5? Rubbish band names. Kid British? We Have Band? For fuck's sake.

Darn good read, though, chaps - cheers for your contributions. And of course thanks too to Simon for pulling it all together.

Mike/ST: I'd be interested to know if you think this selection is better than the first? As Simon said, that first lot pretty much all went on to bigger things. The guy from Does It Offend You, Yeah? was even on 'Never Mind The Buzzcocks'. Glad not to have heard much of The Teenagers, though...

12:30 am  
Blogger SwissToni said...

I'm standing by that thing I said about the Ting Tings. They *are* more Rescue Rooms than Rock City. The fact that they've just played the bigger venue is neither here nor there!

I preferred this selection to last year and have listened to it a lot more than last year's, if that counts for anything. I was quite amused when I had a look back though, to see quite how successful some of those bands had become. I was also most amused by my ability to hear the influence of The Smiths on Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong, who remain the worst band I have ever had the misfortune to see performing live (on that NME tour with the ting tings and DIOYY, actually).

This year was a different experience as I recognised a couple of the tracks. I approached last year in a refreshing critical vacuum and was struck by how rarely you can come to a piece of music with no preconception about the band. It then becomes a real challenge to actually articulate what you think of someone, when all you have to go on is what you've actually heard, and no coloured by anything you might have heard someone else say. It's a good exercise actually, even if you obviously run the risk of looking like a twat.

A risk worth taking, I would say!

ST

1:46 pm  
Blogger Sarah said...

Hey

Good post, thanks! Can I ask why you picked a real old Rod Thomas track? His most recent single, which has been getting all the radio play, is a song called Same Old Lines - video here http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=XV8Po-APdpo

S

1:52 pm  
Blogger mike said...

Is this selection better than the first? It's a close call, but I think so. There's nothing here that has fired me with wild enthusiasm (although I'd love to see Rod Thomas reach a wider audience), but equally there's nothing here which I detest (although "Sunny Days" could swiftly become irritating in the extreme). All five tracks contain some measure of merit, somewhere along the line, and all five acts have the potential to do well commercially.

Looking at my comments on the May 2007 selection, I'd stand by my reservations on that particular Laura Marling track. It still sounds like formative juvenalia, from someone who hadn't quite found their voice. My enthusiasm for Joe Lean is a bit "ouch" to say the least, but that *was* their best track by some considerable distance (and I still think that their drummer deserves a better band).

The May 2007 exercise has also made me more generous to the November 2008 hopefuls. You have to judge on potential, and you have to make allowances for demo-quality recordings in some instances. So I've tried to be nice, which makes this quite a healthy exercise...!

4:36 pm  
Blogger You've Been Gigged said...

Re Rod Thomas - JonnyB nailed it, this guy is b.good live.

5:08 pm  
Blogger Simon said...

I'm not sure there's a Ting Tings in this selection, if you want to look at it that way - although Kid British have been talked about for a very long time and could pick up where Mike Skinner is gradually leaving off, and Detroit Social Club are on pretty much every major label To Do list - but I think it's a more intriguing list than the first, and illustrative, I think, of a certain dancier influence creeping in to a lot of these next big thing types at the moment. For background, the next five on the list were: Little Boots (who was on Jools a couple of weeks ago, which would have been marvellously prescient), thecocknbullkid, Filthy Dukes, Esser and Rosie & The Goldbug.

And yeah, this is probably self explanatory, but I chose the older and thus lesser known Rod Thomas track because it was less likely to suddenly break big during the review section of putting this together. All of the tracks were ripped at semi-random from the artists' Myspace players.

9:13 pm  
Blogger JonnyB said...

Golly! I've nailed something!!!

That was really interesting to do - thanks for organising it. Personally I thought it was a really good selection - the only one I really didn't go for was We Have Band. I was expecting at least one crappy Indie spiky guitar thing, but they were all interesting tracks.

Off to Myspace for a bit.

9:43 am  

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