If, like us, you intend 2010 to be soundtracked by only the finest sonic arrangements, then the lower echelons of the Dirty Dozen should be avoided at all costs. London quartet Jarmean? manage to grate on levels previously unthinkable with Mind the Gap (*, 18 Jan). It sounds a bit like the One Foot in the Grave theme tune, as sung by George Formby. Jarmean? Um, no ta. Welsh emo-mongers Lostprophets fare little better. Where We Belong (*, 4 Jan) is billed as a “return to their roots”. Which is all well and good, but most of us are savvy enough to realise that their roots were steeped in pish. Downpatrick rockers Ash, on the other hand, have a much more illustrious history, but their decline has been marked. The trio's much vaunted disownment of what they did rather well – making albums – has resulted in a series of substandard singles. The Neon Neon aping Space Shot (**, 18 Jan), all laser-effects and tinny production, fails to raise the bar.
Equally, Mixtapes and Cellmates’ Soon (**, 25 Jan) offers little in the way of innovation. Sure, the singer’s got a tasty falsetto and some decent guitar work makes it mildly enjoyable, but even after five consecutive plays, it’s difficult to remember anything about it. Self-professed “online hip-hop phenomenon” Charlie Sloth fails to fulfil his own hype(rbole) with One More Drink (**, 18 Jan). A lightweight tale of drinking, girls and fighting is utter humdrum. We’re sure we’ve heard this all before, and it’s been a while since Ice Cube showed us the way. Speaking of déjà vu, that Biffy Clyro’s latest effort, Many of Horror (**, 18 Jan), complete with OTT strings and anthemic, melodramatic chorus, sounds vaguely like every other stadium rocker they’ve churned out of late. We would say “can do better” but at this stage it's uncertain whether they're of the mind to try.
Perhaps the baton can be passed to The King Hats. The Glaswegians’ debut single I Was The Riot at the Art School Last Night (***, 4 Jan) is an altogether more refreshing prospect. It pairs the vibrancy of a ‘Jetpacks track with the edge you once expected from Biffy, and helps rescue the Dozen from abomination. Paolo Nutini seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. Having toyed with the idea of becoming Cat Stevens, he’s now decided he’s a seasoned reggae virtuoso. The thing is, on the entertaining 10/10 (***, 11 Jan), he’s pretty convincing. Whatever next, Paolo? A hair metal number? Doubt (***, 4 Jan) by Delphic brings an interesting, if not wholly entrancing twist to proceedings. An excellent, broken-vocal intro leads into what, but for synth overkill and an overwrought chorus, would’ve been a Hot Chip-esque electro-stomper.
Continuing the electro theme, singer-songwriter Ben Dalby’s Doctor Can (****, 18 Jan) has a deliciously 80s feel about it; the chorus wouldn’t sound out of place on a Soft Cell record. We’re not sure when the wheels will fall off that particular revival, but if they keep ‘em coming like this, we’ll keep welcoming them with open arms. Yeasayer’s return is one of the most heralded of 2010. Ambling Alp (****, 4 Jan) maintains the kitchen-sink style production of yore, but it’s more dancefloor-friendly than anything on All Hour Cymbals. Chris Keating’s vocals are higher in the mix and the chorus is positively rousing. Could this be the Brooklyn band’s first proper hit?
They are trumped, however, by the quietly unassuming musings of Woodenbox With a Fistful of Fivers, whose superb Draw a Line (****, 4 Jan) is the pick of this month’s batch. The irresistible horn section, in the ilk of Calexico, perfect harmonies and gruff vocals of Ali Downer are more akin to the dustbowls of Arizona than the damp streets of Glasgow. An inspired track.
Singles Column written for The Skinny