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This Week’s New Single Releases (15th December 2013)

My round up of the new singles available for digital download this week.

Al Lewis – ‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales’
As we hit the week before Christmas here is the first of many festive-themed songs. Al Lewis’ song is a simple, string-led atmospheric look at the season that revels more in its poetry and retro-feel than necessarily a traditional song structure. Fans of cut back folk-indie will enjoy here and it’s hard to dislike as you listen to it with your Christmas tree flashing in the background. Beautifully written and performed, it’s very evocative of the time of the year, but more suited for background music to a cold winter’s night than an ‘Ooh I must listen to that’ moment as it does lose momentum at points. (6.5/10)
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Ásgeir – ‘Torrent’
The third single from this Icelandic artist’s album ‘In The Silence’ feels quite like Biffy Clyro meets Coldplay. Ásgeir’s poetic lyrics flow smoothly across the simple tune, though the structure feels a little too repetitive and the music too loud compared to the vocals. Very much like the first track, this feels like a cut from an evocative Christmas soundtrack to some touching film. An enjoyable listen with a noteable clicky-backing track, it captures the magic of the country, but idn’t a huge stand-alone listen. (5.5/10)
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Bebe Black – ‘I’ll Wait’
After the incredible ‘Deathwish’ from earlier in the year, BeBe Black is back with this slightly more balladic number. Though it lacks the huge catchy hook of her previous single, Black’s voice is still as listenable and powerful, though ‘I’ll Wait’ feels a little more meandering and less focussed, and loses some direction after the first well-written minute. However, as the song reaches its final third its power shows itself more and it climaxes to a strong conclusion. It’s definitely a grower and shows promise for 2014. (6/10)
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Big Reunion – ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’
Spun-off from the television show of the same name, lots of bands from the 90s and noughties come together on this spirited, but clichéd, cover of the Wizzard classic. If you are familiar with any of these big ensemble pieces from over the years then this fits neatly into the mould: lots of different voices singing on different elements of the song, before all coming together in harmony on the chorus, all over an off-the-shelf badly performed backing track. It’s great to hear all the members of Five, 911, Atomic Kitten, B*Witched, Blue, Honeyz and Liberty X all together, and we get a Band Aid 20-Dizzee Rascal-esque rap from Abz in it, which is the main fresh addition to it, even if it does sound like the rap bit from the 1993 Mr Blobby song. It’s not comparable to the Wizzard original, but it’s a fun, if unoriginal, take on it that, aside from the rap, just covers it beat-for-beat. Oh, and the Slade parody is getting tired now. The video is a nice trip down pop memory lane though and it is for charity. (6.5/10)
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Bruce Springsteen – ‘High Hopes’
A re-recording of a cover done by Bruce Springsteen in 1995, ‘High Hopes’ captures the power of Springsteen’s voice and boasts a memorable bridge and chorus and some strong guitar work, but it feels like there’s something missing from the song. Sounding quite a lot like Tom Jones’ recent gospel-tinged work, it’s a song that has a good solid central chorus but struggles outside of it, and at five minutes long runs out of steam, especially when the big idea just gets repeated too often. Not a bad number, but not sure if it needed this remake. (5.5/10)
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Chase and Status feat. Jacob Banks – ‘Alive’
The third single from their third album, and featuring the spirited singer Jacob Banks on vocals, ‘Alive’ starts off promisingly with Banks’ deep vocals, but then it quickly jumps the shark with a misplaced fast-paced drum beat that doesn’t suit the pace and style of the lyrics at all, as if they’re forcing an indie number to be a club track. It settles in after a while and works better with just the one title-featuring line mixed in but not when it’s the rest of the lyrics, and it’s a confused song and it lacks the ability of Avicii to span the two genres successfully. (4.5/10)
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Deacon Blue – ‘You Know It’s Christmas’
There’s always one song each year which sees a long established band tackling a Christmas song, as if it’s some new rite of passage. Though whereas a band like Status Quo pulled it off, Deacon Blue struggle with a song that ambles on too much and lacks a killer festive chorus, and even lacks the stereotypical – but expected – festive musical clichés in the production. I’m not really a huge fan of the drawly vocals of the band’s lead singer, and that colours my thoughts a little, but even in spite of that it lacks that Xmas magic and only really gets going in the last thirty seconds. Sounds too much like a contractual obligation filled with tired lyrics that don’t fit the tune. (5/10)
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Disclosure feat. Sasha Keable – ‘Voices’
The sixth single from their sixth album and it feels like Disclosure are scraping the limits of their talent, with ‘Voices’ sounding like a cheap knock off of their far superior ‘White Noise’, the pound shop equivalent of a blockbuster movie, hitting the same beats and even employing a vocalist that sounds very similar. ‘Voices’ is an OK listen but it doesn’t add anything to what we’ve heard from them before, and it lacks the killer chorus of something like ‘White Noise’. With a drum track that is on the annoying side of repetitive that sounds like something from an entry-level piece of music software, this lacks the spark I expect from Disclosure and feels like an entirely unnecessary cut. (4/10)
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Ella Eyre – ‘Deeper’
Having made a couple of guest appearances on singles, here is Eyre standing on her own two feet with her debut hit. One of the BBC’s ‘Sound of 2014’ artists, ‘Deeper’ is a funky-pop number that will get your foot tapping with its John Newman elements. Well produced and boasting enough breathing space to showcase Eyre’s vocals off, I wouldn’t say the song strikes me as a huge hit like other debuts from the list have (I’m thinking Chloe Howl)  but it’s a fun enough pop number with an enjoyable chorus. It just feels like it’s missing that big spark, but I’ll have a dig a little deeper to find out why. (6/10)
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Fall On Your Sword feat. Dick Valentine – ‘Last Christmas’
More known as the electronic duo ‘Evil Cowards’, Fall On Your Sword team up with the Electric Six frontman on this Wham cover. Doing something a little different compared to the original, the gruff vocals of Valentine add a different element to the piece and the electronic focus feels like a neat addition. That said Valentine’s vocals don’t quite suit the song and it comes across a little like a dodgy karaoke cover at times and the rambling bit three-minutes in, struggles to find its footing. It’s a version that will grow on you after multiple listens but as an experimental cover its freshness and uniqueness won’t appeal to everyone. (6/10)
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Fynnjan – ‘The Spirit of Christmas’
Raising money for some great charities, young Fynnjan joins forces with his dad’s band and his school friends to create this short and sweet ode to the festive season. Your love of the song will depend on your tolerance of children singing, but it captures the mood well and has more heart in it than a lot of the other releases this week. He’s a good singer too and manages to avoid the cringeworthiness that similar records lay on too thick, and the drums, piano and excellent choral effects work very well. (7/10)
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Gaz and Olabean feat. The Risk and Emily Williams – ‘Party Like A RockStar (Up Your Game Up)’
Apparently – and this is where my knowledge of pop culture falls down – Gaz is from Geordie Shaw and, though I hate to say this, he’s managed to put together quite a fun pop song with him and the three other artists on here. With a poppy, foot-tapping chorus that proves to be quite catchy with its echoes back to Will Smith’s ‘Switch’. Yes, it might be as cheesy as anything in parts with the lyrics choc-full of clichés, but it feels like a strong new party hit for the inevitable Christmas knees-up. It could do without the tone-changing and shallow rap though. (7/10)
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Jack Topping – ‘Tomorrow’
Jack Topping is an 11-year-old choirboy and here he is tackling the famous song from Annie for charity and a shot at the Christmas number one. Very well sung with the typical choir style suiting the record, ‘Tomorrow’ doesn’t really throw any big surprises in your direction as it sounds exactly as you’d expect it to, but it’s well put together and sounds great. Good work, Jack. (6.5/10)
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James Arthur – ‘Recovery’
After his recent well documented issues, ‘Recovery’ is pretty much what Arthur needs, and it’s not difficult to connect the lyrics here with his media profile at the moment. Sounding much more like his X Factor winning track than his most positive, uptempo previous hit, ‘Recovery’ benefits from a dark, sombre production which makes the song, and Arthur adds some genuine power and emotion into the equally introspective lyrics. The backing vocals add an eerie possessed nature to the piece, and make for a difficult, but touching number, though it should perhaps wrap up a minute earlier than it does. (7/10)
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Javeon – ‘Give Up’
‘Give Up’ is a funky number that, though slow paced, keeps you going thanks to its great balance between male and female vocal lines, clap-track, funky bassline, and early-90s-style production. With shades of Artful Dodger’s ‘Moving Too Fast’ this is a neat little number that grows with each listen, and will fit well into a party this week. (7/10)
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John Newman – ‘Losing Sleep’
Newman’s third single continues his run of catchy, memorable, funky numbers. Wasting no time in getting things going, ‘Losing Sleep’ kicks off with a killer clap-underscored chorus that is brought to life in the song by Newman’s powerful, distinct vocals. The production work on the record excels in getting the most out of his performance and though you could say he’s found a winning formula and is sticking to it, when a song is as good as this you can’t complain. Filled with emotion and power, a lovely song. (7.5/10)
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Justin Bieber and Chance The Rapper – ‘Confident’
And finally we arrive at the tenth and final release of Justin Bieber’s ‘Music Mondays’, and here he joins up with another ‘Sound of 2014’ artist. This is one of the better of his releases but again is just too bland and boring to really stand out as a single, and rounds off a digital release experiment that proved interesting but the musical fruit was just very lacklustre. Sorry, Justin, though the chorus has a few redeeming features and at least gives the song a little identity, it just lacks the spark you once had. Chance the Rapper’s appearance adds a fresh spin but it’s hardly revolutionary. (3/10)
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Kid Ink and Chris Brown – ‘Show Me’
The first cut from his second album ‘Show Me’ features a subtle riff from Robin S’ 1993 hit ‘Show Me Love’ and overlays some clichéd but listenable lyrics on top of them. Kid Ink’s song is an alright listen but even with the appearance of superstar Chris Brown there is little injection of excitement and doesn’t do much in the final three minutes that it doesn’t do in the first. It just exists. Average. (4/10)
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Lil’ Chris and Lloyd Wilkinson – ‘Christmas Number One (#FeedEmYellowSnow)’
Lil’ Chris, returning after three big hits in the noughties, comes out with this pop-punky Busted-like Christmas single, giving a big middle finger to the X Factor. Staying just about on the right side of cheesy and with some nicely-observed lyrics, it’s pretty catchy among its crudeness and sticks in your head. Highbrow it definitely isn’t and the spoken bits remind me of the bad side of charity songs like the Kumars’ ‘Spirit In The Sky’ but overall it’s a funny, punky and catchy pop number that should do well. (7/10)
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Lucy Spraggan – ‘Tea and Toast / It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas’
Speaking of the X Factor here is Lucy Spraggan, back again now with ‘Tea and Toast’, a re-release of her debut song that was removed from sale after it was due to embarrass ‘Little Mix’. Replacing the fast-paced catchiness of her last two singles with a slower, lyrical heavy, slower song, ‘Tea and Toast’ is well written and touching though it feels like her weakest single musically so far, struggling to form an identity. As a song its bittersweet words pull at the heartstrings but don’t move me musically. ‘It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas’ is a stripped back acoustic number with some more nicely observed lyrics but again musically less interesting though a better song musically than ‘Tea and Toast’. Spraggan is certainly a strong singer-songwriter but these two songs are not her best showcase. (4/10)
Watch ‘Tea and Toast’

Watch ‘I Don’t Feel Like Christmas’

Orbital – ‘Christmas Chime’
Adapting their debut hit ‘Chime’ and giving it a festive makeover, ‘Christmas Chime’ isn’t a huge departure, re-synthesizing it with a more seasonal sound and added sleigh bells. It’s an interesting concept and idea and one that works well, and it should bridge the gap between cheesy Christmas songs and more respectable dance music. It does outstay its welcome but it has enough charm and variation to hold your interest mostly. (6/10)
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Pharrell Williams – ‘Happy’
Getting a belated release having appeared on the OST for ‘Despicable 2’ ‘Happy’ wraps up a strong year for Williams and it a nice change to see him on a positive record that doesn’t see him revelling in his usual questionable subject matters, as demonstrated by ‘Blurred Lines’ and various other records. ‘Happy’ is naturally quite a positive song and bounces along nicely, with Williams’ falsetto proving a winning addition to the song. It’s a tad repetitive and lacks some fresh ideas to keep it going, but it’s a perky, uplifting number and it will put a smile on your face. (6.5/10)
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Rebecca Black and Dave Days – ‘Saturday’
Black’s sixth single (!?) returns her to her roots, at least in a titular and opening line reference to her breakthrough vanity debut hit. ‘Saturday’ is a much more credible record even if it does ditch the so-bad-it’s-good nature for a generic pop-club sound. With elements of Ke$ha this is actually, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, a really enjoyable song. Overly familiar and similar sounding it may be, it’s quite an uplifting number with some smooth production choices and though it may reference her big hit too obviously in the breakdown, it feels like a fun number that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It could easily fit into the charts thanks to the recognisable sound, clubby vibe and Days’ well segmented appearance. (7/10)
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The Retrobot – ‘Christmas Robot’
This year’s Crazy Frog release, this is a song that you’ll want to hate but its simple repeated riff will stick in your head quickly. Sounding like South Park’s Cartman on vocals and an adaptation of MC Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This’, this is surprisingly enjoyable and continues with its tongue firmly in cheek. I’m sure it’ll get annoying quite quickly but it’s actually pretty fun. Who doesn’t like a bit of novelty at Christmas? (7.5/10)
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Richard & Adam – ‘I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In (On Christmas Day)’
From Britain’s Got Talent, their debut single – taken from their Christmas album – is a pop-operatic version of the classic carol. They’ve not really done anything that different with it and it’s unlikely to be the definitive version of the song, but it’s a strong take on the song and adds more variety to this week’s releases. (7/10)
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Robbie Williams – ‘Dream A Little Dream’
The second cut from his ‘Swings Both Way’s album, this cover of ‘Dream A Little Dream’ isn’t a huge departure from the Mama Cass original and the single suffers a little from lacking Lily Allen’s sultry vocals on verse two and duetting with Robbie later on in the record, but the piece suits Williams’ voice and it’s a smooth, enjoyable take on the classic, though there are no risks taken here. Very festive without being overtly Christmasy. (7.5/10)
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Shane Solomon – ‘Christmas Time (Children Sing)’
And time for another Christmas charity single, and ‘Christmas Time (Children Sing)’ has a Cliff Richard-vibe to the sound of Solomon’s voice. It’s a gentle, listenable number which is pretty singable, and certainly gets you in the mood, and Shane’s voice is a pleasure to listen to. It’s pretty much a staple Christmas song that doesn’t enter any new territory, but it’s a smooth, enjoyable listen, though could do with some time shaving off the end. (7/10)
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TC – ‘Get Down Low’
And finally on this bumper week of releases, it’s definitely time for something a little different. TC’s ‘Get Down Low’ feels like the record that ‘Chase and Status’ should have made this week, a fast-paced drum and bass single from Bristol’s DJ Tom Casswell. It might be pretty straight forward lyrically and musically, but its mixture of riffs and electronic elements, and different sample effects on the title, keep it fresh and it does everything it needs to in its three-and-a-half minutes. If you’re tired of Christmas songs then this should please you more. (7/10)
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And for an extra festive treat – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiSn2JuDQSc

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