I loathe having to include any excess punctuation in my post titles, but for this series I just about have to. Spurred into action by the clarion call that was the BBC’s truly depressing Sound of 2011 poll, this run of semi-related posts will fulfil two functions; firstly, I feel it is my duty to debunk everyone else’s picks for 2011, and secondly, I can’t really pour scorn on other people’s predictions without providing a couple of my own*. Basically, if the dear old beeb is to be believed, 2011 is going to be an awful year for music. I’ve already made my views on the BBC’s winner, Jessie J, perfectly clear in my last post, so now I’m turning my attention to the four acts that were the runners up; James Blake, The Vaccines, Jamie Woon and Claire Maguire.
It’s not really a surprise to see Claire Maguire on the list, as we’ve already established the poll’s predilection for female solo acts. The problem is (aside from the leopard-print coat; a sure warning sign if ever there was one) Claire sounds awfully “nineties”; I thought we’d seen the last of this kind of music when the Corrs stopped making records. The drum patterns, the cheesy string synth part and the desperately tired guitar sound all add up to make her sound distinctly stale, but it’s her voice and lyrical delivery that make this sound so appallingly amateur. There are thousands of singers like this prowling the open-mic nights of rural and suburban England; why has this one been singled out for special attention? Even more disturbingly, why has one of them been picked at all? I’ve always taken solace in the fact that music like this has never made it beyond simply local-radio-level success. This really is music aimed at people who don’t actually like music; it sounds very slick, and there’s nothing dangerous or risky or challenging going on – in a word: boring.
At least Jamie Woon and James Blake are ploughing their own furrow and experimenting at the far reaches of technology? Sadly that argument falls down when you notice that there’s not all that much difference between them. Neither of them can write a song, from the evidence on hand so far at least, and both spend far too long building up electronic soundscapes and ambiances without actually getting anywhere. Negative space is a crucial factor in music, and one that a songwriter or producer overlooks at their peril, but I can’t escape the feeling that these chaps are rather taking the piss a little. They’d both, I’m sure, prove a notable discussion point on a live bill – as anyone using loop pedals and the like is bound to – but once the initial curiosity has worn off there’s really nothing worth hanging onto with either act. Oh, and someone should tell Blake that there’s only room in this world for one solely-vocoder-based track, and Imogen Heap’s got that corner of the market covered pretty comprehensively.
Against this morass of iniquity, London-based indie quartet The Vaccines positively shine. They have actual, bona-fide pop songs (Post Break-Up Sex, and If You Wanna) and don’t play to a click track (shock! horror!), all coupled with an infectious enthusiasm that makes them feel like the Libertines reborn. But alas, there’s the rub: this isn’t anything new. Band’s have been making this sort of music since sex was first discovered in the sixties, and if you were to drop The Vaccines into any point in the last decade nobody would have batted an eyelid; The Vaccines are the concept of “indie” as an aesthetic writ large. But maybe that’s enough? There are, after all, only twelve notes – and, in fact, in the world of pop there’s only really three chords – so what if they are re-treading old ground? Is that reason enough to begrudge them their success? I know many people who would say yes, it is – particularly in this instance when the music being made is so derivative – and in my more cold-hearted moments I would be inclined to agree. But perhaps it’s the optimism of the new year, perhaps it’s the heady promise of spring-just-around-the-corner, or perhaps it’s merely just because they’re simply the lesser of quite a few evils, but whatever the reason, I’m inclined to give The Vaccines the benefit of the doubt and say that they really are a “one to watch” for the coming year.
The Vaccines – If You Wanna (Marc Riley session)
*That will, most likely, be picked apart mercilessly by yet more bloggers… Well, it’s only fair.