Minnaars, Maps & Atlases - Single Round-Up 14/02/2011

Luke Langlands 17/02/2011

During the last round-up I wrote, I bemoaned the state of the dreadful weather that we have been besieged with lately. Alas, I think the disgusting winter that had befallen us is finally beginning to subside! (Apart from the snow we had on Tuesday, but let's not talk about that). When my alarm went off this morning (Cake - Short Skirt, Long Jacket), I timidly opened the curtains to be welcomed with the gorgeous sight of not pitch-black horribleness, but lovely, awe-inspiring gray and wishy-washy daylight! It wasn't exactly a summer morning, but it was ACTUAL SUNLIGHT! Come on, people, summer is here! Lets wear flip-flops and shorts and pretend that the icy cold wind hitting our legs is actually sunburn. We need some new summery tunes!

Sounding rather Mumford & Sonsy we have United States-based Maps & Atlases with Living Decoration. The percussion is lovely, with African drums holding the track together throughout. It's contagious, lively and holds much promise - much like the world in mid-February! The four-piece has a massive cult following and is sure to attract more fans with this single, which is lifted from their new album. When they played here in Edinburgh late last month I think half of the city tried to squeeze into the tiny Sneaky Pete's to catch a glimpse of them. The track is perhaps a little lightweight to be a leading single, and the band maybe would have benefited with something that holds a bit more bite. But, the nature of Maps & Atlases songs means that's probably not matter! It's still a very nice song that certainly grows on you the more you allow it too.

Nooo, it's not a dyslexic classic rock fan, but Eagulls and their rather cool Council Flat Blues. I haven't got a clue what the blokes going on about, but the sheer energy and exuberance in the track is great. It's the type of track that's going to appeal to people on a basic level of passion and emotion. After the slow, hulking intro, the main bulk of the piece kicks in and it never really looks back. Council Flat Blues feels like a track from a different time - you could imagine it getting passed about on bootleg tapes from person to person, rather than the way most people will find it - on an Internet stream. Eagulls are more well known for their hardcore background, and I'm glad they've held it back slightly with this track, as it benefits immensely because of it. If the sound was heavier, a lot of the atmosphere and grunge would have been dissipated and lost. Some people will absolutely detest Council Flat Blues and others will adore it. It's something with a bit of heart and effort - fair play!

If anything else, Minnaars (Dutch for 'lovers', apparently) is probably the coolest band name of all time. But, lucky for us they've also released a cracking EP this week, which includes the rather lovely Capricorns. Normally, I'm not the biggest fan of bands like this, but Minnaars seem capable of creating sounds that are so succinct and concise compared to other groups that it makes them so much more easier to appreciate. I love the enigmatic trance synths and the furious drums that go along with it. It feels like about five songs mashed together (I mean that in the nicest possible way!) It's over five minutes long but not a single second is too much - by the time it finishes the listener is left very out of breath (from the MENTAL dancing that naturally occurs) and ultimately massively surprised of it's grandeur. Fans of Everything Everything and Foals will feel Minnaar's groove immediately. Minnaars should do very well this year, considering the similar artists who are out right now and reaping mainstream fame, despite not being as good as the Leicester ensemble.

The Answering Machine released Lifeline on Monday. It's got a very bright sound despite the moodier lyrics, which works nicely. It's a song very fitting of 2011, but is perhaps a little flat at points and maybe a bit predictable, although things do pick-up about half-way through the track with a nice burst of life to liven things up. You get the feeling that it could have been a much better track if some kicks up the arse were instigated during the recordings. Don't get me wrong, it's certainly not a bad song. The fact I listened to the rather intrepid Minnaars just before turning this on for the first time probably never did it any favours. Lifeline will be perfect for commercial radio and could perhaps do very well, but it may not be listened to in a few years time. However, there's still sparks of interest and intrigue which suggest that better things are to come from The Answering Machine's future releases.

The last time I saw Steve Craddock perform it was at an Ocean Colour Scene gig in Hartlepool, which was rather surreal. This week he releases a solo effort with Last Days of the Old World. Warm, vibrant guitar accompanies by a sixties feel, as expected by an OCS member - but there's certainly nothing wrong with that! It's got a very summery vibe, which connects with the (very slowly but eventually) warming weather as spring gets closer. Last Days of the Old World might just about remind you what heat feels like. There's a bit of a danger that the track is just going down the same well-travelled path that Craddock and co. have went down before...but, at the same time, I think that's quite nice. You know what you're getting, and what you get is proper musicians creating solid tracks. It'll certainly stick into your head. No doubt a lot of Ocean Colour Scene fans will love this.

Now for another track that's trying to write new pages for a book that had it's final full-stop a long time ago. Mojo Fury with Colour of the Bear. Rawr rawr rawr rawr shouty angry rock. I'll be honest lads, I'm not feeling it (there'll be a lot of people who do, though...maybe I'm just getting old!) The track sounds very disjointed. It's different moments struggle to fuse and blend into each other. Earlier this week I lauded The Palpitations' and their crusade to bring back real balsy, murky music into 2011, but Mojo Fury's release feels too loose fitting. The screaming chorus doesn't create any extra atmosphere at all (if anything, it detracts from it, because it's expected). “Lets try to make this work, one more time” - I hope you do!

Last year my far-and-away favourite album was Lissie's beautiful Catching a Tiger, which included the wonderful Oh Mississippi. The Secret Sisters have carried on my apparent secret love for country music (I'm as surprised as anyone) with Tennessee Me [ed-That's what she said]. Relying on real heart and soul, rather than autotune, the two-piece's voices simply melt through the speakers, along with the gentle guitar and rolling drums. It's just a lovely, laid-back song. Tennessee Me paints such a strong image in your head you can almost see the rolling Southern hills (or taste the Jack Daniels in your mouth, depending on your fortay). It's such a simple song, but if it had anything else more to it then it would suffer. People are far too dismissive of country music. I mean, some of it is awful, but now and then you get something like The Secret Sisters that is so gorgeously gentle and uplifting that it's impossible to ignore.

My single of the week has got to go to Minnaars with Capricorns. It's just such a completely crackers song (it's nearly six minutes long for Christ sake! A leading track on an EP that's six minutes long...) They've actually went out on a limb and created something that's different and interesting, when they could have very easily released something that was half as fun but twice as sellable. The electric drums on the track sound brilliant, and it manages to crush influences from 80's electro-synth to the modern day and make it sound great.