A Letter From The Editor

October 31, 2007

People really ain’t giving enough credit to Andrew Unterberger. The US Jukebox, Singles Going Steady, was running way before I abandoned the whole posting-pictures-of-Claus-Lundekvam-in-lieu-of-commenting-on-Busted racket and got Todd to let me revive the UK section, which is something people forget much too often - I’m delighted that Ian Mathers and John Cunningham both picked their reminisces from the days before the Jukebox became the mass international conglomerate we know and tolerate today. It’s a hard old job, this Jukebox editing lark, and I really don’t think Andrew ever got the credit he deserved for his role in its past. If I could remember who used to run the UK Jukebox beforehand, I’d be thanking them too - I think it was Scott McKeating, but I’m not 100% sure on that. If it was, then, er, cheers.

I’ve taken the decision to close the section down because we’re running a model that is pretty much impossible to sustain. At optimum output, we’d be producing four blurbs on 20 songs every week, 80 blurbs a week in total. To expect that kind of turnaround on a regular basis from a completely unpaid staff is unrealistic at best, and that we even made it this far is kind of amazing.

I feel I ought to thank a few people in particular for helping us make it to this point. First off, Martin Skidmore, for getting in blurbs for nigh-on every single song we’ve covered in the past couple of years. How he managed it, I’ve no idea, but he did, and I’m hugely grateful to him for it. Without his blurbs propping us up, we’d probably have been stuffed by about mid-April. (I should also thank Hillary Brown and MT Kafka for being similarly prolific, albeit over slightly shorter periods of time.)

Secondly, Edward Oculicz. It’s arguable that without the influence of his much-missed blog, Enthusiastic But Mediocre, the Jukebox would look very different indeed. His commitment to tracking down and raving about the best of chart pop from all corners of the globe was a massive inspiration on the early days of the unified Jukebox - trying to imagine the section’s history without Marit Larsen, Bertine Zetlitz, Nadiya, Miranda, Snook and goodness knows how many others seems almost impossible now, and it was by and large due to the influence of EBM that we even looked for them in the first place.

Most of all, though, Todd Burns. It’s been said a lot over the past few days, but really - the man’s a fucking saint. Even at this section’s lowest points (of which there have been several, more or less all of which were my fault), he stood by us. He edited the thing single-handed for the whole of July this year (on top of keeping Stylus going on a daily basis), because I was left offline after moving house for a rather more extended period that I’d expected, and uttered not one word of complaint about the whole thing. Given the amount of missed deadlines, neurotic meltdowns and various other shit that I put him through, his support for me and the Jukebox has been nothing short of heartbreaking. That we’re still here is a massive testament to the job he did in making Stylus such an open and inventive place to be. To say I owe the feller a drink or two is quite a sizeable understatement.

There’s too many damn memories to mention here, really. I think my all-time favourite Jukebox blurb, however, remains Jessica Popper on The Dears:

Jessica Popper: I really like this one. They do the girl/boy duet better than The Kills and The Subways, although I’m not sure they’re quite up there with Kylie and Jason. Let’s not go overboard!
[6]

I dunno why, maybe it’s just the immature sod in me, but comparing The Dears to “Especially For You” just puts a big smile on my face. I think Joe McCombs got it right earlier on - the way the section ran, everything got treated equally, even more so now with the blog format. Every song was just as prominent as every other one. ‘The Way I Are’ (another of those global smashes we didn’t really see coming) spent as much time at the top of the page as Jan Delay, Keak da Sneak got equal billing with The Hoosiers, Daughtry rubbed elbows with Julie Zenatti… all the stuff.

This goodbye is certainly not without regrets, though. I wish I’d made more of an effort with links to other blogs - those ones in the sidebar were all Todd’s doing, and they’re primarily pop-oriented, which isn’t really the impression I wanted to give. It always bugged the hell out of me when people would talk about us being biased towards pop acts, especially from Scandinavia, and so people started thinking that was all we did, when that was quite some way from being the case. Certainly, we went deeper into Scandinavian pop than comparable sites, but that’s cos we tried to go deeper into everything. It didn’t always pay off, but it certainly used to be the biggest thrill diving into Charts Around The World to pull stuff out of nowhere, which resulted in some really very odd things indeed finding themselves sharing the limelight with whichever bloody Nelly Furtado single it was this week.

I just wanted us to be more than an MP3 blog. I didn’t give a stuff about us getting there first, so long as when we got there, we did a good job on the thing. To hell with getting in on the ground floor. Look through these highlights we’ve picked - some of them made number one. Some of them blew up big. But for all them, there’s The Research, Helen Love, Rachel Stevens, Keak da Sneak, Marit Larsen - outside The Jukebox, these songs really didn’t amount to a hill of beans, but they still stuck with us. Just cos they didn’t go on to be massive hits (Marit ain’t done shit outside of Norway, Rachel Stevens got to number 12 in the UK but her career’s been in limbo ever since) doesn’t mean they aren’t still amazing, and we’re no less proud of them today than we were when we reviewed them. This wasn’t about trend-spotting, this wasn’t about having our fingers on the pulse - it was about trying to get excited, about having a belief that pop music could be inexhaustible in its capacity to take you to new places, show you new things. This all sounds hopelessly naive, I know, but goddamnit I can’t help it.

By and large, I’m damn proud of this place.

Oh, enough rambling. Seeing as how everyone else has picked out one highlight, here’s mine:

Her name’s Vitaa, and she never actually made it into the Jukebox for reasons I can’t remember. I found her in the midst of that flurry of French stuff we had about a month ago. The song of hers I fell for was entitled ‘A Fleur de Toi’. Her MySpace is here, the video of the song is here. It’s the most incredibly constructed ballad I’ve heard in goodness knows how long, and it feels completely wrenching. You’ll like it, dammit. You bloody well will.

Thanks to all the writers. Thanks to all the readers. I’m off to reclaim my sleep patterns. Goodnight.
[William B. Swygart]

Dreams Of Number One Last Forever: Marit Larsen - Don’t Save Me

October 31, 2007


[MySpace][YouTube]
[9.00]
[8th March, 2006]

I confess with some embarrassment that it took me a little while to appreciate how great Marit Larsen is – I gave this a meagre 9 when reviewing it last year. Then I played it at least a few times a day, mostly five to ten times, for the next several months. The same happened with the next two singles, and the album (Under The Surface) has been much my most-played one since I got it. I think the last time two numbers by the same act were by far my favourites in one year was probably Pulp in 1995. “Don’t Save Me” is one of the great singles of the century so far partly because it’s a classic irresistible pop tune, a genuine ecstatic singalong number, but on top of that it’s gorgeously produced, in vintage Scandinavian style with big ABBA chords plus a dash of early-rock-era Dylan, and I adore her singing – she seems to have extraordinary subtlety and intelligence for someone so early in her career, combined with real feeling and mischievous pop brightness with a sharp, ironic edge. I could listen to her breathy “hassle” and perfectly judged small hesitations all day. Her subject matter is relationships, especially difficulties and endings, and although this is very heavily mined pop territory she seems to find new aspects and details to focus on, with precise insight and very smart metaphors. I think she’s a real genius, as great a new pop talent as we have seen in decades.
[Martin Skidmore]


Dreams Of Number One Last Forever: Helen Love - Debbie Loves Joey

October 31, 2007


[MySpace][Website]
[6.77]
[25th April, 2005]

So, farewell then, Jukebox. During my time on the team I spent many hours waxing rhapsodic about amazing songs, though even more venting my frustrations on the dire mid-table indie types that still - still! - have a stranglehold on the charts like so much unwanted hogweed. But while laying into the Stereophonics is undoubtedly a rare and underrated pleasure, for me the real joy came when a track by one of my favourite ever bands popped into your inbox, begging to be reviewed, and I have to get down on my knees and thank a God I don’t believe in, or at least a Swygart who I’m pretty sure is on the electoral roll, for the day Helen Love’s “Debbie Loves Joey” came my way.

I love many things. Indeed, I’m the sort of person who falls in love with a different song every day and has a tendency to use the word ‘genius’ when I merely mean ‘Something I quite like’, and will generally get all unnecessary over the smallest thing, but there are few bands I’m more genuinely passionate and obsessed about than Helen and her friends. They sparkle and shine like a bucket of pink diamonds, have more hooks than a well prepared fisherman and it’s a mystery of Lily Allen’s-forehead-sized proportions to us as to why they remain lodged in the backwaters of cultdom rather than dominating the world of pop like a Welsh colossus.

“Debbie Loves Joey” had it all; the sly pop culture references, a chorus which gave more of a sugar rush than injecting pure, uncut candyfloss, it’s a sheer endorphin blast of a song which gave equal credence to the back catalogue of the Ramones and the Grease soundtrack, the sound of summer loving distilled into three minutes of pure, unbridled joy. Forget the lumpen sludge of the Pigeon Detectives and The Enemy and the other charmless bands which currently dominate the indie scene, instead turn your eyes towards Swansea and celebrate the band I called the lo-fi Girls Aloud back in my original review of this track. I was wrong, though, they’re not the lo-fi Girls Aloud. Girls Aloud are the hi-fi Helen Love, and frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
[Doug Robertson]


Dreams Of Number One Last Forever: St Vincent - Now Now

October 31, 2007


[MySpace][Website]
[5.50]
[22nd August, 2007]

For obvious reasons, the call to vote for Stylus’ favourite singles/songs/moments of warbling came a couple of months earlier this year. Organised types presumably possessed an on-going list of favourite moments, which they could whip out on request like super-geniuses of forward planning. I am not an organised type. My questionable methodology involved trawling backwards through the contributions I’d made to this very establishment, boggling at some of the crap I’ve handed out 8s for and then … err … putting said crap on the shortlist.

An uncomfortably short list, as it happens. Even after fleshing it out with the incredible Euro-Dance stylings of Joe Cornish, I was light by a couple of truly dynamite tracks. The invention of “Sunflower Seeds,” by Snufflepaws (the only dream-pop group fronted by a golden hamster) still left me short. Damnation!

Of course, I sought guidance from Father Jukebox. Browsing backwards through the archives in search of worthy applicants for Peter’s 20th Favourite Song 07, I spotted the phrase ‘the twists and turns of its melting synth snowflakes’ being uttered by one Iain Forrester.

‘Aha,’ I thought; and after a brief interlude of illegality, St Vincent’s “Now Now” was trundling up my list.

Prettiness in music pleases me greatly. As do strange, unexpected twists in direction. Squeezing several songs into a tiny space until it overflows like a bucket of boisterous cats rates fairly highly, too.

The aforementioned synths glided “Now Now” into my top ten, scattering raindrops in its wake. As the full extent of the woozy Kate-Bush-guesting-for-The-Glove sank in, it crept up to the top five. Then, the potential embarrassment of anyone overhearing me listen to the naggingly childish “you don’t mean that / say you’re sorry” section bumped it down a few places. Only for the frantic, flailing conclusion, which seems to be there for the best reason of all (none), to give it a final boost.

My third favourite track of the year. All thanks to this place.

Classically, brilliantly, our indomitable panelists offered four wildly differing opinions and threw out scores between 2 and 8. Largely to mass indifference.

Singles Jukebox, I salute you.
[Peter Parrish]


Dreams Of Number One Last Forever: Miranda! - Don

October 31, 2007


[MySpace][YouTube]
[6.53]
[23rd January, 2006]

When I dropped out of doing the Singles Jukebox–both times–it was, in a way, an admission that I just couldn’t keep up with music anymore, that I needed to take a moment, to step back, to let others be the Operation Human Shield in the internet’s glorious wars of taste. In other words, I could simply not keep up with the other contributors, and especially not with the extraordinary William Swygart. Your editor here does not get enough praise, but let me, at least, say that his breadth and foresight (to say nothing of his dedication) were awe-inspiring. There’s been much talk lately of the hyper-accelerated hype cycle of a certain kind of MP3 blog, but frequently by the time an act would get the gangbang treatment from the usual suspects it would already be an old friend from a Singles Jukebox some weeks prior. (I’m thinking most notably of I’m From Barcelona here, but frequently I wouldn’t even realize how far ahead of the curve your editor was until I was cleaning up my MP3 folders months later.)

But then there were those other songs, those weird, hidden gems he would unearth from a non-English speaking country and offer up to our bafflement and amazement. While their numbers are legion, the standout from my tenure is undoubtedly Miranda’s “Don,” a kinda-teenpop single from Argentina that confidently threw together a few of my favorite things: electro blips, swinging guitar, sweet background vocals, and open space that got filled in more and more as the song progressed, with each verse adding a singing guitar line or more layered harmonies like a party starting slow but with promise, and filling with people until it radiates warmth, happiness, and good cheer. And of course, there was that middle section, where the lead singer announces “Es un solo / es la guitara de Lolo,” and then there was an absolutely adorable guitar solo. It was perfect; it was weird but wonderful, suggesting a thousand different directions while elegantly tying up itself in a spectacular package. Why would this not be what you’d want from music? Why wouldn’t this be what you search for, what you try for, and what you step back and kiss yourself when you find? I don’t know; step back though I have, I still haven’t figured it out.
[Mike Barthel]

Dreams Of Number One Last Forever: Joan As Policewoman - Eternal Flame

October 31, 2007


[MySpace][YouTube]
[7.00]
[8th August, 2006]

In the year or so I’ve spent playing in Stylus’s jingle sandbox, I’ve been very grateful to the site for performing the music-introduction function that radio stopped providing me many years ago. What made it even better to discover new music from Messrs. Swygart and Burns was their elimination of any distinction between “chart” music and “indie” music: Everyone was on level footing in this playground, equally fair game for exaltation or derision. (Usually both, unless you were MIA or Paolo Nutini.) And in the end, over half of the two-disc Best of 2006 compilation I put together for friends was material I was first clued to by Stylus, including two tracks from Joan as Police Woman. “Eternal Flame” embodies everything that was gratifying about writing for the Jukebox: It was unexpected, off-kilter, honest, and poetic, never obvious or ostentatious. (Not to mention a lesson in self-preservation: Be the lighter of your own eternal flame). Joan and company reminded this corny old pop guy that great music with heart and intellect will always be made, even if it’s not reflected on the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40. And so did Stylus, a place that helped its readers not only learn about music new and old, but also clarify where their heads are in relation to pop music and its critics today. (A dry way of saying: Thanks for giving us all so much to think about). Hearts and flowers, all.
[Joseph McCombs]


Dreams Of Number One Last Forever: Blog 27 - Hey Boy (Get Ya Ass Up)

October 31, 2007


[Wikipedia][YouTube]
[7.25]
[16th May, 2006]

Blog 27 got one of only two 10s that I ever gave in the Jukebox. The other went to Guillemots’ “Made Up Love Song #43”, which is a great great song, but you hardly have to look hard to find someone else espousing their merits. This, on the other hand, would have undoubtedly have been missing from my life without the intervention of the Jukebox. It is, after all, two Polish teenagers covering a song by Sweden’s Teddybears in (very) lo-fi electrofunk fashion. You don’t tend to run into that sort of thing too often.

On the surface, it doesn’t exactly beg to be taken as anything other than a bit of a laugh. They don’t even really know the words. Except that they don’t care because what they do know is that whatever they throw out is better anyway, right? Blog 27 rip into “Hey Boy” with an insane confidence in themselves and in the song that is a constant thrill, justified by electro bleeps that turn out to be from the original but only become more addictive when reduced to a rough squiggle. A total one-off, as their follow ups made clear, their one burst of joyful conviction nonetheless cheered up dull train journeys for months and still occasionally does. Even above the chance to give Sandi Thom a zero, it was getting to share in discoveries like this and the hope of inspiring someone out there to have the same experience that made writing for the Jukebox such a great experience.
[Iain Forrester]

Dreams Of Number One Last Forever: Lloyd ft. Ashanti - Southside (Remix)

October 31, 2007


[MySpace][YouTube]
[4.60]
[9th July, 2004]

If there’s a common thread to these memories of the Jukebox, it’s got to be the way we all had our horizons broadened. Indie fans warming to pop, country fans finding the odd rap song they enjoyed, poptimists grudgingly admitting that critic bait was occasionally capable of finding a tune: If you didn’t find at least a few tracks that surprised you with your love for them, you simply weren’t doing it right. Sometimes it’s like trying new food – you could wake up one day never imagining that by the time you went back to sleep you’d find out that what you’d secretly been craving for years was peanut sauce or zucchini or hell, both at once.

In my case, “Southside” (it says “Remix,” but I’ve never heard any other version) was the dish that made me realise, at long last, how much I love a properly inhuman vocoder. Fake finger snaps, cod-romantic acoustic guitar, chimes, Scarface: It’s all just a bed on which Lloyd can deploy his wondrously fake, creamy/grainy ‘voice,’ an instrument that I haven’t heard replicated anywhere else (even Lloyd’s other singles). Even Ashanti works to serve the song’s larger purpose, which is wafting the listener aloft on clouds of pneumatic, perfectly oiled R’n'Bots. There are too many odd little fillips that add to the song to fully account for (although Lloyd’s fey “ATL Jo-ja, whadda we do fo’ ya” is a favourite), and I don’t have much space, but it was a moment as powerful as eating curry, or sushi, or drinking gin for the first time: Oh, so this is what I didn’t realise I’d been craving. Like everything else in life, the Jukebox was worth it just for the experience, and I hope that came across at least a little.
[Ian Mathers]


Dreams Of Number One Last Forever: Mims - This Is Why I’m Hot

October 31, 2007


[MySpace][YouTube]
[3.50]
[6th February, 2007]

I suck at being a troll.

I stand by every word I wrote in my original review of “This Is Why I’m Hot,” but I have to face the fact that I was trolling. I sent Ol’ Bloody Swygart my piece yearning for a comment-box showdown with some salty wouldbe rap savior (a description to fit myself an amazingly short time ago, “he who doth protest the loudest…”) in which I could, through the power of Mims, thrust reality upon my opponent, and, by proxy, a million straw foes with him, sweeping away the last vestages of the old rap paradigm.

A morning later, I opened the Jukebox webpage. A four, a two, a zero. Disappointment. I would hope that one of my fellow Jukeboxers would, if not unabashedly love the song (I certainly had my own reservations and still do) at least see why this was one of the most important rap singles ever made. Hellooooo, New York rap eats itself! Does no one see this? The biggest letdown, of course, was not the “0″ under Thomas Inskeep’s name, but the “0″ several lines below. It will happen eventually, I told myself. Sooner or later, someone will Google this and throw a queen bitchfit. And I’ll laugh.

Two days later: “0 Comments.”

Two weeks later: “0 Comments.”

Two months later: “0 Comments.”

Today: “0 Comments.”

In the end, the fours and twos and zero comments and annals of hip-hop don’t matter; what matters is why Shawn Mims, not a New York rapper, but an American rapper, is hot. I believe it has something to do with his flyness.
[Rodney J. Greene]

Dreams Of Number One Last Forever: Ulrich Schnauss - Medusa

October 31, 2007


[MySpace][Wikipedia]
[7.75]
[30th May, 2007]

It’s probably not the moment to confess this but a lot of what I wrote for the Jukebox was done at about 4:30am, kind of drunk. Sometimes more than kind of. Often it would be in those doldrum hours after a row with my then-boyfriend before I’d admit defeat and trundle off to bed to make up with him before sleeping through a seminar. Aside from being wildly unprofessional, this tended to make me more impulsive about songs (although I like to think it maybe got me over a lot of my timidity when I first started writing for here) meaning I quite blithely started attempting to review things whether I knew anything about the artist or not.

‘Medusa’ was definitely a 4:30am run. I’d assumed from the title that it was going to be some utter rubbish, too impenetrable in one way or another for me to form an opinion on and so when I wearily clicked on it, the last thing I really expected was wave upon wave of deep fuzz, pulsing with some of the same sexuality as ‘Staring At The Sun’ by TV On The Radio but where that sears the last rays of a hot sunset, ‘Medusa’ plunges deep into icy waters. Breathy, aggressive and achingly sad, it keens and roars amongst regulatory blips that drive it back on course. I haven’t got the faintest idea what it’s about, exactly, other than the fact it is cavernous and claustrophobic, a surging monolith of a song that mesmerises and comforts and drives. Whilst I can easily see how people might think it was a massive pile of wank, it struck some chord(s) in me so deep it’s almost certainly my favourite song of this year, only slightly dampened by the fact the rest of the album (’Goodbye’) didn’t carry on the theme into what I’d thought was Polmo Polpo territory and instead meanders off into Cocteau Twins shoegaze.

Even so, ‘Medusa’ stands as a collossal work- whether the industrial noise and semi-contained chaos of the song’s gaping sound chasm would appeal to everyone else as much as it does me is obviously fairly debatable (Martin Skidmore gave it a 3) but if my enduring memory of writing for the Jukebox is sitting up till 6am with this on repeat, steadily sobering, then I’m not complaining.
[Hazel Robinson]


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