New Music Roundup: Saint Etienne’s Pop Blessing, Michelle Branch’s Glorious Throwback

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Posted on 01/24/2012 at 12:37 PM

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The Popdust Files: michelle branch, saint etienne

If our last roundup of new tracks was from artists on the rise–newly signed Azealia Banks’ “NEEDSUMLUV” and sophomore-album strivers Sleigh Bells’ “Comeback Kid,” to recap–this one’s about actual comebacks by artists who’ve long outlived those kids. Specifically, we’ve got music from one veteran, ever-consistent dance-pop group and another equally consistent pop-rocker, both of whom are releasing new albums in 2012 after years of little new material. It’s a fantastic concept, and the execution’s just as great.

SAINT ETIENNE, “TONIGHT”

Let’s suppose you’re really pissed off about something we’ve written, and you’re feeling a little malicious, and you’d like to destroy the stupid laptop on which I write stupid words. Here is one surefire way to make me leap out of my seat, make me spill my coffee and gum up the works (an almost true story; good thing I’ve got reflexes): announce that British dance-pop group Saint Etienne, whose lead singer Sarah Cracknell has one of the best voices ever, has released a new single to which Richard X (Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Roisin Murphy, Annie, and other dance-pop artists’ most awesome and/or stunningly gorgeous tracks) contributed.

In one sense, “Tonight” is what every other song named or containing “tonight” is about: how amazing the coming hours are going to be. Specifically, it’s about how amazing the music will render the night, and the group deploys every orchestral wash and crackling-sparkler beat, every spritz of synth and every molecule of poise in Cracknell’s voice (which is a million more molecules than most other singers can muster) to make this happen.

And make no mistake, that is their goal. Pitchfork quotes band member Bob Stanley thusly: “The whole album is about the power of pop, how it affects and shapes your life. People talk about the problem of landfill indie, but there’s so much landfill pop around at the moment–we’re trying to do something about it.” See? Not only is “Tonight” a little transcendent, it’s good for the pop environment.

MICHELLE BRANCH, “HAPPEN TO CALL”

Happen To Call by michellebranch

We’ve stated our bias before, and we’ll state it again: The Spirit Room was gorgeously furnished, Hotel Paper was more than worth the expense, and Michelle Branch released zero duds during that run. (No, not even the Santana song. Look, let’s not argue about this now.) The radio’s moved on from this genre, but Michelle has not; she’s still cranking out pop-rock tracks every bit as fantastic as the ones a decade ago. “Happen to Call” is from upcoming album West Coast Time, an apt title for the second track of late soaked in West Coast sound.

Like “Loud Music,” “Happen to Call” reproduces all the best elements of Branch’s music: a couple undeniable hooks (in this case, either the “oh-oh” that precedes each verse or Michelle’s cadence on “cryin’”), ultra-poised verses where the synths and drums twitch along, each trying to be more staccato than the other, and a powerpop chorus snappy as a soundbite. It only helps that “Happen to Call” has zero hard-rock namedrops, the biggest objection some reviewers had to “Loud Music” (we had no such objection, but it bears mentioning), and it helps even more that Branch’s voice has rarely sounded more buttery. If “Happen to Call” came out a decade ago, it would’ve been a smash. Respect your forebears; trust their judgment.

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