So, how was 2013 for you?  The Riot Squad have had a brilliant year bringing you the best in contemporary music wherever we find it.  Allan, John, Klare and Louie have reviewed some exceptional live and recorded music throughout the year and we all thank you for reading our reviews and looking at our photos.  We couldn’t resist this opportunity to remind you of some of the artists we reviewed for the first time in 2013.

We saw live performances by the Emile Gerber Band (which became Stoneface Travellers), Henrik Freischlader, Josephine, Marcus Bonfanti (solo and with his band), The Kennedys, Federal Charm (twice), Black Casino & The Ghost, Coco and the Butterfields (several times), The Dirt Tracks, Carrie Rodriguez, Aynsley Lister, Civil Protection, Wheatus, Dean Owens and Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion.  Quite a selection, really.

We reviewed albums and singles by Henrik Freischlader, Marcus Bonfanti, Sally Shapiro, Tomorrow’s World, Black Casino & The Ghost, Jimmy Livingstone, Austra, Tess of the Circle, Aynsley Lister, The Nyco Project, The Dirt Tracks, Nadine Shah, Sullivn,  Radio (in my) Head, Tal National, Layla Zoe, Kinver, Au Revoir Simone, DENA, Hartebeest, Polly Scattergood, Glasser, Annie, Emika and John Grant and probably a few others as well.  Along the way we had some great fun and met some lovely people; you all know who you are, and we’re hoping to meet most of you again this year.

Looking forward to 2014, we’re hoping for more of the same.  The review copies are already coming in and it’s starting to look pretty good already.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of our predictions for 2014 from the Riot Squad and possibly from a few guest contributors as well.  And, while we’re on the subject of guest contributions, many thanks to Aynsley Lister, Steve Jenner, Marcus Bonfanti and Billie Ray Martin for their contributions to our High Fives feature last year.

ArrowsThe phrase ‘an acquired taste’ could have been made for Polly Scattergood.  She has a little girl lost voice and a tendency to cast herself as a needy victim to such an extent that the preference may be to send her to a good psychoanalyst than indulge in her recorded confessions. Her self-titled debut included a song called “I Hate The Way” in which Scattergood listed all of the things wrong with her and included the line ‘not all men are bad and I’m not like your dad and I’ll hold you even though you’re slightly mad’ sung from the perspective of her boyfriend. But she can have a way with a tune and her best tracks were perverse and genuinely dark, atmospheric electro pop songs. “Arrows” picks on up the synth-pop element of her first collection and broadens it with ballads as contrast; this is an album that is more slow than fast, are just as black-hearted and desperate.

Wanderlust” has a Numanesque overarching synth and sounds like Goldfrapp at their squelchiest.  It’s nice but derivative and the silky “Disco Damaged Kid” is one of the many songs here that builds into something very different from its first couple of minutes but fails to live up to the vivid imagery suggested in its title. “Falling” has a rougher New Order indie pop sound and “Machines” is a standout, a tender electronic ballad which builds to a convincing enough passionate climax. “Subsequently Lost” is probably the pop standout, a PSB type production, tight with an ‘I’ve subsequently lost my mind luv, apparently I’m going nowhere’ chorus which very much sums up Scattergood’s opinion of herself.

The album’s final track “I’ve Got A Heart” is appropriately heart-breaking; piano and synth chords, beautifully spaced out moments and also the confessional ‘the doctor gave me pills to take, to stop me feeling quite so awake’ line accompanied by strings which help play out the tracks final two minutes. If you don’t like this track then it’s unlikely that Polly Scattergood will be for you.  Alternatively the piano led ballad “Miss You” crams in all of her less sympathetic aspects, lyrically and also in respect to performance. It’s whimsical and self-pitying with juvenile lyrics referring to bedroom floors and chimneypot-lined skies.

“Arrows” is an album that sees Polly Scattergood lose some of the things that made her debut oddly compelling. She is clearly attracted to melancholy and that dark disco aesthetic that’s loved by many similar artists but here she is both more diluted and obvious than before. The thing that marked her out as being different, her own relentless self-involvement and a singing style which manages to be downtrodden and girly, are still here but the songs let her down more often than not. The surreal flourishes of songs like “Nitrogen Pink” and “The Bunny Club” from her debut have been replaced by more straightforward song writing and themes and where Scattergood was very good at narrating these kinds of escapist fantasies she is less effective with these kitchen sink type scenarios. There is a place in the electro pop world for Polly Scattergood I’m sure but she many have to go back to her initial influences and eccentricities to push her way back through the very crowded door.