Newton Faulkner, Corn Exchange, Brighton<br/>Operator Please, Concorde 2, Brighton

Even the young and groovy are caught in the trap of the earnest 1970s hippie throwbacks of today
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The Independent Culture

'Yawning Almost Killed Man." The headline on a billboard for the Argus had me checking my diary to make sure I hadn't inadvertently missed the Newton Faulkner gig.

Because, like a juggernaut with a dodgy satnav that sends it down a medieval cobbled cul-de-sac, God only knows that pop music has taken a catastrophic wrong turning somewhere along the way.

At some uncertain point at the turn of the millennium, between the first Coldplay single and the first Turin Brakes album, we started to sleepwalk into the current situation where the unquestioned ideal of honesty and integrity in music is one man (or woman) and his guitar (or piano), operating under their real name as shown on their birth certificate, playing heartfelt, unpretentious songs, acoustically, in a spirit of "I'm an ordinary guy, just like you, and here is my humble body of work".

Consequently, the kind of music that would once have been merely a niche genre for corduroyed dads, mocked for its oscitation-inducing tediousness, is now absolutely everywhere, and even associated with the relatively young and relatively groovy.

As a professional pop critic with an eye for the long-term sweep of musical history, one tries to remain optimistic and hope that this vile, life-choking, anti-pop movement is merely a phase we're going through, and nothing terminal. Maintaining such a cheery outlook in the face of Newton Faulkner, however, is a challenge.

Sam Newton Battenberg Faulkner, who may or may not be heir to a chequer-patterned sponge cake fortune, is another TV-advertised troubadour who was trained at a fancy music college, during which time he evidently also, in a classic act of upper-class dropping out, grew his ginger hair into the kind of Hucknallesque dreadlocks one normally sees attached to someone asking you if you have a spare 9p. (Have you noticed that it's 9p nowadays? Cunning.)

Caught in the crossfire of purple and green beams – who started the pernicious lie that green goes well with ginger? – and occasionally assisted by a drummer, a bassist or a beatbox, the 22-year-old from Surrey ambles through the material from his Hand Built By Robots debut album (half of it co-written by Crispin Hunt of forgotten Britpop also-rans the Longpigs), padded out with covers such as Massive Attack's "Teardrop" (made to sound like Nickelback in his hands).

He isn't the most excruciating exponent of his chosen style. He's a decent punchline-writer away from a career in stand-up: he has the storyteller's ease on the mic (every song is introduced with a tale about how it was written), and the barely bridled egomania.

It's when he stops talking and starts singing hippie nonsense like "I'm gonna take my shoes off... I'm gonna grow an afro" that it all goes wrong. "She's Got the Time", which is on more than nodding terms with the White Stripes's "We're Going to Be Friends", is his least horrible song, although recent hit "Dream Catch Me" is the most popular with his normal but lairy crowd.

He is essentially a younger, hipper version of one of those genial old folkie fogeys from the 1970s (Mike Harding, Tony Capstick). Or Jack Johnson with a bigger dog shampoo bill. Three cheers, then, for the not completely awful Newton Faulkner, who isn't as bad as some other people in the same game (if you see the name Sam Isaac, run a mile), but is ultimately utterly unnecessary. Yawn.

Sometimes, when a band's music is impossible to pin down, it's because it sounds like nothing on earth. More often, it's because they sound like everything. Operator Please, a teen quintet from Australia's Gold Coast, fall into the latter camp.

Led by the colour-coordinated duo of screecher-guitarist Amandah Wilkinson and singer-fiddler Taylor Henderson, with sidekick Sarah Gardiner threatening to steal the show by running on the spot in polka dots, thrashing a tambourine with drumsticks and playing Wurlitzer-style keyboards in furry cat-ears, Operator Please are overwhelmingly a female entity, the presence of a couple of irrelevant blokes (drummer Tim Commandeur and pretty-boy bassist Ashley McConnell) notwithstanding.

Their sound, or their messy, chaotic recipe of sounds, could with only a modicum of accuracy be described as riot-ska, or fairground-punk, or Bis-meets-Horrors-meets-Rednex-meets-Stranglers-meets-Le-Tigre, and it's epitomised by their third single "Just a Song about Ping Pong", which has become a runaway word-of-mouth hit.

You can always tell when a young band is on a rocket ride to the top when they display an effortless ability to get a crowd leaping around with more excitement and abandon than the headline act (a misfortune which tonight belongs to touring partners Good Shoes). And, while Operator Please might not be making a noise we've never heard before, they at least have a little life about them. In times as somnolent as these, I'll take that.

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