Alvvays ‘Antisocialites’ – Review

22 Oct

Antisocialites’, the new album from Canadian indie rock band Alvvays, is exactly the kind of second album it’s difficult to get right: one that continues down the debut’s main road but finds interesting little diversions, without ever venturing too far off the beaten track. History is littered with failed sophomore records that have either been too similar to the debut, not similar enough, too rushed, too laboured over etc. The balance is so tricky to get right, especially when you have a lifetime to write the first album and a year to write the sequel. But on ‘Antisocialites’ Alvvays have achieved success in style.

The band’s self titled debut was a heady, intoxicating summer mix of folky melodies and crunchy riffs with indie pop sensibilities scattered throughout. It positioned Alvvays as an old school c86 type band come to life in the age of Spotify and Instagram. They sang melodramatically about living life to the emotional limit, burning out and blowing up. Their vintage aesthetic and melodramatic outlook are just as prominent on ‘Antisocialities’ but everything feels less amateurish and more accomplished. It lacks a water cooler classic like ‘Archie Marry Me’ but from start to finish this is a more consistently interesting record.

Rankin comes from a traditional folk background (as the daughter of the acclaimed songwriter John Rankin) and tellingly she is brilliant at shaping melodies that feel uncannily familiar, yet somehow fresh at the same time. The tunes are sticky sweet and She has has grown in to a confident singer, willing to hit high notes and bend melodies to her will. If you find cuteness cloying then a few of these songs may grate, but there’s an acidic element to her lyricism that undercuts the sweetness. Take for example a line from highlight ‘Plimsol Punks’; ‘When I chip through your candy coating you’re stuffed with insulation/Just strawberry ice cream floating with a hint of indignation’. Clever, funny, sweet but a little bit deadly.

The band burst through these songs at a Ramonic pace, pausing only here and there for a couple of show stopping, minimalistic ballads that demonstrate a more tender and heartbreaking side. ‘Dreams Tonite’ is probably the best example of this; a hazy synth ballad that finds the middle ground between Galaxie 500 and Mazzy Star. Sharp synths are used ingeniously through the album, giving the album a slightly more polished sheen than ‘Alvvays’. And although occasionally the enthusiastic use of the instrument blurs the lines between the other instruments, giving songs an unnuanced fuzz that is a little unsettling, generally it adds a new flavour to Alvvays sound.

Rankin’ an astute lyricist, both superficially (rhyming unexpected phrases like ‘you and me’ with ‘rhetorically’ and ‘metaphorically’) and on a deeper level as well. She writes about well worn subjects such as love and loss in engaging and original ways. The water is a source of constant inspiration and symbolism for her – ‘You find a wave and try to hold it as long as you can’ – she sings at one point, which could be a metaphor for how Alvvays have navigated the perilous waters of the rock world. Elsewhere though water is less a guide and more a source of nostalgia, danger or romanticism. On ‘Already Gone’ the draining of a pool represents the end of summer, and more tragically, the loss of youth. On ‘Forget About Life’ drowning in the lake is a tempting last resort for a worn out soul. ‘You’re the seashell in my sandal that’s slicing up my heel’ she sings on ‘Plimsal Punks’ as she describes a walk along the beach with a frustrating lover. Even here, a seemingly innocent, pleasurable activity has an undercurrent of pain and danger. It’s another good metaphor for a band who are so much more than the cutesy, indie pin ups they might initially appear to be. ‘Antisocialites’ sounds great in any trivial circumstance but if you have greater cares or troubles, it will hold you, share with you and indulge you.

8/10

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Childhood ‘Universal High’ / Superfood ‘Bambino’ – Review

16 Oct

In 2013/14 Superfood and Childhood were a part of a loose Britpop revival, largely centred around Birmingham. Whilst they didn’t receive the acclaim of the more prominent Peace and Swim Deep, they were arguably the most talented bands on the scene. Live, Childhood were particularly impressive; they bathed themselves in dizzying light shows and casually immersed the audience in murky, modern psychedelia. Superfood had a more traditional rock set up but released an almost endless stream of potential hits – ‘TV’, ‘Superfood’, ‘Mood Bomb’, ‘Melting’ etc. Producer, songwriter and frontman Dominic Ganderton clearly knew how to write ear candy. The first time I saw them, Wolf Alice were the support act, and of the two it was Superfood who seemed the more likely to become megastars.

But what do I know. Superfood stalled whilst Wolf Alice scored a number one album and NME covers. Childhood fared no better, and ultimately their live charisma and stage presence didn’t translate In to a particularly brilliant debut album. Tellingly, both bands have ripped up the rule book for their sophomore records, embracing Soul, r&b and disco in valiant rebranding efforts.

Of the two, not that it’s a competition, Childhood’s ‘Universal High’ assuredly stands out. Their shimmering new sound is a natural fit with Ben Roman’s breezy vocals and the band’s laid back rhythm section. Acclaimed producer Ben Allen manages to make the transition from psychedelic rock to psychedelic soul easy on the ears; the mix is rich and deep with generous layers of backing vocals, warped synthesisers and jazzy bass lines floating in and out of focus underneath gorgeous melodies and guitar hooks. They hit their stride quickly with ‘AMD’ and ‘Californian Light’, two songs about nostalgia that also sound nostalgic for an inexperienced past. Later on, when the melodies float too far in to the ether and the hooks become diluted, the band’s consistently interesting sound still makes every song enjoyable if not always memorable.

On their second record Superfood, broadly speaking, trade in the lead guitar for a sampler, and the result is an airy, experimental album that feels brave in some respects but also a little faceless. From the bland, muted tones of the album cover inwards, ‘Bambino’ is an oddly sterile, bloodless pop record that feels far removed from the colourful maximalism of debut ‘Don’t Say That’. On that record Superfood proved they knew their way around a recording studio whilst keeping the focus on songwriting. But the production heavy style used on ‘Bambino’ impedes their natural enthusiasm and energy. They sound one step detached from their ideas – particularly on the undercooked singles ‘Double Dutch’ and ‘I Can’t See’. The pretty backing vocals, full bodied baseline and breakbeat of ‘Witness’ is more like what I remember from the first album. It has a deft melody that even Damon Albarn would be proud of. ‘Need a little Spider’ is another catchy throwback to the baggy decade that feels more fully realised than much of the album.

‘Bambino’ and ‘Universal High’ are risk taking records that understand the futile position contemporary indie bands are in. The most successful groups of their generation, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Nothing But Thieves and Royal Blood, largely achieved their (actually pretty minimal) success through compromise and diminished expectations. When that is one possible outcome, why not go your own route? ‘Universal High’ and ‘Bambino’ aren’t going to change the world but they set Childhood and Superfood on interesting new career paths that will hopefully lead to new and equally experimental albums.

Childhood ‘Universal High’ – 7.5/10

Superfood ‘Bambino’ – 5.5/10

Michael Jackson ‘Scream’ – Review

9 Oct

It would be easy to be cynical about ‘Scream’, the spooky new Michael Jackson compilation, released just time for Halloween. But in fairness to Sony, they have been remarkably restrained when it comes to cashing in on MJ’s legacy, especially when you compare it to how other icons, such as Elvis and John Lennon, have been treated. This new compilation of songs are loosely grouped together around the theme of horror, and whilst the connection is, in some case, tenuous, it’s nice to see some of Jackson’s less well known songs (it’s all relative of course)  get some exposure.


A few almost seem to rise to the challenge, and radiate in this context. ‘Blood on the Dancefloor’, the tightly wound title track of a remix album from 1997, pops and fizzes between the more familiar (and always classic) ‘Thriller’ and the badly dated ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’. ‘Scream’ might also be something of a revelation for people who never ventured to listen to 1994’s mammoth (and mamothly underrated) ‘History’. Here placed alongside the relatively placid ‘Leave Me Alone’, its ferocity and raw honesty is capable of shattering any preconceptions about Michael Jackson being twee or childlike. The song’s mechanical malfunctions and terrorised soundscape, its industrial tones and heavy arrangements, become more noticeable on an album like this, that seeks to find the horror in the sublime.


Not all songs deserve such a necessary reappraisal. ‘Threatened’ was the weakest track on MJ’s weakest album, and on an album like this that includes several hit singles, it’s inadequacies are brought in to stark contrast. The same can be said for much of the final third; I doubt any fan is going to write impassioned defences of ‘Xscape’, ‘Unbreakable’ or ‘Dangerous.’ As catchy as they are, none of these songs rank in the top tier of Michael Jackson deep cuts. Then there are the classics that don’t quite make sense on the track listing. I can’t understand what ‘Leave Me Alone’ and ‘Dirty Diana’ are doing here when perhaps the most blatantly eerie song in his back catalogue, ‘Is It Scary’, is relegated to a bonus mash up remix. And I’ve always found ‘Off the Wall’ – with the high pitched cackle at the start – kind of creepy; I wonder why it wasn’t added, particularly when nothing else from his late 70’s heyday is included on the album.


I don’t doubt that MJ would have sanctioned the release of ‘Scream’. After all, he always knew a good business opportunity when he saw one and he once seriously entertained the idea of doling a full blown sequel to thriller. But that doesn’t make this an essential listen. A fun one for sure, but not essential. Perhaps by its very nature, the album has the distinct vibe of something that had to be padded out. ‘Torture’, a mildly odd song from the largely cobbled together, post-Thriller Jacksons album ‘Victory’ sounds laboured and contrite compared to the material Jackson was saving for his solo albums at this point. The earlier Jacksons cut, ‘This Place Hotel’, is much better – a song as slinky and sly as it is spooky. And that’s kind of the argument that the best songs on ‘Scream’ make; they aren’t macabre or scary simply for the sake of it – in MJ’s mind fear is just another means of getting you to the dance floor.


6.5/10

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The Killers ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ – Review

3 Oct

‘Ive got soul but I’m not a soldier’. There is a fine line between genius and pomposity, and The Killers have never been afraid of dancing down it. ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ was of course one of several top tier indie pop songs The Killers put out in the mid 00s. On ‘Wonderful Wonderful’, they’re looking to add to the collection.

‘Are we human or are we dancer?’ Was another memorable head scratcher The Killers once put their name to, and ‘The Man’ attempts to answer that question with – why not both? In the music video Brandon struts around, gesticulating, grinning, shaking his hips, pursing his lips and pointing his finger to the sky whilst never quite convincingly selling us on the idea of being in on his own joke. What is it to be a man in 2017? Someone who is traditionally masculine but ridiculously flamboyant? Someone who is equal parts Elton John and Bruce Springstien perhaps? Someone who is deeply self-confident, maybe a little arrogant, but not afraid to own up to it? ‘Whose the man? I’m the man!’ The line between sincerity and irony – that’s another fine line in The Killers world.

‘The Man’ is an arena for Brandon Flowers to poke fun at himself, or at least the version of himself who emerged in 2003. but it’s obviously a costume he enjoys wearing once again. ‘The Man’ is the most confident he’s sounded in quite some time. It’s fun – but conflicted fun. It doesn’t quite sound as effortless and emphatic as The Killers very best songs. Even so, it’s as close as The Killers come to their peak on ‘Wonderful, Wonderful’, an album that hedges its bets for the best possible reasons, but is inevitably patchy, partially as a result of that.

In some respects the album feels like the missing link between ‘Battle Born’ and Brandon’s excellent solo album ‘The Desired Effect’; combing the bombastic, elongated soundscapes of the former with the mischievous poptimism of the latter. But that doesn’t quite account for brooding weirdness of the title track, the stadium rock reach of ‘Life to Come’ Or the frantic energy of ‘Tyson v Douglass’. ‘Wonderful, Wonderful’ is now the fourth Killers in a row to sound nothing like the one that proceeded it, which is pretty impressive for a band as successful as this. It’s also the only one, other than their true masterpiece – the criminally underrated ‘Day and Age’ – where each song sounds different to the one before and after it. Don’t get me wrong, there is no mistaking these for anything other than Killers songs (don’t expect a ‘Kid A’ makeover anytime soon) but each track on ‘Wonderful, Wonderful’ has its own distinct personality.

Typically, when it comes to The Killers, the metric is ‘the sillier the better’, and that largely holds true here. Of course they’ve always been pretentious but it’s usually been matched with copious amounts of eyeliner and pink tuxedos. That’s why the dusty leather jackets, Dylanisms and tired, homeland rock of ‘Battleborn’ fell flat – it just wasn’t silly enough. The ridiculous symbolism of ‘Tyson v Douglass’, the bizarre narrative of ‘Run for Cover’ and the sheer audacity of ‘Life to Come’s central hook (‘just drop kick the shame!’) signal that the band are part way back to their comfort zone. Just leave your inhibitions and prejudices at the door when you arrive at ‘Wonderful Wonderful’, if you want to truly enjoy yourself.

If there’s a flaw with the album it’s that it still isn’t silly enough. The record’s bloodless closer ‘Have all the Songs Been Written’ is heartfelt but takes itself too seriously. And the chorus and hooks are so pedestrian that you have to wonder how it made the final cut. The same could be said of the flatlining ‘Out of my Mind’ or the somewhat tasteless ‘The Calling.’ Producer Jacknife Lee should have intervened more to add some glitter to these flailing tracks. You get the feeling Ariel Reichsted for one would never have let this do. The hooks don’t pop enough and the arrangements show no imagination. These are decent songs but they hint at far greater, unexplored possibilities. However, even these songs, failures as they are, are ambitious failures. And they fail in different ways – whereas everything that failed on ‘Battle Born’ did so in the same, tired way. There is a recurring sense of enthusiasm and genuine investment in ideas that redeems even the weakest songs on ‘Wonderful Wonderful’.

At its best, the album reveals a soulful, beating heart at the centre of its pop dream. The gorgeous power ballad ‘Rut’ is a dedication to Brandon’s wife, who suffers with PTSD. As the song builds, so does the emotion, until it erupts in to an anthem for all the broken hearts out there. ‘Some Kind of Love’ is another ode to Brandon’s wife that at one point remarks ‘you’ve got the soul of a truck on a long distance haul’. In the Killers world, this passes as a loving compliment.

I’ve read a lot of criticism, mainly from American critics, that The Killers are playing to smaller crowds with diminishing cultural and critical relevancy. This is not only factually untrue, it’s also disingenuous. Show me a band well in to their second decade that hasn’t lost some of their potency and popularity. Why not ask why The Walkman haven’t made a ‘Rat’ in ages or why LCD Soundsystem didn’t have a ‘All My Friends’ on their recent comeback album. Why do The Killers always get cast under the shadow of Mr Brightside? Why are they always held up to ‘Hot Fuss’? There’s a reason this album is the band’s fifth number one whilst most of their contemporaries reside In the where are they now file; it’s because they’re genuinely one of the best bands around. ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ isn’t perfect, nor is it a soldier, but it’s got soul – which is a daft statement, but The Killers will know what I mean.

7/10

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The Horrors ‘V’ – Review

25 Sep

The Horrors have talked a lot recently about the perceived failures of their last album ‘Luminous’, a meticulously crafted and expansive sounding record that was absolutely hollow in the middle. ‘V’ is here to atone for its sins. They haven’t made the same mistakes, they promise. Where that album was slaved over, ‘V’ was largely the result of spontaneity. Where that album saw the band bend to people’s whims, ‘V’ is resolutely uncompromising. Where half baked ideas were given too much credence on ‘Luminous’, on ‘V’ only the very best will do. They’ve talked of it being a new chapter, whilst also loosely comparing its feeling to early singles like ‘Sheena is a Parisite’, promising that those neglected ‘Strange House’ era songs will find a new home on upcoming set lists, alongside new material.

Regrettably, at first flush, none of the above is actually borne out by the music. A couple of minutes in to the plodding opener ‘Hologram’ you start to get an overpowering sense of deja-vu. You see, the main problem with ‘Luminous’ wasn’t any of the things identified by the band – it was the lack of danger. ‘Strange Houses’ and ‘Primary Colours’ (and to a lesser extent ‘Skying’) were packed with violent guitar attacks, savage melodies and an unstoppable forward momentum. Faris was always on the verge of a full blown meltdown and you never quite felt sure which direction he would wade in next. The lush and layered ‘Luminous’ was simply too safe.

‘V’ is marginally better but not because it addresses that fundamental flaw. The melodies are generally that bit sharper, and in lead single ‘Something to Remember Me By’ it contains one genuinely great song (which is one more than ‘Luminous’ had). And the sound of the album is superficially more unpredictable, at least. Each song is crammed full of malfunctioning electronics and collapsing surfaces, giving the whole album a discomforting, dystopian vibe. But perhaps because of this, it’s pretty difficult to feel a connection with anything Faris is singing. Key tracks on ‘Primary a Colours’, not to mention his beautiful contributions to Cats Eyes records, proved that he has a sensitive side and is capable of indulging it; but nothing on ‘V’ leaves any significant emotional dent. He continues to embrace his inner Choir boy with his considered vocals, but fails to connect with the material. Like the music, his singing is superficially stunning, but almost totally heartless.

With a lack of danger compounded by an absence of emotion, you might be left questioning if ‘V’ is worth figuring with at all. But on a purely sonic level, it’s full of rewarding experimentation. The aforementioned ‘Something to Remember Me By’ glistens under a mild techno production and is packed with endearing nods to New Order. The heavy, industrial tone of ‘Machine’ and ‘World Below’ feels genuinely new for the band, undercutting the polished, shimmering surfaces found elsewhere on the record. The opening track, ‘Hologram’, lethargic as it may be, is proper fuzzy bass, stadium synth territory; somewhere between Depeche Mode and, dare I say, Muse. Producer Paul Epworth, now largely known for his work with pop acts like Adele but once the man behind the boards for Maximo Park, The Futureheads and Babyshambles, executes the band’s vision pretty perfectly. It’s polished and poppy but with a weird, somewhat grotty underbelly.

One thankful improvement on their last record is that guitarist Josh Hayward, neutered on the slick ‘Lumious’, is featured more prominently. His recognisably ugly shredding style, that makes hard work of even most simple notes, adds dark grit to the likes of lurching highlight ‘Machine’ and ‘Press Enter to Exit’. His style is certainly preferable to the sexless, stodgy work of the rhythm section who, for all its vinyl collection credentials, never seem to have discovered the funk section of a record store.

While ‘V’ doesn’t match up to The Horrors first three albums, or herald a brave new direction, it does to some extent get right what ‘Lumious’ failed to achieve – it’s bright, dense and synthetic but with something closer to the unpredictability that The Horrors are known for. Thus, hopefully, it should close this chapter of the band’s history, leaving them free to get back to the business of ferociously and wholeheartedly clawing their way through unexplored genres.

6.5/10

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Review Round Up

21 Sep

Rostam ‘Half Light’

Vampire weekend’s chief architect Rostam has been busy of late, rebranding himself as a post-pop auteur, shaping deep cuts by Carley Rae Jenson, Solange, Haim and Frank Ocean. On his proper debut album ‘Half Light’ he collects some solo songs that have been knocking around for years and puts them together with some new material. ‘Half Light’ effectively conveys Rostam’s imagination, enthusiasm and the diversity of his interests; but what it has in ambition, it loses in coherence. Fifteen tracks is probably a handful too many.

On opener ‘Sumer’ he unwinds a complicated melody, while orchestral flourishes adorn the background. It gives the impression that ‘Half Light’ may take us in the direction of ‘Person Pitch’, and to that end he sounds not dissimilar to Panda Bear. Elsewhere his voice, always on the verge of breaking in to tears or laughter (I can’t quite tell which) recalls Devandra Banhaet, Anohni or, fittingly, a more whimsical Ezra Koenig – without ever quite carving out its own identity. Similarly, he confidently unrolls tracks influenced by Ska, pop, trap, r&b and indie rock without ever hitting upon a sound that is truly his own. Still, ‘Half Light’ is further proof of Rostam’s prodigal talent for understanding, and breaking down, genre.

7/10

Foo Fighters ‘Concrete and Gold’

Foo Fighters albums come along reliably every three or four years, and ‘Concrete and Gold’ is just that – another Foo Fighters album. Certainly nothing more, but perhaps a little less. It certainly doesn’t compare to their career best ‘The Colour and The Shape’ or their recent stand out ‘Wasting Light’. In fact it contains less hooks, less surprises and less reasons to listen than even 2015’s disappointing ‘Sonic Highways.’ Admittedly Foo Fighters have always been a singles band but the singles on ‘Concrete and Gold’ are more auto-pilot than ‘Learning to Fly’, more over-long than ‘everlong’. Only the magnified harmonies used through the album add colour to what is otherwise a fairly middle of the road rock album. Bloated and dull, but always reliably proficient, ‘Concrete and Gold’ is the sound of a great band running out of new ideas and losing touch with old ones.

4/10

Prophets of Rage ‘Prophets of Rage’

A lot of people have already theorised about why Prophets of Rage (who include members of legendary bands Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy and Cyprus Hill) sound so off-point despite sticking to a formula they’ve all successfully used in the past. For my money it’s the absence of the four letter word that links the band to their main forefather. RAGE. Prophets of Rage’s music is recognisably propulsive thanks to the same rhythm section, the same legendary guitarist using the exact same instrument and shredding better than ever. But one vital ingredient is missing. Zack De La Rocha. I never realised just how necessary his incendiary lyrics, uncensored anger and room shaking vocals actually were to the success of the band. In his place are Chuck D and B Real, two rappers who at best sound like tame approximations of not only De La Roche but also of their past selves. There is seldom any bile or originality in their uncomplicated rhymes either, which are delivered with little of the passion that their platform demands. There will always be a place for energetic, well intentioned political punk rock, and ‘Prophets of Rage’ is an enjoyable record – it just never motivates, agitates or inspires like you feel it should do.

5.5/10

 

The National ‘Sleep Well Beast’ – Review

17 Sep

I feel like every review of a new National album starts from the assumption that it is going to be boring. When I return to them, I think I start from that assumption as well. I suppose their sad, slow songs are so good that we collectively forget there are both shaggier and sharper sides and edges to this band. Songs that shout, scratch and shriek. Songs that pop like balloons. All sides of the band are represented on their seventh (seventh!) album, ‘Sleep Well Beast’, whose biggest achievement is how it manages to readjust the temperature controls ever so slightly whilst essentially keeping the listener feeling comfortable and relaxed. This is still a National album, and it sounds like it. But things are just ever so slightly grouchier, darker and more agitated.

The big picture is that this is Matt Beringer’s divorce album – the twist being that the writing process actually saved the marriage. It encompasses all the rage, contemplativeness, grief, depression, optimism and renewal that that process implies. Nice idea, but, well, both Beyoncé and Jaz Z stamped their names on that idea on their most recent albums, and besides, every National album has covered themes of grown up, marital disharmony before. So what’s really new?

Mostly it’s the music. At times the sounds are more fragmented than they’ve ever been before, which makes it feel like the band members are working against an ideal of unity; rubbing up and pulling at the edges of each other. On lead single ‘The System only Dreams in Total Darkness’, a Woody Woodpecker guitar squeals and splutters in fits and spurts while brooding percussion builds tension and drama. On ‘Empire Line’, a tightly wound beat rattles against thudding synths. Peculiar vocal snatches, and a flickering high hat, disrupt Beringer’s bassey croon on ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’. The songs themselves aren’t anything particularly groundbreaking for the band, and a couple are completely forgettable, but it’s consistently fascinating on a sonic level. Throughout there are guitars shredding against crystallised beats or bass lines circling in spite of chaos and noise. This creates for a tension that makes ‘Sleep Well Beast’ decidedly not an easy listening record, in spite of the grand pianos and stately melodies that ground almost every song.

You sense it wouldn’t be quite like this if it were left to Matt Berigner. By quite some distance this is his sleepiest contribution to a National record. His singing is lazy – even on the frantic, oddly positioned rocker, ‘Turtleneck’, he sounds like he’s on downers, fighting against a head cold. Thankfully then, his lyrical contribution is as singular as ever. He shines a light on the dusty corners of a marriage; with a novelist’s eye for odd detail and a Soap writer’s awareness of pure emotive power. As I said before, marital disharmony is hardly new ground for The National – arguably nothing here hits as hard as ‘Slipping Husband’, a frantic song on the subject from the band’s second album – but they’ve never gone in at the angle quite so doggedly before. In the past middle age was a scary prospect, creeping around the corner, here it’s a living and breathing reality.

To compensate for the necessary dullness of what is being described – essentially a slow, mundane collapse of a relationship – Beringer’s language becomes typically colourful and unusual. His style is to mix stone cold realism with ambiguous surrealism, to leave the reader swimming in the contrasts. And so, for example, we get intriguing head scratchers like ‘for years I used to put my head in the speakers in the hallway’ and ‘no other faith is light enough for this place’, splashed in with the brutal, simple honesty of ‘I don’t need you, besides I barely even see you anymore.’ The overall effect is both disorientating and captivating – it’s what makes Matt Beringer such a unique lyricist.

He knows when and how to dial it back as well. The National have always been capable of delivering gut punchingly simple sentiments (‘About Today’, ‘Lucky You’, ‘Slow Show’, ‘I Need My Girl’), and here they do it with the album’s best song ‘Dark Side of the Gym’, a pretty tune with a refrain of ‘I’m going to keep you in love with me’. It’s a song about how quickly time passes – one minute you’re struggling to talk to the girl you like, the next minute you’re on the brink of separation. The ultimate message though is about perseverance and commitment, and The National remain the greatest embodiment of, and ambassadors for this idea. The small miracle is that after all these years, The National Still sound like The National. Altered a little perhaps but recognisable as the same band. Like the longest lasting marriages, they’re complicated, slightly unstable and built on a foundation of deep lasting love.

7.5/10

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