Tag Archives: Radiohead

Radiohead ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ – Review

22 May

There was a time when Radiohead were the most important band in the world, something that you have to remind yourself of when listening to ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, a reflective, personal record that does everything to diminish its own significance. That time when Radiohead were angry, conflicted, political, popular and groundbreaking – that time my friends is called the past. For all their strengths, and this being Radiohead they are still a band with so many, they’ve made a quiet record with modest aims and mixed success.

They wisely bookend the album with their two best songs in at least a decade. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that’s because the songs were written over a decade ago. ‘Burn the Witch’ can be traced back to the ‘Hail the Thief’ days whilst ‘True Love Waits’ has been a fan favourite and concert staple since the mid 90s. Releasing them officially only now can be interpreted cynically as showing a lack of new ideas. Alternatively you could argue that it’s a case of the stars finally aligning for these songs. You could certainly make this case convincingly when it comes to ‘True Love Waits’ which is given a breathtaking, minimalist arrangement that compliments one of Thom Yorke’s finest ever vocal performances. Like a more alert and sober take on the sparse despondency of ‘Motion Picture SOundtrack’, the song relates some of the record’s simplest sentiments with one of its most memorable melodies. ‘Burn the Witch’s bruised politics and orchestral bite feels slightly less in keeping with the rest of the album’s sedate glow but it’s a fantastic tune nonetheless.

Then there are the newer songs – newness being a relative term. Many were debuted a few years back during acoustic Thom Yorke shows, and most retain that folky atmosphere. You can divide the keepers and the throwaways pretty evenly. ‘The Numbers’, ‘Desert Island Disk’, ‘Ful Stop’ and ‘Present Tense’ are varying degrees of bland and monotonous and are impossible to recall, even after hearing the album many, many times. ‘Identikit’ is better, one of the few songs other than ‘Burn the Witch’ to have any kind of tension or energy.

One of the rare songs that hasn’t been heard before is the gorgeously melancholy ‘Daydreaming’, an early album standout. The track introduces the album’s key theme – romantic disentanglement. ‘It’s too late, the damage is done’ Yorke purrs cryptically. He’s no more enlightening when he sings ‘have you had enough of me?’ or ‘different types of love are possible’ or ‘I feel this love turn cold.’ It all adds up to something frustratingly vague but often devastatingly beautiful. A breakup album? It’s never really that cut and dry, though it often points in that direction. This uncertainty is symbolised by the soundscape of the mesmerising ‘Tinker, Tailor…’ where the red raw melody floats through beats that makes a sound something like bullets muffled by clouds. It’s delicate and lovely but somewhat unsure of the point it’s making.

All in all the album measures up to a pretty but somewhat insubstantial album with a couple of classics to add to the collection and a few songs you’ll  never particularly want to hear again. In the rush to be the first to review the album, surely critics were too generous too soon – perhaps they were in awe of this great band. Now that the dust has settled surely the final conclusion must be a simple and blunt one – sure; sophisticated, stylistic, mature, nuanced, measured etc, but overall, isn’t it just a little boring?

As stunning as ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ often is, in its own way, I’m left longing for a Radiohead song that once again attempts to transcend the solitary process of listening through earphones – the best way to experience this and all other Radiohead albums since ‘Kid A’. I don’t know about a pool, this album often has all the actual depth of a puddle. I want a Radiohead song that wears its heart on its sleeve and lets you stare into THom Yorke’s soul as you belt the gigantic chorus right back at him. Radiohead used to craft honest to God anthems, it was their greatest strength, but ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ falls short on them. It falls short on anything with that level of passion and drama. Yes, puddles can reflect great beauty and ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ often does but surely Radiohead can access their old well of genius?



Mercury prize alternative list

25 Jul

The Mercury Music prize nominations were announced last week and I noticed that a lot of great albums were left off the list. To compensate I have created an alternative list, featuring albums I feel got overlooked (rules are the album had to be released between July 2010 and July 2011). It’s not that I disagreed with all the official nominations (although how Everything Everything made it is beyond me!) it’s just that I don’t believe that the list fully represents the best British music of the past twelve months (however a few of those albums deserve the recognition as much as any of the below). You can see the original list HERE and view my alternative selection (i.e albums that didn’t make the official nominations) along with an example of the artists work, below.

Arctic Monkeys – ‘Suck It and See’

British Sea Power – ‘Vallhalla Dancefloor’

Cats Eyes ‘ Cats Eyes’

The Horrors –  ‘Skying’

Jamie xx – ‘We’re New Here’

Magnetic Man – ‘Magnetic Man’

Miles Kane – ‘The Colour of the Trap’

Radiohead – ‘King of Limbs’

Rose Elinor Dougell – ‘Without Why’

The Vaccines ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines’

Wild Beasts – ‘Smother’

Yuck – ‘Yuck’

Radiohead ‘King of Limbs’ – Review

26 Feb

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past week you will probably be aware that Radiohead are back. Last Friday morning I can guarantee that music lovers everywhere were downloading ‘King of Limbs’ in unison, devouring and judging it almost simultaneously. This is a throwback to the days before leaks and downloads when people would que on sidewalks, waiting for the record store to open so they could hear their favourite band’s new album. It’s ironic because with all due respect to Radiohead and this album, ‘King of Limbs’ is about as far from ‘event music’ as it’s possible to get.

To begin with, it nudges away from big ideas at almost every turn. They’ve not released a single, there’s no real theme (just as you think one might be developing they switch lanes) and musically this is a subdued and laid back affair. Every member of the band seemingly wants to hide in the shadows; there isn’t a guitar riff of note, Thom’s lyrics are even more cryptic than usual, Phil’s drumming is jazzy and understated – only Colin’s Bass playing really jumps out as classic Radiohead. But somehow out of these elements they make a quietly brilliant little album.

But If you were expecting another landmark release, then this just isn’t it. ‘King of Limbs’ feels like a bridge between two islands, just as ‘The Bends’ paved the gap between the grungy rock of ‘Pablo Honey’ and the more serious ‘OK Computor’ or ‘Amnesiac’ cleansed the pallate before the rather epic ‘Hail to the Thief.’ But then again we don’t know where this bridge is taking us – we may be waiting for an album that will never come. Radiohead have often talked about ditching the album format and it could be that this is just the first in a longer line of mini albums, perhaps released at shorter intervals than the four years we’ve waited for this release. If that’s the case then ‘King of Limbs’ may ultimatley leave us underwhelmed.

Anyway, what about the actual songs? Well it’s a decelerating ride, getting quieter and more personal as it progresses. Beginning with an intense electronic jam that feels like a leftover from ‘Amnesiac’, a couple of spidery guitar based tracks and a dubstep influenced semi-instrumental, the first half passes by in a slightly anticlimactic way. That’s not to say that this side is week as such, it’s just that it’s a bit too familiar, more familiar than we would have expected. Out of these four songs only the opener, ‘Bloom’, is what I’d call a classic Radiohead moment whilst ‘Morning Mr Magpie’ and ‘Little by Little’ never really take off at all.

The second half gets increasingly more intimate and increasingly fantastic; there are two songs in particular that sit alongside Radiohead’s gentler classics such as ‘Nude’, ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack and ‘Last Flowers’. ‘Codex’ is a gorgeous piece of piano playing and ‘Giving Up The Ghost’ is a pastoral, folktronica style track  that feature some stunningly evocative lyrics. The second half ends with ‘Separator’ and I doubt you will read a review that doesn’t end mentioning this track’s coda where Thom repeats ‘if you think this is over then you’re wrong’. That’s because reviewers and fans will hope that this line (and the song’s title) is a hint that this album is merely the first part of something bigger. We will see…

Radiohead’s clean sheet has been maintained here and twenty years on the band are still at the top of their game in many respects, although not every respect. So how will ‘King of Limbs’ be remembered in the long run? It’s hard to judge until we know their next move because so much rests on what exactly comes next. In the cold light of day it is their weakest album since their debut but to give it that title is sort of doing the band a disservice, because this certainly isn’t a bad album. I feel it’s the calm before the storm; Radiohead are far from done and I can’t help but presume that this is another one of their stepping-stones. Still, as stepping stones go it’s a pretty beautiful one.


100 Best Albums of the Decade

21 Dec

100. Since I Left you – The Avalanches (2000) (The ultimate party album, made up of seemingly endless samples).

99. Turn out The Bright Lights – Interpol (2003) (Dark and bleak but these were not the simple Joy Division copyists they may have seemed to begin with).

98. Employment – Kaiser Chiefs (2005) (A catchy (some might say to a fault) and arresting debut album from post punk popstars named after an African football side).

97. Back To Black – Amy Winehouse (2007) (It’s amazing that this album did as well as it did, what with all the tabloid stories that plagued her (of her own doing of course). There is no denying the power of her voice or the brilliant production).

96. The Coral – The Coral (2002) (Fed off the Strokes success but kept true to their own unique and influential sound).

95. Faded Seaside Glamour – Delays (2003) (An often overlooked post Britpop, psychedelic triumph).

94. First Days of Spring – Noah and The Whale (2009) (Takes a traditional but overused theme and re-energizes it for the 21st century).

93. Modern Times – Bob Dylan (2006) (Bob’s work of the last ten years has been better than anything he’s done since the 70’s. Modern times was my favourite of the albums).

92. V – Johnny Cash (2006) (The moving final statement from Johnny Cash. Understated and magical).

91. An other cup – yusuf (2006) (After 30 years away Cat Stevens returned as Yusuf and it was as if he’d never been away. An Other Cup sounded beautiful).

90. Yours to Keep – Albert Hammond Jr (2006) (Solo album from The Strokes guitarist was better than most people would have thought. Packed with brilliant melodies).

89. Permission to Land – The Darkness (2003) (The Darkness were no joke, this had some of the biggest riffs this side of Back in Black).

88. Someone to drive you home – The Long Blondes (2006) (An album that obviously recalled Blondie but had so much more going on. Imagery plucked straight out of a film noir and some stunning melodies.)

87. Final Straw – Snow Patrol (2004) (One of the least cool bands of the decade, Snow Patrol may have spent the majority of it making sickly radio anthems but ‘Final Straw’ was an important, ambitious and heart warming stab at the big time.

86. Show Your Bones – Yeah Yeah Yeahs (2006) (Fever to tell was overrated – Their second album ‘Show Your Bones’ was their masterpiece.)

85. Discovery – Daft Punk (2001) (Faceless dance pioneers make the best party album of the decade).

84. Man In The Mirror – Rhymefest (2008) (Who would have thought a tribute album to the king of pop, produced by Mark Ronson would turn out to be the best hip hop mix tape of the decade? Obviously has new significance in light of Michael Jackson’s death but this was always stunning).

83. The Grey Album – Jay Z / Dangermouse (2004) Jay Z made two classic albums this decade but I prefer the dangermouse mix that gave Jay Z’s rhymes a more cohesive and imaginative backdrop).

82. You Are The Quarry – Morrissey (2004) (Morrissey’s return was triumphant, this decade saw the release of his best album since leaving The Smiths. Possibly the best comeback (of many) of the noughties.)

81. A Rush Of Blood To The Head – Coldplay (2002) (So Coldplay, like U2 before them, represent what a lot of people hate. Yes Coldplay made some terrible music this decade, but you cannot deny the influence this album had, you can hear it everywhere. And anyway, it features some jaw dropping songs, such as ‘Clocks’ and ‘The Scientist’. Underestimate this at your peril).

80. Colour it In – The Maccabes (2007) (This was a ramshackle debut made up of seemingly endless, brilliant singles.)

79. Michigan – Sufjan Stevens (2003) (Sufjan’s first grand opus was of a more restrained album than Illinoise, but no less effecting).

78. Be your own pet – be your own pet (2006) (Raw pop punk from a band that should have been much bigger than they were).

77. Summertime – The Drums (2009) (Technically this may be a ’mini’ album but I just had to include it – this band are without a doubt the ones to watch in 2010).

76. O – Damien Rice (2002) (Sombre and moving stuff from the Irish singer songwriter).

75. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (2008) (Innovative digi punk from two Canadian weirdos. One of the few truly original records released this decade).

74. Only By The Night – Kings Of Leon (2008) (This album alienated their old fans and brought them twice as many new ones. To me it was a natural progression from Because of the times and their success was very well deserved. This was an album it was impossible to escape for a year).

73. I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning – Bright Eyes (2005) Bright Eyes reached a creative peak with this collection of modern folk songs).

72. A Grand Don’t Come For Free – The Streets (2004) (The 21st century concept album that could be enjoyed as a whole as well as listened to in pieces thanks to some brilliant singles. Who could forget the youthful vigour of ‘Fit But You Know It’ or the tender ‘Dry Your Eyes’).

71. Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam (2006) (Grunge rock survivors returned with a politically relevant and exciting album of rock songs. This band are true masters of their craft.)

70. Wolfmother – Wolfmother (2006) (packed with intelligent and heavy riffs, ‘Woflmother’ was better than any real metal album released in the last ten years).

69. Sams town – The killers (2006) (British 80’s pop was swapped for Americana rock on The Killers red white and blue album. Greatly underrated, this album was an ambitious, swooping stab at greatness that paid off with the band soon headlining festivals and playing arenas.

68. Kala – MIA (2007) (A Very brave album from one of the decades most innovative and exciting artists).

67. Teenager – The Thrills (2007) (As definitive an album of being a teenager as I’ve ever heard. The band showed great progression from their original surf pop sound).

66. Glasvegas – Glasvegas (2008) (The Scottish Band’s debut was prone to filler but 6 of these 10 tracks were as good as anything else this decade, and Daddy’s gone in particular was one of the most effecting songs released in ages.)

65. Boy In Da Corner – Dizzee Rascal (2003) (One of the few truly trend setting British artists of the decade, Dizzee was in a league of his own when he released Boy In Da Corner).

64. Volume One – She and Him (2008) (Who would have thought that actress Zoey Deschanel would have such a distinctive set of lungs. A very pretty album).

63. All Hour Cymbols – Yeasayer (2008) (Exploring world music and western pop, Yeasayer’s debut had a truly distinctive sound.

62. Get behind me Satan – The White stripes (2005) (The follow-up to Elephant shocked many people for it’s lack of guitar, but this was an equally stunning and even more jarring album.)

61. Cross – Justice (2007) (A Dance album that got comparisons to Daft Punk – this was better than anything they did this decade. Cross was as fun as they come).

60. Black Holes and Revelations – Muse (2006) (The Follow up to Absolution was paranoid and twitchy but it didn’t hold back on the massive tunes, and they don’t come bigger than ‘Knights of Cydonia’)

59. LCD Soundsystem – Lcd Soundsystem (2004) (James Murphy did some brilliant work with his DFA label, but his own debut set the tone for what was to come in terms of dance rock and Nu Rave. Great fun).

58. Neon Bible – The Arcade Fire (2007) (A snapshot of a scary post 9/11 world, Neon Bible was the paranoid follow-up to funeral that was instantly darker and more intense, but as a result a little less enjoyable).

57. College Dropout- Kanye West (2004) (The most consistently exciting and innovative hip hop artist of this (and maybe any other) decade. A magnificent showcase).

56. Thunder Lightning Strike – The Go Team (2005) (Cut up, Mashed, lo-fi madness. This sounded like a 70’s cop show theme mixed with just about every type of music known to man).

55. A Certain Trigger – Maximo Park (2005) (It feels like A Certain Trigger has gotten better with time, maybe it’s because it sounded so similar to many other albums released that year – it’s class is now obvious).

54. 21 – Mystery Jets (2008) (Who would have thought Mystery Jets would have produced an album like this after their bizarre debut. A pop gem).

53. Puzzle – Biffy Clyro (2007) (Biffy Gave Math Rock a much-needed facelift and introduced it to stadium rock and melancholy on Puzzle).

52. Age of The Understatement – Last Shadow Puppets (2008) (This wasn’t simply Arctic Monkeys with strings. The combination of Alex and Miles was genius and they produced a stunning debut album).

51.Youth and Young Manhood – Kings of Leon (2003) (The Southern Strokes were one of the most consistently enjoyable acts of the decade, releasing 4 amazing albums in the space of a few years. Their debut is still my favourite…just).

50. Untrue – Burial (2007) (A true innovator, dubstep surely has a much larger role to play next decade, this will be looked back upon as a big step forward).

49. The XX – The XX (2009) (A unique act with a unique vision. Dark and claustrophobic but extremely passionate).

48. Jacksonville City Nights – Ryan Adams (2005) (Of all the many albums Adam’s released this decade, Jacksonville City Nights Is my favourite. Alt Country at it’s purest and best).

47. Merriweather Post Pavilion – Animal Collective (2009) (Animal Collective were truly the leaders of the pack this decade in producing innovative and out there music but it was when they conceded some things to pop that they unleashed their best work.

46. Invincible – Michael Jackson (2002) (The Last album Michael Jackson released in his lifetime was not the grand finale it should have been. But in his death we can view the album with fresh eyes, and songs like ‘Speechless’ and ‘You are my Life’ take on new meaning and beauty. It may have been too long and overblown but at it’s best this album has moments to rival anything released by Justin Timberlake or Usher.)

45. Absolution – Muse (2003) (This album was built for stadiums, from the marching intro to the grand centrepiece of ‘Time Is Running Out.’ They went from strength to strength this decade, and show no signs of slowing down.

44. Hot Fuss – The Killers (2004) (Their influences were all British and mid 80’s but there was something warmly American and very cool about this Los Angeles band. Simply they had some of the best singles released in ages).

43. So Much For The City – The Thrills (2003) (The Killers were an American band who thought they were English and living in the 80’s. The Thrills were Irish thinking they were living in 1960’s California. Keeping up! A wonderful collection of timeless songs.

42. Give Blood – Brakes (2005) (Short. Simple. Stunning).

41. Do You Like Rock Music – British Sea Power (2008) (British Sea Power went full-out rock for their third album, but lost none of the fine eye for detail that had made their other albums so good).

40. Elephant – The White Stripes (2003) (After the raw intensity of White Blood Cells, Elephant was a much more considered and powerful beast. This was stacked with riff after riff, including the magnificent ‘seven nation army’)

39. Down in Albion – Babyshambles (2005) (This received mixed reviews at the time due to it’s shambolic production, lack of editing and tabloid lyrics. Overtime these things have become a part of it’s charm and it is now assuredly a classic album of it’s era).

38. Saturdays = Youth – M83 (2008) (A nostalgic throwback to the 80’s and teenage romance, this album arrived at just the right time and benefited from the shoe gaze revival).

37. Myths of the near Future – Klaxons (2007) (So New Rave was one of the decade’s biggest failures. After a lot of interest and early promise only this record by Klaxons could match the hype, and this wasn’t even new rave. Only a few songs on here show ed prominent dance influence, the rest of the album is more in keeping with space rock or prog traditions, although there was energy to spare).

36. Your New Favourite Band – The Hives (2004) (A throwback to the garage bands of the 60’s, The Hives were one of the key plays in the garage rock revival of the early noughties. Four of these songs are as good as anything the Strokes or White Stripes did and the rest is pretty good to boot).

35. You Could Have It So Much Better – Franz Ferdinand (2005) In many respects a better album than their debut. Franz thought out of the box with songs like ‘Walkaway’ whilst staying true to former glories with the likes of ‘Do you want to).

34. 808s and Heartbreaks – Kanye West (2008) This was a truly bold move from Kanye. The world was expecting and would have made done with another Graduation but this came completely out of nowhere. Steeped in sadness and tragedy, Kanye expressed his emotion through a vocoder and 808 drum machine. Stunning stuff).

33. Who Killed The Zutons – The Zutons (2004) (The Zuton’s debut has been forgotten in recent years, if The Zutons are talked of at all it’s usualy in reference to the Amy Winehouse cover that was a big hit. But their first album was packed with tunes every bit the equal of ‘Valerie’. Just listen to ‘Remember Me’ or ‘Don’t ever Think’, two of the best pop songs released in zonks.

32. Room on Fire – The Strokes (2003) (How to follow-up a generation defining debut has stumped many bands, but The Strokes didn’t get enough credit for their second. Of course it isn’t as good as ‘is this it’ and it never could have been but ‘Room On Fire’ has it’s own charm and it still ranks as one of the best albums of the last 10 years.

31. For Emma Forever Ago – Bon Iver (2008) (An album recorded in isolation, away from the outside world – this is an old-fashioned lp of dedication and heartbreak.)

30. Album – Girls (2009) (Girls debut arrived in the final few months of the decade but it has already become a firm favourite. The band took classic melodies and themes and subverted them in a very witty 21st century way. You just need to hear ‘Big Bad Mean Mother*****’ to get my point. A classic.

29. Primary Colours – The Horrors (2009) (Strange House was brilliant no matter what anyone says – but even The Horrors biggest defenders couldn’t have expected an album as sophisticated, innovative and plain intelligent as this. It combined shoe gaze, garage rock and girl group pop, just for starters and yet despite this complexity they remained a must see, energetic live act.

28. We Are The Pipettes – The Pipettes (2006) (The Pipettes wanted nothing short of reinventing the wheel with this debut. Not deliberately ignored the usual male originated influences eg The Beatles, The Ramones and instead looked to female icons of the past. But this retro backdrop was accompanied by feminist lyrics that used humour to fantastic effect. This was great fun and hopefully a follow-up will be out soon.

27. Silent Alarm – Bloc Party (2005) (Silent alarm really was an alarm to announce that Bloc Party had arrived, and in style. This was a classy and polished debut that built upon what The Futureheads and Franz Ferdinand had done the previous year. It stands up to this day as a first class post punk album.

26. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (2008) (Vampire Weekend were a happy-go-lucky tornado that stuck the internet at the tail end of 2007. When their album proper came in 08 they ripped up everything. It was a unique sound that joined together upper class, sophisticated lyricism and African rhythms and guitar lines. ‘Vampire Weekend’ was sheer fun, and it never got boring despite many predictions that their sound would soon grate).

25. Day and Age – The Killers (2008) (A grand pop album that ticked all the right boxes. The Killers were always thinking big and after the music press gave mixed reviews to Sam’s Town , and ‘Day and Age’ confirmed the band as one of the brightest and most consistent of the decade.

24. American Recordings III – Johnny Cash (2000) (Johnny Cash made three classic albums this decade and it’s almost impossible to pick between them. American recordings IV was the sad farewell and V was the message from beyond the grave. The best though, if I had to choose, was American Recordings III as it was the last glimpse of Johnny in full form. His voice was as strong as ever and the songs chosen were impeccable, in particular U2’s ‘One and Nick Cave’s ‘The Mercy Seat’).

23. Stadium Arcadium – Red Hot Chili Peppers (2006) (By The Way was a great record but a flawed one which saw the band experimenting with breezy pop harmonies. It was a step a way from the funk sound towards something more clean. It’s follow up took an equally divulging path but a much more rewarding one. Stadium Arcadium is the sound of a band at their very peak, four of the best musicians in the world connecting over some brilliant music. At times it’s easy to think that Flea and John can read minds such is their brilliant chemistry and Anthony’s lyrics are a real step up from the early days. U2 released 2 good albums this decade but nothing that even came close to the brilliance of Stadium Arcadium; a staggering work.)

22. Favourite Worst Nightmare – Arctic Monkeys (2007) ( Arctic Monkeys were quite comfortably the decade’s best British band and where Oasis and The Stone Roses messed up Arctic Monkeys succeeded by following a huge debut with two great follow ups. It’s so hard for me to decide which one is better that I’ve put them together on the list. Favourite Worst Nightmare was a schizophrenic record that serves as a brilliant melting point of the intelligent rock of Humbug and the observational pop of Whatever, and their more recent album, whilst only a few months old, already sounds like a long-lost classic.

21. Humbug – Arctic Monkeys (2009)

20. The libertines – The libertines (2004) There is very little innovative here, there is some filler, some tracks are raw to the point of annoyance and you bet that very little time was spent over it. And yet has ever an album summed up a relationship, a period of time or a scene so well? ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ and ‘What became of the likely lads’ feature the most confessional, poetic lyrics of the decade and they are set to some unbelievably passionate twin guitar attacks. The Libertines were destined to be great, and against the odds this album has proven the test of time.

19. Wincing The Night Away – The Shins (2006) ( The Shins quietly made one of the decades most forward thinking and intelligent pop records, in fact they made three of them. Wincing the night away is my pick purely for the sheer quality of the many songs, and the ingenious sonic landscapes that the listener is dropped into.

18. Oracular Spectacular – MGMT (2008) (MGMT are often called the modern flaming lips, but at the pace they are going they will far exceed anything that band have done. Over ten tracks they collect an extraordinarily diverse set of songs all bound by a sense of adventure, fun and mystery).

17. I Am A Bird Now – Anthony and The Johnsons (2005) The first thing to hit you about ‘I am a bird now’ was Anthony’s stunning voice which instantly recalled everyone from Nina Simone to Annie Lennox. The next thing to hit you were the haunting and uncomfortable lyrics that confronted the listener on sexual taboos, abusive relationships, gender issues and parental relationships. The musical backdrop was avant-garde pop that stirred emotions in a way few albums have done. A unique talent.

16. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (2008) Fleet Foxes debut was an album of quiet majesty. Simple melodies, old-fashioned harmonies and a subtle yet intelligent group of musicians combined to make this one of the noughties most beautiful records).

15. American Idiot – Green day (2004) (Green day had fallen of the rails before their 2004 comeback that nobody saw coming. ‘American Idiot’ Captured the feeling in the air, the anger with politicians, the anger with the war in Iraq, the anger at George Bush. The songs were punky and just as catchy as anything from dookie but there was a new intelligence and strategy that hadn’t been present before, and American Idiot became their most successful record).

14. In Rainbows – Radiohead (2007) Radiohead haven’t made two similar albums in their career so nobody expected another Hail to the Thief. Neither were people expecting an album as brilliant as this, many had suggested that the band were past their best, but In Rainbows proved any doubters wrong; this was called by some their finest album yet. After the system shock of Kid A and the confusion of Hail to the thief this was a beautiful and intimate exchange with the listener that contained elements of all Radiohead’s best moments).

13. Illonoise – Sufjan Stevens (2005) (Few artists have ever been as ambitious or prolific as Sufjan Stevens, few albums as magical as illonoise. Steven’s unique style combined with lyrics about an average American state somehow melted together perfectly over an album that can only be described as a journey. From their strings and euphoria of Chicago to the sad intimacy of Casmir Pulaski day, this was a thrilling ride).

12. Sound of Silver – LCD Sound system (2007) (LCD Soundsystem provided the best dance album of the decade by some way. Whilst Basement Jaxx, Daft Punk and The Prodigy unleashed some massive singles, none of them made an album that could compete with sound of Silver as an album. Cohesive, diverse, funky, rocking, addictive – this album works well in any context be it the dance floor or the home.)

11. Hopes and Fears – Keane (2004) (Songs of subtle beauty and big chorus’s are a rare thing to find but Keane delivered 12 on one album, 2004’s biggest seller ‘Hopes and Fears’. Cool it wasn’t, popular it was (probably a correlation) but there was so much more to this album than snotty nosed critics would admit and it trumps any Coldplay album by a mile.)

10. Funeral – The Arcade Fire (2005) (Few albums were as acclaimed or influential this decade. It was an album that had it’s roots very much in the last century but seemed to fit in perfectly with American indie mid decade. Comparisons to Neutral Milk hotel were made and Funeral continues to be just as inspirational as ‘in the aeroplane above the se’a. A truly sublime record).

9. The Decline of British Sea Power – British Sea Power (2003) (A beautifully understated and oddly underrated album, this was one of the most, if not the most complex and complete debuts of the decade. BSP’s vision was, unusually for this day and age, undeniably unique. Musically they were a blend of post punk and indie but it was their literary lyrics and wildlife themed live shows that drew the most praise and attention. Most stunning of all was the chilling and epic ‘lately’ that brought the album to a jaw dropping close).

8. Up The Bracket – The Libertines (2002) (They were marketed as the British Strokes but The Libertines had been going for years before – it took Is This It to kick them into something great though. They swapped suits for leather jackets and they added some of their American counterparts fizz and sparkle. It was an extraordinarily important debut that was the first convincing British debut since ‘definitely maybe’ so many years before. In fact not since Morrissey was there a lyricist with such poetic bent, and such an artistic vision. Before his drugs meltdown Doherty was one of best talents to have emerged in a long time and his wit and intelligence are best represented on tracks such as ‘What A Waster’, ‘Horrorshow’ and particularly ‘Time for Heroes’ and ‘Death on the stairs.’)

7. The Magic Numbers – The Magic Numbers (2005) ( A slightly controversial choice for the 7th best album of the decade. Not sex pistols meets Marylin Manson controversy, in fact quite the opposite. ‘The Magic Numbers’ is such an old-fashioned, uncool and popular album that I doubt many other music writers will be placing them so high in these kinds of lists. This is an album that would have sounded more at home in 1965 rather than 2005, with it’s sunny melodies, heartbreaking lyrics and brother sister harmonies that instantly recall the likes of Mamas and Papas and The Beach Boys. The strength of the album is in it’s gorgous songs that reveal themselves overtime. Was there anything as catchy as ‘Forever lost’ or ‘Love me like you’ released this year? Was there anything as moving as ‘I see you see me’? These songs, prove that the ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it’ rule still rings true).

6. Smile – Brian Wilson (2004) (At one point nobody expected Brian Wilson to record again, let alone perform live, let alone perform Heroes and Villains live, let alone perform smile live, LET ALONE RECORD SMILE! The album that should have changed the course of musical history in the 60’s was finally released in 2004 to great acclaim and it was worth the wait. This may have been an album originally constructed for the hippie generation but it worked just as well in the noughties with its lush orchestration, beatnick lyrics and stunningly unique concept. Not quite as influential as pet sounds, but if this had been released in 67 it certainly would have been).

5. Kid A – Radiohead (2000) Kid A has been called the last traditional record and the first record of the current generation. It was probably the last anticipated album not to be leaked beforehand online (the follow-up ‘Amnesiac’ was arguably the first) whilst the digital marketing campaign was very modern and unique. This is also true of the frenzied music that sounds both distant and familiar, warm and cold, jarring and inviting. Over ten tracks they take you through every musical landscape known to man with Thom Yorke’s distorted or affected vocal being your miserable yet poetic tour guide. This was original and unexpected and it was one of the most influential albums of the decade.

4. Speakerboxxx / The Love Below – Outkast (2003) This was the white album for the 21st century. Like The Beatles, Outkast are very much a band of two distinctive personalities and musical talents. Over two discs both Andre and Big Boi have plenty of chance to shine, whether it be through hip hop, jazz, pop, rock, funk or soul. It’s best moments are Andre’ 3000’s ‘Roses’ and ‘Hey Ya’ which were fresh and catchy as hell.Big Boi’s more traditional disc is equally interesting and probably more cohesive – choosing a favourite is almost impossible, both discs offer something exciting and challenging.

3. Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand (2004) (Franz Ferdinand’s role in the development of 21st century British guitar pop has been vastly underrated. When they came along they just wanted to ‘make girls dance’ and at the height of the garage rock revival this was exactly what was needed. They were the antithesis to the scruffy Libertines, and equally as important. Bands like The Rapture had meddled with dance rock only a year before but Franz were the first band of the decade to do it really well and combine critical success with commercial success. If The Strokes were the leaders of the garage rock revival then Franz were at the front for the post punk revival that dominated the indie boom mid decade.

They were tight both musically and lyrically, they wore sharp suits, had a distinct artistic aesthetic and their riffs were perfectly angular. When they arrived the likes of NME and John Peel called them the ‘saviours of Rock N Roll’, and whilst this wasn’t strictly true you could see where they were coming from. Their sound was the type of funky, intelligent pop that the likes of Orange Juice, Gang of Four, The Smiths and Pulp had perfected and that no band had really had much luck with in years. This was one of the best albums of the decade, no doubt, and it’s influence is still apparent in 2009.

2. Whatever People Say I am That’s What I’m Not – Arctic Monkeys (2006) Alex Turner could raise a serious claim to being the most poetic British pop star of not only his generation, but of all time. Time has been kind to the words of Morrissey, Lennon, Cocker, Weller and Lennon but in 20 years time I’m fairly confident Turner will have surpassed them all. The lyrics to this debut album are the sign of someone who clearly knows what he’s doing and does it well. They deal with very Northern themes of everyday life, from dirty dance floors, taxi ranks, riot vans, pubs and women of the night. The way the words twist and turn in Turner’s mouth are brilliant and unique.

The words are the stars of the show but the music accompanies them brilliantly. It may not be revolutionary but there is energy and heart in each of these songs, the drums are manic, the bass playing is funky and the guitars are fuzzy and very melodic. Whatever People Say I Am, is in my opinion the best British album of the last ten years.

1. Is This It – The Strokes (2001) (‘Is This it’ was the most important album of the decade as well as the best. Before The Strokes came along Britpop was going through a prolonged, miserable death whilst the sappy ‘singer songwriter’ school of music and big beat dance were polluting the charts. The worst offender of all was ‘Nu Metal’ the most garish and offensive form of music ever devised by the devil. Bands like Papa Roach, Slipknot, Limp Bizkit and Linken Park somehow became popular and their blend of Metal, funk and rap infected all forms of pop culture from the charts to clothing to movies.

Clearly real music was not dead, it was just hard to find in the shops, harder to find in magazines and impossible to find on the radio. In fact to anyone without the internet or musical connections good new music was nowhere to be found. The Strokes changed this. They were good-looking and well dressed. This may seem trivial but it was very important because it differentiated them from the skater clones that head banged to Sum 41. With their skinny jeans, leather Jackets, greasy hair and model looks they were instantly a band to be beloved and copied in equal measure, and people have been copying their style ever since and their look is still impossible to escape, from high streets to Blue Peter.

Of course it wasn’t a new look – The Ramones had done it 25 years previously – but ever since grunge Baggy had been the cool fashion statement. The Strokes were different and they were cool. Of course this would have been meaningless had their music not lived up to their style. But it did. ‘Is This It’ sounded brilliantly old-fashioned and strikingly new at the same time. It had a crackly, lo fi aesthetic that made it sound like it had been buried at the back of your garden for the last 30 years. The fuzzy guitar solos and rich bass sound could be found on any number of records from New York from the 70s and it’s garage sound was first perfected back in the 60s. The lyrics were typical rock n roll fare that would excite and entice many a young listener. Their sound was retro for sure, but because it hadn’t been heard in so long it sounded new. Of course just because they were the most important band of the decade does not make this the best album. It’s the best album because it is the one that better than any other exemplifies why I love rock n roll.

It is in many ways the most perfect debut album of all time and yet It isn’t perfect – it sounds live, raw, unrehearsed, messy and exuberant. I love the mistakes, the random screams, the adlibs in ‘New York City Cops’, the blatant Tom Petty Rip off in ‘Last Night’ and the slurred vocals of the title track. I love the fact that it’s short and filler free, that the guitar solos all essentially sound the same, that the lyrics all essentially deal with the same theme. It is an album of teenage rebellion, young love, city lights, rock n roll excess and girls. These are the themes of every good rock n roll record of the last 50 years and The Strokes did it better than anyone in a long time. Is This It reinvigorated indie music and the shock waves from it’s release are still being felt 9 years later.

Reading and Leeds 2009!

6 Sep

Reading and Lees festival took place over the Bank Holiday Weekend and I was lucky enough to attend the Northern Leg. 2008’s festival was the best yet and I had doubts that 09 could ever beat it but if anything it was even better.
Over the weekend I saw a good mix of new and more established bands, kicking of the weekend on the Thursday with some new music from Wild Beasts, Bear Hands and Holy State. Wild Beats put on a great show on the back of their recently released (and hugely acclaimed) album, ‘Two Dancers’ whilst New York City’s Bear Hands were even better, showing why their debut album is so highly anticipated.

Other new bands to impress over the weekend included The XX, who put on a great show despite being all but drowned out by Leathle Bizzle on the NME stage. It was impossible to escape The XX’s simple but effective T Shirts that seemed to be everywhere (including on Vampire Weekend’s singer!). Their sound was lo-fi and emotional, just as it is on their album and I think they left everyone impressed. Hockey were also hugely impressive with thier blend of funk, pop and indie over on the FR stage. Their debut album is out next month and judging by this performance it is going to be massive (or deserves to be!). The Virgins put on a simple but high energy performance on the Sunday, bringing a fairly large crowd with them despite declining weather conditions. They performed most of their recently released album although many of the songs were disappointingly chopped or changed, and despite rudimentary playing and off key vocals it was an entertaining show. They were followed by Little Boots who brought some pop sparkle to the festival and The Horrors who may well have stolen the day with their already classic songs from their albums ‘Strange House’ and ‘Primary Colours’. They have improved a lot since the last time I saw them, 3 years ago, although they may have lost some of the raw punk energy that made their original show so great. Nonetheless this was one of highlights of the weekend, in particular their frantic version of ‘Count in Fives’ and the more laid back charms of ‘Who can Say’. I skipped Jack Penate and Jamie T after two disappointing sets last time I saw them, whilst the hottest new band in the world, The Soft Pack, unfortunately had to pull out leaving a space for fellow cool young things Amazing Baby, who alas could never compete. I also had to sacrifice The Golden Silvers due to bad weather; disappointing but hardly the end of the world.

Over on the mainstage Noah and The Whale took a more relaxed approach which was a nice change pace. Their new album is brilliant and they played some of its best tracks, such as ‘Blue Skies’. However I was pretty stumped as to why they didn’t play ‘5 years Time’, a summer anthem that would have set the Saturday off in style. Of the harder acts Fightstar impressed with their blend of melodic / screamo rock, knocking the crowd back with songs such as ‘The English Way’.  Enter Shikari were the weekend’s biggest disappointment, appearing unfortunately muted and worn throughout their short set, although it may have been me who was worn out by then!  The Prodigy warmed up the stage for Arctic Monkeys in truly electric style blasting through their hits in high octane warfare approach. ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Breathe’ were particularly mad, and newer material stood up very well alongside it. However Things got to much during ‘Voodoo People’ leading to mass crushes and people climbing ice cream vans to escape the masses!

Luckily Friday headliners Arctic Monkeys were a lot calmer, and much more sophisticated. They were apearing off the back of their sensational new album ‘Humbug’ so it’s fair to say I was looking forward to them more than any other band. Their set was a lot more ordinary than we have come to expect, in terms of songs. Whilst previously they may have played the odd B Side or in the case of 2006 kicked of with their biggest hit, here they kept things simple by opening with first song on their new album ‘My Proppeler’ before running through a setlist made up of classic oldies and newer album tracks. Even the 7 new songs they played have all been previewed live before so I was a bit annoyed we couldn’t hear ‘Dance Little Liar’ or ‘Jewelers Hands’, nonetheless the ones they did play were excellent. Compared to their highly energetic 2006 set, this headline slot was a lot calmer and composed. They swapped fast tempos for a considered pace and though the results were less exciting, they were equally enjoyable. If only some other people in the crowd could have appreciated their new subtleties. Whilst they danced and screamed to ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ or ‘Still Take You Home’ They yawned and talked though ‘Secret Door’ and even the new version of ‘Fluorescent adolecent’. More fool them because their whole performance was a real delight.

Bloc Party have played for 4 times in 5 years, so excuse me If I wasn’t to excited about seeing them. I was, however, pleasantly surprised as this was by far their best performance yet. Whilst ‘Silent Alarm’ remains their best album by a country mile (and they played considerably less material from this album than in years gone by), the band seemed very much at home playing their more dance influenced newer material. New Single ‘One More Chance’ went down very well and ‘Flux’ was another crowd pleaser. Lets face it though, Bloc Party were a means to an end. Saturday – heck, the whole weekend – was all about Radiohead. They Were every thing they could have been and more, possibly the most sublime live experience on the planet. Their set list was as perfect as I thought possible (until I saw their Reading set) with a fantastic mixture of new songs and classic sing alongs. Their opening couldn’t have been better – 15 Steps, Airbag, There There, Nude and Lucky all coming in the first 25 minutes. They did some great versions of songs from my favourite album of theirs (Kid A) including the highlight ‘National Anthem’. The conclusion was a stunning version of Paranoid Android before the frenzied ‘Just’ and the soothing end of ‘Everything in It’s right Place’. The light show was out of this world, the crowd were brilliant and the sound quality was better than I thought you could get at a music festival. I couldn’t have asked for any more – except maybe creep or fake Plastic Trees…but then again they could have played anything from their huge back Catalogue and I would have been happy. I can’t wait to see them again now.

Kaiser Chiefs on the Sunday were a must see despite the fact I have never been a big fan of theirs. Luckily I know how good they are live and I was not disappointed by their greatest hits set (despite only having three albums). They were up for it and so were the crowd, especially on ‘I predict a Riot’ and ‘Angry Mob’. The choice of who to see headline was not so easy, and it was a decision I fretted over. Kings of Leon or Faith No More? In the end I went for Kings of Leon and I don’t regret it. I have since heard of their bizarre Reading show in which they insulted the poor crowd and threw guitars at security. Well they couldn’t have been more gracious at Leeds, praising and thanking the audience at every turn and playing a much better setlist than they did when they played two years ago. ‘Red Morning Light’ was the highlight but it was the newer songs that most people had come for (something that so clearly grated Caleb at Reading.) Overall it was a very good end to a brilliant weekend. I would have loved to have seen Faith No More, and I only heard good things about thier show, but I am glad I saw KOL’s final performance of 2009.

Of course this festival wasn’t just about the music, and I saw some great comedians, films, shoops, food, and had a lot of fun over the 5 days I was there, but I would be here till christmas if I started on that…Bring on 2010!