Tuesday, December 30, 2008

the best album and single of 2008

TV On The Radio - Dear Science

Oh, Lord. To think that four months ago I had never heard a TV On The Radio album before.

Life has actually improved, thanks to the blistering rants of Dancing Choose and Red Dress, or the touching melancholy of Love Dog and Family Tree.

Every song stops you in your tracks. Each and every one is so different, so set apart from everything else 2008 had to offer. It is an utterly remarkable listen.

Once I finally drag myself away from Dear Science, 2009's first task will be to explore their previous, less commercial works. In the meantime you just go buy this. Now.

MGMT - Time To Pretend


Take the hook of the year, surround it in a psychedelic pop casing, furnish it with knowing lyrics of escaping the ratrace for the 'dream' of fame (yeah it's overwhelming/but what else can we do?/get jobs in offices/and wake up for the morning commute?), and you've got the unquestionable single of the year.

And what of the hoards of teens drawn to Oracular Spectacular by these tightly woven singles? They were battered by an eclectic waves of music. Not all worked (the NME naming it Album of the Year was a joke), but when it did (The Youth, Of Moons, Birds and Monsters) it lived up to the lead single's promise.

the second best album and single of 2008

Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid

2008 was undoubtedly Elbow's year. I was lucky enough to see them at the album's preview gig in
London back in February, a month before its release, and even then it was clear that this was their greatest body of work yet.

And then the thrilling stomp of lead single Grounds For Divorce didn't garner the attention it deserved, and following a collective shrug, everybody stayed put for a couple of months assuming the monumental One Day Like This would go stratospheric. Again inexplicably, it was only a minor hit.

Glastonbury, where those that weren't talking about how good Jay-Z was were more than likely to be found describing the wonder of Elbow's performance instead. Despite that, and plenty of BBC airtime, they remained the criminally undervalued band they've always been. And then the Mercury Prize, of course.

But it's difficult to overstate just what a stunning album this was. The two aforementioned singles grabbed the attention, but each track was a beautifully crafted, distinct wonder in itself.

Sample the majestic Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver, the literate detailing of love in An Audience With The Pope, or the classy comedy of The Fix. 2008 was a lucky year.

The Killers - Human

Some people just have the knack for creating the tunes of the decade. This perfect 4 minutes can be laid down right next to Mr. Brightside as a track that will be adored for many years to come.

It raised the hope that the album Day & Age might be full of similar indie-electro dancefloor classics, instead of the assuredly silly pop we were left with.

After getting over such a shock, it proved a thoroughly enjoyable listen, better than the remarkably overrated Hot Fuss (has there ever been a greater contrast between a stunning first half of an album and a dire second half?) but not quite as good as the remarkably underrated Sam's Town.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

the third best album and single of 2008

Coldplay - Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends

Their most consistent work since Parachutes, album #4 saw Coldplay successfully better themselves in all areas of album creation.

Cemeteries of London improves upon What If?. There's nothing as instantly skipable as Low or Twisted Logic off X&Y, or Daylight and A Whisper off the oft-acclaimed A Rush of Blood to the Head. And Strawberry Swing would've been the best song on Parachutes.

Violet Hill is a terrific and original track, the aural imaging of a giant robot rolling across the Spanish countryside. Chinese Sleep Chant is five fold better than the aforementioned Twisted Logic, and Viva La Vida very nearly tops Fix You as the best song they've ever written.

A scattergun album that is their most complete to date, from one of the planets' best selling bands, yet that now seem artistically underrated. Curious.

Eric Prydz - Pjanoo

Or: where Mr. Prydz takes the filthy wealth he made from the adequate but horrifically attention seeking Call On Me, and decides that credibility should be his next aim, magically releasing the club anthem of the year in the process.

Repeating that irresistible hook alternately between piano and gorgeous trance strings, it built and crashed over six dazzling minutes (so long as you avoid the castrated radio edit).

More of this sort of thing please, Eric.

I'm counting down my 10 best albums and singles of 2008. An act can only be named in either list once. Also take a look at last years top 10's.

the fourth best album and single of 2008

Bloc Party - Intimacy

The creators of 2007's album of the year return, somehow making much less impact than with their last album.

It's difficult to tell why, as this glorious mix of early Bloc Party urgency, A Weekend In The City ambition, and Chemical Brothers inspired beats should have had students up and down the land foaming at the mouth.

It's the album Silent Alarm would have been if it was all as good as the opening five tracks. Here is a band that get stronger and more interesting with each album.

Bloc Party: the kings of modern indie.

White Lies - Death

Staying on the indie dancefloor, this perfectly crafted single is like (in the spirit of lazy NME journalist cliché) Smile Like You Mean It on crack.

It's the kind of track that makes you want to hijack DJ booths to play. Will be huge in 2009 if they've got a couple more singles this good.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

the fifth best album and single of 2008

Glasvegas - Glasvegas

Lyrically the album of the year, its strengths were in its vivid depiction of East Glasgow life, and the honesty of which lead singer James Allen let you see into his own soul.

The utter highlight was It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry, a stunning work where James Allan is the jealous, adulterous, paranoid, womanizing, hypocritical villain approaching his comeuppance.

Superb Christmas EP too, which suggests this class act have much further to travel yet. Exciting times.

Hot Chip - Ready For The Floor

Still sounding fresh and unique 12 months later, here Hot Chip took the mania of breakthrough track Over and Over and had the confidence to strip back, slow down the tempo, and add extra groove.

The album was overstocked with balladry for personal tastes, but this utterly creative, utterly danceable track was sheer joy to the ears.

Friday, December 26, 2008

the sixth best album and single of 2008

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

An album where the backstory is as well known as the record itself. Guy beaks up with girl, guy flees to solitary confinement at father's log cabin with only guitar for company, guy writes one of the very best albums of the year.

Simple acoustic tales of heartbreak, then, but this is perfection of the genre. The heartbreak is so very real, the reflection and isolation always apparent.

The perfect album for your own moments of reclusion.

Kings of Leon - Sex on Fire

Something like their 9th classic single, here KOL took a leaf out of The Killers book and by taking the purposeful guitar work they were always known for and mixing in just the right amount of absurdity and radio-friendliness to create their long-overdue ubiquitous hit.

Deservedly so, but if you're thinking of buying the album on the strength of this and Use Somebody don't: just download them, and then either buy Because of The Times or stick with The Killers and buy Sam's Town instead. They are the absurdity/radio friendly masters.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

the seventh best album and single of 2008

The Music - Strength in Numbers

How best-song-they've-ever-done Drugs went completely ignored will remain one of 2008's greatest mysteries. It's the standout track on the third brilliant album from the forgotten Leeds band.

Elsewhere there's another bank of solid rock here, tracks like Fire and Vision won't set the world alight, but they add further to the band's increasingly dependable legacy.

And before it breathes it's last, just wait until you witness the new prog destroy-all-its-in-path monster that is the secret track. Think Led Zepperlin crossed with the Muse classic Knights of Cydonia.

Since Elbow finally found success, the country's most underrated band.

Benga & Coki - Night

The pinnacle of dubstep in 2008, despite being released back in February. It's all thanks to one simple hook that had a level of addictiveness somewhere between blueberry muffins and heroin.

12 months ago every underground dancefloor was awash with people wanting to know what 'that' track was. We personally sang it round and round for 20 minutes whilst walking back from seeing Benga at Glastonbury at 3am, much to the amusement/bemusement/occasional irritation of our fellow festival goers. Sorry if any of you are reading this, musical heroin does that to you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

the eighth best single and album of 2008

Chase and Status - More Than A Lot

Let's rewind 12 months. One of my most anticipated albums of 2008 was from Pendulum, following their superb debut album it was reasonably expected that album two would see them rise to become the next Prodigy, not as the turned out, some appalling mashup of their first album and Nickelback.

Kind thanks then, to Chase & Status. The Drum and Bass producers have quietly come to dominate every bass heavy clubnight over the last 3 months, with any of the 12 tracks here going down fittingly well at the peak of the night. Smash TV in the pinnacle - a simple tease and release joy based around a wall-toppling bass hook.

Not that this is a one trick album. Hip hop and jungle are present and strong, whilst the two dubstep tracks (the Bollywood-tinged Eastern Jam, and Running - the track surely to take dubstep into the mainstream in 2009) are exemplery samples of the genre. Pendulum who?

Middle Class Rut - Busy Bein' Born

Superb debut rock single from some bunch of Californians, that somehow seem to have so far gone fairly unnoticed (Only 4,000 Youtube video hits? Really?).

Weird, as to these ears this glorious racket should be playing at every rock clubnight across the country. Simple, brutal fun.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

the ninth best album and single of 2008

British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?

The reviews way back in January seemed unanimous, "best work yet", "up there with Arcade Fire", "better than kicking a tramp", and indeed those were persuasion enough for British Sea Power to come along and fill the Arcade Fire-shaped hole in my life.

Highlights drip from every corner of this album. From the glorious single-ready duo of No Lucifer and Waving Flags, through the beautiful building instrumental joy of Golden Skua, to the building climax that is Atom, and alongside every winning track that infects you along the way, it's an album that reeks quality.

Red Light Company - Meccano

Although in all honesty it could have been any of the three Grade A singles they released this year (them being With Lights Out and Scheme Eugene).

On the strength of those, Red Light Company deserve to be as big as Vampire Weekend or Scouting for Girls in 2009. It's classic indie-pop, like a more anthemic, bigger version of The Kooks.

Fluffy, addictive, and with a little kick to it. It's the musical equivalent of lemon and raisin pancakes.

I'm counting down my 10 best albums and singles of 2008, and this year doing a bit of writing about each one. An act can only be named in either list once. Also take a look at last years top 10's.

Monday, December 22, 2008

the tenth best album and single of 2008

Hello. I'm going to count down my 10 best albums and singles of 2008, a pair of them each day until NYE.

10. Port O Brien - All We Could Do Was Sing

Evidence if ever it were needed that great trials inspire great art, this album is based around the lead singer's enforced summers spent on his father's fishing trawler in Alaska every summer whilst growing up. The theme runs throughout the record, as Van Pierszalowski dreams of escaping the alpha-male, 20-hour day environment he finds himself in. Part British Sea Power, part Stephen Fretwell and part David Attenborough arctic special, it's simple tales-of-isolation are of the highest quality.

10. Tilly and The Wall - Beat Control

The best pure pop moment of 2008 (narrowly beating Dizzee & Calvin and Ting Tings - Shut Up and Let Me Go into this countdown), this happy little pop tune would've put a smile on Johnathon Ross's sullen face this winter. Why it didn't bother the Top 10 like the aforementioned modern pop gems is anybody's guess. Bright, bouncy, and makes it's point in less than 3 minutes so that by the end all you want to do is play it again. Ace.

I'm counting down my 10 best albums and singles of 2008, and this year doing a bit of writing about each one. An act can only be named in either list once. Also take a look at last years top 10's.

Friday, June 06, 2008

99 Problems, ticket sales ain't one - An Ode to Glastonbury

[Verse One]
It's half past eight on a Sunday morn
Driven thirty miles to my office in Eastbourne
Get there, switch twelve computers on
Speed dial ready, finger over the F five button
Clock strikes nine engaged tone on the line
Half hour gone, they’ll be sold out in no time
Then here texts dan, from his garden
He’s got tickets for himself always hated that man
Whilst catching a tan, screw my careful plan
Well I've shagged his girlfriend, couldn't give a damn, so
'nother hour in, finally your luck begin
Then you find out everybody else has had a win
Got 3 hours sleep for this, have you know
Could have slept 12 hours an' still be good to go
fall asleep at the wheel while i'm driving home
I got 99 problems ticket sales ain't one
Hit me

99 problems ticket sales ain't one
If there’s Glastonbury problems i'll feel bad for you son
I got 99 problems ticket sales ain't one

[Verse Two]
The year's '08 and last year was not great
In a tractor mirror, an apocalyptic state
Two choices have our men book the same folk again
Or grab the phone, dial sha' boy and ask when
he can come play, be it night or be it day
They'll give a few dollars, half what Radiohead they'd pay
Then he'll... come down rappin' bibblical text
That we'll only hear forward of the mixing desk
It'll rain again and no-one likes The Verve
Are these the real headliners? We've been SERVED.
Why they sellin' no tickets, should I guess some mo'?
"Well it it was rainin' lots last year, and the time before"
"Coldplay won't come, they play every year"
"Bono don't answer my calls" he said with a tear
No matter, I say, Jay-Z doesn't take the piss
I bet Noel Gallagher will say nice things about this.
"Everybody will love it, can't imagine any rage
Bouncing to 99 Problems down at the Pyramid Stage"
Whilst snacking on our seven pound chips-to-go
That got cold three hours back in a display window?
I don't work for Live Nation but I know a little bit, enough that Kings of Leon won't create a sales hit
I don't mind i'm still plannin' on havin' my fun
I got 99 problems ticket sales ain't one
Hit me


[Verse Three]
Let me say, it’s no fun following the beats
£40 just to get in the top tear seats
To watch some rap group you saw in ninety eight
For seven quid tops and that included your date
I’ll try and blag guestlist, plead for sympathy
Won’t work, two months back same guy fired me
You know the type, tied to the job role
Rather than help a brother fresh off the dole
Here’s the problem, I can barely afford lunch
All thanks to our friend the credit crunch
Land lords on my back, they’ve cut my hours at work
Haven’t paid off my credit card, my dad’ll go beserk
And on top of all of this there’s Glastonbury
But they’re a nice place, they’ll charge a reasonable fee.
No Seetickets hidden fees all up in my ass
Six pound fifty bookin' fee cos' i'm middle class
All because this fool was so desperate
Get hands on some tickets but do you know what?
This ain't my fight I’ll just dance and have fun
I got 99 problems ticket sales ain't one
Hit me


You're crazy for this one Eavis
It's your boy

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

gatecrasher summer sound system - the review.

"Whether it be sheer cheek, lack of intelligence, commercial greed, or laziness, this must be the only major UK festival not to make sufficient plans so that their own customers are not left severely short-changed."

So how would a seasoned Glastonbury patron cope with a more commercialised, dance orientated, festival?

No alcohol allowed to be brought in to the main arenas, you say?
Having to pay just to find out the set times?

Is this what the average
UK festival goer has to put up with…?

Arriving on site Saturday afternoon, it's a mixed start. Fully expecting to have to pay through the nose for an official program as the only way of getting hold of the set times and site map for the weekend, the £10 price tag is still jarring, and depression soon kicks in when the extent of how bad the stage clashes are become apparent.

Justice or Soulwax? Chemical Brothers or Zane Lowe? Pendulum or DJ Yoda? Dizzee Rascal or Hot Chip?

No point in agonizing over such issues all day, so we instead forsake seeing Adam Freeland or Does It Offend You, Yeah? in favour of firing up a barbecue.

When we do eventually get into the Arenas our first port of call is Digitalism, who bash out their electro with just enough energy to get us dancing for the first time. Pogo, I Want I Want and Zdarlight sound great, but otherwise the source material is a little to dull to prevent the set from lagging in between.

No such problem for The Prodigy, naturally, who are able to draw on two decades of material for their headline set.

Not helped by strong winds hampering sound quality, they only succeed in matching expectations, rather than exceeding them. Whilst Out of Space and Smack My Bitch Up are the show stopping festival anthems you would expect them to be, a lifeless Firestarter falls flat.

Roni Size – Reprazent on the other hand happily tear up the Drum and Bass Arena with an hour long set that barely leaves the audience opportunity to catch their breath. It's a welcome expelling of energy that had been lacking in the patchy early performances, and feels like a genuine thrill.

From there things can only get worse, which they do in spectacular style as 25 minutes of Pete Tong's inexplicably boring set are endured before an escape plan to see the end of Audio Bullys is hatched, who whilst hardly revolutionary are infinitely preferable to Tong.

Then it's a case of sticking around to see the air-horn wielding Kissy Sell Out prove why he's one of the most eccentric DJ's on the scene. Mixing inventive beats with intensely danceable hooks, and throwing the odd shot of surrealism into the mix, he's a genuine highlight. Any DJ that will throw R.E.M. and Wham – Last Christmas into a club set has got to be worth their salt, surely?

From there a snacking approach dominates as a visit to TC in the Drum and Bass Arena is a lifeless affair, we prove too sober to enjoy the minimalism of Vitalic, and are just too plain wiped out by the time we sample the actually very accomplished trance DJing of Ronald Van Gelderen. At 4am then, we retire to our tent for the night…


…where we would end up staying for the next 13 hours. A mixture of sporadic sleeping, entertaining visitors to our tent and general laziness would mean missing the likes of Plastic Little, Skream + Benga, Annie Nightingale and Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip.

Eventually we emerged, and set about attempting to beat paying £4.50 a drink by successfully finding a spot along the perimeter fence we could lob our wine box over.

Once inside, the (hardly torrential) day's rain had meant that the Live Stage acts were being cancelled, meaning no Hot Chip performance, and that disappointed crowds had instead packed out Dizzee Rascal's tent making it impossible to get in.

Dejected, it was a case of waiting until the tent cleared out so that Freq Nasty could spin a highly enjoyable warm up set to the fantastic Dj Yoda's Magic Cinema Show.

Thoroughly entertaining, Yoda mixes live an eclectic range of DVD imagery and music ranging from Super Mario Brothers through to Chemical Brothers and back to the Rocky theme. It's just about the most inventive live music proposition out there and the only fault is that after 50 minutes the decision is taken that we have to leave to go see some major headliners.

Developments have reached their disgraceful nadir though, as it transpires that main headliners Chemical Brothers have also been cancelled due to the weather, so instead we put up with 10 minutes of Mark Ronson's over-running DJ set in preparation for Zane Lowe.

Ronson may actually be a good DJ one day, but as he still has a commercial reason to rely on playing out rancid songs from his awful Version album, you sense that day won't come anytime soon.

Zane Lowe meanwhile, immediately goes about proving why he's the very best party DJ out there. Mixing up genres as he is known for, his choices of tracks are 10 out of 10, his inventiveness is 10 out of 10, and his technical ability as a DJ rates pretty damn highly too. It's a show-stealing and raucous affair.

Next comes the difficult decision to miss Soulwax and a rescheduled Pendulum, to instead crowd into a brim full tent to see Justice.

Remixing, cutting and mashing together the already brilliant material from their "†" album couldn't really go wrong, but live they've continued to improve how they reinvent the material so that the crowd is teased and punished by relentless waves of insanely danceable music, which reaches it's climax with three false endings and the destroy-all-in-path Soulwax remix of Phantom pt.2. It's a down-right logical end to the best set of the weekend.

The final five minutes of Soulwax's alright-sounding set are caught, before Paul Oakenfold headlines Gatecrasher's own tent with a moderately pleasing trance show.

Tiredness and sobriety are again setting in though, and managing to drag ourselves to Simian Mobile Disco's 2am live performance is partly rewarded by a proficient and lively set that is sadly unable to stop the pain of the weekend mounting up, and 40 minutes in the decision is taken to retire for the night.

Overall though, the inexplicable event management must be questioned.

Whether it be sheer cheek, lack of intelligence, commercial greed, or laziness, this must be the only major UK festival not to make sufficient wet weather plans so that their own customers are not severely short-changed by what was – realistically – an averagely wet British Sunday afternoon.

Festivals like the constantly drowning Glastonbury show Gatecrasher to have complete contempt for their paying guests, and the public should respond with that very same contempt.

Monday, April 21, 2008

gig reviews: elbow, hot chip, justice, twilight sad

Four reviews written over the last few months, all of which were also featured on Teletext's Planet Sound pages.

Elbow/Nottingham Rock City

Three times better than the superb show when they last played this room, Elbow are now an unmissable live outfit.

Guy Garvey only gets more captivating with age - now attaining Dean Martin levels of stage charisma, whilst the band serve up a faultless setlist of songs, culminating with a devastating eight minute New Born that leaves the room utterly breathless.

One can only assume they'll never play this room again. 9/10

Hot Chip/Manchester Academy 1

Or: "Hot Chip attempt to warm up the still half built and freezing cold Academy 1"

They succeed, for the most part. Sensibly avoiding most of their ballads to present an 80 minute dance-athon, their only fault is placing a raucous Over & Over half way through, as not even penultimate track Ready For The Floor can match it for sheer dance-ability, and the pace never quite recovers.

Address that, and 2008 really will be their year. 7/10

Justice/Nottingham Rock City

Nottingham is already something of a Justice stronghold, so remixing and splicing together their own tracks alongside their remixes of Franz, Klaxons and Metallica was always going to provide an easy win.

So it is here. The 1,300 strong crowd lap up the duo's tight and well crafted party soundtrack.

Some leave in a confused moment where the house lights turn on, before a heavier techno encore which puts off a few but sends most crazy. 8/10

The Twilight Sad/Nottingham Bodega

Finally headlining their own tour south of the border, and one still wonders why they can only half fill this 200 person venue.

Those who do show are literally battered by a wall of sound, as James Graham leads a tight and mesmerizing 50 minute blast, singing acapella, knelling to pummel a cymbal, and all whilst stringently avoiding eye contact with anybody.

It's literally breathtaking. LP2 can't come soon enough. 8/10