Top 10 Car Seat Headrest Songs

Will Toledo’s Car Seat Headrest project is an anomaly in modern rock music, and a much-needed one at that; with one eye on the past, and the other on the present, the Bandcamp-bred singer-songwriter has offered listeners an overwhelming plethora of ambitious, consistent, and downright moving albums since the group’s inception at the beginning of the decade. 

It has been thoroughly exciting to see Car  Seat Headrest grow, not just in members, but from cult Internet darlings to one of the larger festival-crowd gatherings in recent years – and as they plough on through a tour supporting a remake of  Twin Fantasy, arguably their best record, we thought it only right to celebrate Toledo’s discography with a classic top 10 songs list!  Remember though: we are just teens of style, so don’t take this too seriously.

10. Cute Thing (Face to Face)

It’s important to differentiate between the two existing versions of Twin Fantasy (Toledo’s aforementioned magnum opus), because whilst the similarities may be obvious, the divergences are even more vast.  Take “Cute Thing” as an example: what was once a scuzzy, yelp-y, Who-referencing anthem for young, messy love is now cleaned up, dressed in its best leather jacket and taken out on the town for a banger more akin to Cheap Trick than Teen Suicide.  The structure is overhauled, the dynamics are tweaked, and the harmonies are layered in such a way that would bring a tear of beauty to Brian Wilson’s eye, whilst still retaining the wild spirit of the original in a balance that is easier in theory than it is on wax.  And plus those James Brown and Frank Ocean shoutouts never get any less awesome.

9. Misheard Lyrics (feat. Nora Knight)

And here’s the curveball.  Indie rock bedroom producer abandons guitars for electronic instrumentation” could be the most overused headline in digital media from the past decade, but here on Monomania‘s “Misheard Lyrics,” Toledo shows off his mastery of the laptop in a track that combines crisp handclaps with dreamy piano and a bouncy bassline in a duet with Nora Knight, who adds extra depth to the witty lyrics about a crumbling relationship coming slowly undone due to the writer’s own words being misinterpreted.  A seriously underrated cut on from an overlooked Headrest record.

8. I Want You To Know I’m Awake (I Hope That You’re Asleep)

Whilst Car Seat Headrest are appreciated for their unique style of dry, confessional humour, there is an underlying mark of depression that they are commonly associated with. And it doesn’t get any darker than this How To Leave Town track, which is approximately seven minutes of a person beating themselves up synthesised into chords, melody, rhythm and harmony.  The chugging acoustic guitars and driving rhythm section contrast nicely with the mumbled lyrics, as Toledo murmurs about being “a stupid, ugly, stuttering asshole,” whose lover “said it was a mistake to every try and help.  Resentment never sounded so bittersweet, especially when the song’s narrator starts to convince not only the listener but himself that he and his partner are nothing like John and Yoko, Sinatra and Gardner, or even their own parents.

7. Vincent

Two notes.  That’s all the first two minutes of “Vincent” are based on, trilling seemingly endlessly as ambient noise twirls around them.  Piece by piece everything enters until a raggedy, distorted guitar threatens to rip the whole thing in two–saved only by a funky backbeat the likes of which Toledo has never experimented with before.  Surprisingly groovy, darkly comic and typically epic, this highlight from Teens of Denial proves that even with a wider cast of collaborators, Car Seat Headrest could remain an engaging and interesting project well throughout the decade.  The inclusion of brass only adds to the journey of the song, leaving you thoroughly breathless as the final vocal rings out in its own defiance in the face of teen angst.

6. Famous Prophets (Mirror to Mirror)

The only real misstep of this year’s Twin Fantasy remake (subtitled “Face to Face”) was the group’s handling of the truly monstrous “Famous Prophets,” but at least it served to highlight the staggering ambition of the 2011 original.  Essentially in two parts, the penultimate song on “Mirror to Mirror” acts as the final chapter to the title track’s epilogue, and boy does it ramp up the pressure.  A constant game of cat-and-mouse between tension-and-release, the lyrics find Toledo musing on his favourite topic: a romance on its last legs and the anxiety and sadness that come with it. Only this time it’s even more personal than usual.  Apologies to future mes and yous, but I can’t help feeling like we’re through” he drawls over a numb, descending bassline, before things get biblical, with crashing drums, thrashing guitars and Hebrew screams.  It is often argued that Car Seat Headrest’s work is hampered by the lo-fi nature of its production, yet with this track, it only emphasises the intimacy of the performances – so that when Toledo finally yells in a cracked pain, “Why did you tell me?” over and over again, you feel like you’ve been granted an exclusive insight into catharsis in real time.  Utterly stunning.

5. Destroyed By Hippie Powers

No song in the Car Seat Headrest catalogue rocks harder with a supplementary “W” than this hilarious and touching Pixies-influenced number about the dangers of taking too many hallucinatory drugs at a party to impress your peers and then having to walk the effects off on your way back home.  Whilst the power chords will hit you in the face first, it’s the details that keep you coming back for more: the subtle clock of a cowbell, the lyrical nods to teenage clique culture, the shoebox vocals that shred Toledo’s vocal cords before the big crescendo – it all just adds to such a visceral listening experience, almost as sweeping as the trip that the song’s author found himself on.  All together now: “Tell my mother I am going home…”

4. Something Soon

If “Destroyed By Hippie Powers” is the band’s best rock song, “Something Soon” is by far their best pop song.  Toledo recognises the extraordinary lengths of some of his tracks, often preferring a formidable collection of minutes to a lean cut, stating that it gives him room to breathe and build up the music, yet something must be said for his ability to fit such a complex set of feelings into four minutes of near-perfection so irresistible that Smash Mouth (yes, that Smash Mouth) even covered it.  Opening on a twinkling Rhodes piano and pulsating hi-hats, every melody that comes from Toledo’s mouth is devised to the nth degree to be ironically screamed back at him by adoring fans across the globe, especially when the song roars into life at the chorus: “Heavy boots on my throat, I need/ I need something soon/ […] I can’t talk to my folks, I need something soon.”  When another trademark Headrest crescendo bursts open a kaleidoscope of sound, you can’t help but think the thing you need is more songs like this.

3. The Ending of Dramamine

Here is where it gets difficult.  Depending on what day of the week it is, any of the top three tracks here could have been number one – they all, in their own way, represent what is best about Car Seat Headrest: the ambitious song structures, the tightrope-balancing-act of humour and sentiment in their lyrics, the arresting ear for melody, the willingness to experiment and prescribe patience to their listeners.  But someone has to win bronze, and it’s up to How To Leave Town highlight “The Ending of Dramamine” to take that place.  Clocking in at nearly fifteen minutes, with a particularly trying five minute intro, this song is not for the feint of heart.  It patiently unfurls through its run time, the tick-tock of that ever present drumbeat backing a lonely drive through America in the night, its dark organs, reverberating synthesisers, and metronomic bass keeping that anxious groove locked in.  As more elements keep piling into the mix, the claustrophobia creeps in until the listener is left in solitude, with nothing but echoing guitar feedback for company.  Never fails to be breathtaking in its gloominess.

2. Bodys (Face to Face)

Everyone likes “Bodys.”  It’s the Car Seat Headrest song to the bleachers, a ’90s indie rock song indebted to The Beach Boys and realised for the modern age with a four-to-the-floor beat stretched out to over six minutes– a tune so heartfelt and witty that it is irresistible in every sense of the word.  The newer version of it only highlights the impact that those hooks(!), those guitars(!), that drumbeat(!) can have on a human, as it bounds its way carefree and sexy to the finish line with the kind of exuberance that only the young, thin, and alive can muster.  It’s the sound of a really good day, it’s the sound of telling your crush that you love them, it’s the sound of acing an exam, it’s the sound of getting a promotion at work, it’s the sound of the best night of your life with your best friends.  It’s really, really good – and that’s saying something considering its competition.  Everyone likes Bodys.  I really like Bodys.

1. Beach Life-In-Death (Face to Face)

I’ve been staring at this Word document for nearly twenty minutes trying to come up with a good enough reason as to why “Beach Life-In-Death” is the best Car Seat Headrest song, and I simply can’t.  It’s not for lack of quality on the track’s part; otherwise, it wouldn’t even be in contention with the rest of these fabulous numbers.  But it’s a fault on my part: it was the first song I ever heard from Toledo’s magical brain, and it’s the first song I think of when I wonder what sums up the group best.  It’s sort of like trying to describe why a certain parent is your favourite – I could list all these attributes as to why I admire it, but at the end of the day they’re not the exact reason why I love it so much.  It’s long, fast, loud, dynamic, funny, sad, heart-on-its-sleeve proud, huddled-up-in-bed anxious, and, above all else, defiantly human. 

The “Face to Face” version, in particular, offers a refreshingly adult perspective on the awkward, messy side to late teens and early 20s romance, where you’re old enough to know better but too young to truly commit. It’s a maturity that the “Mirror to Mirror” edition lacks, indulging itself in a slice of self-pity that hasn’t aged as well.  And the final scream that glitches and overwhelms the entire recording is pure bliss, a sweet release from all the pent-up angst derived from the confusion of not understanding people who are never meant to be understood in the first place. They’re living beings, and trying to figure them out like a puzzle is weird, but you can’t help it.  Enough of my pretentious ramblings – go listen to it, experience it, come back, and then we’ll talk about all those dog metaphors, eh? – josh adams (@jxshadams)

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Phoenix + The Vegan Leather @ Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow, 26/03/18

photos + words by josh adams (@jxshadams)

Phoenix are in the somewhat unenviable position of being a Big Band Who Make Big Records And Play Big Concerts whilst bafflingly not being a household name. If one takes a brief glance at their coveted list of accolades, it reads like a checklist for a modern rock group to be a dominating world force: hit singles, top 40 albums, sold out shows at Madison Square Garden and headlining appearances at Primavera and Coachella. So it was puzzling to most, if not all, in attendance as to why this seemingly unstoppable powerhouse of pop could barely fill three quarters of Glasgow’s iconic Barrowlands. This, coupled with rumours that frontman Thomas Mars‘ voice had been strained with illness, led to a sense of anticipation and worry, with the Barras crowd eager to see if the French quartet could pull it out of the proverbial bag.

First up, though, came support from the ever-reliable Vegan Leather. The Paisley dance-rock group, elegantly dressed and bursting with tunes, took to the stage with a modest sized crowd and ended with almost everyone who had bought a ticket bouncing up and down to their epic, fiery closer, This House (minus one bald man who looked like he’d stumbled in expecting a Wolftones gig). In between, they fused disco, pop, rock, house and new wave like their lives depended on it with recent singles such as I Take American, Shake It and Eyes, never giving the Glasgow crowd a moment to catch their breath, despite the costume changes. Nothing but praise has been heaped upon the band, and there’s a good reason for it – check them out now if you haven’t already, before they hit the big time.

With the Barrowlands considerably warmed up, Phoenix capitalised on the liveliness built up and came on stage shortly after to Prince’s ‘Controversy‘, offering a taste of the playful grooves the band would prove they had mastered on stage throughout the night. Stripped of their elaborate lights-and-mirrors show, it was down to their sheer stage presence, and, most crucially, the songs to do the talking, and boy, did they deliver. Kicking things off with last year’s lead single, J-Boy, its twinkling synthesisers, airy melodies and stomping beats recalling the best of 80s pop and hip hop, the four piece, bolstered by long-time touring drummer Thomas Hedlund and an auxiliary keyboard player, seemed to burst into technicolour before the audience’s very eyes in their stereotypical oh-so-nonchalant French cool. From there, came an opening salvo of Phoenix’s brightest and best songs: Lasso, Entertainment, Listzomania, and Trying To Be Cool all rolled off with effortless ease, almost stunning the crowd into stillness – it was disconcerting to see a Glasgow crowd as calm as they were during this part of the set.

However, with such an astonishing start to a gig, naturally came a dip in energy levels with some deeper cuts from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and latest LP, Ti Amo. Just when you thought the crowd’s patience was beginning to wain with the instrumental medley of Sunskrupt! though, the band roared into life once more with the title track from Ti Amo, and began dishing out their groovier anthems once more, this time with a less dazzled crowd backing them every dance move of the way.  It should be admired at this point the versatility of Phoenix’s instrumentalists, who regularly swapped between two or more instruments mid-song without breaking a sweat or ruining the flow of a song or a set – it was clear to see this was a group refined and rehearsed, but also having fun as they jumped around with grins on their faces.

After leaving the stage with Rome, Mars and guitarist Christian Mazzalai returned to the stage as a duo to perform stripped down versions of Countdown and Goodbye Soleil, with a hushed intimacy made all the more fragile by Mars’s insistence on sitting right in front of the barrier, staring right into the eyes of the crowd. Despite his humble admissions that his voice wasn’t up to its usual standard, nobody in the Barrowlands could have told you he was having an off-night at all – he was in complete control of his vocal chords, with no bum notes or tickley coughs in sight. By this point, the Francs had completely won over the audience, and had the support they previously did not have to indulge themselves in a few more deep cuts, and a rallying rendition of Happy Birthday to bassist Deck D’Arcy.

All good things must come to an end though, and Phoenix went out in style with the buzzing bass and chiming guitars of their calling card 1901 ringing out through the venue sending the crowd into overdrive, voices singing in unison and bodies dancing the night out. But the real surprise came when we all thought it was over, but the band clearly weren’t ready to leave – a reprise of Ti Amo that steadily kept growing and growing, threatening to burst into its disco-punk climax at any moment, as Mars clambered over the audience to the sound desk and back again, downing pints as he went. Before he could rejoin his bandmates though, he was dropped right in front of me, and a huge mosh pit opened up around him, ready to swallow him whole. Mars turned back to the stage, shrugged his shoulders with a smile on his face, and the rest of the band let rip as the Barrowland crowd rushed him, dancing as we went. A surreal end to an amazing night, proving that Phoenix have more fight left in them than we might have thought.

Gig Review: Headland + Isla Stout @ The Priory

by Josh Adams (@jxshadams)

Celebrating the launch of their debut single When Stars Collide, Headland joined forces with solo artist Isla Stout to sell out The Priory based solely on the strength of their unique mix of celtic rock and modern pop sensibilities. A last-minute venue change from Broadcast did not seem to slow down the Glaswegian seven-piece at their very first gig – hopefully, the start of many more to come. Before even a note was struck or sang, it was worth noting the diversity in age of the crowd, from teenagers to the elderly, which only served to highlight the broad appeal of Headland‘s music.

The opening act came in the form of the aforementioned Isla Stout. Whilst her folk covers of pop hits (from classics to contemporary numbers such as Ring of Fire and Skinny Love) were charming, if not spellbinding, the real magic lay in her own original content that she performed that evening that seemed to have everyone in the room silent in awe. If that is the direction Stout continues to head in, we will be hearing her name a lot more in Scotland throughout the year.

The recent nationwide revival in folk music, rescued from the clutches of pensioner pub bands across the country, has been a somewhat surprising yet welcome return in Scotland’s music scene. It’s as if a young batch of new local heroes have started taking notes from their American contemporaries and realised that fusing traditional instrumentation with modern pop hooks and songwriting can lead to great success in the charts. Now numerous groups, such as Skerryvore, are seeing triumphs in their careers, and up steps Headland to become the latest band to follow suit.

What makes Kieran Ferguson et al. stand out from the crowd is the dynamic interplay between the male voices and the female voices of the seven-piece, allowing for greater melodic variation in terms of the harmonies, and this was especially true on cuts such as When Stars Collide and Float On The Ocean. Another highlight was the tasteful guitar playing of Cameron Wilson, who added colourful flourishes and appropriate solos to most of Headland’s tunes with a slick, rock tone.  If anything could have been better from a performative or technical standpoint, it was that the rhythm section could have been punchier to emphasise the strong grooves that hold the group together, and the song structures could have been toyed with more experimentally to allow for extended solos in the folk tradition.

Alas, I’m nitpicking. By the time the band rolled out a few fun covers of Folsom Prison Blues and Wagon Wheel that elicited mass singalongs across the venue, before an encore of a reprise of When Stars Collide, you would have been forgiven for forgetting that this was Headland‘s first-ever concert together with all seven members. Exceptionally tight and acing what they do well, the future seems bright for the group based all on this lone concert.

 

 

Gig Review: Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters @ Clyde Auditorium

By Josh Adams (@jxshadams)

Photos by Jay Blakesberg

In the 1970s, no band were more hedonistic, heavy, and–dare I say–better than Led Zeppelin, and standing with his hands on his hips and his chest bared to crowds of tens of thousands at the front of the stage was their singer, Robert Plant.  The story of Led Zeppelin is one of triumph and tragedy, and emerging from the group’s initial end in 1980 due to the passing of drumming powerhouse John Bonham, came a more-scathed-than-not Plant.  After losing his voice, his friend, his son and nearly his own life in the span of five years, it’s a miracle he’s still making music and performing live to this date – a tenacity due in no small part to his diligence to test himself and explore new ideas previously unheard of in his solo discography.  His latest effort, Carry Fire, garnered strong reviews and continued the creative renaissance that began, ironically enough, shortly after the one-off Zeppelin reunion concert a decade ago now. But how would seeing a living legend in the flesh stack up against the dizzying, staggering heights of his own legacy?

Thankfully, Plant’s risk-taking paid off.  His refusal to shut up and play the hits, and instead manipulate and warp them into something entirely different, is well known, often leaving the suspense of what classics he would play on any given evening to fester in the minds of the audience before and during the concert, practically ensuring a rapturous response with any note that he and his unshakably professional band let out from the singer’s glory days.  That’s The Way, Misty Mountain Hop, What Is And What Should Never Be… the canon, and the pleasant surprise of transformation with which he presented it, seemed endless.  Gallows Pole, nobody’s favourite song from Led Zeppelin III, morphed into a country stomp that roused the Glasgow audience into hand-clapping fervour; Babe I’m Gonna Leave You sounded even more haunting than it did back in 1969, with extended flamenco-flecked ambient interludes that serve to emphasise, rather than detract from, the crushing hard rock chords that come hurtling through.

And somehow, his choice of solo material managed to keep up with the Zeppelin numbers. Rainbow from 2014’s Lullaby and… the Ceaseless Roar in particular sounded gargantuan in the Clyde Auditorium, its polyrhythmic percussion assault contrasting beautifully with the jangling indie-rock guitars and breezy melodies offered by the other side of the band.  My favourite moments from the show, however, came in the form of traditional folk cuts reimagined for a contemporary audience.  The blues classic Fixin’ To Die, for example, was contorted beyond recognition, with pulsing synthesisers and skittering drum machines battling against dissonant guitar solos that really pushed the expectations of the (predominantly white male) crowd to hear Black Dog bellowed out before them.  None of this would be particularly special if it wasn’t for the fact that Plant is now nearly in his 70s and is still refusing to bend to the cliches he made his name on; yet unlike a similar icon Bob Dylan he does so in a humorous, chatty, self-effacing way, regularly discussing the origins of songs whilst taking pot shots at himself.

After roughly an hour and a half of the most eclectic array of genres I’ve ever heard in one sitting (country to African music, blues to art rock, and beyond), The Sensational Space Shifters decided to turn everything up to eleven and end with WHOLE LOTTA FUCKING LOVE.  Hearing that song for the first time on record can blow open the doors as to what rock music can be, and since then it, like most of Zeppelin’s hits, has unfortunately fallen into the nether of overplayed.  Yet when that momentous, staggering riff falls on ears live, it can send shivers down the spine, and it did just that in the Armadillo.  Plant’s voice may have diminished in the decades since it was originally recorded, but he gave it all his might, and the crowd lapped it up; his yells and screams echoing throughout the room to cheers and whoops.  That’s the way live concerts ought to be.

 

Gig Review: Queens of the Stone Age + BRONCHO @ Usher Hall, Edinburgh

By Josh Adams (@jxshadams)

On paper, the coupling of desert legends Queens of the Stone Age with the prestigious opulent nature of Edinburgh’s Usher Hall reads about as appropriate as a hand grenade in an orphanage, especially considering their stint at the O2 Arena in London only a few nights prior.  But in a twist of fate as bizarre as the rock group’s ascension to arena-ready status, you would be hard-pressed to imagine them elsewhere.  

Straying from their contemporaries’ aesthetics – Foo Fighters’ workmanlike anthems and Nine Inch Nails’ moody industrial touches – and forging their own path steeped in some warped form of glamour and attitude as filthy as their distorted guitars, Queens of the Stone Age have regularly proved themselves as one of, if not the, most interesting out-and-out rock band to come out of the United States of America in the past twenty years (even if they aren’t as weird as they would like you to believe – unusual song structures and angular guitar solos don’t consistently count as artistry, dudes).  

Live, they usually cement this reputation with a killer arsenal of songs and a maintained display of breathtaking musicianship.  Their performance at the Usher Hall, however, was ironically almost ruined by the man everyone came to see: frontman Josh Homme, whose rock-sleaze chic veered from humorous to unpredictable, inappropriate and worrying several times throughout the night.

More on that later, though.  Oklahoma indie darlings BRONCHO did a respectable job of introducing themselves and their sound, the latter of which was a fuse of melodic ’80s American indie with a dry, 1970s sheen, if not warming up the crowd for the headline act, and the impatience was becoming clear towards the end of the group’s thirty minute long set.  In particular, singer Ryan Lindsey’s high-pitched vocals became rather grating, aiming somewhere for Violet Femmes but falling flat at somewhere around a chipmunk version of a drunken Michael Stipe.  

Luckily, the changeover between each respective groups’ set of equipment was brief, and by the time the band came on stage, Edinburgh was hungry for the Queens.  Opening with the three-pronged salvo of “If I Had A Tail“, “Monsters in the Parasol“, and “My God Is The Sun” – peculiarly none of which came from their most recent effort – it was clear that the band were determined to make everyone, from the stalls to the rafters, groove with their intoxicating beats and hard-hitting riffs.

They followed up their extravagant entrance with a couple of one-two combos that showed off their powerful dynamics: “Feet Don’t Fail Me” and “The Way You Used To Do” from 2017’s “Villains“, and Songs for the Deaf‘s “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire” and “No One Knows“.  The former sounded utterly massive in a live setting, stripped of the dull and flat production imposed upon them, whilst the latter were performed with a newfound urgency that set the crowd off like firecrackers.  From then on, though, the set hits a trough that it only occasionally rises above – the emphasis is put too squarely on a series of mid-to-slow tempo jams that at best serve as singalongs and at their nadir give everyone a chance to go the toilet.  “Make It Wit Chu” and “I Appear Missing” retain their emotional impact, and the likes of “Smooth Sailing” and “The Evil Is Landed” encourage appropriate dancing, but the energy levels significantly dipped for cuts such as “Fortress” and “Regular John“, making for a slog of a second third.

It was also around this time in the set that it became very apparent something was very not okay with Josh Homme.  The towering singer and lead guitarist for the group has found himself as an unlikely icon for contemporary rock music, what with his crooning voice, his unmistakable ginger hair, and his infectious charisma that straddles the line between charming and greasy, yet somehow always delivered with a sense of self-awareness.  But after perhaps maybe a drink too many, and less noticeably so a series of braces wrapped around his arms and legs, his persona became increasingly obnoxious, unbearable and discomforting for all in the room.  

At first, it started with a well-meaning but poorly-worded attempt at combating against sexual harassment at concerts; by the time he started throwing phrases around such as: “girls are the best thing in the world!” and “because guys, we all know there’s nothing better than getting laid”, you could hear the groans in the room.  Even more shuddering was his attempts to get an attractive woman sitting with her partner in the balcony to reciprocate something as innocuous as a wave in the midst of a rant about trying to spiritually release people – he became doggedly determined to get his way, constantly referring to the woman in question as “baby” and demanding her attention with an inebriated air, despite her clear discomfort with the situation.

It was a definite sign that all was not well in the Queens camp.  Looks of exasperation came over Homme’s fellow band members during these tense, prolonged periods of “stage banter” – even more so when he missed his singing cues, forgot lyrics and fumbled his usually impeccable guitar work.  For a band that prides themselves on being tighter than any rock ensemble – and the rest of the group did not disappoint, specifically drummer Jon Theodore’s work being consistently astounding – it was glaringly obvious that Homme was not up to the standard he worked so hard to create.  Repeated whisperings of “they’re never gonna tear us apart… never…” before “Villains of Circumstance” only confirmed that the frontman was in a dark place.  

Thankfully, he seemed to come to on the home stretch, starting with “Little Sister” and leading through the quintessential Queens of “Go With The Flow” and “I Think I Lost My Headache” amongst others.  The fury that was becoming increasingly pent up during the drab middle section was finally released by the band and the crowd respectively, with the mosh pits in the Usher Hall unparalleled except for perhaps when Mac DeMarco visited back in August.

Ending on “A Song For The Dead” long after curfew had been broken, there was an air of triumphalism about proceedings, the final song of the night playing no small part in bringing that about – its guitars jagged, its drums pounding, its tempo and metre changes fabulously arbitrary, you really would be hard-pressed to find a better end to a rock concert.  But the fact that Queens of the Stone Age made it to the last song at all was also a sigh of relief for everyone in the room considering Homme’s condition and outbursts.  

The crowd left with grins on their faces, yet I can’t help but feel if the band are running like clockwork at the moment – maybe the rock and roll excesses they so proudly listed on “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” are catching up with them.

 

Top 10 LCD Soundsystem Songs

By Josh Adams (@jxshadams)2017-10-19

When James Murphy co-founded DFA Records, he unwittingly put himself in the eye of the storm of a new dawn for indie rock in the inarguable epicentre for cool: New York City.  After toiling in obscurity for decades, he was rubbing shoulders with fellow Gotham residents and breakthrough acts such as The Strokes, Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs but his simultaneously stunningly unique and boldly derivative modus operandi was far more fascinating than anything else his contemporaries had to offer, despite his advanced age.  His creativity manifested itself in several ways: in the aforementioned record label, in his wildly eclectic DJ sets, in his dancefloor-ready remixes and, of course, in LCD Soundsystem.  What first started off as an outlet for anxiety has since grown into one of the most formidable musical projects of the twenty first century. Murphy, thanks to his own handiwork, now stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Radiohead and Arcade Fire in the leagues of rock bands who can headline festivals whilst not sacrificing their daring artistry.

In case you can’t tell by now, LCD Soundsystem are my favourite group of all time; this, coupled with the above, has meant that devising a list for their top songs has been no small feat – even more so when you take into account the fact that, well, Murphy hasn’t put out a bad album yet. This year’s brilliant American Dream – released several years after their supposed last ever concert – is another jewel in the adorned crown, and only made a prized spot on the list frustratingly more contentious.  Somehow, I managed to whittle down LCD Soundsystem’s discography to ten songs that I believe not only show the depth of the project’s ambition and innovation, but also are just simply their best. You wanted a hit?  Here’s a handful.

10. Oh Baby

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrc1zGEPPmg

The first song of their comeback record is arguably the prettiest song Murphy has ever concocted in his mad scientist’s laboratory of vintage recording equipment. He takes a step back from his trademark yelp to croon seductively – well, as seductive as a bearlike hipster who’s pushing fifty can be – over an instrumental that cannibalises the best bits of Dream Baby Dream by Suicide and Rise by Public Image Limited. Synthesisers twinkle, snares reverberate and basses rumble ribcages in which hearts are made tender by lyrics such as “Please wake me, for my love lies patiently” and “You’re having a bad dream, here in my arms“. This is Murphy, meditative more than ever.

9. Movement

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TT2izWpGDCo

And now for something completely different. For all of music journalism’s categorisation of LCD Soundsystem as a “rock band” – something myself I fall into the habit of doing – the project rarely ever flexes it muscles in stereotypically “rock” fashion; they usually take notes from the likes of David Bowie, Can and The Velvet Underground instead of, say, The Sex Pistols or NirvanaMovement is the lone exception to this ideology – and it does so in hilarious fashion. Everything about the song screams punk – no, scratch that, everything about this song just screams, with its crashing cymbals, distorted guitars and buzzing keyboards. And in the middle of it is Murphy, lambasting the narcissistic state of modern rock: “It’s like a movement without the bother of another meaning, it’s like a discipline without the discipline of all of the discipline.” The early LCD singles proved Murphy was just as effective at writing hysterically acidic lines as he was at making you move over the course of several minutes or more. Movement, in just over one hundred and eighty seconds, showed he was a master at condensing that volatility too.

8. 45:33

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72-ebRSMJdE

In a career full of dauntingly long songs, 45:33 doesn’t take the cake; it ransacks the whole fucking bakery. Originally commissioned by Nike as a piece for running (including warm ups and a cool down section), Murphy took the chance to make an incredibly long, continuous piece of music inspired by E2-E4 by Manuel Göttsching, and ended up with a six part disco masterpiece that’s probably going to be the only song he’ll write for a digital format over an analogue one, due to the spacing limitations of vinyl.  The extent of the track’s ambition becomes even more breathtaking when you consider that Murphy writes all and plays the vast majority of instruments on all his own work – it is this that proves his dedication to his artistry.  The song itself starts off with cascading layers of synthesisers trailing off into the nether before a steady, melancholy groove kicks in – one that was enhanced in the band’s initial last shows by a raging, rapping Reggie Watts. The real surprise is the use of an instrumental, demo version of fan favourite Someone Great from their masterpiece Sound of Silver; however, the tranquility is shattered by some of the grooviest beats in LCD’s discography, with crazed brass, slippery bass guitar and the always-present arbitrary percussion complimenting the unrelenting energy.  The final part takes the form of an ambient epilogue, clearly influenced by Brian Eno, with cosmic vocal harmonies calming everyone down and sending them off into the night after the madness of the previous three quarters of an hour.  Indulgent?  Potentially.  Brilliant?  Absolutely.

7. How Do You Sleep?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBLagwi_m2c

The death of David Bowie rocked every music fan’s world in some way or another and for Murphy – himself a collaborator and close friend with The Thin White Duke in his final years – it seemed to send him back to the music of his childhood, where he once idolised Bowie.  The legend’s influence is all over American Dream – but so are the post-punk and new wave favourites of the 1970s and 1980s that have to come define a certain strain of indie rock that a young Murphy also came to fetishise.  Specifically, of course, the likes of Joy Division and The Cure, the haunting and sometimes downright terrifying atmospherics of which have been a direct influence of the mid-LP highlight How Do You Sleep?. Named after the barbed John Lennon song, which took aim at fellow ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, Murphy’s take on crumbling friendships set its sights firmly on DFA Records co-founder Tim Goldsworthy, who allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the label before escaping to England.  LCD Soundystem have never sounded this intimidating – Murphy wails in the distance, barely making himself heard over the sea of pounding drums and bubbling synthesisers.  Dissonant strings ramp up the tension until it kicks off into a stunning dance section, complete with cowbell.  Leisurely taking up nine minutes, the song refuses to let go of you until the final few seconds, constantly ascending to higher plains with increasingly eclectic instrumentation joining the fray as Murphy bastardises the lyrics to the song that originally brought him and Goldsworthy together – Gang of Four’s At Home He’s A Tourist, for the curious – to create a chorus: “One step forward, and six steps back.”  Almost certainly a shoo-in for the most danceable ‘fuck you’ of the twenty-first century.

6. Yeah (Crass Version)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJseqQNQ_zA

If you ever had to play one LCD Soundsystem song on a night out, Yeah would absolutely have to be your only choice.  There’s two versions of the track that at different points in the night would equally be at home in any club; the ‘Pretentious’ version is an early-night, chill out jam that finds its groove and sticks with it, remaining so for as long as it can.  The far superior ‘Crass’ version almost acts as a sort of history of dance music, from its funk based origins to a heart-pounding, jaw-swinging, ear-drum bursting techno finale that itself last six glorious minutes.  It’s the highlight of every LCD Soundsystem show, with an amazing light show to back the transformation of any venue they’re playing in into an Ibizan ecstasy haven, with the track being extended even longer live, courtesy of a few timbale and cowbell solos from Murphy.  Considering the sheer power of the instrumental behind the man himself, the lyrics he’s spouting over the course of it are almost questionable. I mean, the word “yeah” is repeated incessantly hundreds of times (I lost count around the four hundredth and eighth “yeah”) for Christ’s sake.  But what Movement is to rock, Yeah is to dance music – Murphy’s always-sarcastic tongue is chiselling away at the repetitive nature of contemporary electronica, which what he sees is a desperate attempt at remaining relevant in the face of the changing trends of pop music. But to be honest, nobody’s really thinking of that when everything drops out save for a sole, echoing cowbell and a four-to-the-floor beat that propels the listener into the most exhilarating, physical moment of LCD Soundsystem’s career.

5. Home

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBpl8YH9cjQ

LCD Soundsystem are often a band of unique parallels – rock music and dance music, originality and good-natured thievery and, with the advent of Sound of Silver, biting wit and searing emotional honesty.  The group’s third effort took the third of these to new lyrical heights, especially on cuts such as All I Want and I Can Change, but nowhere else is it more evident than on album closer Home.  Themes of home and being in a band are Murphy’s bread and butter, but here he confronts them head on, with a musical backing that winks at the detractors who claim he is nothing but a pop music pilferer by referencing himself: the percussion from Yr City’s A Sucker, the bassline from Losing My Edge, and the chord progression and vocal harmonies from Dance Yrself Clean all feature to form a majestic, tear-inducing whole.  It’s remained a staple of their live sets since its release in 2010 and for good reason: whilst its lyrical content could make even the most steely-nerved and hardy of people well up with existential sorrow (“If you’re afraid of what you need, look around you, you’re surrounded, it won’t get any better“), its beat is stubbornly bouncy and its synthesisers remain bubbly throughout, making it perfect for entry into the pantheon of LCD’s unmissable live tracks.  As the song coasts out on a lone guitar riff into a final cymbal crash, you can’t help but feel that if Murphy called it quits there, they would have ended on one hell of a bang.

4. Dance Yrself Clean

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoA0cTC228M

That drop.  THAT DROP.  There’s a reason that, despite its near nine minute long run time, Dance Yrself Clean is almost everybody’s first taste of the world that is LCD Soundsystem, and it arrives at roughly three minutes and six seconds in.  It is one of the most euphoric musical experiences ever put to wax, the stark minimalism of its components only serving to enhance the joyous nature of its outstanding whole.  There’s two keyboard lines – one distant and whistling, the other deafening and all-consuming – a stereotypical LCD drum pattern, and arguably Murphy’s greatest vocal performance to date, yet it still manages to completely overwhelm you and make you do exactly as the title demands. However, that’s not to discount what comes before it.  In order to reach the lofty heights it eventually peaks at, the previous three minutes do a damn fine job of setting the scene and subverting expectations, with its whispered lyrics and ominous synth chords.  Several Murphys sing in harmony numerous times, often setting up something that you eventually think will never come, until it tears your face off and blows your speakers up (the latter of which is apparently intentional, if its creator is to be believed).  The song shifts back and forth between these extreme dynamics regularly, keeping the listener on their toes, whilst Murphy pulls some of his best lyrics out of the bag: “Talking like a jerk, except you are an actual jerk, and living proof that sometimes friends are mean“, “Break me into bigger pieces, so some of me is home with you, or wait until the weekend, so we can make all of our dreams come true”, “Every night’s a different story, it’s a thirty car pile up with you, everybody’s getting younger, it’s the end of an era, it’s true“… the list goes on and on, until Murphy eventually loses his voice and is forced back into a meek mutter, sleigh bells closing us out.  If you aren’t left breathless, then you haven’t danced hard enough.

3. New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=noag6ZyJcbA

For all the stunning attributes and adjectives that you can list about LCD Soundsystem, “gorgeous” would not be one that instantly comes to mind.  Sure, as they mature, their more tender side blossoms, but the original idea listeners have of Murphy and co. is one of danceable beats, clever lyrics and an obsessive attention to production detail.  New York, I Love You… flips that preconceived notion on its head, to a startlingly successful degree.  The Sound of Silver closer lyrically takes the form of a surprisingly direct ode to the titular city, criticising the thing it has become but still loving it for it was, as it musically goes through several transformations: from ambient ballad, to singer-songwriter waltz, and finally a blazing rock outro.  There are still strands of Murphy’s heroes embedded in the track – Eno and Reed, in particular – but it’s on New York, I Love You… that it’s confirmed to us that Sound of Silver represents a man stopping making music about music, and starting to make music simply to express himself.  It’s one of the most emotional songs in the LCD canon, and its rumination on home and nostalgia can strike a chord with almost everyone – just ask the eighteen thousand odd people who witnessed the song as the last number at the group’s then-last gig at Madison Square Garden back in 2011.  Despite their reunion, its power to bring tears and triumph to any venue in equal measure remains.

2. Losing My Edge

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xG4oFny2Pk

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where it all started.  Who knew that a plodding drum machine, an infectious bassline, a steady beat and some snarky vocals would kickstart a career as unequivocally consistent as Murphy’s?  Released at the right time of the early Internet era, Losing My Edge heralded the coming – or a revival, depending on who you asked – of a sound that previously looked to trip up over its own hype.  It’s easy to forget now, but its combination of post-punk sneer and turnarounds with bouncing electronics was a revolution to a generation of hipsters, and by an extent a wider mass audience, who weren’t alive to bear witness to the critical musical events that Murphy describes in the song.  At numerous points in your life, you could potentially find the inception for this track horrifically relatable: ageing music nerd finds that the bands he once championed being adopted by a younger, seemingly cooler generation; anxiety, but also inner conflict, ensues.  How can you be protective of records that aren’t actually yours?  Murphy attempts to justify this conflicted stance by using a rather extensive list of moments and bands in twentieth century culture – from Can to The Sonics, with Suicide, Daft Punk, Joy Division and, of course, Gil Scott-Heron in between – as a suit of armour to protect himself against the youth revolt of hipsterdom that he once ruled over.  Themes of age, of music, of cool, of us-versus-them that appear time and time again in Murphy’s music all come from this one place, this one song, married to arguably his most successful musical marriage of pure dance sonics and rock aesthetics.  I use no hyperbole when I state that this is my favourite song of all time and that it, in fact. took residency on the number one spot of this list, until…

1. All My Friends

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDRLW748j68

What else was it going to be?  LCD Soundsystem are one of those rare breeds that have a subjectively “best” track, one that is unanimously adored by the masses. It’s the closest song they have to one of those confounded hits that keep eluding them and it works pretty much anywhere: on your headphones, at a party, or in a field full of tens of thousands of people, it can be guaranteed you’ll be moved, physically and/or emotionally,  in some capacity.  But what makes it so special?  Its iconic, steady piano riff, its motorik beat,  its bassline cribbed from the best of New Order – so far, it sounds pretty archetypal for LCD Soundsystem. Yet it seems to be Murphy’s most carefully constructed song, so much so that by the time it reaches its glorious, heart-pounding peak from its humble beginnings the listener find themselves suddenly blindsided by euphoria – its transcendent finale really does feel like it comes out of nowhere, sort of like that old age Murphy keeps going on about.  The lyrics and melody straddle that potentially fatal line between mawkish and contemplative, those now stereotypical LCD themes filtered through the lens of friendship, in all its splintered, ephemeral forms.  Like the best of the groups’ songs, there’s a melancholy air to proceedings, only made definitively clear by the final yells of Murphy: “Where are you friends tonight? If I could see all my friends tonight…”  Simply typing those lines gave me chills; witnessing them live brought me to unanticipated tears.  If you haven’t heard it yet, do yourself a favour and stick it on.  You won’t regret it.  All together now: “That’s how it starts…

Album Review: The OOZ by King Krule

By Josh Adams (@jxshadams)

Having srating 8pent approximately seven years in the game now, Archy Ivan Marshall – known professionally as King Krule – still remains something of an anomaly in the already eclectic world of British indie music, due to his mish-mashing of several disparate genres to create something entirely different, almost like a child building a bastard Lego creation from arbitrary blocks.  Lazier writers might be inclined to make comparisons to contemporaries such as Mac DeMarco and Jamie T, or classic songwriters who reported from the gritty frontline of working class society, like Joe Strummer or J Dilla.  The truth is, King Krule is a far more interesting artist than any of these half-arsed resemblances, and on his sophomore effort The OOZ, he becomes quite clearly just that – an artist, a musician just as much dedicated to his image, his sound and his atmosphere as he is his songcraft.

 

The scene isn’t merely set with opening track Biscuit Town – it shuffles menacingly through the fog of a London street at night, muttering violent nothings under its breath as trademark jazzy guitars slither on the concrete bed of a waltzing electronic drum beat.  The nocturnal feel from his debut, and the New Place 2 Drown project under his own name, remains, but feels less suffocated in reverb.  Biscuit Town shows the album is more content with its own claustrophobia, and this feeling is continued with second track The Locomotive, a song that manages to combine dub, post-punk, heavy metal and Blur-esque pop without sounding like a train crash.  It’s also here that Marshall‘s vocals come to the fore, and the listener is reminded again of just how much of a great singer he is, his midnight croon erupting into a visceral roar at the drop of a low-slung baseball cap.

In fact, it’s his voice – dark, ragged, insert any other thematically continuous synonyms you wish *here* – that is the star of the show for most of the LP’s sixty-six minute long run time.  Pre-release single Half Man Half Shark offers a brilliantly rumbling instrumental to match the core-shaking baritone that spits out lyrics such as: “And if you don’t know and if you don’t care, don’t try to hide, you don’t not even there.”  Elsewhere, the lilting lullaby La Lune watches solemnly out a window onto a rainy night, its isolation captured perfectly in the lines, “It won’t be long till you’re inside, till you’re inside my heart… to be with you, such a view, to be elevated to you“, its literary longing buoyed by a gentle, hopeful vocal performance that captures the singer’s innate virtuosity.

 

Maybe it is because of King Krule‘s irresistible and majestic voice, and the fabulously obtuse words that accompany it, that some of the more instrumental tracks drawn out throughout The OOZ can sometimes feel like filler, in and out of the grand context of the record.  This is a long journey of an album, and its musical denseness can make it feel longer, and so listeners might find themselves wondering if ambient interludes like Bermondsey Bosom (Left) or more extensive numbers such as The Cadet Leaps could have had more attention paid to them during the editing process.  In fact, you could even be forgiven for considering the project to be self-indulgent – after all, who else is releasing hour long records dripping with the kind of instrumentation and vocals that King Krule does these days?

But then again, the fact of the matter is no one else in Britain is crafting “indie rock” albums as volatile and immersive as Marshall is.  The OOZ genuinely feels like what constituted for a proper album back in the days when how deep you could get lost in an LP went some ways in defining its quality.  Because of this, it becomes a rewarding listen, details upon details unfurling with every repeated submersion into King Krule‘s shadow-stalked world.  Nowhere else does this become more apparent than on lead singe Czech One: at first, you’re lulled into a false sense of security with its twinkling electric piano and its digital doo-wop harmonies.  But, gradually, dissonance creeps in as Marshall paints a picture of detachment, insomnia and death, until the whole thing subtly morphs into something completely alien right in front of your eyes.  And that’s The OOZ in a nutshell; you can’t relate to it, but you can’t look away.  It might not move you, but it will undoubtedly intrigue, fascinate and horrify you.

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