Oliver’s 365 Album Challenge Weeks 2 & 3: Pope Of Reviewtown

Date 07/01/19
Artist: Marmozets
Album: Knowing What You Know Now
Review Type: Recommendation/Re-evaluation

Hugh Jackman stares into your eyes. “I’m sorry Oliver, you were right, this was the worstest shit, man. Yet again, you were right, as you always are” he says. “Hmm”, you think, “you’ve fucking lost your mind after the first set of albums“. “Listen to Marmozets, please, it’s the least you deserve” he pleads. You know you’ve lost your mind, but who are you to disagree with Huge Jacked Man?

Knowing What You Know Now came at the wrong time in the context of album of the year lists. By the time list season came round, you couldn’t remember it coming out, not this year anyway. However, looking back on it, it was easily one of the albums of 2018. The Weird And Wonderful Marmozets offered something fresh with a raw and aggresive sound, but Knowing What You Know Now was a complete evolution, keeping that raw and aggresive blueprint but adding so many layers to it.

Songs like Insomnia saw the band’s sound evolve, and even songs like Play, Lost In Translation and Major System Error stuck to the blueprint, but were just… better. Becca further cemented herself as one of rock’s leading frontpersons in waiting, effortlessly bending her vocals to fit the tempo, sound and feel of the song. The girl you hear on Insomnia is a different one to Play, and both fit the bill perfectly.

Rating: 10/10

Date: 08/01/19
Artist: La Dispute
Album: Rooms Of The House
Review Type: Recommendation

Christ these lads need to cheer up. Just have a can, you know? It’s not so bad. However, within the misery of their craft lies the beauty of it. Though sonically, Rooms Of The House is flawless, the perfection comes from the lyrics. Each song paints a picture that you live in for a few short minutes.

In Hudsonville MI 1956, you’re there as the hurricane approaches. Scenes from Highways 1981-2009 transports you to the bridge. In every song you’re invested in the lyrical content, with the music acting as a side show. However, that isn’t to say the music isn’t good. It’s easy on the ears and helps set the scene. Whilst yes, La Dispute’s music is pretty fucking miserable, it’s crafted so perfectly that it paints a picture of tragedy so vividly.

Rating: 8/10

Date: 09/01/18
Artist: Scars
Album: Author! Author!
Review Type: Recommendation

Right from the off, this is probably the most perplexing album that’ll appear on this list. Not from a sonic or lyrical perspective, it’s because without sounding too churlish, you’ve never heard of it. Not that weird, right? Wrong. It’s fucking brilliant, and how it’s been consigned to a footnote in the history books.

Released in 1981, it was the only album by post-punk band Scars, shortly before their breakup in 1982. If you look at the timelines, and listen to the albums, it defies belief that Scars aren’t up there with The Cure. YouTube comments, which is one of the few places you can listen to this album, tell you that Scars were that good, but poor management made sure they’d be forever deemed as obscure.

Songs like Fear Of The Dark, Aquarama and Everywhere I Go should have been hits, but the upside is you get the joy of discovering a hidden gem, something that’s fantastic but not widely known. However, it’s a shame that ten short tracks is all we’ll ever see from post-punk’s nearly men.

Rating: 8/10

Date: 10/01/19
Artist: Arctic Monkeys
Album: Tranquility Base Hotel And Casino
Review Type: Recommendation/Reevaluation

Tranquility Base Hotel And Casino is a funny old Hector. On the one hand, it’s a cool, conceptual album, on the other, is it trying too hard to be cool? Either way, the lounge concept of the album is fantastic and should just be accepted as a complete departure from Arctic Monkeys as we know it.

The wildest take is that were this to be rebadged as the Alex Turner solo album, it’d be lauded as one of the greatest albums ever written. However, as Arctic Monkeys are an accessible, indie rock band, the deviation into becoming a lounge act is admittedly a bit too much to swallow at once. But if you can handle it, you’ll be rewarded with a smash hit in any form.

Though with that said, songs like Star Treatment, Four Out of Five and TBH&C are just perfect. Maybe TBH&C will lead to more lounge albums penetrating the mainstream and we all get to sit around in velvet smoking jackets, snapping our fingers to easy listening whilst sinking a smokey single malt. And that cannot be a bad thing. Get to the taqueria on the roof lads, big man Al’s taking us to deep space, ask your mates (and your mum, see if she says yes).

Rating: 8/10

Date: 11/01/19
Artist: Popes Of Chillitown
Album: Work Hard, Play Hard, See You In The Graveyard
Review Type: Discovery

Aw come on, as far as Simpsons related band names go, these guys have got to be front runners. Popes Of Chillitown, name a better Simpsons related band and we’ll do a week dedicated to shitpostworthy bands. Popes Of Chillitown are a ska/dub/punk band and they are GREAT FUN, as you might expect. With a name like this and a sound like that, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to move to this band’s beat.

Ska/dub/punk is always a recipe for success, mixing the oi! of punk guitars and the fun horns of ska. Maybe that’s a little basic but we’ve much ground to cover in this article. It’s fun to dance to, easy to listen to and really well put together. The whole album is fantastic, with songs like Vexed, Get On/Get Off, The Last Elephant and Upside Down providing the most fun and games.

A photo of a naked soldier gamer will get 200,000 likes, so let’s get that for our shitposting ska heroes!

Rating: 9/10

12/01/19
Artist: Tiny Moving Parts
Album: Swell
Review Type: Recommendation

You know what? Listening to one album a day for a year is pretty fucking fatiguing and we’re not even halfway through January. Maybe when dry January draws to a close, you can just get hammered and listen to the same album. However, Tiny Moving Parts make it all the more easier with Swell, their 2018 offering. A lot of this will be albums that the author missed the boat on in 2018, because he’s a lazy idiot, and was too depressed to review some albums.

Apparently, TMP are a screamo/math band, which sounds like a delightful cocktail and goodness it is. The vocal delivery on Swell is beautiful, and the mathy guitar flourishes are always welcome. It’s hard to pin them down for a “For Fans Of”, but their sound feels so broadly appealing that anybody who enjoys guitar-driven music would easily get into these guys. They’re just an incredibly well put together band, and are a cohesive sonic unit, almost as if they’re made of… tiny moving parts… really makes you think.

It’s one of those awkward albums where you enjoy it all so you can’t pick your favourite tracks, but if you must, Wildfire. That feels like the benchmark for the rest of what is admittedly a largely flawless album. There seems to be a lot of hype around TMP, and hopefully they continue growing from what is clearly a brilliant album in Swell.

Rating: 9/10

Date: 13/01/19
Artist: Kanye West
Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Review Type: Recommendation

Remember the good old days where Kanye wasn’t that middle aged man in the MAGA hat who failed to hit deadlines with projects more frequently than legendary TRANSISTOR writer Oliver Butler? Never mind, Ye is nothing but a cautionary tale: Never love anyone.

Though back in the day, Kanye was just an out and out genius, rather than… whatever he is these days, and MBDTF was a hallmark of that genius. Though the roundly accepted 10 is overselling it a bit, perfection runs through the veins of this album. Runaway, POWER, Monster and Hell Of A Life are some of the best that Yeezy’s ever put out. Kanye’s production skills have always been A-grade, and yes, MBDTF is a masterclass in his talents with a synthesiser.

Is Kanye West a strange, confused, middle aged man in a MAGA hat these days? Yes, absolutely, but let’s not forget that less than ten years ago, he was an explosive genius.

Rating: 9/10

WEEK 3

Date: 14/01/19
Artist: Kano
Album: Made In The Manor
Review Type: Reevaluation

2016 was a good year for grime. In fact, every year seems to be a good year for grime. Remember the old days where it was Boy In Da Corner and lo-fi MySpace mixes of Serious by JME? Of course you don’t. Most of the people who read and write for this site are five years old. However, with Konnichiwa and latterly, Kano’s Made In The Manor being some of the year’s best album, 2016 was another good year for grime.

Made In The Manor contains one of grime’s, if not, music’s greatest lyrics. In album opener Hail, which is a study in how to write a good riff, contains the line “Gettin’ that belly like Sherman Klump”, which frankly, is just clever and funny in spades.

Sonically, Kano went to new heights with Made In The Manor, even inviting Damon Albarn on for a guest spot. The lyrical content of Made In The Manor was hugely poignant and thoughtful, with each song telling a story. T-Shirt Weather In The Manor, as daft as it sounds, makes you image in a sun-kissed evening. Whilst we feel the biting cold, that song can transport you back to the heatwave of 2018. Southgate, cans, Kano, it works.

Maybe this challenge needs to be revised for shit albums only, because you can keep going back to Made In The Manor and enjoy it every time for every mood. Fancy something a bit easier? Drinking In The West End. Want to feel powerful? 3 Wheel Ups. Songs for every mood.

Rating: 9/10

Date: 15/01/19
Artist: Skepta
Album: Konnichiwa
Review Type: Reevaluation

Well, when you’ve spent as much as you did to get this on vinyl, you’d be remiss not to listen and review it. As we said, 2016 was a good year for grime, with Konnichiwa no slouch. Containing one of 2016’s biggest songs in Shutdown, because even after 58,000,000 streams, it’s still fresh and still a banger. However, if you do get sick of Shutdown, listen to Slaves’ christ awful cover of it. How do they fucking ruin everything?

Konnichiwa was another album boosted by superior production quality. Obviously Skepta’s lyrics and flow were a-grade, but your flow is nothing if you don’t have the soundtrack to go with it. Corn On The Curb is a definite highlight, for both production and lyrics. And yes, we are gonna talk about how “Shower man down like Fireman Sam” is another highlight.

Skepta has long been one of grime’s premier MCs, whatever was in the water, it worked for the Adenuga family, with Skepta, JME and Julie Adenuga all being some of modern Britain’s best known musical figures. Konnichiwa was just another consistently brilliant album and hopefully, not the last.

Rating: 9/10

Date: 16/01/19
Artist: JME
Album: >Integrity
Review Type: Reevaluation

Fuck it, let’s get on a roll here. 2015 was ALSO a good year for grime, with JME sadly releasing his latest studio album >Integrity. As previously referenced, whatever was in the Adenuga family’s water worked, with JME being Skepta’s brother. It’s obvious that the highlight of >Integrity is Man Don’t Care featuring Giggs, with “Nostradamus couldn’t see me, expelliarmus coudln’t stop me” being a high point of a high point.

He’s only released 3 albums in the last 11 years and it fucking hurts. However, in that, you get to appreciate every banger he drops rather than being overwhelmed. Don’t @ Me, Pulse 8 and 96 F**kries are tunes, but you can’t help but feel the album is a bit too heavy on the tracklist, and can get a bit too much to handle in one go.

Rating: 8/10

Date: 17/01/19
Artist: Architects
Album: Holy Hell
Review Type: Reevaluation

Alright! Gig day! Architects’ future was in limbo after the release of All Our Gods Have Abandoned us and the death of lead guitarist Tom Searle. However, just two short years after Tom’s death, they were back with Holy Hell, arguably the best record of 2018 and the best of their career.

Architects set their stall out early with opener Death Is Not Defeat, which set the tone, and the mantra for the album. Just take a look at the density of this album. Dying To Heal, Holy Hell, Royal Beggars, Hereafter, Modern Misery, Mortal After All, Doomsday, A Wasted Hymn all stake a claim for the album’s best track. How the FUCK can you bounce back like this?

One of the highlights of the album however is in the liner notes for the vinyl, in the album credits, at the top, front and centre is a special guest star. Holy Hell contains some of Tom’s last riffs, noodles and ideas, allowing the driving force behind the last 7 albums to stay in the front seat.

Honest to god, this album, that gig, those boys. Fucking hell.

Rating: 11/10

Date: 18/01/19
Artist: The Twilight Sad
Album: IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME
Review Type: Release

For the FULL review of the album, you can catch it here. However, to give you the long and short, it’s fantastic. It feels poppier but without the cynical grab for the mainstream that a lot of bands seem to be going for.

Songs like Videograms, Sunday Day13, VTr and Keep It All To Myself are absolutely huge, mixing melancholic lyrics with big synths and hooks. It might have taken five long years for this album to come out, but the wait was worth it.

Rating: 9/10

Date: 19/01/19
Artist: Halestorm
Album: Halestorm
Review Type: Reevaluation

Halestorm are a funny old Hector. Funny old Hector in that they should be headlining festivals and be much bigger than they are. This should be a safe space for wild takes, so, here we go; Lzzy Hale is one of this generation’s greatest frontpersons. She oozes charisma and has the pipes to match it. Let’s also add in the fact she’s riffing to fuck whilst doing it. She is also, in no uncertain terms, a huge role model for young girls.

So their first self titled album, as you might imagine, was fantastic. The stall’s set out early with the power of It’s Not You. That follows a three song salvo finished with I Get Off and Bet U Wish U Had Me Back. Highlights past there include Familiar Taste Of Poison and the big riffs of Dirty Work.

However, compared to what followed, this was a shaky album in comparison, as they only got better, with 2018’s Vicious being one of the finest they’ve ever done.

Rating: 8/10

Date: 20/01/19
Artist: Freddie Mercury
Album: Mr. Bad Guy
Review Type: Reevaluation

Wild, wild take here, but this wasn’t that good an album. Yes, it has Freddie Mercury, giving it a high base score, but it doesn’t have the rest of Queen, which is what you needed. For instance, I Was Born To Love You as a Freddie solo track is sublime, but the full band version that was released as 1995’s posthumous cash grab, Made In Heaven, was even better.

That being said, when you consider the other disco-influenced, synth heavy album featuring Mercury, Hot Space, Mr. Bad Guy is a breath of fresh air. Living On My Own and There Must Be More To Life Than This are fantastic. But overall, it’s just not as amazing as your full-tilt Queen album. However, it’s just always so, so good to hear Freddie’s voice. We’ll never have another and that’s okay. He can never hurt us, never disappoint us. Somewhere in the cosmos lives a moustachioed man, singing I Was Born To Love You to the universe.

Rating: 7/10

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The Twilight Sad keep it brilliant with IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME

Five years is a long time at the best of times. However, in this day and age, five years is like ten years. Back in 2014, we lived in a world where Brexit wasn’t even a thing, David Cameron fucking the pig wasn’t even a thing, and we just lived in the bosom of the shiny-faced moon man that had a hard-on for killing the poor and disabled… and a hard-on for pigs, clearly. So much can change, and as we’ve seen, very little for the better. So, what has five years changed for Scottish post-punk heroes The Twilight Sad? 2014 saw the released of Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave, accurately surmising the mood of British and EU citizens respectively.

Back with IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME, five years hasn’t changed much for the band, but with that, they provide a consistent sound with sonic developments. Slightly more upbeat than NWTBHANWTL, IWBLTATT opens with the rolling synth of [10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs], with James Graham’s reverberated vocals dancing over the top. The album, which is easier to type than IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME, is poppier than its predecessor. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a cynical assault on a faceless, mainstream sound, this album still has the melancholic feel of its predecessors and The Twilight Sad’s influencers.

Songs like album closer Videograms feels like it’s come straight from the eighties, but with a modern tilt. Think legwarmers with Yeezys, Walkmans with Airpods. The band are influenced heavily by post-punk bands like The Cure, and whilst songs like these remind you of eighties post-punk and shoegaze heroes, they stand shoulder to shoulder with them, rather than in their shadow. The Twilight Sad have simply taken a tried and tested blueprint and put their own sonic twist on it.

IWBLTATT doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises coming straight from NWTBHANWTL, though seeing as NWTBHANWTL was greeted by rave reviews, the smart move would be to follow the same path and offer slight variations. Think of NWTBHANWTL as a vodka lemonade; crisp, refreshing, always enjoyable. IWBLTATT is a vodka lemonade… with lime. It’s what you know, with a refreshing twist, but doesn’t completely change the formula. Please though, do not try to drink this album.

Though do drink in the sonic layers offered by this album. Underneath the vocals are a rock band, underneath that are crystalised synths. Good production can take a bad album and make it a good one, with this, good production has made a good album a great one. Moving from album to album is a gamble for any band, and The Twilight Sad have clearly made a killing by not looking to rock the boat too much. So many bands these days will put all their eggs into a basket of a brand new sound and turn fans off whilst failing to convert new fans.

This album does offer an alternative challenge though; picking your highlights. Rarely is an album so well done that you struggle to find your key points, rather appreciating it as one body of work. The only negative is The Twilight Sad’s policy of writing a novel as well as an album. You put a bit of The Twilight Sad on at a gaff, your mate says “This is good, who’s this?”. You’re excited, they’re invested in your musical taste. “Oh, it’s [10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs] by The Twilight Sad off their album IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME” you reply excitedly. It’s been four hours, they’ve all gone to the club and you’re sat in the dark. It’s twilight, you’re sad. Poignant.

Find your highlights where you want to find them and you can’t go wrong. However, the melancholic synths of Keep It All To Myself are definitely a high water mark on the album. Sunday Day13 is particularly heart-wrenching, mixing delicate and moody synths with lyrics that seem to tell a story of a slowly crumbling relationship. Graham’s repeated questions of “Would you throw me out into the cold, would you throw me out into the road?” hitting you in your gut. The meaning of the lyrics are up to you to interpret, but the darkness of the words do not change.

Whilst IWBLTATT isn’t that far a departure from NWTBHANWTL, it’s a definite evolution and favours punchy pop hooks over the intimacy of its predecessor. Tracks like VTr definitely have the DNA of the eighties’ biggest pop tracks and feels like they could spearhead The Twilight Sad into the upper echelons of the genre, and indeed, music as a whole. Whilst some bands cynically pursue the mainstream AHEMBRINGMEAHEMWIFEBEATERAHEM, others find themselves naturally creating a sound that appeals to everyone; the old faithful and a new breed of fans open to pop hooks and post-punk sensibilities.

Though overwhelmingly, IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME is a perfectly crafted album, and could well see the band soar to new heights, whilst staying squarely on the ground. Whilst, for now, they stand amongst their influences, they could well soar to stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before them. – Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

365 Album Challenge: The Worstest Shit, Man!

So you might be aware, or even participating in a challenge that sees the participant reading 52 books in 2019, so, one book a week, or one book for 52 days and spend the rest of it refusing to read. However, 52 books in a year is for wee guys, and TRANSISTOR is full of shaggers, which is why Oliver Butler has challenged himself to listen to at least 365 albums in 2019, one a day, for 365 days. Or 7 albums in January and 358 in December after he forgets to keep up with this challenge. But listening just isn’t enough; he also has to review them. Do 365 albums even exist? Let’s find out!

Some basic rules; A new album must be listened to at least three times, as per style guides and to give it a fair chance, there must be a mix of new, old, genres and recommendations and at least 7 albums must be listened to a week. Of course, no morally bankrupt/shitty/canceled artists. Bonus albums are allowed. With that in mind, let’s hit the ground running on January 1st with…

Date: 01/01/19
Artist: Royal Blood
Album: Royal Blood
Review Type: Re-Evaluation

New Year’s Day is a day dedicated to sore heads, hollow resolutions and a fresh outlook on the year, which becomes decidedly stale upon realising you have to spend the next year listening to 365 albums. So let’s start off with something soothing, and begin thumbing through the stack of vinyl that Father Christmas delivered at 33 1/2 rpm.

This might be a wild take, but Royal Blood are a very marmite-y band; you either adore every harmonised riff that falls from Mike Kerr’s bass, or you growl at the fact they’ve become so big so quick, but the truth is their self-titled debut album is choc full of bangers. It’s also organised upside down, because Out Of The Black should be the closer, and Better Strangers should be the opener. But seeing as there’s 365 albums to get through, let’s not dwell on where songs should and shouldn’t be.

It’s not hard to see why Royal Blood became so big so quick; songs like Come On Over and Little Monster are short rock bangers, perfectly crafted for radio play and to keep people captivated; big, simple riffs and unambiguous lyrics. You don’t have to think to listen to Royal Blood, you just get to sit, listen and enjoy it. Furthermore, when you consider what a rich tapestry of music we get to enjoy these days, with genres diversifying, dividing and developing with every recording, it’s actually quite nice to get back to basics and listen to a flat pack rock band. Music today is like a fine dining all-you-can-eat, with hip hop canapes, pop platters and rock smorgasbords, sitting down for three quarters of an hour and listening to big riffs is like having a burger and chips; not sophisticated, but damn if it isn’t enjoyable.

The band followed up their success with How Did We Get So Dark? in 2017, and you can only hope that 2019 sees them follow up two ridiculously strong albums with more of the same.

RATING: 9/10

Date: 02/01/19
Artist: Various
Album: The Greatest Showman (Original Soundtrack)
Review Type: Relevance

Your girlfriend’s a wonderful person. She sees the best in everyone and does her best to support you in everything you do. Life is richer for having her by your side, and every day is like Christmas. You tell her about your intriguing project to listen to 365 albums in a year, and she immediately suggests listening to 2018’s biggest album as a kickoff. Great idea! She pulls up the list. It’s The Greatest Showman. This must be a mistake. It’s not. It’s true. You look in her eyes, your mouth says “great idea”, but your eyes are so very tired, so devoid of life. She has sent you to your early grave.

First things first, The Greatest Showman is flagrant false advertising, because how the FUCK can you give a film that name and not include Freddie Mercury, who we all know, WAS The Greatest Showman. Second of all, how this is the biggest selling album of 2018 is a fucking mystery. George Ezra was second and that makes perfect sense, we can all enjoy a bit of George now and then. The only plausible reason is that a large majority of purchasers were half-arsed children buying a mother’s day gift, or a birthday gift, or a Christmas gift, because your mum saw it and said “eh, it was okay”, and somehow, that was the green light for you to go and buy it. She wrote you a fucking list, you lazy shite.

Third, this album is fucking dreadful. There’s slight high points, like opener The Greatest Show does have all the pomp and excitement of an album opener. However, on the whole, this album is just terrible. This is meant to be a musical and there’s like, no musical aspects to this album. The only settling thing on this album is Keala Settle’s voice, which is concerning seeing as Zac Efron was in High School Musical. The album has been streamed well over 100,000,000 times, a crime when you consider that the greatest album of 2018, Knowing What You Know Now by Marmozets has probably had less than 10% of that. It’s like that scene in Peep Show where they go to the play, and they’re imagining they’re watching Heat. That’s what you do, you listen to this and imagine you’re listening to something else. Like Marmozets.

On the one hand, this album lacking any kind of musical nuance is fine, it’s a film soundtrack, but when you consider other film scores, fuck, even the soundtrack to Hercules is 10 times better than this, a film score for a musical should be much better. On the other other hand, Marmozets should have sold more albums than this. This album is fucking dreadful. Three listens and each time you forget what you’ve listened to and get disappointed each time.

RATING: 2/10

Date: 03/01/19
Artist: Susan Boyle
Album: I Dreamed A Dream
Review Type: Relevance

You know what? This album was picked because it was the biggest selling album of 2009, meaning all our bases are covered in relevant and landmark albums, and tongues were bitten at the suggestion of this. Not Susan Boyle. However, whilst The Greatest Showman was beyond shite, I Dreamed A Dream was a delightful piece of pickled ginger to cleanse the pallet after having to digest a fully formed turd roll from Hugh Jackman and friends.

The cynic in you says I Dreamed A Dream is nothing but a covers album, which it is, but seeing as Susan Boyle has regressed into our memories and the hashtag #susanalbumparty, you’ve probably forgotten just how beautiful her voice is. The album opens with a cover of Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones, and while the original is melancholic enough, Susanalbumcover adds a new layer of melancholy, tragedy and beauty to an already fantastic song. Her cover of Cry Me A River sounds like something out of a Bond film, not the opener, but maybe something as a centrepiece in the move.

Of course, there’s her version of I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables, which leaves you far from miserable, and serves as a poignant reminder that everyone digged at her looks, then were promptly silenced by her voice. Rightly so, because you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, especially when the contents are this angelic. Whilst this caused a sulk at first suggestion, on reflection, it’s a good album. Not repeatedly listen and get the LP good, but definitely something you could stick on at dinner and seem sophisticated. Put it on for your next date night and do hand stuff to Amazing Grace. Su’s got you covered.

RATING: 7/10

Date: 04/01/19
Artist: Queen
Album: Jazz
Review Type: Re-Evaluation

Christmas presents are mint, aren’t they? Jazz on its own is a fantastic album, but when you consider Queen’s output in the 1970s, Jazz is just a mere footnote in the band’s storied career. However, such was the law back then, every Queen album must have a era-defining song, and Jazz is no lawbreaker. For a start, Fat Bottomed Girls, which is, quite frankly, one of the greatest rock songs ever written. Still not enough? Bicycle Race, which was inspired by Freddie watching Tour De France cyclists, and apparently had a fling with one of them for a bit of trivia. More, you say? Let Me Entertain You, one of the finest set openers and contain’s a subtle wink to Freddie’s love of the New York gay scene, for those of you that like your Queen trivia.

And of course, of course, this album contain’s Don’t Stop Me Now, one of the finest Queen tracks ever written, and undoubtedly, one of the best rock songs ever. For some more trivia, Brian May’s noticeable absence on this song bar the solo is because he didn’t approve of Freddie’s hedonistic lifestyle of drugs, sex and partying at the time, worrying it’d all go horribly wrong. Don’t Stop Me Now is Freddie saying… er… don’t stop me now, because he was having such a good time, he was having a ball. However, it produced one of the best songs of all time, so who’s really in the wrong here? It’s you, Brian.

However, outside the big hitters, you have some underrated gems like Dead On Time, which contains a big riff and some of Freddie‘s strongest vocal performances. The man had lungs like fucking bellows. More Of That Jazz is a Roger Taylor classic, because he was a great vocalist. Dreamers Ball is a bit of the silliness that made Queen so great, but is still hugely enjoyable. Though probably lost in the ether of a decade of solid albums from Queen, Jazz was one component of an unstoppable beast that hasn’t really shrunk, despite the band not doing anything since Freddie’s death, because let’s face it, Queen + Paul Rodgers and Queen + Adam Lambert can get. To. FUCK.

Miss you, Fred.

Rating: 8/10

Date: 05/01/19
Artist: Enter Shikari
Album: A Flash Flood Of Colour
Review Type: Re-Evaluation

Kind of a Christmas present, but a signed copy of this doesn’t come around often. A Flash Flood Of Colour still holds itself as a high point in Enter Shikari’s recording career. Their third album found them break new ground and really improve on their aggressive, electronic sound and add new depths to an already intricate sonic blueprint.

Interestingly, System uses the same synth as Common Dreads to open the track. Meltdown is a monolithic track, with a lyrical theme that remains truer now than it did in 2012. It’s quite hard to pin down the evolution, as tracks like Ssssnakepit and Arguing With Thermometers are more aggressive than their predecessors, but Stalemate and Constellations are still some of the most poignant Shikari tracks released.

On the whole, this album is flawless, even some of your ‘forgotten’ tracks like Pack Of Thieves and Hello Tyrannosaurus, Meet Tyrranicide are sonic masterpieces. Whilst Shikari’s career grew more with The Mindsweep and The Spark, launching them to the echelon of arena sellouts and festival headliners, but AFFOC was the calm before the storm. It created a solid foundation to launch the band from cult heroes to superstars.

RATING: 10/10

Date: 06/01/19
Artist: CHVRCHES
Album: Love Is Dead
Review Type: Re-Evaluation

Scottish bop exporters CHVRCHES have gone very far in a short period of time. From The Bones Of What You Believe in 2013, they’ve had a huge rise, with big pop synths, hooks and choruses proving a hugely successful approach, leaving them with a knack for creating big, BIG bops.

Love Is Dead was a hugely enjoyable album on the whole, but lacked the bop density of its two predecessors. It wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t bad either. It was somewhat average. However, tracks like Miracle, Graves and Get Out still qualified as bops. But overall, songs like Heaven/Hell, God’s Plan and Deliverance are just… nothing really. They’re not bad, but right after listening, you’ve forgotten how it goes. The National’s Jurgen Klopp, or Matt Beringer appears on My Enemy, which to be honest, his silky smooth voice fits it, but it’s still not great.

However, despite the negatives, it’s still a fun album to strap onto your turntable and listen to on a Sunday evening, because it’s a nice, poppy album with plenty of rich tones.

RATING: 6/10

Next week, will be a week of recommendations. Got any? Send a tweet to @transistorblog or get in touch with the writer himself at @notoliverbutler to be in with a chance of being told to fuck off!

Why Stormzy deserves to headline Glastonbury

There is nowhere quite like Glastonbury. Nestled in Somerset’s rolling hills, a sleepy bit of countryside turns into a bustling metropolis once a year. The world famous Pyramid Stage has hosted a who’s who of music’s biggest acts, including The Who in that who’s who. Someone said you looked like an owl! Who? Exactly.

A Pyramid Stage set can make an artist, because as an amber sky gives way to the inky black of night, they walk onto the stage and dazzle tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. But the Pyramid Stage, though the temple of music legends, is just one tiny part of a monolithic festival. The festival site is around 900 acres big, with a full-and-standing 135,000 people attending every year. For context, imagine if the population of Brighton just fucked off to Somerset for a weekend. Nobody there. Deserted. Burgle them all. Bastards.

The festival also plays host to hundreds of acts each year, across 30 or so stages, so when it comes to finding something to do, you’re spoilt for choice at Glastonbury. The Other Stage hosts acts and headliners worthy of a festival themselves, and oftentimes you’ll find yourselves double booking yourselves to see two acts, at once, on stages roughly fifty miles apart.

The headliner, then, shouldn’t matter one iota. Of course, get your big dogs, your scrappy pups and your dinosaurs at the top of the bill, but if you find yourself poking your tongue out at the Friday headliner, you have a plethora of options for your evening. Realistically, one artist, albeit the headline act, doesn’t actually mean anything in the grand scheme of things.

So it’s curious to see so many raising an eyebrow, clucking a tongue or prolapsing an anus to see that grime superstar Stormzy has been announced as Glastonbury’s first headliner for 2019, and, if memory serves correct, the first British rapper to headline the festival. Now, there are some valid questions posed by Mr Skeng esq’s appearance, but a lot of the feedback just seems to be a cocktail of boiled piss and salt. Or as the metropolitan types like to call it, Brexit Sour.

We’ll address the first, and to be honest, only valid criticism of Stormzy’s appearance, in that he’s only released one album. Which is completely fair but, to flip the coin, Oasis and Coldplay headlined after only an album, and Arctic Monkeys headlined the festival just two months after releasing Favourite Worst Nightmare, so it’s fair to say they were locked in after just one album. That being said, the bin fire that was Twitter didn’t exist back then, so it’s hard to find out just exactly what the mooing public thought, but considering Definitely Maybe, Parachutes and Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not were stunning debut albums in their own right, it’s hard to argue why they didn’t deserve the nod. Further to that, all of those performances were iconic and helped cement their legend status in music.

So what makes Big Mike so different? The aforementioned albums all went to number one in the UK charts, and have all since gone on to be certified platinum, multiple times. The only difference with Stormzy is that he went to number one AND went platinum without any major label support. On top of this, Gang Signs and Prayer was the first grime album to go to number one. The criticism that this is Stormzy’s first album is valid, but that first album is iconic and successful enough to show he’s got the drawing power befitting of a festival headliner. Any savvy booker already knows what’s hot and what’s not, and Glastonbury are no different, with Stormzy being one of Britain’s hottest newcomers in a long time.

Further to this, there’s always a lot going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about. Oasis, Coldplay and Arctic Monkeys were in their second album cycle when they headlined, releasing before or after, and it’s fair to assume that the Eaviseseses knew that before we did. Same logic can be applied to Stormzy, 2019 will mark GSAP’s second birthday, and it’s fair to assume he might be working on something to come out before or after this set. Had he released one album that threatened an appearance in the top ten, then fizzled out, his appearance at the top of the bill should be analysed, but Michael and Emily Eavis aren’t idiots; they’re as cunning as the foxes that roam their land, so whilst a lot of Glastonbury’s revenue goes to charity, the Eaviseseseses know what’s best for business.

In that respect, why isn’t Stormzy a good choice? Grime has moved from an underground movement in the noughties to a large part of the zeitgeist in the 2010s, and getting in an artist that reflects current cultural trends isn’t a controversy, it’s just good business. Glastonbury is hypothetically sold out right now, all 135,000 deposits were placed, and it’s fair to say that one way or another, 135,000 tickets will be paid in full by April, so most of the tickets are bought in the knowledge that the headliners will be a surprise.


Which means that when it comes to booking headline acts, the Eaviseseseses need to make three choices that will give the most pleasing reaction when combined together. Like last year, we had Radiohead, Foo Fighters and Ed Sheeran, three artists with very differing sounds and appeals, but in that differentiation, they actually offer the most variety. With these varied choices, there’ll more than likely be at least one headliner you make it to the pyramid for, making as many people as possible happy.

The important word in the above paragraph is “Three”. Stormzy is “one” of “three”, meaning that there are “two” more headliners to be announced, with rumours including but not limited to Paul McCartney, The Cure, Arctic Monkeys, Taylor Swift, Madonna, The Spice Girls and Kendrick Lamar. So even if you’re clutching your pearls that one of those awful, awful rappers are at Glastonbury, take a look at the variety you’ve still got left to come. The smartest choice there would be Arctic Monkeys and The Cure or Paul McCartney, because it offers three things; something new (Stormzy) something wildly popular (AM) and something vintage (The Cure or Paul McCartney), that means you have something for the kids, something we can all enjoy, and something for the dads in slacks who think they’re still cool.

So another question is: does Stormzy deserve it? And the answer to that is yes, moreso than many artists out there right now. Success aside, few work harder than Stormzy, a lot of time, effort and energy has to go into independently releasing your music, and the fact that he reached number one with zero label support goes to show you how good he is. Somewhat of a YouTube star with Shut Up, he’s built his career off his own back, and is now reaping the rewards. On top of this, in 2017, he headlined The Other Stage to much fanfare, so consider that a successful audition for the top job.

Another question: Is it too soon? See above for whether it’s too soon and realise that no, it is not too soon. As Sir Matt Busby, legendary football manager once said; “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough”. Of course, he was probably not referring to Stormzy headlining Glastonbury, as Stormzy wasn’t even one when he died, so it’s impossible to know if Sir Matt Busby was making that statement in reference to Stormzy. But the sentiment rings true as although he’ll still be 25 when he takes to the Pyramid Stage, he’s more than ready to step up to the plate. There’s no airs or graces in his walk, and his feet will remain rooted to the stage. Though GSAP was his debut, the production, lyricsm and theme showed he was wise beyond his years, and if he can carry that through to album two, he’ll go out and dominate every inch of that stage.

Further to this, what can Stormzy bring to the live stage? Well if his performance at the 2018 Brit Awards is anything to go by, he can bring a stunning live performance that prompts a response from the Prime Minister. But aside from calling out the Prime Minister, to great affect, Stormzy will no doubt bring something as visually stunning as this set up.

Another question which isn’t a question is that Glastonbury like to keep their headliners as fresh as the Somerset air that lasts for all of five minutes until the smell of longdrops permeate the atmosphere. So whilst people who probably haven’t even got tickets but can’t stomach the idea of anything but rock bands appearing at festivals are asking where the likes of the Foo Fighters, The Rolling Stones, Coldplay and Muse are, with one Twitter user musing that Bowie should headline, which is a piece in itself. But for the acts that are actually alive and available, it wouldn’t make sense for Glastonbury considering all those bands have headlined in the last five years. Five years between headline slots is about the minimum.

Of course, a lot of this vitriol is quite simple, some people still have the small minded view that the only good music is rock music, and that festivals should only book rock bands. The idea that a rapper will take a spot that should be reserved for a band comprised of exclusively white guys with guitars, is an affront to them, and they will not be buying a ticket, despite not knowing what Glastonbury was five minutes ago. A similar brand of boiled piss was being served a year or two ago, when Glastonbury announced a women-only venue at the festival, somewhere for women, a group who routinely feel threatened, to feel safe. No prizes for what the average look of this demographic is.

Other comments have ranged to the downright enraged that Stormzy is headlining, with people confused as to why this “thug” will be headlining the festival. Because, of course, if you are young, and black, and rap for a living, you are automatically a thug. Stormzy might even bring “marijuana cigarettes” to the festival, something that has never, ever happened in the history of Glastonbury. Ever. These are the same people that would have both Gallagher brothers headline it every year, and have the third headline slot dedicated to a group debate over who shouldn’t headline. Hosted by a Gallagher brother. Lest we forget that last year, Stormzy’s Chelsea home was raided, because neighbours thought he was burgling his own gaff.

They are part of the “real music” set that think “rock is dead”, but say if a band like Biffy Clyro were to be given the nod as festival headliners, a very, very real prospect, maybe even in 2019, would be just as angry. Should this piece have been written to rebuke people who just can’t be satisfied? Absolutely, because it’s important to explain why Stormzy deserves to headline the festival. Though not exactly one of the “legends” people are so adamant headline the festival, a strong Pyramid Stage set is the making of a legend. Further to this, Stormzy uses his platform to highlight social injustices, not least with his performance at the Brit Awards this year. Stormzy’s political beliefs and morals line up with those of the Eaviseseses, making him a perfect fit for the festival’s ethos.

Of course, whether or not people agree with Stormzy’s headline slot at Glastonbury is academic; he’s been booked as the first headliner and despite the fact a petition has probably already been started to have him removed, he ain’t going nowhere. Same thing happened with Kanye a few years back, because the idea of a rapper headlining a music festival just doesn’t fit with their fantasies. Glastonbury after all has always showcased a wide variety of artists and genres over the years, and that will never change. Had Stormzy been announced as a Download headliner, you’d be right to argue that the organisers had made a terrible decision, but seeing as Glastonbury has always been a celebration of arts, culture and music, Stormzy fits the bill.

On top of this, Glastonbury is not a claustrophobic place, and it is not a hostage situation. If you’re reading this, angry at the idea of a Stormzy concert, you do understand nobody’s making you go? You’re not going to have a sack pulled over your head, be knocked unconcious, be thrown in the back of a van and awaken during the first bar of Big For Your Boots? Plus with the festival sizing up at 900 acres, do you think you’ll be sat on his lap? Stormzy could well be in a different postcode to you. It’s that big, he might even be in a different time zone, so you could technically time travel and miss his set.

On Friday of Glastonbury last year, for the last act of the day, you could have seen Radiohead, Lorde, Dizzee Rascal, Clean Bandit, Sleaford Mods OR a Status Quo acoustic set, all at once? So unless EVERY fucking artist ever sends the Eaviseseseses to voicemail, it’s fair to assume that if Stormzy isn’t your cup of tea, there might, just might, be someone else to your fancy. If you think your festival starts and ends at the main stage, it’s your own fault for being so small minded. On top of that, there’s places like Shangri-La, Arcadia, Unfair Ground, or you can just sit outside your tent and get hammered on cans. Stormzy will be one of hundreds of artists to appear at the festival that weekend, so whilst he’s a hugely successful and popular artist, his appearance means absolutely fuck all in the grand scheme of the festival. If you’re THAT opposed to his appearance, and there’s nobody else you want to see, you can probably go for a walk and be miles away from him if you so please.

The other option is, if this one act, again, of hundreds is so upsetting, you can just… not say anything and not go? Again, nobody’s forcing you to go, if you don’t want to buy a ticket, then that’s fine pal, it’s a free country, but the fact you have to announce it to the world isn’t really needed. Nobody, in the grand scheme of things, is going to feel a seismic change in their mindset because @PureOasis and @MorrisseyMightBeASaggyOldRacistButIStillSupportHim1 are clutching their pearls. Life moves on, tastes change, and any promoter with their head screwed on recognises that.

So we go back to the important question: Does Stormzy deserve to headline Glastonbury? Undoubtedly. Going to number one and being certified platinum with your debut album, independently is a huge feat, and shows that whilst you’re still a wee baby boy, you have the talent, the knowhow and the work ethic to make such a thing happen. Whilst there will undoubtedly pearl clutching, puce foreheads and petitions, it’s doubtful Stormzy cares, as his Instagram story already shows.

With that said, it’s reasonable to assume that Stormzy will say one thing, and one thing only with his Glastonbury performance: Shut Up.

@notoliverbutler

Architects sonically dominate the landscape with Holy Hell

When you look at everything in the grand scheme of things, two years is not a huge amount of time at all. It’s just 2.5% of the average human lifespan, but so much can change in just a short amount of time. Two years ago, Brighton post metalcore heroes Architects had celebrated the release of their seventh studio album, All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, only to then mourn the tragic passing of guitarist and primary songwriter Tom Searle to cancer at the age of 28.

There’s no imagining what it must be like to lose your creative force, your band mate, your best mate, and your twin brother, but not long after, the band were back on the road, with Sean Delander from Thy Art Is Murder filling in for Tom, Sylosis’ Josh Middleton taking the full-time job soon after. Although not on stage, Tom’s presence was felt in the songs he wrote, and his absence was felt by the thousands of fans that came out to support the band. Their tour culminated at a sold out headline show at Alexandra Palace in London, their biggest show to date, and proof that they were big enough, bold enough and good enough to fill out arenas.

After Tom’s death in August 2016, brother Dan wrote:

“We want to carry on, that is important to say, and we will strive to do so, but we will not release any music unless we truly believe that is something that Tom would have been proud of. Whether or not we can achieve that is something we will have to discover in time”

So just two short years later, 2.5% of our lives gone, Architects have discovered if they’re able to release music that Tom would have been proud of, and with their new album, Holy Hell, they’ve not only created an album that he would have been proud of, they’ve also created some of their finest work ever, and one of THE albums of 2018, if not the decade.

Holy Hell, for those of you that like stats, is eleven tracks and about 42 minutes long, but Architects said all they needed to say in just four words with album opener Death Is Not Defeat. In that track, they already show how they’ve grown and evolved as a band over the past two years. Their layered approach to songwriting is evident on the first bars of Death Is Not Defeat, with sombre strings being joined by ambient noise, and the trademark growls of Sam Carter. Past that, every instrument does its own unique and amazing thing, but all comes together as one symphony.

Death Is Not Defeat picks up exactly where Memento Mori left off on All Our Gods… with Sam screaming “I’ll dismantle piece by piece, and I will know that, death is not defeat”. A poignant lyric at face value, but made all the more poignant by the band’s resolve to carry on, continue going out on tour, and bring out their best album just two short years later. On top of that, Doomsday came out last year, and was one of the best songs released in 2017. When you take into account the creative process, writing, demoing, recording, mastering, and the hype time between announcement and release, plus touring, the band have barely drawn breath since All Our Gods… came out.

The only issue you’ll find with Holy Hell is picking your standout track. Every album’s got one; there’s a Bohemian Rhapsody or a Seek and Destroy on every album, but with Holy Hell, it’s just wall to wall perfection. The album’s qualities include poignant and intelligent songwriting, layered instruments, hard riffs, melodic metalcore and general symphonic beauty. If one song ticks all those boxes more than others, it’s Mortal After All.

Mortal After All finds the band at their level best, and will no doubt find itself as a set closer. The whole lyrical theme of the album deals with mortality, loss and coping with it, as you might expect, but Mortal After All reminds us that the “end comes for all of us”, especially with the bridge:

“Have you forgotten the deal we made? I’ve seen the end and the pain we trade, all these walls will fall, I guess we’re mortal after all // The end will come for all of us, this all rests on a fault line, all ends will be met, and all worlds must collapse”

Vocally, it’s probably the most emotionally charged performance from Sam too. In “Another part of the symphony, lost between eternity, but God is in the detail”, you can really feel the pain in his voice, especially on the final chorus.

[youtube 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=motGYShex5o%5D

However, Mortal After All’s superiority doesn’t detract from the rest of the album, and to be quite honest, you, the listener, may find yourself saying the exact same things about a track like A Wasted Hymn, or Doomsday… or Hereafter… or Dying to Heal. The problem with an album like this, is that it’s so damn perfect it’s hard to find where the high point is.

Sonically, the band that wrote Holy Hell are a completely different beast to the band that wrote Nightmares, but the core principle of eardrum perforating metalcore remains, especially with The Seventh Circle. Just under two minutes in length, the track is simple riffs and screaming, like a sonic mac and cheese; not exactly complicated, but wonderful nonetheless. Think of the f i l t h y pick slides as the breadcrums on top, or a nice parsley garnish.

That being said, for all the symphonies, melodies and harmonies Architects will layer their songs with, it’s quite refreshing to have a guitar swung round your face and to have Sam Carter scream in your face. Like being glassed with a gin and tonic. If at any point this doesn’t make sense, Sam Carter seems like an incredibly nice, generous and pleasant man, so it’s hard to see why he WOULDN’T glass one of his fans if you asked him nicely. Then you’ll understand The Seventh Circle.

However, whilst at heart and in bone, Architects are still the same band, the body and skin is much different, and we are all much better off for it. Never a band to throw the baby out with the bathwater, apart from maybe The Here and Now (Heartburn is still a banger), Architects instead consolidate their sonic learnings from each album to improve the next. Remember how Lost Forever//Lost Together was their best album, then it was All Our Gods…, well now it’s Holy Hell. They never stop working hard, and when some bands go well off the boil on their eight album, they’re barely even simmering. It might be a wild assumption, but Holy Hell won’t even be their best record. It’s just their best so far.

Looking at the album as a whole, there isn’t a song that doesn’t fail to blow you away. Songs like Hereafter, Royal Beggars and Modern Misery obviously aren’t as new and exciting as non-single tracks, and Doomsday is now so old it’s collecting a pension, but all are so perfect the first time you hear them. The band were concerned about when, and if they would come back, and only when they had material that Tom would be proud of.

They’ve achieved that massively, if not with a bit of help from Tom himself. He’s in and around on Holy Hell, with brother Dan saying that he might appear as a riff on a song, an unused jam, a concept, or a bit of background noise, and that in writing the lyrics for Holy Hell, Dan used his brother’s approach to writing lyrics, and to be honest, he’s nailed it, with a consistent lyrical theme on Holy Hell that can be traced through the band’s discography. And with the band sticking to their blueprint, with Tom being the major creative force on the last seven albums, he’ll be a part of every Architects album for years to come.

Another choice cut from the album is Dying To Heal, towards the end of the album. The whole way through this album, you’ve enjoyed yourself, you’ve been entertained, you’ve been blown away and mesmerised by this band. However, about 40 seconds into this track, Sam’s screams will ascend, along with this growing, towering guitar riff as it bursts into the chorus. At that precise moment, your eyes widen a little bit, because that riff is a “holy shit” moment on Holy Hell.

[youtube 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5zcR11FMpc%5D

Lyrically, special praise needs to be given to Holy Hell. There are two sides to this album; the sonic side, which layers instrument upon instrument upon instrument to create this intricate symphony, but garnishing the top of that symphony is the lyrical content of this album. It’s rather hard, and would be rather unfair to highlight one passage as the standout lyric, because the whole album is delicately written, with the entire band’s heart and soul poured into every syllable. This lyrical theme isn’t something new, or surprising from the band, it’s just that they’ve yet again ascended to a new level in their songwriting.

The album closer is always important; it’s the track where the credits roll down and you reflect on what you’ve just experienced. With A Wasted Hymn, the album draws to a close perfectly, providing an emotional and poignant climax to what has been a transitional album for the band. In more ways than one, Holy Hell will be a dividing line for the band, for one, between the pre and post Tom eras, but what the band will hopefully remember as the album that launched them to the very stratosphere of modern metal, and install them as future classics. Metal needs superstars and arena fillers to keep the flame burning, and Architects feel like the heir to the throne of your SabbathsPriests and Maidens.

Back in 2016, Architects probably found themselves asking “what’s next?” after the release of their seventh studio album and the passing of their bandmate. Fast forward to now, they will probably be finding themselves still asking the same question, but with a brighter outlook. The world is theirs, ready for the taking. You’d be surprised if they didn’t headline Download next year, along with a plethora of other festivals. A headline date at Wembley Arena also awaits them, but arenas are the only venue that can hold this band now. Halls can’t contain their power.

As Dan Searle’s vocals close out the album with “now it’s time to sink or swim, I’ve got nothing except this wasted hymn, holy ghost, nothing lasts forever”, the band are swimming. No, scratch that, the band are walking on water. As the strings silence and the noise fades out, you realise just how perfect this album is. They’ve made an album that they can be proud of, that their departed brother can be proud of, that their fans can be proud of, and one that their brand new fans will take pleasure in discovering.

What they say at the start remains true at the end: Death Is Not Defeat.

@notoliverbutler

Did anyone see the movie Tron? Muse detach from reality with Simulation Theory

“Uhhh… it’s like ummm… did anyone see the movie Tron?” – Homer Simpson

Muse are a hard animal to identify, playing by-the-book rock in their debut album Showbiz, the band probably float in the space rock atmosphere, if you want to staple a genre to them. Always one to favour the unusual, piano flourishes, robotic synths and skyward riffs have always been a staple of the Teignmouth trio’s offering.

However, it’s been nearly 20 years since Showbiz introduced some bright eyed and bushy tailed kids to the world, and deservedly, have become kings of the universe since then. Albums like Origin of Symmetry, Absolution and Black Holes & Revelations welcomed them into the rock legends circle, and even still, it’s hard to say they’ve outstayed their welcome as arena gladiators.

But in recent years, it’s fair to say the end product’s gone off the boil a little. No, ‘off the boil’ is a bit too generous. The pan has fallen off the hob and is currently melting your foot like it’s in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Resistance had its moments of excellence if not a bit wobbly, The 2nd Law was… yeah… and Drones offered a welcome return to form in places, although lacking substantially in others. So surely with their new album, Simulation Theory, they’re about to return to their old form of writing an album that sounds like Jimi Hendrix wrestling Jesus in space?

Mmm. Perhaps not.

Before the pan comes out the cupboard on this one, it should be stressed that a band changing their sound is a Very Good Thing, because bands can be reborn under a new sonic blueprint, but bands changing their sound and not putting their entire heart into it is a Less Than Good Thing. In some places, the gamble pays off and works, but in other places, it just feels like that more time & effort should have been put in to the writing of these songs. However, had the band written Showbiz after Showbiz after Showbiz, they’d probably make the odd “Good debut, where are they now?” lists, rather than being rock legends.

Simulation Theory has the best of intentions, but it just doesn’t leave a mark. Algorithm opens the album, with growing strings and dystopian synth, which does serve well as an opener. There are some familiar if not slightly recycled Bellamy brand piano flourishes, but the whole track just feels a bit sluggish. It feels like a rejected cut from Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack. It’s a little confusing seeing as the band have used synth so freely and to much more devastating effect, pretty much from their inception. 

This is the thing that’s bringing the album down; stuff like this, the bombastic dystopian space rock opera aliens shagging in space approach could probably be copyrighted by Muse, but on Simulation Theory, it just feels like they’re on their last week after handing in their notice, almost as if this album says “yeah, I’m still coming to work, but at best I’m going to send two emails and go for a three hour shit”. Is this album a case of biting off more than they can chew, or have they just simply sailed wide of the mark?

Highlights on this album are few and far between, but Pressure offers something different AND enjoyable. The riff is pretty funky, and the use of the horns during the intro and the verses is really enjoyable. In the dystopian present that is Simulation Theory, Pressure feels like a friendly face, and a warming embrace. It’s got a very Radio 2 feel to it, in that your mum and dad can join in the fun too, and that’s not a bad thing at all, it shows a widely appealing sound. It’s a carefree track, and although the use of horns might be the only link, it has the same dancey, upbeat and fun feel as Panic Station, another late-stage Muse banger.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2eKImKZviw]

There are some more personable and perhaps more emotionally vulnerable moments on the album than we’ve seen in recent years, with Get Up And Fight inspired by Bellamy’s uncle having cancer, with an emotional lyrical theme, especially with a trademark falsetto crying “I can’t survive without your love in my life”. There’s a huge emotional vocal delivery in what is one of the more poppier songs on the album. Something Human was written regarding the disconnect Bellamy feels when touring, and the excitement of coming home.

Something that’s extremely confusing about the album is the way the tracks have been chosen. For argument’s sake, we’re going to just review the standard album, but the area of concern is the deluxe version of the album. You’ll find “alternate reality” versions of tracks like Algorithm and The Dark Side, and this “alternate reality” must be the one where Simulation Theory is an album of the year contender, because Algorithm is a substantially beefier, and more frightening track. It feels like Tron and Star Wars had a baby. It feels like Darth Vader is about to square go with Thanos, with The Undertaker as a special guest referee. 

Another conundrum the deluxe version throws up is the acoustic version of Something Human. Comparing the two side by side, it feels like the synth has overcomplicated the recording in parts, and the song would have worked better as this stripped back acoustic song, perhaps built up a bit more. It feels like in places on Simulation Theory, there’s electronics for the sake of electronics. As if Matt got bought a synthesiser for Christmas, and he’s using it loads so nobody gets their feelings hurt.

It’s just a little confusing that, whilst opinions are subjective, the bonus tracks on the album feel more put together than the main album tracks. None of this goes to help the album’s overall score, but if you find yourself underwhelmed by the main course, the side dishes might be a bit more to your taste…

Let’s offer a positive, shall we? Blockades deploys the synth-first strategy with success. It feels a more comfortable track than its album-mates, with the electronics forming a more coherent part of the song, with slight undertones of Knights of Cydonia in it. Maybe it’s the space-esque synth or the galloping bass, but this feels like proper space rock song, rather than an ambiguous stab at electronics. It feels polished, mixing the dystopian themes with space rock, to create that neon-bathed aesthetic the album cover tries to cultivate. Same goes for The Dark Side, which does create the same dystopian effect. Had this approach run through the veins of this album, you could have produced another concept album similar to Drones

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8muGWOjNoSo]

Propaganda is a deceptive track. The thudding bass and robotic voice make way for… a trap-esque beat? Does Matt really say “floozy”, in the year of our lord, twenty eighteen? Absolutely nothing wrong with a rock band taking inspiration from hip hop and vice versa, we’re all here to learn from one another, but this feels like Muse are wearing baseball caps backwards and saying “yo yo yo kids!”

Muse taking a new direction is not a bad thing. It’s through this innovation and evolution that new music keeps happening. Imagine if everyone still sounded The Beatles? Oasis tried it and look what happened to them, ran out of gas by Be Here Now and lived off the back of Wonderwall, now a load of parka-clad wankers will assure you they’re the greatest band ever. The problem here is that in taking this new direction, it feels unfinished. It feels like some of these songs, like PropagandaBreak It To Me and Algorithim have potential, but it hasn’t yet been unlocked. Some of these tracks should have stayed in the studio a big longer. They’re still a little frozen in the middle.

Some songs, however, are totally finished and are just shite. Take Thought Contagion, for one. It’s like Muse watched that parody “How to write a Muse song” video on YouTube, then wrote a Muse song. We’re on layers of Muse that we can’t comprehend right now. It just feels like the band are trying as hard as they used to when it comes to song writing. Which might be fair enough, they’re all worth millions, and if they want to have their kitchen redone, they can snap their fingers and book an arena tour.

Drummer Dom Howard mused (wahey!) that 2015’s Drones might have been their last album, due to the way music is consumed, releasing singles and EPs might have been the way forward for the band, and it’s hard to disagree. In releasing sporadic singles, the band could have had more time to work on their new sound, rather than having to do it in one gulp, perhaps waiting another year or two to release an album. It took Metallica eight years to write, record and release Hardwired… and that payed dividends for the band. Hardwired was a good album, breathing new life into the band, something Muse might have benefited from. At their level, they can rely on arena tours, sporadic singles and festival appearances, because their marketable product is the live show, rather than having to get themselves known through their music. 

The Void closes out the album, which is pretty fitting, because that’s what you find yourself wanting to scream into at the end of the album. With that said, The Void is powerfully enjoyable, and another example of where the electronically led approach pays off. Again, it uses the dystopian theme with the electronics perfectly. It creates a powerful sense of dread. It feels like a call to arms in the dying light of day, and whilst the use of electronics works perfectly and powerfully here, the delicately tapped piano at the end of the song, making way for the rippling synth with droned repetitions of “they’re wrong, baby they’re wrong” giving the song a tired feel, not in production, but almost as if it’s the dying breaths of the album.

The problem here is that Simulation Theory will work as a transitional album, but this take comes clad in ifs & buts. This could be the base to provide a greater reaction in the future, but Muse need to stick to this blueprint. An issue is that since The Resistance, the blueprint’s been a bit sixes and sevens. Before they even record anything or even think about considering pondering lamenting mulling thinking about recording something, they need to define what they want to be, which should either to be build on this concept of dystopian space rock, and solidify what they’re learning to improve future sounds, or go back to basics. 

They are much better off sticking to this blueprint, because it more or less gives them a fresh start. See Simulation Theory as a re-debut album. Positive in places, shaky in others and gives you a glimpse into what this band can offer. They need to sit down, listen back to this album and ask themselves; “How can we do these tracks, but better?”. If for instance, the album after this is the Origin to Simulation‘s Showbiz (we’re on like, fifty layers of Muse here), the band can essentially start life all over again, and enjoy a later stage career that few bands would dare to dream of. 

History may judge this album kindly, and regard it as the start of something magical, but we can only work with and judge what we have in the now, and that’s something that works in places, but sorely lacks in others. 

Oliver Butler – (@notoliverbutler)

 

While She Sleeps make a welcome return with ANTI-SOCIAL

Some artists will become the flag-bearers for their genre; a hallmark of quality and THE starting point for any genre. However, some bands will take that flag down and put up their own, reshaping the genre and changing the face of it, or creating a whole new genre. Step forward, While She Sleeps.

Ever since introducing themselves with The North Stands For Nothing, WSS have been a band on the rise, somehow remaining solidly consistent across three full-blown releases, peaking with You Are We last year. Whilst classed as a metalcore band, they, like Architects, transcend the genre with their approach to musicianship and production.

So at some point, they’ve got to run out of puff, right? Potentially, but with the release of their new single ANTI-SOCIAL last night, the Sleeps brothers don’t look like that’ll happen any time soon.

There’s something different with this track, but it’s hard to put your finger on it. The track still contains the classic Sleeps trademarks – big riffs, and bigger gang screams – but feels more progressive than You Are We.

It’s not like they’ve turned down and pursued a poppier sound, it still hits with the same venom and angst as ever before. You could argue the heavy, ominous synth is something new, but not exactly outside their range. The sound just feels like an upgrade, but not from one album to the next, it feels like they’ve learnt a lot and are applying it to their craft.

Past the synth however, it’s business as usual with frantically picked guitars, thunderous riffs and a chorus of screams. It just… it just feels like an evolution of the band. As if they’ve gone from being a Pikachu; an absolute unit, roundly popular, to a Raichu; even more electric and more powerful than ever before.

ANTI-SOCIAL is the first release from Sleeps’ fourth full-length album, SO WHAT?, due next March, and whilst we’re just one track in, you’d be foolish not to already be tipping the band to release an album of the year contender in 2019.

However, this album does come with an added pressure. The band have sold out halls, institutes and academies across the land, and SO WHAT? will be crucial, in that it could be the album that takes them to the arena-filling and festival headlining level, and turn them into metal’s latest giants. – oliver butler (@notoliverbutler)