Top 10 Bon Iver Tracks

The creation story of  Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver project and its seminal 2007 debut For Emma, Forever Ago has become the stuff of modern myth.

Vernon broke up with his girlfriend, his band broke up and he contracted glandular fever. Down on his luck, Vernon sought isolation in the form of his father’s remote hunting cabin in Eau Claire. After three months, Vernon left the cabin with what he considered a set of demos. However, after some persuasion, Vernon released these under the pseudonym Bon Iver – and For Emma…has since gone platinum.

However, this might not even be the most unbelievable part of the Bon Iver story. Two years later, Vernon released the Blood Bank EP, which caught the attention of Kanye West, who flew Vernon to Hawaii to work on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy before later describing him as his ‘favourite living artist.

The full-length follow-up to For Emma…landed in 2011, titled Bon Iver, Bon Iver, featuring a noticeably far bigger sound characterised by the addition of synths and horns. Bon Iver, Bon Iver propelled the band even further and won Vernon’s project two Grammys.

The end of the touring cycle for Bon Iver, Bon Iver was marked by uncertainty over whether the band were simply on hiatus or had split more definitely. However, in 2015 Bon Iver resurfaced with the thoroughly mesmerising 22, A Million, a radical departure born of Vernon’s recent hip-hop collaborations while never forgetting his Eau Claire folk roots, which come together to make 22, A Million a bona fide modern classic.

With three near-flawless full lengths and an underappreciated EP, the short Bon Iver discography is one of the most consistent in modern music, meaning that picking out the band’s 10 best tracks is a near-impossible task. But with no further ado, let’s attempt to do exactly that!

 

10. 715 – CR∑∑KS

 In its just-over-2-minute runtime, 715 – CR∑∑KS dispels one of the greatest myths in music – the dad-rock ideology that auto-tune (used as a catch-all term for any vocal effects) is the antithesis of any true expression or emotion. The track is stunningly scarce – consisting of only a Vernon vocal filtered through a synthesiser developed by his sound engineer called the Messina, which allows Vernon to play a keyboard and harmonise his voice in real-time.

To step back technically – the effect is what sounds like a choir of Vernon robots which doubles as both the track’s vocal and the instrumental. Perhaps CR∑∑KS’ most astounding victory however, is how easily discernible the humanity is through the robotic vocal effects, particularly as Vernon howls “turn around now/ you’re my A-Team” at the track’s dramatic climax.

9. Flume

Not that it’s undeserving musically, but Flume could almost be on this list for its importance to Vernon and to the Bon Iver project alone. Despite the fact he had played in bands before, Flume was the first track which Vernon sang in his now-iconic falsetto on, and he has called this his favourite song he has ever written.

Flume personifies the isolation of the writing and recording of For Emma…, dominated by simply Vernon’s voice and an acoustic guitar; even the production feels cold and desolate. Throughout however, Vernon’s beautiful vocals feel like an old fire which illuminates and warms the icy landscape the song creates and exists in; Flume is a track where Vernon manages to say so much with so little.

8. Blindsided

Perhaps the hottest take on this list, Blindsided is a track that is criminally overlooked during discussions of Bon Iver’s discography and I honestly have no idea why. The near 6-minute track begins with a guitar motif that is somehow suspenseful and peaceful at once, complemented by a beautifully calming vocal. The track’s crescendo features at around its mid-point, where Vernon repeatedly howls “would you really rush out?” in an explosion of emotion.

At the Eaux Claires Festival in 2015, Vernon callously stated that Blindsided’s lyrics are about trying to break into a building in his hometown, and it’s easy to see that at the root of the lyrics, but as always with Bon Iver, the words are so abstract that they seem to be about everything at once. In the final verse, there is a macabre but beautiful couplet that seems to reference suicide (“there’s a pull to the flow / my feet melt the snow”), followed by a genuinely uplifting conclusion where he modifies the track’s “I am blindsided” hook to “I was blindsided”, suggesting he has moved past his trauma and abandoned these thoughts.

7. Re: Stacks

The closing track of For Emma is stunning in its simplicity. While the entirety of For Emma is a low-key affair, Re: Stacks is the record’s most subtle, featuring nothing more than Vernon’s voice and a strummed acoustic guitar. Remarkably it feels optimistic and hopeful, while not forgetting the suffering and heartbreak that has been detailed throughout the record.

The lyrics carry this worn hopefulness too, with Vernon matter-of-factly stating “everything that happens is from now on”.This is not him saying he is suddenly free of his heartbreak, as he later says “this is not the sound of a new man / or a crispy realisation,” but the optimism of Re: Stacks is Vernon leaving the cabin and moving on with his life – or, as he puts it – “it’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away.”

6. 00000 Million

With 22, A Million’s closing track following For Emma’s on this list, it establishes a trend: when Bon Iver write an album closer, it’s usually a bit special. 00000 Million arguably follows the most traditional song structure on 22, A Million– it is a warm, old-fashioned piano ballad where Vernon’s voice is only very subtly obscured in vocoder.

00000 Million beautifully answers all the questions and rests all the lingering doubts presented throughout 22, A Million beautifully. After exploring spiritualism throughout the record, Vernon proclaims “a word about Gnosis, it ain’t gonna buy the groceries!”

However, if every Bon Iver track has its stroke of genius then this track’s is its sample: Vernon samples a line from Fionn Regan’s Abacus “the days have no numbers.” There could scarcely be a better lyric to put to rest the numerology and uncertainty woven throughout the record, and it’s not even Vernon’s own.

5. Heavenly Father

The only non-album or EP track on this list, Heavenly Father was released in 2014 as part of the soundtrack to Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here, making it the first Bon Iver release since the self-titled album in 2011. Heavenly Father exists in the middle ground between the lush 2011 self-titled record and 2015’s glitchy 22, A Million.

The dominant instrumental is a rolling, repetitive synth line which feels grandiose enough to fit on Bon Iver, Bon Iver and the analogue drums on the track show that Bon Iver haven’t shifted as radically as they did on 22, A Million. Lyrically, this track features Vernon musing his complex relationship with God and religion, climaxing as he passionately howls “Well I know about it darling I’ve been standing here!”

4. Blood Bank

After releasing one of the most stunning debut records of the century, Bon Iver returned with the Blood Bank EP – and its title track is better than every track on the debut. Blood Bank debuts a more full-blooded Bon Iver sound, noticeably featuring an electric guitar instead of an acoustic, but Blood Bank is still a product of the same sonic landscape – the production evokes the depths of winter, and Vernon even sings of snow in the track’s lyrics.

In a contrast from the frosty production on the track, the lyrics are easily the most romantic of Vernon’s career, detailing the stages in a relationship, moving from “that secret that you know / but you don’t know how to tell” to “that secret that we know / that we don’t know how to tell / I’m in love with your honour” between the track’s 2 choruses, and following the latter a warm acoustic guitar accompanies Vernon’s lullaby refrain of “I know it well”

3. 29 #Strafford Apts

A track that Vernon accurately described as a “stoner country song,” 29 #Strafford Apts is a stunningly warm song carried by a finger-picked acoustic guitar. Vernon and Bon Iver’s drummer S. Carey’s voices are both subtly doctored in the tradition of the record, and electronic effects drift in and out, but the bones of the song are provided by the warm acoustic guitar.

The opening lyric of this song is “sharing smoke” and it is followed in the first verse by “sure as any living dream”so the lyrics feel loose and not overly grounded in reality, especially as Vernon literally creates his own word with “paramind,”but the song’s most subtly genius moment comes at the end of verse two, where two separate vocals are layered at the same time, both suggesting opposing narratives. There more natural vocal is reigned to “throw the meaning out the door / there ain’t no meaning anymore” while a higher-pitched one hopefully asks “now could you be that friend? / come and kiss me here again.”

2. 22 (OVER S∞∞N)

It would be impossible to overstate the importance of 22, A Million’s opener to the entire record. In fact, without 22 (OVER S∞∞N) the record might not even exist. After touring the self-titled record, Vernon found himself struggling for inspiration, and this rut was ended when he sang the lyric “it might be over soon” into a sampler, which was then bastardised to make the “two, two” that soon follows.

The uncertainty of that line permeates the entire track, with almost nothing about it feeling truly concrete. The body of the song is built from just the titular sample, there are no drums, lyrics seem to drift in and out of nowhere alongside a Mahalia Jackson sample and a saxophone line. This is the sound of deep-rooted uncertainty and insecurity, but damn does it sound good.

1. Beth / Rest

Surprisingly the only song from Bon Iver, Bon Iver to make this list (sorry, Towers), Beth / Rest stunningly exemplifies what makes Bon Iver what a special band, as well as somehow being an outlier in their discography. It’s built on a massive synth line which evokes every cheesy ‘80s pop song but the emotion in Vernon’s lyrics and delivery more than qualify it.

Beth / Rest is stunning in its abstraction, with the lyrics featuring Vernon moving through a problem in a relationship – no concrete details are given, but Vernon’s passion is palpable even through lines as airy as “our love is a star / sure some hazardry”and by the time that he declares “this is axiom” it’s almost impossible not to be totally enveloped by the impossibly cheesy synth line. Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

 

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The 1975 break into the stratosphere on ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’

The 1975 are provocative and genius (if a bit pretentious) or overrated, maddening and straight-up wanky, depending on who you ask. One thing that everyone should admit, even those who can’t stand the sight of Matty Healy before he even opens his mouth, is that there’s no band quite like The 1975 in music today.

They released their underwhelming self-titled debut in 2013 and were essentially written off critically – yet this didn’t stop them amassing a huge fanbase. However, rather than giving the critics the middle finger and continuing down the same path, they released their sprawling, near 75-minute sophomore record i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful, yet so unaware of it in 2016, a record where bubble-gum pop anthems rubbed shoulders with 6-minute instrumentals.

i like it when you sleep… remarkably won over some of the critics who had so vehemently trashed their debut, and by the end of that record’s touring cycle – The 1975, still one of the most divisive bands in music, had sold out the O2 Arena, Madison Square Garden and headlined Latitude Festival.

This meant that, in a weird way, the pressure was off when it came to making A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. If they were to look at it cynically, as long as there are radio hits (which The 1975 churn out for fun – just look at highlight It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) ), this album will send them into the stratosphere – as they proved on their first record, they don’t need critical acclaim, and already have a huge legion of fans who worship the ground they walk on.

But, rather than playing it safe, Healy and his bandmates (drummer/producer George Daniel, bassist Ross MacDonald and lead guitarist Adam Hann) revel in this, and make A Brief Inquiry…their boldest (and best) album yet. How To Draw / Petrichor is the best possible evidence – a reworked B-side from i like it…, the track’s first half is lullaby-esque – with gorgeously glittery piano and xylophone floating in and out of the mix, before Matty’svocals come in, absolutely buried in vocoder. However, then you have the second half – a production masterclass from Healy and George Daniel, an industrial dance beat with skittish beats that genuinely sound like an Aphex Twin track. Seriously, who would have predicted after The 1975’s debut that they would be drawing Aphex Twin comparisons on just their third album?

This Aphex comparison is a segue into a main point of discussion for this record. Matty is a huge LCD Soundsystem fan and in a manner similar to James Murphy’s LCD records, A Brief Inquiry…wears its influences very prominently on its sleeve – the intro track The 1975 – which has appeared in a different iteration on all 3 records – is a perfect example of this. A Brief Inquiry’s version hears Matty singing through a vocoder which sounds like a swarm of Matty robots, in a way that more than pays homage to Bon Iver’s 715 – CR∑∑KS.

Elsewhere on the record, the infectious single TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME sounds exactly like a dancehall Drake track, with breezy surface-level lyrics about infidelity. It’s undoubtedly generic and is the kind of track that those who love to hate The 1975 will latch onto, but somehow it’s irresistibly catchy and infectious.

There’s more Bon Iver influence on I Like America & America Likes Me (more like I Like Bon Iver and Bon Iver likes me, eh lads? Eh? Anyone?) where Healy’s voice is once again drenched in vocoder akin to 22, A Million. However, Matty is clever here – he knows he doesn’t have Vernon’s subtlety so substitutes this for his trademark brashness – America is carried by a massive trap beat and Healy’s lyricism is scatterbrain and manic, addressing the gun crisis in the USA (“kids don’t want rifles / they want Supreme”), but the unhinged and rapid-fire delivery and lyricism seems to suggest that Healy is using this rant as a way to deflect from his heroin addiction which saw him go to rehab during the making of this record – particularly as he howls “I’m scared of dying / its fiiiiiiine!” America is unhinged, wild and deranged – but it’s one of the best tracks this band has ever made.

While the rest of The 1975 are perfectly capable musicians, and George Daniel is a production wizard behind many of this record’s best moments. A Brief Inquiry…is dominated by the ever-fascinating Healy. This is especially evident on massive closer I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes), which sounds at some points like a Nickelback track and at other points like an Oasis track – Matty himself even called it “a gritty, English ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’” – it teeters right on the edge of being unbearably cheesy, but Healy’s earnestness manages to pull it off and then some – the bridge’s mantra of “if you can’t survive; just try”is genuinely tear-jerking and inspiring.

However, when discussing Matty, even the most loyal fans of his work will admit that he is prone to talking absolute shite from time to time, and if A Brief Inquiry…is a reflection of his personality, then it reflects this too. Lead single Give Yourself a Try is good but not great, and the idol worship elsewhere on the album is taken too far here as the guitar riff is a rip-off of Joy Division’s Disorder. Elsewhere, Surrounded By Heads and Bodies is entertainingly titled after the first sentence of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (“Because nobody reads it all the way!”) but that is unfortunately the most interesting thing about the track, as it is a forgettable acoustic track.

These are only small missteps in the album’s near-impeccable 59-minute runtime, and these are more than overshadowed by the band’s best song yet – the monumental Love If If We Made It. Released as a single before the album, the lyrics were released in advance of the track, and with lines as brash as “fucking in a car / shooting heroin” and “poison me, daddy”, even the most devout fans found themselves cringing. However, when the track was properly released it dumbfounded almost everyone who heard it.

It’s been called a millennial ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, as it simply lists the biggest news headlines and social events of the tumultuous past few years (“a beach of drowning 3 year olds / rest in peace Lil Peep”), Matty doesn’t give an opinion on any of these events and simply states the headlines, but his passion is evident. Particularly on the track’s incredibly moving bridge, where he quotes Trump twice, including the strangest pop lyric of the year “thank you Kanye, very cool!”

What brings this cultural melting point of a track together is the powerfully simple chorus when Matty declares “modernity has failed us, but I’d love it if we made it”; it’s an admission that our world is a mess, but what comes through in Matty’s impassioned delivery is a true desire and a plea for humanity and kindness. It’s a protest song of sorts, but as only The 1975, and only Matty Healy could pull off. As unlikely as it may have seemed in 2013, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships makes a very strong case for The 1975 as the band that the world needs in 2018. – andrew barr (@weeandreww)

Gig Review: Sobriety light up the Hug and Pint

words fae andrew barr (@weeandreww)

Headlining a bill with Milktoast and Public Displays of Affection at the West End’s basement Hug and Pint venue, Sobriety are something of an unknown quantity in Glasgow’s emerging music scene. The only track the band have released is the brilliantly melancholic Ronnie’s Song, boasting production by The Vegan Leather’s Gianluca Bernacchi, but the four-piece (consisting of frontman Benjamin McGirr, guitarist Dan Drennan, bassist JonJoe McGirr and drummer Sean Gow) have generated enough buzz to headline bills such as this one.

When the set starts at 10pm, it gets off to just about the worst possible start. Opener Boys Club begins with finger-picked guitar and sparse drums, building a tense and anxious atmosphere not too dissimilar to indie giants Interpol. However, the track is abandoned due to a problem with Drennan’s guitar. Luckily, someone in the crowd was able to give him a replacement, and the song is restarted. The band appears unshaken, and the track’s paranoia feels more piercing if anything the second time around, building to not a snarling climax but a superb instrumental bridge which doesn’t only echo but screams The National.

As Sobriety gets into the main body of their set it becomes clear that they are an anomaly in the current Glasgow scene; they are far less concerned with writing catchy hooks than writing moody, melodic tracks which, combined with Benjamin’s low, ominous vocals give more than a subtle nod to emo. That’s not to say the tracks are without any payoff either – the live version of single Ronnie’s Song is a testament to that, with frontman Benjamin deviating from his menacing vocal style the track’s end to let out a hugely emotive scream.

That scream seemed to be a sign of things to come, as Sobriety firmly let go of the handbrake for the last 2 tracks of the night, with the funky yet heavy Wreck Myself growing faster and more menacing before building up to even more screams. The short but sweet set ends on a cover of The Killers’ Jenny Was a Friend of Mine, which the band seems to revel in, pushing each other around on stage while playing the final notes of the night.

It’s clear from this set that Sobriety are a band who are determined to stand out from the indie rock crowd and if they go on to realise the massive potential they showed at The Hug and Pint, there’s no reason why they won’t do exactly that.

Beach House reach the crest of their career on 7

words fae andrew barr (@weeandreww)rating 8

In 2018, Beach House are firmly established as indie royalty. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally’s dream-pop project already have 6 LPs under their belt, and even a glance at the reviews they have received over the course of their career would strongly suggest it foolish to call them anything but critical darlings. However, they are more than a critics’ band, as evidenced by their comfortable position near the top of the festival posters they appear on, such as Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival.

However, at this point, comfortable is a word that could be used to describe the duo in more ways than one. 2015’s surprise double release of Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars rarely faltered in terms of quality, but Beach House perhaps became too comfortable in their trademark dreamy, hazy sound which they have been exploring since their debut. The sound was consistent, but it led to some fans and critics feeling like they wanted to hear the duo explore some new soundscapes.

So in 2018, Beach House have returned with their 7th record, simply entitled 7 in what feels like an effort to strip away any bullshit before the listener even hits play on the record. Or in the band’s words – in the Father John Misty-esque “essay’ they published with the record – “we hoped its simplicity would encourage people to look inside.” It would be unfair to call this a make-or-break album for Beach House, as they are already more than successful, but it feels like an important album for the Baltimore duo – which they acknowledged in their essay when they said, “Throughout the process of recording 7, our goal was rebirth and rejuvenation.”

I’m delighted to say this quote couldn’t be further from how Simon Neil talks up the latest Biffy release (yes, I’m still incredibly bitter he said Ellipsis would sound like Death Grips) because the “rejuvenation” of the duo’s sound is clear from the opening seconds of the record.

Opener Dark Spring jolts to life with an onslaught of thunderous drums which gives way to a frenetic synth that echoes LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire, two bands to whom Beach House have probably never been compared over their 14-year career. However, what is most enjoyable about 7 is that Beach House are experimenting, but they aren’t throwing out what fans and critics love about them. Victoria Legrand’s vocals are a calming balm atop the (relative) madness, and her lyrics are as cryptic and (literally) spacey as ever, as she sings about constellations for the track’s remarkably concise 3 minutes.

The “rejuvenation” of the duo is also evident on lead single Lemon Glow, which opens on some subtle, fast-paced drums and rolling synths, and which sounds like a classic Beach House instrumental played at 1.5x the speed. This is also one of the only tracks on the record with an easily discernible chorus – a simple two-line hook where Legrand visualises the glow from a dimmed light.

7 then makes its way to easily its strongest three-track run, and perhaps the best three-track run of the duo’s entire discography. L’inconnue (which translates to “The Unknown”) is a fascinating song where Beach House’s trademark beauty is replaced by a nightmarish eeriness, opening with multi-layered hypnotic Legrand vocals, and these only give way to a single vocal track after a psychedelic chord progression, where she opts to sing in French, including counting from one to seven which sounds almost cultish and completes this track’s uneasiness.

Following L’inconnue, an undisputed highlight, is no easy task, but Drunk in L.A. does so effortlessly. True to its title, the track feels unhinged, built on a quick drum beat and synth flourishes which feel almost random, however this track’s beauty comes from Legrand’s poetic lyrics about ageing with the climax, “I am loving losing life”. The second verse finds the track subtly adding layers and complexity, echoing the album’s patchwork art, with so many layers and instruments merging into one to form a beautiful collage. In the least Beach House fashion, the track’s climax comes with a guitar solo, which doesn’t feel one bit out of place.

This stunning three-track run is completed by second single Dive, which is a traditional, beautiful slow-paced Beach House song with world-building lyrics. However, this is only until the 2:20 mark, where the beautiful layered vocals give way to a guitar riff which quadruples the track’s BPM and provides a sense of urgency which has rarely been heard in the Beach House discography this far. It suits them, especially if you consider the dreamy flourishes which sit atop the racing guitar.

The second half of the record is more typical of the Beach House we know thus far, but there are still clear signs of the duo’s “rejuvenation.” Lose Your Smile is carried by a warm acoustic guitar, which feels like such a natural fit in the band’s sonic universe, you wonder why the duo haven’t used it more throughout their career. By the time this track reaches its beautiful climax, the music is so heavenly you believe every word of Legrand’s promise that “dreams, baby, do come true.”

A theme which subtly introduces itself in the second half of this record is a celebration of femininity. On Woo, where a drum machine comes and goes subtly, allowing the pace to shift naturally, Legrand sings of “when she closes her eyes” and later adds “you will braid your hair” in-between fabulously multi-layered vocals in the track’s climax. This theme is more explicit on Girl of the Year, a track likely dedicated to Edie Sedgwick, who was one of Andy Warhol’s Factory Girls, called “girl of the year” in 1965. She died young of a drug overdose, but Legrand here celebrates her while bemoaning the tragedy, with lyrics like, “Get dressed to undress / Depressed to impress” before mourning “Baby’s gone / All night long.”

The album’s final track, Last Ride, subtly continues this theme, with Legrand repeating “there she goes” as she seems to narrate a romantic encounter between two characters over one of the album’s most beautiful instrumentals – opening with a grand piano which is overdubbed with distortion and is soon joined by guitars, drums and electronic keys, all joining and furthering the track seamlessly, forming another collage in the image of the album’s art.

7 is undoubtedly an album Beach House had to make. It’s the duo’s grandest album yet, which the band touched on themselves in their essay: “In the past, we often limited our writing to parts that we could perform live. On 7, we decided to follow whatever came naturally.” It’s a change that suits them. The extra instrumentation brings a new dimension and urgency to the two-piece’s sound while also making their trademark dreamy moments even more dreamy and beautiful. Album number 7 may well be Beach House’s best yet.

 

MGMT’s new album ‘Little Dark Age’ marks a return to form

ALBUM REVIEW

by andrew barr (@weeandreww)

The story of Connecticut duo MGMT’s career sounds more like a work of fiction, straight out of a cheesy Netflix original, as opposed to a true story. Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser formed one of indie’s most iconic duos at university in 2002, united by a love of psychedelia and electronica. The duo saw pop music as a joke and so, for a laugh, decided to begin by writing pop songs, and in 2005, they released the Time to Pretend EP, featuring the title track and Kids.

By the time they released debut record Oracular Spectacular in 2007, Electric Feel, another pop song had joined Time to Pretend and Kids on the tracklist, effectively ending MGMT’s desire to write pop songs, particularly as the rest of the record was filled with a more experimental, psychedelic sound which the embers wanted to be defined by. The only problem? Their three “joke” pop songs transcended hit status, appearing in countless films, TV shows and video games, capturing the cultural zeitgeist perhaps more than any act in the late-00’s.

VanWyngarden and Goldwasser were disgruntled by the level of success the three singles achieved and the way they saw them defining the act, so in 2010 returned with the weirder, more experimental (and better) Congratulations. This was more like the music the duo wanted to make – however its reception was mixed, with some disappointed there were no radio singles in the vein of their debut. In 2013, they released their self-titled third record, which continued in the same vein as Congratulations, but the due ultimately became too self-indulgent and experimental and the record flopped.

With a fan base that’s been declining since their debut, it’s not difficult to see why MGMT’s fourth record sees them at a make-or-break point in their career, and the height of the stakes only adds to how enjoyable a listen Little Dark Age is. Put simply, on this record, MGMT has relearned how to write pop music.

Take the title track, for example, released as the album’s lead single – it’s a dark, moody track with more than a subtle nod to The CureVanWyngarden’s vocal is ominous and haunting as he illustrates a paranoid dystopia (“just know that if you hide / it doesn’t go away”). However, despite the track’s weirdness, at heart, it is a pop song, with a huge synth sound dominating the track, particularly on the brilliantly overbearing chorus. What furthers the brilliant pop appeal is the funky bass riff which pops up all over the track.

When Little Dark Age dropped as the lead single, it would have been reasonable to assume that the entire record would be similarly dark, however, darkness is more of a flirtation than a theme across the full LP. Follow-up single When You Die hears VanWyngarden playfully declaring “we’ll all be laughing with you when you die” over a light mandolin tone. In fact, if there’s one thing that shines on this record, it’s MGMT’s sense of humour that is infused on so many tracks. Rather than shooting for a Father John Mistyesque sense of irony, VanWyngarden and Goldwasser’s humour is more whimsical and bizarre.

This humour shines brightest on opener She Works Out Too Much, which speaks of a failed relationship with a girl who has an unhealthy obsession with both exercise and social media. The real genius of this track is that there is a vocal from a workout video interspersed with VanWyngarden’s vocal (“Remember to drink a glass of water before and after you work out”), creating a back-and-forth conversation between both voices on the funk-fest of a chorus. Track 1 ends abruptly with the voice announcing “Okay, we’re done!”, signalling an end to the track, workout and relationship.

Airy standout Me and Michael is another example of the duo’s tongue-in-cheek wit, with VanWyngarden declaring “Me and Michael / solid as they come” on the ‘80s-infused chorus. In an interview, VanWyngarden stated the lyric was initially “me and my girl” but they opted to change it to make the track virtually meaningless. Even when the duo’s sense of humour is more misplaced on Tslamp (Time Spent Looking at my Phone – a lyrical topic which feels worn to death in 2018), the rest of the track is too good to deny, particularly on the samba-nodding mandolin solo before the final chorus.

Speaking of highlights, perhaps the record’s best track is One Thing Left to Try, a soaring synthpop track which evokes CHVRCHES at their very best before descending into MGMT’s usual psychedelic territory. If that doesn’t sound appealing enough already – the duo borrows James Murphy’s cowbell – both in the intro and in the instrumental that closes the cut, pushing the track almost into disco territory.

Little Dark Age’s airtight closing trio is completed by When You’re Small and Hand it Over, with the latter serving as a kind of encore after the beautiful When You’re Small, which begins as a calm acoustic track before MGMT’s psychedelic tendencies get the better of them and synths give the track a woozy, atmospheric feel which could have closed the record beautifully. However, Hand it Over’s breezy rhythm provides a more than worthwhile encore, especially given how well-produced VanWyngarden’s vocals are.

The relatively understated finale aptly closes the best MGMT album since Congratulations and arguably the greatest they’ve ever made. After many had written them off after their self-titled record, it’s incredibly satisfying to have a great MGMT album in 2018.  While the gym coach from She Works Out Too Much’s words are largely shallow and meaningless, her opening of “get ready to have some fun” applies perfectly to any listener diving into Little Dark Age.

rating 8

Album Review: Reputation by Taylor Swift

By Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

It would be fair to describe Taylor Swift’s 1989 era as mixed. The record itself was widely praised as it heard Swift confidently shaking off her country sound which characterised her early releases in favour of a more synthetic 80s-inspired pop sound. What helped to make 1989 so likeable was that the majority of the lyrics were innocent and playful (Bad Blood was an exception) and matched the sugary instrumentals.

However, in the years after 1989, Swift managed to make far more enemies than friends by seemingly being on the wrong side of just about every issue she spoke on. This led to a rare scenario – Swift, one of the world’s biggest pop stars found herself with her back against the wall – after arguably her best and most successful album.

Swift undoubtedly felt this pressure, as she made her return to the spotlight with one of the year’s worst singles – the Kanye diss track Look What You Made Me Do, which hears Swift pettily continuing a beef which everyone – including Kanye – forgot about ages ago. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, the track is built on a generic trap beat which Swift raps over. After the mess of the lead single and the disappointing follow-ups, it looked like reputation could be a car crash of the record.

The start of the record does little to convince listeners otherwise. The first two tracks hear Swift rapping more than singing, with opener …Ready For It? hearing Swift using what sounds like a bad Kanye beat, and it goes without saying that as a rapper she doesn’t nearly match her rival’s charisma or general entertainment value. Following this is End Game, which has to objectively be the one of the worst tracks of the last 10 years. Seriously. The Swift/Ed Sheeran/Future cocktail is far worse than it ever looked on paper. Swift and Sheeran sound horribly out of place over another trap beat which has clearly been suited to Future, and even his verse is horribly below-par.

As if abandoning her sweet pop sound wasn’t enough, on these trap tracks Swift abandons her usual innocent lyrical tone in turn of a more aggressive one as she drags out her petty beefs, instantaneously making her songs a hundred times less likeable. Throughout End Game, Swift wriggles to fit the album title into the lyrics at every opportunity – with her and Sheeran both singing “reputation proceeds me” which raises the inevitable question – what reputation does Ed Sheeran have and in what ways does it proceed him?

Another motif throughout the album that End Game introduces is dreadful autotune – Swift flirts with it on the chorus, but deeper into the album on Delicate, the superstar revels in it. From a songwriting perspective, Delicate is an improvement – the track is the most subtle and understated track so far on the tracklist – but Swift feels the need to pursue derivative hip-hop sounds further and drown herself in autotune. Another track with potential is So it Goes…, but the more low-key verses are ruined by a horrifically overbearing synth sound in the chorus.

The three-track succession of these 2 with Look What You Made Me Do sandwiched in the middle serves as a disappointing microcosm of reputation as a whole – there are decent tracks ruined by cheap production alongside tracks which are just irredeemably awful. Gorgeous falls into the former category – the beat is genuinely catchy and Swift makes at least a partial return to her former innocent lyricism (“I guess I’ll just stumble on home to my cats”) but again she frustratingly feels the need to mask her more-than-capable voice with autotune.

Finally, 9 tracks into the 15-track record, the first genuinely brilliant track appears. Getaway Car harks back to 1989 and arguably better 80s-inspired pop records (Carly Rae Jepsen anyone?) with its brilliantly inoffensive sound palette – even the lyrics are a return to form for Swift, rooted in innocent fantasy like Wildest Dreams and Out of the Woods. The vocal melodies on reputation are annoying for the most part, but Getaway Car is an overwhelming outlier, with an undeniably stick-in-your-head chorus.

After the peak of Getaway Car, the record returns to its earlier failings. King of my Heart and Dancing With Our Hands Tied are two decent pop songs, and lyrically are more enjoyable as Swift is innocent and playful rather than petty and argumentative, however they are ruined by overbearing autotune and an overly explosive chorus respectively. In sharp contrast, This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things is a return to the argumentative lyricism of the first half of the tracklist, featuring a cringe-inducing laugh from Swift before the final chorus which somehow manages to make a track called This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things more embarrassing than it already is.

Frustratingly, reputation ends on a relatively strong note. Call it What You Want is an indistinctive but nice enough pop song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 1989, while piano ballad New Year’s Day harks back to older Swift releases such as Red and even Speak Now. This heartreaking track, after an album of predominantly generic hip-hop/R&B imitations, is a frustrating reminder of how good a singer and songwriter Swift is, with the refrain of “hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you” providing a genuinely touching moment on a record flooded with petty grudges.

Moments like the album closer are genuinely brilliant, but are sadly too few and far between, and it would be difficult to call reputation anything but a flop. The generic hip-hop sound that dominates the album is nothing short of awful, and highlights like Getaway Car simply hear Swift rehashing what she has already done, and the mesh of such contrasting musical and lyrical styles on an hour-long album makes reputation an absolute mess.

GIG REVIEW: Father John Misty @ O2 Academy Glasgow

By Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

After releasing one of 2017’s best records in Pure Comedy, and claiming to be almost finished on its follow-up, Father John Misty (real name Josh Tillman) is an artist surrounded by substantial hype at this moment in time. A date at Glasgow’s sizeable O2 Academy served as the second date of Tillman’s first UK tour in support of the aforementioned Pure Comedy, and the packed Glasgow crowd was more than eager to see perhaps the most exciting singer-songwriter in music today.

For a start, Father John Misty gigs are not like any other singer-songwriter gigs.  The towering Tillman is backed up by a 6-piece band who deserve immense credit for making every song sound as huge as they do on records as grandiose as Pure Comedy or the sophomore Misty record, I Love You, Honeybear. Tillman plays acoustic guitar on many tracks on the setlist but the highlights undoubtedly come when he is without his guitar, and can dance and prance around the stage as madly as you would expect from someone who calls himself Father John Misty.IMG_8262.JPG

Tillman opened on the chilling title track of Pure Comedy, followed by the 3 tracks which proceed it at the beginning of the record’s tracklist, before digging deeper into his discography for Fear Fun’s gorgeous Nancy From Now On. The track which really got the night going however – was Honeybear’s Chateau Lobby #4, which neither Tillman or the Glasgow crowd could resist the urge to dance along to.

Tracks from I Love You, Honeybear seemed to make up most of the show’s highlights, with Tillman throwing his guitar offstage for the second half of Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow, and throwing himself around the stage. The record’s soaring title track closes the main set on a bang, with Tillman leaving the stage to get up close and personal with the front row.

If the main set had the crowd won over, then the encore had them floored. It opened with the most poppy song in the FJM canon, Real Love Baby, which evoked a huge singalong in front of the night’s best visuals. The stunning 9-minute So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain which followed slowed things down, but was one of the most beautiful tracks of the night.

After granting a request with a teaser of Tee Pees 1-12Tillman finished with the strongest 1-2 punch of the night: Holy Shit into The Ideal Husband, the heaviest song of the night which saw Tillman enter full-on rockstar mode as he screamed his way through the track before slamming his mic stand and marching off stage. The next album and tour can’t come soon enough.