Album Review: iridescence by Brockhampton

words fae owen yule (@OwenYule)

During the recording process of iridescence, BROCKHAMPTON talisman Kevin Abstract rating 8noted that the group felt like they were back in their Saturation I days, yet, so much has changed. No longer are the group creating their music from a home studio in California; no longer are the group broadcasting out with the eye of the music world; no longer are the group working as independent artists; perhaps most significant of all, no longer are the group operating as an 18-man collective.

It goes without question then that iridescence marks a substantial transition in the boy band’s career and so, it comes as no surprise that said changes are reflected in the content of the music. In spite of all success and triumph that BROCKHAMPTON have earned since the release of SATURATION I, Iridescence relays feelings of anger at the world: soundscapes of aggression are facilitated by bombastic drums that often play in syncopation and at varied tempos, giving the LP an intense and abrasive quality. This aggression is perhaps at its most resounding on BERLIN, where each bass note thumps like an uppercut to the chin with the support and reinforcement of growling muscle cars. Nonetheless, this ferocity is only fully actualised by the vocal performances of the group, specifically, Merlyn and Joba who both give their best performances for Brockhampton to date. On WHERE THE CASH AT, Merlyn gives a performance with a cadence that accentuates the rapacious desire evident in the track title, while Joba’s rapping on J’OUVERT escalates in volume perpetually through the verse before culminating in maniacal screams.

Although the album frequently indulges in forceful noise, it succeeds in interpolating feelings of vulnerability and sweet balladry singing. This is a juxtaposition which at this point is well refined by the boyband. One moment they are seething and the next, romantic. The contrast is not only a testament to the myriad of talent in the group but also their versatility.

Halfway through the album DISTRICT evolves in to a slow finger-picked sprawl of melody so dreamy that we almost forget the track was once grimy and whiplash-inducing with its bass; momentarily before transitioning in to the short and soothing THUG LIFE, the album opens with a track that utilises a power drill sound effect to reinforce its abrasive aesthetic; SAN MARCOS marks one of the boybands most melodic and soulful tracks in their discography as it helps bring the album to a close in its latter stages. This contrast in tones is reflective of the group’s measurement in extremes. When it comes to their ideology there is no half-stepping and emotions all across the spectrum are fleshed out and brought to fruition wether it’s positivity or turmoil.

But if there’s a singular resounding force that comes through the lyrical qualities of iridescence, it’s honesty. As a rapper, Abstract works in a similar vein to Kanye West – a rapper that he has openly spoken off with ardour – in that his use of complex wordplay and flows are negligible or even non-existent. Instead, his appeal is derived from the honesty and heart in his lyrics that throughout this album continue to explore his inner conflict in addition to attempts to normalise homosexuality within hip-hop culture. However, in terms of rapping procedure, Dom McLennan continues to shine as the groups most poetic. On this LP he reaffirms his status as the groups most lyrical member with a plethora of verses throughout the album that showcases his technical skill. But again, in spite of all complexity, his raps come from a visceral place and never come across as masturbatory. On the albums closer Fabric, Dom tells us that he ponders how he can “change the world that I move through” and with such poignant explorations of mental health issues throughout the album, it’s hard to argue with the legitimacy of his sentiment.

The album hits are at its most moving in its latter stages, most notably with the long-awaited CDQ of the previously live performed,  TONYA. It is a track that is somber yet grandiose, it is a dissection into the psyche of the group, a step into the spiraling staircase of wallow and self-doubt, a summation of the hurt and anguish weighing on BROCKHAMPTON. With that being said, however, the album closes with FABRIC echoing the mantra that “these are the best days of our lives” and maybe that’s what Abstract referred to when he called back to the Saturation I days. That feelings of enthusiasm and hope are not only alive but reminiscent of those during the formation of the group’s breakout album. That feeling of hope and enthusiasm are here for the boybands future… a future that we can’t wait to see unfold.

 

Mitski is full of paradoxes on glorious return “Be The Cowboy”

From the outset of Be The Cowboy, Mitski warns us she is volatile. The first single to be released from the album, Geyser, uses this natural force to set the tone for what is to come. The beauty of the geyser is its coexistence of power and powerlessness – that inevitable surge of strength is made all the more violent by its unpredictability.

It is a turbulent thing to be a young woman; sometimes chaotic, often vulnerable. On this album, Mitski’s voice can express this clearly, mostly without the distortion that marked her previous two albums and sounding more defiant than ever – but always just on the cusp of losing control. “I’m a geyser,” she sings, “feel it bubbling from below.” So when the emotion does come, bright or dark, we cannot say we weren’t warned.  

The premise behind the album’s title is Mitski’s desire to embody the power of a cowboy – the unapologetic white male figure who behaves with complete authority and no consequence. In this spirit, each short track on the album is brief but explosive, making its mark before swaggering off into the sunset. In interviews, however, Mitski has made it clear that this choice is more pragmatic than artistic. A notably different concept from, for example, a 13-minute Father John Misty think-piece on self – she wastes no time in order to fight against marginalisation and make her voice heard. What we are left with is succinct, but loses nothing in musical or lyrical complexity, marked by the same hard-hitting mixture of vulnerability and strength that defined her 2014 breakout Bury Me at Makeout Creek and 2016’s compelling Puberty 2.

Cracks in the cowboy façade are not weaknesses but highlights, as our protagonist lets us glimpse the excruciation of trying to craft an image and maintain control when the game is rigged against you. On country-tinged Lonesome Love, our cowboy berates and praises herself in equal measure, casually delivering the album’s best line with “nobody butters me up like you / and nobody fucks me like me.” On Pink in the Night, she captures the anxiety of a perfectionist losing control: “I know I’ve kissed you before, but I didn’t do it right / can I try again,” repeating the latter phrase until the song ends, a geyser trying in vain to stem the emotion which can’t help but erupt.


In calms between storms, we are treated to theatrical little vignettes such as the fond and reminiscent Old Friend, or the Broadway-ish Me And My Husband, where our protagonist considers the deceptive calm of domesticity and the warring desires to be both everything to everyone and nothing to no one: “I’ll steal a few breaths from the world for a minute / and then I’ll be nothing forever.

Be The Cowboy is teeming with such paradoxes. A Pearl is dazzling, exposing the powerless terror of pushing someone away by being too distant: “I’m sorry I don’t want your touch / it’s not that I don’t want you,” before the music swells and Mitski admits the impossibility of letting go of a love so tempestuous. Such moments of vulnerability expose the cost of cowboy-ism; it is hard to wreak your own havoc without catching a couple of blows.

Remember My Name is the record’s angriest song, but also the most defeated, expressing the typically female exhaustion that comes with wringing yourself out for a lover; a friend; an audience: “I need somebody to remember my name / after all that I can do for them is done.Washing Machine Heart could be the prelude to this emptiness, its insistent beat backdropping an infatuation both mundane and all-consuming: “will you kiss me already / and toss your dirty shoes in my washing machine heart/baby, bang it up inside.

Nobody is a glorious centrepiece – birthed out of the excruciating solitude of a Christmas spent alone in Malaysia, the chorus is twistedly jubilant, repeating the empty pronoun until there’s nothing left to do but sing along. Mitski recently toured with Lorde, and it would fit that Nobody is a banger whose ideology is firmly in sync with the spirit of Melodrama: taking the sad, messy, tender parts of existence (particularly young female existence) and making them danceable. At times it borders on satirical – those upbeat disco guitars have no place backing such melancholy, and there is something delicious about the absurdity of a cheesy pop clap at the end of the repeated “still nobody wants me.” It is a neat little triumph that laughs at the double bind of a soul unable to control its outbreaks of emotion, but at the mercy of the impulse to make the pain marketable.

As the album nears its close, Blue Light seems to recall the opener of her 2012 debut Lush, ‘Liquid Smooth’ – a piano ballad expressing the theatrical desperation of young loneliness (‘what am I to do with all this beauty?’) expressing all the anxiety of a young woman plagued by the pressure to gather her rosebuds while she may. Be The Cowboy’s version is shorter, simpler, yet all the more manic with its urgent guitars: “I’m going crazy / I’m walking round the house naked,” distilling the turbulence of young female emotion in few words.

Mitski has a chameleon skill for seeing the same issue from polarised angles. Where the ephemerality of youth and love is desperate on Blue Light, the song hasn’t even reached two minutes in length before we are swept into the introspective Two Slow Dancers, a vignette of an old couple dancing with sad resignation to very same passing of time that was cause for a tailspin only one track earlier. It is a surprising lull with which to close the album, a slow but spirited surrender to those forces which can no longer be fought against.

Mitski’s latest is an album of paradoxes. In fourteen short songs, she asks us to understand (or at least gaze upon – she doesn’t want our pity) what it is to be both too naïve and too old, too distant and too close, too restrained and too chaotic. This is her best work yet, establishing herself as an artist who contains multitudes. Be The Cowboy gives us a lucky glimpse of just 30 minutes of them. – lizzie mccreadie (@franzgaffka)

rating 9

 

Miles Kane returns to form with Coup de Grace

words fae Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Appearing from the wilderness when we needed him most, Miles Kane has returned to sprinkle his whimsical indie magic over us with new album, Coup De Grace. As per usual, it’s a smorgasbord of interesting & exciting tracks, with the odd filler track hither and dither.

It’s been five long damn years since the release of the patchy but palatable Don’t Forget Who You Are, with Miles having fun in The Last Shadow Puppets, or just generally enjoying being a rockstar, including playing in a Beatles tribute band with Matt Bellamy of Muse. How do you spend your free time?

In an interview with Annie Mac prior to the release of lead single Loaded, the Scouse sonic sorcerer hinted that we’d see a plethora of influences, most interestingly, something that sounds like the Ramones. To which you probably screamed “Bollocks! Miles Kane? Punk? Get away with you”, or more likely went “nice, that’ll be good, maybe”. However, for the percentage of you that screamed bollocks, prepare to be blown away by album opener Too Little Too Late.

It’s Miles Kane alright, but it’s a raughty (raunchy and naughty) punk track to get the album off to a strong start. It’s classic punk, with the frantic, yet simple chords and the structure of the chorus. It’s hard to say the Ramones are an influence on your album and back it up, but with Too Little Too Late, it walks the walk. It’s not a loose bastardisation of a punk song, with the chorus being crooned in Miles’ familiar style, and up-pitch guitar. It sets the standard for the rest of the album, but fortunately, everything else is up to code and doesn’t slip straight down the cliff after the opener.

Even in the weaker parts of this album, even the most casual of Miles Kane fans can take heart knowing that where the tunes are good, the Greatest Showman himself will take these tracks and turn them up to 11 on the live stage. And that’s pretty fucking comforting, knowing how good these songs sound, they’re going to sound twice as better live.

As we do these days, plenty of singles were dropped prior to the album’s release, so let’s take a gander at some brand new bangers. Cold Light Of Day is stunning and follows the same sort of punk-based blueprint as Too Little Too Late, but this is more classic Miles Kane. Again, with many modern albums, it’s hard to work out if it’s an advance in production techniques and sound, or whether everyone’s stepped their game up, because Coup De Grace is miles (HA!) better than Don’t Forget Who You Are, which, although with a few fillers, it was largely killer. Whisper it quietly, but this is even better than Colour of the Trap.

There’s a slightly sentimental vein running through the album, not surprising considering that the writing process for this album was kick-started by Miles having a breakup. However, the first single off the album, Loaded is probably one of the weakest songs on the album, penned about the protagonist’s girlfriend failing to save him, and the first one he wrote off the back of his breakup. At the time it fairly whetted the appetite for a new album, but looking back on it now it pales in comparison to the rest of the album. Even having melancholic maestro Lana Del Rey co-writing the song couldn’t save it from being lackluster. It just doesn’t land, you know? It sort of just fades into the background.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6e53GyXCgys]

Keeping the microscope on breakups and new tracks, you’ll be hard pressed to find a track better than Killing The Joke on this album. One of Miles’ strengths is playing a slightly soulful acoustic track, in the vein of Colour of the Trap and Out of Control. It’s quite emotional, and a little bit self-deprecating, it’s nice, there’s a sort of ballroom slow dance feel to it at the start, bathed in dim light, fading into nothingness. There’s even a shout out to Bruce Forsyth with “it’d be nice to see you, to see you nice” in the first verse. Want any proof it’s a good album? There’s a fucking Brucie Bonus on it, name another album with a Brucie Bonus on it.

The new, new songs have a lot of grunt to them, but if you’re looking for a high water mark, or a stand out track, you’re out of luck, because it’s a straight-up scrap between Cry On My Guitar; a dick swinging anthem that swaggers its way through your ears, or title track Coup de Grace, which has a real darkened boudoir feel to it. The vocal style on Coup de Grace particularly is very similar to his friend Alex’s vocal style on a recent album by Arctic Monkeys. Whether the chicken or the egg came first on this vocal delivery is insignificant, as the smooth, velveteen vocals on Coup de Grace really make it, layered over the deep, grooving bass like icing on a sponge cake.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffkom6CLA78]

It’s hard to find a weak point on this album, sure, you might find you spend less time with a track like Shavambacu, the title which reminds you of the “fre shavac ado” vine, rather than something like Cry On My Guitar, but is that a bad thing? No, Coup de Grace’s problem is that there are some inch-perfect tracks on there, which means the tracks that aren’t inch perfect don’t entice you as much. It’s a nice problem to have, that an album has so many perfect tracks, the really good tracks just seem a little less appetising.

Lyrically, you could say it leaves you wanting, but coming to Miles Kane for poignant lyrics and insights on the modern world is like coming to Socrates for his philosophy on drinking cans and wearing skinny jeans; you don’t really come to expect much substance from either. What you come to him for is some dancy tunes, the occasional acoustic banger, and the live show. However, lyrically, he told the BBC that “it’s very personal”, so the story we hear on the record may have completely different meaning to him than it does to us. It’s also quick to poke fun at the comment that he called it his “Adele album”, but from the content & theme of the tracks, it’s quite easy to see what he means; it’s inspired by heartbreak, something that Adele does second class to none.

Shavambacu is the album’s closer, and a common theme in these reviews is making sure the credits roll with a good track, and this is no exception. It’s quite melancholic, with a real “walking through London in the rain feel to it”. Lyrically it feels like the protagonist is pining for their love, and it’s quite a sweet song reflecting and lamenting on missing your lover. Absolutely no fucking clue what Shavambacu means, closest Google Translate offers is that shavambacu is a Malayan word, and is Malayan for shavambacu.

On the whole, the album feels like a complete departure from Don’t Forget Who You Are, and even Colour of the Trap. It still feels like it’s got the familiar Miles Kane feel, but tracks like Silverscreen, with a frantic tempo and strained vocal from Miles feel as far away from his blueprint as possible. However, in the unfamiliarity comes excitement; this is a new sound from Miles, and though “Coup de Grace” is French for “the final blow” (thanks, Google Translate!), fingers crossed that this isn’t the final blow from Miles, and we see something similar to this in the near future.

Every National Album, Ranked From Worst To Best

Ohio based rockers The National have been ever-present in rock music for the better part of two decades: forming in the late 90’s and releasing their self-titled effort in 2001, Matt Berninger and co. have been at the helm of seven records of varying quality, usually finding at least one of their albums in an album of the decade list. Thanks to their arty sombre work, The National have found themselves appealing to people both young and old which have helped them to remain both commercially and critically viable.

Of course, we can’t simply sit idly by and not ask the question: what’s their best record? Well, you won’t have to ponder for much longer as Transistor’s fantastic four Andrew (@weeandreww), Callum (@cal_thornhill), Josh (@jxshadams) and Kieran (@kiercannon) have helped to 100-per-cent-definitively rank their albums – will there be hot takes? Absolutely. Will there be an obvious loser? Probably. Will you be pissed off at us? Most definitely.

Quick disclaimer: This is, like, our opinion or whatever, dude. Disagree? The comments down below will house whatever rage you’re feeling.


7. The National (2001)

Andrew: The National’s self-titled debut actually isn’t as bad as its made out to be. It’s certainly no Pablo Honey in terms of quality, but in a similar manner to Radiohead’s debut, it pales in comparison with the rest of The National’s discography (apart from the sophomore Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers). If I’m honest, this isn’t a record that has stuck with me anywhere near as much as the rest of the band’s discography and I rarely find myself listening to this record.

However, it’s not a complete dud. On tracks like American Mary, you can identify the elements that the band have refined in recent years to make themselves so adored – in Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s interlocking guitar/piano parts, Scott and Bryan Devendorf’s airtight rhythm section and Matt Berninger’s hazy, weary baritone.

Callum: Although this record is being ranked last, it is simply because the others hold more personal and sentimental value. The National’s self-titled debut was, for me anyway, a record I went back to and picked up on vinyl to simply complete my collection. But now, it is a record I dabble in when catching the train or in need of background music. There are some tracks, for example, Theory of Crows that have stuck over the years with the lyrics “I’ll suck off investors, I’ll suck off VCs
I’m losing my posture from time on my knees,” that proved to be the core of The National’s witty and charismatic lyrics. A good foundation of what was to come for the Ohio alt-rockers.

Josh: It has been claimed that the band’s self-titled debut was made simply just because they could, and it shows.  Whilst it undeniably has it charms in cuts like “American Mary” and “29 Years”, it lacks both the punch of their other earlier work and the sophistication of their later albums, opting for an alt-country twinge that never totally sits well with the New York group.  “The National” is the sound of a band searching for their idiosyncrasies, rather than one fully formed and ready to turn heads – not offensively bad, but definitely less than essential.

Kieran: Grammy Award-Winning Band The National are a rare breed – they have yet to release a dud. Although their first two ‘forgotten’ albums (S/T and SSFDL) aren’t quite on the same level as the ones that followed, they’re still enjoyable in their own right. Those who were introduced to The National post-Alligator will be surprised by the Americana-tinged style of the tracks, but there are more parallels to their later material than meets the eye. 29 Years, for example, is essentially a lo-fi draft version of Slow Show, where the same “You know I dreamed about you / For 29 years before I saw you” refrain gets immortalised in its climactic outro. S/T is a solid album, although it’s rather eclipsed by what comes after it.

6. Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers (2003)

Callum: Murder Me Rachael, Available and Sugar Wife. With a fine collection of other The National tracks it could be easy to forget about these gems, but when we reminisce about their 2003 sophomore record we can see exactly why fifteen years later they are continuing to put out tracks that echo the sounds from this sophomore record. Very rarely will you see The National slip a Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, which makes it a more ‘exclusive’ record for those daring to take a punt on them all them years ago.

Josh: There’s not much between their second LP and their debut, other than the permanent arrival of guitarist Bryce Dessner to the fold and a more formidable growl from singer Matt Berninger.  The instrumental palette is widened and the lyrical tone sounds less despondent, and more whiskey-soaked, allowing The National to bear their teeth on what are, not coincidentally, the best tracks here: “Slipping Husband” and “Available” drunkenly shuffle with barely concealed bitterness until the rage erupts in one of Berninger’s trademark screams.  What really lets “Sad Songs…” down though is its production: flat and lifeless, it ruins the good songs and only makes clear the flaws of the bad ones.

Kieran: On their second album, The National start to move away from the country roots of their debut and begin to forge their own brand of indie rock. Containing some of their heaviest bangers to date (Available and Murder Me Rachael) as well as the debut appearance of Matt Berninger’s infamous screaming, SSFDL is significantly more fleshed-out than S/T but it still lacks the polish and songwriting finesse of the subsequent five albums. That being said, it’s the first time Matt’s lyrics really start to demonstrate his dark humour and wry observation – the unique ways in which he discusses life, love, and relationships.

Andrew: Once again, I’ll have to admit that I haven’t listened to this record nearly as much as the rest of The National’s albums since it’s almost a universally agreed fact that the first two National records are almost stepping stones for the greatness that soon followed. However, Sad Songs is undoubtedly a step forward from the self-titled.

It perhaps showcases the heavier side of The National which the band have flirted with throughout their career more than any other studio album, with Berninger’s groan turning into a full-bloodied scream on Slipping Husband, Available and Murder Me Rachael. However, especially on Rachael, it becomes apparent that these tracks deserve better production than they have on the record, and you can’t talk about Sad Songs without mentioning the undisputed-worst-track-ever-recorded-by-Grammy-award-winning-band-The-National – the somehow reggae-infused Sugar Wife. However, it’s on the tracklisting beside tracks as beautiful as closer Lucky You, so, ultimately, Sad Songs shows a band who have potential, but are sadly yet to fully realise it.

5. Alligator (2005)

Josh: This is where The National hit their stride, and it was helped by the fact their backs were against the wall where success had eluded them for years.  The performances are powerful, the lyrics are powerful, and the track listing consistent: from “Secret Meeting” to the absolutely stunning “Mr. November”, it has something for everyone to latch on to and form memories from.  The only reason it’s so low down in the list is that it pales in comparison to the heights the band have gone on to achieve off the back of this record, which in itself is a testament to its quality.

Kieran: The step-up from SSFDL to Alligator is astonishing. Within two years, their maturity and songcraft multiplied exponentially without losing any of their youthful energy. The best way to describe this album is it’s the pal who comes round to your house with a crate of booze when you’re feeling a bit shit, sits and drinks with you until you’ve forgotten what was wrong in the first place. It’s wild, raucous and (relatively speaking) fairly optimistic but also manages to be hard-hitting when it needs to be (see Val Jester). It’s also massively underrated – so many relatively unknown tracks like Lit Up, Secret Meeting and Geese of Beverly Road deserve to rank among the band’s very best. It’s possibly my favourite National album, and I’ve been searching for any reason to rank it #1 but the margins between Alligator and Boxer really are very fine indeed.

Andrew: Here’s where it gets interesting. Alligator is the first great National record, at the band’s third attempt, and the beginning of the Brooklyn five-piece’s ridiculously consistent run. More than that, Alligator marks the first iteration of what is now The National’s trademark sound. The Dessner’s songwriting is laser-sharp, and its marriage with Berninger’s occasionally hilariously honest songwriting (“Karen put me in a chair, fuck me and make me a drink”) is seamless.

The finger-picked guitar of Secret Meeting is the perfect introduction to the band’s most eclectic record yet. There are tracks as plaintive and stripped back as Daughters of the Soho Riots alongside massive rock songs like Abel, and almost everything in between. What is particularly enjoyable about The National is you can truly pick out each members’ contribution to each track and record and it must be said that drummer Bryan Devendorf is incredible on Alligator, and is the driving force behind some of the record’s best moments – none more so than the incredible closer Mr. November, where the life-affirming chorus is backed up by rapid-fire drumming.

If there is to be one criticism of Alligator, it’s an understandable one – the production isn’t flawless, and on certain tracks, the guitars especially can sound quite tinny – however this can be put down to the fact the band weren’t blessed with a huge recording budget, as this is more than rectified on later attempts.

Callum: All The Wine is as lyrically succulent as The National get and Alligator is the perfect example of Berninger and co.’s turning point. From a cult, nichely appreciated into a majestic, celebrated festival headliner. Teeing up the release of Boxer, the band transition from the delicate to the angsty and the record mirrors how The National construct their live show; just when you are settling into a steady theme of swaying shoulders you’re smacked in the face with fan-favourite Mr. November. Glorious.

 

4. Trouble Will Find Me (2013)

Kieran: This is where the rankings get *really* tough. The beauty of The National, who have consistently matured and adapted over the years, is that the run from Alligator through to Sleep Well Beast is crammed with five records whose individual merits are all sufficient to see them take the #1 spot. Ranking them objectively is incredibly difficult and fans listen to the band for such a wide variety of reasons that an argument could justifiably be made that, perhaps, TWFM deserves to sit at the top. It’s one of their most candid and accessible records, but it certainly isn’t lacking in genius. Matt’s lyrical poetry is in fine form on Graceless as he delivers the line “god loves everybody, don’t remind me” with a hefty dose of sarcasm. There are countless gems to uncover throughout, like the perfectly timed key change on This Is The Last Time, but in my opinion Fireproof and Slipped are comparatively weaker tracks – hence TWFM stays at #4.

Andrew: Anyone at all familiar with The National will know that they’re hardly a band for parties or sunny days at the best of times. This reputation is largely justified – thanks, in no small part – to Trouble…, easily the gloomiest record the band have put out. If you were to assign a mood to this record it would be anxiety, which seems to permeate every kick drum and guitar lick on the record.

This is personified on Don’t Swallow the Cap, arguably the best track the five-piece have ever recorded. The track isn’t heavy, but moves at breakneck pace, with a breathless guitar line propelling Berninger’s frantic, stream-of-consciousness delivery which details a 4am drunken panic attack. The track is backed up by some rapid drumming and a haunting string score, adding up to the kind of track only The National could make.

Personally, when I think of Trouble.., its stunning ballads are the first tracks that come to mind. The five-piece are rarely as stripped back as they are on tracks like Slipped, I Need My Girl and Pink Rabbits, with Berninger’s heart-breaking lyricism taking centre stage with lines as stunning as “I was falling apart / I was a television version of a person with a broken heart”.

Callum: In my opinion, this is where critics realised that The National were far more than an underappreciated, cult-followed, niche band. Some of their most heartfelt tracks feature on this record and have been echoed back all around the world since it dropped in 2013. Kicking things off with, yep you guessed it, a hearty ballad in the form of I Should Live in Salt; what follows is an accumulation of brilliance which makes it extremely difficult to choose just one highlight. Dabbling in the poetic, e.g. Pink Rabbits and I Need My Girl as well as the abstract lyricism of Graceless, this is without a doubt one of the greatest records since the turn of the millennium.

Josh:  “Trouble Will Find Me” is a strange album, and, in a way, arguably the most “National” album of all in their discography.  At first it is an uneven listing, with some of their best tracks ever recorded rubbing shoulders with some of their worst (looking at you, “Don’t Swallow The Cap” and “Fireproof”), and the whole record has a grey, almost lethargic sheen to it; like a fog smothering a skyscraper in the Financial District.  But over time, it grows and opens up, allowing some of Berninger’s most striking lines to cut right to the bone: “You didn’t see me, I was falling apart, I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park” from Pink Rabbits is a personal favourite, and it sums up why this album is so good; because you don’t see it at first.

 

3. Sleep Well Beast (2017)

Andrew: The newest entry in The National’s discography saw a pretty seismic shift in the band’s songwriting. Sleep Well Beast is far more electronic than its predecessors, and for the most part, it is a remarkably subtle record. The National’s 7th LP is characterised by tracks like Walk It Back and Empire Line, subtle tracks that establish a mood and atmosphere and stick with it for their entire run time rather than building to any sort of climax.

This could easily have backfired and come off as boring, but by this point in their career, The National are masters of atmosphere, and these tracks are all the more fascinating for their refusal to build to a crescendo. Walk It Back in particular features a brilliantly piercing guitar line courtesy of Bryce Dessner while a lengthy vocal sample plays in the background.

That is the record’s mood for the most part. However, there is one beautiful outlier in the form of Turtleneck: a track that just scrapes the three minute mark where the band really lets their hair down. Berninger’s ragged vocals fire shots at “another man in shitty suits” currently occupying the White House, but the track’s best moment comes when the Dessner twins trade guitar solos on the ferocious bridge.

Callum: 2017’s dark and enigmatic Sleep Well Beast ties together everything The National has ever released, but with a subtle yet gracious twist. Using samples, electronics and most importantly cutting lyrics to portray love, loss, and desperation; the Ohio outfit delve deep into one’s core and submerges itself in a portion of self-deprecation. In the quieter ballads, for example Carin at the Liquor Store and Guilty Party, we are offered a voyeuristic glimpse of where relationships have faulted – but, the hastier tracks like Turtleneck reminds listeners of their tongue in cheek abilities. Similar to Mr. November in terms of style; Turtleneck, however, refers to Trump as “just another man, in shitty suits, everybody’s cheering for.” Classic.

Josh: Only The National, the musical epitome of the underdog, could provide one of their greatest this late into their career.  The band’s embracing of electronics into their otherwise consistent chamber rock proceedings gives each song an unusual yet captivating flavour, with eerie vocal samples and skittering drum machines bouncing between Berninger’s voice and secret weapon Bryan’s drums, often revealing themselves to be a welcome addition.  Whilst it may stumble off a bit towards the end with one too many slow burners, “Sleep Well Beast” is proof enough that The National still have plenty of fight left in them.

Kieran: Their latest and most experimental album to date, Sleep Well Beast was a radical departure from pretty much everything else they’ve released. Plenty of electronic bleep-bloops, unconventional song structures and – wait – is that a guitar solo?! The sense of freedom is palpable, as the band eschewed the tedious and meticulous sort of recording process they endured for High Violet in favour of a much more freeform and avant-garde approach. The record evokes feelings of winter and hibernation – saying no to the party invitations, closing the windows and shutting out the world until everything makes a bit more sense.

For this reason, it’s melancholic even by Ntl standards, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of tenderness. On album highlight I’ll Still Destroy You, Matt sings about his daughter – “Put your heels against the wall / I swear you got a little bit taller since I saw you” – a bittersweet remark about the downsides of being on the road, missing out on important stages of your kid growing up. It’s an intriguing new direction the Cincinnati sad dads are heading in, and it’ll be fascinating to see how it pans out.

2. Boxer (2007)

Callum: The only record by The National to warrant an official, full-length live recording (Boxer Live in Brussels), so that means something, right?! For me, though, as brilliant as Boxer is, it is an accumulation of banging tunes as opposed to an iconic album as a package. The two year period between Alligator and Boxer allowed The National to develop from a somewhat angst-saddled outfit into a maturer, emotion charging, dinner party band. Of course, you can’t drop Available or Mr November when you’re in red wine territory, but you definitely CAN pull out Guest Room.

Josh: And this is where it becomes controversial.  “Boxer” is often considered to be the point where the band finally broke through and became the sad dads we all know and love today.  Everything about the group that has remained steady well into the present was firmly established here: Berninger’s baritone croon, the lush orchestral arrangements, the driving guitars, the powerful drums.  It all comes together in a glorious mix that nearly lasts the entire LP, with “Squalor Victoria” and “Slow Show” being definite highlights; unfortunately, like most National albums it stumbles towards the end with one too many slow songs after a balanced entrance that contrasts their enthralling energy with their gloomy tendencies.  “Apartment Story”, “Racing Like a Pro” and “Ada” to their best to save a sludge of the second half, but not enough to make it the crème de la crème.

Kieran: This is it. Boxer. The album that arguably defines The National and captures their essence in a way no other album has managed so far. In terms of their progression musically, it’s difficult to exaggerate how important this record is. Its use of lush orchestral arrangements and synths lifts the melodies to new heights – and despite the grandeur on the fanfare at the end of Fake Empire, on other tracks the devil is in the detail. Green Gloves, for example: the keyboard part playing in the background of the final chorus brings the song to a subtle but incredible climax. The genius is that you don’t even notice until you listen to it a few times and really pay attention.

The album’s track order is perfect as well – slower tracks arrive at just the right time to let off some of the pressure built by upbeat, rapid-drumming songs like Apartment Story. The decision to end on three fairly low-key tracks – Racing Like a Pro, Ada and Gospel – could be considered a bold move, but in reality there’s no better way to wind down the album. The explosive nature of Mr November was the ideal way to end Alligator, just as Gospel is a fitting way to reflect on Boxer as a whole. It’s the very definition of a slow burner, but trust me folks – it’s well worth sticking by it.

Andrew: While Alligator was undoubtedly a huge step forward for the band, Boxer was the record when the world really took notice of The National, and for good reason. In 43 incredibly concise minutes, the five-piece announced themselves as the band everyone knew they were capable of becoming. The piano part that opens Fake Empire and the record is now nothing short of legendary, and the track’s politically-infused lyricism is as relevant now as it was in 2007.

Boxer just feels like the trademark National album. From the legitimately threatening Mistaken for Strangers to the brilliantly bullish Apartment Story (“we’ll be alright, we have our looks and perfume on”) this is a band on top of their game.

Perhaps the quintessential National track is Slow Show, a ballad beautifully incorporating acoustic guitar and piano, with Berninger describing his social anxiety at a party and his desire to rush home to his partner, with a vintage lyric “can I get a minute of not being nervous and not thinking of my dick?” If you ever find yourself doubting why The National are such indie royalty, just look at how moving their tracks can be while Berninger sings about his penis.

1. High Violet (2010)

Josh: Here we have the only National album that doesn’t stumble once throughout its 48 minute long run time – the closest the band have ever come and probably ever will to a perfect record.  It’s almost ironic then that it starts tentatively, with an echoing muted guitar strum to test the water before jumping straight into one of their most moving songs, “Terrible Love”, that features a monster of a chorus that feels like it was designed for the larger crowds the group found themselves playing for after “Boxer”.  Nearly every song builds to a climax or a certain moment that takes your breath away: the repeated mantra at the end of “Afraid of Everyone”, or the joyous crescendo of “England”, or the final, reverberating chorus of delicate closer “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”. Everything just works, and works staggeringly well at that. What more could you ask for?

Kieran: When I first started dabbling in The National, in all honesty, I wasn’t sold – that is, until I heard the opening drumbeats of Bloodbuzz Ohio. High Violet is the album that got me utterly, utterly hooked on the band. It’s an explosive, cathartic wall of sound and it’s so compelling I still find myself struggling to turn it off without listening to the entire album front-to-back. Terrible Love is the perfect way to start an album (although plenty of debate has raged about whether the alternative version on the extended edition is better) and is a case in point that the band have mastered the art of the opening track.

It’s much more polished and painstakingly produced than Boxer or Alligator, to the point where Lemonworld was rewritten 80 times in order to achieve the perfect sound – although the final version ended up resembling the original demo. I absolutely loved High Violet (still do), and although it got me into The National –  Alligator and Boxer made me stick around.

Andrew: High Violet is a flawless record. As much as I love them, if I was to nit-pick, I could criticise Sleep Well Beast and Boxer, but High Violet is a different beast. There’s not a weak track to be seen in the track listing. Hell, there’s not even a weak chorus, verse or bridge.

To discuss the actual songwriting of High Violet, it’s easily the most cinematic National record. It’s almost the antithesis of Sleep Well Beast in that it is thoroughly anthemic: High Violet is personified by colossal climaxes – such as “it takes an ocean not to break” on Terrible Love, your voice is swallowing my soul” on Afraid of Everyone and the huge wordless crescendo of Bloodbuzz Ohio.  Remarkably on a record with moments this huge – it’s not at all disjointed, the flow is incredibly natural and even the less ambitious songs on the tracklist, such as Little Faith and Lemonworld, serve as small but vital parts of the beautiful canvas.

Arguably the record’s most dynamic track is penultimate number England, which develops from a world-weary piano riff into a colossal emotional epiphany – worthy of closing just about any album. However, what comes after is one of the most beautiful tracks in the band’s discography – Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, a stunning acoustic track which features Berninger singing in an uncharacteristically high octave, seemingly suggesting there’s nothing this band and album can’t do.

Callum: Another accumulation of The National’s musical prowess here. High Violet is home to the commercially wonderful Bloodbuzz Ohio, but it is elsewhere that we find the ripe, unpicked fruit. From front to back, this record oozes powerful emotion and tracks perfect for all aspects of life – predominantly the themes of abandonment (Anyone’s Ghost and Conversation 16) and pining for the second coming of what has gone before (England). Teetering on the magnificent, majestic and all round.

Album Review: Merzbow & HEXA – Achromatic

words fae liam toner (@tonerliam)rating 8

Recently a friend of mine asked me how people tell the difference between good and bad harsh noise music. A fair question as for non-listeners of the genre a top 10 list of the best noise albums must seem like a list of top 10 TV static screens or a list of top 10 loudest power drills. However, nearly 40 years into his career Japanese noise musician Merzbow has released almost 300 albums where some are considered absolute staples of the genre such as Pulse Demon and Venereology (not to mention his discography with numerous collaborators) whereas many more fall into forgotten obscurity.

This newest album titled Achromatic is another collaboration, this time with the group HEXA. HEXA are an industrial/dark ambient group featuring Jamie Stewart of cult indie experimentalists Xiu Xiu and Lawrence English. HEXA’s most recent output was a sort of soundtracking of David Lynch’s factory photography. The pair created music that was droning and mechanical, creating lifeless soundscapes that perfectly fit Lynch’s photography.

The title Achromatic itself is a good hint of how the album will sound. Western music typically is made up of twelve semitones and is the basis for all our scales and chords. These twelve notes together are known as the chromatic scale. What Merzbow is doing with this title is giving the listener fair warning that what they’re getting into is a piece of music that is devoid of melody and rhythm and is reduced to something that is purely textural and, thanks to HEXA, rather atmospheric.

The album is split into two parts. The first side Merzhex being produced by HEXA and the second half with the track Hexamer was produced by Merzbow. This choice was quite an interesting move as it gives each a distinctive sound and it allows the listener to see how each artist interprets the work. The core of this release is made up of a few elements: the sonic chaos of Merzbow’s feedbacking harsh noise and HEXA’s low droning synthesisers and distant industrial sounds.

Despite being a noise project Achromatic is basked in atmosphere (at times it sounds like field recordings are being used) and it’s this atmosphere that makes the album so interesting. The combination of the two artists sounds complement each other greatly and throughout listening I find myself imagining all sorts of scenes and environments. HEXA’s droning dark ambient elements form the base of the whole sound, creating an atmosphere and giving the music a sense of slow progression. Merzbow’s signature noise elevates the atmosphere to something truly otherworldly, at times it becomes quite hard to even tell the different elements apart as they combine to create a maelstrom of blaring sound. The combination of these sounds gives the album an ice cold and impenetrable vibe.

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Merzhex 2 sounds like being trapped in a huge glacier in the arctic. While trapped inside you can hear the winds batter off the sides and the slow rumbling bass synthesisers imitating the cracking, groaning sound of the glacier moving slowly across the Arctic. Merzhex 3 conjures up the image of a desolate and unforgiving frozen wasteland. H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ came to mind when listening to this track; a story where a group of Antarctic explorers discover a mountain range in a treacherous environment even larger than the Himalayas. In further discovery, they find a mysterious and ancient alien city where the explorers would discover secrets that would lead them to death or utter madness.
Since there is nothing else to go off except from basic titles this album is infinitely interpretative and allows the listeners mind to run free as they are engulfed by the cold sounds of buzzing and cacophonous electronics

Reviewing industrial and harsh noise music can be a fruitless activity. For a start, trying to describe the musical qualities of something devoid of musicality and essentially being a form of anti-music is slightly pointless and honestly, a wee bit daft. Noise also tends to be highly divisive and the idea that some people actively enjoy and even try to review, some would find laughable. To some listeners, the experience can be cathartic and mesmerising but to others, it’s simply one thing: not music, and in a way, they are correct. It would be untrue for me to claim that Achromatic is a brilliantly composed piece of music.

However, what Merzbow and HEXA have released here makes for an engaging listen that also works as a blank canvas to derive your own meaning from. Or maybe you’ll just think it sounds like a big loud pile of nonsense, either way, the combination of each artists sound and the excellent production make this one of the more stands out releases in Merzbow’s gargantuan discography and if you have an open mind then it’s well worth checking out.

Mom Jeans’ Eric Butler Discusses Touring, Collabs and Latest LP ‘Puppy Love’

words by Ryan Martin (@ryanmartin182)

Mom Jeans is a four-piece emo outfit hailing from southern California. After releasing their debut Best Buds in 2016, the world was introduced to their bouncy and addictive melodies that set the background for their aching post-breakup lyrics. The album really hit home for a lot of fans and garnered a mass cult following, all anxious to watch the band make their next move. Since then, Mom Jeans have been touring relentlessly, mostly with bands surrounding the independent label, Counter Intuitive Records. CI, (Counter Intuitive) has quickly become one of the most exciting up-and-coming labels in indie music for their roster of fresh and exciting new bands, most of whom exist within the indie/emo scene. Mom Jeans put out their first record on Counter Intuitive and planned to put out their second on SideOneDummy, home to acts such as PUP and Rozwell Kid. But when SideOneDummy began to slip and stopped signing new bands, Mom Jeans took it back to CI to release their second full-length, Puppy Love. I got the chance to chat with lead vocalist and songwriter Eric Butler to get a more in-depth look behind the album.

RM: Was there any pressure during the writing process for the album? Best Buds really clicked with so many people and really brought the band to another level of popularity. Did you feel Puppy Love had to have the same impact or were there any thoughts of trying to capitalize on what made the first record so special?

EB: I mean honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever gone into writing music with an intent of creating an impact, we’ve always just tried to write music that we think sounds cool and that’s fun for us to play. I think all four of us get a lot of gratification out of learning how to play new songs and sharing ideas and trying to make every song as fun as possible to play. For all of us, playing music has always been about having fun, having fun playing music together and getting to spend time together as friends has always been the number one priority. Playing big gigs is always cool and selling records is dope too but at the end of the day we just wanna make music together. In that respect, nothing really changed between best buds and puppy love. I can def say that putting a release together with the expectation that people would be listening to it/anticipating it was definitely new to us, but we really tried to set that aside and just make a record that we could be stoked on no matter what other people think about it.

RM: What was it like putting Puppy Love together? What songs were written first? Were there any that came together quicker than others?

EB: I’m definitely a super slow writer, and it was definitely tough to get the ball rolling as far as writing songs for an album rather than just writing songs. I think sponsor me tape and season 9 were the first songs that I was like “ok these are goin’ on LP 2”, but in general it’s pretty hard for me to keep writing/working on something unless I’m super into it or unless I feel like it’s really going in a direction that I like. From there like usual I brought all the song skeletons to Austin, Bart and Gabe and we hashed them out and everybody wrote parts that made sense and that they liked. Pretty much every song that we’ve put together since best buds (minus the split songs) ended up on puppy love except for maybe one or two.

RM: The CI family is having such an amazing year, it must be pretty surreal at the moment. Has surrounding yourself with like-minded musicians and friends helped push MJ as well as other bands forward creatively?

EB: Absolutely! For us I think it’s really important to be surrounded by like-minded and similarly-oriented people. Playing hundreds of shows a year can get pretty tiring and I think a lot of people get burnt out on playing and touring pretty fast, but for us I feel like every tour or project that we work on is super exciting and super motivating because every single band that’s around us is absolutely killing it. Most of the musical influences that got me inspired and excited to work on new music came from listening to other CI bands like Just Friends, Nervous Dater, Retirement Party, Prince Daddy, and all the extended fam like Chatterbot and Open Door Records bands. 

RM: The lyrics on both albums are both very confessional in their own ways. Is it more therapeutic to write the lyrics and then put music to them or to perform the songs live?

EB: I think each is therapeutic in their own way, but like the physical act of playing songs is what compels me the most. Lyrics have always been kind of like a diary where I can express thoughts and feelings that are hard to discuss so plainly otherwise, and actually saying them out loud for real is extremely therapeutic and I feel like it allows me to feel like I’m addressing them by at least acknowledging them. Even just getting lost in a live setting (not even necessarily performing just like playing together) l has always been so addictive to me. There’s a magical moment that happens every once in a while, where things just come together perfectly, and I feel like I forget about everything that’s bothering me and I just zone out on the music. I fkn live for that moment where everything just sounds perfect and new and special. 

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While Best Buds was more centered around a break-up, Puppy Love deals with voluntarily distancing yourself from those you love. There is an established sense of confidence in Butler’s voice when he details isolating himself. It doesn’t sound like it’s what he wants to do but it also sounds necessary in order for both people to grow and become more individualized.

Butler also takes sharp aim at his own flaws all over the album; what he is putting into his body, his emotions and why he is feeling that way, and efficiently communicating with those around him. Perhaps it’s a way to say those flaws out loud with brute honesty in order to move one step closer to breaking those bad habits.

Musically, the band has never sounded tighter. Bart Starr from Graduating Life has been added as a second guitarist and it really helps fill out the band’s sound. There are more tasty riffs and more transitions that add more depth to each song. (SPOILER ALERT CLICK AWAY NOW) There’s also one really sick part during the outro of Glamorous where Weezer’s Sweater Song is interpolated. Brianda Goyos León, from the CI-signed band Just Friends, appears on the 7th and 10th track and adds a beautiful layer of harmony behind Butler’s voice. (Just Friends recently put out an incredible record called Nothing but Love on Counter Intuitive Records).

RM:  I really enjoyed Brianda’s vocals paired with yours on the album. Will there be more vocal collaborations in MJ’s future? If so who would you be interested in collaborating with?

EB: I mean hopefully! I like doing vocal collabs because I feel like I’m honestly not a very good singer so getting objectively talented vocalists to perform is always super fun and I feel like it truly adds an aspect that we couldn’t pull off on our own. Brond is literally the best and having her voice on the record is a huge privilege and I’m so grateful that she was willing to sing on it. As far as the future I can’t really speculate because in general the lyrics are pretty tailor made for me, but you can always count on the day one homies being part of the picture. 

RM: You guys have been touring so much! How’s it been? Do you feel you’ll be rested enough before you head out again this fall?

EB: It’s definitely exhausting but we had a really nice break this spring after getting home from tour with Tiny Moving Parts. We took about 3 months off shows and just focused on spending time with our partners and families and made the record and I think it was really worth it. We all literally just got back from a full US tour with Graduating Life (Bart’s project that Austin and I play in) but prior to that it was the longest break we’ve ever had since we started touring. I definitely feel like we’re ready to hit the road in the fall especially because we get to bring so many of our good friends with us.

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For an album that deals mostly with self-loathing and distance, it’s hard to find a song on the record that isn’t fun as hell. If pop punk isn’t your cup of tea and it generally makes you cringe, it’s fair to say that this record isn’t going to change your mind very much. There isn’t much that Mom Jeans accomplish on their second album that Fantano would call “reinventing the wheel of emo”. Basically, meaning in some sense it’s just another pop punk record. What makes this album special is how much it allows you to become invested in it. Best Buds offered a comfort blanket for those reeling from a break-up. It was an album that made you feel better musically but also addressed how you might be feeling so you don’t feel so alone. Puppy Love functions the same way and with each listen, you may find yourself sinking deeper into your own feelings and how it relates to what Butler is saying. A perfect example of the therapeutic effects emo/pop-punk music has to its long-time listeners.

RM:  I love the TV references scattered throughout the album (Grey’s Anatomy, The Office, Workaholics, Rick & Morty). What are your top favorite shows of all time?

EB: I’ll cut it off at 5 to save us all some time aha. I gotta go with Grey’s Anatomy, Futurama, Freaks and Geeks, Bob’s Burgers, and Diners Drive-Ins and Dives.

RM: Do you enjoy being a musician more or less since graduating from school?

EB: I don’t know if I enjoy music any more or less than I used to, I think the role of music in my life has just changed dramatically. I feel like playing in a band used to be a super small portion of my life that I loved a lot but didn’t get to prioritize because I had to focus on school and work and being a functioning human. Nowadays my whole life is the band, from my friends to my daily priorities to my long-term goals to the way I love my daily life are contextualized by this band and the experiences I’ve had playing music. I’m entirely grateful that I get to walk this path and though I think I definitely don’t think appreciate music as a whole ecosystem as much as I used to I still enjoy playing songs with my friends as much as I did when I started my first band when I was 12.  

 RM: Any long-term goals for the future you’d like to share?

EB: Just trying to enjoy this ride and have as much fun as we can. We have a big tour coming up in the fall and some plans to take the MJ train international at the end of 2018/beginning of 2019. At the end of the day we’re just here to have fun and keep playing shows as long as people are willing to come and see us and hang out!

 

Puppy Love is available on all streaming services via Counter Intuitive Records.

 

Kevin P. Gilday & The Glasgow Cross meld indie music with spoken word on ‘Experience Essential’

words fae jen hughes (@dearoctopus4)rating 7

Experience Essential is the debut album from Kevin P. Gilday & The Glasgow Cross, a collaboration between spoken word performer Kevin P. Gilday and multi-instrumentalist Ralph Hector. It’s a kaleidoscope of poetry and colourful indie music, and one of the strangest albums you’re ever likely to hear. Picture this: you’re at a party. You are stoned, not enough to be out of it but just enough to go with the flow. You meet some guy in the smoker’s area, and you could sit and listen to this guy’s smooth accent all day. Because you’re a bit intoxicated, you don’t pick up everything but the nuggets you do speak to you on a deeper level. This is how best to describe this album.

It isn’t really rap music. Where rap music marches to the beat, spoken word floats alongside it at a leisurely pace. It does not try and stay on the beat because that is not the point. Each track is a window into Kevin P. Gilday’s life, from his experiences on Glasgow’s surprisingly enthusiastic poetry scene (The Plates Keep Spinning… pt 1 & pt 2; I’ve Fallen Out of Love With Poetry), his working class upbringing (To Live and Die in Denniston) to his political leanings (How To Spot A Tory) and his commentary on masculinity (Me, Masculine Me; Hitler’s Moustache). His poetry tends to be more humorous but also self-effacing and self-aware. The songs themselves tend to stick to only one or two musical ideas or motifs and don’t stray far from these within the track. Each track’s musicality is varied enough, and tracks don’t drag on for long enough that this would be a problem. To listeners whose primary interest lies in poetry, this is not a concern anyway as spoken word still takes precedence here.

The spoken word/music combination is a hard sell and is difficult to pull off, especially if you’ve heard any of William Shatner’s cover songs: they are hilarious. While there are a few weaker tracks in Experience Essential, where the musical ideas do not work as well with the spoken word, the majority of the album is reasonably enjoyable. For the most part, Gilday and Hector can bring the two aspects together to a good standard, though there are some tracks that didn’t work well to the point where it distracted from what was being said. With these tracks, it’s a case of two ideas not working well as a combination but fine separately.

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Out of all the singles to be released, Atheist’s Prayer is a particular highlight. A smooth, melancholic synth accompanies Gilday as he asks the opening line, “Who do the atheists pray to?”. It sounds like rain and smoke. Gilday’s performance of this song is passionate, and the music reflects this as it crescendos and brings in guitar and drums. Arguably, the tracks released as singles aren’t the strongest on the album; for example, The Man Who Loved Beer, which was released first, gets things off to a shaky start as the music noticeably detracts from the spoken word. On the other hand, it’s possible that the upbeat rock music reflects the mood of the poem itself, so it could be there for good reason.

Other recommended tracks are mostly deeper cuts from the album such as The Vision (Jesus of Possil), How To Spot A Tory and There’s a Workie in My House, which touch upon themes of the divisive nature of social class. They’re both humorous but self-aware. The Vision talks about what would happen if the reincarnation of Jesus Christ visits Possilpark, Glasgow, whilst There’s A Workie in My House describes the time a repairman came to fix Kevin’s boiler, prompting him to reflect on his own career.

As a poet and a music enthusiast, it’s difficult not to admire that a fellow Glasgow poet is bringing two worlds together. If you’re a music fan who is looking for that gateway drug into spoken word, Experience Essential would be as good a place to start as any. Gilday’s poetry is genuine, relatable, not too reliant on references to classical texts or other poets you may not have heard of and – for the most part – unpretentious. As an added bonus, the music itself is pretty decent. There’s bound to be at least one track on the album you can relate to, so for that reason, it’s highly recommended to check it out and discover which track you relate to most.

TRANSISTOR’S 10 Best Albums of 2018 (Mid-Year Update)

intro and thumbnail fae liam menzies (@blinkclyro)

While we could start this off with some drivel about how 2018 has been fraught with political debate, general discourse and a shaky quality in memes, we know what you’re here for: a ranking of subjective apart, decided by people you don’t know and/or care about. We might not be in the same league as Pitchfork and the likes but we feel our contribution to the discussion is… somewhat worthy, plus, we’ve got some solid patter so why not get into the list season spirit early?

10 Father John Misty – God’s Favourite Customer

Josh Tillman is a man on a hot streak. Since leaving the Fleet Foxes in 2012, he has reinvented himself as folk rockstar Father John Misty – releasing 3 critically acclaimed records, 2012’s psychedelic Fear Fun, 2015’s wildly romantic I Love You, Honeybear and 2017’s world-weary Pure Comedy – which topped many end of year lists. However – Pure Comedy also proved somewhat divisive – with many criticising its 75-minute run time, filled mostly by less-than-energetic instrumentation.

Tillman’s response? He’s returned just over a year later with God’s Favorite Customer – his shortest record yet at just 39 minutes. GFC feels like more of a sequel to Honeybear than Pure Comedy, detailing a rough patch in Tillman and his wife Emma’s relationship when he was living in a hotel –hilariously depicted on lead single Mr. Tillman, with the lyrics coming from the perspective of a hotel receptionist concerned for Tillman’s welfare.

However, things get considerably darker on other tracks, like Please Don’t Die, where he details “pointless benders with reptilian strangers” and the chorus comes from the perspective of Tillman’s wife, begging him not to take his own life. Remarkably, on the darkest moments of this incredibly personal record, Tillman keeps up his absurd sense of humour which has been a staple of his FJM records. On the solemn The Palace, Tillman undercuts his confessional to declare “last night I wrote a poem/man I must have been in the poem zone” and perhaps even references the internet’s favourite Jeff meme. In a sentence – God’s Favorite Customer is hilarious, heartbreaking and incredibly catchy – all at the same time. It’s just what we expect of Father John Misty now. – Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

HEAR THE ALBUM

9Jeff Rosenstock – POST

POST- is an album rife with conflict, vacillating between furtive political references and forthright internal turmoil. Yr Throat questions the efficacy of self-expression as the narrator’s body and mind lock into a stalemate: “What’s the point of having a voice when it gets stuck inside your throat?!” All This Useless Energy stages a contentious dialogue between under-informed neurotypicals and frustrated depressives: “You’re not fooling anyone when you say you tried your best.”  I’m worried of abandoning the joys that framed my life, but all this useless energy won’t hold me through the night.

Whatever the meaning you choose to ascribe to the term “post” (Post-Obama, Post-Trauma, or for the overdramatic, Post-America) POST- refers to the end of an era. Every generation grapples with its social and political conventions, and now the Millennials have been called to action. A daunting task, to be sure, for a throng of young people consistently written off as thin-skinned, lazy, and disinterested. But with Jeff Rosenstock at the forefront of punk’s socially-inclined philosophes, we’re sure not to be tired and bored with the fight. May we never be again. – Sean Hannah (@shun_handsome)

8Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin

Last January, Ty Segall quietly delivered one of the finest records of 2017. That is, of course, quiet as in it was met with little fanfare. The music, on the other hand, was a short, sharp shot of frenetic energy that blew the new year’s blues away with consummate ease. And now, almost a year to the day, a new project, entitled Freedom’s Goblin, has been unleashed upon the world to do the same. A double album of 19 tracks, the record sees Segall at his most dynamic, hopping nimbly from futuristic disco to some of the fuzziest rock seen since Dwayne Johnson grew out his beard last year. In lesser hands, this sort of smashing together of styles could have resulted in a disjointed mess of a record, but instead, the constant variation creates an exhilaratingly sprawling joyride of ups and downs that at the very least, will leave you with a gigantic ear-to-ear smile.

According to the man himself, the concept of the album was to effectively eschew one altogether, and it undoubtedly has been a resounding success. Not all of the tracks work, Shoot You Up, for example, sounds a little too similar to last years Break a Guitar to really satisfy, but the general level of consistency across such a mammoth and diverse tracklist is nothing short of astounding. Segall tips his toes into disco, metal, and a whole host of other styles and comes out of the other side a bona-fide genre-hopping hero.

This may well be the musician’s finest release yet, at the very least standing toe to toe with some of his previous classics. It’s a treasure trove that demands multiple listens to uncover its hidden gems, of which there are a great many, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone begrudging a few extra listens to really get to grips with it when the music is this good. – Rory McArthur (@rorymeep)

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7 A.A.L – 2012-2017

Returning with a surprise album under his Against All Logic (A.A.L) moniker, leading electronic producer Nicholas Jaar ditches most of the experimentation for what could be pretty much summed up as a deep house album. Now, as this Jaar, this isn’t your chart-ready, sanitised house. Here, Jaar again samples with aplomb, but unlike other releases where the samples are manipulated into something totally new, here Jaar lets these groove-laden samples sit by themselves, letting the samples play out, with expert flourishes of percussion and electronic trickery to flesh out the instrumentation.

It might be contentious to some to include what is essentially a compilation album of previous songs onto this list, but it is for good reason. Here, Nicholas Jaar has arguably made a house album that will transcend normal genre barriers; this is an album that will go down in the history books as one of the best house albums ever made. Funk and soul samples are paired with some of the smoothest percussion heard this year, to make an album that is oozing style, charisma, and panache. – Charlie Leach (@yungbuchan)

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6UMO – Sex & Food

On their newest release, Unknown Mortal Orchestra hone in on the best aspects from each of their previous projects and produce some of their best work yet. The album swings from 80s pop to the psychedelic rock of the 60s and 70s so effortlessly and constantly applies a modern spin to each song, whether it be from the lyrics or production. On ‘Sex and Food’ an excellent mix between a vintage sound and modern ideas if found, as UMO refine their sound and deliver a cleaner than usual selection tracks that may be some of their best yet.

The brilliant songwriting and interesting production of Unknown Mortal Orchestra are sounding as good as ever with this latest project. Sex and Food sees new inspirations emerge and blend with the signature sound of UMO to continue the great track record that the band have formed since 2011. The album also finds more of a cohesive and clean sound than some of the distortion-heavy releases prior to this, which works well with the grooving baselines and beautiful melodies that can be heard throughout the project. Overall, it seems that Unknown Mortal Orchestra have matched, if not exceeded, the quality of Multi-Love, and continue to add to their already intricate and unique sound with a great album that continues to impress. – Ewan Blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)

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5Confidence Man – Confident Music For Confident People

When Australian dance-pop four piece Confidence Man burst onto the scene amidst a flurry of Triple J hype and YouTube comment section detractors with a stunning live rendition of their first single, “Boyfriend”, few expected them to capitalise on that potential and become 2018’s most surprising success story.  It goes without saying that a key component to this sudden rush in popularity is down to their near-flawless debut LP, which is in itself the most fun you’ll have with an album all year.  It kicks off the party with “Try Your Luck”‘s earworm of a melody and doesn’t let go until the final echoes of “Fascination” fade out into the night as you stumble out, breathless and hungry for more.

In the rest of its forty minute runtime, Confidence Man cover a lot of ground for a band who could have been a one trick pony, taking the best bits of house, techno and disco and repackaging them in a contemporary format that recalls the best of Daft Punk, LCD Soundsystem, and Fatboy Slim.  Along the way, they will make you dance, laugh, sing, dance some more, and be oh so grateful that they exist in such dour times like this. – Josh Adams (@jxshadams)

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4Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

After 2013’s still-quite-good-but-underwhelming AM, you’d be forgiven for writing ArcticMonkeys off for good, god knows I did. But now the naysayers as a collective have egg on their ruddy faces! The Sheffield 4 piece are back in town, and they are back with a vengeance. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is the self-inflicted kick up the arse the band had simply to give themselves after the AM album cycle left them positively stagnant.

Gone are the grease and leather jackets from AM, replaced with a Hugh Hefner-esque robe, a stiff whiskey and a wee pipe. TBH+C is lounge music for the modern era. A trip through an astral Las Vegas through the eyes of an aging patron. It’s straight out of left field and it’s all the better for it.

Each song weaves into the last effortlessly. This isn’t an album you can put on shuffle, it’s as deliberate as it is sexy. There’s no banger single on here (bar maybe the album’s centerpiece Four Out of Five), but what you, dear listener, gets instead is an album from a band finally totally free from the shackles of indie rock, and finally comfortable in their own skin. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino sounds, to me, like the album Alex Turner and the boys have wanted to make for a long, long time. It is truly out of this world. – Jake Cordiner (@j4keth)

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3 Parquet Courts – Wide Awake

Who would’ve thought that four white guys playing in a punk outfit in 2018 could sing about how “woke” they are and make it sound convincing? Parquet Courts have long played the role of rock and roll philosophers; co-songwriters Austin Brown and Andrew Savage often dive into popular rock fodder like relationships, travel, and technology, detailing each phenomenon with an enlightened, if blunt, sentiment. And on Wide Awake!, the group return with their trademark urban nervousness, this time with a wider musical palette, courtesy of guest producer Danger Mouse.

Removed from the context of the music, Brown, and Savage begin to sound like paranoiacs, their lyrics veering close to the basket cases spouting off outside of grocery stores and banks. “Lately I’ve been curious/ Do I pass the Turing test?” Savage sings on Normalization, his voice not so much panicked as it is angry, demanding. But for all the furor, the Brooklyn quartet remain woke, even if it’s the kind of social awareness that keeps you up at night: “Mind so woke cause my brain never pushes the brakes!” As always, Parquet Courts make anxiety catchy—to them, the human condition is a mix of mundanity and revulsion, terror and desensitisation, and on Wide Awake!, it’s never without a strong hook.

Oh, and fuck Tom Brady. – Sean Hannah (@shun_handsome)

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2Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar

One of the most exciting acts Scotland has seen in years, Young Fathers returned this year with the much anticipated Cocoa Sugar, an album which continues to showcase their ability to create an explosive collection of innovative and experimental tracks. On Cocoa Sugar, Young Fathers are catchier and poppier than before but sacrifice none of their talent for packing so much intricate detail into short but powerful blasts of music.

The Edinburgh hip-hop trio are as versatile as ever here as well, going from almost spiritual places on tracks such as In My View and Lord to the grit and sinister tones of Wow, Wire, and Toy. Cocoa Sugar gets more impressive with each listen and it’s most impressive aspect is just how layered each track is with its intertwining vocals, driving beats, backing choir and many minor details that you appreciate more and more with each listen. – Ethan Woodford (@human_dis4ster)

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1Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy

What to say about Twin Fantasy that hasn’t already been said? Will Toledo’s lo-fi opus is a source of inspiration to all indie fans of this generation. Toledo’s enormous presence mixed with honest but cryptic storytelling led his diehard fans to pick and dissect every bit of truth behind the album. Usually, this kind of reaction would generate a pretty negative feeling towards the album from the musician’s standpoint, but the art Toledo created in 2011 stood the test of time.

Prompting him to redo the album completely; submerging himself in lyrics and feelings from years prior. This led him to create what is arguably his most grand record to date, labeled as (Face to Face). The structure from the original album is there but everything has been redone in the best possible way. There is enough for fans of the original to feel it has been done justice, but it also stands on its own enough to attract new fans. It’s the perfect love letter to what Car Seat Headrest used to be, written from where the band is now. – Ryan Martin (@ryanmartin182)

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Album Review: S/T by LUMP

words fae michaela barton (@MichaelaBarton_)                                                         rating 7

A successful experimental collaboration between two very distinct musicians is about as rare as spotting a dancing yeti. However, seeing that such a yeti is present in LUMP’s music videos and album art, it appears this fabled occurrence has finally come true.

A musical collaboration between Laura Marling and Tunng’s Mike Lindsay sounds pretty much exactly how you’d expect it. Marling takes the lead with vocals, bringing her signature poetic lyrics with her, whereas the instrumentals are mostly written by Lindsay and continue his usual relaxed, electronic compositions.

With first listening, opening track Late to the Flight sounds like Marling’s recent work, with calm guitar and laidback vocals, with only a distant hint of electronic hum. However, there’s still a definite new musical layer added by Lindsay – subtle enough to not be over-powering and ward off traditional Marling fans but enough to assure that this is an experimental collaboration and won’t be just more of the same old. Of course, Marling fans should be well used to a little experimentation as the singer has never shied away from it in her previous work. Regardless, this will be the first album to focus more heavily on modern instrumentals, with Lindsay proving the importance of composing instrumentals with as much care as crafting lyrics.

Marling’s vocal range is allowed full freedom in this album, though her often preferred tenor growl is present in many verses, choruses allow a rare vocal jaunt into the mezzo-soprano. May I be the Light is one such song that plays with hauntingly drawn out croons adding a bright lilt to the song. Lindsay keeps the synth instrumentals reserved to allow Marling’s vocals centre stage. The synths create a night-time feel, with an undercurrent of 80’s Bladerunner score. A growing urgency is added in the choruses with a galloping drum beat and the simple, monotone synth pattern raises in pitch along with Marling’s vocals in the chorus, mirroring her sudden elation.

The first notes of Rolling Thunder are mystical and weirdly wonderful, with hints of Kate Bush. The whole song sounds at odds with itself but in a very purposeful way. It’s intended oddity with the storm of abstractness being part of the charm. The lyrics are filled with odd, evocative imagery. Every line starts with “I’m a” or “We are” or “You” and there are multiple identities explored throughout the song, highlighting how everyone is more complex than just one title. Just like in her previous album Semper Femina, Marling plays with gender, subverting the usual binary constraints in lyrical perspective with repeated lines like “I’m your mother, I’m your father”, refusing to adhere to restricted gender roles in art. The chorus line “I’m a man, of a certain kind. I’m a woman, of a certain space and time” could be critiquing gender identity roles – men being allowed to choose their identity whereas women have their labels thrust upon them depending on when they exist and what they choose to do or wear. Rolling Thunder is the first track on the album to really show off Lindsay’s electronic musical layering skills and introduces listeners to the more playful, LSD-trip sounding songs.

Curse of the Contemporary was the first song released on the album and performs everything this debut intended. Marling’s vocal talent is at full force in this track, exploring the usually ignored higher notes and layering vocals to allow full submersion for the listener. Lindsay’s talents in instrumentals and tempo are also on point. The melody explores uncommon chord patterns in western music, with the verse almost following traditional Japanese melodies. There’s a musical energy brought by the arrangement and layering of instruments, without simply having to rely on loud percussions. The lyrics explore a well-known subject area for Marling, that of living in California from an outsider perspective. The song warns the listener of the escapist, often vain lifestyle in California.

Marling’s lyrics always seem to circle back to a feeling of dissatisfaction. In the running synth bass, 80’s arcade game sounding track Hand Hold Hero, lyrics discuss feeling trapped. “Oh my back to the wall, better that than trip and fall” seems to discuss the musical tendency to stick to what you know and not experiment, in case you fail to please your audience, something which Marling probably feared when writing for this collaboration. Shake your Shelter is again about feeling trapped, using the imagery of a naked crab desperately trying to find a home but feeling bored when stuck in one shell for too long. The lyrics are repeated throughout over a simple instrumental, with a layering effect on Marling’s vocals, which could signify the repetitive, monotonous cycle of life.

The final track – LUMP is a Product – is just an audio credits over music, which is helpful as a reviewer as we now know who to give credit to. However, as just a casual listener, it is a little strange and will likely be skipped on repeated listens, which reduces the total number of actual songs on this album to only six.

The only real critique for this album is that it left you wanting more. More songs and more abstract experimentation of traditional musical form. Lindsay seemed relatively timid throughout the album, only really getting to fully stretch his composing wings is songs like Curse of the Contemporary and Rolling Thunder. Despite this, the pairing or Marling and Lindsay seemed to work surprisingly well, hopefully, they’ll try collaborating again in the future and this time feel confident enough to fully immerse themselves into their new direction.

blanket carry you into the night sky with debut album How To Let Go

Words by Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

It’s often said that a picture is worth a thousand words; a still image can do more to convey the beauty, emotion, seriousness or heartbreak of a situation better than any piece of writing ever could. But can the same logic be applied to music? Yes, you can relate certain songs to certain periods in your life, but that usually comes with vocals to describe the situation. However, with their debut album How To Let Go, Blackpool cinematic rock outfit blanket have aimed to provide your own blank journal to write your own story.

From the get go, it’s pretty interesting how this album doesn’t use any proper vocals, but manages to say so much through the use of instruments. Title track How To Let Go begins with some delicate, emotional piano with some gentle guitar in the background before bursting into a full band experience. There’s a real prog feel to this album in the way that songs are dragged out to take their time, rather than just being a short verse-chorus-verse affair, giving them time to mature in your head and write your own story.

It’s hard to take the temperature of this album: on the one hand, it feels largely melancholic, the sort of album that would adequately soundtrack a heartbreak, be that a breakup, the loss of a loved one, or dropping your pizza toppings first onto the pavement after a night on the razz. But on the other hand, that’s balanced by a lot of the arrangements and melodies inspiring hope. For instance, the start of Our Tired Hearts feels downbeat, as if rain is gently dripping on you as you walk the streets, but towards the end of the song, the key changes, tempo and general growth in the musical arrangement makes you feel inspired as the rain slowly stops and sunshine burns through the clouds to reveal a beautiful blue sky.

blanket as a band began in Blackpool in 2016, as then roommates and soon to be bandmates Bobby Pook and Simon Morgan would often noodle on guitars and tinkle ivories, writing intertwining melodies, all whilst gazing wistfully skywards at the stars above them, according to their bio on Spotify. Now, as you know, we’re not a PR site that just regurgitates copy into articles, but fucking hell, that paragraph was too beautiful not to include. But the beauty of that paragraph is justified, as blanket’s music does invoke images of the night sky, as the constellations dance to these intertwining melodies, shaping images of your deepest desires.

Three songs into the album, vocals make a cameo appearance in Worlds Collide, which has the same sort of principle where it builds from a minor to a major vibe but on the whole, there’s no real… meaningful vocals, if that’s the right word. How To Let Go says all it needs to without a single word being uttered. It paints a picture in your mind with its cinematic feel. But this is your soundtrack, in this album, you are the star.

The use of instrumentals to paint a picture is very reminiscent of Sigur Ros, namely their untitled album (), with songs like Untitled #1 (Vaka) and Untitled #3 (Samskeyti) saying much whilst saying so little. In this, you don’t really listen to the words, they’re just part of the arrangement, a string section comprised of vocal chords. It’s not as if the vocals have been mixed to be front and centre, as you would on any other album, they slot in with the rest of the song, providing assistance where needed, rather than narrating the song.

To get to the highlight of the album though, you’ll have to hold on until the credits begin to roll. Immemorial Sea is an eight minute epic that has a real slow dance feel to it. Beginning with a subtle heartbeat, the gently plucked guitar drapes itself over the song, this does feel like the soundtrack to a slow dance with your partner. Everything worked out as you delicately step around a deserted dance floor. However, that’s only one perception of this song – you will hear, and see, this song in a completely different way. That’s why it’s so beautiful; your mind’s eye is the canvas, this album is your paint, and the gently played chords allow you to create whatever you see fit.

The tremelo picked riff halfway through the song allows it to quicken in its step, right through to what can only be describe as the sound of someone diving into the water, which moves the song into an emotional string section, and with the combination of the diving sound, the strings and the choral

It could be argued that How To Let Go is a game changer; the marriage of contemporary rock sounds to cinematic soundtrack arrangements, though not massively off the beaten path, feels like it could become part of a wider mainstream genre. In an age where everyone is saying so much, all the time it feels nice to be able to take an hour and not hear a single word uttered, well, not many words uttered. As it says on the tin, blanket wrap you up in their ethereal, tranquil soundtrack and swaddle you as they carry you into the night’s sky.