Daughters Deliver On “You Won’t Get What You Want”, An Album That Is A Fantastic Pit Of Despair

photo credit: Reid Haithcock

With You Won’t Get What You Want, Daughters may have just released one of the best rock albums in this decade. This album is a catastrophic earthquake of emotion and terror and is ready to destroy everyone who listens to it.

Music changes and evolves constantly. Over the years, artists, bands, record labels, and whole genres will move and sweep along different soundscapes, atmospheres, and whole cultural movements. Before this latest record, the last the world heard of noise-rockers Daughters was in 2010, with their frenetic and electrifying self-titled third album. Daughters are a band that, since their 2003 debut album Canada Songs, have molded and shaped their sound into many different subgenres of rock and metal. Their aforementioned debut album was a blistering eleven minutes of chaotic grindcore. From there, they moved into a longer (albeit not by much) twenty-three minutes of raw and unapologetic mathcore with their second album Hell Songs.

To evolve their sound so rapidly over such a short period is quite an achievement. As such, it can be argued that not many fans or critics alike were really prepared to hear what a new album would sound like after a mammoth eight years. And now we arrive at You Won’t Get What You Want, Daughters’ fourth studio album.

Album opener City Song alludes to the listening experience that is about to be had with this album. A swirling, minimalistic monster, it is a song punctuated by devilish synth-distortion, a spoken word drawl describing an apocalyptic world delivered by vocalist Alexis Marshall and jackhammer-like snare drums, all culminating into a cacophony of noises and instruments that teeter on the edge of losing all control, but are kept back from falling into a chaotic abyss. City Song is in itself a microcosm of the whole album. You Won’t Get What You Want does not have the frenetic energy or brightness of previous Daughters releases; this is an album that revels in the dark, taking joy in recounting all negative aspects of human emotion.

While delving into the darkness of humanity, the band also take a journey through a surprising amount of genres. You Won’t Get What You Want has elements of the noise rock soundscape that the band explored on the previous album, but also stirs into the melting pot a serving of some of the heaviest industrial to come out in years. But, the band do not let up there. Here, the pot is spiced with elements of harsh noise, metal-core, and even blues and shoegaze. There are not many places where this album won’t go to give the listener the most unforgiving experience it can conjure.

After City Songs comes Long Road, No Turns, the third single to come from the album. Drummer Jon Syverson describes the song in a perfectly succinct way: “I feel dizzy listening to it. I feel dizzy playing it”. That dizziness comes from the drastic soundscapes that create this whirring monster of a song. Droning guitars, frenetic, staccato synths, lurching and undulating drum patterns and Alexis’ shouted, emotive drawl echoes over the track, his voice cracking and becoming more and more strained over the track, perfectly encapsulating the ongoing paranoia and hopelessness of the protagonist of the song. As mentioned prior, there is no real escape from this album. Be prepared to go on a horrifying aural journey.

However, that horror doesn’t just come within the brutalising instrumentation and timbres found on the album. In many cases, a sense of unease and nervousness is attained through more surprising avenues. The album allows a respite from its hostility on the song Less Sex. Starting with a racket of noise, the song transforms into a haunting, blues number, accompanied by a blue-inspired vocal performance from Alexis. Bass and synth reverberate at the back of the song, building the tension, until the song explodes into a blur of guitar feedback, sweeping back out to allow the song to build slowly again, ready to deliver its monstrous, wall of sound. These surprising moments are what make this album truly special.

But do not be mistaken by a song like Less Sex as it is clear that this album is ready to assault the ears. The Flammable Man sees the band somewhat return to their metalcore roots, while also updating that often tired sound, managing to make arguably one of the decade’s best metal songs. The last two songs of the album, Ocean Song and Guest House, see the band utilise their instruments with such aplomb, creating wails and noises that did not seem possible from guitars and basses. These no-wave and post-rock epics bookend what is an epic listen, and one that is definitely overwhelming on a first listen.

However, after initially making the plunge into this album, it becomes clear that this is more than a typical industrial or noise rock album. Daughters find so many different avenues on this album to create dismay and despair, yet still keep the listener on their toes. It is debatable whether there is any real downtime on this album, anywhere for the listener to really lose interest. Though this might not be an album for your average music listener, it is certainly one that should be listened to by anyone with an interest in heavy music. With You Won’t Get What You Want, Daughters have created a milestone in rock music. This is an album that will be looked on for years to come as a seminal piece of noise rock, one that will define a generation and influence many that come after it. This album is an apocalyptic whirlwind. Get taken up in the eye of the storm and experience one of the best albums in rock. – Charlie Leach (@YungBuchan)

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IDLES tackle everything from Brexit to gym lads on ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’

Aggressive, political and raw is perhaps the best way to describe UK punk rock five-piece IDLES’ sophomore album, Joy as an Act of Resistance. The follow up to their 2017 debut Brutalism defied all odds for a punk band in 2018, shooting straight to number five on the UK album charts.

Opening with the raw and anthemic Colossus, the album really starts as it means to go on. Huge drum beats accompany the dirty, slow riff while the almost 50/50 blend of screaming and melodic vocals from singer Joe Talbot take centre stage. The repeated lyrics of “it goes and it goes and it goes” create an eery and intimidating listen throughout the whole track, making it a strange but equally enjoyable first listen. The track then slows right down, before launching right into a heavy riff and changing tempo to a much faster feel. The track encapsulates what this album is about, and sets the mood perfectly from the get-go.

 

The songwriting displayed on the tracks throughout this album is perhaps what makes it stick out. Poking fun at all aspects of life in modern Britain, the topics tackled by IDLES on this record range from ‘gym lads’ to politics and Brexit.

Never Fight A Man with a Perm is the second track on the record, and perhaps one of the best on the whole album. It’s the lyrics that particularly stand out on this one. Poking fun at those lads obsessed with the gym and going clubbing to pinch girls’ arses, Talbot sings “You look like a walking thyroid / You’re not a man, you’re a gland / You’re one big neck with sausage hands / You are a Topshop tyrant / Even your haircut’s violent / You look like you’re from Love Island”. 

The album continues to produce great tracks as it goes on. The brilliant chorus of Danny Nedelko is a song worthy of fans to mosh along to at gigs. The track is a strong punk track with a deep, political theme: immigrants. Written about a good friend of the group who is a Ukranian immigrant, the opening lyrics of “My blood brother is an immigrant / A beautiful immigrant” set the mood for the rest of the track. This is precisely what the band, and the spirit of punk, is all about: giving a big ‘fuck you’ to the system.

It’s safe to say the songwriting and vocal style are among the biggest reasons this album has achieved so much. Samaritans deals with toxic masculinity while Great looks at Brexit and scoffs at some of the more irrational reasons people may have for voting. Lyrics such as “Islam didn’t eat your hamster” and “wombic charm of the union jack, as he cries over the price of a bacon bap” work perfectly in this song. They are funny, while also showing how silly this whole Brexit nonsense is.

IDLES have done superbly in this album. While the instrumentation is perhaps not as strong as other records out there and the style is not for everyone, the meaning behind the tracks is what makes it great. This album has soared to number five in the charts and allowed the Bristol punk rock outfit to play massive sold out shows all over the UK. It’s safe to say they are going to continue to do so. – gregor farquharson (@grgratlntc_)

rating 7

Ghostemane struggles to keep things lively on ‘N/O/I/S/E’

words fae liam toner (@tonerliam)

With songs like Mercury: Retrograde going viral, Ghostemane‘s spooky aesthetic and rapid-fire flow have made him an artist worth keeping tabs on.rating 5

Over the past few years, the Florida rapper has managed to gather a great deal of attention in the modern trap scene, in no small part due to his sound encompassing influences from industrial to hardcore, all the way to Memphis rap which was all wrapped up in a black metal aesthetic.

His aforementioned popular single came from his 2017 album Plagues and although the album would show a lot of potential for the young artist due to his uniquely dark style, Plagues would still leave much to be desired for. Coming into 2018 and with his newest album N / O / I / S / E,  there was a feeling of cautious optimism that all Ghostemane’s talents and unique qualities could come together and result in something truly great.

Unfortunately,  N / O / I / S / E falls flat throughout most of its runtime with there being one element that seems to be holding Ghostemane back, that being songwriting. His tenth release actually features great production, arguably some of his best, but the bare bones of each track aren’t as fully developed as it could be which is quite a shame.

Many of the tracks are short in length and don’t develop into much else after a couple of verses: the track Flesh starts with Ghostemane’s signature dark ambient styled atmospherics and into a hardcore breakdown section. This intro serves the track well, putting things into full swing, but after only about 30 seconds of the young star actually rapping, the track falls silent and then goes back to hardcore breakdown section before the track fizzles out at a measly 1:19. This track could stand out as one of his best if he took more time to flesh out the track (no pun intended) with another couple of verses or a vocal hook but the track finishes almost as soon as it starts and it comes across as such a missed opportunity.

A fundamental flaw with this record is that while Ghostemane’s blend of genres is very well done, it seems he is too stuck to the traditional hip-hop way of songwriting. A hip-hop track can be based around one sample for the whole track and still be amazing. However, with Ghostemane’s shorter song lengths and minimal rapping on each track, each song struggles to go anywhere properly exciting. This can be seen on the track The Singularity which sees Ghostemane dip his toes into a fully industrial/goth style song which bares obvious similarities to some Nine Inch Nails work. The song is based around a simple four on the floor kick drum beat which goes between Ghostemane’s singing and then the same beat but much more pummelling and distorted. The song is very interesting on first listen but ends in just over two minutes and no change is made in the basic melodic idea or the structure of the song. This again leaves the listener with a dissatisfied feeling and it’s this feeling that carries on throughout most of the album as almost all of the tracks suffer from these same flaws.

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This ultimately makes the album a bit of a slog due to these criticisms being apparent on nearly every song. The instrumental tracks Intro.Desolation, Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and My Heart of Glass all suffer as well, with the latter being based around a simple guitar riff that seems to build up tension in its repetition only for the tension to blend into more industrial noise which leaves the album on an anti-climactic end. However, this is quite a fitting end for an album that left this impression track after track.

Overall N / O / I / S / E proves to be a disappointing release that could have been so much more. This tends to be a common theme through most of Ghostemane’s work and it’s genuinely a bit sad because he really does have a unique and interesting sound going for him – sadly, he fails to deliver something truly special or consistent.

 

 

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.