Top 10 Bon Iver Tracks

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

10. 715 – CR∑∑KS

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

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

9. Flume

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

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

8. Blindsided

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

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

7. Re: Stacks

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

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

6. 00000 Million

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

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

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

5. Heavenly Father

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

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

4. Blood Bank

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

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

3. 29 #Strafford Apts

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

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

2. 22 (OVER S∞∞N)

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

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

1. Beth / Rest

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard Songs

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard never fail to surprise.

Even before their almost impossibly productive 2017, they were renowned for their superhuman work ethic, genre-hopping tendencies, and unmissable live shows. Add the 5 albums of last year into the mix and you’re left with 13 full-length records containing everything from jazz to psychedelic rock to prog and back again, a truly unique discography befitting of a truly unique band.

But this year they’re taking a break from recording, so it seems like a good time to take stock. That’s right, today we will be ranking (see: attempt to) the top 10 songs from Melbourne’s finest. This has been a tough task, but please, sit back, relax, and get ready to be slightly irritated that your favourite didn’t make it.

10. The River

With each of its 4 tracks clocking in at exactly 10 minutes and 10 seconds in length, 2015’s Quarters is a bit of a mixed bag. Half of the album feels like padding to reach the necessary track lengths, full of endless jamming around ideas that would have been better served as much shorter songs. The same cannot be said for its opener though, that being the hazy bliss of The River. Gizzard have ventured into jazzy territory a couple of times, but this track is undoubtedly the greatest of those experiments.

The combination of the 5/4 time signature and production that has the band sounding as if they’re playing through thick smoke is a winning one, lending the track a lo-fi ambiance that’s as catchy as it is intoxicating. Spiraling riffs eventually ebb and flow towards a climactic and potent time signature shift, welcoming in slinky reworked versions of the main guitar lines that cement this as a stone cold classic.

9. Crumbling Castle

This one knocked about in various forms before it’s final incarnation appeared on last year’s Polygondwanaland as its opening track. First, there was a short, 3-minute version played live a few times, then a leaked instrumental demo recording, and finally the proggy behemoth that takes the number 9 spot on this list. The whole 11 minutes are essentially just the band flexing every muscle they have, and it works to awe-inspiring effect.

The main vocals and lyrics are fairly standard, but it’s the instrumentation that really lifts this track. The intricacy of the interlocking guitar parts is pretty much unparalleled in their discography, combining with bubbling synths to create an almost overwhelming experience. Add in some chant-like sections and a ferociously heavy epilogue, and you’ve got an album opener for the ages.

8. The Lord of Lightning

Murder of the Universe is a pretty polarising album. Some love the overtly mystical themes and the narration, but many dismiss it as a self-indulgent misfire lacking in any real substance. There is one thing that most agree on though, and that’s the fact that The Lord of Lightning goes hard. The ominous riff that hangs over the entire song combines with the propulsive drums and frequent freakouts to leave the track feeling like it’s going to blow apart at any moment.

And then it does! Towards the end, off the back of a signature Stu Mackenzie yowl, the guitars grind down to a sludgy crawl, transforming the song into something infinitely more intimidating. It’s perhaps the finest individual moment on any Gizzard record, and more than its earns the song its place on this list.

7. Sense

Paper Mache Dream Balloon is a bit of an outlier, with the manic, conceptual ambition of most releases absent in favour of a breezy psychedelic pop approach. This big a change in sound could have been a disaster, but thankfully it resulted in both an album that still stands as a high point of the band’s career, and yet another stellar opening track. Sense is a relatively simple song, with a repetitive acoustic guitar providing the backing for some sumptuous clarinet, but it’s this simplicity that gives it its charm.

Mackenzie drops his usual staccato delivery in favour of a delicate vocal that floats over the song instead of dictating its direction. The result is a short but instantly memorable track that more than matches up to its flashier, louder siblings.

6. The Bitter Boogie

While Sense, and most of the rest of PMDB, sound as if they were written specifically to be sung around a campfire in the middle of a commune, The Bitter Boogie wouldn’t sound out of place on a western soundtrack. The guitars and harmonica lean heavily on blues influences, while the looping bass and repeating vocal of ‘bitter bitter bitter bitter bitter…’ mixes in a more psychedelic edge.

These elements create a swirling, almost hypnotic groove that’s fantastic even by itself, but towards the end of the track, the vocals of Ambrose Kenny-Smith come in and lift things to another level. His abrasive, almost sleazy style dials the blues up to 11 and the whole thing instantly clicks, with his absence from the rest of the song only serving to heighten the satisfaction when he eventually arrives. The result is an often overlooked classic that only misses out on the top 5 by a hair.

5. Sleep Drifter

Top 5 time! That’s right we’ve reached the big time, and what better way to enter the final straight than with the finest cut from the 2017 microtonal masterpiece Flying Microtonal Banana? Seemingly inspired by a piece entitled Kara Toprak by Turkish poet Asik Veysel, Sleep Drifter showcases the band at their most confident and musically accomplished. Fittingly, the track floats along like a lullaby, with simple, childlike lyrics, ‘I can see you next to me / And it is lovely’ acting as the perfect accompaniment to the gentle yet groovy guitar melodies. The microtones keep you from drifting off though, keeping things intriguingly offbeat and adding in a distinctive and unique flavour that pushes this one into the realm of greatness.

4. Am I In Heaven?

Until it was usurped by Nonagon Infinity, I’m In Your Mind Fuzz was the best example of King Gizzard’s signature brand of frantic, tightly wound psychedelia. Despite opening with a deceptively chilled acoustic section, it’s best track, Am I In Heaven, soon descends into beautiful madness. The Aussies have never again sounded this jacked up, with the rhythm section and guitars galloping along at a thousand miles an hour creating a disorientating wall of noise in the process. Mackenzie’s vocals sit distorted in the mix, screaming nonsense and employing his signature ‘WOOOOOOOOOO’ to electrifying effect. By the time the chorus rolls around he sounds 50 ft. tall, as the chords rise with him. This is perhaps the best example of the band just throwing everything they have at a song and just seeing what happens, and it’s fucking glorious.

3. Head On/Pill

Great debate rages over which album of the 13 is the best. There’s no definitive answer of course, but at the same time, it’s definitely Float Along-Fill Your Lungs. The band’s third record is the most psychedelic they have ever produced, featuring sitars, trippy lyrical imagery and some beautiful kaleidoscopic artwork. The recent vinyl reissue of the album called its opener the ‘Gizzhead national anthem’, and a description has never been so apt.

Whenever this song starts appearing on setlists, fans across the world start talking in hushed tones on internet forums about the possibility of the band playing it when they come to their city, and its not hard to see why. From the euphoric twang of the opening riff through the wild, shimmering ride of the next 16 minutes, this is a song good enough to get you hooked on Gizzard forever. For such a long song, its remarkably catchy, and although it can get repetitive, you soon lose count of the endless cries of ‘PILL’ and just get lost in the psychedelic soup.

2. Robot Stop

As the opening/closing/anywhere in between song on the infinitely looping masterpiece Nonagon Infinity, Robot Stop never fails to get the loudest cheer when played live. It packs in enough ideas to fill an entire album, and even features the return of a motif from I’m In Your Mind Fuzz’ Hot Water, a moment that somehow feels like a natural fit instead of a cheap trick.

It’s got a totally unique energy befitting of its punk-style pacing, bursting out of the traps and quite literally never letting up. But for a track of this rapid a pace, it packs one hell of a melodic wallop, and as far as riffs and solos go this song is an absolute embarrassment of riches, with them all piling up on one another before cascading seamlessly into Big Fig Wasp.

It may well be the band’s defining song, but it’s not quite their best…

1. Float Along-Fill Your Lungs

So here we are, at the summit of Mount Gizzard. It’s been tough whittling down 13 albums to just 10 songs, but there was never really too much doubt about what sits at the top of the pile. The title track from Float Along-Fill Your Lungs isn’t just the band’s greatest song, it’s one of the best psychedelic rock tracks of the last 10 years, and yes you can quote us on that.

The central mantra of, ’Just float along, and fill your lungs / Just float along, and breathe a deep breath’, doesn’t just function as an appropriately hippy-sounding refrain, it encapsulates the vibe of this entire genre of music and of the band themselves. Mackenzie repeats it over a soundscape alive with a million colours, with guitars exploding and reversing back again amidst throbbing synth gurgles; it couldn’t fit together any better.

The result is something that’s somehow both relaxing and thrilling at the same time, with multiple listens revealing new melodies hidden under the layers upon layers of shimmer. Who knows if they’ll ever top it, and we suspect we’ll see them try soon enough, but until then, stay safe, and remember: rattlesnake, rattlesnake, rattlesnake… – Rory McArthur (@rorymeep)

Why Stormzy deserves to headline Glastonbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@notoliverbutler

Okay Embrace leave a lasting impression with ‘Drought (Song of California)’

Centered around twenty-year-old wunderkind David Schaefer, who cut his teeth in the L.A. indie rock circles in his teens with the band French Negative, Okay Embrace find virtue in the bedrock of a bygone era of indie rock: the guitar solo.


On the group’s debut single “Drought (Song of California),” the comparisons to Dinosaur Jr. and Yo La Tengo are obvious and tempting (as are the associations with Third Eye Blind and Semisonic), but it’s the forthrightness and immediacy of the Schaefer’s vocals/lyrics that distinguish Okay Embrace from the cluster of 21st century indie bands fighting for attention and adoration with flashy guitar tricks. Schaefer, with his grounded, commanding voice, finds empathy in the bedridden mother swapping poetry lines with her child and the fire abatement officer lamenting his own inefficacy.

The guitars are fuzzed out and sun-faded, which serve the clarity of Schaefer’s singular voice and hark back to alt rock’s heyday in the 90s. There’s a drought in California, as we all know, but through Embrace’s perspective, it’s a global concern. – sean hannah (@Shun_Handsome)

Architects sonically dominate the landscape with Holy Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@notoliverbutler

Rolo Tomassi electrify and inspire at London’s Scala

If one thing was made clear from this gig, it’s that headlining Scala in London was a special moment for everyone in Rolo Tomassi. As the band’s biggest lead performance to date, they used this golden chance to deliver a set that was both emotionally stirring & delightfully high-octane in equal measure, and after roughly 60 mins of vigorous performing, they managed to perfectly explain what makes them one of the most ambitious, artful & biting bands in math-core working today.

They held back zero punches as soon as the set began, opening with the thunderous & violent third track from their most recent record, Rituals. The band has stated that they enjoy opening with this song as it’s the most attention-demanding and dark track in their arsenal, and that was made immediately clear. Their unconventional lighting set up alternating between mostly red & purple did well to emphasise the bleak and destructive horror this song so boldly throws at you, kicking things into overdrive instantly.

All grounds were covered during the set, they managed to successfully balance aggressive cuts like Balancing The Dark side to side with more dramatic and awe-inspiring songs like Opalescent and Contretemps, whilst making sure the melodic sweetness of songs like Aftermath didn’t lose their impact in the process, and Eva Spence’s magnetic lead performance held it all together. As these songs played she danced around the stage in a complete trance, no clear pattern to her movements, displaying a natural harmony between herself and the music, which only made the set feel all the more raw & alluring.

https://twitter.com/mattjd14/status/1061066423328481281

The most throttling moments of the show were when male vocalist James Spence decided to come forward and take centre stage. The chemistry between everyone in the band was completely tangible from beginning to end but to see James break out of it and deliver his maniacal screams directly to the audience made for some unbridled chaos in the crowd, most notably the point where he stage dived during Alma Mater, only heightening the connection between audience and performer.

The patient & ominous build at the start of Contretemps was performed to full effect, the tension was inescapable as soon as the nimble drums came in and eventually transitioned into the incredibly panicked & distraught opening verse. The keys throughout the whole set sounded gentle & inviting too, which alongside the havoc that you can usually expect from a Rolo Tomassi track was a comforting embrace and only further accentuated the beauty of their more melodic tracks.

This was especially evident during their performance of the incredibly evocative crescendo that occurs midway through The Hollow Hour. It was startling and engaging front to back resulting in a wonderfully opulent climax. There was a charming moment where it was evident that a wrong key was pressed, and the ‘oh s**t’ from James that then followed had everyone giggling.

The touching interval speeches from both Eva & James expressing gratitude for being able to perform here and acknowledging the band members’ family in the crowd brought everything home as they managed to weave in these moments of poignant humbleness seamlessly with the often abrasive song transitions. The fractured, elongated guitar feedback screech that played as they walked off stage left everyone feeling as if they had just witnessed something personal, stirring & dazzling, and they’re absolutely right. – Camden Vale-Smith (@staplebuffalo)

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

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

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

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

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

Mmm. Perhaps not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oliver Butler – (@notoliverbutler)

 

Girl In A Band: Answering That Fateful Question

“I’m sorry if I’m alienating some of you / your whole f*cking culture alienates me”- Bikini Kill.

A few years ago, I wrote a short article on the fated interview question faced by many, many musicians.

Sooooooo…. what’s it like being a girl in a band?

Having had a little experience of being a girl in a band at the time, I felt I could say my piece. I agreed with Kim Gordon in her autobiography (aptly named Girl in a Band) when I said that it was no different from being a boy in a band, as we were, quite simply doing the same thing. I recognised the barriers between women and music careers, but ultimately, I believed that things were by far better now than they used to be. I guess they are. Well, on paper they are. Is the music world still a world that excludes women?

Since starting my band, we have had some incredible opportunities, and of course, I am grateful for every single one of them. However, surely it is not unreasonable for me to be getting tired of being one of only two girls on an entire gig line-up. From what I’ve gathered, the type of music we play, and the music scene, in general, is a boy’s club. For a long time, I just didn’t think there was that many women in bands. But now I’ve learned that this is 100% not the case. We just aren’t getting booked as much as our male counterparts. Why is this? Surely, it’s not that hard to be a bit more inclusive?

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However recently, promoters have started to cash in on this and have started putting on “female fronted bands…”. This is a commonly used term with promoters, bands and reviewers alike. I find it ridiculous. Would you describe a band of guys with a male lead singer as “male fronted?” No, no one would say this, because sadly the assumption is that musicians are male. Surely, it’s not fair then to disregard women’s songwriting and their art, and just make it about their gender? This has been happening to women ever since they started making waves in the music world. In the 1960s, all-girl Merseybeat band, The Liverbirds were booked to play in the famous Star Club in Hamburg, where The Beatles were also playing. They remember (telling Kate Mossman in her BBC documentary “Girls in Bands”) John Lennon saying to them, “Girls with guitars? I bet you that doesn’t work out.” A decade later, when The Runaways were formed, they were shamed for being sexual but leered at for the same reason.

Joan Jett and Lita Ford are incredible guitarists, but at the time they were only seen as leather-clad, jailbait femme fatales. Sadly, things don’t seem to have changed that much. When I went to see Wolf Alice last year, I witnessed a bunch of lewd comments directed at the singer Ellie. I’m sure she’s used to this, but she shouldn’t have to be. A woman should be able to get up and sing a song or play her guitar, without having to worry about what she’s wearing, or what people think of her. This is the kind of thing that Bikini Kill and the other bands of the Riot Grrrl movement were talking about in the 1990s, it really makes me really sad that these songs are still so relevant.

Pale Waves singer, Heather Baron-Gracie tweeted: “If you come to a Pale Waves show and you shout at me to “sing a song naked” I will have you removed in seconds.” Here is a woman in quite a successful pop band, getting angry about the way she is being treated by her audiences. It is good that she can stick up for herself so publicly, however, this treatment of women could possibly discourage young girls to feel that they would be welcome, safe and comfortable expressing themselves in the music world.

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Being a woman in general, you are constantly being fed contradictions. You’re weak, but you must be strong, be smart, but girls are dumb, be sexy, but not too sexy because then you’re a slut. This is, unfortunately, something that follows us into the music world too. Whenever I play gigs, I feel the need to dress up in my coolest clothes and wear lots of makeup. It’s that constant pressure to look good that affects so many women in bands, and a lot of the time it matters more than what the music sounds like sadly. Of course, boys in bands are scrutinised for how they look too, and there is, of course, an expectation for them to look cool. But for female musicians, it almost seems like they’re there to be sex symbols, and their music is secondary. According to Fender, 50% of new guitar players are female, but all of this gets me thinking, how many of that 50% will feel like they’ll be taken seriously?

Are gigs safe spaces for women and girls? Not yet.

Are women musicians respected and recognised for their art? Not yet.

What is it like being a girl in a band? Well, what do you think?
– Beth McLeish (@mixtapeheart)

Get tuned into the radio with Vince Staples on “FM!”

Just over a year on from the critical triumph that was Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples makes a surprise but welcome return with FM!, a fun concept album/EP/mixtape/whatever the fuck it is. While some artists’ side projects between main projects can fade into insignificance, in 22 brief minutes Staples still manages to make a lasting impression.

Although this project is short, Vince packs in the creativity we have come to expect from him. FM! plays out as a radio programme, with a few skits that resemble radio transitions, with the running theme being Vince urging listeners to call in to win tickets to see Kehlani live. With how short the run-time is it is impressive that Staples manages to tie the few tracks included together with a plot making the project feel more cohesive.

As far as the actual musical content the Long-beach rapper delivers, FM! contains some of his catchiest material to date. While the overall themes and sound don’t stray too far from where Big Fish Theory left off, this is not a bad thing at all as we get more of the sharp production we have come to expect from Vince Staples. From opening track Feels Like Summer, Staples continues to demonstrate why he is streets ahead of his competition. One element that is perhaps improved since his last album is the hooks. On this track and throughout the album the choruses pack a punch and refuse to be forgotten.

Thematically, this is familiar territory for Vince, though again this is no weakness as his takes on gang violence are always sincere and compelling. Once again he finds the balance between humour and addressing important issues and it creates a perfect blend of a project that is a fun listen but also a more rewarding listen if you so desire.

As with Big Fish Theory, the highlight of FM! is without a doubt the production. From the sinister bass of Relay with the accompaniment of Vince‘s snarling delivery or the bouncing beat of FUN! that almost sounds out of place but, when paired with Vince, fits perfectly and makes for another stand out moment. With each release, Staples is becoming more and more creative and exciting and even with what could have been a throwaway project, he shows no signs of phoning it in.

For what this project is, it doesn’t leave much to be desired except more of the same from Vince Staples. In fact, the only weak spots on FM! are when Vince is sidelined: Jay Rock, Kehlani and E40 all hold their own but Earl Sweatshirt and Tyga’s interludes underwhelm. On the whole, Vince Staples reminds us of what he is capable of and if this is what he does in his spare time then his next output is one to be excited for. – ethan woodford (@human_dis4ster)

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