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)

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.

Beach House reach the crest of their career on 7

words fae andrew barr (@weeandreww)rating 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Every Arctic Monkeys Album, Ranked From Worst to Best

While they may have inadvertently caused a decade’s worth of sub-par indie rock acts to follow in their footsteps, it’s hard to argue that the Arctic Monkeys haven’t helped to define a decade of music, at least in the UK. Hailing from Sheffield, this band have managed to not only be critically acclaimed throughout their whole career but also commercial, managing to make it just as big across the pond as they did at home. With a new album set to drop anytime in 2018, Andy (@weeandreww), Ethan (@human_dis4ster), Oli (@notoliverbutler), Rory (@rorymeep) and Ross (@rossm98) determine which Arctic Monkeys album is truly the best. So, without further ado, let’s get this list built brick by brick…

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

5. AM (2013)

Rory [5th]: Perhaps the obvious choice for the last position on this list, but… that’s just because of how bad it is. AM is every inch a dud, and listening to it now provides just as much disappointment as it did back in 2013. Not even a Josh Homme cameo manages to inject any degree of passion or excitement into these tracks, with the majority just sounding half-arsed. Sure, there are a few gems, Do I Wanna Know? and R U Mine? are classics, but that just doesn’t obscure that the rest of the record is a total wet blanket. Gone is the energy of previous albums, and in its place a turgid, dull attempt at reinvention; the sound of a band who forgot what made them great in the first place.

Ethan [5th]: AM. What to say about this garbage. I really really hate this album and I don’t know what to say. It has 2 good songs? The rest all sound the same and it’s just a complete bore. Honestly what happened to Alex Turner? This album is creepy, it’s vapid, it’s devoid of personality, it’s trash.

Andrew [5th]: It will surprise no one to see the Sheffield four-piece’s latest record bottom of the list, and I am not going to buck that trend. However, I will stand in defence of this record against the hyperbole it has been tarred with since its release in 2013. It’s far from being vintage Arctic Monkeys, but the record has a very clear aesthetic running through every track – and when it’s executed well, like on the snarling one-two opening of Do I Wanna Know? and R U Mine?, it hears the band at their best with a sound that marks new territory on the 5th LP of their career – no mean feat.

However – while the dark, sultry aesthetic runs through every track – the execution is far less consistent, which leaves tracks like I Want It All and Fireside which sound lazy, unwritten and unfinished and that they only made it on the album for Alex Turner to swivel his hips to on stage in pursuit of his newfound sleazy persona. It’s worth noting though that for every Fireside, there’s a stunner like the Josh Homme-aided Knee Socks. The verdict: Arctic Monkeys’ worst album? Undoubtedly. A bad album? By no means.

Oli [3rd]: Humbug and Suck It And See were whelming at best, and largely underwhelming, so AM came like a breath of fresh air in 2013. Right from the rough mix of R U Mine, the hype was building for this new album, and it lived up to expectations. The slow, cool feel to this album is what makes it great. The smoothness of the tempo makes you feel you’re sat in a smoky club, bathed in a sultry red light. Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High slaps with a capital S, and Arabella is an absolute must-queue when you’re driving in the later summer sun.

Ross [5th]: AM returns to where the Monkeys feel most at home: the club, the bar, the house-party. Unfortunately, it is incredibly hard to write music for these places that has an abundance of originality or complexity. However, it was clear that Alex Turner had a vision for this project, and it was expressed well in its tone. Despite this, for a band that’s been going for 10 years and are five albums in, this album seems to be a warning that things are getting a bit dry.

4. Humbug (2009)

Ethan [4th]: For me, Humbug is more interesting than it is loveable. It doesn’t have the replay value of Arctic Monkey’s other records but it is definitely their riskiest. At the time of its release, it perplexed many fans at first but all the key elements of the band were still there, most notably Turners lyrical ability still improving upon his already high standards. However, for me, the sound doesn’t have as much versatility as the band like to think it does and by the end of the album, it becomes slightly one note. Far from a bad album, even though it’s not their best many of the bands they originally impaired couldn’t make an album this innovative but it was an interesting detour and will always be definitive in their career as it showed they weren’t afraid to stray from the norm.

Andrew [1st]: Humbug is undoubtedly the weird Arctic Monkeys’ album. It was recorded in the desert and produced by Josh Homme, but it is the record’s songwriting that sets it apart from the rest of the Sheffield band’s discography – conscious of becoming pigeonholed as ‘just another indie rock band’, Humbug is a sharp left-turn, where the band largely avoid writing hooks in favour of moodier, more progressive, psych-influenced tracks. As you would expect, this bold move divided fans and critics, but personally, I think it’s the best record the band have released so far.

Sonically, it is their most consistent and cohesive album, with this plodding sound running through every track, the guitars are generally slower but sound almost quadruple-tracked with menace and there are keys on every track which adds a new layer to the record’s psychedelia. Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to this record is that Turner’s lyricism doesn’t shine as brightly as other records – because the instrumentals are so good. His role on Humbug is subtly different – it’s not a spoken word record but he typically sings less and more adopts the role of narrator on certain tracks – and he is a narrator who seems to revel in the eeriness of his tales.

Oli [5th]: Bollocks to you and your takes. “But Butler!” I hear you cry “Humbug is a GOOD album”. But it’s not. Of course, one album has to come last in this ranking, but this album deserves to come last. It was a case of third album syndrome for AM, as Humbug just didn’t do anything to further or build on what the first two albums, and it just felt like generic indie-by-numbers. Some sort of 2006 indie explosion offshoot, like it, could’ve been by a band called The Ejaculating Raspberries and just had AM’s name slapped on top of it, because they’d spent all their studio time playing Tetris or something. Crying Lightning is still a tune, but the rest of it? Disgusting. Get away with you.

Ross [4th]: One of the darker albums from the boy’s discography, resembling a product of The Doors or even Echo and the Bunnymen, Humbug seems a little too forgetful. Nevertheless, it was a change for Turner to write with heavy, sexy overtones and a necessary one at that. The project’s importance to the listener doesn’t quite match the importance of Turner’s style evolving. Its production is flamboyant and obnoxious, and a little too much. Humbug is like a good looking, well baked caked that, when it comes to scranning, is just too sweet.

Rory [3rd]: And now we get to the really good stuff. This one polarised, and continues to polarise, fans when it came out, and it’s not difficult to see why. While Favourite Worst Nightmare saw the band shake up their sound a little, Humbug saw the boys from Sheffield shed many of their established hallmarks entirely. In the process though, they crafted a pretty damn great album. These tracks double down on the darkness hinted at on their sophomore record, with some such as My Propeller coming across outright menacing. The added use of keyboards only adds to this wonderfully enthralling atmosphere, injecting tracks like Pretty Visitors, an all-time top 5 Arctic Monkeys tune if you ask me, with a brilliant sense of intensity. It’s not perfect of course, but it’s a damn sight more interesting than most third records and stands as the most recent truly great effort from the band. 

3. Suck It And See (2011)

Andrew [2nd]: On listening to the easy-going Suck It and See, it’s easy to forget how bold a record this truly is. British rock bands are given a particularly hard time when it comes to “selling out” – diluting their sound and its quirks for mainstream success (just look at the comments of a Biffy Clyro Facebook post). Therefore, it was incredibly bold for the Arctic Monkeys to make their 4th LP a straight-up, 60s-inspired pop record. The sound actually suits them down to the ground – Alex Turner’s lyricism perhaps shines brighter than on any other record, and the instrumentals are irresistible.

Tracks like Piledriver Waltz and Love is a Laserquest are built on warm guitar tones which feel uplifting and melancholy simultaneously – the title track and She’s Thunderstorms both have a classical sound to them which perfectly align with Turner’s lovesick lyrics – this album sounds like the instrumentals were written to match the lyrics which results in a beautifully inviting sound throughout. However, the Arctic Monkeys didn’t lose their edge – Library Pictures and Don’t Sit Down… are bangers nightmarish enough to fit on Humbug – so Suck it and See showcases the four-piece’s versatility – and their talent for being really fucking good at everything.

Oli [4th]: I remember being absolutely underwhelmed by this album. It came at a time where I was getting more and more into music, so I er, ahem, acquired it when it came out and spent much of my remaining study leave playing this album on repeat, and I just couldn’t grow to like it. Maybe I had high hopes for it being massively into indie and the like back then, and it didn’t live up to my huge expectations, but even today I still don’t enjoy it. It just felt a bit flat and didn’t feel as rough and edgy as the first two albums, and I still feel a bit bored with it today. However, Black Treacle still remains a sweet favourite.

Ross [1st]: This writer is prepared for impending hate but will firmly stand his ground on this one. In terms of writing, instrumentation, production and delivery, this is the Arctic Monkey’s best album. The timbre dances around a shoegaze tone that entwines beautifully with Turner’s poetry in ‘The Hellcat Spangled Sha la la’ and ‘That’s Where your wrong’. However, the band also stick close to their roots by coming out with other heavy ballads with their unique edge in ‘She’s Thunderstorms’ and ‘Library Pictures’. Alex Turner is without a doubt at his best lyrically, just off the back of writing the critically acclaimed soundtrack for the film ‘Submarine‘. In terms of technical ability, the Arctic Monkeys have never delivered so well as they did on Suck it and See. The album’s direction clear, Turner’s vision is displayed perfectly through his lyrics, which is emphasised through the backline’s performance and input on the tracks. It is a masterpiece.

Rory [4th]: It’s easy to forget just how decent this one is. While it doesn’t have the youthful bombast of their early work or the radio-friendly slickness of AM, this sunny collection of tunes remains a perfectly enjoyable, and occasionally great, chapter of the band’s discography. Admittedly, it contains a few dull exercises in mid-tempo balladry, but when all the parts click into place there’s some undeniably great music that often unfairly falls through the cracks. Black Treacle and The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala, for example, both deserve to rank amongst the bands finest moments, and it’s a shame that their positioning within an otherwise average record tends to obscure that.

Ethan [3rd]: Suck It And See was yet another twist in Arctic Monkeys discography. Bar a couple of tracks, it is mostly a collection of much simpler, quieter tracks, showcasing Turner’s voice, lyricism and charm. Perhaps showing their growth as people as well musicians, the tracks focus less on tales of drunkenness like their earlier albums. Maybe disappointing for some fans to see this departure but it gave us beautiful songs such as Love Is a Laserquest so no complaints from me. It lacks the raw energy that made their first two albums truly great albums but it is still a worthwhile addition nonetheless.

2. Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)

Oli [1st]: You don’t headline Glastonbury after two albums for no good reason, and FWN proved that AM were no turkeys. From front to back, this is such an enjoyable album and built on that rough-but-refined sound that WPSIAM brought to the table. Right from the first frantic bar of Brianstorm to the anthemic 505, this represented an early peak in AM’s career. One of the definite standouts on this album is If You Were There, Beware. The way that every note on that riff is stabbed is absolutely sublime. That being said, the word sublime could be applied to every album.

Ross [3rd]:  This top 3 was the hardest to decide. It was migraine worthy. Delivering a follow-up album that was the same standard as their debut was always going to be a struggle for Turner, but this one was a real team effort from the band collectively. With Matt Helder’s explosive drums in ‘Do Me a Favour’ to Jamie Cook and Nick O’Malley’s punchy bass and electric guitar in ‘Old Yellow Bricks’, Turner took common, upbeat Alt. Rock and gave it a slick edge. In the second half of the album, he also shows the other weapons in his armoury, with ‘505‘ and ‘The Only Ones Who Know’ proving that he can go from a hard-hitting anthem to a slow, carefully crafted love song. This album quite simply shook up the foundation of Indie music.

Rory [2nd]: An altogether darker and more restrained effort than their debut, this second album still manages to run its predecessor close for the number one spot. Although more of a gradual progression in sound than a dramatic shift, these tracks simmer with a different kind of underlying intensity. Turner’s vocal delivery is sharper and more aggressive, and the same goes for the instrumentation, resulting in an album that’s effectively one long shot of energy. Tracks like Balaclava and D is for Dangerous deserve to be thought of as some of the best indie rock songs of that decade, and even when they play it a little safer, like on the Channel 4-core of Fluorescent Adolescent, they normally stick the landing. 

Ethan [1st]: Favourite Worst Nightmare could have been such a different result. Bands often define their career with their second album, either setting their sights on bigger and better things or staying content with what they are already doing and showing little desire to be truly great. While some seem to think FWN is similar to their debut album, that is far from the truth if you really delve into their best album. The biggest change is their improvements musically, it flows perfectly track to track and each member is in spectacular form, Matt Helders especially, and its distinct sound is forever immersive. Moving on thematically from their debut, this album is more sophisticated yet still holds Turner’s signature charm on tracks such as Fluorescent Adolescent yet foreshadows the darkness of Humbug on If You Were There, Beware. Favourite Worst Nightmare finds the band at their peak in every sense and leaves us with a perfect album.

Andrew [4th]: Favourite Worst Nightmare is a very good album – however it comes in second-bottom for me due to the Arctic Monkeys’ incredible consistency. On (almost) every record, the band have clearly tried to experiment and find a brand new sound – and this is where Favourite Worst Nightmare loses out for me. There is clear development from the debut (Alex Turner’s lyrical maturity and Matt Helders’ drumming have come on leaps and bounds, and shine on this record), however there is no reinvention of the band’s sound like there is from this record to Humbug.

That does nothing to discredit Favourite Worst Nightmare as an excellent collection of songs – Teddy Picker is arguably the first time the band brought a real sense of swagger to a track, Fluorescent Adolescent is arguably still the best pop song Alex Turner has written and on the other side of spectrum, Do Me a Favour is a brilliantly typical Arctic Monkeys moody banger. However, the showstopper is closer 505 – an eerily beautiful track beginning in a hush which grows in power and menace as it powers on, propelled by some of Alex Turner’s greatest lyrics, before it explodes into a massive climax which somehow still incorporates the track’s eeriness – a sign of the band’s mammoth potential and left-field leanings.

1. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006)

Ross [2nd]: The reason this album is so impressive is the pressure put on such a young band from the get-go. They released the singles of WPSIA on SoundCloud for free and they blew up with popularity. Instantly dubbed ‘Britain’s answer to The Strokes’ and the band that ‘Is carrying the Torch of The Libertines’, you’d think any teenage band from Sheffield would crumble. Instead, the Arctic Monkey’s rode the hype and captured young, working-class British Culture in an album. This showed through it being the fastest-selling British record of all time. Its intimate production, rough grungy guitars and intense vocals came together to make one of the best Indie records of all time. But it’s not their best.

Rory [1st]: The first, and still the best. It’s the obvious choice for the number one spot but for very good reasons; all these years later it still manages to hold up as an exciting and engaging listen. Around every corner, there’s a track you thought you forgot about, but it’s not the nostalgia of rediscovering old favourites that makes this album great, it’s the sincerity. Whatever you feel about his later shifts in persona and whatnot, on this record, Alex Turner comes across at his most genuine, humble, and human, and that really lends these tracks a special feeling. Whether he’s cheekily recounting the tale of a run-in with the cops on Riot Van or just straight up singing about a Sheffield night out, it’s hard not to grin along and get wrapped up in the sheer fun of it all. Admittedly, it spawned a thousand painfully dull copy-cats, but that shouldn’t obscure just how good this debut was, and is.

Ethan [2nd]: An instant classic, Arctic Monkeys debut album is a burst of personality and passion. WPSIATWIN announced their arrival with so much confidence yet is endlessly likeable. Young Alex Turner’s performance is always the highlight, delivering his witty observational lyrics with sincerity. The album that transformed Arctic Monkeys into one of the countries biggest bands and birthed an entire era of music, WPSIATWIN is still equally as vital today, each song holding its own atmosphere and story yet they all come together in Turner’s fully realised world of Sheffield as a teen and it is still a joy to hear his stories each time he tells them.

Andrew [3rd]: The Arctic Monkeys’ debut arguably still characterises them in a sense that most band’s debuts rarely do – and for good reason. Whatever People Say I Am… has become nothing short of legendary since its 2006 release, propelling the band into superstardom almost overnight, and it’s easy to see why. The record is a concept album – a love letter to Sheffield nightlife and all its trials and tribulations, and Alex Turner’s poetry is told atop a fusion of Strokes-esque New Wave and punk, and it’s a sound that countless indie bands still pine for, long after Arctic Monkeys moving on.

What has made this album so legendary to this day is how relatable almost every track is to anyone familiar with clubbing – take Dancing Shoes’ anecdote of being too nervous to approach a love interest or Fake Tales of San Francisco’s snarling put-down of try-hard, inauthentic local bands. Both these topics could be perceived as mundane, but Turner’s lyricism elevates these tracks to anthem status, combined with the youthful energy of the instrumentals. Whatever People Say I Am.. was a record that boldly demanded the spotlight, and the Arctic Monkeys’ following output has refused to ever give that up.

Oli [2nd]: A staple of every pre-drink playlist from the years 2009 to well, today, WPSIATWIN is definitely one of “those” albums that represent the changeover from shy wallflower to overly noisy piss artist in my life. Walking around my mate’s uni digs, sinking a disgusting amount of spiced rum and letting tracks like Riot Van and I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor to permeate the excitement in the room. This album would follow us around too because somewhere around 2am, we’d all be flapping about to When the Sun Goes Down. The rough, live feel of this album really adds to it, and even when it first came out I was blown away by it, and sometimes still am.

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

ALBUM REVIEW

by andrew barr (@weeandreww)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rating 8

Every Biffy Clyro Album, Ranked From Worst to Best

Considering they make up one half of this site’s name (you know, the one you’re reading from just now), it’ll come as no surprise that we’re big fans of Biffy Clyro and who can blame us. Having went through multiple iterations in terms of sound (from angsty grunge to awe inspiring weird prog rock), the divide amongst fans about which album of theirs deserves the crown has went on for as long as the band have been around: hell, we’ve already done this before when this site was just a small wee thing but much has changed since then both with us and the biff.

Today is the day the questioning will die though as Ethan (@human_dis4ster), Jake (@jjjjaketh), Liam (@blnkclyr) and Oli (@notoliverbutler) definitively answer which record from the Ayrshire trio reigns supreme – it’s time to build this fucker stone by stone…

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

 

7. Ellipsis (2016)

Liam [7th]: I still remember the slagging I got from Biffy fans when Wolves of Winter came out and I called it “more Biffy 3.0 than Biffy 2.5”, something that could be said for the entirety of this album. Ellipsis is by no means a bad album, featuring tracks that are honest to god great like In The Name Of The Wee Man, but it doesn’t feel unique enough to stand out from the previous three albums the band had dropped in this style – more disappointing than weak.

Oli [5th]: No, you’re stupid. Don’t care what you think, this might be Biffy’s softest record, but who can resist the charms of Medicine, People and Re-Arrange? The soulless, faceless consumers that have never loved and lost. I attach a special & emotional meaning to this record that makes it a cut above the rest for me.

Jake [7th]: Biffy’s latest is far from bad but it’s their weakest. In interviews prior to the album’s release, Simon Neil said Ellipsis was inspired by artists like Death Grips and Deafheaven, and when this turned out to not be true, fans of the band were understandably a bit ticked off. Songs like People and Herex are cookie cutter rock but there are some shining lights on the record in the form of Small Wishes and Wolves of Winter. The main event of the album is undoubtedly In the Name Of The Wee Man, which was, for some reason that is beyond this writer, relegated to a bonus track. It’s a furious jolt of adrenaline that, hopefully, we’ll get to see more of on LP 8.

Ethan [7th]: As time goes on, I dislike this album more and more and the same can be said about most of the tracks on here. Animal Style is exactly what I wanted from this record so when it turned out to be an anomaly, it made the rest of the album a bit of a chore. Clearly finding the band at an awkward stage in their career, Ellipsis just seems to lack any real urgency or ambition – it is hardly bad enough to ruin the band’s legacy but signals a need for a reinvention on their next venture.

 

6. Opposites (2013)

Oli [7th]: Much like myself, Opposites is bloated, unnecessary and largely forgotten about. Any Biffy list feels unfair because someone has to come last. Opposites produced a hearty handful of choice singles, but on the whole, felt a bit cumbersome & stodgy as a double album.

Jake [6th]: Double albums almost never work, but I think Biffy have come the closest ever to making a coherent one. Not to say Opposites is perfect, far from it with with tracks like Trumpet or Tap being weird for the sake of it as opposed to the natural oddity that Biffy tend to radiate and Opposite is just a bit bland. That’s not to say there’s not belters either: Accident Without Emergency is a soaring bit of stadium rock, as is setlist mainstay Different People, and tracks like Spanish Radio and Little Hospitals keep the weirdness factor at a cosy level. If some filler had been left on the cutting room floor, Opposites would be held in higher regard but as it is, it’s still a great, yet bloated record.

Ethan [6th]: The band, after the popularity of Only Revolutions, faced a dilemma with their sixth album, having to choose between continuing down a more commercial path or going back to their roots, and the band opted to do…both. A double album that contains more accessible tracks such as Biblical and Black Chandelier but also tracks that are reminiscent of their earlier years such as Trumpet or Tap, the band attempted to please both camps and unfortunately came up short on both. Still an adequate Biffy album, Opposites has many highlights but its length and inconsistency in quality and tone let it down.

Liam [5th]: I’ll be echoing the same sentiment as you lot have since, aye, there’s undeniably a bit of unnecessary flubber on this behemoth but when this beast roars, I’m left in awe; Victory Over The Sun manages to feel like an honest to god predator, a suspenseful intro paving the way for the chaotic hunt that makes up most of this track. In addition, Sounds Like Balloons is Biffy at their viscous best and while it may be a bit too polished, Biffy’s “pop rock” is miles ahead of most other rock bands. I have some attachment to this record, as I do with most of Biffy, but there’s a lot to love here for any fan of music, even if there’s some that you’ll pass on.

 

5. Only Revolutions (2010)

Jake [5th]: The true beginning of the mainstream Biffy we all know and love* (*have come to terms with), Only Revolutions is still a damn fine record. It manages to tow the line between “Weird Biffy” and “Straightforward Biffy” relatively well for the most part, songs like Born On A Horse with its driving synth and Cloud of Stink with it’s falsetto vocals are welcome spells of strangeness. But the weird is tucked in alongside some of the most straightforward Biffy songs to date in Mountains, God & Satan and Many of Horror. Still, straightforward doesn’t mean bad, not by a long shot, and this is a very strong pop rock record.

Ethan [5th]: The album that lost them hundreds of fans but gained them thousands, Only Revolutions was Biffy completely embracing their mainstream audience with huge singles such as Mountains and Many Of Horror. Their talent for instrumental structure and interesting lyrics was still there though it pales in comparison with their work before. An enjoyable listen rather than a truly great album, the album did its job as it propelled the band to arena status and made them Scotland’s biggest band but left fans like myself wanting a bit more and feeling cautious about the band’s future musically.

Liam [6th]: I feel like I’ll get butchered for having this below Opposites but where that album felt like it was trying to spice up the formula a bit, Only Revolutions kind of came off as that kid that copies someone (Puzzle) else’s homework and gets a grade below them. There’s some undeniable bangers on here, why else would I own it on vinyl, but this album’s peaks are only kinda high, compared to most other Biffy record where you feel like you’re getting vertigo.

Oli [3rd]: This is a fantastic album, and really began to prick up a few ears outside of their closed inner circle, culminating in a headline show at Wembley Arena, plus a support gig on one of Muse’s Wembley Stadium gigs (first time I saw Biffy, was mesmerised by the hard rock, shirtless Father Christmas called Simon Neil). Much as we like to poke fun at Matt Cardle’s version, Many of Horror is a banger, so it Mountains, so is God & Satan.

4. Blackened Sky (2002)

Ethan [4th]: Doing exactly what a debut album should do, Blackened Sky announced Biffy Clyro’s arrival and was bursting with potential. While their influences are easily distinguishable, this is common for a debut album and while that is probably its biggest weakness, Biffy added enough flavour of their own and their raw aggression and ambition overpowers the album’s flaws.

Liam [3rd]: Yup, it’s not the most original work ever made but that doesn’t mean that the sheer rawness of this angsty bastard isn’t deserving of critical applaud. Much like the rest of the original trilogy and Puzzle, there’s not one slip up, no weak moment to point out that feels like it could have been tweaked. While their fourth record had the saddest subject matter, Blackened Sky is my go to record when I want to feel miserable and enjoy it.

Oli [5th]: Justboy is the best Biffy song ever, fight me irl. Solid debut album from Biffy, introducing their electrifying brand of alt-rock to the world, and albeit not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, was the beginning of something very special.

Jake [4th]: What a charming wee record this is. The Biff’s debut wears its influences not just on its sleeve, but on every item of clothing it’s wearing. It’s obvious that the band had been listening to a lot of Nirvana, Pixies and Fugazi, and they channelled those influences to great effect on Blackened Sky. The loud/quiet/loud song structure on songs like Kill The Old, Torture Their Young and Stress on The Sky are complimented beautifully by the quieter songs like Christopher’s River and Scary Mary. Nothing groundbreaking, but a fantastic framework for The Biff to build upon.

3. Infinity Land (2004)

Liam [2nd]: Weird, erratic, random (but not the XD kind), Infinity Land would be the last record I’d recommend to first time Biffy listeners but that’s not to imply a lack of quality. Considering the underground success the band were experiencing at the time, it’s admirable that instead of going down the path they would trod half a decade later, Biffy chose to turn the dial up to 11 and make an album that, while sporadic in nature, was 100% them.

Oli [4th]: Another one where you pick it up because of how cool the cover art looks, which probably applies to the whole Biffy discography. Lyrically and sonically this was a much darker album compared to VoB and Blackened Sky, and got even crazier in terms of curveball riffs & manic time structures.

Jake [2nd]: I’d say Vertigo of Bliss was insane, and I mean it, but that must make Infinity Land a few steps above insane. Biffy just threw everyfuckingthing at this album, regardless if it made a modicum of sense, and by some miracle it worked. Si’s lyrics had always been a bit vague but the surrealness factor was turned up to 11 on Infinity Land, and it’s better for it. One of the most important rock records of the 21st century for me.

Ethan [3rd]: By far their darkest and perhaps their most obscure album, Infinity Land is maybe overlooked but personally I feel its Biffy at their most inventive. Simon Neil’s vocals are phenomenal  as he adapts to each track with ease and his delivery is commanding no matter what is required of him. The album is unpredictable and exciting even on the 100th listen as tracks such as There’s No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake are heavy but are laced with surprises and twists that make it, and the rest of the album, so intriguing.

2. Puzzle (2007)

Liam [4th]: Out of the first four albums, this is the one that I’ve listened to the least though a) that doesn’t mean much considering I’ve probably listened to them nearly a thousand times collectively and b) this is down to just how cathartic and emotionally charged Puzzle is. True, it’s a lot more friendly to new comers but to imply that means there’s a dip in quality would be naive and flat out wrong: Simon Neil’s lyrics are authentic as well utterly heartbreaking and with how varied the instrumentals can be on here, it allows for a truly enthralling journey of grief.

Oli [1st]: This was probably the record that began the tip from Biffy being time-signature weirdos to hard rock megaliths. For instance, Machines is a song that speaks to everyone on every emotional level, and there’s a good reason Living Is A Problem is still in the setlist today. This record is a record that I can listen to anytime, anywhere.

Jake [3rd]: The opening chapter of Biffy’s second trilogy is the saddest album in their discography. Written in the wake of the death of Simon’s mum Elanor, the album is far more straight forward from a songwriting perspective than anything they’d released prior. The lyrics obviously centre heavily around death and dealing with loss and the instrumentation ditches the strange time signatures and use of left field instruments that had been the calling card of the bands first 3 albums, and instead they elected to things simple. And it worked. A heartbreaking album.

Ethan [2nd]: Perhaps the pivotal moment in Biffy Clyro’s discography, Puzzle is a complete departure from Infinity Land, while still remaining heavy enough to keep longtime fans happy, Puzzle ventured into more accessible territory that widened their audience. For that reason Puzzle was a crossover success, and deservedly so as it contains some of Biffy Clyro’s most emotionally powerful songs and further showed their range and versatility as a band.

1. Vertigo of Bliss (2003)

Oli [2nd]: Definitely one of those records you pick up because of how cool the artwork is, VoB was fully immune to second album syndrome, becoming a furious hard rock odyssey that only further Biffy as alt-rock darlings. Simon Neil teased the intro to With Aplomb during their 2016 tour, and arenas full of people constantly blew their beans at the prospect of with aplomb.

Jake [1st]: VOB is a smashing big cacophony of insanity that is the benchmark from which all subsequent Biffy Clyro albums will be measured against. It’s just a very weird and very, very good slice of alt-rock/post-hardcore and it cemented Biffy from relatively early on in their career as a band not to be ignored

Ethan [1st]: On their follow up, Biffy perfected the approach they had taken on their debut and capitalised on it massively. Crossing over a multitude of genres, Biffy invented their own brand and produced a stellar collection of songs that still stand as many of their best. From the delicacy of All The Way Down to the ferocity of Now The Action is On Fire, the band showed every aspect of their potential on Vertigo of Bliss, including Simon Neil’s lyrics being at their most subtle and sincere.

Liam [1st]: This was the album for me that not only solidified why I want to write about music but why I adore it. Zany, unpredictable, clamorous and, most of all, entertaining, Vertigo of Bliss may not be Infinity Land’s equal in terms of how unstable it is, but it more than makes up for it with how it balances the ferocity of Blackened Sky’s performances and the beauty of Si’s lyrics.

 

 

The BLINKCLYRO Christmas Wishlist!

Christmas is coming, and the goose is getting fat, we’ve had a fantastic year in music, and Morrissey’s still a fucking twat.

Despite the fact it’s been a scintillating year in the music industry, everyone here at Blinkclyro is salivating at the chops, begging for more in 2018. So we tasked our finest writers (that’s all of them) to write a letter to that nice man who lives at the North Pole, asking him for some musical gifts in the new year.

Those who failed to write letters will receive a copy of Divide by Ed Sheeran and will be forced to watch hours of Liam Gallagher footage, A Clockwork Orange style.


I would like double the amount of albums King Gizz managed this year. 4 (5?) just isn’t enough and I wanna hear them do a doom metal album. Some new Sigur Ros material would be lovely too, and could you throw in a Courtney Barnett / Kurt Vile UK tour while you’re at it! Please, could you also make Ed Sheeran go away, just for a year, I’m begging you.” – Rory McArthur (@rorymeep)

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“Hey Santa,

 I would like some new stuff from Chance the Rapper and The Wytches. It would also be great if Sky Ferreira could make a musical comeback and if someone could tell Weezer it’s not 1996. PS. I would also like to join Brockhampton, Thanks! x” – Isabella McHardy (@isabellmchardy)

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“Well, the same as every year, I want a White Stripes reunion, but that’s not happening anytime soon so I’ll settle for new La Roux and Drenge albums please and thanks, Santa! x” – Ethan Woodford (@human_dis4ster)

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” I would like a new Biffy Clyro album where half of it doesn’t sound like Hanson doing a Biffy Clyro impression. I’d also like Kanye West to release at least some of the collaboration’s he’s teased. Kanye with Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert and Kendrick sounds lovely and I’ve done the washing all year Santa PLEASE” – Jake Cordiner (@jjjjaketh)

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“Hey, Santa: Really excited to see what Frank Ocean has to offer considering he said “you’re gonna love 2018”, would love some more surprises from artists I haven’t heard before bringing out albums that I love and also albums being released by some of my all time favs like Bring Me The Horizon and MIKA!” – Will Sexton (@willshesleeps)

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“Dear Santa,

I’d like the new Father John Misty LP nearly as much as I want the press cycle where he bullies just about every journalist in music. CRJ following up the best pop album (and b-sides collection) of our times wouldn’t go amiss either, and, if I’m not being too greedy, a few reminders throughout the year that Frank Ocean still exists.” – Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

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“Dear Santa, some new material from Danny Brown would be quality! Also, hope to see The National finally recording a studio version of Rylan. Please though, for the love of god, somebody put LG in the bin. Cheers x” – Kieran Cannon (@kiercannon)

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For the bland white boy house/techno scene in Glasgow to become more interesting and inclusive: give us diverse lineups but like also maybe Gabber yaaas” – Liam Toner (@tonerliam)

“For LCD Soundsystem to do a Brockhampton and drop 3 masterpieces in one year, and for Eminem to retire to his slippers and anger management classes.” – Josh Adams (@jxshadams)

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“For Kanye West to get his finger out and give us that Turbo Grafx 16 LP he’s been promising. A new Death Grips LP will make me a very happy boy: as would the swift death of boring Lad Rock – cheers big man” – Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)

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“I would like to see a Muse album that isn’t complete garbage, an Ozzy Osbourne Birmingham gig and maybe some lost Motörhead tracks, I’ve been a good boy! But more than anything, I want Lemmy to rise from the dead.” – Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

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Well then.

We can confirm to Santa that all of our writers have been very good boys & girls this year, so we’re confident that all these musical wishes will appear under our trees, on our radars, and turned into quality content for your viewing pleasure.

Whoever you are (as long as you’re not a Nazi), whatever you believe (as long as you’re not a Nazi) and whatever you listen to (as long as you’re not a Nazi who listens to Catfish), we wish you a very Merry Christmas, happy holidays and a musical New Year!