Track Review: St Vincent – New York

By Sean Hannah (@Shun_Handsome)

St. Vincent’s Annie Clark is not a New York native; she was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, moved to Dallas, Texas as a child, and transplanted to The City in her 20s.  Yet on New York, her first single in two years and a harbinger of the forthcoming album Clark has declared “the deepest, boldest work [she’s] ever done,” St. Vincent name checks some of the city’s touchstones with the ambivalence only a real New Yorker can feel.

On 1st Avenue, Clark called out to her errant lover, now departed.  On 8th Avenue, she “last-strawed” the motherfucker.  And swinging by Astor Place, she realizes she’s lost most of her friends too, having abandoned them to go rub elbows with the city’s “blue bloods”.  This isn’t a love letter to the Greatest City on Earth, New York instead serves to remind us that the overcrowded cities are just as lonely as the underpopulated ones.  Not exactly a groundbreaking revelation, but Annie’s mousy vulnerability brings a fresh take on an old truism. 

St. Vincent has never been one to shy away from sentimentality.  She’s evinced a Buddy Holly-level dedication to her paramours in songs all throughout her oeuvre, whether she’s playing the heathen who chooses romantic love over spiritual salvation in I Prefer Your Love or the pugnacious girlfriend ready to butt heads with the corrupt cop who thrashed her Other Half on Strange Mercy.  This is where much of New York’s tension emanates: the unfettered adoration she feels for her lover and the remorse over his/her absence is complicated by the grandiosity of the city and Clark’s increasing disillusionment toward her adoptive home town.  Here on New York, romantic and metropolitan life are two entities constantly at odds with one another.

Musically, however, the song feels more like a re-tread than a step forward.  Featuring a closely-mic’d piano and a supportive, if unobtrusive, string section, New York would feel at home on St. Vincent’s debut Marry Me if not for the inclusion of a pulsating tom drum beat and scant synth characteristic of her most recent, self-titled record.  This kind of self-reflexivity is fitting of the song’s reminiscent lyrical tone, but as an amuse-bouche to an album purported by Clark herself to be a “sea change” from her previous work, the single doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence. 

Still, New York is a solid entry into the St. Vincent canon: it’s a warm, staid track with enough going on musically and lyrically to keep the listener enthralled.  Annie’s words are certainly catchy (“New York isn’t New York without you, love”) and the Illinois-era Sufjan-esque bridge injects some crucial dynamics into the tune.  And even though St. Vincent uses it as a backdrop for dilapidating friendships and relationships, there remains something wholly intoxicating about the city of New York in the song.  As Joey Ramone once sang, “New York City really has it all!

6.5/10 


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WORST 2 BEST: Arcade Fire

By Gemma Matthews (@screamethereal)

Our fave French-Canadian symposium Arcade Fire are releasing their fifth studio album in just over a month’s time. From what we’ve heard so far, this could be an interesting one. With singles Everything Now and Creature Comfort recently released in anticipation of the new record, there seems to be a bit of a new sound emerging – something cleaner, perhaps, with bigger swings between upbeat, celebratory pop and hazy, dirty grunge. Could this have something to do with a change in record label? Merge have released the band’s first four LPs, but Columbia have now got a foot in the door and will be releasing Everything Now on July 28th. It’s all speculative, and it’s all to play for, but for now we thought we’d look back at the beautiful, the bold and the downright bizarre moments of the band’s discography so far.

4. Reflektor

In at number four, Reflektor. The band’s fourth album was released in 2013, and honestly? It was nice. Pleasant with a good flow, but unmoving. Maybe this was a sign that a change in direction was needed, and there’s every chance we’ll see that brought around with the new label’s take on things. As it stands, though, Reflektor was brought out in good faith and under the reliable veil that the band had enough of a fanbase from the first three records to make up the numbers. This record seems to take its audience for granted and as such it loses out on its chance at a spark, which is a shame.

3. Neon Bible

Third place? Neon Bible. NB is a fantastic album and, to be honest, maybe third place is unfair. The record is the moody teenager of the collection so far, and is a personal favourite. A technically sound piece of work with attitude in passive aggressive bucketloads, Neon Bible brings the darkness. And, God, do I love it. That said, the album feels relatively small compared to what comes next for the band, and for that reason it takes third. (Small does not always equal a negative, you understand. Just in this case, it is a major contributor to the ranking. All’s fair in love and French-Canadian indie music, right?)

FULL REVIEW HERE

2. Funeral

Second place goes to Funeral. This was the band’s first LP, and a first impression for a lot of people who have since become big fans, watching the band grow from album one until now. It has a sound which now seems very classically Arcade Fire, juxtaposed with joy and what seemed at first bizarre sounds from the ether which hadn’t yet made their way into mainstream chart music. A celebration of joy and flames, and a starting point for something bigger.

FULL REVIEW HERE

1. The Surburbs

And of course, The Suburbs claims first prize. An absolutely excellent album bringing out that classic Arcade Fire sound but on a massive scale. If ever there was an album I wanted to swim in, it’s this one. The album’s lyrical content is inspired by band members Win and William Butler’s upbringing in The Woodlands, Texas, a suburb of Houston and this, mixed with beautiful, dissonant clangy noise, allowed the band to shine in a whole new way. There’s a reason why the album appears at the top of lists like this: maybe one day we’ll go into more detail about why it deserve that position. 

So there you have it. Well, almost – the absolute worst? Charging fifty five fucking quid for a show in a shitey wee venue. Corn Exchange, we’re looking at you. Wankers.


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Do OK Computer’s Missing Pieces Fit?

Written by Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

It goes without saying that Radiohead’s seminal OK Computer needs no introduction. The record’s place on countless “greatest album of all time” lists speaks for itself. However, rather than awards or reviews; one of the greatest tributes to the record has come from Radiohead themselves. The Oxford five-piece have been praised for constantly innovating over their 30-year career without ever standing still. However, when their landmark OK Computer turned 20 this year, it caused the groundbreaking Radiohead to look back for possibly the first time in their career, to release the OK Computer OKNOTOK reissue.

OKNOTOK’s tracklisting begins with remastered versions of the legendary 1997 album, but, in all honesty, the difference between the “remastered” album and the original is seemingly non-existent. However, the second half of OKNOTOK contains the reissue’s real treats – 11 b-sides from the OK Computer sessions – including 3 fan favourites from the band’s shows around 1997 which never saw the light of day as studio recordings – I Promise, Man Of War and Lift.

I PROMISE

This track was originally performed in 1996, along with other tracks which would make it onto OK Computer, when Radiohead supported Alanis Morisette on tour, and, until recently, was only known to fans via shaky phone-shot videos. With the studio version’s recent release, it’s easy to see why fans have been demanding it for 20 years. I Promise is perhaps one of the Oxford group’s simplest tracks from a songwriting perspective but revels in this simplicity. Guitar strums are complimented by beautiful strings as the track builds to a crescendo, capped off by Yorke’s stunning vocals at its very best, pledging alternate wedding vows to a partner in arguably his most romantic lyrics – “even when the ship is wrecked…tie me to the rotting deck, I promise”.

MAN OF WAR/BIG BOOTS

Man of War (previously Big Boots) dates as far back as 1995, around the time that OK Computer’s precursor, The Bends was released. However, this track differs from I Promise in that it received a semi-official release; a lo-fi version of the track could be heard in the Radiohead documentary Meeting People is Easy. The “proper” version though remained unheard until OKNOTOK. Despite the fact the band see it as a Bends track, it actually has more in common with the tracks which were selected for OK Computer. Man of War is almost overflowing with paranoia – a feeling which personified OK Computer – from the eerie, finger-picked guitar that opens the track to the cynical lyricism – “Search the whole world/ but drunken confessions and hijacked affairs/ will just make you more alone”. Not one to listen to with the lights off.

LIFT

Arguably Radiohead’s most popular forgotten track, Lift was also played on the Alanis Morisette tour, and was apparently the song which garnered the best audience reaction – surely that would guarantee its inclusion on the album? Where Radiohead are concerned, it doesn’t. Ed O’Brien recently confessed that they chose not to release it as it would have made the band too popular. To be fair, it’s easy to see why: the track’s intro seems to be the blueprint for Yellow by Coldplay (but that’s none of my business) and the chorus feels anthemic, a sound which Radiohead have always avoided. However, it also has mainstream appeal for a reason; it’s a fucking excellent track. Thom’s vocals in the verses have a soft lullaby quality to them, enhanced by more strings, and the chorus truly soars, underpinned by one of Ed O’Brien’s best renditions of his first name in the entire Radiohead discography.

With the release of OKNOTOK, Radiohead have offered even more insight into the legendary OK Computer sessions – and a glimpse into what the album could have been. Of the 3 unreleased tracks, Man Of War feels like it could have fit most snugly on the record, with its eeriness reminiscent of the nightmarish Climbing Up The Walls.

While it is a stunning track, I Promise feels a bit too simple and straightforward to have fit on OK Computer. It’s easy to see why people who aren’t fans of Radiohead would view Ed O’Brien’s comments on Lift as pretentious in the extreme, you have to agree it has “hit” written all over it, and the band wouldn’t have wanted a record as good as OK Computer overshadowed by a hit single, especially given Radiohead’s track record of relationships with their big singles (you know the one).

Regardless, Lift, Man Of War and I Promise are 3 unbelievably good tracks, written and recorded by a band in a purple patch on steroids – and deserve their own legacy, even if they differ from the almighty legacy that OK Computer has earned.


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LOOKING BACK AT….NEON BIBLE by ARCADE FIRE

By Gemma Matthews (@screamethereal)

Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible was released in 2007. The album came as the band’s second LP, and was seen as “the wake”, post-Funeral (the first AF album) by music bloggers and reviewers worldwide. I’m not sure that I would agree with that in its entirety, however. This album reeks of grief, sure – lovely Plath-like romanticised grief – but I can’t say I see the celebration of life in it. Just a lot of sweet, futuristic existential dread. Nice.

So, 10 years on, does it stand the test of time? Or have the band managed to leave their second album behind completely, cemented and buried in 2007?

We start with a cascading opening track, all but transporting us to what we can only assume was then some kind of futuristic storm. Black Mirror ends with an almost apocalyptic crackle, a premonition perhaps of what this album was made for. We are taken then through peaks and troughs, an inconsistency of chopping and changing: beginning with Keep The Car Running and Neon Bible. This pair of tracks could not be more different from each other, the only thing linking them is a tiny undertone of angst. It may just be, however, that that’s the point. The seemingly contradictory trend could arguably be taken as a negative, but perhaps it suggests a range of different experiences without which we would not have the album which lies before us; experiences all linked by the tiring sting of life in the 21st century. And so, the band plays on in the same vein, stung.

What is interesting, though, is just how relatable this album is to life ten years later. With the 1% running amok on a global scale and humans destroying each other every second of every day desperate for some sense of achievement from one-upmanship (not to mention the recent political garbage), perhaps Neon Bible is more relevant than ever. A heady mix of robotic noise and organ music, the old and new are brought together here in some cataclysmic explosion for the senses, whilst also managing to  somewhat sedate listeners with the raw and bleak realities which were perhaps only an envisioned nightmare back then, but could not be more present in the everyday of 2017. This album, then, is not what we deserve, but the album we need to survive. Neon Bible might be “the wake”, but what comes after? The moving on.

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