Riff University: Sorry, You’re Not A Winner by Enter Shikari

All aboaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaardahahaha! Welcome to Riff University, where each week, Dr* Oliver Butler, with his PhD in Riffology** will walk you through some of the biggest, baddest and boldest riffs of all time, right from the genesis of rock and roll, to some of our future classics. By the end of this intensive course, you will be able to recognise a classic riff from the first note, make pub conversations awkwardly unbearable, and alienate Tinder matches from the word go.
*Abbreviation of “Dad Rock”
**Not a real PhD

By Dr Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Up this week: Sorry, You’re Not A Winner by Enter Shikari from the album Take to the Skies
Read Last Week’s Lecture on Black Sabbath here

Cast your mind back to 2006, and whilst some of you might be too young to remember, music was consumed through three primary outlets; iTunes, Limewire and MySpace. Hours would be spent on the latter, meticulously picking a song that described your teenage angst as you pulled on your sweatbands to go loiter around the town centre on a Saturday, ready to rip the shag bands right off your crush’s wrist. Shag bands? No? Anyone? Fucking millenials.

However, one artist that found their work being passed around MySpace profiles, and fired through MSN Messenger chats, more than anyone else in the mid noughties, was a fledgling Hertfordshire post-hardcore outfit named Enter Shikari, slowly becoming more and more well known off the back of their first single, Mothership. However, it would be the single that came next that would become a staple of the early Shikari movement, and would become one of their most famous songs… even if the band didn’t groom it for mainstream success.

Sorry You’re Not A Winner, though not the jewel in their crown (oh, we’ll get to those), is easily one of the most recognisable Enter Shikari songs. SYNAW was meant to be the B-Side on the EP that also featured Ok, Time For Plan B and a demo of The Feast, but radio DJs resonated more strongly with the dancey vibes of SYNAW than the ‘heavy, bulldozing sound’ of Ok, Time For Plan B, and instantly became a hit with its infectious riff, and of course, the three claps right afterwards.#

The intro to the original, 2006 version is slightly different to the version that made it to Take to the Skies, but there’s something so nostalgic about that crystal-like synth intro. The video is indicative of Shikari’s DIY, independent attitude; filmed by the band in the living room of Chris Batten’s parents’ house, it features a fresh-faced Shikari performing the song, with a thronging crowd going positively ape around them. Remember when you had just a few friends round when your parents went on holiday and all hell broke loose? They threw a fucking concert in the living room and became international superstars. Maybe it’s because nothing got broken and there wasn’t half-full cans of whatever beer could be blagged from the offy around, but still.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4MiC67seUY]

That being said, and as we’ve already alluded to, SYNAW wasn’t groomed to be the flag that flew atop the grand ship Shikari, in fact, quite the opposite. Recorded long before Take to the Skies took flight, all the way back in 2003, not long after a young man by the name of Liam Clelow (whatever happened to him?) had joined the band as a guitarist so that a young Rou Reynolds could focus on electronics and vocals. In the words of the aforementioned frontman and gin connoisseur, SYNAW…

“Already felt a bit old when we recorded for a 4-track EP, long before the release of Take to the Skies, but, as it became a live favourite, we felt including SYNAW on the album was paramount.”

The cultural impact of SYNAW was massive, as almost every MySpace page would be soundtracked by SYNAW, or the more edgy MySpacers would be streaming Mothership in their fight to innovate in the development of their profile. MSN screen names and statuses would reference SYNAW, and it seemed that every greebo, emo and scene kid across the land would know the “clap clap song”. Live as well, it flew into the hearts of fans, with the famed claps just “being another way to include the audience”, along with the gang vocals, the human pyramids and playing shows in the crowd. From first light, Shikari’s message was about togetherness and community, with the policy applying doubly so in the live scenario.

It’s also made itself a mainstay in the Shikari live setup, being played 640 times, according to setlist.fm, with only Mothership ahead of it on 655 times, with SYNAW finding a new home in the “quick fire” segment of a live show, which those of you that have experienced will be able to testify it is the most intensive workout on the planet, and for those have you that haven’t experienced it, imagine being in a washing machine in a sauna, whilst trying to run a record 100m sprint, and you’re about halfway there. Not for the faint of heart.

Another thing worth considering in this lecture is that Shikari weren’t having SYNAW pushed to the top by a money-thirsty label, looking for a radio hit to line their pockets, Enter Shikari were, are and will forever be an independent band. SYNAW’s success came naturally after their music being picked up by fans through the internet, with Kerrang Radio’s Alex Baker even streaming fellow EP track Ok, Time For Plan B straight off the band’s MySpace page. SYNAW found its success organically, and would plant the seeds for the bands growth over the years, culminating with the release of The Spark last year, which was a very, very good album.

Lyrically, SYNAW makes zero fucking sense, and as Rou pointed out in Dear Future Historians: Lyrics and Exgesis of Rou Reynolds, “some of the tracks on Take to the Skies are entirely made up of verse of non-sequitur gobbledegook”, which doesn’t come as a shock, and although a few learned scholars have likely tried to make something of it that isn’t more than it is, SYNAW is simply about…

“The nasty trait of brash over-confidence, and the, though maybe immature, still pleasurable act of informing the cocksure when things don’t work out in their favour. Like most of my pre-Shikari lyrics, it’s mostly nonsense; simple fun with words and images.”

Makes sense, as “Scratch card glory, or waist low pleasure? // Black eyes nose bleeds, don’t look back now” doesn’t. However, with the above considered, it does feel slightly gleeful in the demise of the otherwise cocksure. Same with “But it’s just such a thrill to find out // SORRY YOU’RE NOT! A winner with the air so cold and a mind so bitter”, it’s pretty easy to see the intention of this song lyrically. Maybe the next time you feel like recapturing your youth, why not scream “SORRY YOU’RE NOT!” then sing “A winnerER” in the face of your local workplace wanker the next time the dice don’t roll in their favour. Maybe “waist low pleasure” is about wanking or something. Bet you won’t see that one popping up in any thesis’ any time soon.

And, whilst this song never meant to become the treasure it is today, it’s interesting to see how a B-side with non-sequitur gobbeldegook originally recorded in 2003 made its way into the hearts of fans, guaranteeing it to make its way onto Take to the Skies, and with its catchy riff and easy listenablility, made its way onto numerous MySpace profiles, rock radio stations and probably a few Limewire searches… wouldn’t know, never used it! Heh!

Further down the line, we’ll delve into the deeper Shikari cuts with more intricate arrangements, more inquisitive lyrical themes, and more incendiary riffs, but for the sheer ripples in the music world that SYNAW caused and how it lit the fuse on the interstellar ES craft, it’s easily one of the most important Shikari songs.

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Top 50 Songs of 2017

We’ve been fairly negative this week, what with the moaning behemoth that was our ten worst tracks of the year list, but let us assure you that music in 2017 hasn’t been terrible: in fact, it’s arguably the strongest it has been since the glory year of 2015. There’s still another week to go before we give you the round up of the records we couldn’t get enough of but until then, the BLINKCLYRO team have a treat for you.

This year’s Top 50 Songs list marks the first year where it isn’t just Liam compiling his favourite tunes: all the writers for the site have submitted their top 10 tracks of the year and after compiling them, tallying the points and laying them out, this post before you is the end result of that. So strap yourself in, relax and prepare yourself for a bucket load of great tunes that’ll make you feel blessed to have ears.

50. Blaenavon – Orthodox Man

First heard in 2015 when played to a crowd of under twenty, Orthodox Man has remained very much the same between then and now. However, now played to sell out crowds it has become somewhat of a fan favourite and it is clear to see why. It is fun, it is exciting, it gets the crowd going. What more could you want from a debut record single?

49. The Xcerts – Daydream

What sets The Xcerts out from others is the vocal style, and Daydream is no exception. Murray Macleod’s Aberdonian accent beams through the track and the catchy riff and drums make it a dance along track. Throw in that beautifully constructed bridge and you have yourself an upbeat pop rock song, that is sure to send the Xcerts flying into 2018.

48. The War On Drugs – Holding On

Holding On is a highlight pick from the new War on Drugs album and makes for easy listening with a dreamy feel across the instrumentals and vocals. The fact that this song stands out on A Deeper Understanding, which is an already amazing album, testifies to the quality of the track. The winding journey that the track takes you on is definitely one to remember.

47. The Mountain Goats – Unicorn Tolerance

This funky pop track off this year’s Mountain Goats album is remarkable in both its familiarity, in terms of lyricism from Darnielle, and harmonised chorus, taken straight out of the bands previous works; it is notable too for its difference, with a very chill melodic pop beat going through, and an almost dreamlike feel, making something that old fans, as well as Mountain Goats VLs, will get.

46. Pip Blom – Babies Are A Lie

Hailing from Amsterdam, Pip Blom have been around for around half a decade now yet continue the evolution from, as they put it, the girl with little guitar to a full-on band that hit their stride on this tune; a chill track that eases in with a simple introduction and lets its hair loose on its earworm of a chorus.

45. Benjamin Clementine – Phantom of Aleppoville 

From this year’s I Tell A Fly, delivered by the avant-garde maestro Benjamin Clementine, this is very much a high point experimentally for the album, with a lon sweeping intro, blending in classical music, after an anxiety inducing chant early on with the track’s lyrics really shining as the song reaches its end.

44. The Smiths Street Band – Birthdays

I feel overwhelmed so I wanna be alone but then when I’m alone I feel lonely” were the words shared on the Australian rock outfit’Instagramam about Birthdays, a romance heavy tune that features on the band’s frankly underrated LP More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me. Transparent and deeply emotive, The Smiths Street Band manage to effortlessly discuss issues of mental health and desire over this tight 3-minute odd track.

43. Idles – Mother

2017 was a fantastic year for Bristol outfit Idles, and their single Mother punched and kicked straight into the music communities consciousness. With scathing, growling lyrics from frontman Joe Talbot, the song was a perfect shot of heavy guitar music arrived with aplomb this year. This track stands out on their excellent album Brutalism for its much-needed commentary on the social fabric of our country.

42. Woes – Losing Time

Opening with an excellent sounding pop punk riff, Losing Time doesn’t hesitate to go huge. The vocals are reminiscent of the bands’ self-titled EP released last year, and both singers vocals blend brilliantly to create a beautiful harmony. The bridge of the track slows right down, with lead vocalist David Jess passionately shouting, before getting back to business: Woes are definitely one to watch in 2018.

41. Tommy Genesis – Tommy

While there’s a solid bit of production in the form of a Charlie Heat beat, Tommy‘s main draw is the display and establishment of herself as an aggressive and hyper-sexual rapper who can stand her own ground. With the bravado and confidence that Tommy Genesis holms, we wouldn’t be surprised to see her come out with something major in the near future.

40. Dua Lipa – New Rules (Initial Talk Remix)

It’s no secret that Dua Lipa seemingly came out of nowhere to deliver one of the biggest pop tunes of the year, one with a great sense of empowerment. Initial Talk thought that New Rules was missing something and decided to give it a dollop of 80’s gloss, an odd decision but one that works very well for a song that could have easily found itself sang by the pop juggernauts from that decade.

39. Enter Shikari – Undercover Agents

Easily one of the best tracks off The Spark & one of the most accessible Shikari songs, Undercover Agents is a bouncy number that’ll get the whole floor howling at the moon. Is it a song about Facebook or Instagram, or is “I want to see your body” covering for something else?

38. N.E.R.D – Lemon

Though it could be argued to be more the “Pharrell and Rihanna show” rather than a full-blown N.E.R.D comeback, this song is still a bonafide club banger. Just like the lyrics, the production bounces along with deep 808 bass kicks and a high popping synth, while in the latter part of the song, Rihanna raps with a swagger that is seldom heard.

37. Rostam – Bike Dream

Aeronautical oranges, continental paintings, an uxorious pair of boys. These are some of the images that populate Rostam’s Bike Dream, the fanciful second track of his excellent debut Half-Light. Atop the synth-drum dynamo powering the song is the exultation of Rostam seeing himself in the myriad New Yorkers ambulating around 14th Street. Amid the chaos, Rostam reaches the bittersweet summation of his many romances: “Telling me something or nothing, never the one thing I wanna hear”.

36. St Vincent – Slow Disco

Near the culmination of Annie Clark’s neon pop masterclass, Masseduction, sits one of her finest songs yet. An emotionally affecting powerhouse, Slow Disco stands out as a work of stripped back beauty amidst the sea of oddball experiments. On first listen it may just seem a welcome variation from the robotic and futuristic sounds of the rest of the record, but with time it reveals itself as the albums powerfully vulnerable highlight.

35. Vistas – Retrospect

Latest single Retrospective is everything we know and love this Edinburgh pop-rock outfit for. Opening up with the catchiest of riffs, the nod-along melody kicks in with frontman Prentice Robertsons’ spectacular vocals create a happy, feel-good vibe. The band has worked tirelessly the past two years and it is now all beginning to pay off with this tune being evident of the progress they’ve made.

34. Protomartyr – My Children

The second single to be released from their latest album and one of the most complete songs they’ve recorded yet, Protomartyr have managed to distill almost every aspect of their music into a deeply satisfying 3 minutes and 42 seconds. An ominous, mumbled intro gives way to angular guitars as anti-frontman Joe Casey delivers a caustic take on issues of growing old, remaining childless and the implications that might have on his legacy.

33. Alex Cameron – Runnin’ Outta Luck

Who would have thought that a satirical concept album based around the trials and tribulations of toxic masculinity and fragile egotism could be so catchy? The third single from 2017’s delightfully playful Forced Witness epitomises the thematic musical and lyrical consistences that run deep through the record via a bombastic, synth-embellished sound that recalls the classic rock and pop of the 1980s with an unrelentingly ear-worming chorus.

32. Harry Styles – Sign Of The Times

2017 marked the year that the members of One Direction stepped out on their own and released their debut solo material, and unarguably the best track born of the hiatus has come from unofficial band leader Harry Styles, who boldly emerged with Sign of the Times, a 5-minute epic which channels heroes Prince and David Bowie, effortlessly building from a solemn piano into to a rock opera without breaking sweat. Styles vocal performance is enthralling throughout, growing with the track from a brooding opening before howling “WE”VE GOT TO GET AWAYYY” in the epic climax, the track’s escapism aided by a choir and a glam-rock guitar tone elevating Styles’ already huge vocal into the stratosphere.

31. Clairo – Pretty Girl

Clairo seems to be fitting in remarkably well to her newfound position as a self-aware, bedroom pop artist. As you may expect, Pretty Girl is a relationship influenced song but one that finds pleasure in pointing out the flaws of superficially lead ones with a simple music video only exasperating the simplistic charm that she delivers in bucketloads.

30. Phoebe Bridgers – Funeral

A cut from her debut album, this track from Phoebe Bridgers is a real story of Bruce Springsteen proportions, delivering a thought-provoking, heartfelt and genuinely sad song, involving the artiste singing at a funeral: just as morbid and depressing as you would expect but with a glimmer of beauty.

29. Peach Pit – Being So Normal

Described as being “chewed bubblegum pop” by, well, themselves, Peach Pit manage to leave a muffled indent with this eponymously titled track off their debut LP; the lead smooth vocals may sound exhausted but when backed up by warm guitars and an undeniable crisp production, it’s hard not to feel yourself mellowed out and enthralled.

28. The Vegan Leather – Shake It

This paisley disco-pop outfit’s debut single was one of the hottest Scottish indie hits of the year, almost anthemic in its delivery; with a fantastic dance beat to accompany it. One of the most notable elements of the track is the harmonies between male and female fronts of the band, Gian and Marie respectively, working together to deliver a positively electric track.

27. King Krule – Dum Surfer

Dum Surfer, from King Krule’s album The Ooz, amplifies the very darkest aspects of his music. The lyrics are aggressive and unsettling. Krule’s deep and brooding voice matches the violent imagery which contrasts starkly with the jazzy saxophone and abundance of percussion. It sounds like nothing else but manages to stand by itself as one of the best tracks of the year.26. Young Fathers – Only God Knows

Young Fathers provided the backbone to the Trainspotting 2 soundtrack. Included was the beautifully layered track, Only God Knows. Accompanied by Leith Congregational Choir, the trio from Edinburgh create three and a half minutes heart pounding, distorted bliss: it’s impossible to not find yourself smiling when this song comes on. Not only does it undeniably bring the other songs from T2 together but also establishes the versatility of Scottish hip-hop.

25. Lil Peep – Save That Shit

The “Pt. 1” affixed to Lil Peep’s debut album Come Over When You’re Sober will forever serve as a reminder of what Gustav Åhr’s career might have been. A sense of death’s rapid encroachment pervaded much of Peep’s music, and last month, a fatal overdose granted his self-fulfilling prophecy.

Standing out among Åhr’s robust oeuvre is Save That Shit, a maudlin breakup song featuring spidery post-grunge guitars, tightly-wound trap drums, and Lil Peep’s trademark gruff whine. The details of the couple’s relationship are in constant flux: “All she want is payback,” “You ain’t getting nothing I’m saying, don’t tell me you is,” “Do I make you scared? Baby, won’t you take me back?

The optimist in him wants to salvage the relationship, but the realist in him knows he can’t save that shit.

24. Corbin – Giving Up

When Corbin dropped his album Mourn earlier this year, it showcased his soulful vocal talents over moody and mournful cloud rap and RnB beats which have stuck out in our minds over this year though Giving Up is the track that has remained at the forefront of our minds.

The synths create a very downtrodden atmosphere to begin with and bring you into a state of melancholy where you can then be lulled by Corbin’s silky smooth voice. The drums kick in about 2:30 into the song which lifts the track considerably but the depressive quality of this track just gets stronger as Corbin’s vocals become more powerful and desperate near the end.

Taking into account the song’s lyrics’ focus on suicide makes this track a total emotional barrage, but a fucking good one.

23. Sorority Noise – A Portrait Of

Although Sorority Noise have teased listeners with lyrics and themes meaningful enough to rip your heart from your chest, 2017’s A Portrait Of is when the depth of the band really hit home. All of YNA_AYT is a journey into the deepest crevices of your conscience, but when the sophomore track opens with “I’ve been feeling suicidal..” you know you’re going to be in for an emotional ride.

Roaring a mid-section poetical giving reference to living his life as a continuation of theirs, Cameron Boucher truly opens up here and by the end of the track you’re left speechless, in tears or both.

The instrumentation is not ghoulish, nor is it an overly slow ballad to emphasise the lyrics, it is standard Sorority Noise in-your-face riff-topia with cutting hooks, dominant drums and quite frankly an elegant yet boisterous glue holding everything in place.

22. SZA – Drew Barrymore

Throughout her debut album CTRL, SZA discusses both relationships with others and herself with remarkable honesty and this is most evident on Drew Barrymore.

An ode to SZA’s favourite actress, the song’s themes are reminiscent of Barrymore’s iconic roles of women finding their identities. Similarly, on the track, SZA admits her insecurities and instead of being embarrassed by them, she sees a piece of herself in one of her biggest idols.

It is rare to see such difficult emotions towards relationships expressed so directly and with that comes sincerity that makes this track resonate so deeply; anyone that’s ever felt inadequate will both appreciate those feelings described so accurately and also a reminder that even people as talented as SZA feel the same way.

21. Mount Eerie – Real Death

Artistic expressions of death and grief are rarely ever as direct as they are on A Crow Looked At Me, an album dealing with the of passing Mount Eerie mastermind Phil Elverum’s wife Geneviève Castrée at the age of thirty-five. Yet in the opening track, Elverum insists that his record is exactly not that: “Death is real… it’s not for singing about, it’s not for making into art”.

With every word his cracked and pained voice utters, the listener gains only a minute sense of what it must be like to have been put through such a traumatic ordeal, and then shift through the aftermath. It’s a song so heartbreakingly beautiful that I struggle sometimes to listen to it in full – but I’m still glad that such a succinct statement of personal loss exists in today’s world.

20. Everything Everything – Desire

Desire feverishly builds, reaching a chorus featuring so many layered vocals, it sounds like an entire choir made up of Josh Higgs’ indulgent falsetto. The guitar riff at times rings like early naughties math rock in the best possible way and topping it all off are some very on brand Everything Everything lyrics “I am a pencil pusher with the pencil pusher blues“.

The beat stomps on through from the start, breaking at times into a delicate two-step instantly transporting you to a sweaty dancehall. It’s a song that makes it near impossible not to dance; some of the best indie pop we’ve had all year.

19. Kirin J. Callinan – Big Enough (Ft. Alex Cameron, Molly Lewis & Jimmy Barnes)

This is one of the rare songs on this list that has to be heard to be believed, especially in conjunction with its fabulously grandiose music video. Country twangs, EDM drops, heavy metal screams and a fist-pumping, chest-burstingly triumphant list of arbitrary countries, continents and states for a conclusion that, similar to marmite or self-immolation, will change your life for the better or the worse.

The reason it works and not devolve into the aural equivalent of a thirteen-way pile up on the M8 is the strength of the songwriting and the dynamics of the production, both of which create an addictive cocktail of a serotonin rush that never fails to lift your spirits. That, or make your face cringe so hard it cracks in two, but if it does that then you probably hate fun.

18. LCD Soundsystem – tonite

If James Murphy and co.’s first two comeback singles were intriguing yet divisive, then tonite firmly solidified the validation for their return to the stage, whilst simultaneously setting the scene for the album upon which it settles into snuggly in the middle third.

Lyrically, Murphy rearms his iconically ironic New York cool stance but with an updated penchant for the self-aware, allowing himself to deprecate the stagnant state of the charts without ever falling into the “Old Man Yells At Cloud!” trap that haunts many of rock music’s elder statesmen.

Pounding behind the words is a groovy instrumental that takes its cues from Daft Punk and The Human League, and reaffirms LCD Soundsystem’s place on the dancefloor, and indeed our hearts. We’ve missed you, Murphy.

17. The Menzingers – Thick As Thieves

With February’s After the Party, Scranton natives The Menzingers reached a career peak. A wonderful record bursting at the seams with shout-a-long slices of life, it establishes the band as a bonafide grade-A rock outfit. An ode to reckless abandon, Thick as Thieves encapsulates all that is great about the album.

The whole track just drips with an endearing sense of nostalgia and sincerity, with vocalist Greg Barnett gleefully yelling of ‘building castles of cans and bottles’ without a trace of cynicism or irony. The chorus, perhaps the best the band has ever come up with, seems tailor-made for crowds to scream back at the stage; it’s just joyous.

If you can get it out of your head, you’re not human.

16. Remo Drive – Yer Killin’ Me

What a belter this track is. A slice of raucous, driving, almost poppy emo from the Minnesota 3-piece Remo Drive’s beauty of a debut album Greatest Hits (killer title).

There’s such an infectious venom in frontman Erik Paulson’s vocals and lyrics that you almost can’t help but be subconsciously pissed off at whoever’s wronged him.

The mathy breakdown towards the end of the track is delicious as well. Yer Killin’ Me is a perfect introduction to the world of Remo Drive, and one that would easily fit into your running playlist or your moody playlist. Brilliant.

15. Lil Uzi Vert – XO Tour Llif3

The king of emo rap’s magnum opus. XO TOUR LIiF3 by Philadelphia’s own Lil Uzi Vert manages to walk the tightrope between depressing as fuck and club banger with aplomb. Flexing about his car one minute and lamenting a failing relationship in the next, this is a deceptively complex slice of hip-hop from one of the most exciting MCs of 2017.

Mr. Vert explores concepts that most modern rappers wouldn’t dare touch, the likes of how maybe drug abuse isn’t that good and suicide. On a surface level it’s a cracking trap track, but if you listen to the lyrics it’s a sad portrait of a man who’s a bit lost in the world of hip-hop. And that’s what makes it so good.

14. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Open Water

Choosing a highlight from King Gizzard’s extensive set of 2017 releases is no mean feat. From tightly wound prog to loosely held together jazz pop, the range this band have displayed this year trumps what most bands achieve across their whole career.

Way back in February, the group released the finest of these efforts, Flying Microtonal Banana, and with it, Open Water, the seven-minute colossus that stands as the jewel in the crown.

Bursting with pitch black imagery and fluid, winding licks, it sees the band really push themselves to their limit. Their drums had never been quite so ferocious before, the atmosphere never quite so delightfully disorientating, and the end result rarely quite so brilliant. 

13. Carly Rae Jepsen – Cut To The Feeling

Carly Rae Jepsen‘s transition from early 2010’s meme to critically applauded pop artist has been one of the most interesting moments over the past few years and this cut for animated flick Leap continues the trend.

We could easily discuss the effortlessly ascending and descending bits of production that tie into the Canadian singer’s wonderful pipes or her delivery from hushful whispering to ambitious proclamations; the hook, line, and sinker of Cut To The Feeling is just how bloody fun it is and in another dark and dreary year, we need more of these than ever.

12. The National – Day I Die

Bryan Devendorf herein stakes his claim as one of indie’s pre-eminent percussionists, kicking off one of the highlights of Sleep Well Beast with a frenetic drum intro. Relentlessly uptempo and featuring guitar licks reminiscent of The Cure, themes of marital affairs are navigated with reference-laden lyrics.

Matt Berninger boasts that, “Young mothers love me, even ghosts of / Girlfriends call from Cleveland“, although he’s clearly still more concerned about the no-mans land his current relationship occupies, struggling to understand where exactly things stand.

During the bridge, further context is given to “great uncle Valentine Jester“, a character visited previously and, as it happens, someone who Berninger shares a lot in common with, particularly when he gets “a little punchy with the vodka“.

11. Lorde – Green Light

Fresh from a break-up, Lorde’s second album, Melodrama, explores dealing with losing someone for the first time and all the thoughts that come with it. The first single, Green Light, starts desperate and heart wrenching.

The song opens with her raw, slow vocals and simple piano, but builds quickly to a fast dance anthem, flinging her reputation as a moody teenage songstress into the mainstream. The sincerity in her vocals mixed with the constant change of pace creates a warmth inside your stomach. It’s a song to cry but also to move on to. Lorde is showing us how to dance through the pain.10. Frank Ocean – Chanel

Frank Ocean is famed as one of modern music’s lyricists for his complexity and deft storytelling talents. However, Ocean throws this subtlety out of the window in the mic-drop of an opening couplet to surprise single Chanel – “My guy pretty like a girl / and he got fight stories to tell”.

This sets the tone for Chanel’s lyrical tone – it’s part bashful, part confessional, varying as Ocean drifts between singing and rapping – displaying a mastery of each. The dreary beat is the perfect bed for Ocean’s varied delivery, and transitions into perhaps Ocean’s most iconic hook yet – “I see both sides like Chanel” – another lyrical masterstroke as he flips hip-hop’s obsession with brands into an expression of sexuality.

9. Stormzy – Big For Your Boots

Stormzy seems like one of the nicest guys in music, but Big For Your Boots is a definite warning to anyone tries stopping his rise. His flow is incredible throughout the whole song, and some of the lines are solid gold.

Had a peng ting named Amy telling me to come round hers on a Valerie ting“. Sublime. The whole of GSAP was one of the standout albums of 2017, but this was the biggest diamond in the jewelers.

8. Paramore – Hard Times

Where do you start with the summery, pop anthem that is Hard Times?! The emo, pop-punk icons of yesteryear seemingly flipped their iconic style on its head and replaced it with a neon light complementing, almost sickly pink doused, upbeat classic.

Hayley Williams’ voice sounds as good, if not better, as their Riot! days and the re-addition of founding drummer Zac Farro adds a warming, sentimental value for the old-skool Paramore fans.

What we have is effectively an infectiously catchy piece of pop elegance from someone who was the antithesis of Hard Times. A fluorescent burst of colourful chaos, synths galore and a something that is a simple yet strangely complex arrangement of upbeat fun.

7. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

Father John Misty’s third LP is comfortably the most lyrically ambitious release this year – providing social commentary on the grandest scale imaginable. This is best executed on the record’s stunning title track where Josh Tillman gives his perspective on “the comedy of man” – beginning with the birth process and arriving at religion with a lot in between – on the most grandiose score Tillman’s voice has ever graced.

The lyrics are the star of the show here, however, with Tillman addressing the human race at large with observations like “their illusions they have no choice but to believe”, however, the lyrics never take themselves too seriously, especially as he smirks “how’s this for irony?” in a subtle nod to his Father John Misty persona.

6. Brockhampton – Star

In a year where BROCKHAMPTON dropped three albums, there were several stand-out tracks that defined their year but none more memorable than STAR.

This track has a unique theme with its constant pop culture references. From Dom McLennon’s rapid-fire name dropping from Matthew McConaughey to Liam Neeson to Ameer Van’s bragging about being “the black Tom Hanks” and being “kingpin like Jay Z, dance moves like JT”. The track finishes on perhaps their strongest verse of the year as Kevin Abstract pronounced himself “Heath Ledger with some dreads” in a hilarious yet vicious verse that mixes references to pop culture and his own sexuality with ease.

America’s newest boyband have been on fire this year and that’s no more evident than on STAR.

5. Gorillaz – Ascension (Ft. Vince Staples)

When Vince Staples strutted onto the stage unannounced midway through Gorillaz’ sold out Hydro show, it was clear that the already fantastic gig was about to reach a new level. Staples’ stage presence was electric, his short frame covering almost every inch of the arena’s huge stage.

Somehow, the Long Beach MC manages to convey that energy as well on record as he does live on apocalyptic banger Ascension. Beginning with a quick-fire Staples verse atop a wartime air horn which soon gives way to Staples’ nonchalant attitude to the end of the world with the lyrics “the sky’s falling baby / drop that ass ‘fore it crash”.Gorillaz latest record Humanz was criticised for being too guest-heavy, but with Staples in such electrifying form, you can’t blame Damon Albarn for giving him the spotlight across his 2 lightning-quick verses.

As much as Staples is on fire, this still feels like a Gorillaz track. An Albarn verse is interspersed between Staples’ and is the perfect foil: Albarn sounds his age in contrast with Staples’ youthful exuberance: his verse darker, gloomier and more measured. He is happy to give the spotlight back to Staples who trivialises the apocalypse once more; with Staples on the mic, the apocalypse has never seemed so exciting.

4. Vince Staples – Yeah Right (Ft. Kendrick Lamar & Kucka)

Wouldn’t you know it – two tracks featuring Vince Staples back to back and boy, does the man deserve the high rankings on this list; anyone with a vague knowledge of Odd Future will have been made aware of the rapper’s potential and while he’s released some solid solo material, this track off Big Fish Theory certifies that there’s gold in them there hills.

Packing in the stellar production that can be found over the course of the entirety of Vince’s sophomore LP, Yeah Right teases the listener with his trademark delivery and a subdued instrumental before it’s released like a pack of lions with Detroit techno coursing through their blood. The sheer velocity of the bass borderlines on untenable at moments which adds to not only the power this song possesses but how closely this album walks the line between experimental and excruciating.

Then there’s that Kendrick verse which may possibly be the best guest bars to have been spat all year with an abundance of meta, serious, humourous and braggadocious lines that’ll etch themselves into your cranium. Tie in that bridge by Kucka which has a reminiscent tinge of old school UK Grime and you’re left with one of the greatest hip-hop tunes of the year.

3. Wolf Alice – Don’t Delete The Kisses

Already known for being able to essentially do anything, Wolf Alice proved that once again when they defined the modern love song with Don’t Delete The Kisses.

Ellie Rowsell’s lyrics have never been better even though they are the most sentimental she’s ever written. “I might as well write all over my notebook that you ‘rock my world!’” she admits in one of two verses Rowsell delivers in an almost talkative tone that mimics the thoughts going through her head; it somehow encapsulates these thoughts that everyone experiences in a creative way.

Don’t Delete The Kisses is unashamedly lovesick and cliché, and it’s confidence forces a massive smile onto your face as Rowsell’s closing words “I see the signs of a lifetime, you til I die” would manage to touch even the most cynical of hearts. The second single from sophomore album Visions of a Life, such an instant classic was unprecedented and will be hard for Wolf Alice to top but for now, they can revel in the success of creating a song that will undoubtedly remind a whole generation of fans of the person that they love.

2. Tyler The Creator – 911 / Mr. Lonely

True to form, the 10th track of Tyler’s widely acclaimed comeback project Flower Boy is a two-parter – a reoccurring theme across each of his albums. It’s a perfect synopsis of the dichotomy between the two different personalities of the record – one side is airy, melodic and full of summery optimism; the other, introspective and brooding.

The beauty of this track and, indeed, the rest of the album is the way Tyler reconciles these aspects and lays them bare so candidly. Perhaps one of the most apparent throwbacks to earlier, darker material such as Goblin, he alludes to his erstwhile depression throughout – in 911 he takes a philosophical approach, realising his own experiences can help him relate to others. Portraying a soothing voice on the other end of the phone, perhaps an emergency call handler, he introduces himself: “My name is Lonely, nice to meet you”.

Soon, though, he finds himself the one most in need of reassurance as he lapses back into despair in Mr. Lonely. The beat becomes dark and snare-heavy as he condemns his outwardly loud and brash personality, also questioning whether materialistic pursuits have ever really helped to alleviate that omnipresent feeling of loneliness. The last line cuts the deepest of all: reaching for a friend “so I never have to press that 911”.

1. Kendrick Lamar – DNA.

Regardless of your opinion on DAMN., light 7 or not, there’s no denying that 2017 has very much been the year of Kung Fu Kenny himself. From the teaser track The Heart Part IV tearing apart America’s newly elected toddler/President to his comeback single Humble, along with its subsequent meme value, to the hotly discussed topic of how his fourth LP should be played, there are very few artists who managed to stay relevant for all the right reasons in 2017.

A constantly evolving artist, think back to K Dot on Good Kid, m.A.A.d City or the existential, jazz poet on To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar is the most important figure in hip-hop at the moment and certifies this perfectly with D.N.A. An introspective and aggressive behemoth, this track serves not only as a reflection of himself as an idolised and sought after celebrity (Only Lord knows I’ve been goin’ hammer / dodgin’ paparazzi, freakin’ through the cameras) but it’s so much more than that.

True to his roots and heritage, D.N.A is primarily about Kendrick as a black man and in a year where race was the focus of some of the most despicable moments of the year in America, its message is more important than ever: the feature of a Fox News anchor stating that his music “has done more damage than racism ever has” only provokes him into becoming the passion-driven, bar spitting activist that music needs more of.

As he ends on some vicious lines, the inclusion of “peace to the world” could be taken literally or be a homophone for the slang for a gun; either way, the intentions are made clear on a song that seems to sum up this year into a claustrophobically tight 3 minutes, six seconds. 

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/111518578/playlist/4T1V1dcSEhkDsZcyny9CWY


So there you have it, our definitive list of the best songs we’ve heard all year. I’d like to thank the following people for contributing not only their rankings which helped make the list but also the little write-ups they did for each track: 

Gig Review: Enter Shikari @ Birmingham Arena

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Sure, you might be bored of my Enter Shikari live reviews, but trust me pal, I sure ain’t bored of writing or experiencing them. As always, we’re live from the pit as St. Albans’ favourite sons take to the stage at Arena Birmingham. Birmingham Arena? The NIA.

It’s no secret that I loved and still love The Spark. As soon as The Spark made way for The Sights, my face lit up like a Christmas tree, and when the same happened to kick off Friday’s show, I didn’t so much mosh, jump or dance–I floated on the feelgood air. Rather interestingly, compared to last week’s Royal Blood gig, the arena was half-sized. The stage was probably one half, three quarters up the arena with the seating largely covered off.

But that’s fine, intimacy is Shikari’s bread & butter. Plus, they’ve packed out venues like the Victoria Warehouse & Alexandra Palace with incredible ease, and the NIABarclaycardArenaBirminghamBirminghamArena is an absolute t h i c c b o i of an arena. However, the half size arena made for a tasty blend of hard pitting, as during Solidarity, I ended up at the back, at the front, in the bar, and somehow in Solihull.

Another comment on the intimacy: the quadrophonic sound was fucking unreal, as I didn’t really notice it that much at 2016’s Alleh Palleh gig, but the balls of bass and woomphs of waves made you stop halfway through a song to wonder just what that noise was.

Speaking of stopping halfway through a song, my theory is that Shikari ‘make mistakes’ to build the hype up even further. Anything Can Happen in the Next Half Hour was stopped due to a Rolfy-related mishap, i.e. his drumstick breaking off and moving straight into the beat for Zzzzzzzonked. Which, ACHITNHH at Zzzzzzzzzzonked’s BPM would be a different gravy, but the song was stopped for a bit of on stage banter, which is always good instead of instruments being slammed to the ground. The Shikari boys really feel like good friends and people you want to be friends with.

Song restarted, we all went in harder and with more vigor than ever before. Are Shikari deliberately stacking the deck to get us going wild? I sure bloody hope so.

Take My Country Back is an amazing live tune, again bringing a really positive vibe to the gig. I’ll defend The Spark as one Shikari’s finest albums until I’m blue in the face, but every track that’s played live off the album is another kettle of fish. Rou, in his own words was too busy “mincing around” to remember his trumpet solo, but that being said, we were all too busy “moshing around” to remember his trumpet solo.

As Shikari sets go, it was more on the rowdy end of the spectrum, with no let up between Anything Can Happen… through to Take My Country Back with The Last Garrison and Radiate making sure that there was no time to catch your breath as most of Undercover Agents was spent just recovering, knowing that the hectic part of the set was still to come. Was Arguing With Thermometers with a quick switchup into Rabble Rouser the rowdy part? No, this was merely the starter, a mushroom soup before a feast. Not to brag, but during Rabble Rouser I pulled two people up at the same time off the floor, so if you ask me why I’m at the gym, it’s not to lose weight and promote a healthy lifestyle, it means that the team are never let down when I’m on pitroll.

The set design was amazing, with the big circular screen really changing the size & dynamic of the stage. Only complaint is the strobe lights blinding you as you sallied forth into the pit, but the visual aspect coupled with the sublime quadrophonic sound created an unbeatable atmosphere. I don’t want to keep prattling on about the arena size, but the smaller venue really, really added to the atmosphere. It was great.

More than any other song, I was looking forward to Airfield the most. It delivered spoons of emotion and was beautiful in every single way. Same goes for a piano version of Adieu which is really something I hope makes a live album, and the Routron 5000 mix at the end creating a huge feel-good crescendo. What a lovely, happy, calm atmosphere oh holy fuck did Rou just say they’re going to play 4 songs in 7 minutes at 174bpm?

Sorry You’re Not in a Anterwerpen Snakepit caused me to have a complete Meltdown as my beans were lost within the first thirty seconds. But Meltdown! Antwerpen! Drink it in sports fans, there’s nothing quite like these two bad boys jumping into the setlist. But wait! There’s more! Because after seven, eight, probably twelve if you count the fact Anaesthetist kicked this rambunctious part of the set off, the only song that could be played at this point is Zzzzonked. I gave what little I had left in my body for that song, knowing that the encore would be soothing.

At some point Rou’s shirt got torn, and at some point during Redshift or Live Outside he decided to do away with it entirely, whilst doing yoga against the speaker stack. So far this year I’ve seen him appear through the trapdoor of a stage, drink several gin & tonics, seen him half naked and perform yoga and I don’t even know him personally. Whatever 2018 has in store for the Shikari boys, they’ll have to pull out all the stops to top what has been an exemplary year for them both in the studio and on the road.

I didn’t like Live Outside at first, but now I love it, and for the entirety of that final song, I floated around the arena, belting out every last word. Also caught Rory C’s pick and didn’t have time to throw him one back. Apologies, Rory.

I’ve seen Shikari three times this year, and all three times they’ve blown it out of the park. Absolutely outstanding.

Album Review: Enter Shikari – The Spark

By Ethian Woodford (@human_dis4ster)

rating 5

In today’s political climate, with Nazis everywhere and everything either being terrifying or super-terrifying, it is arguably no longer possible for musicians to be completely free of politics in their music. Even if a band decides to stay apolitical in their music, that in itself is often a stance, arguing that keeping music separate from politics allows both the band themselves and their listeners to forget about the doom and gloom through their music. Just a few years ago, Enter Shikari were one of the only bands with a clear political and social message in their music and was their main staple and they often received both praise and criticism for this as expected. But in today’s climate where politics is inescapable, some may have wondered if Enter Shikari could continue to set themselves apart from the crowd. Following up The Mindsweep, a powerful call to arms against injustice, The Spark, unfortunately, fails to build on that album’s intensity and Enter Shikari seem to be on autopilot.

With their own popularity higher than ever, Shikari perhaps felt the need to cater to a wider audience which is evident in this album. The first two tracks, The Sights and Live Outside, are the most commercial and catchy Shikari have ever sounded, and while these tracks will no doubt become centrepieces of their live sets, they have less urgency than typical Shikari single such as 2014’s Anaesthetist. They are by no means bad tracks but feel awfully safe, and that is never a word usually associated with Enter Shikari. Following on are a number of tracks that feel like sub-par versions of songs Shikari have made before. Take My Country Back calls to mind a few songs from The Mindsweep but lacks the same raw energy found on that album. Airfield is one of the stronger songs lyrically on The Spark, and finds Rou Reynolds at his typically blunt best, with pointed observations such as “it’s common for people to believe everything happens for a reason, I’m sorry that’s false, and it’s poison“. Halfway through the song awkwardly transcends into a trademark Shikari style build to climax, and both parts of the song are gripping but they don’t really mesh that well. Rabble Rouser is the only track on the album that has any aggression to it and is also the most ambitious. It doesn’t all pay off but the beat is one that isn’t easily forgotten.

About halfway through the album, it is quite obvious Enter Shikari aren’t at their best, as tracks such as Shinrin-yoku are borderline boring and the last few tracks are again hit and miss. However despite the instrumentation and lyrics being largely predictable and safe on The Spark, one shining aspect is, as usual, Rou Reynolds vocals and overall presence on the album. Already having established himself as one of the most sincere and enthusiastic frontmen working today, he grows on this album vocally, from spoken-word to art-pop influenced singing, he injects a needed jolt of life to this album and The Spark benefits largely. Unfortunately, apart from that most songs feel predictable in structure and despite having promising moments, most tracks fail to fully capture complete focus.

As mentioned in the outset, Enter Shikari are renowned for being politically charged but surprisingly they don’t bring much new to the table on this album in that aspect. Again it just find them treading familiar ground and in contrast to the unashamedly hopeful yet urgent nature of the The Mindsweep, it can’t help but seem tame in comparison.

This is by no means an awful album, Enter Shikari have always been such a genuinely inspirational band and their albums always brim with ideas and hope, which is why it’s easy to detect it is less apparent in this album. However Enter Shikari playing it safe is still enjoyable enough but for a band that has always been so intentionally unsafe, it’s hard not to feel conflicted. Hopefully a less demanding album is what the band needed to ready themselves for their next leap forward in ambition but for now The Spark will provide little new for longtime Enter Shikari fans to get excited about.

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Gig Review: Enter Shikari @ Rose Theare, Kingston

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Parties are good. The theatre is good. Enter Shikari are good. So, as you might well imagine, combining those three things on a pleasant Saturday evening in the beautiful surroundings of Kingston, London, would be a good idea, right? Yes, you’re very right, as Hertfordshire rabble rousers, Enter Shikari took to the stage of the Rose Theatre to celebrate the birth of their new album, The Spark.

Life is all about seizing opportunities and making the best of them. For instance, frontman Rou Reynolds has used his talents to pen thoughtful, emotional and hard hitting lyrics for well over ten years now. He also took the opportunity of playing in a theatre, and appeared on stage via the trap door. And as I’m allowed to speak freely in these, I think the gig had peaked there. From front to back, it was an amazing, energetic and vibrant gig, but Rou Reynolds appearing from a trap door like the hardcore Houdini he is was amazing.

However, what followed didn’t exactly take the gig downhill, as both the band and the crowd burst into the anthemic “oh-woah-oh-oh-oh”s of the star-exploding Redshift, causing The Rose to be rattled in a way it had never been rattled before. It was towards the end of a song that a conspiracy was unearthed. Just as the emotional, hands in the air ending was about to hit, the song stopped. Rou cursed God, as he had not allowed them to get through at least one song, but shortly after, bassman Chris Batten revealed that it was his fault that the song went skewiff. Which leads me to ask; is Batty C God? Though biased as the bassman myself, I bow at his altar.

God apologised for his mistake and the song came to an uproarious end, as it always does. As a side note, the kit the boys were using, with Rory, Rob and God using instruments in the same colour scheme as The Spark. Not only were they on form, they were on brand.

Whilst this was an occasion to celebrate the birth of their new album, it was also important to remind everyone where they’d been, with The Last Garrison tearing the roof off of the theatre, which is just as well, because that was a schweaty concert. The inclusion of this song was quite apt as well, being as one of the lyrics is “Let’s toast to the fact we’ve got this far”, because The Rose is probably the smallest venue they’ll occupy for a long time, as arenas are the only venues that can contain the aggression and the energy of Enter Shikari anymore.

Despite having only 24-ish hours to study the supporting material, the crowd were prepared & ready for tunes from The Spark, with both Take My Country Back and Undercover Agents already providing hands-in-the-air, sing-until-you’re-hoarse choruses and anthemic sound. The venue was small, but the sound was huge. And as another side note, fuck the guys down in the pit who shouted “Spark is shit”, because a) fuck you, it’s a good album, b) saying that is like going to someone’s birthday party and calling them a cunt, c) because that’s like, your opinion man. It’s obviously a ropey situation when a band releases nothing but good albums to pick your favourite, but shut the fuck up, yeah? It’s a good album, I won’t be reviewing it, so I’m not gonna go to deep, but it’s a cracker of an album.

Bastards.

As part of a buffet of Spark tunes, Rabble Rouser, deliberately or not, was written purely to be played by Enter Shikari at Enter Shikari shows. At this point I should mention that I was in the seating area, violently shaking my body, considering throwing myself off the bannister to get stuck into the pit. That good, lads. Obviously, there should have been more tunes from The Spark, but I imagine it would have been a nightmare trying to rehearse them to the point of perfection, so I won’t mark them down for that.

Rabble Rouser merely blew the trumpet to herald the start of the rowdy part of the show, as Labyrinth, Antwerpen, fucking Antwerpen, oh my God they played Antwerpen and Hoodwinker turned the gig up to 11, so up to 11 that Rou tore a hole in the crotch of his trousers. We all chanted for him to take them off. He didn’t. Sad!

But the rowdy chants to get Rou to remove his trousers were indicative of the night. It was a very jovial atmosphere, with the band being able to laugh and joke on stage, with the crowd brimming with energy. Whilst yes, it was sonically orgasmic and brimming with energy, the overriding feeling was that it was a fun gig. Just a really enjoyable Saturday night.

Torn Apart was followed by Constellations from A Flash Flood of Colour, and oh my, it’s been a while! Rou, bless his torn trousers seemed a bit lost at points, but fortunately, he had the constellations (and a theatre full of Shikari faithful) to guide him. All he needs is a flash suit and some fancy footwork, we’ll handle the singing part, no drama.

Closing the set, Live Outside managed to squeeze out what little voice the crowd had, with Anaesthetist draining the crowd of energy and leaving them punch drunk. A short set, yes, but that doesn’t matter at all, because the quality made you forget all about the quantity. A perfect gig from start to finish.

That Redshift mistake’ll cost you though, boys.

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TRACK REVIEW: Enter Shikari – Live Outside

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Ooooooooooh baby! Everyone’s favourite electronic post-hardcore kick to the face Enter Shikari are back with a new track, titled Live Outside, and you betcha, it’s… it’s… it’s…

A bit tame actually. Like it’s porridge. Not that there’s anything wrong with porridge, but you’d rather enjoy a big fuck off breakfast and steaming mug of coffee. No coffee? Maybe a cuppa, then. Maybe a nice glazed donut. That’s what you come to expect from Enter Shikari, they’re the big fuck off breakfast, but a big fuck off breakfast just isn’t enough, they’re actually pouring hot coffee down your trousers now. On the whole, they’re brash, they’re uncouth and they come with a message of community, peace, and love, but on the surface, Live Outside doesn’t feel like it has any of this.

Live Outside however, feels like it’s trying to appeal to everyone, instead of their usual niche market. Not depart so heavily from their authentic sound that the Upside Down Triangle Enthusiasts go off the boil, but at the same time, create a musical Masala compared to their usual Jalfrezi. It is a mainstream, fun-for-all-the-family sound, which, whilst this track is a biiiiiiiiit bland and feels like it’s lacking… something… this is exactly what Enter Shikari should be doing right now to take their message to the masses.

That’s not to jump on the Pop Bad, Rock Good bandwagon that underwhelming acts with underwhelming albums jump onto when they start tearing their hair out and screaming about ‘real music’. But it just feels like it’s lacking something. Of course, it’s a stripped back sound, but it just feels like they could have produced the poppy, easy-on-the-ears sound, but come in with a bit of a uppercut when you’re not looking, or thrown a chilli or two into the pan to give it a bit of extra spice.

Lyrically, it doesn’t make much sense on the surface. Have Enter Shikari traded their political calls-to-arms and deep, soulful songs for some nonsense? Of course not. Don’t be daft. Lyrically, Live Outside is based around anxiety & mental health, which makes a lot of sense, and is something that Rou has openly spoken about over the years, and it’s fantastic to yet again see another well-known artist weave it into their work. It’s not too on the nose, and keeps the warm, syrupy feel of the song. You can pour this in your ears and it’ll feel good. Pour a track like Sssssnakepit in your ears and you’ll explode.

Or maybe perhaps the lyrics are about a protragonist who has grown tired of their house, is sick of trying to tame a horse, and is going to live, outside (ahaha, see?) in the woods, naked. Maybe. Art is all about interpretation.

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This is actually quite a mainstream song, which could arguably get a lot of airtime? Surely Enter Shikari, the independent instigators haven’t sold out? Nope, they’re planning to take their niche offering & powerful message to the masses. Some time ago, frontman Rou Reynolds did state the following, on popular screaming bucket of twats, Twitter:

“Enough. Our next album will bring our message to the masses. I want to reach as many people as possible. We will give this EVERYTHING.”

Is Live Outside the pinkie-in-the-pool before launching a full blown assault on the mainstream? Will a stripped back, poppy sound be the soundtrack of the inevitable uprising about the greed and evil that has gripped our society?

Yeah sure, Live Outside is a bit of a tame, poppy track compared to the usual million-synth symphony followed by a breakdown so low that Barbados Slim couldn’t get underneath it, but Shikari shouldn’t be rodded at all for going off the beaten path to try and reach out to a larger audience. This easy-on-the-ears stripped back sound is the perfect way to take their message to the masses. Sure, it’s a bit tamer compared to past offerings, yeah, but this is all part of their plan to carve out a bigger audience.

As a side note/question/criticism, should they have teamed up with LadBible to get this message out? Not really, it’s a bit tone deaf when you consider that the average Shikari fan isn’t a banter-and-stolen-content enthusiast, and the average it’s-not-sexist-if-it’s-banter LadBible reader spent most of Monday afternoon wondering who the fuck Ender Shakira were. Nobody wins here, lads.

On the whole, as long as their new album The Spark contains those famous synth-and-arsekicking heavy hitters, there should be enough with tracks like Live Outside to take their message of peace, love, hope and community to the masses, whilst keeping their faithful hardcore fans happy as they’re being sonically beaten up by four lads from Hertfordshire.

7/10

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Slammin’ Beers: A Slam Dunk Review

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Prologue

One of the finest pleasures of the late May Bank Holiday weekend is the fact you get a three-day weekend, but better yet, there’s bound to be some tasty musical action at Slam Dunk Festival, one of the UK’s finest touring pop punk/metal/rock festivals. Every year the festival offers great variety, with the bands and headliners presenting something for everyone, with a few upsetting clashes along the way. Plus, at under £50 for the ticket, it’s a great way to discover some brand new favourites as well. 

Also, it’s a brilliant excuse to get on the beer.  Six cans deep and thirsty for more, I decided to fully immerse myself into the day’s action, offering gonzo journalism from the pit. A metal Hunter S Thompson if you will. Whilst I can’t confirm that the Doctor didn’t enjoy opening this place up, I doubt he’s ever been headbutted during Bury Tomorrow and couldn’t stop sneezing. 

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Crossfaith

Kicking off the day’s personal schedule were Japanese electrometal enthusiasts Crossfaith, whose brand of full-frontal metal mixed with some heavy synth produces a sound akin to the Prodigy having angry sex with a wasps nest. Despite being on at half 2 in the afternoon and only the second band on, they nearly managed to fill out the entirety of the Genting Arena‘s floor, which is, give or take, about 8,000 people, and will host the likes of fellow metal heads Take That and Little Mix in the coming week. Mega. 

But it’s not hard to see why Crossfaith pulled in such a big crowd so early. The energy carried by their band was enough to send the arena into a mosh-heavy, fist-pumping frenzy during their six-song set, featuring an appearance from Beartooth‘s Caleb Shomo for an adrenaline laced performance of Ghost in the Mirror. One of their party pieces is a full-blown cover of Omen by the Prodigy, which does the original justice, but adds a smidgen more of ruthless aggression. Setting the bar high for the day’s action, Crossfaith were the perfect hors d’ouvere on the Slam Dunk menu. 

Rating – 7/10

Beers consumed – 1 pint Amstel (7 total)

Black Foxxes

Appearing in the middle of the Genting‘s food court on the Key Master stage, young and hungry Exter rockers Black Foxxes were one of the top dishes available in the food court. Perfectly enjoyed with a slice of overpriced pizza and a bottle of warm Heineken despite asking for a cold bottle, Black Foxxes banged out some proper, good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll.

Their debut album, I’m Not Well came out towards the latter half of last year, with songs like Husk, Wilder People and River steadily impressing everyone passing through the food court at that point. In retrospect it’s a fucking great idea to stick up and comers in the middle of a food court , because you’ll reach a wider audience. Great bunch of lads playing great rock ‘n’ roll with a shite slice of pizza. Lovely. 

Rating – 8/10

Beers Consumed – 1 bottle of lukewarm Heineken, 1 pint of Amstel (8 total)

Bury Tomorrow

Yes, yes, oh yay! At this point I was actually a bit pissed, which made the fact I was going to see Bury Tomorrow, a band I’d actually discovered at the same festival some two years back and met frontman Dan Winter-Bates whilst cuddling a two-pinter even more exciting than usual. There’s a theme developing here, isn’t there. 

Unfortunately the start of Bury Tomorrow‘s set was delayed by technical issues, something that would plague the Jagermeister Stage for the rest of the day. However, what was short was undoubtedly sweet as the set began with the scintillating Man on Fire, turning the floor of the Genting into a frenzy as pits opened up quicker than Maggie Thatcher could close them. Somewhere in between Lionheart and Sceptres I’d acquired an Obey snapback, something which oddly suited me and would stay on my head from that point onwards. Interesting side note, none of the bands I like make snapbacks, rendering this discovery void. 

During the final song Cemetery, I took damage in a moshpit, getting headbutted in the nose, causing me to sneeze uncontrollably, which meant I was unable to hear that their set was only going to be as long as that. Whilst technical glitches scuppered their set, they certainly made up for it in power and delivery. 

Rating – 6/10 (based on injury and technical glitches)

Beers Consumed – 1 Amstel (9 total)

Beartooth

No time to spare as Bury Tomorrow would be directly followed by their metal counterparts Beartooth. Well, there was time for a wee and another beer, so that bit’s a lie. 

The main offering of today’s action was always going to be Enter Shikari‘s tenth birthday party for Take to the Skies, but Beartooth‘s lightning set would mean that the Shikari boys would have to go some to beat this performance. On fire from start to finish, the Columbus crowd pleasers got a nearly full arena bouncing, jumping and moshing to their sound.  

Returning the favour that Caleb Shlom payed earlier, Crossfaith frontman Kenta Koie came out for a louder-than-hell duet on Body Bag, with a mix of old tracks such as In Between from debut album Disgusting rubbing shoulders with songs from 2016’s sophomore album Aggressive (which is only £9.99 on vinyl in HMV, get on it lads), getting a hungry Birmingham crowd hyped up. The set was jam packed with action, energy and passion, producing one of the standout performances of the day, and would definitely require a huge effort from other bands to beat that whirlwind performance. 

Rating – 8/10

Beers Consumed – 2 Amstel (11 total)

I Prevail 

Fucks sake. We didn’t get to the poorly placed Impericon Stage in time and we can’t even see the bastard thing. It’s like hidden behind some bushes, how bloody stupid. Pretty sure they were great anyway. Might as well have a pint and watch the FA Cup Final. Saw some of Citizen as well, they were good, if not my bag. Also saw some of Waterparks as well. Ended up doing an impression of the front man and sounded like a stereotypical American teenager. Like, oh my god Kelly. 

Rating – ???

Beers Consumed – 2 Amstel (13 total)

Don Broco

Christ Jesus I can’t stand Don Broco. I’ve got no idea where they fall into the musical spectrum but they sound and look like someone fed a Topman catalogue after midnight. They opened with Everybody which is a pretty enjoyable track mind you, but at the point it ended I descended into a fiftieth circle of musical hell which I am going to dub Fuckboicore, because why not? 

It’s easy to understand why people like Broco, because it’s something a bit heavier but not too heavy, but they’re wearing short sleeve shirts from Topman so they’re just okay, I guess? Frontman looks like a young Jeremy Clarkson, and I struggle to comprehend why anybody under the age of 50 tucks a t shirt in. My dad does that and I wouldn’t want to see him front Don Broco either. To be honest I got distracted trying to get my booze-laden pal to calm himself down, which was a comical interlude as we all ended up wrestling. Whole reason I was there to get into pole position for Shikari so I’m really not the guy to ask about it. 

Rating – 5/10

Beers Consumed – 1 Water, 1 Amstel (14 total)

Enter Shikari

LADIEEEEEES AND GENTLEMEN, SHOW YOUR YOUR APPRECIATION FOR ENTER SHIKARI!

Being honest the rest of this review is just slightly comical preamble to the main event. No more beer, no more comedy, it’s time for Enter Shikari to host the latest leg of the Take to the Skies anniversary tour. 

The atmosphere was tangiable and the excitement could be bottled and sold as a performance enhancing drug as the lights went out at the intro to Stand Your Ground/Enter Shikari hit, with the crowd going into a frenzy during, with the excitement carrying straight over into Mothership. At some point I lost my found snapback, but there was no room for passengers aboard the mothership. The excitement and ecstasy carried over into Anything Can Happen in the Next Half Hour, and it did, as Labyrinth followed directly after. This is brilliant, the production values were amazing if not a few technical niggles, and the passion interweaved in these old songs was incredible, but there was just as much love for the new classics as The Last Garrison, Anaesthetist and Redshift all made an appearance with The Appeal and the Mindsweep II bringing the set to an aggressive end. 

What a joy it was to see tracks like No Sssssweat, Jonny Sniper and Adieu, especially, performed live, with the crowd reaction showing that Take to the Skies still has the same impact and effect it did ten years ago, except this time, Shikari are now deservedly an arena filling band. However, whether they should be playing arenas is up for debate, as the sheer power of their sound, their message and their fans has caused severe structural damage in every venue they’ve played. That damn good. 

With a tribute to the people of Manchester weaved in, there was an emotional sing along to a cover of Oasis’ Half the World Away before the beginning of Adieu. 

In between songs, frontman Rou Reynolds made us all aware that June 8th is our opportunity to get rid of Theresa May once and for all, but if you’re a Shikari fan, and you’re not politically engaged, you’ve gotta get on the trolley. It’s music with a message, stupid!

All in all, I’ve been to lots of gigs in my time, ranging from small-time gigs where there’s more band members than fans, to blockbuster gigs from some of the biggest and best, but I’ve rarely seen a 10/10, to the point they barely take up one hand. But this, my dear reader, with the passion, the sweat, the love and the energy, makes this 10th birthday party one of the best gigs, and 10th birthday parties I’ve ever been to. 

Rating – 10/10

BEER TOTAL – 14 beers and I felt good enough to drive! But I didn’t. We got a taxi. OH and I had a few cans when I got in.  

FINAL OPINION

SURPRISE PACKAGE – Black Foxxes, rock and fucking roll!

BEST BAND – Shikari, no doubt about it. 

PERSONAL HIGHLIGHT – Finding out that snapbacks suit your man. Swag, motherfuckers! 


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