Top 10 Car Seat Headrest Songs

Will Toledo’s Car Seat Headrest project is an anomaly in modern rock music, and a much-needed one at that; with one eye on the past, and the other on the present, the Bandcamp-bred singer-songwriter has offered listeners an overwhelming plethora of ambitious, consistent, and downright moving albums since the group’s inception at the beginning of the decade. 

It has been thoroughly exciting to see Car  Seat Headrest grow, not just in members, but from cult Internet darlings to one of the larger festival-crowd gatherings in recent years – and as they plough on through a tour supporting a remake of  Twin Fantasy, arguably their best record, we thought it only right to celebrate Toledo’s discography with a classic top 10 songs list!  Remember though: we are just teens of style, so don’t take this too seriously.

10. Cute Thing (Face to Face)

It’s important to differentiate between the two existing versions of Twin Fantasy (Toledo’s aforementioned magnum opus), because whilst the similarities may be obvious, the divergences are even more vast.  Take “Cute Thing” as an example: what was once a scuzzy, yelp-y, Who-referencing anthem for young, messy love is now cleaned up, dressed in its best leather jacket and taken out on the town for a banger more akin to Cheap Trick than Teen Suicide.  The structure is overhauled, the dynamics are tweaked, and the harmonies are layered in such a way that would bring a tear of beauty to Brian Wilson’s eye, whilst still retaining the wild spirit of the original in a balance that is easier in theory than it is on wax.  And plus those James Brown and Frank Ocean shoutouts never get any less awesome.

9. Misheard Lyrics (feat. Nora Knight)

And here’s the curveball.  Indie rock bedroom producer abandons guitars for electronic instrumentation” could be the most overused headline in digital media from the past decade, but here on Monomania‘s “Misheard Lyrics,” Toledo shows off his mastery of the laptop in a track that combines crisp handclaps with dreamy piano and a bouncy bassline in a duet with Nora Knight, who adds extra depth to the witty lyrics about a crumbling relationship coming slowly undone due to the writer’s own words being misinterpreted.  A seriously underrated cut on from an overlooked Headrest record.

8. I Want You To Know I’m Awake (I Hope That You’re Asleep)

Whilst Car Seat Headrest are appreciated for their unique style of dry, confessional humour, there is an underlying mark of depression that they are commonly associated with. And it doesn’t get any darker than this How To Leave Town track, which is approximately seven minutes of a person beating themselves up synthesised into chords, melody, rhythm and harmony.  The chugging acoustic guitars and driving rhythm section contrast nicely with the mumbled lyrics, as Toledo murmurs about being “a stupid, ugly, stuttering asshole,” whose lover “said it was a mistake to every try and help.  Resentment never sounded so bittersweet, especially when the song’s narrator starts to convince not only the listener but himself that he and his partner are nothing like John and Yoko, Sinatra and Gardner, or even their own parents.

7. Vincent

Two notes.  That’s all the first two minutes of “Vincent” are based on, trilling seemingly endlessly as ambient noise twirls around them.  Piece by piece everything enters until a raggedy, distorted guitar threatens to rip the whole thing in two–saved only by a funky backbeat the likes of which Toledo has never experimented with before.  Surprisingly groovy, darkly comic and typically epic, this highlight from Teens of Denial proves that even with a wider cast of collaborators, Car Seat Headrest could remain an engaging and interesting project well throughout the decade.  The inclusion of brass only adds to the journey of the song, leaving you thoroughly breathless as the final vocal rings out in its own defiance in the face of teen angst.

6. Famous Prophets (Mirror to Mirror)

The only real misstep of this year’s Twin Fantasy remake (subtitled “Face to Face”) was the group’s handling of the truly monstrous “Famous Prophets,” but at least it served to highlight the staggering ambition of the 2011 original.  Essentially in two parts, the penultimate song on “Mirror to Mirror” acts as the final chapter to the title track’s epilogue, and boy does it ramp up the pressure.  A constant game of cat-and-mouse between tension-and-release, the lyrics find Toledo musing on his favourite topic: a romance on its last legs and the anxiety and sadness that come with it. Only this time it’s even more personal than usual.  Apologies to future mes and yous, but I can’t help feeling like we’re through” he drawls over a numb, descending bassline, before things get biblical, with crashing drums, thrashing guitars and Hebrew screams.  It is often argued that Car Seat Headrest’s work is hampered by the lo-fi nature of its production, yet with this track, it only emphasises the intimacy of the performances – so that when Toledo finally yells in a cracked pain, “Why did you tell me?” over and over again, you feel like you’ve been granted an exclusive insight into catharsis in real time.  Utterly stunning.

5. Destroyed By Hippie Powers

No song in the Car Seat Headrest catalogue rocks harder with a supplementary “W” than this hilarious and touching Pixies-influenced number about the dangers of taking too many hallucinatory drugs at a party to impress your peers and then having to walk the effects off on your way back home.  Whilst the power chords will hit you in the face first, it’s the details that keep you coming back for more: the subtle clock of a cowbell, the lyrical nods to teenage clique culture, the shoebox vocals that shred Toledo’s vocal cords before the big crescendo – it all just adds to such a visceral listening experience, almost as sweeping as the trip that the song’s author found himself on.  All together now: “Tell my mother I am going home…”

4. Something Soon

If “Destroyed By Hippie Powers” is the band’s best rock song, “Something Soon” is by far their best pop song.  Toledo recognises the extraordinary lengths of some of his tracks, often preferring a formidable collection of minutes to a lean cut, stating that it gives him room to breathe and build up the music, yet something must be said for his ability to fit such a complex set of feelings into four minutes of near-perfection so irresistible that Smash Mouth (yes, that Smash Mouth) even covered it.  Opening on a twinkling Rhodes piano and pulsating hi-hats, every melody that comes from Toledo’s mouth is devised to the nth degree to be ironically screamed back at him by adoring fans across the globe, especially when the song roars into life at the chorus: “Heavy boots on my throat, I need/ I need something soon/ […] I can’t talk to my folks, I need something soon.”  When another trademark Headrest crescendo bursts open a kaleidoscope of sound, you can’t help but think the thing you need is more songs like this.

3. The Ending of Dramamine

Here is where it gets difficult.  Depending on what day of the week it is, any of the top three tracks here could have been number one – they all, in their own way, represent what is best about Car Seat Headrest: the ambitious song structures, the tightrope-balancing-act of humour and sentiment in their lyrics, the arresting ear for melody, the willingness to experiment and prescribe patience to their listeners.  But someone has to win bronze, and it’s up to How To Leave Town highlight “The Ending of Dramamine” to take that place.  Clocking in at nearly fifteen minutes, with a particularly trying five minute intro, this song is not for the feint of heart.  It patiently unfurls through its run time, the tick-tock of that ever present drumbeat backing a lonely drive through America in the night, its dark organs, reverberating synthesisers, and metronomic bass keeping that anxious groove locked in.  As more elements keep piling into the mix, the claustrophobia creeps in until the listener is left in solitude, with nothing but echoing guitar feedback for company.  Never fails to be breathtaking in its gloominess.

2. Bodys (Face to Face)

Everyone likes “Bodys.”  It’s the Car Seat Headrest song to the bleachers, a ’90s indie rock song indebted to The Beach Boys and realised for the modern age with a four-to-the-floor beat stretched out to over six minutes– a tune so heartfelt and witty that it is irresistible in every sense of the word.  The newer version of it only highlights the impact that those hooks(!), those guitars(!), that drumbeat(!) can have on a human, as it bounds its way carefree and sexy to the finish line with the kind of exuberance that only the young, thin, and alive can muster.  It’s the sound of a really good day, it’s the sound of telling your crush that you love them, it’s the sound of acing an exam, it’s the sound of getting a promotion at work, it’s the sound of the best night of your life with your best friends.  It’s really, really good – and that’s saying something considering its competition.  Everyone likes Bodys.  I really like Bodys.

1. Beach Life-In-Death (Face to Face)

I’ve been staring at this Word document for nearly twenty minutes trying to come up with a good enough reason as to why “Beach Life-In-Death” is the best Car Seat Headrest song, and I simply can’t.  It’s not for lack of quality on the track’s part; otherwise, it wouldn’t even be in contention with the rest of these fabulous numbers.  But it’s a fault on my part: it was the first song I ever heard from Toledo’s magical brain, and it’s the first song I think of when I wonder what sums up the group best.  It’s sort of like trying to describe why a certain parent is your favourite – I could list all these attributes as to why I admire it, but at the end of the day they’re not the exact reason why I love it so much.  It’s long, fast, loud, dynamic, funny, sad, heart-on-its-sleeve proud, huddled-up-in-bed anxious, and, above all else, defiantly human. 

The “Face to Face” version, in particular, offers a refreshingly adult perspective on the awkward, messy side to late teens and early 20s romance, where you’re old enough to know better but too young to truly commit. It’s a maturity that the “Mirror to Mirror” edition lacks, indulging itself in a slice of self-pity that hasn’t aged as well.  And the final scream that glitches and overwhelms the entire recording is pure bliss, a sweet release from all the pent-up angst derived from the confusion of not understanding people who are never meant to be understood in the first place. They’re living beings, and trying to figure them out like a puzzle is weird, but you can’t help it.  Enough of my pretentious ramblings – go listen to it, experience it, come back, and then we’ll talk about all those dog metaphors, eh? – josh adams (@jxshadams)

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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.

Every Arcade Fire Album, Ranked From Worst To Best

Since their first demo back in 2001, up until their critically divisive fifth LP last year, Canadian indie rock outfit Arcade Fire have had a knack for inciting strong reactions from the general public and critics – most of the time positive. Not one to stick to the same bread and butter formula, the Montreal band have constantly changed up their sound which helps to make them one of the most exciting acts the 21st century has provided thus far.

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 Jake (@jjjjaketh), Josh (@jxshadams), Kieran (@kiercannon), and Sarah (@hollowcrown) have helped to 100-per-cent-definitively rank their albums – will there be hot takes? Absolutely. Will there be an obvious loser? Most definitely? Will you be pissed off at us? Probably. Anyway, let’s keep the car running and skrt off to our ranking…

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


5. Everything Now (2017)

Jake [5th]: While I don’t hate Everything Now with the feverishness that many other people do, there’s absolutely no denying that it’s the black sheep in Arcade Fire’s discography. The promo campaign in the lead up to the album rubbed a LOT of people the wrong way, with the band adopting a satirical über-capitalist facade, and unleashing the Everything Now Corporation on the world.

We’re not here to talk about that, however (though I, amongst many others, have plenty to say on the subject). We’re here to talk about the tunes, and while it’s the weakest Arcade Fire album, there are still bangers to be found here. The title track, for instance, is a natural progression (or regression?) of the sound Arcade Fire adopted on The Suburbs, with a bit of Reflektor thrown in.

Creature Comfort is a barnstormer of a song, with Reginé rocking a FUCKING KEYTAR during live sets, and the undeniably massive sounding Electric Blue gets its funk on. An incredibly divisive album, then. But a quote-unquote “bad” Arcade Fire album is still better than most other records.

Josh [5th]: What is there to say about this record that hasn’t already been said? By and large considered a disappointment except for the few aurally challenged, Arcade Fire’s fifth LP saw them aim for the nosebleed seats of the stadium with infectious pop melodies, danceable grooves, and biting social commentary that was hinted to be a more streamlined version of the group’s last album, “Reflektor”, thanks to its phenomenal lead titular single.

However, their reach went beyond their grasp, and lazy songwriting, embarrassing marketing, and tired performances hampered down their latest, with few highlights scattered amongst the track listing (“Creature Comfort” and “Electric Blue” being amongst them). They may have attained new commercial heights with “Everything Now”, but at the cost of their reputation as critical darlings and one of our generation’s most forward-thinking bands.

Kieran [5th]: Despite generating astronomical levels of hype with a multitude of teasers and visuals of the band marching about in matching EN regalia, Arcade Fire’s latest release ultimately fell rather flat on its face.

The cryptic social media promo campaign had us all hoping for an even bigger, bolder expansion on Reflektor’s avant-garde approach and while some tracks delivered to a certain extent, such as Creature Comfort and ridiculously catchy title track Everything Now, the album’s overriding narrative of subversive consumerist critique felt all too often like a crutch to fall back on; a cover-up for a lack of songwriting ideas.

Chemistry, for example: is it steeped in countless layers of irony, or is it just a bit terrible? Overall, the reason EN languishes so far behind the rest is that, unlike any album they’ve released up to this point, it’s simply not an enjoyable listen from front to back.

Sarah [5th]: Parody-like promotion aside – 2017’s Everything Now fails to deliver the multifaceted creativity explored in Arcade Fire’s previous works. It is clear that the band attempted to push their own boundaries by following a simpler and slightly more abrasive path, however, this shift wasn’t well received for good reason.

There are some listenable tracks from this record, such as Electric Blue, that stray from AF’s sound but still deliver. With a career spanning almost 15 years and a cult following, changing your core characteristics and drawing from completely abstract influences can challenge fan loyalty, as this isn’t the sound they have grown to adore.  

4. Neon Bible (2007)

Josh [4th]: There’s nothing bad per se about “Neon Bible” – the production is a step up from the lo-fi smudge of their debut, the performances are as tight as ever, and it features some of Arcade Fire’s greatest hits. But ultimately it suffers from middle child syndrome, lacking both the shock-of-the-new of “Funeral” and the grand, overblown ambition of “The Suburbs”.

The expansion into Americana is a nice touch, expanding the group’s instrumental palette to include organs and mandolins (see: “Intervention” and “Keep The Car Running”), but it does little to keep certain tracks memorable, especially in the latter of the LP. At least it features their greatest album closer to date, a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “My Body Is A Cage” that is bursting at the seams with teenage tension and adolescent angst before erupting into a heavenly climax that could fill a cathedral.

Kieran [4th]: I feel rotten about Neon Bible ending up in this lowly position, I really do. In fact, it’s the album that got me into Arcade Fire in the first place and it’s arguably the one that propelled them into stadium-filling indie rock stardom. For some reason, though, it’s the only pre-EN album I rarely find myself revisiting.

By most other metrics, it’s a great album. The swelling organs and wonderfully dark lyrics of My Body Is a Cage and Intervention marry together perfectly to create stunning pieces of baroque pop while the intense, upbeat No Cars Go has established itself as a firm fan favourite.

Compared to the sheer single-mindedness of Funeral, for example, Neon Bible has expanded outwards thematically, covering a vast array of topics and incorporating plenty of grandiose instrumentation but it doesn’t quite deliver the same gut-punch as the others.

Sarah [3rd]: A pivotal point in the Arcade Fire discography, Neon Bible is a graduation from their heavily artistic debut but remains stylistically vague – leaving room to play in future albums. Sandwiched between the band’s first studio album and their most refined release, Neon Bible serves as a guide of sorts.

The problem with this album is that the storytelling is somewhat 2D – and with such an emotive album under their belt already, this one feels almost vapid in context. The whole album is frustrating as it fails to deliver any real depth, and we have several examples that Arcade Fire are capable of this on celestial levels.

Jake [3rd]: The darkest of any of their albums, Arcade Fire’s sophomore effort Neon Bible is a bit of a fiddly record to get adjusted to. But when you do, it bloody shines. With song topics ranging from phones and computers taking over THE PEOPLE, MAN! (Black Mirror) to failing religion (Intervention and (Antichrist Television Blues)), the topics are heavy but dealt with with a deft hand.

They didn’t abandon their knack for crafting a bonafide festival classic, however, with Keep the Car Running, No Cars Go and even the ridiculously sad album closer My Body is a Cage being live set mainstays since the album’s release. Neon Bible is another jewel in Arcade Fire’s crown.

3. Reflektor (2013)

Kieran [3rd]: Far be it from Arcade Fire to be accused of resting on their laurels – a trip to Régine Chassagne’s ancestral homeland of Haiti was enough inspiration for the Canadian indie-rock outfit to reinvent themselves, more or less.

Reflektor is a smorgasbord of musical influences spanning Haitian rara to dance-rock, an illustration of the group’s laissez-faire attitude; one which results in their most imaginative and carefree recordings to date, the aural equivalent of letting your hair down and dancing like an absolute bam.

For a band who were previously considered fairly earnest and sombre, they’ve decided to cast off indie-rock conventions and go with the flow – this rhythm-orientated approach is perfectly captured with the syncopated beats of Here Comes The Night Time. It’s loose, it’s unconventional, it’s paranoid and anxious but – crucially – Reflektor is utterly, utterly compelling. The only petty grievance preventing this being a contender for my #1 is its gargantuan 85 minute run time.

Sarah [4th]: Unlike Everything Now, Reflektor breaks the band’s mould while still holding integrity as an Arcade Fire album. Songs like Joan of Arc show a lot of experimentation and exemplifies the bands’ infamous ability to create highly interesting, enjoyable music. Into the records second half we see foreshadowing with Porno – a blunt, steady song – arguably better than anything from Everything Now, but still lays the foundation for that release.

Jake [4th]: Reflektor is very, very, very good. It’s also, to me, a bit scatterbrained (like Everything Now). Reflektor knows what it wants to talk about (namely the rise of technology) and it utilises a smorgasbord or genres to convey its messages.

Reflektor is punky, disco-y, electro…-y(?), glam-y… you name it, Arcade Fire touched on it with this album. And that isn’t really a bad thing, Win sacrificing a cohesive identity allowed Arcade Fire to be as free and as experimental as they wanted, and for the most part, it paid off.

Birthing songs like We Exist, Reflektor, Afterlife and Normal Person. It’s an album that’s simultaneously weighed down and elevated by the fact that it’s so all over the place from a genre perspective, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Josh [2nd]: A controversial pick for a number two spot? Perhaps. A lot of complaints have been levied at the band’s fourth album: it’s too long, over-indulgent, the change in tone and sound too jarring, the stage show and marketing too gimmicky. But this is Arcade Fire at the peak of their ambition, and if there is one thing Win Butler and co. do well, it’s ambition.

Every song might not be mind-blowing, but they’re memorable and unique in the context of the album, and the listener genuinely feels like they have completed a journey by the time they wrap up on the jaw-droppingly gorgeous “Supersymmetry”. The production comes courtesy of James Murphy, so you know it’s going to sound tighter than your grandmother’s attic (and that’s not a euphemism), and the instrumentation has been made even more eclectic to harbour the influence of African, Haitian and Latin music. From start to finish, this is an absolute joy to listen to – just don’t forget to take a deep breath before you begin.

2. Funeral (2004)

Sarah [2nd]: As a debut, Funeral thrust Arcade Fire into the indie mainstream – and almost immediately helped the band make their claim as important figures in the scene. This record perfectly exemplifies their creativity, be it through the actual songs, the titles or the artwork, with each aspect setting them apart from popular alternative music at the time.

What truly makes Funeral special is its inherent ability to pander to people from all walks of life, it sits happily in the middle of the spectrum between too much and too little. Having this as a debut really pulled in a loyal fanbase from the get-go as it was widely spread across societal groups – and this has been fundamental in the bands following successes. Without Funeral, Arcade Fire would perhaps fail to be the grandeur figure we know it as.

Jake [2nd]: It’s still staggering to me to this day that Funeral is Arcade Fire’s first full-length album. Already masters of their craft at this early a stage of their careers, Win and his merry band of misfits set the world of Indie alight with the release of Funeral in 2004. Imagine writing songs like Wake Up, Crown of Love, Power Out and Rebellion on your FIRST. FUCKING. ALBUM. It’s almost unfair. One of the best debut albums ever, unquestionably.

Josh [3rd]: The one that started it all. It’s hard to remember a time when Arcade Fire weren’t considered A Very Big Deal, and it almost seems like that from their inception they weren’t anything less than that – to be fair, when David Bowie buys all your CDs and distributes them to his friends, you aren’t exactly going to be just an overnight sensation.

And so “Funeral” became a landmark indie record, brimming with tunes and earnest that made the world fall in love with the Canadian band. Yet time has not been kind to their debut, with the production seeming at first charming now being utterly grating, and it lacks the slick, rehearsed nature of later records that made them a joy to listen to. But it still packs one hell of a punch, especially on cuts such as “Power Out” and “Rebellion” that will keep arenas and festivals screaming along until the world implodes in a nuclear haze.

Kieran [2nd]: When we compare Funeral, Reflektor and The Suburbs, we’re really looking at the finest of margins. All three are masterpieces in their own right, and a case could easily be made that Funeral deserves to occupy that top spot.

It’s simply staggering that any group – even one as absurdly talented as Arcade Fire – could release a debut as masterful as this. Far from what the title suggests, it’s neither melancholy nor downbeat; in fact, it’s a vibrant, empowering celebration of life and a wise-beyond-their-years contemplation of mortality, which manages to be uniquely relatable no matter your generation or demographic.

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Wake Up is the finest track they’ve ever churned out – in fact, if you’ve ever managed to listen to it without welling up *at all*, consider our friendship terminated.

1. The Suburbs (2010)

Jake [1st]: Who’d of thunk that an album about a fake war in a fake town would be so fucking good? This is Arcade Fire’s masterpiece, a stone-cold classic in every sense of the word that’s only getting better and more relevant as the years go on.

From the understated, yet lavish (Half Light I, Sprawl I), to the utterly gargantuan love mainstays of Sprawl II and Ready to Start, each track compliments the other wonderfully and makes for not only the most cohesive album in AF’s discography but the best.

Josh [1st]: This is the one. Where else in Arcade Fire’s discography do the twin peaks of what attracts fans far and wide to them meet so perfectly? The earnestness of their earlier records combines with the ambitiousness of their later to make a concept album that just about anyone can relate to: growing up.

Win Butler’s lyrics are at the top of their game from start to finish, capturing the simultaneous wondrous and jaded nature of your young adult years, when the world is at your feet but all you can see is your hometown, and the performances feel rehearsed to fall apart at any second, from how energetic they are (“Month of May”) to just how damn emotionally tense the whole band can feel on a track (“Half Light II”).

There’s not a weak moment on the track-listing despite its fifteen song-long runtime, which is not something any of the other band’s albums can say never mind any other band in existence at the moment, and by its end, you’ll want to jump right back to the start. When the dust settles, “The Suburbs” will still be standing.

Kieran [1st]: I’ve always thought of The Suburbs as a grown up, 20-something version of Funeral. It’s been at the booze and the fags for a while too long and it’s a little more world-weary, a tad post-apocalyptic even, but it’s still achingly, endearingly human.

In my eyes, Funeral and The Suburbs are both as near as makes no difference perfect, making this an extremely difficult call to make. The latter edges it due to the sheer poeticism of its lyrics. Too numerous are they to list here, but the amount of times I’ve sat in sheer euphoria and appreciation hearing Win Butler’s signature wail on this record is scarcely believable.

Sarah [1st]: The showcase that is The Suburbs is potentially a genre-defining release, and almost definitely a career-defining one for Arcade Fire. With the ongoing support, garnered from the run of Funeral and Neon Bible, the band were absolutely pining for something more impressive, scale and concept wise.

The Suburbs follows a clear path from start to end, is filled with storytelling and is so powerfully emotive it makes the listers hairs stand on end. Ballads like the eponymous The Suburbs, We Used to Wait and Sprawl II propelled the band from venues to arenas, showing the music community that Arcade Fire we far more than just a music group – they were an experience, they are ethereal, atmospheric, creators.

The Suburbs proved them as a timeless band, whose music will provide an escape for anyone who needs, any time.

TRANSISTOR’S Record Store Day 2018 Picks

photo fae Nikki A. Rae at Record Store Day 2016

For those amongst us who enjoy the sound, smell, sight and sheer eye-watering expense of vinyl, Record Store Day is pretty much our musical Christmas, not least because vast sums of money will be spent on gifts, all of them for ourselves. However, with the sheer volume of releases, re-releases and special editions on offer, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees, so we’ve assembled some of our finest vinyl collectors to give you their hot picks for RSD ’18.

Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

Twin Peaks – Music From The Limited Event Series

Not to be confused with the indie-pop outfit that share the same name, Twin Peaks is easily one of the finest pieces of entertainment to grace us and while it may have changed over the past couple of decades, its quality is consistent. This includes its score and soundtrack which range from flourishes of cheesy soap opera romance to borderline nightmarish remixes of classic tracks, all adding to the formula that makes Twin Peaks such a stunning piece of art.

Sufjan Stevens – Mystery of Love EP

While its title song may have been “done dirty” at the Oscars according to some people, there’s no denying Sufjan Stevens crafted one of 2017’s most beautiful songs for an equally mesmerising film. Call Me By Your Name wasn’t a film that relied on its soundtrack but it was one that was vastly improved by its gorgeous music which all comes to the tracks featured on this EP. If you’re maybe in the mood for something a bit different from your usual rock affair then this will be right up your street.

Jake Cordiner (@jjjjaketh)

Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror)

The original version of one of 2018’s best albums (so far), the 2011 version of Will “Massive Furry” Toledo’s best album is a brilliant insight into how a songwriters’ style can change as they do as people. Some of the lyrics are different, some of the breakdowns are different, the whole mood of the album has changed in 7 years, and I just think it’ll be cool to hear the original on a beautiful, heavy piece of vinyl mate, ok?

 

Will Sexton (@WillSheSleeps)

Florence + The Machine – “Sky Full of Song”/”New York Poem (for Polly)”

Really hope someone will be able to pick up this gorgeous new single from Florence + The Machine (AS I’M WORKING THE WHOLE WEEKEND NOO!)*. Lovely new art-pop single from Florence and co. Love the ethereal, stripped back sound and it’s nice to hear something fresh from the band, being the first piece of music in 2 years since the gorgeous How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. What is more interesting is the new single is backed by Florence’s first recorded poem! Coming from her first book Useless Magic (released 5th of July), New York Poem (for Polly) will be a very interesting listen!

*Prizes for anyone who sorts oor Will out

Josh Adams (@jxshadams)

The National – Boxer (Live from Brussels)

What’s not to love about one of contemporary rock’s greatest bands releasing a Record Store Day exclusive vinyl, documenting their 2017 performance of arguably their most important album front to back?

Anyone who’s managed to catch The National performing tracks from Boxer live, either in concert or on YouTube, will know not only the added energy they bring to certain songs – such as Squalor Victoria or mistaken for strangers – but the deft touch of dynamics and tension the group tweak for some of their biggest numbers (see: Fake Empire and Slow Show). Also, it has a cool as shit reworking of the original album’s cover art. Gimme… NOW.

Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Motorhead – Death or Glory

In a move that’ll shock absolutely no one, my hot pick for RSD ’18 is a reissue of Motorhead’s 1993 album Bastards under the guise of Death or Glory. If anyone’s interested, which they’re not, ‘Head were, as ‘Head do, having some trouble with their record company, and the family-friendly titled album was only largely released in Germany, and in the rest of the world, you couldn’t even steal it. A real shame considering it was one of the best, if not the best, albums they’ve ever produced.

Sure you’ve got Motorhead by numbers tracks like Burner and Born to Raise Hell, but Bastards had a wider range and more emotional depth with songs like Lost in the Ozone and Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me, a harrowing song about the horrors of child abuse. A must listen for the most seasons of Motorhead fans, or for anyone who wants a crash course in the band’s range & depth.

Motorhead – Heroes

Heroes was something that came out of the blue, more than a year after Lemmy’s tragic passing. The final word had been growled; no new Motorhead or “lost” recordings. Then seemingly out of nowhere came this emotional, expertly done cover of Bowie’s Heroes. Not too detached from the original that it’s a hatchet job, but retains that Motorhead magic. It then formed part of a covers album, which featured the band covering some of their favourite songs, including a, dare I say it, better than original cover of Metallica’s Whiplash.

Side B features a “live” version of Heroes, featuring the most angelic of voices, the Wacken Open Air Festival choir. Lovely stuff.

Phoenix + The Vegan Leather @ Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow, 26/03/18

photos + words by josh adams (@jxshadams)

Phoenix are in the somewhat unenviable position of being a Big Band Who Make Big Records And Play Big Concerts whilst bafflingly not being a household name. If one takes a brief glance at their coveted list of accolades, it reads like a checklist for a modern rock group to be a dominating world force: hit singles, top 40 albums, sold out shows at Madison Square Garden and headlining appearances at Primavera and Coachella. So it was puzzling to most, if not all, in attendance as to why this seemingly unstoppable powerhouse of pop could barely fill three quarters of Glasgow’s iconic Barrowlands. This, coupled with rumours that frontman Thomas Mars‘ voice had been strained with illness, led to a sense of anticipation and worry, with the Barras crowd eager to see if the French quartet could pull it out of the proverbial bag.

First up, though, came support from the ever-reliable Vegan Leather. The Paisley dance-rock group, elegantly dressed and bursting with tunes, took to the stage with a modest sized crowd and ended with almost everyone who had bought a ticket bouncing up and down to their epic, fiery closer, This House (minus one bald man who looked like he’d stumbled in expecting a Wolftones gig). In between, they fused disco, pop, rock, house and new wave like their lives depended on it with recent singles such as I Take American, Shake It and Eyes, never giving the Glasgow crowd a moment to catch their breath, despite the costume changes. Nothing but praise has been heaped upon the band, and there’s a good reason for it – check them out now if you haven’t already, before they hit the big time.

With the Barrowlands considerably warmed up, Phoenix capitalised on the liveliness built up and came on stage shortly after to Prince’s ‘Controversy‘, offering a taste of the playful grooves the band would prove they had mastered on stage throughout the night. Stripped of their elaborate lights-and-mirrors show, it was down to their sheer stage presence, and, most crucially, the songs to do the talking, and boy, did they deliver. Kicking things off with last year’s lead single, J-Boy, its twinkling synthesisers, airy melodies and stomping beats recalling the best of 80s pop and hip hop, the four piece, bolstered by long-time touring drummer Thomas Hedlund and an auxiliary keyboard player, seemed to burst into technicolour before the audience’s very eyes in their stereotypical oh-so-nonchalant French cool. From there, came an opening salvo of Phoenix’s brightest and best songs: Lasso, Entertainment, Listzomania, and Trying To Be Cool all rolled off with effortless ease, almost stunning the crowd into stillness – it was disconcerting to see a Glasgow crowd as calm as they were during this part of the set.

However, with such an astonishing start to a gig, naturally came a dip in energy levels with some deeper cuts from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and latest LP, Ti Amo. Just when you thought the crowd’s patience was beginning to wain with the instrumental medley of Sunskrupt! though, the band roared into life once more with the title track from Ti Amo, and began dishing out their groovier anthems once more, this time with a less dazzled crowd backing them every dance move of the way.  It should be admired at this point the versatility of Phoenix’s instrumentalists, who regularly swapped between two or more instruments mid-song without breaking a sweat or ruining the flow of a song or a set – it was clear to see this was a group refined and rehearsed, but also having fun as they jumped around with grins on their faces.

After leaving the stage with Rome, Mars and guitarist Christian Mazzalai returned to the stage as a duo to perform stripped down versions of Countdown and Goodbye Soleil, with a hushed intimacy made all the more fragile by Mars’s insistence on sitting right in front of the barrier, staring right into the eyes of the crowd. Despite his humble admissions that his voice wasn’t up to its usual standard, nobody in the Barrowlands could have told you he was having an off-night at all – he was in complete control of his vocal chords, with no bum notes or tickley coughs in sight. By this point, the Francs had completely won over the audience, and had the support they previously did not have to indulge themselves in a few more deep cuts, and a rallying rendition of Happy Birthday to bassist Deck D’Arcy.

All good things must come to an end though, and Phoenix went out in style with the buzzing bass and chiming guitars of their calling card 1901 ringing out through the venue sending the crowd into overdrive, voices singing in unison and bodies dancing the night out. But the real surprise came when we all thought it was over, but the band clearly weren’t ready to leave – a reprise of Ti Amo that steadily kept growing and growing, threatening to burst into its disco-punk climax at any moment, as Mars clambered over the audience to the sound desk and back again, downing pints as he went. Before he could rejoin his bandmates though, he was dropped right in front of me, and a huge mosh pit opened up around him, ready to swallow him whole. Mars turned back to the stage, shrugged his shoulders with a smile on his face, and the rest of the band let rip as the Barrowland crowd rushed him, dancing as we went. A surreal end to an amazing night, proving that Phoenix have more fight left in them than we might have thought.

Gig Review: Headland + Isla Stout @ The Priory

by Josh Adams (@jxshadams)

Celebrating the launch of their debut single When Stars Collide, Headland joined forces with solo artist Isla Stout to sell out The Priory based solely on the strength of their unique mix of celtic rock and modern pop sensibilities. A last-minute venue change from Broadcast did not seem to slow down the Glaswegian seven-piece at their very first gig – hopefully, the start of many more to come. Before even a note was struck or sang, it was worth noting the diversity in age of the crowd, from teenagers to the elderly, which only served to highlight the broad appeal of Headland‘s music.

The opening act came in the form of the aforementioned Isla Stout. Whilst her folk covers of pop hits (from classics to contemporary numbers such as Ring of Fire and Skinny Love) were charming, if not spellbinding, the real magic lay in her own original content that she performed that evening that seemed to have everyone in the room silent in awe. If that is the direction Stout continues to head in, we will be hearing her name a lot more in Scotland throughout the year.

The recent nationwide revival in folk music, rescued from the clutches of pensioner pub bands across the country, has been a somewhat surprising yet welcome return in Scotland’s music scene. It’s as if a young batch of new local heroes have started taking notes from their American contemporaries and realised that fusing traditional instrumentation with modern pop hooks and songwriting can lead to great success in the charts. Now numerous groups, such as Skerryvore, are seeing triumphs in their careers, and up steps Headland to become the latest band to follow suit.

What makes Kieran Ferguson et al. stand out from the crowd is the dynamic interplay between the male voices and the female voices of the seven-piece, allowing for greater melodic variation in terms of the harmonies, and this was especially true on cuts such as When Stars Collide and Float On The Ocean. Another highlight was the tasteful guitar playing of Cameron Wilson, who added colourful flourishes and appropriate solos to most of Headland’s tunes with a slick, rock tone.  If anything could have been better from a performative or technical standpoint, it was that the rhythm section could have been punchier to emphasise the strong grooves that hold the group together, and the song structures could have been toyed with more experimentally to allow for extended solos in the folk tradition.

Alas, I’m nitpicking. By the time the band rolled out a few fun covers of Folsom Prison Blues and Wagon Wheel that elicited mass singalongs across the venue, before an encore of a reprise of When Stars Collide, you would have been forgiven for forgetting that this was Headland‘s first-ever concert together with all seven members. Exceptionally tight and acing what they do well, the future seems bright for the group based all on this lone concert.

 

 

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!