Top 10 King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard Songs

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard never fail to surprise.

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

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

10. The River

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

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

9. Crumbling Castle

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

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

8. The Lord of Lightning

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

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

7. Sense

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

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

6. The Bitter Boogie

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

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

5. Sleep Drifter

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

4. Am I In Heaven?

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

3. Head On/Pill

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

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

2. Robot Stop

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

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

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

1. Float Along-Fill Your Lungs

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

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

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

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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.

Top 10 Tyler The Creator Tracks

words fae ryan martin (@ryanmartin182)

Who exactly Tyler the Creator is, has always been up for debate. He started as the driving force behind hip-hop collective Odd Future that made superstars out of Earl Sweatshirt, Frank Ocean, and more recently, The Internet.

The group’s aggressive image attracted the media’s attention instantly and Tyler’s bizarre antics, as well as interviews, helped land him a show on Adult Swim with his buddies joining him on Loiter Squad. Tyler’s music reflected his behavior in the public’s eye when he released Goblin in 2011: critics pointed out the absurd number of times Tyler uses homophobic slurs throughout the album but failed to mention the immensely dark and troubled tone of the album itself. There is a track near the end of the album where Tyler metaphorically kills his friends, and the album itself deals with Tyler talking to a therapist named Dr. TC (Tyler’s Consciousness.)

Following up Goblin was Wolf, the second effort from the face of Odd Future still retained the jagged edges from Goblin but featured much more tender production and a theme centered around summer camp, love, and jealousy. It would be the last album Tyler would put together while Odd Future was still active. Cherry Bomb followed almost exactly two years later and contained some of Tyler’s messiest and most beautiful tracks he has ever released. Altogether, it made for a cluttered release that most die-hard fans will defend but the public has forgotten.

A little over two years later, Tyler emerges as a confidently bloomed bud. He releases Flower Boy, a personal album that references his sexuality for the first time and his relationship with friends and family. Long gone are the jagged edges of Goblin, in its place rests a perfectly crafted album with memorable tracks, excellent production, and amazing features from the likes of up-and-comers Rex Orange County, Kali Uchis and Steve Lacy, in addition to established acts like Frank Ocean and Lil Wayne. Now proving himself as a creative genius after fashion shows, a successful collaboration with Converse’s One-Star, grammy nominations for Flower Boy, we wonder where he will go from here.

Revisiting Tyler’s old discography can be fairly nostalgic despite being less than a decade old, memories of watching him evolve being particularly rose-tinted but it’s difficult to argue that a good chunk of his early material hasn’t stood the test of time. It took a bit for Tyler to find his footing as a musical artist and though he may have had a certain vision for all of those albums, it doesn’t mean that every song in its own way fits or is actually good at all. There is quite a number of duds on his first 4 albums (if you include mixtape Bastard). With that being said, where there is darkness there is light and Tyler is responsible for some of the best rap music of this decade. He should not be viewed as anything but a monumental inspiration to this generation and an artist to watch for years to come so, without further ado, here’s the cream of the crop when it comes to Wolf Haley’s list of tracks.

10. Treehome95

Treehome95 is just a taste of the potential Tyler had in jazz when it was released. While the cut may have been off-putting to a lot of fans when it showed up on Wolf, it still shows a connection to his current work. The gentle side of Tyler that didn’t often come out was a change of pace that much desired and this cut was only something that amplified it. Erykah Badu and Coco Owino lend gorgeous vocals to help fill out the track. By the time it ends at its 3-minute mark, it’s too soon.

9. Answer


Tyler speaks bluntly to his father on Answer with a fiery flow that resembles early Eminem.  The production on this track is easy to love: the drums sound incredible paired with the guitar tone and sure, Syd could have done really well with a bigger role than background vocals on this cut, but there’s a reason why it’s appearing on this list regardless.

8. Where This Flower Blooms


The ‘proper’ introduction to Flower Boy, Tyler sounds fearless on this track with Frank; like they have both come into their own. Tyler brings the listener into his world with great production and even better verses. 

7. She

She doesn’t really seem like it’s a stand-alone Tyler track. Frank Ocean takes such big strides at the beginning of the track that Tyler quickly falls behind. With that being said, the hook is something most Tyler fans will never forget. Infectious, unsettling, and oddly beautiful. The unfortunate part about revisiting this track is thinking about how Tyler’s early lyrics will affect the replayability of his music in the already-quick pace our culture is moving at.

6. IFHY

When the music video for this came out, it was hard not to be blown away. Tyler standing in an enormous doll-house plastered is prosthetics captured the creepy vibe that this song gives off. Released during a peak in Tyler’s aggressiveness, this cut also came off Wolf, which is also the first time we are able to see any vulnerability from Tyler. It’s an excellent blend of the two in this song especially, the brash opening lines compared to the exquisite performance from Pharrell to end things off.

5. November

This beat can really fuck you up on first listen, featuring some of the best production on the album. The theme of the song and the features from his friends that lead into the beat switch up make it an easy one to adore, seeing Tyler deliver one of his best performances in the first verse with an incredible flow.

4. OKRA

A standout cut after the release of Tyler’s most popular album, Flower Boy. Tyler unexpectedly dropped OKRA with a fantastic music video in 2018 after staying relatively quiet, retaining the lyrical elements of Flower Boy by keeping it real and bluntly rapping from a personal perspective. The production elements are very thick with a quick tempo, making it one of Tyler’s most hard-hitting songs ever.

3. Smuckers

A fan favorite, Smuckers was a huge standout on Tyler’s most polarizing effort, Cherry Bomb. Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Tyler all bring their writing chops to extreme highs and pays off in one of the best posse cuts of this generation. For die-hard Kanye fans, his verse is one of the best he has dropped this decade. Lil Wayne is able to bring the song to a satisfying close with his verse towards the back end of the song. Smuckers is a song so well put together that it will age like wine.

2. See You Again

See You Again is the prime example of the current Tyler era and the best way to be able to pin down his current sound. Kali Uchis takes a chance to really shine on this track and even though she and Tyler have collaborated, nothing they’ve done has ever sounded this grand. The hook is infectious, and the flow of Tyler’s verses is something we come to expect from him. It could very well be debated that See You Again helped break down the doors for stars like Rex Orange County and Steve Lacy to bring this “anti-pop” sound into an underground mainstream audience.

1. 911/Mr. Lonely

This is one of Tyler’s best examples of when everything comes perfectly together in his head. Steve Lacy’s vocals, the Frank feature, the seamless transition into Mr. Lonely, the energy that flows from the funk of the first track into the bangin’ second. The grasp this track has you is scary, making itself an immediate favourite for many fans and a welcoming update to any listeners or critics that had written Tyler off early in his career.

Top Ten Vampire Weekend Tracks

words fae sean hannah (@Shun_Handsome)

I think… there’s something inherently interesting [about preppiness],” Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig confesses to Anthony Mason, responding to the flak the group caught for their sartorially-obsessed image. For haters who are still hung up on the band’s appearance, Vampire Weekend’s unassailably straight-laced wardrobe is a constant point of derision, as it calls into question the matter of the band’s authenticity in rock circles. But authenticity is a moot point in most rock music anyway, and image is the most superficial of its signifiers.

Spawned from the dorms of Columbia University, Vampire Weekend compounded their belletristic interests with a democratic passion for music that spans the entirety of the globe. Koenig provided thoughtful, reference-heavy lyrics to their songs, while producer/keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij condensed his appreciation for classical, experimental, and world music into concise pop sonatas. Bassist Chris Baio plays stoically, capable of delicate melody as well as pithy foundation. Drummer Chris Tomson often favors an African-inspired floor-tom drum arrangement, recalling experimentalists like Mo Tucker as well as the rhythms of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti.

Despite eliciting such strong reactions from anti-Weekenders, Vampire Weekend have proven themselves an indelible phenomenon in this current iteration of indie rock. Their clean, poppy sound, understated sense of humor, and alacrity to explore new styles and genres with each album combine to form an inimitable aesthetic with an astounding consistency. And as the band’s forthcoming album moves at a glacial pace, with the band giving sporadic updates that quantify the album’s completion by tenths of a percent, it seems appropriate to look back at one of pop music’s most inventive bands of the last decade and evaluate their top ten songs.

10. Mansard Roof

Beginning with a hyper-specific reference to the architectural style of the same name, Mansard Roof is a treatise, an entrée into the world of Vampire Weekend. A sprightly 1-2-3 drum and organ pump heralds its opening line. “I see a mansard roof through the trees,” Koenig cheerily declares, “I see a salty message written in the eaves.” Even without the accompanying music video, it’s hard not to imagine Koenig and company dressed in Oxford shirts and Sperry’s as they contemplate the sloping roof of a nearby building while they themselves stand bayside. Mansard Roof, like the rest of Vampire Weekend’s debut album, said to the world, “We’re preppy, we’re smart, but we’re not too uptight about it.”

9. Arrows

It sounds like a song Wes Anderson would co-opt for a critical scene in one of his films, but Arrows is, in fact, one of Vampire Weekend’s most elusive and celebrated rarities. Recorded around the time of their 2008 debut, Arrows combines the energy of their live shows with the studio craft that would come to define the band. Tight, Billy Ficca-inspired drumming abounds, a rich, cello-led string section bookends the song, and effusive Afrobeat guitar runs punctuate the verses. Arrows could well have replaced nearly any song on Vampire Weekend, but part of its charm rests in its obscurity. For Vampire obsessives, it remains a well-kept secret, one that rewards those willing to dig deeper than the picayune three albums.

8.  Step

Its opening line is borrowed from a Souls of Mischief rarity, its chord progression from Pachelbel’s Canon, its chorus from Bread’s Aubrey. Vampire Weekend pulled out all the stops for their third single on Modern Vampires of the City. Serving partly as a trenchant self-examination as well as an affirmation of personal growth, Step finds Koenig at odds with his opulent past: “Home in New York was champagne and disco” while recognizing his own oncoming maturity: “I’m stronger now, I’m ready for the house.” In the song’s chorus are nods to Modest Mouse and outsider artist Jandek, both of which seem arbitrary in the context of the lyrics, but that’s sort of the point. For all of Vampire Weekend’s incessant name checking and bookish tendencies, there exists some modicum of profundity in their lyrical encyclopedia.

7. Ya Hey

Arguably the centerpiece of Modern Vampires of the City, Ya Hey is part indictment, part paean to its mysterious second-person subject. “Oh, sweet thing, America don’t love you/ So I could never love you/ In spite of everything,” pronounces Koenig in a mellifluous, Chet Baker-channeling coo. Ya Hey is partly about failing institutions, with Koenig running through a catalogue of people and things that have taken leave of this ambiguous “you.” Like a cynical take on the wish list of GirlsLust for Life, Ezra reminds her that the Motherland, the Zion, and religious zealots will never requite her adoration. The song’s climax arrives at the 4:40 mark as the chorus repeats and Koenig is joined by full band and choir. He confidently reassures, “Through the fire and through the flames/ You won’t even say your name/ Only, “I am that I am.” Those lines manage to fit in allusions to the eternally uncool DragonForce, the venerable Peter Tosh, and the confounding Hebrew expression Yahweh puts to Moses. Each referent is given without a hint of hierarchy, as is Vampire Weekend’s m.o., which is to be expected from a man who “swoons” upon hearing a DJ transition from Israelites to 19th Nervous Breakdown.

6. The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance

You criticize the practice by murdering their plants.” Vampire Weekend weren’t great at penning sensationalistic lyrics on their first album. They were acutely aware of this, however, which is why so many of the images in that record’s lyrics are impressionistic rather than explosive. The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance, which closes the band’s extraordinary debut, doubles down on the imagery VW knew they’d be chided for by detractors. Shiny cufflinks, pinstripe-clad men of distinction, and a hoard of money ($40 million, to be precise) populate Kids, all of which are sung about with a self-aware smirk by Koenig. With an instrumental track just as jaunty as anything else on Vampire Weekend, The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance closes out the album with poise, refinement, and an admirable amount of care and dedication.

5. California English Pt. 2

A B-side in the Vampire Weekend catalogue, California English Pt. 2 ultimately lost a spot on Contra to its more energetic predecessor. But the song meets or exceeds nearly any track on that album in terms of songcraft. Featuring a collection of slowly building keyboard lines that reside somewhere between dream pop and electronica, Pt. 2 finds the group at a lyrical and musical high water mark. As always, Ezra’s libretto considers the social and spiritual implications of growing up well-off with humor and tact. “Are our parents actually Buddhist? Is the pool below me the bluest?” he wonders to himself, fully aware of the contradiction between those two thoughts. The chorus is simple enough: an exultant “Oh, California!” sung with the reverence of any one of those great Golden State artists, be they The Mamas and The Papas or Katy Perry or whoever.

4. I Think Ur a Contra

Never mind the text message spelling in its title, I Think Ur a Contra is a song of enormous breadth and depth. Parlaying a more-or-less civil break up into a meditation on the superficiality of romanticized wealth and poverty, the Contra closer showcases Vampire Weekend’s greatest asset: their ability to transmute petty angst into sweeping societal critiques. “When you turn away from me/ It’s not right,” Koenig croons over an amorphous pillow of synthesizers and fidgeting guitar effects. It’s an overly simple summation of a failed romance, one that rock and pop music employ out of fear of nuance. But at I Think’s bridge comes a dramatic change: Rostam’s sky-clearing string arrangement brings out the philosopher in Koenig as he cuts down his ex’s hypocrisies. She wants “good schools and friends with pools,” but she also wants “rock and roll, complete control.” On one end are the attractions of pedigree, on the other, the promises of populism. Koenig himself is wary of both, demurring, “Well, I don’t know.” I Think Ur a Contra is as much a scathing breakup song as it is a self-conscious swipe at the lifestyle the band had been touting for their first two albums.

3. M79

For all their enthrallment with African guitar pop and European Chamber music, Vampire Weekend are first and foremost a New York band. They sing about Washington Heights and Taqueria y Fonda as if they were the cruxes of the world, and on M79, their ode to the NYC bus route of the same name, the band limn the city as the hub of cultural eclecticism it’s known to be as well as a site of personal disillusionment familiar to natives and non-locals alike. Touchstones of the Upper West Side are mentioned casually, like the taxis and rickshaws perambulating up and down the streets and the sights in Central Park (abbreviated to “The Park”). Still, though, there’s something universal to these lyrics: as the girl in the song passes her French and Buddhist classmates at Columbia, she’s cautioned not to think anything racist or jingoistic. It’s the common dilemma of being faced with other cultures, other ways of life, and wondering just how valid they really are. Or how valid our own is.

2. Hannah Hunt

Travel has long been a staple of Vampire Weekend’s lyrics, but it was often underscored with the lightheartedness of a vicenarian viewing the world’s wonders from a safe distance. The trips to Spain, Cape Cod, and Darjeeling were just perks of the privilege the band would spend much of their career trying to shake off. But on Hannah Hunt, the desultory couple driving to Santa Barbara from Rhode Island discover a malaise in themselves that vacationing can’t allay. The song’s breezy, twinkling piano and guileless rhythm section betray its despondent subject matter, often submitting graciously to Koenig’s weary vocals. That is, until the song reaches its infamous bridge. “If I can’t trust you, then dammit, Hannah!/ There’s no future, there’s no answer,” he cries, the music swelling under him in a pained climax. On Hannah Hunt, Vampire Weekend perfect the musical travelogue, stealing it away from hackneyed Springsteen wannabes and reclaiming it for the indie crowd.

1. Diplomat’s Son

The penultimate song on Contra, Diplomat’s Son synthesizes every trick the band employed on their sophomore record into a six-minute mini-concerto. Delicate synths (more refined than the simple keyboards on Vampire Weekend), expansive, varied percussion, and lush orchestral dalliances comprise this experimental Afro-pop melodrama. Co-writers Koenig and Batmanglij construct the scene with stark lyrical economy, penning lines like, “It’s not right/ but it’s now or never/ And if I wait/ Could I ever forgive myself?Diplomat’s Son describes the turmoil of a man questioning his sexuality as the trappings of his privileged upbringing begin to fail him. Buzzing TVs are left unattended at home, car keys are hidden at a party, white shoes are strewn inside a bathtub. In a moment of hasty abandon, he gets high and sleeps with a close friend, who departs before morning. Like Contra on the whole, Son finds Vampire Weekend moving away from the faux-existential crises of post-collegiate life and stepping into the real world, one of frustration, confusion, and desertion.

The Ten Best Bombay Bicycle Club Tracks

words fae charlie leach (@YungBuchan)

For the best part of a decade, Bombay Bicycle Club were ever-present at every summer festival. A band known for their indie-rock sensibilities, their joyous hooks, and lush soundscapes, Bombay Bicycle Club cemented themselves in the every festival goer’s ear, becoming the go-to for that summer playlist. In spite of this, they are not a “summer mix” band. Their music contains hidden depths and complexities, and over their initial run of four albums, their sound developed into areas that would not have seemed possible on their debut. For anyone who hasn’t heard their work, or who wants to relive that picturesque festival day, here is a list of this writer’s top ten favourite Bombay Bicycle Club tracks.

10. Rinse Me Down

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkGpdVip4aw

Though scoffed at by many critics on its initial release, the band’s sophomore effort Flaws is an underappreciated indie folk gem. Album opener Rinse Me Down elatedly starts the album with a wonderfully bouncy rhythm, the acoustic guitars plucking together in sweet harmony. Lead singer Jack Steadman’s vocals swoon over the track, telling the story of a lover lost to another.

9. Evening/Morning

Like many standout singles from Bombay Bicycle Club, Evening/Morning has the melodies to contend with any indie band from the early 2010’s. Ed Nash’s contagious bass line punctuates the song, combined with guitar lines and vocal hooks that are reminiscent of one of their peers at the time, We Are Scientists. Like most Bombay Bicycle Club songs, Evening/Morning was a staple of their live shows, the bass line belted back to the band by their rapturous fans.

8. Carry Me

Carry Me marked the bands shift to synths, synths being an ever-present feature of their last album, So Long, See You Tomorrow. Synths here replace the typical guitar-lead hook of the song but are not missed. A hook that could be seen on an electronica album, the rest of the song is filled with chopped vocals, synthetic horns, and effects-laden guitars. Like many of their indie peers, Bombay Bicycle Club’s shift into the electronic was, on the whole, a successful one.

7. Lights Out, Words Gone

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duBN7YZyIwU

Lights Out, Words Gone is a dream-pop song (emphasis on dream). A shuffling rhythm backs a walking-bass line, with guitars plucking away into the ever-lasting distance. Like many of the songs on the bands second and third album, it is lifted greatly by the angelic vocals of Lucy Rose, a frequent collaborator with the band, and an extremely talented singer-songwriter (also perfect for that Spotify picnic playlist, if so inclined).

6. Lamplight

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1LrLEcrawc

This is the UK post-punk revival in a nutshell: intricate guitar hooks layered in fuzz and reverb; a bass line that provides the track firm foundation; continually pounding drums that move the track forward at every juncture; and a crooning lead vocal that moves about the track with a shaky tremolo. What separates this track from many of its contemporaries is its blaring breakdown in the latter third. Never really repeated in their discography, this breakdown blares a wall of sound onto the listener, with an almost screamed vocal filling the high end of the song. If the band does come back from their hiatus, the shoegaze-tinged direction could be something that could evolve the band again.

5. Leave It

Leave It is a song that is not immediately noticeable. During the runtime of the bands’ fourth album, So Long, See You Tomorrow, Leave It arrives and leaves in a typical Bombay Bicycle Club fashion, instilling a catchy vocal hook and memorable guitar lines. Its inclusion on this top ten list is solely down to the band’s live shows. The vocal refrain of the hook is the greatest tension builder, leading to a crescendo of a chorus bemoaning the past discretions of a lover. For want of a better word, a true belter for a live show.

4. How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgvBmEmtF-I

How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep is auditory journey that builds and builds. A typical opener for the band’s live sets, the blissful guitar refrain that begins the song grows and grows throughout the song, layer, and layer of instruments slowly building to a mystical soundscape filled with warm synths, skittering clicking samples and ghostly vocal harmonies. When this song first played at the start of their gig, the audience knew to be prepared for a glistening journey through indie rock’s finest.

3. Ivy And Gold

This top three will consist of some of the catchiest guitar melodies in indie rock. If Bombay Bicycle Club will be remembered for at least one thing, it will be some of the catchiest hooks released in a genre full of bands chasing that one hook that will make them overnight successes. Bombay Bicycle Club arguably did that several times over. Ivy And Gold is one such song that will seep into the listener’s brain, becoming the hard to forget ear-worm that will be whistled down the street a week later. Just a wonderfully cheerful tune, one that could never be hated (this writer’s Mom loves this song).

2. Shuffle

A precursor to the electronica-inspired Carry Me, Shuffle was an ever-present of the summer festival playlist, and with good reason. The chopped piano melody is an instant hit, providing the bait to envelop the listener with a tightly constructed song that oozes fun. Steadman and Rose sing with passion about sticking with a partner, this triumphant track begs to be sung with heart and vigour until the throat is run dry. It must also be said that Steadman’s remix of this track is vastly underappreciated, and is definitely worth a listen for those who like sliced and chopped music.

1. Always Like This

But don’t wear that throat out too much, there is one more riff to belt out to the heavens. The fun, staccato riff of Always Like This announced Bombay Bicycle Club to the public. This guitar line has stayed with the band, and for good reason. It is a joyous (there’s that word again), dopamine-inducing riff that never leaves. Coupled with the minor chorus that adds the spaced-out vibe, this track is the epitome of Bombay Bicycle Club.

Every Arctic Monkeys Album, Ranked From Worst to Best

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

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

5. AM (2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Humbug (2009)

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Suck It And See (2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Black Mirror Episode Ranked Worst To Best

by chris mcqueer (@ChrisMcQueer)

Since it first burst on to our tellies back in 2011 with an episode based on what would happen if the Prime Minister was forced to fuck a pig, Black Mirror has gone on to become a cultural phenomenon. There’s at least one person in every group of pals who loves to tell you that it’s their favourite programme, even though you never asked. In the comments section of every technology-based news article, there’ll be at least half a dozen people cracking the same joke – ‘Ha! This is like something from an episode of Black Mirror!

Although the show has been an unrivaled success, it’s a wee bit hit and miss – to be fair, though, there’s definitely far more hits than misses. Here, I’ve ranked every episode from the absolute dirt worst to the very best.

 

SPOILERS AHEAD

19. Men Against Fire – S3 E5

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This episode is a car crash.

The premise of it sounds amazing; Set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian future, soldiers, fitted with neural implants that heighten their senses, hunt down and exterminate mutants known as ‘Roaches’. However, the main character’s implant malfunctions allowing him to see that the mutants he’s been mercilessly killing are actually normal people who happen to be the survivors of a genocide during a global war ten years before the events of the episode take place. The roaches are deemed ‘genetically inferior’ and the main character is actually working for a global eugenics company who are trying to ‘protect the bloodline’ of humanity.

It all sounds quality, but it’s poorly executed with characters who come across as barely even two-dimensional and the ham-fisted social commentary does it no favours. I’ve watched every episode at least a couple of times and this is the only one I struggled to get through even on my first watching. Forgettable, dull and boring.

18. The Waldo Moment – S2 E3

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The runt of the litter; well, until Men Against Fire came along.

This political satire is just about every Black Mirror fan’s least favourite episode. A failed comedian finds himself running in a local by-election as the voice of a cartoon bear. It’s hard to believe the characters in this episode found the bear as funny as they seemed to – Waldo is like an old guy down the pub doing a really bad impression of Ali G. Brooker himself has admitted that this was an episode he “didn’t nail” and it’s hard to argue with that.

The episode ends with Waldo being the leader in some dystopian nightmare world but it doesn’t explain how this happened which would’ve made a far better, more interesting episode.

17. Playtest – S3 E2

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Another episode from the third series which doesn’t quite live up to the standards set by other installments.

Again, it’s an episode with an amazing premise – a guy tries out a new hallucinatory, augmented reality fear simulator, which is more terrifying than the main character could have ever imagined. It delivers a couple of twists which you’ll see coming a mile away.

It is however probably the scariest episode of Black Mirror. There’s a few good jump scares and creepy visuals and the main protagonist, Cooper, is quite likable which makes the ending all the more jarring.

16. Arkangel – S4 E2

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This episode feels like it could be set in the same universe as the far superior The Entire History of You from the first series and the White Christmas special.

Directed by Jodie Foster, it tells the story of an overprotective single mother and her rebellious daughter. The mother has a chip implanted into her daughter’s head allowing her to see everything her daughter sees through her tablet. She can then pixelate distressing images so her daughter can’t see them. After a couple of years, and a visit to a child psychologist, she realises the emotional damage she’s causing to her daughter and stops checking up on her, stowing away the tablet she used. Another few years pass by and we see the daughter has grown into a happy and well-adjusted 15-year-old. But as her daughter starts to rebel and lie about her whereabouts, the mother reactivates the tablet and starts interfering with her daughter’s life.

It’s a decent episode, just not as gripping as it could’ve been and it’s very predictable how things are going to turn out.

15. Crocodile – S4 E3

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One of the most gritty episodes, with brilliant performances from the lead actors and a great concept but it’s let down by a clunky, muddled plot.

It’s very dark, even by Black Mirror standards, featuring a lot of killing (including that of a blind baby) and an end scene which attempts to be funny but just doesn’t fit with the rest of the episode. The technology which the plot revolves around is a device which allows your memories to be shown on a small, portable DVD player-like device. It’s a nice take on a concept Black Mirror has already used, with the memories coming across as distorted, grainy footage.

An okay episode, just not the most memorable, even with the shocking scenes.

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14. Hated in the Nation – S3 E6

The first almost-feature-length episode, this installment takes place in a Britain where tiny robotic drones have replaced the dwindling population of honey bees and taken over their pollination duties.

These drones are tapped into by a hacker and used to kill people by flying into their orifices and exploding inside their skulls. People vote on Twitter to decide who the next victim will be by using the hashtag #DeathTo followed by their chosen victim’s name. Kelly Macdonald delivers a phenomenal performance Detective Chief Inspector Karin Parke and you could imagine her starring in her own detective drama off the back of this.

There’s a great scene where hundreds of thousands of the bees descend on a safe house and try to get to their target inside which is genuinely chilling.

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13. Fifteen Million Merits – S1 E2

Probably the most Black Mirror-y episode of Black Mirror.

There’s not really any backstory for the complex where this episode is set which would’ve made the episode better, I think. It’s an episode with amazing set design that makes it stand out as one of the most visually stunning episodes. It’s a scathing critique on the class system with the unfit being assigned to janitorial tasks around the complex as well as being constantly mocked by those in the higher class who pedal on exercise bikes to earn ‘merits’, the currency in this bizarre world. As well as attacking the class system, the celebrity-obsessed culture of today also comes under fire.

It’s very clearly influenced by the likes of 1984 and Brave New World. It’s a bit depressing but also very watchable.

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12. White Bear – S2E2

This is a lot of people’s favourite episode of Black Mirror and it’s easy to see why.

It starts off a bit like 28 Days Later except the zombies are just people on their phones. It seems like a bit of a heavy-handed metaphor for the way people are, apparently, on their phones too much these days (someone once tweeted a Black Mirror episode pitch – “what if phones… but too much”) but there’s a big reveal at the end which is one of the best Black Mirror twists so far.

I admit this episode is brilliant but it’s so far down on my list simply because it’s let down by the constant screaming of the main character in the last 15 minutes which will make you want to stick your foot through your telly to make it stop.

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11. Be Right Back – S2 E1

Hayley Atwell and Domhnall Gleeson put in stunning performances in this tender episode.

Following the death of her partner, a woman signs up for a service which allows her to communicate with AI software replicating him. She then goes further by having an android made which looks and acts just like him as she tries to cope with her grief. Again, the path this episode takes is predictable but it works here and doesn’t make it any less watchable.

It’s an emotional study of grief and a very melancholy episode which stays with you a long time after watching it.

10. The National Anthem – S1 E1

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I remember sitting watching this episode for the first time absolutely stunned at what I was seeing.

The Prime Minister is woken up one morning to be told that a much-loved member of the Royal Family has been kidnapped and her captors are demanding that the Prime Minister fuck a pig on live TV or they’ll kill the princess. This was the perfect first episode and has had me hooked on the show since.

It’s the perfect mix of dark comedy, satire and social commentary. The tension throughout the episode is palpable and has you on the edge of your seat.

9. Metalhead – S4 E5

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Aesthetically one of the best Black Mirror episodes, this one is filmed completely in black and white to show us that this a world completely devoid of all hope. It’s minimal, eerie and tense as fuck.

Maxine Peake is one of the few survivors in a world overrun by sentient robotic ‘dogs’, based on the four-legged robots built by Boston Dynamics, which are hunting down and killing humans. I am desperate to find out the backstory of the dogs in this episode and how they managed to turn against humanity. Brooker said in an interview that he originally wrote a scene where it shows a man on the other side of the world controlling the dog from his as it chases Maxine Peake’s character which was cut because he wanted to pare the episode right back.

The lack of backstory is why I think this episode didn’t work for a lot of people but I thought it was class.

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8. Nosedive – S3 E1

Set in a world where people can rate everybody they interact with on an Uber-like 1 to 5-star system which then impacts your socioeconomic status, the concept for this one is on the nose but done very well.

The pastel colour scheme makes this episode beautiful to look at and it’s what I imagine a sci-fi film directed by Wes Anderson would look like.  The episode tackles the way use social media to define our own self-worth and how it affects our self-esteem. It’s yet another episode that follows a very predictable plot but it’s still well-written with plenty of humour and likable characters which makes this one of the more upbeat episodes.

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7. White Christmas – Christmas Special

Two men stationed in a remote outpost in a snowy wilderness tell each other their life stories.

Their respective stories from the 3 part narrative which comprise the episode and explain the two men’s situation. Blocking people in real life, a dating coach who can see everything you see and give you advice piped right into your ear and a perfect copy of your consciousness used to control your smart home make up the technology used in this excellent episode. Jon Hamm changing the way the copy of a woman’s consciousness perceives time so she experiences months of isolation while only a few seconds pass in the real is a harrowing scene and the ending of this episode takes it even further.

There’s a lot happening here but it’s brilliantly-written and the 3 mini stories link together brilliantly. After watching the newest series, this episode now feels like it was almost like a dress rehearsal for the superior…

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6. Black Museum – S4 E6

Following the same kind of structure as White Christmas, this is another anthology episode.

This one, however, is bigger and better, perhaps owing to the bigger budget Netflix provided. The proprietor of a museum which houses ‘criminological artifacts’ gives a tour to a young woman, recounting to her the chilling stories behind 3 of the artifacts. A doctor is fitted with a device allowing him to feel the pain of his patients (based on a short story written by one half of the magic duo Penn and Teller, Penn Jillette), a woman in a coma’s consciousness is transferred into her husband’s brain allowing her to live again within him as a ‘passenger’ and the consciousness of an executed murderer is reborn as a hologram and visitors to the museum can pull the lever on the electric chair, punishing the man for his crimes over and over again.

The stories and characters here are all worthy of full episodes to themselves. The episode is also littered with plenty of Easter Eggs to look out for such as the hunter from White Bear.

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5.Hang the DJ – S4 E4

I first watched this episode while in the throes of a behemoth hangover and at the time, I said it was my favourite episode of Black Mirror ever and it turned me into an emotional mess. Having now recovered from said hangover, I still think it’s a great episode, but it’s not quite the best.

From the very start, we become emotionally invested in the two very likable lead characters as they are brought together through a Tinder-like dating app. There’s very heavy-handed foreshadowing about the eventual twist but it’s a beautiful reveal and has an uncharacteristically happy ending. Someone described this episode on Twitter as “San Junipero for straight people” which leads us neatly on to…

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4. San Junipero – S3 E4

This episode won multiple awards and has been almost universally acclaimed. It’s a lot of people’s favourite episode and it’s in just about everybody’s top 5.

On first watching, you’d be forgiven for not knowing what is going on but after 20 minutes or so all becomes clear and it paves the way for a truly emotional love story. Two women meet and fall in love inside what is revealed to be a simulation, a haven where the elderly’s conscious minds can be uploaded and live on even after death.  It’s good to see technology being portrayed as a force for good for a change and the episode asks some cool questions about the afterlife.

And since it’s set largely in the 80s, the soundtrack is absolutely banging as well.

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3. USS Callister – S4 E1

When I first saw the trailer for the newest series, this episode looked to me like a Galaxy Quest style parody of Star Trek etc. and I wasn’t looking forward to watching at all.

Thankfully, it turned out to be the best of the new series and one of the best episodes so far. Merging the simulated reality story with a real-world one may have been done before in Black Mirror but here we see it on a much grander scale. It’s a not-so-thinly-veiled attack on the way guys tend to abuse their authority as well as their sense of ‘superiority’ over women and PoC. The episode explores these heavy themes with humour and a great storyline. Jesse Plemons (AKA Meth Damon) is brilliant as the twisted Robert Daly.

Brooker has managed to deliver an ending here that is somehow both dark and uplifting. He also recently revealed what happens to Daly after his consciousness becomes trapped in the game – he dies of starvation due to the ‘Do not disturb’ sign he puts on his door.

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2. Shut Up and Dance – S3 E3

Where do you even start with this episode?

It’s phenomenal. Honestly, my heart was pounding watching this and you can practically feel the anxiety that Kenny, the main character, is experiencing over the course of this episode. After being videoed via his laptop webcam by a hacker as he has a wank, Kenny is blackmailed into doing increasingly bizarre and criminal acts. The pace is just completely relentless and breath-taking. You are rooting for Kenny throughout the whole episode, it’s easy to so see why, as a young guy, he’s so desperate to keep the video of him masturbating from being sent to his friends and family.

And then, right at the end, comes the twist. It’s one you don’t see coming and that will leave you feeling sick. It’s the best twist throughout the entire show by a mile.

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1. The Entire History of You – S1 E3

I’m expecting to receive some pelters for ranking this as the best-ever episode of Black Mirror. The episode is based on a piece of technology that you can imagine coming true in the near future; it’s called a ‘grain’, an implant that allows you to record everything your eyes see and then play it back in front of your own eyes for yourself or share on a screen for others to see.

Liam leaves a job appraisal and heads to meet his wife Ffion at a party where he notices she seems to be flirting an old friend called Jonas. It starts off with Liam picking apart his appraisal at work but then moves on to him picking apart his relationship, ultimately uncovering his wife’s infidelity and the fact he might not even be the father to his daughter. It’s very dark, it’s very tense and it’s very uncomfortable to watch at times as Liam forces Ffion to replay her memories for him. It’s not the most in-your-face episode of Black Mirror, instead, it’s more understated. Some episodes are let down by a lack of backstory but here, as the implications of the world where everyone can record their memories are slowly revealed through snippets of conversation.

For me, this is Black Mirror at its very best.

 

 

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