Looking back at… Music Has The Right To Children by Boards of Canada

words fae karsten walter (@boc_maxima)

Boards of Canada are some of the most oddly seductive musicians, shrouded in an absorbing secrecy that begs their fans to not only speculate, question and investigate them, but to listen intently, and be pulled into a compelling and familiar world that feels barren, but also full of life at the same time. Their debut studio album, Music Has the Right to Children, was an early masterclass from the Scottish duo, shaping the sound of electronic music for the next twenty years.

Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin’s unique sound of eeriness, nature, and nostalgia was brought to the masses on this hour-long cut in 1998, where they released their most unified, carefully formulated work yet, meticulously establishing their own certain sounds as their signature and layering techniques as their mastery. The two brothers (a fact that was not discovered till the noughties, to dispel comparisons to cult electronic duo Orbital) had, until this point, recorded tracks together for themselves, then circulating sometimes only dozens of copies to close friends and family. Only when they mustered the courage to send a copy of their demo EP to Autechre’s Sean Booth did Skam and Warp Records realise the possibility of taking Boards of Canada to the next level.

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Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin in a rare appearance, unfortunately not on stage; instead, in front of a photographer.

The opening notes of the track Wildlife Analysis could undoubtedly become stuck in your head for the rest of time. It leads into the trip-hoppy An Eagle In Your Mind, which starts off as an amalgamation of odd (but undoubtedly calculated) beats, before developing into a smooth and pulsating track. The moment halfway through when the deep, rich synth bounces into the track, resonating for seconds each time, is first-rate. If only Boards did live shows again, we could witness that moment in real life.

MHTRTC is generally, by fans, considered to be the band’s masterpiece. It encapsulates all the qualities of Boards that they’ve known to grow and love, which would all feature on future albums; for example, their unique and masterful management of layering and texture, or their certainly distinctive use of samples. A prime example is their creepy use of kids saying “I love you” from Sesame Street on the track The Colour of the Fire, or their remarkable ability to transform the funk sounds of Earth Wind & Fire into the moody Sixtyten.

Turquoise Hexagon Sun is a psychedelic masterpiece, with a heavy beat, that is covered by a gorgeous synth melody, filtered with faint voices in the discussion. The melody is unforgettable, and almost haunting in the way it can throw you into a trance in seconds. Roygbiv starts off with a dark melodic bassline, before switching to a bright and warm beat that feels like a summer’s day on the beach: alone, but familiar.

The duo’s name is inspired by The National Filmboard of Canada, the origin of hundreds of environmental and scientific education films watched by the brothers once they moved to Canada as young children. The nature of these films, “grainy and wobbly” as described by them in a 1999 review, is what led them to use old cheap taping methods that gave a nostalgic, personal, and handmade ambience. The personal side of things has always been very important to Sandison and Eion. Before the full release of MHTRTC, the duo had already taped what is rumoured to be hundreds of tracks which, unfortunately, may never see the light of day. In the same 1999 review, they state that only releasing 200 of their first record, Boc Maxima didn’t matter to them – “it’s lovely to hear that people we’ve never met are really enjoying our music”, but “our friends and families hear all the music we write, and that’s all that matters really”.

Pete Standing Alone shows the influences Sandison and Eion followed in the early 90s, like Aphex Twin, and the aforementioned Autechre. This track’s headphone-piercing beats runs away from the emphasis on synths and complex melodies, rather depending on atmospheric chordsDespite coming into the public eye years after them, the brothers can now easily be mentioned in the same sentence as electronic forefathers, and MHTRTC can certainly be thrown into the same pool as Selected Ambient Works 85-92 and Tri RepetaeLooking back on the album now, the influence it has had is inescapable; many of the electronic artists of our day, the calm, chill electronica are undoubtedly inspired by Boards of Canada and this album. Some would even say that they are almost proto-vaporwave.

For many older fans, the duo’s music instills a memory of the same memories Boards had, filling them with nostalgia and maybe even a wish back to the innocent times and lives they had back then. But the ever-present haunt within Boards’ music is there for a reason and the naturalness of their music will be a part of what makes them so special for years to come. Music Has The Right to Children is the ultimate testament to that.

Looking Back At… Antidotes by Foals

by ewan blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)

Foals’ debut album, Antidotes, just turned 10 years old, providing an excuse to revisit this British indie staple. Today it would be hard to argue that Foals aren’t one of the best British bands of the last decade, consistently impressing release after release and garnering critical acclaim. In the past ten years the band have gone from playing local clubs in their hometown of Oxford to playing main stages of festivals around the world. All of this success stemming from one of the best debut albums to come from the indie scene.

Foals are often being referred to as being in the genre of “Math Rock”, which peaked as a musical style in the late 80s; it could be said that Antidotes is a Math Rock revival album. With the style of the album feeling very different from its contemporaries, who all began to sound increasingly similar since the success of bands like Arctic Monkeys, The Kooks and Franz Ferdinand. The album perfectly managed to keep an upbeat post-punk sound whilst creating something new in the UK indie scene, which at times was just plain boring and predictable.

The tracks are consistently catchy throughout the record, sounding cohesive as a project yet switching up tempo just enough to keep listeners guessing from song to song. The dreamy, intricate instrumentals on the album range from atmospheric and subtle to memorable moments that would go on to be an essential to any house party in the late 2000s. The vocal performance from Yannis Philippakis is also another standout feature of Antidotes as he takes a different approach to song writing compared to many other indie acts from the same time, and it really pays off. The lyrics are simple yet abstract, often repeating over the tight, upbeat guitar and groovy baselines found throughout the album.

This new approach to up-tempo catchy songs definitely shook up the British music scene, providing an important alternative to some of the more popular bands and going on to influence bands such as Two Door Cinema Club and Everything Everything. The versatility that was displayed on Antidotes, which sees the band regularly switch from soft spoken and delicate to shouting and abrasive, sets the foundation for what Foals have further explored on later releases, continuing to improve and make such great albums as Total Live Forever and Holy Fire. These records brought them to the mainstream and have gained fans from all corners of the globe, allowing them to sell out headlining tours and feature as highlights of festival lineups across the world.

Ultimately, Antidotes kick-started the career of one of the most exciting and charismatic bands to come out of the UK in recent years. The album really struck a chord with young fans that saw through the surface level indie rock replica bands, who were searching for something different and new. Many of these people will now look back fondly on Antidotes as a classic indie album, as well as acting as an introduction to Foals, whose reputation as one of the most exciting acts to see live is well earned.

Looking Back At…Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version by Earth

Can you withstand the doom? Twenty-five years after its release, Charlie Leach (@YungBuchan) looks back at Earth’s classic debut album.

This retrospective was heavily informed by the article “The Unbearable Heaviness Of Being” on Seattle newspaper The Stranger. To find interviews with people involved with the making of the album and a musician heavily inspired by the album, please click here.

Twenty-five years ago, Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version was released on Sub Pop records. Harking from Seattle, Dylan Carlson, and Dave Harwell made a record that had little immediate impact on the music world at the time. Coming in an era where peers such as Nirvana had a monumental impact on popular music, a record such as this could have been another small creative release that dissipated into the ether.

Its creation was also fairly small-scale. Though made on a small budget with limited time in the studio, Carlson described the recording process as quite simple; they had already played the first two songs live, so needed no real warm-up time to start recording. Studio engineer for the record Stuart Hallerman also remembers the process as an easy one, describing the recording sessions as having a “very relaxed vibe“. In spite of this, Carlson has since said that if he could record the album again, he would go about it with a totally different method. He states that they wanted a sound as loud as their live shows, but how they set up the mics and amps was flawed, and actually (in his opinion) hindered the overall sound. But for him and Harwell, they were two young musicians who were happy to have studio time that they were being paid for, and so brought their youthful energy and desire into this recording process.

Without previous knowledge of the album, the prior description could conjure images of a young band of the nineties that created an energetic rock album, filled with sharp guitar melodies, rasping vocals, and tight drumming. This is no such album. In fact, this album feels like it takes solace in sheer being the total opposite. This is an album that swamps the listener from the first moment it is played. Hallerman suggested that at the time, Earth’s main mission statement was to out Melvin the Melvins. In comparison to this album, the Melvins are blissful.

Though really intended as an album-long piece due to recording limitations at the time, the album was divided into three parts. Seven Angels, the opening track on the album, commences the album with thunderous, bleeding guitar and bass distortion. This album is not a typical metal album to be born out of the nineties; this album is a drone metal album, and Seven Angels buries that fact into the listener’s eardrums within the first ten seconds. Eventually, a doom-metal inspired guitar riff stomps into the forefront of the song. Taking many cues from Black Sabbath (of which it is rumored Earth took their name from), this slow, meandering riff permeates Seven Angels for its whole fifteen-minute runtime. The riff exudes dread, never firmly resolving itself, building and building over its mammoth run time. After a few minutes of the riff, the song moves out into an incessant, distortion-filled drone. Repeating several times over the course of the track, there is no real rest-bite, and leads to a sense of nervous anticipation and paranoia as to when the riff will come back. The drones here are mainly provided by a sludgy bass line, again soaked in reverb and distortion, but also a distortion that pans and filters around the song, building a cacophony of noise. Even when the “melody” of the song is absent, this song leaves no room to breathe, in no short part due to this droning bass.

Drone is a word used a lot to describe this album, and with good reason. Like all good drone and ambient music (and unlike your average Bandcamp laptop producer), repetition on this record is not wasted; this is a sound that evolves. As Seven Angels oozes forward, the distortion moves with it. More elements of noise permeate the latter half of the track. Additionally, the distortion itself seems to grow in volume and in presence, adding a high tinnitus-inducing ring. There is no room to escape from this album, it burrows into the listener’s brain, allowing enough time to become the only thing present in the mind. This is a contrast to Earth‘s later work. In the same interview as referenced above, Carlson states that Earth 2 is a very claustrophobic sounding album, and if it was recorded now it would be something he would give a lot more and space between the sounds. Though he might look back in slight remorse on this aspect of the album, for many, the all-encompassing claustrophobic nature of the album is one of its true selling-points.

Seven Angels smoothly transitions into Teeth Of Lions Rule The Divine. The louder drone remains on this track, but the guitar riff changes to a more foreboding melody, a melody that gains volume and begins to swamp both channels in the mix. A melody that begins to wriggle into the ear canals, finding comfort in the murky depths. As this riff trudges along, the droning bass begins to gain traction, a white noise second layer beginning to develop over an already excruciating, despair-inducing tone. Not to be forgotten, the guitar riff takes a moment to regain the listener’s attention (if it ever managed to escape it in the first place), gaining a somewhat higher pitch (for this album) to wail into the eardrum. Not to be outshone, the bass swoops into the picture, sound coming in like a tide to the shore, slowly building and building before crashing into existence. As might be clear by now, this album is not great at parties.

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Teeth Of Lions Rule The Divine maneuvers into another explosive riff by allowing a rattling crunch of distortion to fill out the song. Then, it announces itself with another Sabbath-inspired thunderous riff, with a chorus of drone and noise to provide the staunch foundations. At the halfway point of a near thirty-minute track, this comes as a somewhat pleasant surprise. Those pleasantries don’t last long. Carlson plays and plays with this riff, allowing it to scream out in pain, to wail in disgust; this is a riff that is exploited for all its worth, raining down its blood-lined tears onto a sea of distortion and sorrow. The murky bass crashes onto the shore and retreats throughout this second movement, allowing a minuscule amount of room for the monstrous guitar riff to truly embed itself into the downtrodden areas of the soul. The white noise found earlier periodically shudders in, punching itself on top of the omnipresent bass drone.

The track eventually fades into the final grand opus of the album, Like Gold And Faceted. The final roar of Earth 2 slings one final surprise into the mix: percussion. Though fairly hidden in the mix, the occasional cymbal crashes add a ritualistic feeling to this final track; this is the last moments, the time to end it all. Of course, a never-ending drone fills the beginning of this track. Slowly building in stature, the absence of any melody is the perfect recipe for fear. At thirty minutes (the longest of the three tracks), this particular drone is an all-encompassing behemoth, slowing stomping its way throughout its epic run-time. Small attempts at melody are made in this opening period, but they are swiftly dealt with, being immediately swamped by new layers of distortion, or new layers of noise. An occasional ring of guitar swims throughout the waves of drone, all while the crash of a cymbal fights for acknowledgment. As the track moves, the cymbal becomes louder, smashing more assertively into the middle of the mix, while a reverse cymbal is used to wash over the whole of the track. This washing is aided by more white noise, at this point an expected accompaniment of the Earth 2 experience. Before the brain has realigned itself with its own sense of self and being, the track is already halfway through, yet there is still no melody.

An absence of riff really pushes the grand statement of this album: this is not a run-of-the-mill metal album; this is an album that pushes the idea of songwriting and performance to its most minimal extreme. As the Like Gold And Faceted slowly fades out into nothingness, so to does the almost meditative-like state the brain inhabits when listening to this album. For an album made by young, relative newcomers to the music scene at the time, this is an album that defies age or time, more an album of never-ending being, which makes its influence in the world of music all the less surprising.

Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))) recounted his first experiences of listening to the album at nineteen, and it being the gateway into minimal and experimental music. For him, this album is a tower in the music world, and who is to argue? Though made from a humble context, this album is anything but. This is a wandering behemoth, and twenty-five years on is a vastly important classic for metal and experimental music.

Looking Back At…m b v by My Bloody Valentine

by isabella mchardy (@izzscarlett)

In 2013, My Bloody Valentine released m b v, their first album in 21 years. It broke 2 decades worth of silence with this self-produced and self-released body of hazy dream pop. After years of production and speculation, the nine track album was put out into the world, providing new music for a genre that had been mostly left in the last century. Five years on, m b v is still as intense as ever, and the only album of its kind in our time.

MBV is similar to the Irish act’s other work in production and style but is somehow darker and pushes the band further. As a follow up to the successful album, Loveless, most of it isn’t shocking. Each song is delivered differently, some with a hint of surprise. But what makes this third album so special is simply that. Almost 22 years later, My Bloody Valentine managed to make an album so true to themselves as a band and to shoegaze, a genre they helped mould.

m b v is the perfect album to get lost in. The 9 tracks can be separated into three groups. Each with its own twist on what we know to be My Bloody Valentine’s distinct sound. The first flood the listener with layers upon layers of foggy distortion and echoing vocals. The album begins with she found now, a slow, ambient track that welcomes you back into the world of beautiful noise. The second ventures into a simpler, rhythmic classic pop haze. Track four is this and yes builds slowly. Distorted guitar is replaced with a steady keyboard. in another way kicks off the final section of the album; it’s full to the brim of percussion and more defined riffs, its heavier than what has come before. nothing is sounds like a broken record – jumpy and intense, it appears to get louder, once again making use of drum and bass sounds as well as fuzzy guitar.

Incoherent voices of Kevin Shields and Belinda Butcher stretch across tracks. Lines like ‘into the night you won’t come back to/ into your heart it’s the only you’, give a hint of context, but leave the listener to fill in the rest. That is what makes m b v such a personal album: it morphs into whatever the listener needs it to be.

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Although, Shields writes of love and pain like many bands of the eighties and nineties, what separates m b v from the rest is that My Bloody Valentine have grown up. As a band, they have shown us how they sound 20 years on. More complex, but still as intriguing as ever. They have perfected their craft and it manifests beautifully and continues to do so five years on.

Releasing a shoegaze album in 2013 seems like a bad idea; most of the bands fans had accepted that no new music was to come, the thoughtful dreamers of the nineties had grown up and moved on. Somehow though when m b v was released, it all came flooding back. Not permanently or on a huge scale, but the album quickly received critical acclaim, earning spots on Pitchfork and Stereogum’s AOTY lists. Fast forward to 2018, m b v is still as tantalizing as it was when it was released. With every listen comes a new favourite track or snippet of a passing reverb. Although not as widely recognised as its older sibling, Loveless, this album is sure to become a classic.

 

 

Looking Back At…Opposites by Biffy Clyro

by oliver butler (@notoliverbutler)

Biffy Clyro are an enigma. For a band of such notoriety, they still seem like the outsider’s choice when it comes to music. Favouring the weird and wonderful when it comes to lyrics, song titles and of course, their A-Level maths equations of time signatures, nobody can say that they’re bland and by-the-numbers.

Since the turn of the decade, their star has continued to rise, with Only Revolutions beginning to put them on the map, ending 2017 as multi-festival headliners, with a sub-headline slot at Glastonbury, and many of you could easily argue that Sheeran should have been bumped in favour of the Biff.

However, the record that catapulted them to the headline scene is a bit of a weird one. The bearded Scottish rockers are known for writing thirty or forty choice cuts, packaging a select few into an album; if that wasn’t enough, there’s a b-side album to go along with, which obviously isn’t as good as the main event, but nothing to be sniffed at (See also: Little Soldiers from Lonely Revolutions). But for their sixth studio album, Opposites, Biffy went big time. Instead of a slim, lean studio album, the Kilmarnock trio released Opposites as a big, fat double album, five years ago today.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, they also released a b-sides album called Similarities, because Simon Neil cannot physically say the word “holiday”.

Opposites should always be remembered as the album that brought Biffy to the very top. An arena tour was launched in early 2013 to promote the album, with the band headlining Reading & Leeds in that year as well. Whilst festival headliners are always a contentious issue, anyone who headlines the festival twice (as they did for the second time in 2016) must be doing something right.

However, whilst Opposites produced setlist mainstays, and some of the best Biffy Clyro tracks ever written, Opposites, like many double albums feels a bit bloated and unnecessary. Whilst we live in the age of playlists, single tracks & pick ‘n’ mix music, a double album is still a hefty thing to get through in one sitting, and with anything, the laws of diminishing returns soon apply, and you find yourself with fewer and fewer quality tracks, the longer the album goes on.

That being said, Different People is probably one of the best opening tracks of the modern era. The ethereal synth with heartbreaking lyrics bursting through into a high-tempo rock & roll express made it an absolute peach of an opener for their 2013 tour, with that absolutely fantastic light up tree, similar to the album cover. You wanna talk choice cuts from Opposites that ISN’T an opening track? How about everyone’s favourite set closer, Stingin’ Belle. The only thing wrong with that track is the lyric “You make me laugh, I’ll make you cry, I guess that rhymes”, which doesn’t rhyme at all, something Simon Neil has made light of during live sets, but even so, what a brilliant, confusing lyric.

Opposites also allowed for a more accessible Biffy sound, with tracks like Biblical and Opposite capturing that Clyro magic, but packaging it in a way that everyone can enjoy. But the same brand of aggressive, balls-to-the-wall sound was present in Sounds Like Balloons, and with all of the above, it’s hard not to see why they still cement their place in Biffy setlists, despite having seven albums of quality tunes, all of which get a sniff at the setlist.

However, the laws of diminishing returns did indeed apply, and whilst no slouches themselves, nobody will remember A Girl and His Cat and Woo Woo as well as they remember Spanish Radio. Double albums will never be good, it’s just the way it is. How they managed to do a double album AND a b-sides album is a total mystery and something that shouldn’t ever be explained. Had Opposites been slimmed down into a 10/12 track LP, it could have easily been the GOAT Biffy album, but the stragglers that found their way onto their album slow it down a bit.

But above all else, Opposites was THE album that will be remembered as the one that allowed Biffy to join the immortals. Ellipsis was a strong sequel to Opposites and continued their role as arena-filling, festival headlining, riffin’, griftin’ sons of guns.

And that folks, is why Opposites should have a very happy birthday.

Looking Back At… Colourmeinkindness by Basement

Five years ago today, Basement released their second album Colourmeinkindness. This release was unlike most sophomore efforts as the band had already disbanded by the time of release. Due to personal commitments, the band had decided to go on indefinite hiatus in July 2012, a few months before the release of their album. Being one of the most promising bands in the emo/grunge rock genre at the time, anticipation for the album was already high but once they had announced their split, this undoubtedly raised curiosity over whether the album would be a fitting farewell or the signs of a band at the end of their tether.

When the album finally dropped, it was already an instant classic for many fans. However, the circumstances surrounding the album then couldn’t be further to the contrary today: no longer the final album, Basement have since reformed, toured extensively, released a third album and signed to a new label, and will most definitely be looking to the future with hope. Fortunately, neither situations negate the fact that Colourmeinkindness is Basement’s crowning achievement and will likely always stand as their magnum opus.

Amidst all the chaos and drama, Colourmeinkindness still stands out on its own in a musical sense, not only as a pivotal moment in the band’s career but one of the best albums of its genre. On the Ipswich band’s debut album I Wish I Could Stay Here, they had already established themselves as a solid grunge rock band, with a heavy-hitting album with some flashes of brilliance lyrically and instrumentally. On the follow-up here, they delivered on their potential with an album that covers all the bases when it comes to everything from aggressive grunge to heartbroken emo-rock.

Listening to this album five years on, it’s still hard to think of an album since that so completely defines its genre and explores every aspect of it whilst still sounding so concise. Right from opening track Whole, Basement show their intentions to be heard with a massive opening track that doesn’t sound too dissimilar to anything from their debut, but already sounds a lot punchier and has a distinct raw aggression to it. They keep this momentum going through the next two tracks, the lead singles Covet and Spoiled, both instantly captivating tracks, especially in the case of Covet which features one of the band’s best hooks (When I’m with you, I don’t want to be with you) and shows further skills the band add to their arsenal on this album.

At this point in the album, it’s already evident that the band is at the top of their game, from the energetic drumming to Andrew Fisher’s vocals that transcend from a whisper to a growl without warning, they show they can do anything. This is further shown on the next track, Pine – a sudden change of pace, it is more laid back instrumentally allowing their lyrics to come to the fore, as Fisher admits his darkest thoughts. “Want me, I need you to want me/ I hate myself, but that’s okay“, is an example of a lyric that has lasted for these five years as one any basement fan will remember vividly, and time and time again on this album their lyrics are so simple yet so painfully relatable they can’t help but cut deeper with every listen.

Pine is a prime example of the main theme of colourmeinkindness, the acceptance of sadness. While the lyrics on this track are heartbreaking, the song is so beautiful, showing that Fisher is no longer afraid of these feelings and can talk about them without pain. Just in this short track there is so much depth to it that is rarely found on an album from its genre and for that reason, as well as many others, is why Colourmeinkindness is still relevant today.

The clear highlight on Basement’s second album is Breathe, a track that is not only the best they have ever created but maybe one of the most stunningly heart-wrenching songs ever written. Again the lyrics stand out due to their simplicity, hiding no emotion or pain, but laying it all bare in a song that details a situation almost anyone can relate to and instantly have their heart broken all over again. “Smile, like it was yesterday/ Make me believe that you’re the same” begs Fisher, as he longs for things to be as they once were, knowing that they can’t. As the song goes on to realise, Breathe details such a complex and emotionally distressing situation in such a simple, human way that the track has always stood out as something special.

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As Colourmeinkindness stampedes towards its end through hard-hitting tracks such as Black and Control, Basement continue to display such a prowess in their art as the album achieves a complete mastery of its genre. Obviously, at the time when this album was assumed to be their last, it was important to go out on a high, and they most definitely managed it with Wish. Going out on a huge instrumental climax, Basement confirm their album as a true milestone achievement, an album that is easily the pinnacle of its genre in every aspect. An album that manages to explore complex feelings of self loathing and acceptance in such a simplistic manner is something to be admired and even more so for sounding as confident as it does.

Although it may not be the farewell album fans once thought it was, it still stands as Basement’s finest album, a masterpiece that will continue to inspire punk-rock outfits for years to come.

15 Years On: Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights

By Kieran Cannon (@kiercannon)

At the turn of the 21st century, New York City boasted one of the most prolific indie rock scenes in the world. Venues such as the Mercury Lounge and Brownies played host to numerous up-and-coming artists and continued to do so until the mid-2000s when they started to become the last bastion of underground music amidst widespread onset of gentrification in neighbourhoods throughout the city. Leading the garage rock and post-punk revival, bands like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Strokes erupted into mainstream consciousness with straightforward, danceable rock which was at odds with the grunge movement that dominated America in the 90s, prompting some to declare that rock ‘n’ roll is, in fact, alive and kicking. Jeans and t-shirts were order of the day; however, one band unexpectedly turned up suited and booted surrounded by an air of mystery – Interpol.

Around the campus of NYU, guitarist Daniel Kessler encouraged classmates Paul Banks and enigmatic Carlos Dengler to form a band alongside him and then-drummer Greg Drudy. In the lead up to their debut LP Turn On The Bright Lights the band, now featuring Sam Fogarino on percussion duties, set about making a name for themselves in the same circles as contemporaries The Strokes and The National, playing material from self-released demos and hoping to garner enough momentum to get signed by a label. Timing played a crucial role in the slow burn success of Bright Lights: the internet was on the brink of becoming a major player in the music industry but much of Interpol’s exposure came the old fashioned way. Although the band don’t necessarily consider themselves ‘of’ the New York music scene, excellent promotion work by Daniel as well as being in the right place at the right time contributed to their eventual popularity. An invitation by the legendary DJ John Peel to play a session further established their significance and a record deal with Matador ensued.

Songwriting and aesthetics marry seamlessly in Turn On The Bright Lights to make their debut album the one which definitively established their image, an unmistakably important aspect of the band. Everything from the ethereal red-lit screen on the album cover to the layered, reverb-soaked instrumentation works in tandem and the end result is a complete package. Critics at the time were quick to highlight the similarities between the baritone of frontman Paul Banks and the late Ian Curtis; however, suggesting Bright Lights is a knock-off Joy Division record is disingenuous. Part of the charm is his unique poetic touch: many of his lyrics are deeply cryptic in nature, hiding subject matter ranging from serial killers to fellatio behind layers of wit and double entendre. In Obstacle 1, so named because the band were suffering a writing drought at the time (interestingly the band overcame Obstacle 2 first), the lyric “her stories are boring and stuff” sounds like a throwaway filler line but the nuance lies in the deadpan delivery and the context of the song – generally accepted to be infatuation with a young model who committed suicide. He realises she isn’t perfect but this bears no influence on his feelings towards her.

One of the most prominent features of Bright Lights is its ability to conjure up imagery to match the music. The opening track, Untitled, is one of the most electrifying and atmospheric songs on the album – piece by piece the songs builds on the echoing guitar riff with interplay between Banks and Kessler, drums which build to a crescendo then give way to tense guitar and bass, eventually fading to silence. Reflecting its status as an opener, it certainly feels like a new beginning of sorts – it’s easy to imagine this as the soundtrack to a long distance journey. NYC has a similar vibe, evoking images of travelling on the subway or the bus late at night, feeling isolated but taking solace in the fact that “New York cares“. In light of the September 11 attacks this song, although written before the attacks took place, takes on a special poignancy and becomes a kind of mournful love song to the city.

On songs such as PDA, the tightness of the band shines through as Banks’ steely vocals shout over pounding drums and duel guitars. By virtue of the dynamic between the band members, expansive-sounding verses can easily transform into nervous, claustrophobic choruses and vice versa, eventually culminating in the ending which is, arguably, one of the high points of the album. Guitar and bass parts slowly build in intensity, threatening to boil over until Sam Fogarino’s drums explode back into action and carry the song through to its conclusion. It would be remiss not to mention Carlos D’s masterful basslines and The New sees his instrument take a front seat, where the stop-go nature of the song gives him the perfect opportunity to create tension with highly-strung hooks in the buildup to each new section. The work of the notorious bassist, who became famed for his eclectic dress sense and occasional controversial remarks, permeates the record and his Peter Hook inspired melodies play a huge role in the overall sound of Interpol.

In the years following Turn On The Bright Lights’ release, its impact has been remarkable. Many artists, old and new, have expressed their admiration for the album and its influence has reached across genres with acts such as Editors, The xx and The Killers taking cues from it, Brandon Flowers notably stating that the record “was on constant rotation while we were making ‘Hot Fuss’.” As for the band themselves, many consider Bright Lights to be their high watermark. Given the daunting task of following up an album of such calibre, the subsequent Antics thankfully avoided falling into the trap of the so-called ‘sophomore slump’. While a solid output by any measure, containing several of the band’s greatest hits, the overall package lacked the emotional depth of their debut effort. Subsequent releases, such as the decent Our Love to Admire and the questionable self-titled Interpol, sadly seemed to confirm that the dizzying heights of their debut might never be reached again; that it was a product of its time. Despite Carlos D’s departure in 2010, the band are still churning out music and their latest release, 2014’s El Pintor, does show signs of promise. Their best could yet lie ahead.

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Do OK Computer’s Missing Pieces Fit?

Written by Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

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

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

I PROMISE

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

MAN OF WAR/BIG BOOTS

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

LIFT

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

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

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

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


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LOOKING BACK ON…PUZZLE BY BIFFY CLYRO

By Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

So many legendary albums are by bound together by the fact that they have become inseparable from their “story” and how they were created. Think of Radiohead’s seminal OK Computer, and you’ll think of Thom Yorke’s paranoia after constant touring and his fears of technology. Think of Nirvana’s legendary In Utero and you’ll think of Kurt’s drug addiction, depression and demise, shortly after the record’s release.

Biffy Clyro’s 4th LP, Puzzle is one of those albums. Puzzle was written after the death of frontman Simon Neil’s mother, so lyrically, the record deals heavily with loss and grief, and the record’s weighty subject matter has led to Neil calling it the band’s most important record. Celebrating its 10th birthday (or anniversary, depending on your preference), Biffy’s fourth album has proved crucial to their discography (and career) in the years since its 2007 release.

The whole album deals with aspects of Neil’s grief but the track that deals with this subject matter most explicitly is Folding Stars, a beautiful ballad which opens with finger-picked guitar lines and builds to a big chorus which hears Neil shouting his mum’s name, followed by the beautiful tribute “you will be folding stars”.

Folding Stars is undoubtedly the album’s most “crucial” track for a whole host of reasons, not just the lyrical content. Puzzle is the first album that Biffy made on a major label after moving to 14th Floor Records and, for a band who claim they have always worked in trilogies, marked the start of their second trilogy.

Puzzle sees the Ayrshire trio embrace their pop sensibilities more than their first three records and places less emphasis on abstract prog-rock anthems which trademarked the band’s first trilogy. Folding Stars is the album’s poppiest track, which songwriter Simon Neil alluded to in an interview where he said “It’s probably the prettiest song we’ve ever written as a band…that was the one on the record that needed to be absolutely perfect and I know she (Neil’s mum) would love that song”.

Biffy’s move into mainstream territory paid dividends: Puzzle shot to number 2 in the UK album charts and appeared on multiple end-of-year lists in 2007. What has enabled this record to stand the test of time is just how well Simon Neil and twins Ben and James Johnston managed to merge their complex, angular songwriting into more regular song structures, without diluting what people loved so much about Biffy’s earlier works.

Anyone who claims that the trio “sold out” should be pointed in the direction of the album’s opener, the soaring Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies, which opens with eerie violins and a minute of irregular guitar strums, before an anthemic chorus where Simon Neil is echoed by a choir. Musically, it’s perhaps the most “Biffy Clyro” song that Biffy Clyro have ever written, as it is impossible to speak about without throwing up words such as “bonkers” or “bizarre”.

Further proof of the band’s left-field roots is seen on Get Fucked Stud, perhaps the album’s heaviest moment, where an almost menacingly smooth instrumental transition into a blood-and-thunder chorus, with Neil’s aggressive vocals sounding almost confrontational.

While these tracks showcase the fact that the band hadn’t lost their edge, they feel unmistakably like a Biffy Clyro 2.0, and the lyrics have a massive hand in this. The Ayrshire trio’s first 3 records were loved for many reasons but the lyrics were rarely one of them. However, on Puzzle, every line feels more considered and more poetic as a result.

As Dust Dances is one of the best examples of the musical and lyrical progression that can be seen on Puzzle. The track begins with a pretty straightforward instrumental, but Biffy’s prog-rock roots can be heard as the track builds to a huge crescendo, which feels even more immense with a focus on Neil’s lyrics. Throughout, Neil personifies death in the chorus lyrics of “it’s bigger than everything it decides to touch”, a poetic but terrifying observation of mortality. The crescendo then hears Neil echoing “It’s such a lonely ride”, exemplifying the pessimistic state he found himself in after his mother’s death.

Despite the impression from tracks like Living is a Problem… and As Dust Dances, Puzzle isn’t a “depressing” album on the whole. In fact, the record contains some of the band’s most “fun” songs in their entire discography. Saturday Superhouse and Who’s Got a Match? Cannot be described as anything but “fun”, and have grown into favourites in Biffy’s famed live show. The latter has a punchy, catchy instrumental, with a guitar line that has an almost exotic feel to it, and Neil’s playful vocal performance makes the track even more enjoyable.

Image result for biffy clyro 2007

A tribute that must be paid to Puzzle is that 10 years and 3 studio albums later, so many of this album’s tracks are still mainstays in Biffy’s aforementioned live sets. Living is a Problem now stands out as one of the more obscure tracks in the set, and tracks like Get Fucked Stud and Semi-Mental display the band’s more aggressive sets.

However, Puzzle didn’t just add to Biffy’s live set, it also played a part in developing their live shows. Stunning album closer Machines is a live staple, where twins Ben and James Johnston depart the stage and leave frontman Neil to perform the bare-bones acoustic number. The track feels like a sequel to Folding Stars and the lyrics of Neil regaining his optimism are among the band’s best, including the almost iconic chorus lyric “take the pieces and build them skywards” which countless Biffy fans and fanatics have had tattooed since 2007.

Tracks like Machines and Folding Stars obviously stick out as slow songs in the live set but more than that – they add an emotional depth to Biffy’s live shows, which has been expanded in recent years with tracks like Many of Horror and Re-arrange, which now feel crucial to the band’s performances, including now iconic Reading and T in the Park headline slots.

The best indicator of how important the record is to Biffy and their fans can be seen on the left rib of all 3 band members and of countless fans: a tattoo of the missing puzzle piece has become a badge of honour for Biffy fans and it’s easy to see why: Puzzle feels nothing short of Biffy Clyro’s most important album.


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Looking Back At…OK Computer by Radiohead

By Harry Sullivan (@radiohedge)

Twenty years of OK Computer. THE OK Computer. Arguably the most influential alternative rock album of the nineties, and the top of many fans’ ranking lists. Where does one start?

Well, Airbag probably. A hugely underrated track inspired by a nasty motoring accident, the album kicks off with a bass riff and what sounds like sleigh bells, with the Radiohead stamp of uniqueness coming in the form of a punchy (albeit repetitive) beat from drummer Phil Selway and vocals which seem to be about an octave higher than anyone else the genre from lead songwriter and all-around god Thom Yorke.

The song fades out, being replaced by that iconic four beep transition into one of the greatest songs – nay, compositions – of modern music: Paranoid Android. It is described as Radiohead’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ since it is effectively a slightly-longer-than-usual track split into three distinct smaller tracks, and the fact that it’s their best-known song apart from Creep (though arguably leagues above it technically and as a song to listen to) – in fact, BoRhap is cited by the Abingdon five-piece as key inspiration in the songwriting process. The resultant sound is a surreal composition that is very technically skilled, containing seventeen-time signature changes. The accompanying music video is probably their weirdest, too, with the final scene involving a high-level politician head and torso sitting in a tree being fed fish by a bird.

A particular highlight is the following track, Subterranean Homesick Alien, which offers an outsider’s perspective on the human condition against Radiohead’s formula of a strong beat and some very open guitar work. Next is Exit Music (For a Film), written for the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet, which has one of the biggest crescendos on the album and is described by Thom as being something he was particularly proud of, the first track they had written which he ‘could turn up really loud and not wince at any moment’. Let Down is certainly not a letdown, providing one of the most emotionally engaging moments on the album, with the point around the two-minute mark where the drums are their strongest and Thom’s voice begins to quiver being a poignant struggle-not-to-cry moment.

Karma Police is arguably the best track on OK Computer, finding strength with simplicity, musically speaking and in the video, with ‘this is what you’ll get…when you mess with us’ being one of the most memorable lyrics on the album. It’s difficult to know what to think about Fitter Happier – at first listen it’s so jarring it’s almost unlistenable but after you take the time to get through it the lyrics (if you can call them lyrics?) are the most potent on the album. Conversely, Electioneering is much more jaunty, being the most energetic of the album and having one of the most political of messages. Climbing Up The Walls features one of Thom’s most harrowing vocal performances, and Phil’s use of toms where snares would usually be is particularly offputting. No Surprises is another big song from the album, performed in an almost lullaby-esque way, and echoes the strong simple style of Karma Police. The final tracks, Lucky and The Tourist both have relatively large crescendos during their chorus but overall are two of the more forgettable moments on the album.   

Radiohead were one of the first modern bands to create short compositions to as opposed to just songs that were jammed to, exemplified by OK Computer. Lyrically, OK Computer is a very clever critique of modern society. In fact, there is an element of foresight to this album that makes it more applicable in today’s climate than ever before, with themes such as political corruption and consumerism prevalent all through the LP. Musically, when compared to their previous efforts of Pablo Honey and The Bends, it is the first moment they break out from the generic of-the-era alt-rock style and became their own unique band. Following the 1997 release, Radiohead embarked on The OK Computer Tour which brought about exhaustion in the band. This caused the band’s entire mindset to change, with Kid A written almost as a reaction, turning out to be a huge change of direction but also a work of genius. And of course, you can’t mention OK Computer without mentioning the link to their strongest work to date: 2007’s In Rainbows, which forms half of the famous 0110 playlist.

A key point about Radiohead is that their work is so varied but counterintuitively, still niche. It is impossible to judge the band on one song alone, instead, their work begs to be appreciated as a whole, be it through a single album or their entire discography. This is why, when you ask someone whether they’re a Radiohead fan the answer is unlikely to be ‘yeah, they’re alright’. Instead, a more realistic reply will be either ‘haven’t listened to them’ or ‘YES I LOVE THEM OMG MARRY ME THOM ❤’’ because they’ve listened to their all their albums and B-sides a hundred times each. Some may argue that this lack of immediate accessibility is a reason to dislike the band as it is a barrier to getting into them in our busy 21st-century lives.

A better perspective to have is that Radiohead, OK Computer in particular, is the much-needed segue to a greater appreciation of music.

9/10


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