Bombay Bicycle Club

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This is a week late, but technically it doesn’t matter because my computer exploded violently this week and so I didn’t do a show. There are a fair few new bands’ tracks on last week’s show and, whilst I urge you to listen to me talk about them, I thought I’d give them some extra airing as the appendix to this post. As such, I will only be offering blanket criticism to all of them, and in order to learn more about my thoughts, you have to listen to this week’s show. Clever, eh?

All of these tracks are “well good”.

Howth – Deep In Your Heart (YSI) [Bandcamp]
The Skeleton Dead – Drifting Into the Unreal (YSI) [Bandcamp]

Bird – Phantoms [Website]

Sound and the Urgency – Harrowdown Hill [Bandcamp]

Netherlands – Something or Nothing [Website]

15. Working For A Nuclear Free CityJojo Burger Tempest

This album more or less blew my mind when I first heard it. Its never-ending switches of musical styles and references (see: Thom Yorke, The Beatles, The Flaming Lips, Weezer, Sebastien Tellier and some or all of the Warp artists) its insane overlength and the fact that its second disc is one long track are all things that would usually upset me about an album, but somehow seem entirely natural in the grand scheme of Jojo Burger Tempest. I could ramble on for many paragraphs, or point you to my frankly overwhelmed This Is Fake DIY review, but, in fact, the best way to describe it is perhaps visually – see that album artwork up there? That off-kilter, patchwork aesthetic is entirely informative of the sound of this album. At some point I’d like to make a little chart of how each song sounds and write them down in sequence, but for now I’ll just say this: it’s fucking nuts. Listen to it.

Working For A Nuclear Free City – Silent Tunes (YSI)

14. WoodpigeonDie Stadt Muzikanten

Perhaps less so than the last album, but still very much in the bracket of “diverse”, Mark Hamilton and co.’s third album is a wonderful exercise in how to craft an album just perfectly. Starting with pretty saloon piano pop, the album never stops moving about stylistically, but stays entirely familiar throughout. Traditional Canadian indie fare becomes Belle & Sebastian-indebted twee becomes sparse folk becomes shimmering love song and you never lose track. It might be hard to describe in a forthright, definitively descriptive way (are you getting that?), but the album itself never stops making beautiful, beautiful sense.

Woodpigeon – Empty-Hall Sing-Along (YSI)

13. SpoonTransference

The fact that this album was far less polished than their previous output was commented on endlessly at the time of its release but even now, months later, that’s still the most important facet of this album for me. The fact that many of the tracks here were just demos  means you listen far harder to what the band is doing, not what they’re trying to do. It’s a fairly nebulous distinction, but one that gains weight as you listen – every untreated aspect just plays what it’s meant to, not what production dictates it should. That’s not to say there aren’t more treated tracks, but Transference feels honest in the way it just sits there, rhythmic, throbbing, occasionally ferocious and displays all it has with no pretence (unlike this review).

Spoon – The Mystery Zone (YSI)

12. Bombay Bicycle ClubFlaws

Ridiculously youthful, musically talented and now multi-genred? Bombay Bicycle Club have always struck me as a bunch of precocious bastards, but their move into lilting folk-pop territory bloody proved it. Jack Steadman’s quavering tones sound just as at home fronting this mix of older tracks remade and newer ones purposely created in an acoustic mould and their occasionally more complex guitar arrangements sound wonderful when a banjo’s added to the mix. You just have to feel a little sorry for drummer Suren – he doesn’t get much of a look-in really.

Bombay Bicycle Club – There Are Many Ways (YSI)

11. The NationalHigh Violet

I wrote a ridiculous treatise about this album when it was released, claiming that it emulated Gustav Freytag’s Dramatic Arc, the way all traditionally told stories progress. I can’t claim that it entirely holds water as an idea, but there is certainly something enticingly dramatic about High Violet – the stories of beautifully told emotion complemented by music that could soundtrack any number of fictional scenes. I defy anyone not to feel moved by the distant shout of ‘It takes an ocean not to break‘ as ‘Terrible Love’ forces its way into a blustery climax. And that’s just the first track. But if carefully-constructed, ideas-driven rock is not your thing, fear not! At the centre of the album lies the year’s best triumvirate of songs – ‘Afraid of Everyone’, ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ and ‘Lemonworld’ are the beating heart of this work, embodying the sound and sentiments articulated throughout. It’s startlingly intimate, loud and quiet in equal measures and was just the thing to finally get me off my arse and listen to this band.

The National – England (YSI)

It’s very easy to be jealous of Bombay Bicycle Club. On a personal level, it starts with the simple fact that they’re younger than me. Then it escalates to the fact that they’re in a band. Then that they can play their instruments.  Then that they can make a damn fine indie record. And now I find out they can make an excellent acoustic-folk record too? Bastards.

Flaws is an album that simply refuses to stop beguiling you, every turn it takes leaves you with yet another smile, whether its the reworkings of their own songs (‘Dust On The Ground’, ‘Evening/Morning’), the gentle sadness of ‘Leaving Blues’ or the jauntily-plucked, finely tuned ‘Ivy and Gold’. The best parts of the band, i.e. their technical proficiency and Jack Steadman’s tremulous vocals remain from their first album, but otherwise this is quite a new experience and one that highlights not just their sheer skill as a band, but a willingness to embrace new ideas that will serve them well through their already pretty brilliant career.

The final track, ‘Swansea’ showcases this perfectly, beginning as a langourous folk tune reminiscent of Fleet Foxes in its chorus, but as it progresses, the band add twinkling, hypnotic synths into the mix. A sign of what’s the come? I bloody hope so.

Bombay Bicycle Club – Swansea (YSI)

The NME Awards Tour kicked off in Newcastle on Thursday night and I was lucky enough to have won some tickets, so after queueing for an inordinate amount of time amongst thousands of 14 year-olds and being charged an insane amount for two beers the lovely Cat and I stepped into the breach.

First up were The Drums who all looked a picture of completely uninterested ‘New York Cool’ apart from singer Jonathan Pierce who flailed about like an outrageously camp Ian Curtis for the entire set. They’re an odd beast, The Drums – after loving ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ so fervently, each song I’ve heard after that seems a variation on a theme rather than a different idea, and that quickly manifested itself in their set as well. It was samey, not entirely in a bad way, but enough to make you forget which song is which. My main gripe was the fact that they used recorded whistling and handclap sounds from their album tracks rather than actually doing it onstage, which just seemed a bit confusing and lazy to be honest. It was all over rather quickly and the crowd seemed receptive enough, but as far as warm up acts go, they weren’t the best I’ve seen.

The Big Pink were up next, arriving onstage in darkness and smoke to the lilting sound of Cypress Hill’s ‘I Wanna Get High’ before launching into a set at least twice as loud as the previous one, blasting out their 90s rock/shoegaze collage in a haze of panning spotlights and constant UV light. It was certainly quite a show, and bloody fun to watch, but the crowd were really only interested in one song, the rather irritating ‘Dominos’, and after that finished they quickly lost interest. It made me wonder whether when I was that age if I would only care about one song by a band – I really hope I wasn’t that fickle.

After a whirlwind changearound by the roadies, Bombay Bicycle Club shambled onstage, looking more like the crowd members around me than a band that got the reception they did. It might have something to do with their youth, but BBC got a huge reaction from the young’uns, despite not having any obvious hits or street cred. Whatever the reason, the band quickly whipped the crowd into a frenzy, concentrating on their heavier material (‘Magnet’ was brilliantly loud) and amping it up early in the set. The best thing about BBC is just how uncool they are, there was none of the pretense of the last two bands, they made no attempt to have an ‘image’ or to conceal their excitement, when the music got heavier they thrashed around like they were dancing in their bedrooms, laughing and smiling with each other. It’s nice to see a band who just love what they’re doing, and don’t want to project anything else other than that. It also helps when you’ve got a set of brilliant songs, without a moment of filler – ‘Evening/Morning was as spectacular as ever and ‘Always Like This’ worked its dance groove magic on everyone in the place. The band left to huge cheers and with smiles on every face in the room.

Headlining tonight’s entertainment was everyone’s favourite lovelorn rapscallions, The Maccabees, who bounded onstage, took up their instruments and proceeded to prove why they were top of the bill. I’ve watched the band a fair few times now, but this was as loud and energetic as I’ve ever seen them. They seemed supremely confident, knowing that they can use material from both albums and get a good reaction from either. I forgot just how loud and intricate some of their music is too; when three guitars are used at once you can really notice the change in noise, and when that’s further backed up by a mini brass section the sound just gets bigger and bigger. Bouncing between hits from both albums, we were kept guessing what was next. From the sheer speed of ‘X-Ray’ to the glorious high points of ‘Can You Give It’, all the songs we wanted were there. As it turned out though, one of the high points came from an album track I’d not given much of a listen to – ‘One Hand Holding’ helped open their set with an impassioned singalong from the whole band and an energy that characterised the rest. This was a band on top of their game and knowing it, belting out every song with the passion only a true belief in their work can produce, and as they finished their set with ‘No Kind Words’, a cover of Orange Juice’s ‘Rip It Up’ and ‘Love You Better’ they proved to us and themselves that they deserved to be NME’s top choice for this tour.

The Drums – I Felt Stupid (YSI)
The Big Pink – Velvet (YSI)
Bombay Bicycle Club – Magnet (YSI)
The Maccabees – One Hand Holding (YSI)

So it’s come to that dreaded time of year for every blogger – the end (or as I like to call it, Listomania, hur-hur). You’ve probably read several thousand ‘Best of 2009’ lists already, and mine will contain a lot of what everyone else has already agreed on I’m sure, but it seems important (or at least interesting) to me to really force myself to decide on my real favourite albums of the year, and make a distinct effort to see what moved me. I guess that’s why I like list posts so much, they may change, they may be based on a subjective (or worse, populist) view of the year’s albums, but the positions of albums, especially at the top levels, really interest me and I’ve already done my fair share of reading about why some have beaten others. So without further ado, here’s the first installment of my albums of the year.

15. Bombay Bicycle Club – I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose

I’d been looking forward to this record for a long time before its release. This prodigious bunch of Londoners had been charming me for over a year, constantly releasing little bits and pieces of the album, each one showing me another facet of their character as a band. When the album itself dropped I was initially a little disappointed actually, feeling that the individuality of each single was distilled by the album tracks. However, as the year went on, I would hear the album on people’s stereos all over the place and the cohesive nature of the record came through far better as background noise. For example, the expansive stomp of ‘Dust on the Ground’ may not seem to match the laidback groove of ‘Always Like This’, but they’re bridged by the beautiful ‘Ghost’ which marries the noisier guitar tone of the former with the more chilled-out feel of the latter. And it’s the same for the rest of the album – it’s a record that has somewhere to go with each track, well thought-out and beautifully realised. I can’t wait to hear more.

Bombay Bicycle Club – Evening/Morning (YSI)

14. Hockey – Mind Chaos

An album that starts with five straight tracks of effervescent, fresh, Strokes-meets-James Murphy brilliance like ‘Too Fake’, ‘3am Spanish’, ‘Learn To Lose’, ‘Work’ and ‘Song Away’ will always catch my eye. As an opening salvo, there’s not been much to rival it for sheer throat-grabbing pop magic this year, and whilst the rest of the album might not live up to this initial blast, it’s certainly never short of ideas. There are the hipster prerequisites of indie and dance all over the place, but look closer and you’ll hear flecks of country, soul, classic rock and even an entertaining, if slightly misguided, attempt at ironic hip-hop in ‘Wanna Be Black’. It can seem a bit tumultuous at times, but Ben Grubin’s hipster drawl is the through line that holds the whole affair together and makes this, if not a perfect album, at least a very good one.

Hockey – Learn To Lose (YSI)

13. Pull Tiger Tail – PAWS.

It’s a wonder that this album ever got released, not to mention that it would be such a joy to listen to. Pull Tiger Tail have been one of the saddest casualties of the music industry I’ve ever heard of, and being left legally unable to release an album you toiled over must be a horrible experience. However, with sheer determination and some seriously devoted fans, the band brought us a bouncing bomb of an album, never sitting still but hitting harder than you’d expect for indie-pop. The really excellent point of this album is just how far the band can stretch their own sound. For sheer, bubbling pop look no further than ‘Let’s Lightning’. If you want a catchy guitar anthem there’s ‘Animator’. For bubblegum-gloom balladry we have the (unsettlingly prophetic) ‘Loki’. That this album should have been released in 2007 and it still sounds this good in a completely different musical climate is testament to the band’s talent, and frankly the only real downside to the album is that we’ll never be hearing any more from them.

Pull Tiger Tail – Animator (YSI)

12. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

I really don’t like the term freak folk, and to see it bandied about in relation to this album seems like something of a mis-step. This isn’t some freaky, psychedelic experience of an album, this is a slow-burning stream of well-considered, floating songs, full of intricate little touches and spooky, vibrato whistling. At first listen, it might seem as though Mr. Bird is just wandering around his songs, casually tossing new rhythms and tonal shifts into the mix for the hell of it, but it seems after a few listens that what he’s really doing is injecting each one with a new lease of life just as they might drag on. It’s also interesting for its content; his lyrics are sometimes unbelievably wordy, more so than almost anyone else I’ve ever heard (singing about ‘calcified arithmatists’ or ‘proto-Sanskrit Minoans’ has that effect) and his voice strays into beautiful Thom Yorke falsetto at times. This is not an album to listen to for catchy catharsis, but it certainly is lovely, and perfectly replicates the pastoral beauty of that front cover up there, letting you just wallow and waste time in it.

Andrew Bird – Effigy (YSI)

11. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson

I should hate this man, considering he stole my idea for a really cool song sound and using it for his opening track. ‘Buriedfed’ is a dark folk lament that crescendos into a huge, beautiful Arcade Fire-style explosion of instrument noise, which I’d always wanted to do but, not being able to play an instrument, let alone a huge number of them at once, I’d had to put that idea on hold for a bit. I’ll let him off though, because this is hands-down one of my favourite songs of the year, and opens up an album full of fantastic, mournful songs. From ‘Woodfriend’s skewed take on a blues-rock stomper to shambling, drunken anthem that is ‘The Ongoing Debate Concerning Present vs Future’, it’s clear that ol’ four-names is one talented man. His wails permeate every song with a sense of the sadness he’s singing about – party music this is not, but it is unbelievably affecting; even when he’s upbeat it seems like Miles might just collapse in a heap at any moment and give up. It could easily have turned into a self-indulgent, “emotional” record, but as he whispers “Don’t care to eat, to drink makes me thirst/My second year here has been worse than the first” on closer ‘Boneindian’, it suddenly all becomes heartbreakingly true. And amazing.

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Buriedfed (YSI)

Glastonbury Day Two

So, where were we? I’ll continue, a week exactly since the wondrous collage of genius that is Glastonbury, with Saturday. We awoke to an absolutely sweltering tent, and upon looking outside, saw that the weather had got much, much better overnight, which was a relief to say the least. Significantly cheered up, we roamed our way all the way across the site to where the brilliant Bombay Bicycle Club were playing.

After hearing them for the first time almost a year ago I can’t believe that I’m still waiting for the prodigiously talented band’s debut to come out (well, it’s only four days now, but you know…). Actually I’m rather happy I am, because every time I see them, they’re brilliant, and if they can translate that to a whole record, it’ll be an absolute corker. This appearance was no exception, with the whole audience enraptured by their jaunty tunes and Jack Steadman’s inimitable, fantastic vocals.

Quickly dashing off to the Pyramid stage we got there just in time for a band I still can’t quite believe I saw. Spinal Tap. David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnell and Derek Smalls emerged to screams like no other, and proceeded to wheel out every fictional hit they have. From “Gimme Some Money” to “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight”, they covered every iteration of their band, and every genre. Highlights included two little people carrying an inflatable Stonehenge and Jarvis Cocker joining the band on bass. Brilliant.

Suitably stunned, we made our way to see my favourite new band, Hockey. I’ve heard a lot about their live show not living up the promise of their recorded stuff, but as far as I could tell, they were on top form. Every swagger and soulful move of their tracks was perfectly recreated, and Ben Grubin ruled the stage, roaming up and down, making sure everyone got an equal chance to see his perfectly positioned headband and hipster clothing choices. Scenester aspects aside, Hockey look like a seriously good prospect for the future, and another band whose debut I can’t wait for, and this only helped me get more excited.

For our fourth band, and fourth stage, of the day, we took a safe bet and went to see Maximo Park. Just like The Maccabees, Maximo Park seem unable to fail when they play live. Whilst the band are absolutely perfect every time, Paul Smith is the perfect frontman, engaging, funny, humble and bloody mental on stage. His high kicks and little red book are already legendary, and it never gets old. With perfect picks from all three albums, the crowd lapped up every moment, singing along to every word and having a ball in the process.

After a long gap to wander about aimlessly and sample some delicious food, we made our way to the Pyramid Stage once more to catch the main event. It’s no secret as to why Bruce Springsteen is the dictionary definition of a rockstar. He owned the stage, never seemed dwarfed by his surroundings, and, unlike most artists, looked like there was no better place for him than in front of thousands upon thousands of people. There’s a reason it’s called stadium rock. Now I have to admit, I really don’t know much Bruce Springsteen material. In fact I can only think of two songs, and they both begin with the word “Born”, so I can’t say my attention was completely focused. It certianly isn’t usually my kind of music, but it was certainly an amazing (and long) performance, and the crowd absolutely loved it, so what more can you ask for?

So there you have it, another day of Glastonbury reviewing done, and only one more left. See you tomorrow folks!

Bombay Bicycle Club – Evening/Morning (YSI)
Spinal Tap – Gimme Some Money (YSI)
Hockey – 3am Spanish (YSI)
Maximo Park – Postcard of a Painting (YSI)
Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run (YSI)

Summer Bands

Well I’m set up and ready to go with this WordPress lark, and frankly after my experience with Blogger, I’m hoping for a better experience. I’m currently on a train speeding back up to Newcastle for the third term of uni, listening through the inordinate amount of albums I’ve bought recently (currently Cold War Kids’ Loyalty To Loyalty) and I think I’ll repost all those tracks that got taken down in last few days. The picture also took me ages to make (I’m a very poor photoshopper you may have noticed), so that’s what’s heading the post. I’ll return to normal service soon, I promise.

The Maccabees – Love You Better (YSI)
Magistrates – Make This Work (YSI)
Hockey – Learn To Lose (Xfm Session) (YSI)
Bombay Bicycle Club – Always Like This (YSI)

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