Manic Street Preachers

In a fit of excitement, my girlfriend, Cat, tonight made me listen to the new Manic Street Preachers track, ‘(It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love’ as she gauged my reaction over the phone. Of the many wonderful things she has introduced me to (olives, cleanliness, and the work of Simon Armitage to name but a few), the Manics are perhaps one of her greatest gifts. I had simply never bothered to listen to them before, but with the gradual addition of albums and almost yearly live shows, my love continues to grow. I bought her the special edition Journal For Plague Lovers set (which remains my favourite album of last year that I’ve never got round to owning myself), and it’s clear that that album is colouring my view of the new track.

Fellow This Is Fake DIY writer Gareth O’Malley brilliantly characterises the new record, Postcards From A Young Man, as a sequel to Everything Must Go in much the same way as Journal could be considered a successor to The Holy Bible. Tbe difference is, this first single doesn’t sell it in quite the same way – which is not to say that this is a bad thing. ‘Just The End Of Love’ is unashamedly stadium-sized in its approach, with a catchy melody, insistent chorus and a classic rock guitar solo to its name. Where Journal’s first tracks intrigued with their dark, cryptic stylings, this new single eschews any pretence of intricacy; this is a rock ‘n’ roll song about love, and that’s it.

Because of their similar positions as spiritual successors (and relatively quick turnover), the two approaches are bound to be compared, but what becomes immediately clear upon contrasting them is this: The Manics are just about one of the most talented groups in rock music today. To be able to follow a record as bloody-mindedly intense as Journal with a single (and, I imagine, record) this carefree proves their multi-faceted brilliance, whichever you prefer.

But after all of this guff, I think Cat summed it up best: ‘I just smiled – it’s nice to hear them being positive’

Manic Street Preachers – (It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love (YSI) – Removed By Request

Here’s the second chunk of tuneful wonderment, and if you want the whole list in one easy-to-download package of delight, here’s the whole damn heap.

Manic Street Preachers – Me and Stephen Hawking (YSI)

I’ve heard the whole album in different sittings, and it really should be on my list, but I never actually bought it in the end, so here’s my favourite song so far – the perfect connection of Richey Edwards’ incredible lyrics and James Dean Bradfield’s rockstar guitar tendencies. The Manics recaptured their greatest form here, I just hope they’ve got more of the much-missed Mr. Edwards’ notebooks hidden away somewhere.

Meursault – William Henry Miller Pt. 1 (YSI)

Meursault have firmly rooted themselves on my ‘favourite new bands’ list, with their debut album and latest EP releases each blowing me away for different reasons. This song has an oh-so-catchy handclap chorus and lyrics about a hermaphrodite politician who had strange burial requests. What more could you want?

Meursault – William Henry Miller Pt. 2 (YSI)

I just couldn’t decide ok? The second half of this story sees a far slower, wail-filled affair, bringing the whole mood done somewhat, but for an entirely good reason. By the way, the band have just released new, more electronic, versions of both of these songs as new singles – get ahold of them from Song By Toad, it’s bloody worth it.

Phoenix – Lisztomania (YSI)

What list this year would be complete without Phoenix? This and ‘1901’ are just incredible singles, sure to become classic pop hits, and whilst I like both, there’s something about ‘Lisztomania’ that oozes cool, seeming to explode with noise at points, and yet never losing its feeling of easy-going charm.

Radiohead – These Are My Twisted Words (YSI)

Ah, Radiohead. How they can make me like what’s essentially a five and a half minute sinister freak out (not my favourite style I have to say) is a marvel. There’s something so beautiful about the directions and left turns they take, letting it wash over you before switching up again, never quite allowing one idea to go on for too long. It felt perfectly at home in their live set too, bridging the gap between their more abstract songs and the hits.

The Second Hand Marching Band – We Walk In The Room (YSI)

Making beautifully constructed songs must be difficult if you have a shifting set of over 20 musicians, but this song proves it can be done. Adapting a Beirut sound into a far more expansive and ever-growing proposition, the mass chants sound like a rallying call for fey indie kids everywhere, and it doesn’t succumb to the crescendoed heights it seems to suggest it will at points, a nice exercise in restraint that shows how such a large band can make understated music.

Shift-Static – Father’s Footsteps Pt. 2 (YSI)

Shift-Static describe their genre as shoe-step, embracing the disparate influences of shoegaze’s wall of sound techniques and dubstep’s shuffling, occasionally mournful beats. It doesn’t get much clearer that this is a perfect description when you listen to this. All Kate Bush swirling vocals to begin with before suddenly mutating into some quietly throbbing, beat-laden beast, it’s bloody weird, and bloody brilliant.

Thom Yorke – All For The Best (YSI)

This cover of a Mark Mulcahy song takes the best of Thom Yorke’s solo work and marries it to louder sound, allowing guitars and real drums to seep in somewhere along the way, perfectly complementing the sad yet ultimately redemptive tone of the lyrics.

Tom Williams & The Boat – Bonkers (YSI)

Tom Williams may be adept at creating folk-pop tunes that I love, but this hoedown version of Dizzee Rascal’s horrible, horrible song made me love the band for a whole new reason – their sense of humour. This just sounds like friends making music because they love it, with no ulterior motive.

Two Door Cinema Club – Something Good Can It Work (YSI)

This song can cheer me up in mere moments. There’s something so bloody wonderful about listening to a band just say, ‘yeah, things can be good’ and back it up with the most upbeat music you’ve ever hear. At the time that I heard it, they were unsigned and still playing little gigs; now they’re signed to cooler-than-thou Kitsuné and I saw them play Glastonbury. They’re going to be big, they’re going to make a lot more amazing songs, but this will always be the one I cherish most, because it feels like a band just believing in themselves, even when they haven’t achieved anything just yet.

Vampire Weekend – Horchata (YSI)

I simply cannot wait for the second album from these guys, and by the sound of this track they might have some new tricks up their sleeve. This takes all the African influences they love so much, cranks them up higher than they’ve ever gone before and puts it all on an avant-garde dance track. Freakin’ awesome.

The Very Best – Warm Heart of Africa (feat. Ezra Koenig) (YSI)

Just after I talk about Ezra Koenig making an African-themed dance track, we have this, an… African dance track, featuring Ezra Koenig. It somehow sounds completely different though, using actual African samples as a base and building up from there. It’s an unadulterated slice of sunny pop, and a sure-fire dancefloor hit.

Withered Hand – Religious Songs (YSI)

Technically, it’s a song from 2008, but I’ve only heard this year’s Good News album version so I feel no shame in including it here. The lyrics are what makes this so brilliant, at times a twisted love song, at others a meditation on happiness and all the time wonderful. Lines like ‘How does he really expect to be happy/when he listens to death metal bands’ and ‘I knew you so long I ran out of cool things to say’ make me smile instinctively, and turn this into an instantly relatable song, totally human and never pretentious.

Having written this, I realise I’ve definitely missed some out, so if you want to tell me what you think I’ve omitted, comment me up!

What with the spirit of goodwill that’s being bandied around at the moment, I thought it only proper to recognise the achievements of those bands whose albums weren’t quite good enough (or didn’t exist enough) to be included on my end of year album list. So here we go, the unrecognised gems of this fair year of music.

Ah Saturday, after two days, the aches of sleeping in a tent, drinking too much and being crushed by immovable idiots start to make their way deeper into your muscles. But unbowed, we struggled into the arena to see Bombay Bicycle Club (incidentally, with Katharine and Matt, who introduced me to them – thanks guys!). Again, we really made the right choice as an opening act. A lot has been made of BBC’s age, but to me it really doesn’t matter. No matter how old you are, if you’re this wonderful and effervescent, you’re always going to be a hit. Their Strokes-y guitar lines, Jack Steadman’s tremulously Oberst-like voice, everything about it was lovely. Plus, the token inclusion of a badly dancing panda (from their “Evening/Morning” video) never fails to impress.

Leaving with smiles on our faces, we headed over to the Alternative Tent to see the highly-recommended Jeffrey Lewis and the Jitters. Now I’m always partial to a bit of anti-folk, and the opening with “I Ain’t Thick, It’s Just A Trick” was a lovely little relaxing feeling, but it was all a little flat for me, after the sheer energy of the first band, it just seemed as though I still wanted that. So our next band – on the main stage this time – was a good choice. The Subways (local heroes where I come from) came bounding onstage, Billy Lunn shirtless and screaming. They launched into a lot of newer tracks (the explosive “Girls and Boys” proving the best), but the reaction from the crowd was frenzied when they played their first album’s tracks. “With You”, “Rock and Roll Queen” and the awesome “Oh Yeah” all provoked massive singalongs.

Next, we ran across the field to the NME tent once more, this time to catch the Mystery Jets. In a set peppered with tracks from their second (and much more successful) second album, they really conjured up the whole ’80s vibe of their album, they matched their bouncy melodies with a bouncy persona, smiling throughout and really making the atmosphere a good one. “Two Doors Down” was always going to be a highlight, but “Zoo Time” as a closer drew an obviously wonderful chant out of the crowd, even if most of them didn’t realise there was a first album at all.

Back to the main stage and We Are Scientists were in full swing, mixing older songs with new, covering ’80s classics whose names I can’t recall with guitarists from Editors and providing their unrivalled between-song banter. Seriously, they’re hilarious, who can blame them for supporting themselves with a stand-up show? But their tunes don’t suffer, “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” still crackles along, and “The Great Escape”‘s breakneck verses don’t disappoint. After being introduced as WAS’ aftershow band, Editors more than fulfill their billing. Their album tracks might not be massively interesting, but their singles sound amazing when played live. Tom Smith was clearly loving the experience, jumping on his piano during the breathless chorus of “Bullets” and generally running around the stage constantly, his best Ian Curtis impression blurting out of the huge speaker stacks. “Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors” proved a standout moment, from the first verse until the end, everyone seemed to know the words around us, and it was impossible not to join in.

The Raconteurs were always going to be well-attended, but as Jack White emerged onto the stage, the roar that met him seemed unreal. He truly has become a legend. The show itself lived upto his reputation. Despite the second album not being as good as the first, the songs they played from it were brilliant. “Top Yourself”‘s moody blues carried well, and closer “Salute Your Solution” (which I think is the best rock song for years) blasted through the crowd like the juggernaut it is. But it was always going to be “Steady, As She Goes” that got the greatest reaction, even if it was two songs shy of the end. Its effortless, punchy rhythm made everyone move, and Jack White’s wails positively filled the air.

Bloc Party was our last appointment at the Main Stage and luckily (from what I’ve heard since about the sound problems) we were at the front. Accompanied by a stand-in bassist for Gordon Moakes, they tore through a set full of tracks from both the previous albums, as well as a couple from the album that came out on the Thursday the festival started. It’s difficult to say which tracks were the best received, because adoration for Bloc Party is something to be reckoned with, every track was screamed for. However, the best moment was the incredible laser light show that started with “Flux”. Kele Okoroke danced onstage and led the way for the rest of the audience. “Helicopter” and “The Prayer” may be their most famous outings, but they closed with their first ever singe, “She’s Hearing Voices” and it seemed to be a nostalgic moment for the band and the crowd at once.

But to be honest, we left without much ceremony, mainly because Cat was physically dragging me to the NME stage once more. We did slightly muck up on the timing though, as we got there just in time for the Bullet for my Valentine. Now I have nothing against metal, I can enjoy it (and their captive audience certainly were). It’s just that when the sound is so badly set up that the double kick-drum they used overpowered all of the other music, it doesn’t really make it anymore than violent drum ‘n’ bass. No, what we really came for was something a little more special. Manic Street Preachers really are something else. How a band with such juxtaposing members actually ever worked is beyond me, but work they do. Nicky Wire alone has an incredible stage presence, he carries himself so well, and he plays the crowd perfectly. James Dean Bradfield wields his guitar like a god, and always knows when to summon up the spirit of Richey Edwards to maximum effect – it makes the crowd go wild. It’s testament to this band that the crowd is so incredibly varied, metallers rub shoulders with indie kids, and feather boas are everywhere. Having seen them before, we knew we were going to have a good show in store, but they astounded everyone. Their set was just full of hits. They opened with “Faster”, which led into “Your Love Alone…”, then there was “Motorcycle Emptiness”, a cover of “Pennyroyal Tea” (Amazing), “If You Tolerate This…”, and “Motown Junk”. Not only that, they played a couple of lesser-known tracks (“Of Walking Abortion” and “Little Baby Nothing”) for the hardcore fans. Then they closed with the incredible “Design For Life” – I mean, what a way to end! Why anyone would choose The Killers over this I just cannot understand. If you ever get a chance, see them.

Bombay Bicycle Club – Open House
The Subways – Oh Yeah
Editors – Bullets
Bloc Party – She’s Hearing Voices
Manic Street Preachers – Faster