The Drums

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)

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. Oh and if you’re too lazy to download them all from below, and too impatient to wait for the next half tomorrow, here’s a big ol’ Zip file stuffed full of ’em.

Arcade Fire – Lenin (YSI)

I know this has been around for quite a while, but 2009 was the year that this song was finally released, and it’s my list, ok? A more sparse and upbeat affair than their usual offerings, Montreal’s finest have created a jaunty, guitar-driven imagining of everyone’s favourite Bolshevik’s childhood, chock-full of piano sweeps and not-quite singalong moments.

Band of Skulls – Death By Diamonds and Pearls (YSI)

I still haven’t got round to listening to this album, but if this song is anything to go by, it’ll sound like the White Stripes. A lot. I mean, everything about this song, from the vocals, guitar tone, crashing drums and even the skittering, twitching solo sounds like Jack and Meg. And in my head, that can never be a bad thing, it’s just badass from begininning to end.

Beirut – My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille (YSI)

Some didn’t take to it, but Zach Condon’s brief foray into laid back electonica made me a happy man. There’s something about the rising and falling of the underwater synths in this song, coupled with his idiosyncratic drawl that never fails to make me pleased, it sounds like a more chilled-out Hot Chip at times. If Zach ever decides to bring back his Realpeople alter-ego again, I for one will not be unhappy.

Beth Jeans Houghton – I Will Return, I Promise (YSI)

Another North-East entry, this time trying to wrestle the London-centric new-folk scene all the way up the A1. Ms. Houghton’s four track EP, Hot Toast Vol. 1 gave us an alternative to all those Southern softies (note: I am one) with a punchier folk lilt, with this opening track the standout.

Black Eyed Peas – I Gotta A Feeling (YSI)

Now, I understand this is a controversial choice for a blogger to make, but honestly, this is (to use the common vernacular) a CHOON. It always made me a little happier to be in a place playing crappy music, and when it was played in Newcastle’s coolest club (World Headquarters) by the coolest DJ (Tom), it vindicated my guilty pleasure. Plus, hearing Fergie sound like a fucking idiot when she shouts “Drank!” and “La chaim!” will never tire.

Bob Dylan – Must Be Santa (YSI)

To be honest, this is a favourite just because of how fucking insane it is. I hated it when I first heard it, but one more listen convinced me that polka + Dylan’s new voice = terrifying, hilarious, genius. It’s brightened up my whole Christmas.

Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – Thou Shalt Always Kill (De La Edit) (YSI)

It’s not as good as the original, but the sound of those synths and Pip’s Essex preaching accompanied by Posdnous’ classic flow was always going to be a good idea. “Thou shalt not think that having a blog makes you a journalist”. Oops.

The Drums – Let’s Go Surfing (YSI)

Time will tell if this band can get out of the one-trick-pony phase they seem to be in now, but their first single was my song of the summer. It’s an infectiously whistle-filled romp of post-punk surf pop that charmed many a blogger and even the discerning ears (read in sarcastic tone here) of Radio 1 for a time, albeit a long time after summer was over.

Esser – Headlock (YSI)

I really liked Esser’s album when it came away, but my interest waned after a few listens, it just seems to lack the real substance that a truly good album needs, but his singles were always winners, and ‘Headlock’ is no exception. Re-released to promote the album, it just jumps out at you, all mockney vocals and cheap-sounding synths and beats. It’s endlessly danceable and emininently catchy.

Good Shoes – The Way My Heartbeats (YSI)

The sample track from the Morden boys’ second album piqued my interest in them all over again, with a heavier, quicker sound, but retaining the jangling guitar tone and Rhys’ yelping vocals that I fell in love with. Brilliant.

Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks (YSI)

I’d never paid much heed to Grizzly Bear before this, the whole American indie sound is alien to my frosty British ears a lot of the time, but this the swooning vocals put over a sluggish stomping beat in this song just grabbed me, it sounds far more sinister than it should, and the video is bloody wonderful.

Little Comets – One Night In October (YSI)

This is an insanely cheery slice of debut single indie-pop from Newcastle’s favourite new bunch of smiling loons. Full of yelps and charmingly twee lines like ‘Just like Carlisle, she lies on the border‘, the band seem to specialise in gettingnunder your skin and getting you to twitch about, just like the song. They’re getting an increasing amount of love up north, and if they keep making songs like this I can certainly see that extending all over this fair green land and maybe beyond.

Local Natives – Camera Talk (YSI)

I haven’t got hold of their album yet, but Local Natives’ indie band version of Fleet Foxes’ harmonies along with an irrepressible quick-march tempo is just beautiful. The amount of instruments they get into this song without making it sound overstuffed is a masterclass in prudent songwriting.

You know that really shiny bit of the year, the bit where stuff looks better, that bit that rarely happens in England? Summer? Yeah, well it just officially started for me. It took me a whole year, but I finally found an American seller who shipped to the UK and wasn’t going to charge me $50 for This Is Ivy League. A side project by two members of the frankly abysmal Cobra Starship, this is an album absolutely chock-full of summery, Simon & Garfunkel-esque pop tunes that make you smile, make you dance and make you appreciate every bit of sunshine you’re getting that little bit more (appropriate, as today is uncharacteristically boiling).

From my favourite summer song of last year, “The Richest Kids In Town”‘s super upbeat guitar strums, to the more melancholy echo-heavy vocals of “Viola”, here’s an album that pleases with every song, and whilst it doesn’t vary a whole lot, I never found myself caring, because I just wanted more of each song, and if there wasn’t any more, then the next song would duly oblige. This is perfect summer fare, and I’m sure I’ll be playing it well into the winter too, just to keep my spirits up.

This Is Ivy League – A Summer Chill (YSI)

And just to keep the vibe going, here’s another posting for my favourite summer song of this year:

The Drums – Let’s Go Surfing (YSI)

It always happens in the summer. A song hits your ear, tunnels into your brain and refuses to leave until the sunshine goes away. Last year, almost as soon as I started this blog, I heard This Is Ivy League’s, “The Richest Kids”, and I think it’s just happened again, coming courtesy of Florida’s The Drums and their song, “Let’s Go Surfing”.

The Drums don’t so much wear their influences on their collective sleeves so much as run up to you, tape a list of bands to your face and force you to read them. They really fall into two camps, ’50s surf music (major chord whistles, tinny guitar strums, lyrics about, urm, surfing) and, basically, Joy Division (echoey, hollow production, driving bass melodies).

Whilst it seems an odd combination, the ensuing songs really sweep you off your feet in a tumult of joy. It’s just one of those things you can’t really control and, frankly, would never want to control. Everyone needs a summer song, and I strongly recommend this be yours too.

The Drums – Let’s Go Surfing (YSI)

PS. I’m positively indebted to Come Pick Me Up for helping me find my summer selection.

PPS. I’m on the front page of the most popular songs on The Hype Machine (link on the right) right now! Thanks everyone!