Vampire Weekend


So we’re back here again, are we? You’re probably already tired of thousands of bloody lists, but I’m afraid you’ll have to stomach yet another if you’re staying around these particular parts of the internet for now. So here goes; my top 20 albums of the year, hastily assembled and even more hastily relistened to in order to form a vague order. Enjoy!

20. Scott Pilgrim vs. The WorldOST

Yes, I know, it doesn’t really count, but there’s enough original material on here to keep it at least vaguely valid in the grand scheme of things. You could criticise this collection for being much of a muchness, populated by hipster-friendly, retro-cool sounds, not to mention filled with throwaway Beck tracks. On the other hand, you could say that’s the whole point and, you know, Beck wrote those tracks. In my opinion, this is the most endlessly enjoyable collections of film music I’ve heard, treading a fine line between “jukebox” soundtrack and original compositions beautifully and ebbing and flowing just the way a “proper” album should, with very few low points (‘Under My Thumb’ is shit). The fact that even when I knew every track on this album and was watching the film for the third time, every track still sounded perfectly placed and never detracted from the film’s overall tone is testament to just how right Nigel Godrich and Edgar Wright got this.

Sex Bob-omb – Garbage Truck (YSI)

19. Vampire WeekendContra


This is more or less here on the strength of its singles. As an album, it lost the singular sound I came to adore from the self-titled debut, and failed to develop its own, but more than delivered on the sheer effervescent excellence of their best songwriting moments. ‘Cousins’, ‘White Sky’ and ‘Giving Up The Gun’ (and, to a lesser extent, ‘Horchata’) have been all over the place this year, and with good reason – they’re fucking amazing pop songs. I still can’t listen to the initial drumbeat of the former without smiling and jerking about like some sort of electroconvulsive arse. Maybe it’ll take more time (I didn’t give it much of a chance after its January release), but the only reason this isn’t right up there amongst the very best of the year is because nothing quite matched those incredible moments it offered only a few times throughout.

Vampire Weekend – White Sky (YSI)

18. The Savings and LoanToday I Need Light


I’m not going to lie, I’ve barely listened to this yet, but I’ve already taken to it completely. Only released this month, this duo’s much protracted debut (it’s been six years in the making) possesses the kind of melancholy only the truly Scottish can muster. Anger is completely absent as the haunting sound of Martin Donnelly’s deep voiced,  poetic lyricism spreads slowly over quiet but carefully thought-out instrumentation. There’s something of The National in here, and not just through vocal similarity; this is the sound of an ordinary man almost burdened by his own artistic nature and ability to express the feelings of  many. A soundtrack to strong drinks (courtesy of the brilliant intro to ‘Catholic Boys in the Rain’) and prematurely dark days.

The Savings and Loan – Pale Water (YSI)

17. Timber TibreTimber Timbre


Technically a re-release, but I only heard it this year so it’s going in, all right? This group of creepy, folk-based songs act just as well as mini fairytales – the kind the Grimms tried to get rid of. Taylor Kirk’s warbling vocals articulate a kind of non-specific terror that never seems to stop closing in, lending the whole affair a tone that’s adopted perfectly by the instrumentation. Distant organ, staccato, reverb-heavy guitar riffs and the briefest hints of fiddle contribute throughout, aiding every slimy little feeling Kirk wants to wrest from you. It’s a masterclass in emotional music, it might just not be the emotions you want to experience.

Timber Timbre – Lay Down In The Tall Grass (YSI)

16. Johnny FlynnBeen Listening


This wasn’t quite the follow-up I’d hoped for from London’s best Shakespearian actor/folk pin-up, but it grew on me from its release onwards. On first listen, I was pretty aggrieved at how little cohesion I thought it had. Moving towards a more eclectic sound, the album utilises upbeat trumpet, electric(!) guitar and even a bossa nova beat (on ‘Churlish May’). Sitting smugly and listening, I thought ‘Ha! He’s abandoned his folky roots, the bastard,’ but after quite a few more listens (thanks to my girlfriend’s obsessed housemates) I feel like the bastard now. While there’s definitely been an expansion in ideas, he always returns to the core of what he does best. For every bolshy ‘Kentucky Pill’, there’s a beautifully harmonised, quiet ‘Amazon Love’ to back it up. It may not flow perfectly, but it’s certainly a great set of songs.

Johnny Flynn – Howl (YSI)

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Vampire Weekend are a lot of fun. Their first album told me this, the songs I’ve heard from the second reinforced this and seeing them headline a sold out gig last night proved this. From the moment they (literally) bounded on stage, smiles in place and blasted into White Sky, it was clear – this was going to be a fun gig. That too-familiar haze of tour-tiredness that affects some bands just didn’t seem to be considered, every member of the band was playing like they were loving every moment, and the (oddly, quite old) crowd showed their appreciation by exploding with joy at every new song they recognised.

With a nice mix of old and new tracks, the gig allowed for those of us who fell in love at first sight to indulge in those songs that made us smile two years ago while those who had only just heard the band got to revel in the new material. There were a couple of down moments as slower tracks weren’t as well received and, unfortunately, the brilliant B-Side ‘Boston’ simply wasn’t recognised by most of the crowd but on the whole the gig went from strength to strength. One thing to mention alongside the rest is just how nicely put together the stage set-up was: a row of (somewhat familiar) chandeliers lit up in sequence whilst spotlights all over the place illuminated each member and a huge Contra album cover unfurled during the first song. It just made the performance that more personal when you knew the band had had some influence on how the gig looked.

If you have a chance to see them on this current tour, I urge you to go – you won’t have more fun at a gig for a long time, I guarantee it.

Vampire Weekend – M79 (YSI)

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.

You wait an age for singles from your favourite bands, and two come along at once and with videos to boot. Both Vampire Weekend and Good Shoes have revealed their first singles from their sophomore albums, Contra and No Hope, No Future respectively, and both have had me jigging with joy for days now.

Vampire Weekend’s ‘Cousins’ is sprightly beast, packed full of yelps, skittering drums and dancing guitar lines and seems a – well – cousin of the ‘Weekend’s other speedy, indie-punk jaunt, ‘A-Punk’. The video’s bloody good too, directed by the brilliant Garth Jennings (who directed ‘A-Punk’ as well), with a wondrous section involving masks towards the end:


‘Under Control’, the first single, and second released song from Good Shoes’ new album is a darker affair than their usual fare, with a pulsing bassline and Rhys’ insistent, inimitable voice pushing the whole thing along at a brisk pace. Now I’m not going say it’s worse, but this video is frankly a little terrifying for some reason, so it’s not quite as smile-infused romp as the last one. Ah well, enjoy everyone!


Vampire Weekend – Cousins (YSI)
Good Shoes – Under Control (YSI)

I said I’d never go back, but after seeing Radiohead on the lineup, my girlfriend and I just had to head to Reading just one more time, and I have to say, despite the overt commercial interests, hordes of idiots and general irritating atmosphere, it was a bloody good day. We started at the Festival Republic stage with Bear Hands, who continued my own personal tradition of seeing bloody good opening acts. With the drum and bass volume pushed up high, the band’s shambolic songs were imbued with a sense of power and urgency, and worked really very well. The singer looked either terrified or quite bored, and they didn’t play my two favourite songs, but “Golden” and “Vietnam” were excellent, and translated very well to the live experience.

Noah and the Whale win the dubious honour of most underwhelming performance of the day. Their sound seemed dwarfed by the Main Stage they found themselves on, and their new material, live at least, sounded a little too close to the Snow Patrol soft rock style for my liking. Luckily, we had The xx next. Lining up together at the front of the stage, the dark-clad teens found themselves faced with a bigger crowd than any other in the Festival Republic stage (at least until bloody La Roux came on later) and truly lived up to the hype (Machine). I’ve read somewhere that the band chose their distinctive, empty sound partially because they could play it exactly the same live as on record, and that is certainly true. Songs like “Crystalised” and “Basic Space” drew large cheers and already sound like future singalong hits, and the whole set was very cohesive. As well as being generally brilliant, they also win the award for best marketing effort -huge boxes of T Shirts, cardboard X’s and stickers were handed out, and it seemed like everyone was wearing them for the rest of the day (including Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend during their set).

There wasn’t a lot on for quite a while, so we headed to the Alternative tent for a while and saw some comedy. We saw four stand up sets – Kojo (misogynistic, brash and not very good), Jeremy Hardy (good, but perhaps a little old for most of the Reading crowd), Adam Bloom (good and rather odd) and Brendon Burns (absolutely hilarious, offensive and wonderful). But the real reason we headed there in the first place was for Adam Buxton and his BUG show. An hour (I think) of music videos and shorts interjected by the amazing Mr. Buxton, we were treated to some incredible work by lesser-known directors, as well as Adam’s own brilliant efforts. Two of the standouts were Pes’ “Western Spaghetti”, an animation of making a spaghetti recipe using no food (watch it and you’ll understand) and the video to Wiley’s “Cash In My Pocket”.

Next up were Vampire Weekend, who pulled out a set of their trademark summery Afro-Indie and got the whole crowd dancing to hits like “A-Punk” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” as well as playing newer songs like “White Sky”. Yeah Yeah Yeahs bounded on afterwards and were easily my nicest surprise of the day. I do like their singles, but based on Show Your Bones I didn’t think they had much in their locker beyond that. Well, happily, I was proved wrong, with a set spanning all three albums, and an incredible performance by Karen O. She truly is that rarest of things, a real life rockstar. Bounding around, with a strange shrimp-like costume (with detachable headdress and armbands no less), yelping, encouraging the crowd and generally having a bloody good time of it, she took the set to a new level and I was left enthralled. The penultimate band of the day was Bloc Party. My first impression wasn’t of their music, but Kele Okoroke’s Trent Reznor-like transformation into muscliness. But past that shocking revelation, Bloc Party’s third main stage set in three years was very much more of the same, which is never a bad thing. Despite not particularly liking the second album and having not listened to the third at all, they always put on a good show, and songs like Positive Tension and Flux are just excellent anyway.

Right, for the next section I’ll try not gush, but I’m still excited a day later so bear with me. By 9.30 we’d secured a good place at the Main Stage, and stood waiting for the mighty Radiohead to make their entrance. Their technical set up was incredible, a series of what were essentially huge fluorescent lights that could change colour and create effects. For instance, when Thom sang ‘it should be raining’ during “The Gloaming”, it simulated rain, and during “Nude” it looked as though there were floating candles above the band. Eschewing the normal screen images simply of the band playing, each screen was split into six sections which showed oddly-angled images of all the band members playing. I won’t go through every song (as tempted as I am) but highlights included a rare airing, and even rarer opening, with “Creep”, the brilliance of “15 Step”, explosive renditions of “Just” and “2+2=5”, falling in love with “Lucky” all over again, the entire crowd falling silent during “Karma Police”, the sheer incredible scope of “Paranoid Android” and Thom quickly covering Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Maps” before going into “Everything In Its Right Place”. Every band member looked pleased to be there, Thom pulled out some incredible dance moves and it was everything I could ever have wished for for my first ever Radiohead show, I simply can’t state quite how much I loved it, and how good Radiohead are. Anyway, enough of that, here’s the full setlist and some songs. Now excuse me while I go lie down.

Creep
The National Anthem
15 Step
There There. (The Boney King Of Nowhere)
All I Need
Nude
2+2=5 (The Lukewarm.)
The Gloaming. (Softly Open Our Mouths In The Cold.)
Climbing Up The Walls
Street Spirit [Fade Out]
Reckoner
Karma Police
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Just
Idioteque
Exit Music (For A Film)
Bodysnatchers
You And Whose Army?
Lucky
These Are My Twisted Words
Jigsaw Falling Into Place
Paranoid Android
Maps – Everything In Its Right Place

Bear Hands – Golden (YSI)
Noah And The Whale – Rocks and Daggers (YSI)
The xx – Basic Space (YSI)
Adam & Joe – Ratatouille (YSI)
Vampire Weekend -Mansard Roof (YSI)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Hysteric (YSI)
Bloc Party – Positive Tension (YSI)
Radiohead – 2+2=5 (The Lukewarm.) (YSI)

It’s the end of the year, and sure as eggs is eggs there are music lists, polls and debates galore. I’m a sucker for a good end-of-year list, so I’m sure as hell gonna contribute my own. So without further ado, here are my top ten albums of the year:

10. Does It Offend You, Yeah? – You Have No Idea What You’re Getting Yourself Into

A triumph of genre crossovers, from Daft Punk to ’80s pop, there was hardly a dud track on here.

Does It Offend You, Yeah? – Weird Science

9. Ida Maria – Fortress Around My Heart

Explosive, effervescent pop-punk from the amazing Miss Maria, her live show is just as good.

Ida Maria – Stella

 

8. Lightspeed Champion – Falling Off The Lavender Bridge

Dev Hynes truly manages to shake off the Test Icicles tag to mould himself as a brilliant, twisted folk troubador.

Lightspeed Champion – Galaxy Of The Lost

 

7. Flight of the Conchords – Flight of the Conchords

I know comedy records shouldn’t count, but this is such a well-formed album, the fact that it’s funny doesn’t even matter that much.

Flight of the Conchords – The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room)

 

6. Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires

The perfect blend of house, indie, funk and any other genre you want to name, this album manages the seemingly impossible task of making a hugely coherent album without ever becoming samey.

Friendly Fires – Photobooth

 

5. Mumford and Sons – Lend Me Your Eyes EP

Alright, it’s an EP not an album, but all four tracks are just so beautiful, so unbelievably heart-wrenching and glorious that I can’t not include it.

Mumford and Sons – Awake My Soul

 

4. Laura Marling – Alas, I Cannot Swim

New-folk’s true pioneer, this album delivered exactly what everyone wanted, the old demos produced beautifully, as well as some wonderful new tracks.

Laura Marling – Night Terror

 

3. Johnny Flynn – A Larum

Three new-folk albums in a row eh? I’d been waiting for an album from Johnny Flynn since his first demo of Tickle Me Pink, and the album was everything I’d wanted and more.

Johnny Flynn – Leftovers

 

2. Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – Angles

Hip-hop doesn’t have to be corporate, gangstafied shite, it can be poetry, it can be dance music, it can be funny or tragically sad. In short, this album’s brilliant.

Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – The Beat That My Heart Skipped

1. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

To be honest, I don’t think there was ever a doubt in my mind that this would be first place. When it came out it was just so different. Totally summery, totally African and totally incredible.

Vampire Weekend – Bryn