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Let’s Get Cynical About Latitude Festival 2012, pt IV: Sunday

Sunday at Latitude 2012 will prove to be a day of great musical highs, contrasted with moments of abject failure. The first of these is an organisational cock-up – despite the schedule stating that there’s meant to meant to be an artist playing at 10am, the arena isn’t open until 10:45. This will become relevant both immediately and later on in the day. The immediate effect is that Catherine A.D. ends up playing to a fairly sparse crowd a mere 10 minutes after the arena opens. It’s a shame really, as her melancholic chamber-pop is quite an intriguing proposition – her take on Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’ is an unexpected highlight.

It’s Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains who get the most unfairly screwed over by the change though – after scrambling to get their significant amount of gear on stage, they end up only being allowed about 20 minutes to play. They’re not going to let that stop them from having a good time though. During opener ‘Les Plus Beaux’, Frànçois addresses the crowd – “Were you dancing last night? Did you dance like this?” he asks, before he and his bandmates seamlessly break out into a synchronised dance routine. It sets the tone for a gloriously fun set of feel-good afro-pop, and the clamour for more after the band are unceremoniously told they have to stop is both loud and absolutely justified. I hope the organisers took note –  Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains absolutely deserve to be invited back next year and given a much better slot.

The reason for the sudden curfew is that classical superstar Lang Lang is playing on the Waterfront stage – although that doesn’t stop loud bass music echoing from somewhere in the main arena for the first few minutes of his performance. After that eventually fades away, the crowd can sit back and enjoy this rather pleasant experience, thanks in no small part to the fact that the rain has disappeared entirely today. Putting his  performance by the lake proves to be an inspired choice – not only does it create a lovely atmosphere, it also affords the Chinese pianist the opportunity to enter and exit the stage by gondola, which is a nice touch. I won’t pretend to know a great deal about classical music, but I will say that Lang Lang does appear to be quite the fan of Franz Liszt – and he also acknowledges his roots by playing a couple of Chinese piano pieces. The only thing that spoils his performance slightly is the small number of people who insist on talking every time there’s the slightest break in the music – their inane nattering inevitably spills over into the next song, which gets frustrating after a while.

Tell me honestly, have you ever seen an Irish, improvisational rapper before? Watching Abandoman in the comedy tent makes me glad that I can now answer that question with a “yes.” Before starting out, he asks the audience to present him with the most random objects they can find in their pockets and bags – then proceeds to improvise a bizarre but highly entertaining flow with this random collection of items as its subject. It sets the tone for a hilarious set that culminates in a rap-battle style number about a game of ‘Connect 4’ he’s playing live with members of the audience – it’s the kind of insane genius that must be seen to believed. Afterwards, Reginald D. Hunter gives us a slower-paced but no less amusing performance, his wry humour attracting a huge crowd – prompting a few shouts of “turn it up!” from those outside the tent, as his voice was often overpowered by Rufus Wainwright bleating away on the main stage.

Indeed, I can’t help but notice that the Obelisk Arena sound levels seem much louder than on Friday, as Alabama Shakes get their set off to an almost deafening start. Though singer Brittany Howard’s voice is an instrument of raw power rather than finesse, their set of jangly blues-rock is nevertheless solid and workmanlike – but for reasons I can’t quite pin down, I find it difficult to get really excited about. I think a lack of engagement with the crowd doesn’t help matters – indeed, I find that the most endearing thing about their set is when Brittany stops to tell us how much they love our beautiful country (and our painted sheep) before the band’s final song.

Afterwards, it’s back into the woods, where Zun Zun Egui are overrunning. Except they’re not – the artist who was supposed to be playing at 10 in the morning has now been shoehorned in at 2pm, throwing the rest of the i Arena’s stage times off. This information doesn’t appear to have been relayed around the site very well, as the only place it seems possible to find out about the changes was on a list pinned to the back of the tent’s sound desk – though I kick myself a little for not thinking to look there earlier. It also has the disappointing effect of forcing me to choose between Daughter and St. Vincent, rather than being able to see both.

I originally intend to revise my plan and listen to a couple of songs from Daughter before heading over to see St. Vincent, but I actually find myself enjoying their set so much that I end up staying for the whole thing. Elena Tonra’s breathy vocals could well be compared to The XX, while the songs themselves are swooning mini-epics – ‘Home’ is all echoing guitars and longing sighs, while ‘Youth’ nurses a quiet bitterness over a sparse acoustic guitar line before a galloping drumbeat up the ante. The band seem genuinely surprised that the tent is full of people singing their words back at them – but on this evidence it’s the least they deserve.

Much to my chagrin, I realise later on that the time I spend waiting around in the woods could have been spent watching either Chilly Gonzales or Rich Hall. It’s not quite a total loss though, as I still manage to catch St. Vincent shimmy and shred her way through a couple of songs, ending with a vicious take on The Pop Group’s ‘She Is Beyond Good And Evil’.

The fail then continues, and unfortunately for Battles, so does their luckless streak at UK festivals this year – after being due to play the second day of the abandoned Bloc Festival in London, they have their set time almost halved by technical difficulties here. The four songs they do play are as incredible as always – particularly the closing pair of ‘Atlas’ and ‘Ice Cream’ – but it’s such a shame that they can’t play for longer. The band are clearly disappointed too, with drummer John Stanier visibly frustrated as the set comes to a premature end.

Meanwhile, Bat For Lashes finds herself in an odd position on the main stage – playing to a sizeable crowd that may not necessarily be here to see her, what with Ben Howard following on later. That doesn’t stop her set from being a perfect reminder of what an enchanting live performer she is, with cherry-picked numbers from her first two records mixed in with some promising new songs from her upcoming third album, The Haunted Man – including just-released piano-ballad bombshell ‘Laura’. Natasha Khan may have to work harder than usual, but nevertheless she does a good job of winning the crowd over – and while playing three new songs in a row might be a bit cheeky, I suppose you might as well if your audience isn’t planning on going anywhere regardless…

While I’m grabbing a bite to eat, I make the most of my proximity to the Word Arena and chill out while listening to a bit of M83 – though there’s a rather noticeable exodus from the tent after ‘Midnight City’. Back at the Obelisk Arena, Ben Howard draws some of the shrillest screams of the weekend as he takes to the stage, and subsequently after every single song he plays. I’ve kinda been kicking myself for missing his performance in the 450-capacity venue where I work – and considering that was a mere 15 months ago, he’s come a hell of a long way in a fairly short time. But if he’s nervous during what he rightly calls “the biggest gig of [his] life,” it doesn’t show when he plays his songs. He may be a little too middle-of-the-road for some, but there’s no denying he’s got a good voice, and with the weekend drawing to a close, his set is a pretty good way to wind down.

I leave Ben Howard early in order to make sure I’m in good time for Perfume Genius – so of course, he’s late on stage (whether as a result of the earlier timing shenanigans or not, I can’t say). He more than justifies the wait, however, reducing the Latitude crowd to absolute silence for the first time all weekend. It’s a performance of engrossing fragility, with Mike Hadreas sounding like he might be about to have a breakdown any second – the likes of ‘Dark Parts’, ‘Hood’ and ‘Mr. Peterson’ are both stark and utterly compelling, and he even throws a curveball by covering Madonna’s ‘Oh Father’ towards the end of the set. It might not be one of the showiest sets of the weekend, but it stands out as one of the most essential.

I really can’t see myself enjoying an hour and a half of Paul Weller, and I imagine the crowd will probably have enough obnoxious twats shouting “play ‘Going Underground’!” without me going out of my way to do so. Fortunately, the organisers have seen fit to have Wild Beasts headline the second stage, which is pretty much perfect for me. Much like The Horrors the night before, there is an air of familiarity about the band’s set – with the exception of ‘The Devil’s Crayon’, it’s a fairly typical mix of songs from Smother and Two Dancers. Thankfully, familiarity has yet to breed contempt, and while the crowd may not be as animated as for other bands this weekend, the response after every song is no less strong. What the audience lack in physical movement, they make up for with exuberant (if off key) attempts to match Hayden Thorpe’s voice – and try as I might to stay in tune, I’m probably guilty of getting carried away too.

Finally, as seems vaguely appropriate for such a festival, we end up back in a Poetry tent that’s once again jammed to capacity, and for good reason – the legendary John Cooper Clarke is here. His set is a mix of humorous observations, jokes that are so bad they’re good, and his trademark rapid-fire punk poems. He does tend to wander off on tangents a fair bit – at one point he even introduces ‘Beasley Street’, then spends a further 10 minutes talking about something completely unrelated before actually reading the poem. It’s endearing rather than frustrating though, and his finale of ‘Evidently Chickentown’ is a fantastic way to round off the weekend.

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My Songs Of The Decade, pt III: 2007-2009

I decided that attempting to compile any objective sort of list of the ‘best songs of the decade’ was was ultimately a futile effort, so instead you get this – a vague attempt to recount the songs that not only are great tunes (well, mostly), but in many cases have also had some personal relevance to my life. I’m going to list them year-by-year, so you’ll have to excuse the inevitable fragmentation of my own personal chronology, as I didn’t ‘get into’ many of these songs until years after they were released.

And yes, I’m aware that by this time ‘End of Decade’ lists are “so last decade”, but never mind.

2007

Arctic Monkeys – ‘Do Me A Favour’ – (Favourite Worst Nightmare)

Not only did ‘Do Me A Favour’ contain a pounding, almost tribal drumbeat, an infectious bass hook and lashings of atmospheric guitar, it also yet again showcased Alex Turner’s lyrical talent. It takes a certain something to come up with a line like “And to tear apart the ties that bind/perhaps fuck off might be too kind” – perfectly encapsulating the kind of situation you hope you never have to be in, whilst simultaneously making you wish for an opportunity to use the latter half of it as a bitter kiss-off. For me, this was the standout track on Favourite Worst Nightmare – and considering the overall quality of Arctic Monkeys’ second album, that’s saying something.

Battles – ‘Atlas’ – (Mirrored)

‘Atlas’ is pretty much a seven-minute summation of the genius of Battles. Jagged guitars, warped vocals and bursts of electronic noise are all underpinned by the biggest, bounciest drumbeat heard all decade to create one of the most maddeningly, brilliantly relentless tracks ever. I’m sure a lot of people couldn’t get past the smurf-like vocal hook, or simply just don’t ‘get’ Battles – but for me, hearing this is still as much of a raw thrill for me now as it was two years ago. Up there with ‘Idioteque’ in my hypothetical ‘definitive list’ of the best tracks of the decade.

Cardboard Radio – ‘Last Week’s Town’ – (Cardboard Radio LP)

It might seem odd to include a song by a local band who gained very little national exposure, but I’ve yet to find a song that encapsulates my own personal resentment for my hometown as well as ‘Last Week’s Town’. “I’m sick of hanging round in this town/With the pretence we’re keeping it real” is surely a sentiment that many people – from York or otherwise – can relate to.

GoodBooks – ‘The Illness’ – (Control)

The indie-disco anthem that never was from one of the decade’s most criminally overlooked bands. This sparkling electro-pop gem should have propelled GoodBooks to great heights – instead, the band would never even get to release their second record, leaving only their brilliant debut album as a reminder of what could have been. Curse you, music industry, and curse you too, fickle record-buying public!

Hadouken! – ‘That Boy That Girl’ – (Single)

There’s a reason I’ve cited the single release from 2007 rather than this song’s eventual inclusion on 2008’s Music For An Accelerated Culture – because it sounded far more fresh and vital at the beginning of 2007 than it did over a year later, packaged as part of a decidedly ‘meh’ debut effort. The band’s zeitgeist-skewering wit and infectious energy have rarely been as potent as they were here.

LCD Soundsystem – ‘All My Friends’ – (Sound Of Silver)

While spending New Year’s Eve 2007 in York with some friends, I recall managing to lose everyone else whilst heading to The Minster to see in the new year. I stuck this on my iPod, and as I wandered around, vaguely searching for people and taking in the celebratory atmosphere, I couldn’t help but smile when James Murphy asked “where are your friends tonight?”

It didn’t matter.

M.I.A. – Paper Planes – (Kala)

I could try to come up with some intellectual or intelligent reasons as to why I like this song, but what I’m actually going to say is ALL I WANNA DO IS *BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM* AND-A *KAH-CHING!* AND TAKE YOUR MONEY!

PJ Harvey – ‘Silence’ – (White Chalk)

By this point in her career it was already well established that PJ Harvey was in possession of a great voice, but White Chalk thrust it into the spotlight more than ever. Having basically learned the instrument from scratch for the album, her piano playing has a simple beauty about it – and crucially, it really allows her voice to shine. For me, this was most spine-tinglingly realised on ‘Silence’ – just listen to this live version of the track and you’ll hear exactly what I’m talking about.

Radiohead – ‘Videotape’ – (In Rainbows)

Prior to seeing Radiohead live, I didn’t really ‘get’ In Rainbows – apart from this song. ‘Videotape’ is, quite simply, one of the most poignant, touching things Radiohead have ever done. A plaintive piano ballad with subtle electronic accompaniment, it’s a showcase for Thom Yorke’s unique voice and lyrical talent. Amazingly affecting – one of those songs that I’d secretly love to cover but dare not even try for fear that I’d ruin it for both myself and everyone else involved.

2008

Crystal Castles – ‘Vanished’ – (Crystal Castles)

Can a synthesiser sound lonely? Crystal Castles certainly managed to capture that feeling here, with what basically sounds like a Pong machine in an echo chamber. The reverberating notes give the track a sense of space – and the feeling of isolation and emptiness is created by the fact that the only other things occupying said space are a minimal beat and choppy vocals. Absolutely masterful.

George Pringle – ‘We Could Have Been Heroes’ – (Poor EP, Poor EP Without A Name…)

George Pringle basically represents the logical conclusion of my love of spoken word sections, being, as she is, a spoken word artist. But that doesn’t mean she’s dull – far from it in fact, I find her absolutely engaging, riveting even. Whether or not you can actually relate to what she’s saying or just kinda wish that you could, she has the ability to leave you hanging on every word she says. Her Garageband-crafted instrumental backings are also worthy of mention. They’re often as crucial to the atmosphere of a song as the words themselves – and yet they never get in the way of them either.

Johnny Foreigner – ‘Salt, Peppa And Spinderalla’ – (Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light)

For me, it’s difficult to pick just one song from Johnny Foreigner’s debut full-length. In the end, however, I went with ‘Salt, Peppa And Spinderalla’ for one simple reason – the massive euphoria created by the song’s tension-and-release structure is perfectly centred around one sublime moment:

“Bring out the real fun; turn on the real drums.”

The Last Shadow Puppets – ‘The Age Of The Understatement’ – (The Age Of The Understatement)

‘The Age Of The Understatement’ saw The Last Shadow Puppets establish themselves as a band with ‘cinematic’ written all over them. The song basically sounds like the best James Bond theme tune that was never actually used for a Bond film – suggesting that the producers should draft Alex Turner and Miles Kane in to write the next one, or even call the next movie The Age Of The Understatement so they could just pinch this instead. But if the comparison to Bond themes has put you off, here’s an equation for you instead: Alex Turner  +  Miles Kane + a symphony orchestra + guitars that sound like The Coral + the drums from ‘Knights Of Cydonia’ = bloody brilliant.

Late Of The Pier – ‘Bathroom Gurgle’ – (Fantasy Black Channel)

‘Bathroom Gurgle’, in contrast with Fantasy Black Channel’s more brilliantly ridiculous moments, is simply an utterly sublime synth pop song. From the squelchy opening hooks to the infectious vocal hooks (“Find yourself a new boy!”), to the fact that it breaks down into a completely different song halfway through, it is pure genius. End of.

Los Campesinos! – You! Me! Dancing! – (Hold On Now, Youngster…)

I could have put this in 2007, as that’s when I first heard this song – but this entry not only represents the individual brilliance of ‘You! Me! Dancing!’, but of Hold On Now, Youngster… as a whole. Los Campesinos! are only matched for abundant, noisy exuberance and sheer lyrical relatability by Johnny Foreigner, so it’s no surprise that I gush like a fanboy about both bands. Oh, and yeah, there’s a bloody ace spoken word section at the end.

Los Campesinos! – ‘We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed’ – (We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed)

Because, well, if you release two outstanding albums within the space of a year, you kinda deserve two spots on my list. And really, how could I not include a song that so perfectly encapsulates the frustration, the uncertainty, the pain, the negativity, and the sheer desperation (“OH WE KID OURSELVES THERE’S FUTURE IN THE FUCKING/BUT THERE IS NO FUCKING FUTURE!”) that being in a long distance relationship can cause?

2009

Bat For Lashes – ‘Two Planets’ – (Two Suns)

This is the kind of song that can lend an instant sense of cinema to any moment – running through rainy city streets, travelling through hills on country roads, exploring an unfamilar town at night, watching a beautiful sunset. There’s always something about ‘Two Planets’ that makes it feel like a perfect soundtrack – be it the pounding, echoy drums, the otherworldly synths, or simply Natasha Khan’s wonderful voice.

The Big Pink – ‘Velvet’ – (A Brief History Of Love)

Hyped-up they may have been, but with songs like this The Big Pink arguably deserve it. Not only is ‘Velvet’ an epic, noisy shoegaze anthem that washes over you in a wave of sound, it also poignantly talks of disillusionment with love . “These arms of mine don’t mind who they hold/so should I maybe just leave love alone?” goes the chorus lyric – and I’m sure that a hell of a lot of people can relate to that last part in particular. What makes ‘Velvet’ truly great, however, is the fact that the sheer noise of the track acts as a catharsis to the troubled subject matter – there’s just something liberating about it all. Listen to this and let it blast away your troubles for four minutes.

Grammatics – ‘Broken Wing’ – (Grammatics)

Again, this arguably belongs in 2007 as that’s when it first came out (as a B-side to the original ‘Shadow Committee’ 7″) and it was certainly relevant at that time too. But given the personal nature of this list, ‘Broken Wing’ still gets the nod over other, equally worthy Grammatics songs because of its heartstring-tugging portrayal of a long distance relationship – starting out sparse and plaintive, and then suddenly bursting into a sweeping epic halfway through. Still sounds as tragically beautiful as the first time I heard it.

Fever Ray  – ‘Keep The Streets Empty For Me’ – (Fever Ray)

I’ve already gushed about how Karin Dreijer Andersson’s debut record as Fever Ray is an atmospheric masterpiece, and ‘Keep The Streets Empty For Me’ represents the album at its absolute zenith. With ominous synths and ghostly pan-pipes underpinned by an echoing drumbeat and a quietly strummed guitar, the song creates an almost tangible feeling of a bleak, empty landscape. The only thing cutting through this darkness is Karin’s distinctive voice – and yet, she wishes to cling on to her loneliness, to make it her own… “Morning, keep the streets empty for me.” Utterly mesmerising and stunningly beautiful.

The Horrors – ‘Sea Within A Sea’ – (Primary Colours)

I’ve probably said this before, but I’ll say it again – ‘Sea Within A Sea’ represents just how far The Horrors had come since their debut album. No-one was expecting an 8-minute, slow-burning but incessant soundscape from a band previously best known for snarling garage-punk nuggets. It was a giant ‘fuck you’ to their critics, many of whom I’m sure were quick to jump on the gushing bandwagon of praise that followed the release of Primary Colours. And you know what? The band deserved every word of praise flung their way. I can only hope that their next record turns out to be just as exciting.

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My Favourite Songs Of 2009, In Five Words.

I do appreciate that my posts can be very wordy, so I thought I’d impose a challenge on myself – describing some my favourite songs of the year in no more than five words. These are purely in alphabetical order – let’s go, shall we?

Animal Collective – ‘My Girls’

Album? Meh. Single? Utterly brilliant.

Bat For Lashes  – ‘Two Planets’

Makes any moment instantly cinematic.

The Big Pink – ‘Velvet’

Epic shoegaze meets emotional sensibility.

Dinosaur Pile-Up – ‘Summer Hit Single’

Feelgood hit of the summer.

Editors – ‘Papillon’

Monolithic synth-lead floor filler.

Fever Ray – ‘Keep The Streets Empty For Me’

Bleak, beautiful and simply stunning.

Grammatics – ‘Double Negative’

“HEY SUGAR! What d’you say?”

(Recorded version is on Myspace)

HEALTH – ‘Die Slow’

Convulsing, pounding, disco-noise headfuck.

The Horrors – ‘Sea Within A Sea’

Utterly compelling – a fantastic transformation.

Johnny Foreigner – ‘Criminals’

Their most vital song yet.

Los Campesinos! – ‘The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future’

Thoughtful, epic, and heartrendingly emotional.

Pulled Apart By Horses – ‘I Punched A Lion In The Throat’

Rage against the animal kingdom.

(Recorded version is on Myspace)

The Temper Trap – ‘Sweet Disposition’

Heart-swelling, uplifting indie-pop.

The XX – ‘Crystalised’

Sparce, intimate late-night confession.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Zero’

Instantly infectious and deliriously uplifting.

I could probably pick many more than these, but that’ll do for now I think.

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Obligatory End Of Year Megapost, pt II: Albums of the Year: 10-1

This is the second part of my end of year series, covering my personal top 10 albums of the year – you can find the previous 10 here. In fact, I’d recommend you read it first, if you haven’t already.

Done? Without further ado, then…

10. Editors – In This Light And On This Evening

Editors - In This Light And On This Evening

I’d imagine that there were quite a few people who balked at the fact that Editors were poised to ‘go electro’ on their third album – and I’d also imagine that some of these people continue to shun In This Light And On This Evening to this day. These people are silly, silly individuals who should open their minds a little and realise that the abundance of synthesisers on this album has done little to change the core essence of Editors’ sound – that is, the juxtaposition of gloom and hope that has been the band’s primary draw since The Back Room.

Indeed, the synths only help to focus and expand the band’s sound, whether it be on the sweeping majesty of ‘Bricks And Mortar’ or the queasy, sinister ‘The Big Exit’. They haven’t lost their knack for a hook either – ‘Papillon’ should, by rights, be as much of an indie-disco floor-filler as ‘Munich’, and the creepily-titled ‘Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool’ houses one of the biggest choruses the band has ever written. While many bands from the class of 2004/2005 have found their third album to be a bit of a stumbling block, I’d argue that Editors have succeeded in creating something that easily stands up to their previous work. And that’s not despite their new electro sound – it’s because of it.

9. The XX – XX

The XX - XX

It took me a while to get round to listening to this album, but since then XX has grown on me with every listen. The XX have combined fragile, plucked guitar, minimal beats and echoy electronics to create something that’s sparse and expansive in equal measure. However, the loneliness conjured up by the music is contrasted with the comforting warmth of the lyrics. The theme of quietly stated but undying affection runs throughout – “Don’t think that I’m pushing you away/When you’re the one that I’ve kept closest” sings Oliver Sim on ‘Crystalised’, while on ‘Islands’ Romy Madley Croft replies “I am yours now/So now I don’t ever have to leave.”

As a whole, the album feels like an intimate, personal confession – taking you to a secret place where two star-crossed lovers are tentatively baring their hearts to each other at three in the morning. XX is easily one of the best debut albums released this year – this is truly spine-tingling stuff.

8. Johnny Foreigner – Grace And The Bigger Picture

Johnny Foreigner - Grace And The Bigger Picture

You may think this represents somewhat of a fall from grace (ha ha) for Johnny Foreigner, given that their debut full-length Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light was unquestionably my album of the year in 2008. So let’s get this out of the way first – Grace And The Bigger Picture is not a bad album. It is in fact, a great album. However, even as a gushing Johnny Foreigner fanboy I’d be lying if I said it’s as good as their debut. This is due mainly to a somewhat patchy mid-section that contains two or three solid but unspectacular tunes amongst the good stuff.

There’s still enough brilliance on show to make up for it though – ‘Criminals’ is possibly the most vital-sounding thing the band have recorded yet, ‘Every Cloakroom Ever’ is a wonderful mix of poignant sentiment and fuzzy bass, and ‘The Coast Was Always Clear’ steps up to take the mantle of “epic last song” from Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light’s ‘Absolute Balance’. Even when they diverge from their normal formula it works – the beautifully fragile 40-second acoustic ‘(Graces)’ is a particular highlight. Grace And The Bigger Picture probably isn’t going to convince any doubters, and I’d recommend that newcomers start with the band’s first album – but for JoFo fans, this is more of the band you know and love.

7. Sky Larkin – The Golden Spike

Sky Larkin - The Golden Spike

I do sometimes wonder whether I’m overrating this album, but then every time I listen to The Golden Spike I’m reminded exactly why I love it – because it manages to be poppy without being cheesy, overblown or gratuitously in-your-face. Sky Larkin demonstrate quite brilliantly that you don’t have to be Beyoncé or Lady fucking Gaga to make music with a pop heart – and there definitely is one here, deep underneath all the band’s genuine indieness. But this is not the cold, calculated heart of manufactured pop – it’s natural, it’s instinctive, and it certainly doesn’t let the idea of ‘pop’ music get in the way of musicianship.

If a genre as oxymoronic as ‘indie-pop’ exists outside of faux-indie dross such as Scouting For Girls and The Hoosiers, then Sky Larkin should by all rights be held up as one of its champions. In some happy idealist place in my mind, the likes of ‘Fossil, I’, ‘Molten’ and ‘One Of Two’ shouldn’t so much sit happily alongside the year’s biggest-budget pop hits as playfully shove them out of the way and claim their rightful place in the public consciousness. I can dream, can’t I?

6. George Pringle – Salon Des Refusés

George Pringle - Salon Des Refusés

Even with all the great new music around these days, it’s rare that you get an artist that genuinely seems to represent a unique proposition. George Pringle is, arguably, that artist. A&R types were quick to pick up on that fact, only to then back off (one record label apparently dropped out at the 11th hour) because they simply didn’t know what to do with her. The fact that she’s manage to self-release her album anyway represents a triumphant “fuck you” to the industry – indeed, it adds another layer of meaning to the title, Salon Des Refusés (which translates to Salon Of The Rejected in English, for the curious).

Granted, there’s a certain feeling of “oh, I could have done that” about Pringle’s work, and that’s perhaps because of its very DIY nature. Her half-sung, half-spoken monologues are backed by home-made Garageband beats to create a style some commentators described as ‘blogtronica’. But, let’s be honest here – even if you had thought of it yourself, there’s no way you could have pulled it off as well as Pringle does. Whether or not you can actually relate directly to whatever she’s talking about, her delivery and way with words sure as hell makes you feel like you *want* to. Childhood, adolescence, suburban parties, going to university in a “dead little city”, nights down the indie disco (“everyone’s dancing to all the songs, two years too late”), and finally collapsing into a mire of introverted self-loathing on ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ – which features a suitably morbid, woozy backing track. Pringle covers all this and more in effortless, engaging prose, backed by surprisingly well-constructed electronica.

I’m sure some of you might be scratching your heads at this selection, but I genuinely love Salon Des Refusés – the only reason this record doesn’t make my personal top 5 is because I already owned about half the tracks (of course, I bought it anyway). But that doesn’t make it any less brilliant – whether you’re a newcomer to the world of George Pringle or you’ve been keeping an eye on her for a while now, this is absolutely essential.

5. Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport

Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport

While I did eventually come to like Fuck Buttons’ debut album Street Horrrsing, on Tarot Sport the duo made one adjustment to their sound that meant I couldn’t help but like them more – they got rid of the garbled toy microphone screaming. As such, what we’re left with is the fantastic purity of their pulsating electronic noise, has definitely taken on a more dancey aspect than their debut – it’s a noise record, sure, but it feels accessible, friendly almost. This is, simply, an album that builds, and builds, and then builds some more, like some sort of euphoric noise pile-up. Trying to describe Tarot Sport in conventional terms seems like a futile effort – the tracklisting is essentially a formality, as this is basically one long, constantly shifting, ever-evolving piece of music. You’ll either be blown away by this record or walk away wondering why you wasted about an hour of your life listening to it – for me, it’s most definitely the former.

4. Bat For Lashes – Two Suns

Bat For Lashes - Two Suns

Following on from the Mercury-nominated Fur And Gold was never going to be easy for Bat For Lashes, but Natasha Khan not only managed it but was awarded with a second nomination for her trouble. And the judges were quite right to do so – Two Suns is absolutely a big step up from Khan’s already brilliant first record. For me, its best moments are those where she really turns up the widescreen bombast – see jaw-dropping centrepiece ‘Siren Song’, or the thundering drums and almost palpable atmosphere created on ‘Glass’ and ‘Two Planets’. The album also contains Khan’s biggest pop number to date – ‘Daniel’ is effortlessly catchy whilst losing none of the ethereal sensibility that made us fall in love with Bat For Lashes in the first place. Add in fragile ballads like ‘Moon And Moon’ that really see her shine as a vocalist, and you’ve got a recipe for one of the year’s most captivating records – the end result is nothing short of stunning. In a year that almost seemed to make a mockery of the concept of ‘difficult second albums’, Two Suns stands out as one of the most masterful progressions, boldly staking its claim as one of the finest records released in 2009.

3. The Horrors – Primary Colours

The Horrors - Primary Colours

As much as I loved The Horrors’ debut album, Strange House, I have to admit that its raw garage rock sound would have struggled to sustain the band for a second record. They were essentially faced with the choice to evolve or die – but little did I realise just how spectacular the band’s evolution would be. In hindsight, it seems more obvious – the band are avid record collectors, so any influences here could probably have been picked out of their stashes of vinyl even around the time of Strange House.

But to say that The Horrors merely have a good collection of influences would be to undermine the quality of music on Primary Colours. Meticulous synths collide with sludgy guitar noise on ‘Mirror’s Image’, ‘Scarlet Fields’ builds itself up from a relentless bassline into a hazy, swirling masterpiece, and album-closer ‘Sea Within A Sea’ is frankly astonishing. This is a record that’s atmospheric, accomplished, and even (*gasp*) emotional in places – ‘Who Can Say’ sees Faris replaces his vicious snarl with a surprisingly sincere tone as he tackles the theme of fading love. Judged purely on its own merits, Primary Colours is a fantastic record – that it came from a band who the critics were all but ready to write off just makes it all the more of a victory for The Horrors.

2. Grammatics – Grammatics

Grammatics - Grammatics

Sometimes, you feel lucky – privileged even – to have caught a band in the early stages of their career. It was a feeling I definitely felt upon seeing Grammatics live for the first time, and having followed them since their first 7″ single (‘Shadow Committee’) I was absolutely thrilled to see the band’s talent come to fruition on their debut full-length. Their ambition shines through in the sheer diversity of their music, which effortlessly transitions between different styles and sounds – sometimes even mid-song.

And what songs they are. ‘Relentless Fours’ builds from a fragile, off-kilter keyboard loop all the way to histrionic howling and thrashed-out guitar, via an effortlessly graceful mid-section. The tense, paranoid atmosphere of ‘D.I.L.E.M.M.A.’ contrasts beautifully with the understated, sweetly-sung pop of ‘Murderer’,  and melancholy epic ‘Polar Swelling’ is aptly titled, building itself up to an emotional finale. Indeed, this is an album of gut-wrenching, heart-stopping emotion throughout, whether it be on the plaintive ‘Broken Wing’, the shimmering hope of ‘The Vague Archive’, or the brief but brilliant rollercoaster of ‘Rosa Flood’. Owen Brinley’s soaring voice is constantly underpinned by stirring, varied backdrops stuffed full of melodic hooks – and yet, on fragile acoustic track ‘Cruel Tricks Of The Light’, he proves that his voice is a beautiful instrument in its own right.

Grammatics is an unparalleled debut album from one of the most inventive new British bands in recent memory – but thrillingly, I can’t help but feel that they have every potential to better it. If there’s any justice, this should be just the beginning of something very, very special.

1. Fever Ray – Fever Ray

Fever Ray - Fever Ray

Mesmerising. Unsettling. Affecting. Bewildering. Brilliant.

I could throw descriptive language at you all day and still struggle to capture exactly what it is I love about Fever Ray’s self-titled album. Whether I listen to it in the hazy light of morning or the very dark of night, it never fails to come across as anything but completely, all-encompassingly atmospheric. Karin Dreijer Andersson has produced some of the densest, most richly layered soundscapes I’ve heard all year, but it’s her voice that’s the star of the show.

Whether maintaining her distinctive accented tones or warping them into a menacing, otherworldly growl, it’s absolutely captivating – as is the way her lyrics mix the mundane, the surreal and the fantastical with a constant sense of raw emotion. From the wide-eyed, childlike hope of ‘When I Grow Up’ to the oppressive claustrophobia of ‘Concrete Walls’, you’re constantly made to *feel* something – and if you manage to listen to ‘Keep The Streets Empty For Me’ without it stirring up *some* sort of emotion, then you should probably check your pulse. The fact that Fever Ray may well be a one-off solo record for Karin may be good news for fans of The Knife – but it also means we should treasure this wonderful piece of art all the more. Simply put, this is a record to lose yourself in – it’s nothing short of completely immersive and stunningly beautiful.

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Let’s Get Cynical About: The Mercury Prize

Yes, I’m a bit slow on the uptake I know. But I wanted to give each of the albums a reasonably thorough listening before spouting off about them, and I’d heard less than half the list beforehand. Unfortunately, Sensible Shoes by Led Bib isn’t to be found on Spotify, or Last FM, or anywhere else that I could think of, so I’ll have to leave it out of my critique. But here’s my take on the 11 other Mercury nominated albums, in reverse order of personal preference.

11. Glasvegas – Glasvegas

Glasvegas - Glasvegas

Glasvegas – Glasvegas

You may be surprised to find an ‘indie’ album at the bottom of this list, but in my opinion Glasvegas are shit.

Ok, maybe ‘shit’ is too strong a word when you consider the sweeping strains of ‘Geraldine’ and the heartfelt, tub-thumping bellow of ‘Daddy’s Gone’, but beyond that I honestly don’t think they’ve got much going for them. The swathes of guitar noise that define the album are too often dragged down by awkward nursery rhyme/playground chant lyrics – see ‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry’, which features James Allan singing “liar, liar pants on fire” more earnestly than any grown man ever should, or the mawkish chorus of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ that’s extraneously tacked onto the end of ‘Flowers And Football Tops’. And at worst, the album ignores the band’s strengths entirely – as on ‘Stabbed’, which is basically just Allan monologuing morbidly over Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’. By the time I’ve arrived at dreary album-closer ‘Ice Cream Van’, I’d pretty much fallen asleep – how Glasvegas have received such widespread praise for an album with so few highlights is beyond me.

10. La Roux – La Roux

La Roux - La Roux

La Roux – La Roux

Ah, La Roux. Catapulted into the spotlight and duly embraced by the British public after a string of admittedly very good singles (‘Quicksand’, ‘In For The Kill’, ‘Bulletproof’), I’d almost be disappointed that the quality of the singles hasn’t carried over to the album… if that fact wasn’t so damn predictable. Front-loaded to the extreme in typical pop record fashion, after it’s dispensed with its singles and ‘Tigerlily’, (which is fairly decent despite a bizarre ‘Thriller’ pastiche towards the end), it quickly tails off into dull, dull, dull territory. ‘Cover My Eyes’ is a yawnsome sub R’n’B ballad, ‘Armour Love’ is so sluggish that it makes me feel like I’ve been tranquillised, and there’s a song called ‘Fascination’ that’s so full of nothing that it makes me long for the Alphabeat track of the same name. And I love video game style synths as much as the next geek, but tracks like ‘I’m Not Your Toy’ and ‘As If By Magic’ just manage to make them sound trite and formulaic – not to mention that by the time that ‘Reflections Are Protection’ rolls around, there’s a nagging feeling that the album has descended into repetition.

Overall, I can sum up my opinion of La Roux’s nomination in four words: Little Boots was robbed.

9. Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew

Lisa Hannigan - Sea Sew

Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew

This year’s ‘token folk’ nomination is Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan, who (like me) you may have heard without realising – she made major contributions to Damien Rice’s first two albums. However, after their writing and touring partnership ended in 2007, she returned to Ireland to record her debut solo album, Sea Sew – and from its handmade patchwork artwork and the fact that it contains a song called ‘Splishy Splashy’, it’s clear without listening that it’s all going to be very lovely. Indeed, even after listening, the word ‘lovely’ is pretty much all that comes to mind. Hannigan’s quietly beautiful vocal glides over gentle acoustic strums and graceful strings – it’s all just rather nice really. Thankfully, just as the album threatens to make you zone out completely, it mixes things up a little – ‘I Don’t Know’ is cute, catchy and has a pleasing simplicity about it, and the minor key tones of ‘Keep It All’ make a welcome change. But then it returns to ‘lovely’ territory again – even album-closer ‘Lille’ is overshadowed by its cutesy pop-up book video.

It seems harsh to place this album so low largely for the crime of being ‘too nice’ – indeed, in my opinion it’s markedly better than the previous two albums – but unfortunately it just doesn’t grab me enough to warrant a higher position. Sorry about that, Lisa.

8. Florence & The Machine – Lungs

Florence & The Machine - Lungs

Florence & The Machine – Lungs

Like La Roux, Florence Welch (otherwise known as Florence & The Machine) was another female artist who was hotly-tipped at the beginning of the year, and she makes it higher on the list than the red-haired one largely on the basis that her Kate-Bush-lite schtick is more interesting than La Roux’s one-dimensional electro. ‘Dog Days Are Over’ and ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’, start the album compellingly enough with blissfully ethereal vocals, dreamy instrumentation and harmonious chanting. Thankfully, the quality doesn’t completely drop off after the first two tracks – ‘Howl’, ‘Drumming Song’ and ‘Cosmic Love’ are all suitably dramatic, and the scuzzy guitar of ‘Kiss With A Fist’ provide a good contrast to the rest of the album. It’s not without it’s duds, however – ‘I’m Not Calling You A Liar’ merely plods along, and ‘Girl With One Eye’ is a lethargic warbling exercise that’s also rather creepy. The decision to tack her cover of ‘You’ve Got The Love’ on the end is potentially a double-edged sword as well. It’s good, yes, but it threatens to become her ‘Hounds Of Love’ – except, unlike The Futureheads, she hasn’t truly made the song her own.

At the end of the day, however, the main reason I can’t place Lungs any higher than this on my list is that there’s already a far better ethereal pop album present (take a bow, Two Suns). Florence & The Machine’s effort is certainly far from unlistenable, but it lacks the truly jaw-dropping highlights that Natasha Khan’s record has in abundance.

7. Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Twice Born Men

Sweet Billy Pilgrim - Twice Born Men

Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Twice Born Men

I’d never heard anything at all about Sweet Billy Pilgrim prior to this year’s Mercury nominations, but upon listening to the opening track of Twice Born Men I was prepared to be blown away – ‘Here It Begins’, with its majestic instrumental build-up and world-weary, spoken word lyrics, almost signalled the beginning of something brilliant. As it turns out, I wasn’t quite as amazed by the rest of the album as I’d hoped – but I was nevertheless very pleasantly surprised. ‘Truth Only Smiles’ is a charming, pretty, multi-instrumental ballad, while ‘Bloodless Coup’ has an air of quiet melancholy about it. As a whole, the album is well composed, thoughtfully textured and beautifully played… and yet, it has a tendency to just drift past, barely noticed, like a quiet breeze. Depending on what you want from your music, that may or may not be what you’re looking for – for me, the shimmering beauty of Twice Born Men is easy to like, but difficult to truly fall in love with. Nevertheless, it’s an accomplished album that’s deserving of a place on the shortlist.

6. Kasabian – West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

Kasabian - West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

Kasabian – West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

If you were surprised by Glasvegas’ placing then you may well be balking that Kasabian have even ended up this high. In truth, I wasn’t convinced by West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum at first – but with repeated listens the number of dud tracks seemed to steadily decrease. ‘Fire’ was an instant winner with its jaunty, wild-west verses and anthemic chorus, as were the fuzzy bass and thumping beats of ‘Vlad The Impaler’. ‘Take Aim’, ‘Underdog’ and ‘Fast Fuse’ were also fairly quick to impress, but it’s when the band attempt to break from their usual sonic template that the songs take a little longer to reveal their charms. Drowned in Sound pointed out that ‘Thick As Thieves’ has more than an air of The Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’ about it, but it works just about passably with the bands’ swaggering demeanour, while ‘Secret Alphabets’ isn’t any worse off for trying to sound a bit like psychadelic-era Beatles. On the other hand, ‘West Ryder Silver Bullet’ attempts to take a crack at being ‘epic’, but ultimately ends up sauntering around aimlessly for five minutes without really going anywhere. Album-closer ‘Happiness’ is also pretty much an outright dud, with the best word I can use to describe it being ‘nice’ – and when the Gospel choir kicks in you’ll probably think “WTF? This isn’t Kasabian.”

It’s good to see the band trying something a bit different, but most of the best tracks on West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum are the ones where they sound like the ‘old’ Kasabian. Maybe that opinion aligns me closer than I’d like to the lager-lads who the band seem to be perpetually linked with, but hey, I’m just calling it how I see it.

5. Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy

Speech Debelle - Speech Therapy

Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy

It’s good to see Speech Debelle continuing the trend of ‘token urban’ nominations that are far from ‘token’ (never mind the fact that I’ve no clue what ‘urban’ is supposed to mean these days). If there’s one thing that Speech Therapy does well is throw ‘urban’ stereotypes out of the window within its first two tracks – the plaintive guitar of opener ‘Searching’ is disarming, and second track ‘The Key’ features clarinets. Yes, clarinets! Bog-standard beats ‘n’ rhymes rap this ain’t. Of course, all that would count for very little if the eclectic instrumentation wasn’t matched with a solid flow – thankfully, Speech has effortlessly affecting rhymes in spades. And they’re spoken from the heart – ‘Go Then, Bye’ tackles break-ups without being trite, ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ is an emotionally raw, yet calmly restrained attack on Speech’s absent father, and title track ‘Speech Therapy’ is both a crucial insight into Speech’s motivations and a moving tribute to her mother.

To ignore Speech Debelle simply because she’s an ‘urban’ artist, or because she’s a rapper, would be foolish indeed – she provides an emotional and thought-provoking view into a world that you may not have even considered thinking about.

4. The Invisible – The Invisible

The Invisible - The Invisible

The Invisible – The Invisible

The Invisible were surely one of this year’s more unexpected nominations, but their self-titled debut is certainly deserving of the exposure. It takes a little while to get going – ‘Constant’ is a slow-burner that sounds like the moody, disaffected cousin of Bloc Party’s ‘Banquet’, but once the funky bass of ‘London Girl’ kicks in the album rarely looks back. ‘Baby Doll’ is subtly builds up to an understatedly anthemic chorus, ‘Monster’s Waltz’ bubbles along pleasingly before breaking out into a wall of guitars, and ‘Ok’ is just pure feel-good funk. The band also know how to switch things up a little – ‘Climate’ features oppressive synths building up to an urgent coda, while ‘Tally Of Souls’, shows that a sparse acoustic guitar also works well as a backdrop for David Okumu’s gently soulful voice. But just as you think the album’s pace has dropped off completely, ‘Time Waits’ smacks you in the face with a blast of raw guitar to take the album out on a high.

The Invisible may have been a surprising nomination, it would surely be an even more surprising winner – but that shouldn’t stop you from giving it a listen. You may well like what you hear.

3: Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires

Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires

Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires

In a review on my previous blog, I called the debut record by Friendly Fires “one of [2008’s] most effortlessly listenable albums”, and I’m sure anyone who’s had this album on repeat will agree with me. From the samba rhythms of ‘Jump In The Pool’, through the wide eyed, hopeful euphoria of ‘Paris’ and the Hot Chip-esque funk of ‘On Board’, all the way to the sinister guitar and dark emotion of ‘Ex Lover’, the band switch styles while maintaining an effortless sense of coherence and flow. Friendly Fires has both hands in the air moments (‘Skeleton Boy’) and touches of understated brilliance  (‘In The Hospital’) – indeed, the only reason that this album doesn’t rank as the best of the Mercury nominees this year in my eyes is that it doesn’t have anything quite as good as the best tracks on the two albums at the top of my list. But that’s just me nitpicking – in reality, the quality of songs on Friendly Fires is so consistently good that it would be as worthy winner as either Two Suns or Primary Colours.

2: Bat For Lashes – Two Suns

Bat For Lashes - Two Suns

Bat For Lashes – Two Suns

Bat For Lashes was a hot favourite to bag the Mercury Prize two years ago with her debut album Fur And Gold, and some would argue she was duly robbed by Klaxons (who, for the record, were surprising but worthy winners in my eyes). She more than deserves a second go round this time though – Two Suns is an absolutely stunning record. Bombastic, jaw-dropping centre-piece ‘Siren Song’ is almost worthy of the prize on its own, while ‘Glass’ and ‘Two Planets’ are both spectacular highlights, featuring thundering drums, atmospheric instrumentation and soaring vocals in equal measure. Crucially, she’s also capable of mixing her ethereal stylings with pop sensibilities, as demonstrated perfectly on singles ‘Daniel’ and ‘Sleep Alone’. She handles her slower numbers well too – ‘Moon And Moon’ is a beautiful piano ballad, and her fragile, haunting duet with Scott Walker on ‘The Big Sleep’ wraps up the album perfectly.

I would certainly have no complaints if Natasha Khan walked away a winner on her second try – the only reason that Two Suns doesn’t make the top of this list is that it’s not as startling a jump forward as Primary Colours is. What it is, however, is a masterful progression from the already very solid foundations of Fur And Gold – this album deserves your attention.

1: The Horrors – Primary Colours

The Horrors - Primary Colours

The Horrors – Primary Colours

Who’d have thought it? This time two years ago, I doubt the Mercury judges were rushing to nominate Strange House – although maybe they should have been, it was miles better than The View’s debut for fuck’s sake. However, two years and one almost completely different album later, The Horrors are on the shortlist, and it’s not hard to see why – critics have fallen head over heels with the band’s second album. Whatever influences you may pick out on Primary Colours, chances are that they were already present in their impressive record collections even around the time of Strange House. This is just them realising their potential by exploring a different set of influences and making a bloody brilliant album.

From the dark, queasy swirls of ‘Mirror’s Image’ through to the astonishing 8-minute soundscape of ‘Sea Within A Sea’, the album rarely falters. ‘Who Can Say’ sees Faris tackle fading love with surprising sincerity as his band create a wall of relentless beats and guitar fuzz, while ‘Scarlet Fields’ is a hazy masterpiece of understated bass and swirling synths. It’s not perfect of course – ‘I Only Think Of You’ drags on for a little too long and ‘I Can’t Control Myself’ isn’t quite as good as everything else in my opinion, but overall these are minor complaints. If you didn’t like The Horrors before, put aside any prejudice you previously had for them and give this a listen – and if you did like them before, prepare to fall in love with them in a whole new way.

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The 8 best things I saw at Latitude Festival 2009.

It may go against the title of this blog to write a post so full of praise as this one undoubtedly will be, but fuck it – there was a hell of a lot of good stuff on offer at Latitude this year and I made a lot of new personal discoveries. Without further ado then, the 8* best things I saw at Latitude ’09.

(*Yes, it would’ve been 10 but there’s already about 1500 words here, and there were too many bands vying for the 9 and 10 slots. I’ll cover everything else I saw soon, promise.)

8. Wildbirds & Peacedrums

Imagine, if you will, the voices of Feist and Beth Ditto compacted into one sleek, Swedish package. That’s Mariam Wallentin, who with husband Andreas Werliin comprises Swedish duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums. The duo make music that’s almost entirely percussive, with drums, timpani and other percussion instruments forming an intense background for Mariam’s spectacular voice. The duo play and sing with an energy that makes it difficult not to be drawn in – indeed, their final song sees Mariam whacking her drums so hard that she manages to make one of her drumsticks fly off to the side of the stage. Their set was intriguing throughout, but ‘There Is No Light’ stood out for me with it’s soulful vocal delivery and incessant drumbeat. If you’re looking for something a little different from your average guitar band, then Wildbirds & Peacedrums will definitely sate your appetite.

7. The Temper Trap

Namedropped by the BBC as ones to watch at the start of the year, The Temper Trap showed that they’re not just another hype band with their impressive performance on Friday. The band have a dense, epic sound that gives the impression that they’re made for big stages already, from the swooning, blissful tones and sweetly sung vocal of ‘Sweet Disposition’ to the racy, infectious paranoia of ‘Science Of Fear’. And, true to the spirit of Latitude as a festival for everyone, a cheerful-looking grey-haired chap who must have been at least in his 50s or so bounces past me with his wife and declares to a similarly-aged couple, “This band are fucking amazing!” Broad appeal and massive tunes too? Sounds like the Temper Trap could be on to a winner.

6. Grace Jones

Having got a tad bored of Spiritualized and increasingly irritated by the collection of jeb-ends that I was stood near in the tent, I made my way to the main stage to catch the last half an hour or so of Grace Jones. And you know what? I wish I’d seen the whole damn thing, because the spectacle she put on was fantastic. Within a few minutes of me turning up, she was strutting her way through ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’, intent on getting up close and personal with the crowd. “I need a big man,” she intoned, approaching the edge of the stage and pointing to a no-doubt terrified member of stage security, before parading around the barriers on the shoulders of said ‘big man’, reaching out and touching the worked up crowd. Further show(wo)manship was came in the form of outrageous hats (including a crystal-encrusted number that reflected coloured lights across the stage) and enough flaunting of that impossibly-toned body to allure even the biggest prude. Seriously, she turned 61 in May and still has the body of a 20-something – absolutely insane. She wrapped things up by  producing a hula hoop and then casually (casually!) gyrating her way through her final number while effortlessly singing and introducing the members of her band.

As she thanks us and leaves the stage, the clamour for more is deafening, even as the lights go up. But just as it looks like the crowd’s appreciation is going to go unrecognised, Grace storms back out onto the stage. “There’s a fucking curfew!” she booms, frustrated that she can’t continue to play. The plug on the PA is quickly pulled before she can say her parting words of thanks, but the fact that the icon has reciprocated the crowd’s appreciation by simply returning to the stage is enough. I can now honestly say that I’d pay good money to see a Grace Jones show – and that’s something I’d never even considered coming into the festival.

5. Editors

I’m sure many people rolled their eyes when they heard that Editors were ‘going electro’ for their forthcoming third album In This Light And On This Evening, but within the space of an hour (or, more accurately, four new songs), the doubters may well have had to reconsider. Starting bravely with a new song that features both smooth synths and somewhat jarring staccato samples that sound like tyres skidding, the transformation is complete when classic set-closer ‘Fingers In The Factories’ segues effortlessly into the last of their new songs – and with moody, Depeche Mode synths, thumping beats and God-bothering lyrics (“If there really was a god here/he’d have raised a hand by now”), it’s absolutely amazing. And yet, it’s still unmistakably the same Editors we know and love – they’re still making upliftingly gloomy music, it’s just that they’re using different tools for the job.

4. Thom Yorke

Some of the people I was with at the festival were disappointed by Thom Yorke’s solo slot on Sunday, but to be honest I can’t understand why. It had classic Radiohead tracks (‘Everything In It’s Right Place’, ‘There There’), brilliant solo songs (‘The Eraser’, ‘Harrowdown Hill’), intriguing new songs (‘Follow Me Around’, The Present Tense’ – floating around on Youtube as we speak, a fact that was wryly acknowledged by Yorke during his set), ‘True Love Waits’ got a rare live airing, and he played an absolutely gorgeous solo version of ‘Videotape’, (my personal favourite track from In Rainbows) – what more could you want? I mean, you weren’t expecting him to play ‘Creep’ or something were you?

3. Bat For Lashes

Anybody who thought that Bat For Lashes don’t quite cut it live was surely forced to eat their words, regurgitate them, and eat them again after Natasha Khan’s utterly spellbinding performance on Friday night. There was certainly a lot of interest in her – the tent was so rammed that I could barely see anything. But what I heard confirmed my love for Khan’s work – big, echoy drums and chiming, swirling, epic instrumentation serve as a wonderful backdrop for her beautiful voice and almost fairytale lyrics. Spine-tingling highlights for me were enchanting opener ‘Glass’, ‘Siren Song’, ‘What’s A Girl To Do?’ and the bombastic, mystical brilliance of ‘Two Planets’. Although it seems that most people were sticking around to hear ‘Daniel’ – saved as a set closer of course, it was undoubtedly the song that got the biggest response. For me, Bat For Lashes stands head and shoulders above the crop of female solo artists that have cropped up this year, and performances like this just serve to confirm that.

2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Having only listened to a small amount of his material, I didn’t feel like I knew that much about Nick Cave going into the Festival. But if there’s one thing I definitely know afterwards, it’s this: He’s bloody awesome live. The man has a spectacular way with words and a voice to match, and together with his Bad Seeds he rattled through a cross-section of tracks from their back catalogue. From the chugging, distorted riffs of ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!’ to the death row theatrics of ‘The Mercy Seat’, every moment is compelling – and never more so than during set-closer ‘Stagger Lee’, with Cave delivering its menacing wild-west story with a swagger in his step and fire in his eyes. To be fair though, violinist/guitarist Warren Ellis (a “big, bearded fucker” as Cave calls him at one point) does his best to steal the show – particularly during ‘We Call Upon The Author’, which sees him sprawled on the floor, inducing an effects-pedal based freakout whilst also shouting out backing vocals. Together with Cave’s imposing presence, it makes for a performance that you’re unlikely to forget in a hurry.

1. Fever Ray

Mesmerising. Bewildering. Brilliant.

Those are some of the words I would try to use use to sum up the genius of Fever Ray, (aka Karin Dreijer Anderson from The Knife), but nothing can quite convey just how amazing it was. Karin and her band were wearing striking, elaborate costumes (and there were huge cheers when she finally removed her cape/mask combination), but that only served to accentuate the bizarre brilliance of the music. Whirring electronic noise, minimal beats, ominous synths, infectious guitar loops, tribal drumming – these are just some of the things that make up the band’s wondrous soundscapes. However, it’s Karin’s voice that’s the star of the show – at times sounding very much reminiscent of her vocals for The Knife, but at others warped to an almost demonic growl. Add into the mix her dark, often cryptic lyrics and you’ve got a package that you can’t tear your ears away from. Stirring stuff, and despite the stiff competition, the best thing I saw all festival.

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