Tag Archives: Howling Bells

My Songs Of The Decade, pt II: 2004-2006

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.


Arcade Fire – ‘In The Backseat’ – (Funeral)

Interestingly, in all the ‘Best Of The Decade’ coverage I’ve seen so far, everyone agrees that Funeral was an amazing album, but not necessarily on which song (or songs) should represent it in a list of the ‘Best Songs Of The Decade’. I’m going with ‘In The Backseat’ because it feels like it really captures the sense of loss that permeates the album – and when Régine’s voice finally breaks down into a desperate howl it’s a moment of truly gut-wrenching emotion. For me, it’s almost impossible to listen to this song without ending up with tears in my eyes.

Feist – ‘Let It Die’ – (Let It Die)

Being prone to wallowing in my own misery, I latched on to this song as a kind of post-breakup ‘cold comfort’. What makes this one of the most beautifully tragic songs of the decade is that it not only captures the sadness of faded love, but also the regret – “The saddest part of a broken heart/Isn’t the ending so much as the start.”

Franz Ferdinand – ‘Take Me Out’ – (Franz Ferdinand)

While ‘Take Me Out’ would prove to be only the first of many dancefloor-slaying behemoths from the Scottish quartet, it’ll probably remain their most memorable. Why? Because of the simple, hook-laden lyrics, and the fact that it contains the kind of instantly recognisable guitar line that is destined to be chanted on nightclub floors for years to come.

Interpol – ‘Narc’ – (Antics)

Yeah, yeah, everyone bums Turn On The Bright Lights far more than its successor, but ‘Narc’ makes this list because it was one of the first Interpol tracks I heard. Paul Banks’ cryptic crooning and that utterly infectious guitar riff had me hooked – and happily, they had even better tracks than this in abundance.

Kasabian – ‘Club Foot’ – (Kasabian)

Ah, remember when it was actually ‘acceptable’ to like Kasabian? Remember when the words ‘lad-rock’ weren’t permanently associated with them? Remember when ‘Club Foot’ was, simply, a massive tune?

Oh, my bad – it still is.


The Bravery – ‘Unconditional’ – (The Bravery)

For a while, The Bravery were one of my absolute favourite bands – and while ‘An Honest Mistake’ will inevitably be the tune they are remembered for, ‘Unconditional’ was largely to blame for my own personal fanboyism. Yes, that synth line does sound a lot like a ringtone (indeed, it was mine for a good while), but to me it was possibly one of the most euphoric-sounding things ever. Couple that with easy to relate to (if only vaguely meaningful) lyrics, and it was easy to latch on to in my confused, early student days. Not that I’m trying to make excuses – I still think that ‘Unconditional’ was both criminally overlooked and a sublime tune.

On a more general note, The Bravery can be credited as among the bands who made me start going to gigs in earnest – I’d been to only 4 or 5 gigs before 2005, but I dare not think about how much I’ve spend on tickets since then…

The Duke Spirit – ‘Love Is An Unfamiliar Name’ – (Cuts Across The Land)

Speaking of criminally overlooked, The Duke Spirit would like to say hi. Their debut record was a fine work of art – sexy, dark and raw, in complete contrast to many of their shinier, chirpier peers. ‘Love Is An Unfamiliar Name’ in particular was an alluringly dirty slice of rock – the kind that forces you to shake your hips in a way you didn’t even think you were capable of. If I ever run a clubnight, I will play this every week until the end of time – to make up for the fact that it should, by rights, have been all over dancefloors back in 2005.

Editors – ‘Bullets’ – (The Back Room)

Editors, on the other hand, had no difficulty becoming an indie-disco staple. It’s not difficult to see why – incessant beats, big, reverberating guitar riffs and catchy choruses make for great dancing/singing material. However, Editors mean so much more to me than that. Not only did I form a massive emotional attachment with the band’s music, they also lead me to meet someone who would become a very good friend at a time when I didn’t really have all that many – more than ever, I realised the power of music to bring people together.

Maxïmo Park – ‘Apply Some Pressure’ – (A Certain Trigger)

Perhaps a bit of a cop-out selection on my part given that there are Maxïmo Park songs with far more personal resonance to me, but this is arguably their best tune and certainly the most succinct summation of what the band are about. It also contains a sentiment that I’m sure anyone can relate to: “What happens when you lose everything? You just start again… you start all over again.”

Patrick Wolf – ‘This Weather’ – (Wind In The Wires)

Ultimately, the appreciation of music is a personal thing – and so it stands to reason that we connect it to events in our lives, and indeed to other people. People introduce each other to music, and thus one of someone else’s favourite songs can become one of your own. But music can also be representative of a time, a place, a person, or even a specific moment.

For me, ‘This Weather’ is all of those things, but – just as importantly – it’s also a genuinely beautiful song.

Test Icicles – ‘Circle. Square. Triangle’ – (For Screening Purposes Only)

Perhaps one of the decade’s most famously short-lived bands, Test Icicles splurged onto the scene only to implode shortly after – and if they left any sort of lasting legacy, ‘Circle. Square. Triangle’ was arguably it. Pounding drum-machine beats, coruscating, criss-crossing guitars and lunatic screams combined to create a completely unhinged, yet utterly compelling dancefloor-slayer. Hell, it’s never gonna happen, but I’d take a Test Icicles reunion over another Led Zeppelin or Sex Pistols get-together any day.


Arctic Monkeys – ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’ – (Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not)

It’s difficult to pick one, defining song from Arctic Monkeys’ debut album, but Alex Turner’s urgent delivery on ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’ lends his ever-wry observations an extra edge, and it’s matched by the song’s searing guitar. The fact that this is just one highlight of many is a stark reminder of just how good this album is.

Grinderman – ‘No Pussy Blues’ – (Grinderman)

This is picked purely because of its objective brilliance, and is not in any way a reflection of the sexual frustration which has so often been a part of my life. Honest.

But really, any man who can’t relate to Nick Cave’s exasperated cry of “DAMN!” just before the frazzled guitar kicks in is a liar. Or a massive dickhead.

The Horrors – ‘Sheena Is A Parasite’ – (The Horrors EP)

It might seem overly indie-faggy to cite this as being from the EP rather than debut album Strange House, but doing so more accurately represents the time-frame in which I got completely obsessed with this song’s snarling sub-two-minute blast of venomous, gothic garage-rock. They may have moved on (and gained greater critical acclaim to boot), but this is one hell of a reminder that The Horrors were an exciting proposition from the get-go.

Howling Bells – ‘In The Woods’ – (Howling Bells)

Howling Bells’ debut album was a sublime record all round, but, for me, ‘In The Woods’ stands out as its most amazing track. Evocative of fragile love in a lonely place, it’s spine-tinglingly atmospheric and stunningly, beautifully naked in its introspection. It’s one of those songs that can, for a few minutes, transport you to another place – and it’s a place you’ll want to visit over and over again, all the while yearning for it as if it were real.

The Long Blondes – ‘You Could Have Both’ – (Someone To Drive You Home)

I mentioned in my last blog that I’m a bit of a sucker for spoken word sections in songs, and I think this was the track that started it all. It is a bloody brilliant spoken word section though – in places referential (“I feel like CC Baxter in Wilder’s ‘Apartment’…”), paranoid, (“I was in full time education when I got scared of the future”), resigned (“and I’ve only got a job so I don’t disappoint my mother”), sardonic (“And you don’t have to worry that much about the future/and it’s not as if you ever did before”) and more besides. Overall, it just felt brilliantly relatable – especially the line “and you’ll always have someone to drive you home,” which seemed like it was written especially for teetotal designated drivers like myself.

Oh, and the rest of the song is pretty damn good too.


Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Songs

Dishonourable Mentions: The Year’s Biggest Disappointment Is…

To be honest, there were fairly few albums that I can honestly say I was disappointed by in 2009 – which probably implies that I haven’t listened to enough records in general, but never mind. Maxïmo Park’s third effort, Quicken The Heart, was solid but unspectacular, feeling like the band were on auto-pilot more often than they should be. Another “difficult third album” came in the form of West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, which saw Kasabian toying with experimentation but ultimately failing as much as they succeeded. And with The Resistance, Muse didn’t so much push the boat out as push it somewhere into outer space – but the results varied from the brilliantly ridiculous (‘United States Of Eurasia’) to… well, just plain ridiculous (‘I Belong To You’).

However, there is one record that, for me, stands out as a particularly crushing disappointment. The ‘winner’ of “Biggest Disappointment Of 2009” goes to…

Howling Bells – Radio Wars

Howling Bells - Radio Wars

To understand how disappointed I was by Radio Wars, you have to understand just how much I loved Howling Bells’ self-titled debut. That record was a masterpiece of bleak, 3-am loneliness, all haunting guitars and fragile emotions – it’s easily one of my all-time favourite albums, and penultimate track ‘In The Woods’ is one of my absolute favourite songs EVER.

For me, the level of expectation for their second album was high – perhaps too high to live up to – but in any case I found myself let down. Not because Radio Wars is a bad record – it’s competent at worst, and it certainly has its moments – but because it felt like Howling Bells had forgotten everything that made me love them in the first place.The album has been largely washed-over with a well-produced sheen – the guitars feel dulled, and Juanita Stein’s once arresting sentiment now rings hollow, meaning that moments where the band re-capture the feel of their first record are few and far between. Despite their poppier sound, ‘Treasure Hunt’ and ‘Into The Chaos’ both take a decent stab at it, and Juanita’s strained cry of “…and now there’s nowhere to run” in the chorus of ‘Golden Web’ almost grasps the emotion of old – but even that feels like she’s not really giving it her all. ‘Cities Burning Down’ seems to be the lone exception to the rule – and tellingly, it’s a re-vamped version of a three year old B-side. It’s also the best thing on here – and it’s definitely not a good sign when a three year old song trumps everything else you’ve written for your latest album.

On a personal level, the biggest crime committed by Radio Wars is that rather than leave me wanting more, as the band’s debut did, it pretty much just leaves me cold. I’ve listened to the two records back-to-back, just to make sure I’m not overstating this too much – but honestly, Radio Wars doesn’t even come close to being as arrestingly beautiful as Howling Bells. As such, I have mixed feelings about a third record from Howling Bells – anticipation that perhaps it might be a return to form, but also a sense that I shouldn’t get my hopes up. For now, I’ll be wistfully playing the band’s debut and hoping that Radio Wars is just a bit of a blip…

1 Comment

Filed under Albums, Music