Tag Archives: The Horrors

Let’s Get Cynical About Latitude Festival 2012, pt III: Saturday

Saturday at Latitude 2012 looks to be the most action packed to me – though to be honest, I could have probably seen even more bands if I hadn’t slept in. Regardless it’s off to the arena, where I plan to spend as much of the day in the music tents as possible to avoid the still-present threat of rain…

As well as being heartily endorsed by The National, Sharon Van Etten has been receiving a lot of positive press for her second album Tramp. Turns out she’s also a captiviting live performer, and her early set in the Word Arena goes down a treat – the biggest highlight is the swirling rush of ‘Serpents’, but her soft, accented vocals also lend a great deal of emotional resonance to the loping expansiveness of ‘Warsaw’ and the stark, moody ‘Give Out’. Saturday’s already off to a good start.

My plan for today basically involves hanging out at the i Arena in the woods for the vast majority of the day, so I figure I may as well start as I mean to go on and head straight over. I catch Sunless ’97 performing their last couple of dreamy electro numbers, the band’s three members crowded around a table full of synths and laptops while simultaneously singing or toting guitars. Up next are Deap Vally, a female blues-rock duo who are essentially a trashier White Stripes . If that sounds like an insult, it’s not all that bad – their rough-and-tumble rock provides a dose of throwaway fun, so my ‘Derp Vally’ joke will have to go sadly unused.

Norwegian six-piece Team Me have become one of my most anticipated bands of the weekend – I’ve very much fallen in love with their debut full-length To The Treetops!, and their live performance doesn’t disappoint. Kicking straight off with ‘Patrick Wolf & Daniel Johns’, the set starts in a high-energy manner and never lets up from that point on. The band are adorably twee, but their songs also pack a surprising punchiness – suitably demonstrated by the thunderous drumming and heart-stopping gang vocals on ‘Weathervanes And Chemicals’, as well as ‘Show Me’s powerful chorus. Even their banter is heart-warming – at one point they comment that taking a boat ride to get their gear to the stage reminded them of their home town of Elverum. The galloping, hopeful ‘With My Hands Covering Both My Eyes I Am Too Scared To Have A Look At You Now’ closes out their set, and features the wide-eyed lyric “I hope we mean something for you my love.” Judging by the incredibly warm reception they’re given here, they definitely do mean something to a lot of people – and certainly to me.

Of Monsters And Men subsequently up the stakes by bringing seven members and even more instruments on to the stage – seriously, whoever thought a 15-minute changeover was going to work here was clearly deluded. Still, during the break there’s another brilliantly middle-class moment as a young chap turns round, spies his friend and shouts “BENEDICT! IT’S FUCKING BENEDICT!” I then get chatting to the group of excitable teens  in question, who are clearly stoked about seeing this band – and they’re not the only ones. From the opening strains of ‘Dirty Paws’, the Icelandic group have the audience in the palm of their hand. It’s one of those instances where the totally overused Arcade Fire comparison actually holds a lot of weight – from the stirring, dense instrumentation to the occasional well-placed “HEY!” Set-closer ‘Six Weeks’ does occasionally threaten to stumble into Mumford & Sons territory, but instead morphs into a glorious epic that wraps up a spellbinding performance.

After the emotional highs of the last two bands, the psychedelic drone of Wooden Shjips seems a fine way to wind down a little. They’re an oddly incongruous-looking bunch of fellows, but that doesn’t stop them effortlessly creating a wall of mesmerising fuzz. It could be argued that they’re too repetitive, but I think that would be missing the point – there music is supposed to be repetitive, the sort of grooves that should get embedded in your brain and induce an almost trance-like state of enjoyment.

I then leave the woods for the first time in hours and head over to the Lake Stage to catch Tall Ships – who shouldn’t be confused with the previous group, as they’re a math-rock band from Brighton. But this isn’t humourless, emotionless math rock, it’s math-rock with a heart – looped guitar riffs, incessant basslines and towering drums are accompanied by stirring vocals, as ably demonstrated by lead track “T=0”. Typically, the rain chooses to make its appearance at one of the few times I’m not in a tent, but it feels oddly appropriate in some ways – particularly during set-closer ‘Vessels’, with its chanted lyrics about sunken ships.

Back in the woods, the shimmering shoegaze-pop of I Break Horses is pleasing enough to the ears, but doesn’t make a particularly lasting impression on me. I don’t wish to be unkind to them though – it’s entirely possible that I might have really fallen for them on a different day, but when the quality of the lineup is so consistently good, it’s inevitable that some bands will get lost in the mix along the way.

Soko wins the dubious honour of being the most talked-over artist I’ve seen so far this weekend – during one particularly quiet, fragile number she becomes barely audible over the constant nattering in the tent. Attempting to engage the crowd, she invites audience members up on the stage to “dance like aliens” during ‘I Thought I Was An Alien’ – and gets more than she bargained for when one particularly amorous woman runs up and gives her a big hug and a kiss. Certainly one the weekend’s odder moments, but there are moments of melancholy beauty here too, particularly the painful honesty of ‘First Love Never Die’.

Back in the Word Arena, I’m intrigued to check out Belgian art-rockers dEUS – a band who are a pretty big deal in Europe but only really have a cult following in the UK. I’m almost completely unfamiliar with their records, but that doesn’t stop me being impressed by their performance. They’re clearly confident enough in their own songcraft that they’ll happily sing a song in French to an English-speaking audience, and the overall impression that I get is of a band who don’t particularly need any fancy gimmicks to win a crowd over – in that way, they’re perhaps comparable to The National, Elbow, maybe even Radiohead. It’s an effortlessly skilful show, and for their UK fans it’s a rare chance to catch their heroes on these shores – for myself, and everyone else, it’s an eye-opening introduction to a very good band who we’ve been completely missing out on.

“It’s so good to be back in England! I just wish I wasn’t so committed to wearing white,” quips Zola Jesus mid way through her headline slot in the woods. Her barefoot, all-white ensemble probably takes the prize for the least sensible outfit I’ll see all weekend, but that doesn’t stop her from leaping down into the muddy pit in front of the barrier at one point. She then returns to the stage brandishing a stray wooden stake that’s about as tall as she is – holding it above her head while continuing to sing, before finally tossing it back into the pit. God knows what the security guards thought. Any antics aside, it’s her voice that steals the show, as you might expect really. As a huge Zola Jesus fanboy, I’m pretty much enraptured throughout – though the throbbing pulse of ‘Hikikomori’, the intimacy of ‘Trust Me’ and the industrial whirr of set-closer ‘Vessel’ are particular highlights. She’s also a highly theatrical performer who holds the audience’s attention with complete ease – which makes it all the more endearing when a flicker of laughter crosses her face as she briefly forgets the words during ‘Night’. Overall, she completely justifies the fact that I’ve been anticipating her performance from the day I bought my festival ticket.

The only downside of watching Zola Jesus is that she clashes with Los Campesinos! – who are another favourite act of mine, as long time readers may well know. Fortunately, I manage to catch the last three songs of their set, and it proves to be one of the most entertaining 15 minutes I’ll see all weekend. I arrive just in time to hear them give ‘You! Me! Dancing!’ a fake intro of the riff from ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, while Gareth references the song’s recent use in an advert by changing a lyric to “every single one of us Budweiser ’til we die.” They follow up with a typically stirring rendition of ‘The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future’, before Gareth says they’ve got one more song to play and thanks the stage manager for their understanding – prematurely, it turns out, as the PA is promptly switched off. Never ones to give up, someone runs on stage to turn their amps up and the band proceed to play ‘Baby I’ve Got The Death Rattle’ in full anyway. Absolutely one of the festival’s most grin-inducing moments.

Tonight feels like a big moment for The Horrors (“We weren’t expecting this to be such a big tent,” admits Faris), and they not only sound amazing, but they look amazing too, bathed in smoke and silhouetted against a wash of colour. Sure, the setlist may contain pretty much the usual mix of songs from Skying and Primary Colours, but from the brooding intensity of ‘Mirror’s Image’ to the extended run through of the already colossal ‘Moving Further Away’, it’s absolutely faultless. ‘Still Life’ predictably gets the most triumphant response from the crowd, but it feels like The Horrors have become one of the UK’s consistently great live bands, and it’s a fine way to round off the evening.

But wait, there’s more! Scroobius Pip is doing a spoken word slot in the poetry tent, and by the time I get there it’s already completely rammed. It’s worth sticking around for as well – his darkly comic and insightful words are utterly compelling. If today has been one giant, delicious musical cake, then that was the cherry on top. I doubt I’m going to pack so many good bands into a single day for quite some time.

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Let’s Get Cynical’s Albums Of The Year 2011

Here we are once again then, my top 10 albums of the year. Or rather, my top 11, thanks to the fact I’ve decided to have two number one albums, ignoring traditional numbering conventions in the process. I love the two albums in question for completely different reasons, and as such I couldn’t bring myself to pick between them. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s run through these albums in reverse order…

10. Battles – Gloss Drop

Battles - Gloss Drop

Despite the loss of Tyondai Braxton, the remaining three members of Battles soldiered on regardless, and Gloss Drop is the result. While perhaps not quite reaching the heights of debut full-length Mirrored, the new record feels undoubtedly more fun – and no more so than on the grin-inducing organised chaos of ‘Ice Cream’, which features the brilliantly nonsensical vocals of Matias Aguayo. Elsewhere, Gary Numan features on the blisteringly relentless ‘My Machines’, ‘Inchworm’ bounces playfully along, and album opener ‘Africastle’ sees the band sounding as tight as ever – just a few reasons why Gloss Drop is absolutely a triumph agains adversity.

9. Braids – Native Speaker

Braids - Native Speaker

On Native Speaker, Braids have provided one of the finest pairs of opening tracks you’ll hear all year. ‘Lemonade’ sees vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston cooing seductively over bubbling, sparkling backdrop, before ‘Plath Heart’ sees the band kick into mesmerising, oddball indie-pop mode in earnest. The rest of the album is pretty good too – the blissed out ambience of ‘Glass Deers’ and the clastrophobic menace of ‘Lammicken’ being particular highlights.

8. The Duke Spirit – Bruiser

The Duke Spirit - Bruiser

The Duke Spirit are perhaps one of the UK’s most undeservedly underrated bands, and listening to Bruiser will certainly do nothing to harm that reputation. The album makes its way from full-throttle bluesy rock numbers such as ‘Surrender’ and ‘Everybody’s Under Your Spell’ to more thoughtful, heartfelt tracks like ‘Villian’ and ‘Homecoming’, via the sultry stomp of ‘Procession’ and the dark, convulsing bassline of ‘Bodies’. The fact that all this comes together as a remarkably cohesive whole makes Bruiser one of the most consistently strong records I’ve heard all year.

7. Vessels – Helioscope

Vessels - Helioscope

The second full-length record from Leeds post-rock titans Vessels, Helioscope once again demonstrates the breadth and depth of their musical ambition, from the incessant, ever-shifting dynamics of opener ‘Monoform’ to the euphoric crescendo of ‘All Our Ends’. Of particular note is the beautifully understated ‘Meatman, Piano Tuner, Prostitute’, which features a gorgeous vocal turn from Stuart Warwick – but the album is a breathtaking ride from start to finish.

6. Los Campesinos! – Hello Sadness

Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness

The most recent set from Los Campesinos! sees them adopt a more mature sound at points. Sure, Hello Sadness still features bursts of youthful exuberance (‘By Your Hand’, ‘Songs About Your Girlfriend’) and Gareth’s lyricism is as devastating as ever, particularly on the chorus of the title track. But songs like ‘The Black Bird, The Dark Slope’ and the heartwrenching ‘To Tundra’ feel like the sound of a band pushing harder than ever to surpass themselves – and succeeding.

5. Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See

Arctic Monkeys - Suck It And See

There is a school of thought that suggests that Arctic Monkeys have become progressively worse with each passing record. Anyone who thinks this, however, is utterly mistaken – Suck It And See is the sound of a band both very much comfortable in its own skin and sounding as effortlessly confident as ever. From gorgeous indie-pop (‘She’s Thunderstorms’) to wilfully ridiculous rock stompers (‘Brick By Brick’), they barely put a foot wrong here. Alex Turner is also on fine lyrical form, demonstrating his tender side with tracks like ‘Piledriver Waltz’ and ‘Love Is A Lazerquest’, as well as his trademark wit on ‘Reckless Serenade’ and ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’. Doubters gonna doubt, but Suck It And See is a fine addition to the Arctic Monkeys canon regardless of what they think.

4. The Horrors – Skying

The Horrors - Skying

While not the quantum leap forward that 2009’s Primary Colours represented, Skying saw The Horrors consolidate their sonic progression with another fine collection of songs – as well as finally earning a deserved chart breakthrough, (on their own terms, no less). From the driving, hook-laiden likes of ‘I Can See Through You’ and ‘Still Life’ to sprawling, brilliant epics ‘Moving Further Away’ and ‘Oceans Burning’, Skying moulds The Horrors’ myriad influences into a sound that is very much their own.

3. Wild Beasts – Smother

Wild Beasts - Smother

The baffling omission of Smother from the Mercury Prize shortlist turned out to be but a minor blip in the continued ascent of Wild Beasts. The band adopted a more pared down, less-is-more aesthetic than on previous records, which has been exquisitely combined with their thought-provoking, intimate lyricism to produce one of the year’s most stunningly beautiful records.

2. Zola Jesus – Conatus

Zola Jesus - Conatus

It’s impossible to talk about Zola Jesus without mentioning *that* voice, and for good reason – her operatic tones are some of the most powerful and distinctive you’ll hear today. But equally striking are the varied electronic soundscapes that she wraps around that arresting voice, and her third album Conatus proved to be no exception. Be it the spacious, ominous sounds of ‘Avalanche’, the glitchy industrial whirring of ‘Vessel’, the hypnotic likes of ‘Hikikomori’ and ‘Ixode’, or the fragile melancholy of ‘Skin’, it’s a consistently captivating record that deserves recognition as one of the year’s best.

1 (The Head). PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

Objectively speaking, Let England Shake is one of the year’s most outstanding artistic achievements, and I’d personally rank it as the best thing PJ Harvey has ever put her name to. To take on the subject of war without resorting to “WAR IZ BAD” tubthumping is commendable in itself – Harvey takes the far more restrained approach of narrating the horrors of war as seen through the eyes of the soldiers who were there. In doing so, however, she paints a more damning portrait of war than any protest song could ever hope to – and that’s the true genius of Let England Shake. I’ll stop there – it’s not as if I haven’t gushed about this album enough already.

1 (The Heart). Johnny Foreigner – Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything

Johnny Foreigner - Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything

For me, no band is better at making music that feels absolutely vital to my life than Johnny Foreigner, and with Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything, they’ve done it absolutely on their own terms. While there’s still plenty of the rapid-fire anthems they’re most well known for (‘What Drummers Get’, ‘You Vs Everything’), it’s the slower songs that really make this album for me – tracks like ‘200x’ and ‘Johnny Foreigner Vs You’ fit the band like a glove by allowing Alexei’s lyrical prowess to shine through. Deeply personal and yet instantly relatable, I can almost guarantee you’ll take far more than a handful of lines from these songs to heart – this is an emotional heavyweight of an album, but one you won’t mind being knocked off your feet by time and time again.

You can find a Spotify playlist containing all these albums right here.

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Let’s Get Cynical About Leeds Festival 2011, pt II: Saturday

Leeds Festival

On Saturday, I awake to find someone in a nearby tent is playing Adele’s ‘Rolling In The Deep’. Why would you do such a thing? Anyway, it’s onwards to the arena again for day two of Leeds Festival.

Out of morbid curiosity, I stick my head in the Festival Republic tent while Cherri Bomb are playing. Turns out they’re basically a cock-rock band – except without the actual cocks, being as they’re one of only two all-female bands on the entire festival bill (to my knowledge, anyway). Moving on, Pulled Apart By Horses proceed to tear up the NME/Radio 1 Stage despite it being only midday. They play three vicious-sounding new songs among the more familiar material from their debut record, and all four members dive into the crowd after set-closer ‘I Punched A Lion In The Throat’. Leeds, that was your wake-up call.

I’m a little disappointed to have to miss Islet, but one my cousins is playing at the same time, and I’d feel like a bit of a dick if I didn’t go support him . Thankfully, he’s actually in a decent band; upcoming Leeds four-piece Circles. Playing on the BBC Introducing Stage, they carry themselves well for a band who’ve not even been together a whole year yet, delivering bursts of wirey, energetic post-punk to a receptive crowd.

I decide I can’t really be bothered to trudge back through the mud for Miles Kane, so I stick around to catch The Bronze Medal. I figure any band that shares its name with an Idlewild song can’t be all bad, and my suspicions turn out to be correct – although they don’t sound anything like that band, the Bath-based group craft a fine line in mellow, spacious post-rock, with floaty guitars and luscious harmonies.

Over on the Dance Stage, Mount Kimbie are crafting intriguing slices of ambient dubstep, but despite the name of the stage it seems it’s a little early in the day for them to really get the crowd going. Crystal Fighters, on the other hand, have no such trouble – despite starting late due to copious dicking around during their soundcheck, they quickly have the crowd moving with their quirky electro-rock. They eventually get chucked off the stage for overrunning – I guess everyone involved was just having too much of a good time.

Back on the NME/Radio 1 stage, Patrick Wolf is as fantastic as ever, even if his set does lean very heavily on his newest record, Lupercalia. There are excursions for ‘Damaris’, ‘The Libertine’, and a pretty much obligatory run-through of ‘The Magic Position’, but other than that it’s all his most recent stuff. Not that that’s really a bad thing – ‘Armistice’ provides a suitably stirring opener, while ‘Bermondsey Street’ and ‘The City’ are both moments of pure joy – but the selfish part of me always wants to hear more of his older material. He also invites Katie Harkin (of Sky Larkin) on stage to perform backing vocals on ‘Together’ – and to be honest it’s a shame they don’t take the opportunity to perform ‘The Future’ as well, because she’s got a gorgeous voice. (As an aside, you should definitely check out Sky Larkin if you haven’t already.) Regardless of my gripes, it’s always enjoyable to spend time in the company of Patrick Wolf and his music.

Next up on the same stage are Metronomy, who also play a set that favours tracks from their most recent album – but by contrast, I think it’s pretty much perfect. They cherry-pick the best tracks from The English Riviera – ‘Love Underlined’, ‘She Wants’, ‘The Look’, ‘The Bay’ – as well as playing rejuvenated versions of older songs such as ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Radio Ladio’. It’s amazing what a few years can do to your opinion of a band – I recall being bored to death when I saw Metronomy back in 2007, and yet today they don’t put a foot wrong.

Rather than hang around as the inevitable swarm of festival knobheads descends on the tent to see The Vaccines, I head over to the Festival Republic Stage to gain first-hand experience of Mercury-nominated bellower Anna Calvi. Much to my surprise, I don’t find her powerful voice to be as excruciating as it easily could be – by the end of the set I seem to have developed enough of a resistance that even the dramatics of ‘Jezebel’ and ‘Love Won’t Be Leaving’ don’t hurt my ears. And fair play to the girl, she can definitely play the guitar as well – her set won’t go down as an essential part of my weekend, but I enjoy it far more than I thought I would.

White Denim are introduced by the DJ/Compere as “one of the best live bands in the world” – and then proceed to spend the next 40 minutes putting a hell of a lot of weight behind that claim. Their experimental rock feels like it sits in the place where garage rock and math-rock collide, its breezy, upbeat feel combining with some utterly exceptional musicianship to create something that’s instantly spectacular. Colour me impressed.

Like DFA1979 the day before, Tom Vek is another artist who passed me by when he was first around in the mid-2000s. Back with his first album in 6 years, he’s not showing any signs of rustiness during a slick set of his infectious electro-indie. When he drops ‘A Chore’ and ‘I Ain’t Saying My Goodbyes’ back to back, the crowd respond in a big way – cementing the fact that Tom Vek’s performance is a highly enjoyable experience rather than just a hipster box-ticking exercise. “That was a lot of fun, Leeds!” he says at the end of the set – and the feeling’s mutual.

On the other hand, Digitalism seem like they might better off on the Dance Stage, with the likes of ‘2 Hearts’ and ‘Circles’ passing by without things really kicking off. It’s clear that they’re not used to having to work this hard to get a rise out of the crowd, as evidenced by the fact that an imposing, bearded German man has to tell us to “MAKE SOME FUCKING NOISE!” three times before getting a reaction he deems satisfactory. “ARE YOU READY FOR JUMP?” he shouts, to a fairly tepid response – and so his wirey, blonde-haired counterpart takes matters into his own hands and leads by example, finally getting the whole tent jumping along with him.

Unfortunately, the result of that particular piece of audience interaction is that the crowd at the front of the tent (myself included) are now packed together like sardines – a situation not helped by the fact that The Horrors seem to have attracted enough people to fill the tent to bursting. I try not to let the cramped conditions affect my enjoyment of the band’s set – and to be fair to them, they absolutely nail it. ‘Changing The Rain’ opens the set with a widescreen, woozy swagger, ‘Who Can Say’ and ‘Endless Blue’ both get the crowd moving in full force, and ‘Sea Within A Sea’ is just as glorious live as it is on record.

Everything seems to be going swimmingly – until an abrupt power outage cuts ‘Still Life’ short. But then, after a brief chorus of boos, something a little bit magical happens – as the band defiantly light cigarettes on stage, the crowd spontaneously break into the song’s chorus of “When you wake up/when you wake up/you will find me.” Power is eventually restored, and the band roar back into action – ‘Mirror’s Image’ cements this moment as a triumph in the face of adversity, with the band’s pent-up frustration being unleashed in a snarled, furious storm of noise. Proceedings are ended in spectacular style with the expansive, pulsating ‘Moving Further Away’, and Faris Badwan’s reaction seems genuinely humble – “thank you Leeds, you’ve been the best crowd we’ve had for a long time.” The chants for an encore are thoroughly deserved – but at 10 minutes past the 11pm curfew, they will remain sadly unfulfilled. Sunday, you’ve got some work to do if you’re going to top that.

Find a Spotify playlist with some of the day’s hightlights here.

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Sky(ing)’s The Limit, pt II: The Horrors Stream New Album

The Horrors - Skying

It’s been a little over a month since The Horrors unveiled their third album, Skying, and now they’re streaming it in all its glory a week before its release. Continuing from where 2009’s Primary Colours left off, it’s an expansive, shoegaze-influenced affair – head on right over to their website to check it out for yourself.

After a few listens, Skying feels like a more consistent record than Primary Colours. There’s no ‘I Only Think Of You’-style clunkers here – indeed, the album feels like an incredibly coherent whole, effortlessly flowing from track to track to form a singular, glorious expanse. As for highlights, there are many – ‘I Can See Through You’ drives itself forward with purposeful beats and a soaring chorus, while ‘Endless Blue’ pulls a fast one, starting out as a hazy wash of synths with trumpets floating over the top, before suddenly breaking out the spiky guitars. Elsewhere, ‘Dive In’ builds on its infectious drums and simple guitar line before launching into a mind-blowingly colossal chorus, ‘Still Life’ captures a dream-like state of mind, and ‘Moving Further Away’ feels like an older, wiser brother to ‘Sea Within A Sea’.

Skying sees The Horrors consolidating their stylistic about-face with considerable skill – it’s a beautifully-realised record of the kind you could lose yourself in for hours. The competition for ‘album of the year’ just got a little bit more heated, but with a record this good The Horrors could see themselves soaring above their peers.

Skying is released on XL Recordings on 11th July.

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Sky(ing)’s The Limit: The Horrors Announce New Album, Stream New Single

The critically acclaimed, Mercury nominated success of Primary Colours proved to sneering naysayers that there was far more to The Horrors than snarling garage-punk, and now they’re back to consolidate their huge leap forward on that record with a new album, Skying. It will be released on XL Recordings on the 11th July, and the first single from it will be ‘Still Life’, which I just so happened to catch Zane Lowe playing on my drive home. If you missed it, the band have already stuck it up on Youtube, so you can have a listen below:

It’s spacious, calm, and the furthest yet that the band have ended up from the sounds of Strange House – but thanks to Faris’ commanding vocal, it’s still unmistakably The Horrors. Here’s hoping that this is but the tip of a glorious iceberg.

The Horrors

The Horrors have a trio of sold-out UK dates lined up in July, as well as a few festival appearances later in the summer – including Reading and Leeds, Wireless, Field Day, and Rock En Seine. All the details can be found on the band’s website here.

Skying is due out on XL Recordings on the 11th July.

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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 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.

2004

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.

2005

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.

2006

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.

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