in this issue middlemusings... 4 news i’d enjoy being able
a quick rundown of everything that’s happening in the world of music, featuring the lafontaines, katy b and more...
8 class of 2014 we list 25 top bands to look out for throughout 2014
16 street dogs phil wilson talks to frontman of muchtravelled US punks street dogs mike mccolgan
22 best of 2013 another year has passed, and so we run down another top 25 albums, alongside singles and reissues
we speak with mogwai’s multi instrumentalist barry burns ahead of the release of their eigth studio album
46 the julie ruin the julie ruin drummer carmine covelli speaks to us after a succesful debut year for the reunited julie ruin project
52 reviews we round-up the best in music and, for the first time, film, with reviews of against me!, stephen malkmus and the jicks, mogwai and more, with phil wilson looking at journal de france, the punk singer and more on the film side of things
to write here that it’s been a highly active three months as the editor of this here publication, but i’d feel like i’d be doing you all a disservice... though i would like to recommend the new against me album and american hustle though i may be stepping on the film man’s toes with that... Phil Wilson
tread all you like, i have no toes - for i am merely a floating head. Usually a floating head who does little other than pay lip service to this publication who graciously feeds and waters him, but not this time! I wroted words! Go read ‘em! Dionne Kennedy
dropping out of uni to become a magician. magic is cool. I mean, not harry potter made up magic, with broomsticks & other nonsense, I’m talking about david blaine. blaine is cool. magic is cool. also films about the beat poets, they’re cool, harry potter was in that, no broomsticks though.
first established in 2011, middlemusic originally began as a music reviews and features website, growing to include news and eventually this digital magazine which you read now. the website has grown from a rather shoddy looking grey palette based website that looked like a three year old had designed it, blossoming into the acceptable looking portal it is now. middlemusic continues to grow, now including coverage of film alongside music - but the ethos of the website remains the same: unbiased coverage of all music and film, regardless of genre. for any enquiries middlemusic related, email email@example.com.
lafontaines win big apple award Motherwell rap-rock outfit The LaFontaines saw
in Scotland right now.
off competition from Fatherson, The Holy Ghosts,
“However, we’ve been playing live pretty extensively
Cairn String Quartet and Garden of Elks to win music
over the last couple of years, so in terms of
charity Nordoff-Robbins’ annual Big Apple Award,
performing I think we were all fairly confident being
giving Scottish musicians the chance to play in New
onstage and doing our thing.”
York City during Scotland Week 2014.
The mixture of rap and rock that has won The
The band join previous winners Stanley Odd and Song
LaFontaines their legions of fans over the years was,
of Return in winning the prize, which bassist John
of course, essentially born in New York City with Run
Gerard described as “the biggest surprise I’ve ever
DMC the first to take the clash of styles to the charts.
“I have a sneaky wee hunch that [our music] might
He said: “The other acts that were short-listed are all
go down even better in New York than it does in
amazing so it was an honour to be selected.
Glasgow,” said John, “I hear they’ve been crying out
“I missed the announcement because I was hiding in a
for an out-of-shape, vitamin deficient Motherwell
toilet. I’m too nervous for stuff like that.”
party band to liven up their city, apparently not much
The Fonts won the award in the time-honoured
goes on over there.”
tradition of a battle of bands competition, judged
With the trip to New York coming at the start of the
by Scottish new music impresario Jim Gellatly
year, the group are hoping they can use it to set them
and national tabloid The Sunday Mail’s Mickey
up for potentially their most succesful year in their 5+
McMonagle amongst others, at a free gig in Glasgow’s
G2 venue on December 11, 2013.
John said: “2014 is already shaping up to be our
On their competition - including the aforementioned
busiest year yet.
Fatherson, who feature alongside The LaFontaines
“We’ll be recording and releasing another single in
in our 25 bands to watch for 2014 on page. 15 - John
Jan/Feb via Lab Records, supporting All Time Low in
said: “It was hard to feel confident after watching the
March, playing some gigs down south then popping
other acts perform, they all demonstrated the fact
over to New York in April. The rest will all be revealed
that there is a great choice of high quality live music
in the fullness of time...”
trouble on planet pixies merge to reissue classic If one thing can be said of emphasised that the lambchop nixon record Pixies this year, it’s that they’ve certainly given us plenty to write about. From the departure of iconic, founding member Kim Deal, to the somewhat lukewarm reception for their EP-1 release in September, there was already plenty of discussion surrounding the reunited alt-rockers. Apparently though, the group decided that wasn’t enough - as Kim Shattuck, Muffs frontwoman and Pixies bassist for three months, was “relieved of her duties”. Speaking to NME though, Shattuck
problem was not with Black Francis; instead, it was down to a clash with management that she had departed the group. She has been replaced by former Zwan bassist Paz Lenchantin ahead of the band’s 2014 North American & European tours, including a show at the 2014 Field Day festival. The group followed this up with a snap release of the follow up to EP-1 on January 3, the rather imaginatively titled EP-2, and an accompanying video for Blue Eyed Hexe. Turn to page. 59 for our view on the Pixies’ latest EP.
As part of their 25th anniversary celebrations, US record label Merge will release a selection of records from their back catalogue throughout 2014, starting with Lambchop’s 2000 release Nixon in January. The label, which has played home to the likes of Neutral Milk Hotel, American Music Club, The Magnetic Fields and more first released founder Mac McCaughan’s college band Bricks cassette in 1989. In the intervening twenty-five years the label has gone on to release over 450 records, including classics like NMH’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
and Camera Obscura’s mid-2000’s triumphs Underachievers Please Try Harder and Let’s Get Out Of This Country. Lambchop godhead Kurt Wagner has referred to Nixon - the final Lambchop album to be recorded in vinyl - as “the peak of the 14-person Lambchop.” The Nixon re-release is due on January 28, and will be released on 180gram heavyweight vinyl, as well as a double CD version. Both variants of the release come with the original album remastered, as well as White Session 1998: How I Met Cat Power, a Kurt Wagner solo session from Radio France.
katy b reveals new album details Following on from her critically acclaimed 2011 debut, British dubstep-cum-pop singer Katy B has revealed the details behind her second album, titled Little Red. Due for release on February 3, the album sees her again working alongside producer Geenus once again, with Diplo and Jessie Ware amongst others also set to feature on the album. Speaking to Billboard, she said: “I
think this album is more focused on love and relationships and reality as well… having to think that you have to go throughout life, [and] sometimes you don’t realize you have to fight for your happiness.” Two singles have already been revealed from the album, 5AM, released back in October and more recently, Crying For No Reason, the video for which was revealed towards the end of December.
rm hubbert, mogwai and more to play celtic connections January brings around another edition of the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, an annual celebration of the Scottish music and its various roots around the world. This year’s festival will see performances from top names in Scottish music, including Mogwai, RM Hubbert and Aidan Moffat. As well as these luminaries from the Scottish music scene, there are also performances from reformed post-punk icons The Pop Group, soul legend Bobby Womack, troubador Suzanne Vega plus a whole host of international music names. Originally conceived as a way to fill Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall’s traditionally empty January schedule, Celtic Connections is now into its twenty first year, having seen performances from the likes of Snow Patrol, Idlewild and Steve Earle throughout the years, as well as developing an impressive reputation for its host of unique collaborations at its late night festival
club slots. Mogwai’s headline slot at the Royal Concert Hall, their first show at the venue in their hometown, is undoubtedly one of the highlights, and it’s a show that has Mogwai multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns looking forward to the performance, as he told us at the end of 2013. He said: “I worry about pieces of sound treatment falling from the roof while we’re playing. But don’t worry, we’re bringing 75 amateur ceilidh dancers onstage in case anyone has accidentally walked in there expecting reels and jigs. “We’ve played similar places like the Albert Hall in London and other venues that are less gig and more concert. It always works out fine so we’re looking forward to that one.” For tickets and more information - including full listings - on this year’s Celtic Connections festival, visit www.celticconnections.com.
the autobiography is not enough... After taking the literary charts by storm in 2013 with Autobiography - which, of course, he specially requested be released as a Penguin Classic - Morrissey revealed plans for a new assault on both literature and pop music in a Q&A on his official/ unofficial fansite true-to-you.net. Amongst questions including the meaning behind The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get and the reason he became vegetarian all those years ago, Morrissey gave some indication to his plans for this year when answering a question about playing in Istanbul for the first time in 2012, saying: “Well, we are about to record our new
album, and one of the tracks is called Istanbul.” As well as teasing details of new musical endeavours, Morrissey also gave something more of an insight into his burgeoning literary career after his triumph last year. Answering a German fan who asked whether or not the former Smiths frontman had ever thought of writing a novel thanks to the influence he has had on her art, he replied: “In 2013 I published my Autobiography and it has been more successful than any record I have ever released, so, yes, I am mid-way through my novel. “I have my hopes.”
Here at MiddleMusic we do occasionally make a concerted effort to be all about the here and now - our New Music Wednesdays project testifies to that, or so we hope. With that in mind, at the end of this year we celebrate not only our Top 25 albums of the year, but also pick 25 of our favourite new bands Beginning as frontwoman Sadie Dupuis solo project in her Northampton, Mass. home, Speedy Ortiz has grown into a four-strong band in the two intervening years. Their debut album as a four-piece, Major Arcana, was released in April 2013 and brought in plaudits from Pitchfork, NME, and pretty much everywhere on the web. While we may have missed out on the Speedy Ortiz hype in 2013, we’ve since realised what folly that was from ourselves. Major Arcana used clever lyrics that inspire in the same way Phair and Malkmus once did to make their indie-rock sound stand out amongst the crowd. Dupuis also established herself and her band as one of the standout voices in music with their rallying calls against bands without personality - see: most of the UK’s alternative rock scene - and the macho-bullshit gender divide that rock music so often brings with it. While it may seem strange to include a band who had such a succesful 2013 on our list of bands to watch in 2014, Speedy Ortiz still very much have the world at their feet. Sadie Dupuis is in her final year of studying poetry at MIT - perhaps the reason why their lyrics stand above the cookie-cutter lyricism prevalent elsewhere - meaning that the band, and its associated work, isn’t the only thing on her plate. It’s not that rock ‘n’ roll needed saved, because that boat sailed a long time ago - it just needed a kick up the arse, which is what Speedy Ortiz provided last year. Let’s all hope that 2014, and years beyond continue to see the band kick posterior. Click here for Speedy Ortiz’ Bandcamp.
to look out over the year to come. Feel free to mock us at the end of 2014, when it turns out that we didn’t actually know what we were talking about (because we do not actually know what we’re talking about). Find the big ol’ list, plus the relevant details, for each of the bands over the next few pages...
VLADIMIR Dundee has somehow, throughout the ages, gained the nickname of the City of Discovery - and in recent years, their music has finally got up to speed with that moniker. 2012 saw Fat Goth explode onto our musical conscience, and the stage seems set for their neighbours Vladimir to grab the same sort of attention. Their layered sounds, borrowing from post-punk, post-rock & anything else with a post prefix set them apart from other noisemakers in Scotland. With their first single bringing the right sort of attention, 2014 should be a big year for Vladimir. Click here for Vladimir’s Soundcloud page.
baby godzilla Heralded by Kerrang! as “the most insane band on the British live circuit”, Nottingham noisemakers Baby Godzilla have carved out quite the reputation for themselves already, and with a slot on next year’s Kerrang! Tour, alongside Limp Bizkit and Nekrogoblikon, they look set only to perpetuate that reputation throughout 2014. 2013 saw the group tour the UK, as well as release their Don’t Touch That Dial single. Hopefully an album follows next year, if such madness can be sustained. If you catch any of their live shows, expect plentiful thrash and bodies/ instruments/limbs flying through the air throughout. Click here to visit Baby Godzilla’s Bandcamp.
Signed to the Top Dawg Entertainment, home to 2012 star Kendrick Lamar, and ScHoolboy Q, who made something of a breakthrough in 2013, Isaiah Rashad will be the next member to make a name for himself. After announcing his debut mixtape Cilvia in November we’re still awaiting the release - Isaiah looks set to justify the considerable hype that he has already garnered. While, of course, it doesn’t do him any harm being signed to TDE alongside
It isn’t anything close to hyperbole to claim that there’s a very real chance that Chlöe Howl will be Britain’s next big popstar. With the right combination of “fuck you” attitude and well crafted songs, she could very well be the star that British pop music has been crying out for since Lily Allen’s debut album. Her fierce, confident songs are perfectly poised to be the tonic to wash lank-haired boys in Chelsea boots strumming guitar out of the charts and return some credability to our once-great pop reputation. Her debut album is set for release in early 2014, following the No Strings EP and Paper Heart single released in 2013. The quality of songcraft across both releases helped to generate an impressive amount of buzz for the London 18-year-old. No Strings focused its barbed verses towards a teenage party hook-up, with the bitter, humorous lines “Fuck your no strings/Fuck your ‘Hey, I’ll ring’” and “Fuck your no strings/I hope I have twins” lingering long after your first listen through on the song, and was the first of Howl’s work to capture our attention. She has come in for her fair share of criticism - just like the teenaged Allen did when she first broke through, shouts of the usual Londoncentric media bias and “good connections” - but the talent that Howl has thus far displayed is enough to make her debut album one of the year’s most anticipated. Click here for Chlöe Howl’s Soundcloud page.
Kendrick and ScHoolboy, he stands on his own thanks to his lyrics dealing with bills, babies and disappointiment. In the same way that Kendrick’s GKMC courted attention by bringing sociallyconscious rap back into the mainstream. We’re still awaiting the release of the Cilvia mixtape, but there will be more throughout 2014, and if the few tracks so far are anything to go by then the future looks bright for Top Dawg’s latest signee Isaiah Rashad.
ela orleans Born in Poland, now residing in Glasgow, Ela Orleans is a multi-instrumentalist whose reputation has continued to grow, almost exponentially, over the past year. Her third album, Tumult in Clouds, was released towards the end of 2012 but is set for a re-release early this year thanks to the - very much deserved - attention that she has been receiving over the last year, not least in her Glaswegian hinterland after a succession of shows around the city, alongside the likes of The Pastels et al. Using a mix of guitar, analogue synth, keyboards, violins and whatever else she can get her hands on, Orleans crafts delightfully melancholic music, filtered through the prism of rough-around-the-edges, lo-fi noise that means Orleans keeps feet in both camps; her music can enthrall both the college-rock reared indie kids, and the pop-fed record buying public. While this doesn’t guarantee her music will be wildly succesful, it means it should be. Alongside the release of her double album, Ela Orelans is also back out on tour early this year, ensuring that 2014 begins much in the same way 2013 ended. A very busy artist - as evidenced by her collection of side projects and collaborations - but an equally as focused one. Click here for Ela Orleans’ Soundcloud page.
banks LA vocalist Jilian Banks - or Banks, as she is known professionally - is a mysterious performer; but not in the MF Doom sense of the word. Photographs of the striking-looking musician are plentiful, but unusually for the social media obsessed world of the 21st century, she doesn’t tweet, she doesn’t Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Tumblr or whatever else stars of today are using to spread their message. Instead, the music is allowed to speak for itself, as exemplified by her London EP. Improving the Lana Del Rey recipe by stripping back the faux-glam shit, and featuring appearances from Totally Enormous Extreme Dinosaurs and Jamie Woon among others, London is a showcase of the dark, brooding pop that will make Banks one of 2014’s more interesting pop artists. Click here for Banks’ Soundcloud. In the proudest tradition of folk-punk blends across the land, Kilmarnock’s Losing Ground have already come a tremendous way in just under a year. In their earlier days they were a mostly acoustic outfit, but that has evolved and they now take the stage as a raucous five-piece, having grown throughout 2013. They released their acoustic deput EP, Home in April, and have spent the end section of the year in the studio recording the follow-up. Their debut release had a certain DIY quality to it, an aesthetic that hopefully isn’t lost as the band head into the studio. The heartfelt lyrics, delivered at times in a spoken word style, lend themselves perfectly to the music. Imagine Arab Strap, if Aidan Moffat was from Ayrshire not Falkirk, and listened to a lot more East Coast hardcore. Click here for Losing Ground’s Soundcloud.
losing ground 10
Static Future frontman Gavin Marshall told us back in November: “When we started playing we discussed our dreams and ambitions for this band and it was to play in New York City – that was the only concrete thing we spoke about.” Those may seem lofty ambitions, but for a band who sound in line with mid 2000’s NYC dance-punk outfits The Rapture and LCD Soundsystem, it seems the only logical fit. Static Future released their first single, Marseille, in August of this year and are planning to release their second EP/single in the earlier part of 2014. Loose talk of an album has also been bandied about, though Gavin admitted it was still some way off, behind their more immediate priorities of live performances and further travels throughout 2014. Click here for Static Future’s Soundcloud.
joey bada$$ ith three mixtapes under his bag, Joey Bada$$ W is primed for success in 2014. His debut album, B4.Da.$$, is set for release this year and going from the evidence of his already released material it should see young Joey take centre stage. He’s already eschewed major labels, much like our fellow Class of 2014 member Chance The Rapper, despite having met with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation recently. The Pro Era leader is heading over to our shores next year as well, supporting Disclosure on their four-date UK tour in March. All signs seem to point to 2014 being a hot year for Joey Bada$$; that is, of course, provided he stays on the right side of the law. Not that that’s a problem for the rapper really... we just really want him to come to the UK. Click here for Joey Bada$$’ Facebook page.
honeyblood Glaswegian duo Honeyblood distil rock music down to its purest form - quite simply, guitar and drum thrashing away in unison, crafting beautifully chaotic garage rock. Recently signed to Brighton’s Fat Cat label - home to The Twilight Sad - Honeyblood released their first single, Bud b/w Kissing On You, towards the end of this year and, quite rightly, received plaudits from Mojo and The Guardian’s New Band of the Day column, amongst others. Though their chosen genre may be somewhat crowded, Honeyblood seem to have the intangibles to make themselves stand out. The duo have already built up a considerable following, and when we caught them supporting labelmates The Twilight Sad at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut last month, the new material on offer showed no signs of relenting. Click here for Honeyblood’s Soundcloud.
WHILE SHE SLEEPS Much like Speedy Ortiz earlier on the list, it’s worth pointing out at this juncture that while the MiddleMusic Class of 2014 is mostly about new bands, there are a few on here who we feel are on the cusp of something great - that’s where While She Sleeps come in. Their debut album This Is The Six was released on 6th August 2012, and, somewhat unusually, managed to make it to #27 in the UK Album Charts. Now, while the charts don’t actually mean anything in this day and age, the fact that a metal band managed to chart with their debut album is an undeniably impressive statistic. They confirmed they had began to write their second album during a stint on last year’s Warped Tour, so an educated guess would lead us to assume that 2014 will see the
The Amazing Snakeheads have been championed by NME throughout 2013, handpicked to play alongside Cerebral Ballzy on the NME Radar tour. In their native Scotland though, the band haven’t received column inches relative to their national coverage. Perhaps it is the band’s brash, aggressive aesthetic that has put off music critics and bloggers; perhaps it was the 85-second debut single that turned them off. Regardless, their loss is the nation’s gain, as The Amazing Snakeheads are poised to do some interesting things. Perhaps it’s a bit early to be predicting any sort of global domination, but their music is the sort of throwback that draws crowds; and as graffiti in toilets at Glasgow’s Mono says, “The Amazing Snakeheads rule... so to speak.”
the amazing snakeheads release of While She Sleeps sophomore record. While She Sleeps have managed to rise head-andshoulders above the majority of UK (and American) metalcore bands thanks to their combination of inventive riffs in a rather staid format, and the overall musicianship that exists throughout their music. It’s with this in mind that we’ve elected While She Sleeps to our class of 2014: you’d be correct in thinking their appearance on this list puts them at odds with the majority of bands that we’ve got ourselves all hot and bothered over, but While She Sleeps are that unique breed of band that bring in fans of all genres, as well as thrill existing fans. Their fellow Sheffield metal musicians Bring Me The Horizon made it to #3 with their fourth album, Sempiternal, after a steady progression up the charts album-by-album, and the reception to their work indicates that the time may be right for While She Sleeps to achieve similar success at a much accelerated rate. A second album can bring about many a question, and it’s up to the band to make sure that they don’t fall victim to the dreaded “second album syndrome”. It is the opinion of us here, in MiddleMusic’s pseudo-office, that While She Sleeps are more than capable of excelling, when their second album is released.
It’s pretty much understood here at MiddleMusic, across our varied selection of writers and jesters, that the 1990’s were particularly exceptional musicwise. With that in mind, there are fewer ways to squirrel into our hearts than by producing a sound that both borrows from our beloved 90’s, and moves things forward. This is exactly what Radstewart have done. Hailing from Cardiff, a city that is attempting to stake a claim
alabaster jones When we spoke to the band towards the end of last year, Alabaster Jones’ drummer Liam Cutkelvin revealed to us that the band’s plan for 2014 was simply “to branch out” - but after the success they achieved in 2013, there’s no reason they can’t aim even higher than that. The Glasgow funk group released their new EP, The Night Before The Morning After, bringing their throwback sounds to a wider audience; thanks in no small part to the support shown to them by the Scottish blog scene, and national radio host Jim Gellatly. As well as the success of their EP, the group also played a couple of impressive headline shows in their home city in the last few months of 2013; headlining the MiddleMusic 2nd Birthday Party at The 13th Note in October, and curating and headlining their own Festive Funk night, alongside Ded Rabbit and Hook and Slingers, at the historic King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. “We’ll have a new EP recorded next year,” explained Liam, “We’re working on that just now with some new songs ready to go. “We’re definitely going to be branching out, further out of Glasgow and hopefully into England, with fingers crossed, we’ll have our name in the hat for festivals and if you get anything out of that, that’s the next step - but that’s a long way forward.” Click here for the Alabaster Jones Soundcloud page.
to our Glaswegian hinterland’s uncontested title of Really Good Place to Find New Music, the group borrow the best elements of Slanted and Enchanted-era Pavement and early 90’s British indiepop and write lyrics that contain almost as many witticisms as Art Brut, another band who Radstewart conjure images of. The gang of five are already signed to Alcopop Records, so expect more throughout 2014.
Born of the ashes of various Baltimore bands, Mt. Royal are recent signees to Bella Union records. The band produce lush indie-pop music that brings together the sort of chart-friendly aesthetic that former Bella Union signees Beach House have made such an impressive career of. Vocalist Katrina Ford is also a member of former 4AD records signees, Baltimore psychedelic soul group Celebration, while Mike Lowry and Matt Pierece are formerly of Lake Trout and Big In Japan, who were, at one point, the backing group for UNKLE. Bringing together this impressive musical heritage, and the necessary experience developed with it, Mt. Royal appear to have all the necessary credentials to ensure that they capture the hearts of indie pop fans the world over. Their debut EP, titled Mt. Royal, surprisngly, is set for release on January 27 and we’ve already had a chance to hear the first song taken from it, Missing Reward. It sounds every bit as good as we’d expect, and so expect the Mt. Royal debut EP to capture both critical and, if the band have Lady Luck on their side, commercial success. Indie-pop could do with a bit more in the way of sheen and polish, and Mt. Royal seem like the band to provide that for us.
With members coming from all the corners of the globe - India, UK and the USA - Skyharbor are one of the most hotly tipped metal bands around. The group released their first album, Blinding White Noise: Illusion and Chaos, in 2012 and are preparing to release their second album next year, an album that they have described as a more “collective” effort than their debut. The progressive metal quintet are fronted by former TesseracT vocalist Daniel Tompkins, but the band employ a much less harsh style than he employed in his two years with the prog-metal group. Favouring a calmer interpretation of the metal genre, the band rely on intricately layered guitars and eschew the traditional versechorus-verse structure. Like TesseracT this year, Skyharbor could release one of 2014’s best records.
luke sital-singh Thanks to the trail blazed by the likes of Ben Howard and Tom Odell, a sensitive, talented songwriter like Luke Sital-Singh now has the perfect platform for the acclaim that his sound certainly befits. What sets him apart from the Howards and Odells of the world though, is that simply, he is better than them both. Sital-Singh’s voice is almost a weapon when combined with his lyrics, the delivery exacerbating their impact. Though at times those lyrics lean almost dangerously towards being overblown, there’s something earnest and heartfelt in Luke SitalSingh’s music that makes you understand what he feels, even though it may be slightly hyperbolic. After a year of duller than dishwater acoustic songsters, hopefully Sital-Singh can inject some much needed personality. Click here for Luke Sital-Singh’s Soundcloud.
TEENCANTEEN For a band that came together “kind of by accident”, TeenCanteen are already sounding surprisingly well formed. Frontwoman Carla Easton formed the group during her last year of a Fine Art Masters at Glasgow School of Art; an institution which has given birth to groups including Franz Ferdinand and Travis. Carla, formerly of Glasgow/Edinburgh indiepoppers Futuristic Retro Champions, had worked with BMX Bandits’ Duglas T Stewart on her track Fireworks, as part of her course, which also featured on BMX Bandits In Space - from which, TeenCanteen were born. “For me it’s the harmonies that are the really exciting part of TeenCanteen,” explains Carla, “I am obsessed with the old girl group sound and the story-telling songwriting from the Brill Building era.” The band released their debut single, Honey, through Edinburgh-based label Neu! Reekie! Records, and it was this release which captured a rather impressive amount of attention. BBC Radio 6’s Marc Riley has already thrown his weight behind TeenCanteen, with the group due to record a session for his evening radio show in early 2014. As well as Riley, Scottish music’s king tastemaker Jim Gellatly has been a supporter of the group from their early days. This reaction to their debut release though “very much” caught the band by surprise. “We have spent a year and a half together, rehearsing and recording with a line up change along the way,” Carla told us in November. “We were anxious that we were perhaps leaving it too late to release something but we just wanted to take our time and get it right for us. “Honey is a document of where the band were when it was recorded and we felt it was a good introduction to TeenCanteen. It’s wonderful to get such a positive reaction as it affirms we made the right choice.” As well as their planned 6Music session, the band are also set to return to the studio to record their second single and debut album. These early 2014 projects will give more of an insight into the band after their impressive debut, but with Carla’s belief that “everything comes in cycles,” it seems like the time is right for a strong, all-female group to inspire the Scottish scene - and TeenCanteen wouldn’t be a bad bet to take the chance with both hands. Click here for TeenCanteen’s Soundcloud.
It’s been a long time coming - but 2014 will finally see the release of the crown princes of Ayrshire alternative rock Fatherson’s debut album hit shelves. Though we don’t have an official release date, the album will be out in the earlier part of this year, the band having already hit the road, and released the first single from I Am An Island. “There are a couple of old songs on it,” explained bassist Marc Strain, “When we first started working on the album, we knew we wanted this album to reach a lot more people so we knew we had to lose a lot of the old stuff – some of the older songs were written when we were 18 or so, and we weren’t as confident. “We want people to hear us as we are now, so we picked a few old ones but most of the album tracks, eight or nine of them, are completely new.” As well as preparing their debut full-length, 2013 also saw the band extend their reach beyond their native Scotland. While they have a dedicated fanbase in their home country - selling out venues usually reserved for much more established bands - this year saw them travel south and begin to build a UK-wide fanbase. When we last spoke to the band in September, they had just finished recording the album, alongside their long-time associate Bruce Rintoul and Lewis Gardener, of fellow Glasgow group Prides. Speaking on 2014, Marc said he was hoping that this could be the biggest year for the band yet. “The main issue has been that it’s very expensive, and very time consuming to record an album, but because we’ve been based in Scotland it’s allowed us to tour a lot, and people have been buying our stuff and helping fund a lot of what we’re doing. “We just filmed the video for the first single, and we’ve got loads of different stuff going on right now, especially with the single coming out, and it’s all just hopefully going to go from there, with a lot of touring towards the end of the year when the album’s out.” More news for I Am An Island will filter out as we get closer to the release date - but in Scotland at least, these five may reach the heights of fellow Ayrshire band Biffy Clyro. Click here for Fatherson’s Soundcloud page.
Scotland and electronic music have, historically, been very much easy bedfellows - making it all the easier for electro trio Roman Nose to make their mark, which they have started doing very well in 2013. First catching our attention at the 2013 Scottish Alternative Music Awards, Roman Nose played a pounding set that it was almost impossible to peel your eyes away from, and we were sold. Two EP’s released throughout 2013 helped to prove that they weren’t solely a live band, that the attentiongrabbing set could translate just as easily to record. It’s been a year of constant improvement for the trio, and 2014 will see more of the same (we hope!) Click here for Roman Nose’s Soundcloud page.
mutual benefit Mutual Benefit, or Jordan Lee to give him his proper name, is a Brooklyn based musician who released his debut physical album under his nom de plume in the USA in October last year. Love’s Crushing Diamond has received praise from a great deal of the US indie music media, and appeared on a few end-of-year best album lists. The album isn’t released here in the UK until January 13, but believe us, it’s worth the wait. Working with a rotating cast of musicians, including his own sister, Lee has produced an album of wonderfully dreamy indie-pop, with interesting instrumentation and thoughtful, easily listenable lyrics. Love’s Crushing Diamond is a brilliantly understated effort, following on from a collection of digital releases. The first Bandcamp release to achieve the Best New Music accolade on Pitchfork, and it’s easy to see why. Click here for Mutual Benefit’s Soundcloud.
Chance The Rapper’s 2013 Acid Rap mixtape was one of the more refreshing rap releases of the year, allow us to state that first of all. Continuing the rather welcome wave of rap that eschews the damn croissants that Kanye raps of nowadays, returning the artform to something similar to the “backpack rap” that first made his name. Few showed such a proficiency at this type of socially conscious lyricism than Chicago native Chance The Rapper. Taking cues from The Adderall Admiral himself Danny Brown, Chance rapped about the things that affect him - most notably among them, molly, and smelling of cigarettes around his mother.
chance the rapper
the wytches The Wytches, of Brighton, England, are proponents of what is probably most easily described as dark psychedelia. While that might sound something of a contradiction, it isn’t as strange as it sounds - and for these three, it works. Formed in Peterborough in 2011, the past two years have seen the band begin to breakthrough from the underground, and with their first national headline tour coming up in February, this could very well be there year. The band have a great buzz around them just now - but don’t confuse that for them being simply a buzz band, because they have the tunes to back it up. Check out their Soundcloud link below, and pay particular attention to Beehive Queen and Crying Clown. Click here for The Wytches’ Soundcloud.
There is a frightening aspect to Chance’s ascent, though not through his choice of lyrical content. Instead, it’s his rapid ascent through the rap game that is causing such a stir. Acid Rap was only his second mixtape and already displayed a degree of proficiency and sheer talent that most hip-hop artists on their second, third, fourth album struggle to match up to. Of all those on our list of bands to watch over the next year, Chance has the biggest potential to explode the world over. As well as the across-the-board positive response to his sophomore mixtape, he also made something of an unlikely appearance on recently retired Canadian popstar Justin Bieber’s November single Confident. This combination of critical acclaim and commercial exposure could see Chance arrive onto the worldwide scene much in the same way Kendrick Lamar did in 2012, and elevate him into the upper echelon of rap talent. Like most of our list though, a lot is going to hinge on the much anticipated debut album release. Though he still hasn’t signed to a major label - despite courting heavy attention from Top Dawg Entertainment, amongst others - and claims he may never, whatever Chance decides to do in 2014 will be big news, make no bones about it. One of the most innovative and independent artists in hip-hop today, if the next year sees Chance push the envelope, both artistically and aesthetically, he may well go supernova. As we already noted on our news pages, The LaFontaines are starting 2014 in perhaps the biggest way of all our Class of 2014. Having won the Nordoff Robbins Big Apple Award to play in New York City at the annual celebration of all things Scottish, Tartan Week in January the Motherwell rap/rock outfit - by rap/rock we mean more along the lines of Run DMC than Insane Clown Posse, thankfully - will perform in a city that bassist John Gerard believes might help the band, exposure wise. “I have a sneaky wee hunch that it might go down even better in New York than it does in Glasgow,” he explained, “I hear they’re crying out for an out-ofshape, vitamin deficient Motherwell band to liven up their city, apparently not much goes on over there.”
the lafontaines middlemusic.net
I was to list all the bands I can’t stand, I’d be here for
days” laughs Mike McColgan. As frontman of Boston’s Street Dogs, one of the sturdiest and most authentic punk acts working today, this answer should come as no real surprise. McColgan originally fronted another little band by the name of Dropkick Murphys, serving up a similar serving of angry, thundering, traditional punk disdain. However, a long-time dream of working in the Boston Fire Department made for an amicable departure shortly after the group’s debut album release, Do or Die in 1998. Shortly after, unable to keep the fidgeting hands and tapping feet at bay, he set out to create another musical endeavour, forging the Street Dogs that we know today. Over the last decade, the band have relentlessly generated a cult following and cranked out five album’s worth of material more than worthy of standing alongside that of the Murphys. An admirable legacy, but was it unexpected? “We formed in 2002, and no way did we ever anticipate achieving the longevity and modest success that we have today”. odest, though he is, it seems M that the band have made their own luck. Relentlessly touring and recording , as well as working on an assortment of projects among themselves; they must have a secret. “Nope, it goes – idea – bash it out – preliminary demo – formal demo – pre production – and then we simply track the song. But we all have side projects and kids, now. So naturally, things will slow down but we will still do our thing, on our terms like we always have”. Although he makes little effort to disguise his distaste for a lot of artists working today, McColgan’s knowledge and admiration for
those co-existing in punk music today is brightly supportive. “To those new to the punk scene today, I’d immediately recommend Rancid, The Menzingers, Against Me! The Ratchets and Bad Religion. We’d love to tour alongside Avail (please reunite!), AC/DC, Motorhead and AFI”. Evidence of the band’s respect for contemporaries abounds, not least by their cover of The Skids’ enduring classic Into The Valley for their 2010 self-titled album. With this one track, the group managed to recapture a gem from the early days of punk and mould it within their own updated sound, but why this track specifically? “Into The Valley spoke about the relentless, insane, war propaganda machine in a huge anthemic way. It’s not whiny, it’s not weak. It’s a very muscular song, both lyrically and sonically.” ndeniably owing their collective U sound and style to a wide host of inspirations, not least from the same era (Stiff Little Fingers, The Buzzcocks, Big Country, Bob Dylan among many more – McColgan is keen to state), the group serve as an impressive role model for other bands to aspire to. Amid the fallout of last year’s Boston bombings, the band pulled together and commenced a fundraising campaign for those affected within the community – a gesture which would be foreign to many other artists. “The one major effect the bombings had on all of us was that, at a moment’s notice, heinous acts like this can and do happen. So, naturally, we remain eternally grateful for our nation’s troops and first responders who protect and assist us. We managed to raise a considerable amount of money for the Richards family, in particular. And we’ve remained thankful to all of our friends, family and fans who contributed”. Existing in a public spotlight and,
within that context, being able to reach a greater audience both in terms of awareness and action – could it be argued that other bands have a form of unspoken duty in this kind of shocking scenario? “Honestly, I really feel that musicians don’t technically have a duty to do anything, but that’s simply not how we, in the Street Dogs, are wired – we try to help out where we can. At the end of the day, it’s about helping others and doing more right than wrong in our own personal estimation”. Known as quite a politically aligned outfit, and one clearly making quite an effort in maintaining a vocal community, it seems logical to assume that the surge in social networking since Street Dogs’ early days has helped to keep the conversation going. “Yeah, we talk, debate and sometimes shout about politics, labour and class with our fans. But sometimes, in my experience, it seems like you can get through and others it feels like you’re simply lost in a sea of tweets, Facebook posts, blogs and so on. As long as bands are playing and saying what they feel, then the nature of punk still stands up and remains. The anarchistic nature, however, needs a big kick in the ass… So to speak”. here you have it, an authentic T group, unchanged by time and unrelenting in their purpose. Five albums in, an extensive list of touring locations and colleagues, enough energy and political animosity to fuel many bands over – what’s next? “We’re working on a live record and DVD, planning a re-release of Back to The World and Fading American Dream and recording a new album”. And what of a return to poor old Glasgow? “Next summer”.
middlemusic.net’s top ten...
songs written by lou reed
One of rock’s most influential, and defining, songwriters passed away last year - of course, you already know that. Join us as we collect our Top Ten Lou Reed songs...
lou reed - satellite of love
the velvet underground - heroin
lou reed - walk on the wild side
released on transformer, 1972
Released on Reed’s second solo album, Transformer, Satellite of Love has grown in stature, and gone on to become one of the defining songs of his career. Originally written for the Velvet Underground, the song never made it onto any VU studio albums and instead popped up some two years later. David Bowie, who produced the album, appears on background vocals on the track, which sweet as it sounds, is as typically inverted as you come to expect from Reed. Written from the perspective of a man watching a satellite launch on television, it eventually transpires that it is not just romanticism over the rocket launch that is propelling the protagonist; indeed, it is, as Reed puts it, “the worst kind of jealousy” over his unfaithful girlfriend. A true Lou Reed classic, as evidenced by the legions of cover versions available on the internet, from Morrissey to Porno for Pyros.
released on the velvet underground & nico, 1967
As defined by the most cultured pallid ginger junkie that the world will ever know, Mark Renton of Trainspotting fame, playing the Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal version of Heroin over this, the original studio version, is “breaking the junkie’s golden rule”. I wouldn’t advise living your life by many of the adages that Irvine Welsh includes in his literature, but this one seems entirely reasonable. Heroin is classic Velvets - a slow building track, with each instrument coming in piece-by-piece until it builds to the crashing crescendo that a million bands have tried to emulate - including Belle & Sebastian, on If You’re Feeling Sinister, as the band approached first track The Stars of Track and Field with an aim to getting “the Velvets sound,” a famous cacophony of instrumentation that would always remain often imitated yet hardly, if ever, would it be duplicated.
released on transformer, 1972
The subject matter of Lou’s Walk on The Wild Side might seem like standard fare nowadays in pop music, but think of the cultural landscape in 1972 and understand quite how mad a song about transsexuals, drugs, prostitution and the other vices that Lou Reed experienced throughout his life really was. Each of the characters within the song were inspired by those who Reed met at Andy Warhol’s New York studio, The Factory. Though the characters come from Reed’s own life - transgender actress Holly Woodlawn, actress Candy Darling and ‘the Sugar Plum Fairy’ Joe Campbell - the overarching inspiration for the song comes not from his NYC street life, but instead from Nelson Algren’s 1956 novel of the same title, which tread similar boards as Reed would, some eighteen years later.
the velvet underground - pale blue eyes
released on the velvet underground, 1969 When asked to pick a song for the band to perform at their original, 1990 reunion in France, Reed’s first choice was this classic ballad from their third album. Of course, it turned out to be a bit of an oversight from Reed, considering John Cale an integral part of the reunion didn’t perform on this song, but it’s a wise choice for a reunion song, as heartfelt as any and showcasing the pop sensibilities that defined the band.
the velvet underground i’m waiting for the man
released on the velvet underground & nico, 1967 Bringing together instrumentation typical of the Velvets blistering debut with an infectious, rolling piano line, this ode to purchasing heroin - $26 worth, provided that Lou Reed didn’t wait around for change, we’re not really sure how heroin deals go - has become one of the most enduring Velvet Underground songs, probably in part because of its illicit subject matter. Also of note is Beck’s rather bizarre cover version.
lou reed - sad song released on berlin, 1973
Everyone worth their musical salts has decamped to Berlin to make an album - the Holy Trinity, Lou, Bowie and Iggy, as well as Depeche Mode and Radiohead amongst others. Lou Reed’s Berlin album though, was a seperate beast from them all - and was perhaps, his most complete solo album. While Transformer contained more potential hits than you could shake a stick at, Berlin as a complete narrative was the most ambitious project Reed had undertaken, and songs like this are undeniably impressive.
the velvet underground - sunday morning released on the velvet underground & nico, 1967
The final song recorded for the nowlegendary debut, Sunday Morning was, believe it or not, recorded in their native New York City one Sunday morning by The Velvet Underground. The debut album opener - as close to a lullaby as VU ever came - was the band’s shot at producing a hit single, and judging from online responses to it forty seven years on, they didn’t do a bad job. Propelled by an utterly sublime turn on the celesta from the Velvet Underground’s musical mastermind John Cale, Sunday Morning - much like the majority of the VU back catalogue, as you may have noticed by now - isn’t as sickly sweet as it once seemed. Indeed, the song isn’t about waking up on an idyllic, lazy Sunday (as much as it seems to sounds it) , it’s quite the opposite. With lines like “Watch out/The world’s behind you” the song is about a feeling that most of us who have been out of a Saturday night and perhaps enjoyed things a bit too much shall be familiar with, a collection of feelings including shame, regret, trepidation and nausea that are commonly known as “the fear”; and nothing represents “the fear” better than the juxtaposition of Sunday Morning’s music and lyrics. Written by Reed, the song was originally to be sung by Nico - until Reed took the snap decision to sing it on the way into the studio; and what a decision it was.
lou reed - coney island baby
lou reed - street hassle
lou reed - perfect day
released on coney island baby, 1975
People will always debate it, but this particular Top Ten countdown is of the opinion that Coney Island Baby is Lou Reed’s greatest love song. Reportedly written for his transgender muse, unlike the majority of songs that we’ve included on this listicle there isn’t as much of a hint of underlying malice with this one. While the song still has hints of unhappiness, the overarching feeling that you leave the song with is that of hope - if Lou Reed, who at times could be a right miserable bastard and other times just a straight up bastard, could come through a thoroughly rotten adolescence and find the kind of happiness that could only inspire a song like Coney Island Baby, then perhaps there’s a bit of hope for all of us after all. Also noted by those wise sages on the internet - probably wise fourteen year old sages, but all the same - the song apparently feels like strolling along Coney Island. I can’t confirm or deny that, but it’s a great song.
released on street hassle, 1978
By far the most ambitious of Lou Reed’s solo work, Street Hassle is undoubtedly deserving of the description of “epic”. Divided into three sections, the song is Reed’s attempt at writing a song that “a great monlogue set to rock,” something that he felt could have been written by, “William Burroughs, Hubert Selby, John Rechy, Tennessee Williams, Nelson Algren, maybe a little Raymond Chandler.” In spite of its 11-minute running time, the track almost begs you to re-listen to it, to hear each of the three distinct stories again. Waltzing Matilda, Street Hassle and Slipway, the three movements, could each have been their own individual, radio friendly track but there’s something special about placing the three sections together into this one overarching song that makes it such a stand out. As well as the monologue, detailing the New York drug dealers and prostitutes that we’d come to expect, there’s even an uncredited turn from Bruce Springsteen on the third section.
released on transformer, 1972
Okay, so we might have jumped the gun when we said that Coney Island Baby could have been Lou Reed’s best love song - because there really is no debate, after re-listening to Perfect Day. Though some will always claim that the song is about taking drugs in the park, it isn’t - mainly, because, why would Lou Reed go to a park to shoot drugs? - rather, it’s about a Perfect Day that Reed spent with his first wife in Central Park, and on a broader scale, his entire relationship with her. Its usage in Trainspotting didn’t really help to dispel the myth that it’s about Reed’s much publicised drug problems, of course, but the fact remains that it’s much, much simpler than that. Few could have wrote a song that is lyrically so simple, yet musically so complex, and that somehow, forty two years down the line from its original release, manages to remain sounding as timeless, and perhaps even more surprisingly, fresh.
Bleed From Within - Uprising Released March 23 through Century Media
It’s easy to forget that Scottish groove-metallers Bleed From Within released their debut album nearly four years ago. Since then, the band have been on the fringes of the metal community’s conscience. The band grew on second record Empire, but not enough to make any real impact - Uprising however, is a different beast. The band have taken the best from their previous album, and taken it to a new level, with a drastic improvement in melodic sensibility and songcraft whilst remaining just as, if not more heavy than anything they’d written previously. Packed with storming riffs and blazing leads, the band are one of several unabashedly brutal UK bands - with a sound that sits nicely between Lamb Of God, Machine Head and Suicide Silence - the nation that birthed heavy metal now has a solid band to stand up to those rising on the other side of the Atlantic and a serious chance of making some waves. JG.
The neighbourhood - i love you Released april 22 via columbia
The Neighbourhood were one of 2012’s most hyped new bands, so it is only fitting that their debut should make our 2013 list. Lead single Sweater Weather sees frontman Jesse Rutherford’s silky smooth vocals flow over reverb drenched drums and moody guitars, whilst tracks like Female Robbery and W.D.Y.W.F.M? highlight the band’s hip-hopesque eye for lyrical rhyming. There is a real sense of a darker and cinematic pop sound throughout - not the garish, sugar-coated pop of the top 40, rather a more ‘mature’ sounding pop, akin to Maroon 5’s early releases. Despite the confidence and bravado, the record is laced with selfdoubt - “How could you tell me I was great/When they chewed me up and pissed on me?” he asks on opener How. It’s a harsh self-indictment, but one that is subtly erased as the band grow in stature culminating in the thunderstorm sampling Staying Up, a beautiful, maudlin autobiography of struggling musicians everywhere. I Love You is a record of passion and ambition, of rollicking drums and echoing soundscapes but it is also a sincere record that wears its heart on its sleeve. The band care about what they are doing, and by listening to I Love You, you have supported their dreams and for that The Neighbourhood love and thank you. TW.
the pastels - slow summits released may 27 via domino
Making their first proper album together in sixteen years - barring two split releases with Tenniscoats - meant that there was plenty of potential for The Pastels return to carry with it a certain bit of what we professional wrestling fans might call “ring rust”; that is, taking a bit of time to get back into their stride. Not so, with Slow Summits. It sounds as if Glasgow’s premier indie-poppers have never been away, with songs like Check My Heart and Night Time Made Us sounding as good as anything that they may have made previously. The raw, scuzzy sound of their earlier releases has long since bit the bullet, but the new, more mature Pastels - as evidenced way back on 1997’s Illumination, their indie-pop sound is now tinged with touches of slow, soft jazz that moves The Pastels beyond their beginnings, helping them defend against dreaded stereotyping. A wonderful return from one of pop music’s truly wonderful bands. MR.
21 ferdinand 22rightfranz thoughts, right words, right action released august 27 via domino After their unfairly maligned third album reduced their critical standing somewhat, Franz Ferdinand must have known that there were big expectations of Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. Could they return to the press darlings status they achieved after their phenomenal first album? Well, not quite. It now seems unlikely, and a little unfortunate, that they will ever recapture the attention of old, as times have changed and so too, have musical tastes. It is a shame though - because the songs that Franz Ferdinand have crafted here are some of the best since their debut. Evil Eye and Right Action, two of the standout tracks on the album, could proudly stand alongside Take Me Out and The Dark Of The Matinee, even if they don’t quite hit those heights. Music is a very fickle thing, and Franz Ferdinand - those super-cool jesters of art pop, raised on a diet of Orange Juice and enlightened at the Glasgow School of Art - will know that better than most. The formula may feel slightly tired, and the angular guitars might sound either eight or thirty-two years old (depending what wave of post-punk art pop) but at the crux of the matter, they still produce music that it’s all too easy to dance too, and even now, eight years on from when they first burst onto the scene, Alex Kapranos is almost impossibly cool. Some things never change. MR.
danny brown - old
released OCTOBER 8 via Fool’s gold
In a year when most rap critics devoted a great majority of their coverage to the return of those who had previously been watching the throne, Danny Brown emerged with this year’s most socially-conscious rap album. Combining his love of illicit chemical compounds that dominated his 2012 XXX release with cutting social commentary that offers an insight into the life Brown has led, Old is one of this year’s most essential albums, from one of hiphop’s most vibrant characters. The album makes liberal use of guest appearances, with Charli XCX, Purity Ring, ScHoolboy Q and A$AP Rocky all popping up to help illustrate the rich narrative that Brown weaves. While the albums near hour-long, nineteen-track running length might have drawn critcism from skeptics, the album is most definitely engaging enough to reward you for staying with it. From the silly, high-pitched Danny that punctuates tracks like Wonderbread, to the serious, realtalking Danny that appears on album closer Float On, Old serves as a showcase for the skills that Danny Brown has, the same skills that make him such an intriguing character in rap music. MR.
fall out boy - save rock & roll released may 27 via domino
When the new Fall Out Boy album loomed, I offered to review it with the caveat that “I fear it may well be shit”. The editor of this publication grimly concurred, proving reviewers don’t know what the hell they’re on about most of the time. To be fair, the leap from 2008’s risible Folie à Deux to Save Rock and Roll would make Spiderman cower in his unusual underpants. The tightness of Infinity On High is back, and though the band have evidently softened their sound, the ever-present lyrical bite enables the almost soft-rock sound to sidestep the inevitable cynicism meted out by certain critics. The album has a clear intent – no smaller task than to save rock and roll, regardless of how healthy any of us believe that genre to be. Opener The Phoenix mashes rock into euphoric pop with some of the band’s best lyrics – if you don’t think “I’m gonna change you like a remix/ Then I’ll raise you like phoenix” is brilliant lyricism and imagery then, well, get out. Returning from what now seems to have been a mid-career break with an album of such fortitude is a credit to the members of this band. A triumph against the odds, Save Rock and Roll’s lofty goal is almost met, and the future is once again radioactive. CL.
a day to remember - common courtesy Released april 22 via columbia
After a three year gap since their last album and a legal battle with ex-label Victory, the Floridian pop punks bounced back with the self-released, funded and promoted Common Courtesy. Inevitably however, the band’s recent troubles were going to seep into the album and it’s easy to hear the fury and frustration on tracks like Sometimes You’re The Hammer and the very blatant references in The Document Speaks For Itself. The album also features more straight-up metal moments in Violence (Enough Is Enough) with a recurring riff that brings recent In Flames to mind. Other than that, the record is littered with great examples of pure pop punk fun: Life @ 11 will no doubt be a fan favourite, and I Surrender shows a real step up in songwriting quality. Occasionally you might feel like you’ve heard it all before, an angsty phrase before a breakdown here, a melodic hook juxtaposed with a screamy verse there - it can feel like little ground is being broken, but when songs are this good and listening this fun, it’s hard to care about progression. At any rate, what fans needed was reassurance that A Day To Remember had not faded away, it’s likely that fans will love every minute of this, a release that will confound those with any doubt of their pedigree as a next-generation arena filler. JG.
haim - days are gone Released SEPTEMBER 27 via polydor
Music is a highly derivative thing, it always has been - as have most other things, going by the fact the bible told us “there is nothing new under the sun”. It’s an idiom worth remembering as you head into Haim’s debut album though, because this trio of valley sisters’ debut borrows heavily from pop’s past. The album isn’t going to change your life, but then it doesn’t need to. Opening with the strongest trio of tracks on the record - Falling, Forever and The Wire - sets the stall for what is to come on the record, though if you had been familiar with the various singles and EP’s released by Haim in the days and months leading up to the album, this wouldn’t come as any surprise. This is one of few criticisms that can be levelled towards the album, that it doesn’t offer anything new than what you may have experienced had you followed Haim at all in the build up. Returning to our original point though - does something need to be new to be engaging and enjoyable? Listening to Days Are Gone as a complete package, it certainly doesn’t seem that way. The band may grow tired of the constant comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, but it’s the sort of comparison that has seen them take up superstar status here in the UK, performing on Sunday morning political shows and the ilk. It’s an exciting indicator of what’s to come, and hints that there may be a lot more for Haim. MR.
the top EP’s/singles of 2013 In Scotland, Casual Sex well and truly made 2013 their year. Though the band had existed for a number of years, the past twelve months have seen them go from strength to strength, with two releases that put them almost head and shoulders above their peers. April saw their debut 7”, Stroh 80 b/w Soft School through the Moshi Moshi Singles Club, but it was The Bastard Beat EP in November that truly elevated them. Mixing copious amounts of angular post-punk and squelching funk (in as sleazy a way as their name would suggest) the five tracks included were something of a tour de force. The band grow musically and lyrically, with the titular track seeing the band switch tack and launch an attack on our Westminster overlords, a change from their usual debauched tales - still found, of course, on the EP. The six studio tracks already released are impressive - we hold out high hopes for Casual Sex’s album. The man often credited with bringing dubstep to the masses, Burial seems to have quite the affinity for end-of-year releases. Perhaps it’s the fact that the world of music almost goes to sleep for two weeks over the festive season that appeals, as following from last year’s Truant/Rough Sleeper is the Rival Dealer EP. The release is as contradictory as you’d expect, teasing the material that brought him attention, before twisting and launching headlong into a completely different direction. On Hiders, Burial straddles pop music, producing something akin to fellow London producer Kindness’ album of last year - but then, of course, the album ends with a 13-minute dirge, the kind of track it is all too easy to lose yourself in. Burial may not be prolific, but if the results continue to be as impressive, who’ll complain? The album it came from might have been one of this year’s mightier disappointments, its reach far escaping the output - but let that not detract from the power of Arcade Fire - sorry, The Reflektors - Reflektor single. The track burst onto speakers, bringing together two of the more appealing parts of 2000’s alternative pop in producer James Murphy, of LCD Soundsystem fame, and Arcade Fire. The band dispensed with their alt-folk sound and embraced disco, much the same as Daft Punk had earlier in the year and produced a track that easily rivalled anything the French duo produced with Random Access Memories. Almost eight minutes in length, Reflektor never meandered or lost its way, and with the accompanying video also lingering in the memory, the band couldn’t have picked a better way to launch the Reflektive Age. We named Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues as one of our most anticipated records of 2013 twelve months ago, but like all the best laid plans the album didn’t see the light of day this year. It will finally be released early this month, but for this year, Against Me!’s sole studio output was the True Trans EP. The first release from the band since Laura Jane Grace began gender realignment therapy, the two tracks contained within the acoustic EP - originally released as a free download on AM’s website - hardly shy away from the big changes that have affected the Gainesville punks. Similar in style to her previous solo release, 2008’s Heart Burns, IHATEMYLIFE666 and True Trans Soul Rebel tackle things head on, and in doing so, produce one of the most endearing, heart-on-the-sleeve releases of the year. Okay, maybe we’re cheating a little with this one. Pulp’s After You - featuring that man Murphy once again on production duties - surfaced in the week between Christmas and New Year 2012, and so staying true to the rules laid down by the calendar, it should be disqualified. But After You has made its way onto this list thanks to the remix that was included on the Record Store Day physical release of the record, as electronic impresarios Soulwax got their hands on the track and reinvented it, dropping the throwback Pulp feel that the band and Murphy had crafted and instead distorting and extending the track until all that remained was Cocker crooning “from disco to disco,” and taking it from indie fare to what the kids most likely call a “club banger” in this day and age, with the single the peak of what a good remix can achieve.
bonobo - the north borders Released March 21 via ninjatune
Bonobo returned with his fifth album this year; and hasn’t he come a long way from 2001’s Animal Magic. If anything, The North Borders serves to highlight that Simon Green remains at the forefront of the UK downtempo scene. After reaching #29 on the chart, and the advent of similar acts, it seems the public are warming to the genre en masse. Bonobo is generally more accessible than acts like Aphex Twin and Four Tet, but their influence is clear to see, especially on the more shoegaze-y tracks like Heaven for the Sinner, which features a wonderfully spliced and distorted cameo by Erykah Badu. The bursts of snare drums help ground more lightweight synthscapes, delicate piano keys wandering lonely as clouds through a dark sky of ambient sound; it’s a gorgeous, soothing record that manages to induce both the urge to dance but also to fall asleep. TW.
the national - trouble will fInd me Released april 22 via columbia
There’s a certain trepidation when a new National album emerges. Averages have laws, and one states that a band that’s been consistently superb will eventually let you down. Trouble Will Find Me had the additional hurdle of its stunning predecessor,to overcome. This is no High Violet. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is no Revolver either, but your life would be worse without it. Trouble Will Find Me performs the trick of dissolving any worries by being understated, comfortable, and not a little strange. From the first off-beat of I Should Live In Salt – a ploy drummer Bryan Devendorf uses to befuddle more than once – you are lulled into a sense of security that turns out to be very true indeed. Matt Berninger’s delivery is soporific as ever; critics doubtless consider The National to be the anti-Robin Thicke - and I can think of no better recommendation. Since Alligator in 2005, The National have been quietly putting out remarkable music that only lately seems to have come to the attention of the world’s tastemakers. ‘Our’unknown band have become popular, and it’s a measure of the quintet’s faith in their abilities that they respond to acclaim with an album of reflective tunes rather than a play for fame. We should know better than to think they’d ever let us down. CL.
nick cave and the bad seeds - push the sky away released may 27 via domino
Returning to work with The Bad Seeds after a five year gap that saw him produce two albums with garage-rock group Grinderman, Nick Cave kept up his almost impeccable standards with Push The Sky Away. Swapping the rock-heavy sound that defined previous Bad Seeds release Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! and the Grinderman albums for something that is more typical of The Bad Seeds back catalogue, Cave once again embraces the dark lyrical content that has seen him through such a succesful career. This time though, the murder ballads take a back seat to some more up-to-date dirges. Jubilee Street, and its sister track Finishing Jubilee Street sees Cave go meta, with the second track referencing the writing of the first, while We Real Cool is almost eerily prescient given the online security concerns that have occupied most of the news output in 2013, giving the track added gravitas in the near twelve months since its release. Fifteen albums in, Cave’s showing no signs of stopping. MR.
CHVRCHES - the bones of what you believe Released SEPTEMBER 20 via VIRGIN
When I think of Scottish bands I think of twee acoustic indie and woolly sweaters. I think of gormless looking guys with floppy hair and geeky glasses - but Glasgow band Chvrches change all of that with their debut album The Bones of What You Believe. All tattoos, black outfits and synths, this trio challenge a few preconceptions and also strive to challenge the dominance of American, Canadian and Swedish bands on the electro-pop scene. Opener The Mother We Share is an instant electronic anthem. A perfect pop song with just enough of an edge to it. The album continues on this vein with a distinct 80s feeling throughout. Gun is one of the standout tracks with an insanely infectious chorus. On tracks like Tether and Under the Tide they show they can slow things down while Lies gives a slightly darker tone to the album. The later part of the album is a little more experimental musically but without sacrificing their pop credentials; Recover and By the Throat. With breaks, beats and synths that would make even Purity Ring or Crystal Castles jealous, this is one of those rare albums that doesn’t really have a bad track on it. It’s catchy, poppy, light, dark, happy and angry in equal measure. The ability to strike that perfect album makes this one of the best and most un-Scottish albums of the year.
THE BEST COVER ART OF 2013
As with every year, there are a selection of albums with amazing artwork that miss out on our countdown - and as with every year, we don’t think it’s fair to exclude them, so here’s our rogue’s gallery of 2013’s finest...
The recipient of this year’s Best Vinyl Art Award, White Lies’ Big TV artwork by New York artist Michael Kagan provided one of this year’s more striking covers... shame about the album inside though. This stark, monochrome cover said pretty much all that had to be said about Pusha T’s long-awaited debut, My Name Is My Name...
About as close to apocalyptic as an album cover gets, this exploding sun on The Flaming Lips’ The Terror sleeve was certainly an eye catcher even if the font was a bit naff.
Distinctive, regal and about as cryptic as you’d expect from this pair, the cover for Fuck Buttons’ Slow Focus consisted simply of a photograph of a piece of jewellery found in a market, but it is as memorable as any this year.
veronica falls - waiting for something to happen Released March 23 through Century Media
Maybe it’s just me, but nothing warms the cockles of the heart like some C86-influenced indiepop. While my previous indiepop hookup, Los Campesinos!, may have moved on from their shambling beginnings, luckily 2013 brought the second album release from the criminally underrated Veronica Falls. Dispersing with the fast-paced, frenetic energy that they had in spades on their eponymous 2011 debut, Waiting For Something To Happen is a more mature effort from the London-based four piece, and it’s a new sound that definitely suits them. As well as tightening up the sound, the band have also adjusted their focus lyrically. Their debut was peppered with songs about suicides and graveyards, but on the follow-up everything is a bit more standard in its aim - but don’t read that as a great criticism of the album. While Beachy Head and Found Love In A Graveyard were, and still are, good songs with genuinely intriguing subject matter, tracks taken from this album like Teenage and Broken Toy, focusing on traditionally more mundane topics, are a great improvement as far as sheer songcraft is concerned. Lyrics aren’t the only thing that have been tweaked from album-to-album, as the band’s musicianship improves on this release too. One of the common criticisms levied towards Veronica Falls, and other bands in their mould, is that of a somewhat lackadaisical approach to the actual music itself - not so much here, with the entire album a tour de force in a tight relationship between the four component parts of the band. Perhaps the band suffered from the expectations weighted upon them thanks to their stellar debut album, but perhaps there isn’t a great need for reinvention on this record. Waiting For Something To Happen is one of the year’s better pop records, an understated slice of British indiepop borrowing from everyone, from The Pastels to Roky Erickson. MR.
frightened rabbit - pedestrian verse Released april 22 via columbia
It would be unfair to say that Frightened Rabbit’s last outing, The WInter of Mixed Drinks, was a letdown - rather that it suffered from the impossibly high standards expected of them following their previous, The Midnight Organ Fight. Three years on, the album is about as appreciated as it deserved to be upon its initial release, but with that comes the next task, how will a devoted fanbase take to your next effort? Muddying the waters further is the fact that Pedestrian Verse is the band’s major label debut - meaning it’s not just a devoted, yet expectant fanbase that awaits the album, but also the naysayers waiting for yet another indie darling to crumble under the weight of major label expectation. As we said back in January though - worry not. Pedestrian Verse is definitely Frightened Rabbit’s best album since The Midnight Organ Fight, and in with a very good shout of being their best album in general. Previewed by the 2012 State Hospital EP, we knew to expect something good here, but it would have taken a very wise man to predict something as special as what was produced. Late March, Death March, Housing (In)/Housing (Out) and Dead Now are some of the best songs that the band have written: even more impressive is the new life this album has breathed into the band’s live set. Holy, both on record and in person, is a mighty tour de force, while album opener Acts of Man is transformed into a storming closer, with believe it or not - an almost wall-of-noise esque section. You’d be well within your rights to question why we’re wittering on about live shows in a section of the magazine that’s dealing quite specifically with albums; but we’re using it to illustrate our point further. Frightened Rabbit have grown from mysterious, shy Scots rockers into one of the most important bands in the UK today. Pedestrian Verse isn’t just an improvement, it’s a fully fledged triumph. MR.
james blake overgrown
queens of the stone age like clockwork
released april 5 via atlas/a&m Released april 22 via columbia With Overgrown James Blake returns in fine form with a worthy follow up to his Mercury nominated, debut. While Blake’s debut was an expansively introspective masterpiece, Overgrown is very much a sophomore album – more experimental, more ideas, more guests, and more wide-ranging sounds. That’s not to say that anything that makes James Blake has diminished, rather it is as though he has made a conscious effort to further refine and distil himself. Opener Overgrown is classic Blake, with wintery piano chords, mournful vocals and inversed pulsing flashes of bass all tied to a shiver of a drumbeat that trickles relentlessly. Blake’s vocals are as haunting and ethereal as ever; he is baleful when he says that “I don’t want to be a star/But a stone on the shore,” searching for some way to escape the all pervasive grip that time has on all our lives. Wu Tang Clan’s RZA appears on Take a Fall For Me in one of the year’s more interesting collaborations. RZA donates his rapping skills to a beat that is as much ambient static as anything else, but thanks to Blake, you hear sounds morphing in the static – subtle chord changes, the emergence and sudden disappearance of individual keys and bleeps. The sole collaboration gives way to lead single Retrograde, a haunting song built around Blake’s expressive humming. Tracks like Voyeur show Blake’s willingness to experiment, with layers of heavy synth mashing together with percussion heavy beats. It’s a more abrasive sound - perhaps though, this is the real Blake, as many felt that he hadn’t embraced his underground heritage on his debut. Whilst not as explicitly clubworthy as some hoped, Overgrown does have one ‘old Blake’ song in Voyeur, and maybe another in Life Round Here. Overgrown is a triumphant return for James Blake. He is older, wiser and willing to experiment more, without forsaking his sound. Overgrown is a record produced by someone currently at the top of his game and it makes the list as it shows James Blake was anything but a flash in the pan. TW.
It has been said by many who have suffered a near death experience that it brings a sense of clarity and perspective, as well as a new found appreciation for life. In the case of Queens Of The Stone Age leader Josh Homme, his brush with death during a routine operation has allowed him to produce the best album of his entire career. From out of his recovery period, referred to by Homme as “the fog”, Josh and his ever changing line up of bandmates have produced a master class in modern rock and roll, intertwined with some truly beautiful and tentative moments. Beginning with the haunting Keep Your Eyes Peeled, it forebodes what the listener should expect from the album. A mixture of jarring and strutting riffs, utilisation of piano to establish the tone of the track and Josh’s unique mixture of falsetto and baritone. What follows, I Sat by the Ocean, is undoubtedly one of the standout tracks. Rock ‘n’ roll in its simplest form in terms of instrumentation, a five piece band firing on all cylinders, with Homme lamenting what could have been. Homme and his bandmates maintain the momentum established on the previous track with My God Is The Sun, undoubtedly the album’s most abrasive and relentless song. The track builds to a frantic crescendo leading to it slowly winding down; Josh’s gentle falsetto holding it all together, before resurrecting its strident riff for a tremendous climax. The peculiar synth intro of Smooth Sailing introduces what is most certainly the band’s most defiant statement since Feel Good Hit of the Summer. A swaggering riff combined with Josh proclaiming that “I blow my load over the status quo”, this is one of the standout tracks of the album and has the potential to become a defining anthem for the band in the same vein as the aforementioned Rated R classic. I Appear Missing re-establishes the tone of the opener with despondent melody before culminating in a falsetto rich conclusion. The title track brings QOTSA’s most consistent album to date to a close, a melancholic ballad, complete with strings, bringing the album to its logical conclusion. A body of work that incorporates dizzying highs and tumultuous lows, it is the culmination of a six year journey for Homme, Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait as long for its successor. RB.
los campesinos! - no blues Released october 29 via turnstile/heart swells
In 2011 Los Campesinos! fourth album, Hello Sadness, came top of our first ever album of the year poll. Its successor, NO BLUES, comes in some eight places down the list, but it’s important to stress that this does not mean that NO BLUES is a drastic step backwards. Its placing on the list reflects more the changes here at MiddleMusic in the two years since the release of Hello Sadness, as we now reflect something closer to the ethos we have aspired to from the outset - important to note, because in this reporter’s opinion, NO BLUES is the finest work that the group have ever produced. While the album’s placing on this list is a reflection of the changes that we have went through as a website, the album itself is a reflection of the changes that the band has been through. A continuation of themes that were first introduced on Hello Sadness, with the band breaking away from their C86, indiepop image, and then embellished on the aforementioned Hello Sadness, NO BLUES was described by frontman and lyricist Gareth Campesinos! as the band “smiling, through broken and bloodied teeth.” From opener For Flotsam through to the closer, Selling Rope (Swan Dive To Estuary) the band keep up an almost frightening level of quality. In my original review of the album, I described it as consisting of “movements” - yes, I apologised at the time for the rather highbrow description - and it’s a description that I feel still stands up to scrutiny. The opening section, from For Flotsam through to the delightfully titled A Portrait of the Trequartista as a Young Man, launches the album - something Los Campesinos! have never had trouble with, of course - before segueing into four of the best tracks the band has ever produced. The run - Cemetary Gaits, Glue Me, As Lucerne/The Low, Avocado, Baby - defines the album. Five albums in six years is a very impressive workrate from Los Campesinos!, but more impressive is the stark difference from album to album. To be a Los Campesinos! fan is a rewarding experience, but expect the band to push you with every new release. MR.
arctic monkeys - am Released SETPEMBER 6 via DOMINO
You sometimes get the feeling that Arctic Monkeys have been phoning it in for a few years now. With supermodel girlfriends, celebrity friends and fashion shows to attend, it’s a wonder they ever found time to make music at all. So when they announced their imaginatively titled album, AM, you had to fear the worst - but this album is the sound of a sleeping giant being roused. Opening track Do I Wanna Know? is smooth, soulful and sensual with a slow stomping drum beat and a guitar riff that wraps itself round you like a boa constrictor. R U Mine is a heavier, feistier track which evokes memories of their debut album. Then the soul and funk influences continue to run through the album, Arabella in particular a highlight; a slow building track that showcases Alex Turner’s clever songwriting. Unfortunately, there is a slight lull in the middle, breaking the momentum. Mad Sounds and No 1 Party Anthem are the kind of slower songs that have been a regular appearance on each album since Mardy Bum, but these tracks just don’t come off and threaten to spoil the album. Luckily normal service is resumed as Alex Turner enters full crooner mode on the seductive Fireside. The album enters poppier territory from Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High until Knee Socks but the songs are still smothered in a thick layer of funk and soul. I Wanna Be Yours brings the album to a fitting finale. John Cooper Clarke’s classic poem may sound dafter than normal Arctic Monkeys lyrics - “I wanna be your vacuum cleaner/And hoover up your dust” -but somehow they make it both cool and sexy, with the end result sounding like the closing credits from a Hollywood movie. AM is a return to form from a band who could be forgiven for being complacent. Despite a couple of middling tracks, this album does not play it safe and makes a real statement to some of the young pretenders out there. No matter what some might think, Arctic Monkeys are still the best rock band in Britain. AF.
camera obscura - desire lines Released june 3 via 4AD
Camera Obscura have done more than their fare share of growing up in public. First appearing as the heir apparent to Belle & Sebastian’s Glaswegian indie-pop crown, the band have come a long way in the seventeen years between they first formed, and their - long awaited, given the four year gap since their last release - fifth studio album. Building on the solid foundations of what’s come previously, Desire Lines is the most confident and self-assured that the group have ever sounded. Camera Obscura’s sound has always evolved, from album to album, and undoubtedly, this might be their biggest evolution yet. Mixing their pop sensibilities with new ideas woozy, almost lounge-jazz sounds on This Is Love (Feels Alright) and laidback calypso on Every Weekday - produces a complete body of work that remains with you, even six months after it was originally released. It isn’t all new, of course, and that’s where more of the pleasure in this album comes from. Do It Again and Break It To You Gently were the first tracks to really leap out from the album, and are still the two tracks that Desire Lines instantly brings to mind. Perfectly crafted wedges of Scottish indie-pop, the songs evoke fuzzy memories of Camera Obscura past, and situated alongside the newer, more expansive material, it doesn’t seem like the band are relying on old tropes - rather, they’re making the most of them, and producing a curated collection, rather than a haphazard ensemble of songs. Perhaps it was where I first chose to digest the album, lying in the park in an indorinately warm Glaswegian summer’s day, that made it have such a lasting impact, but still, this album reminds me of better times, as I shiver and shake through another freezing winter; and that’s the sort of gap in my, and doubtless countless other’s, life that Camera Obscura fill. The band know exactly what they are doing, and an album like Desire Lines serves only to prove that fact. MR.
vampire weekend - modern vampires of the city Released March 23 through Century Media
Obvious Bicycle is the title of this album’s opening track. Either someone has been questioning the veracity of Ezra Koenig’s two-wheeler, or he and his band are as delightfully potty as their previous albums. It seems incomprehensible that Vampire Weekend are only on their third long player. Nobody knew quite what to make of them when they weirded their way onto the scene with single Mansard Roof in 2007, but the number of attempts to copy their unique sound since (seriously, Bastille, just piss off) suggests they’ve become a musical institution in no time at all. The self-titled debut was a marvellous blast of freshness, and 2010’s Contra was sufficiently different to suggest longevity, dismissing mutterings of one-trick-ponydom with a cheeky whack of rebolo. That it seemed like they’d been away longer when this album arrived shows how much VW’s charming creativity was missed. Obvious Bicycle gives little clues but Unbelievers took no time reminding us why so many hold this band in such affection. The track drums along wonderfully, as classic a piece of Vampire Weekend magic as A-Punk or Cousins, and as usual its lyrics are given a shade of mischief by Mr Koenig: “We know the fire awaits unbelievers, all of the sinners the same /Girl, you and I will die unbelievers, Bound to the tracks of the train”. Ending on a simple, piano-led Young Lion, you’re left with the feeling that you’ve heard something exceptional without being able to put your finger on how they’ve done it. As I remember thinking at the time, it’s immediately apparent that this is a superb album but it takes a few listens to actually understand it. Modern Vampires of the City is not as obviously original as their debut; it’s not as obviously outlandish as the underrated Contra either. In wedging it somewhere in between, though simultaneously altogether elsewhere, Vampire Weekend came up with their best work to date. CL.
the top reissues of 2013 Record Store Day brought the reprinting of the studio output of one of Glasgow’s most influential bands, Orange Juice. Their original releases - You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, Rip It Up, The Orange Juice and the Texas Fever EP - were repressed for the annual celebration, and introduced a whole range of new record buyers to the wonders of the band that announced Glasgow onto the indie rock scene. From The Pastels, to Franz Ferdinand, to Casual Sex, most bands from the city hold some sort of debt to the group and so it was a delight to be able to purchase the albums available in somewhat patchy numbers on vinyl - and enjoy the output of the band again. Couple it with a year that saw frontman Edwyn Collins perform three times in Glasgow (and surrounding areas) and 2013 was a rather Orange Juice-y year. The albums are in line for the expanded edition treatment next year, following this success. The first of two iconic albums released twenty years ago, The Breeders’ Last Splash was re-released in a special edition box set titled LSXX. Last Splash was one of the more influential albums of the 1990s, as Kim and Kelley Deal got together and produced a zeitgeist-capturing alt-rock classic. The expanded edition brings together the original album in its entirety, alongside 1994 live set The Stockholm Syndrome, the Safari, Cannonball and Head to Toe EP’s, the Divine Hammer single, and the usual barrage of demo’s, session songs and lost tracks. While some expanded reissues seem somewhat superfluous, Last Splash felt long overdue for the treatment, giving fans of the band - and new buyers alike - the chance to experience one of the 90’s rock underground’s best albums. A lot of people find their career split into sections, but i’d wager that none find these sections as clearly defined as Scott Walker. From easy listening crooner to experimental noise maker, Walker’s seen it all. The Collection 1967-1970 brings together Walker’s collected output from this four year period, from his departure from The Walker Brothers up until the popular beat combo reunited in 1974. Walker kept up quite a phenomenal workrate throughout the solo days, and produced some truly amazing albums. Remastered and repackaged both on vinyl and CD - though the real effect, as ever, is found on the vinyl with their original packaging etc. etc. etc., but you already knew that - this brings together Scott, Scott 2, Scott 3, Scott 4 and ‘Til The Band Comes In. It may just have missed out on our Top 25 of the year - more because of our aforementioned wildly varying tastes, than any lack of quality - but 2013 saw the triumphant return of Scots electronic brothers Boards of Canada with the spectacular Tomorrow’s Harvest. As well as their first new material in over eight years, this year also saw the vinyl re-release of their original Warp albums: Twoism, the Hi Scores EP, Music Has The Right To Children, In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country, Geogaddi, The Campfire Headphase and Trans Canada Highway. Essential listening for anyone with any sort of interest in electronic music from one of the more intriguing production duos that our country has produced, and also perfect companion pieces to Tomorrow’s Harvest. Undoubtedly, our favourite re-release of the year was the 20th anniversary edition of Nirvana’s seminal In Utero. While Nevermind, quite rightly, was mythologised upon it 20th birthday, In Utero passed under the radar; rather unfortunately, given that it is just as brilliant an album as Nevermind was. What made this reissue so essential though, wasn’t just the usual collection of live and bonus tracks that accompanies any rerelease package worth its salt - it was the inclusion of the ‘2013 mix’ of the album, which saw original producer Steve Albini revisit the album some 20 years later from the master tapes, and apply various new production techniques. The deluxe edition of the album, including both the original mix and Albini’s 2013 mix come together to form almost the perfect package, particularly for any Nirvana fans.
kanye west - yeezus Released june 18 through roc-a-fella
Yeezus is a summation of Kanye West’s career to date, relishing in its own spasmodic and frenetic energy. The record’s intensity borders on self-parody at times, a stripped back record that assimilates and casts aside the less gregarious malapropisms of its predecessors. Yeezus careers from the luscious dancehall sounds of Late Registration, via 808’s and Heartbreak’s electronica, to the wordplay and psychedelic interludes of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
with such conviction that one wonders whether he’s just being honest about his selfworth. It’s hard to say.
It is not just ‘that album Kanye screams on,’ it’s a full on concept album. If My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was the product of a ‘yes, I’m sorry an I’m an asshole’ Kanye, then this is the record of ‘yes, I’m an asshole, fuck you’ Kanye. He has played the withdrawn card, now Kanye is on the warpath, embracing this larger than life, god-complex character – the titular Yeezus. It bears resemblance to bizarre mockumentary I’m Still Here, in which Joaquin Phoenix became a parody of himself, an extreme that polarised opinion – this is exactly the same reaction to Kanye, who has shrewdly taken every opportunity to spout insane rhetoric in interviews that only heighten the perception of him as someone who has lost the plot.
Then there are the screams, as ...God fades into the audio for a slasher flick, the haunting, disembodied screams of West echoing through the emptiness, a frightening representation of West’s fears for his fellow black man. This loss of identity oscillates though the album, rearing its head in the more defiant tracks that pepper Yeezus’ opening few numbers. New Slaves outs the swag generation, the nouveau-riche young-money black stereotypes who, in Yeezus’ opinion, “want all the same thing”, gangster clichés like ‘a fur coat’ and ‘a diamond chain’. He is provocative and unrepentant, exposing the injustices he perceives.
Listen to the record guys; he knows what he is doing. This might be brazen, but the only thing that close to Yeezus in 2013 is Kendrick Lamar’s verse on Jay Sean track Control. Kendrick called on everyone to raise their game, but Yeezy beat him to the punch. The record that emerges through this is visceral and pulsating: the brutal synthesizers of opener On Sight are like a punch in the ear – simultaneously a warning and a boastful ‘look at me!’ If the Daft Punk assisted track is the album’s warning siren, the next few songs set out West’s agenda. Black Skinhead is pounding and angry, a call-to-arms, or as West refers to it, his ‘theme song’ – a reference to 2010’s Power. Whereas the ‘screams of his haters’ sustained him before, now its West’s infamous ‘leather black jeans’ – it’s all about Kanye. This is an ego record, stripped of the nuances of his previous efforts. This is Kanye screaming for attention, but deservedly so.
Blood on the Leaves signals a change in direction, as West’s 808s-esque modulated vocals duet with the raw and passionate voice of Nina Simone, in one of Yeezus’ sampling masterstrokes. One of the slower songs, ...Leaves, fades into the lucid and indulgent Guilt Trip, the “love song” of the record. Send It Up is a raucous empty, synthetic acid house beat thumping lethargically and hypnotically, whilst closer Bound 2 is beautiful... despite the subsequent video. A wonderfully crafted track built around a sample of Ponderosa Twin’s 1971 puppy love track Bound, it fuses old Kanye production with Yeezus’ words and goes to show that the old Kanye is still somewhere, underneath it all.
Taking root in a garage-hip-hop aesthetic, West’s industrial and glitchy synthesizers sound rough and amateurish as they pulse away, erupting into startling screams of static as the levels peak erratically. One of the album’s standout tracks is also one of its oddest and most outrageous. The messiah complex inducing I Am A God is a perfect fusion of self-aggrandizement and self-parody, as West both embraces and mocks his egomaniac media caricature – Yeezus - whilst rapping
Yeezus is a record built around defiance and Rick Rubin’s last minute stripping down of West’s original production helped chisel Yeezus into the frenetic, visceral beast it is. It is a powerful return for the perennially-maligned West, who has found a niche in demanding the respect of everyone yet proceeding to tell us all to kindly fuck off at the same time. As Oscar Wilde said ‘There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.’ West has embraced that maxim fully. TW.
david bowie - the next day Released april 22 via columbia Had you asked us at the outset of the year, we would most likely have laughed off suggestions that we’d be seeing any new material from The Thin White Duke any time soon. But lo, we live to be surprised, and in January Where Are We Now? was released amidst little fanfare - starting a trend that would prove to be rather popular throughout 2013 - and launched us into a period of unadulterated Bowiemania. The time away served David well. His last release, 2003’s Reality was well received, but not quite enough to blow people away. Indeed, by 2003, the main question that most were inspired to ask was what did Bowie do next? For a man so synonymous with reinvention, where could he take it? Almost an entire decade away from music was how he replied, and in those ten years his legend continued to grow, with the re-release of his Ziggy Stardust period albums bringing in new fans. The Next Day isn’t strictly a reinvention - there’s no oudlandish gimmick or alter-ego, instead, for the first time in his career, Bowie appears to be casting a backward glance.
While Where Are We Now? was a subdued first release, hinting at a late career shift for the pop chameleon, the album opens with something completely different. The title track sets the tone for the album, with Bowie sounding at his most forceful in recent memory, a defiant opening gambit aimed at anyone who doubted whether he could still pull it off at the ripe old age of 66. Defiance is perhaps the overall tone of the album - tracks like Love Is Lost and The Stars Are Out Tonight sound as good as anything Bowie’s produced in the past thirty years. There are a few moments when the album doesn’t quite hit the high standards that we quite rightfully hold David Bowie to; moments that were perhaps overlooked amidst the sheer euphoria and nostalgia that greeted his reappearance. The album’s fifteentrack running length might have some part to play in this, but if you can overlook these slight bumps in The Next Day road - as most have, judging from the endof-year re-evaluation of the album - then you’ll still find one of 2013’s most enjoyable albums. It isn’t a perfect album - but then, has anything Bowie’s ever done been perfect? And in a way, isn’t that what draws us to him? From the rock star overindulgence and explosion of Ziggy Stardust, to the cold, harsh contemplation of the Berlin era to his 80’s party soundtrack period, there’s always been something special about David Bowie that kept drawing us all back in, and that is one thing he most certainly hasn’t lost as he moves into the next phase of his career. MR.
bring me the horizon - sempiternal Released april 22 via columbia
Ah precious regret, I hold you so dear. Back when Bring Me The Horizon’s fourth album was released in April 2013, I was tasked with reviewing it…and I blew it. Having never been a massive fan of the band, indeed not a huge fan of what we will for the purposes of this call metalcore, it struck me as a decent effort but about as good as it was likely to get from the band. It’s to the great credit of the internet that it doesn’t let me have any influence of any kind over anything or anybody. Over the course of the next few months I found myself increasingly unable to stop listening to Sempiternal, and I can now safely say that this album has by itself caused me to listen to more ear blistering music than I have ever been able to stand before, and doubtless ramped up the tinnitus to quack-worrying levels. I’m going to a Defeater gig in a couple of weeks for Christ’s sake, what have I become? Clearly, some metal fans get off on screamed lyrics, guitars that bruise your soul and an innate inaccessibility that ensures dickheads like me can’t get anywhere near it without running wailing to mummy. Sempiternal’s mix of obvious hardcore with melodic outburts, lyrics that are actually decipherable (and powerful) and memorable moments throughout has an appeal that plainly transcends the inward-looking genre it lives in.
ram this home like a bloody crucifix up Jesus’s jacksie: “And when you die the only kingdom you’ll see / Is two foot wide and six foot deep”. Far and away the angriest track – and, let’s face it, the most fun as a result – is Antivist. Embedded in the middle of the album it’s a nasty slab of fury aimed at the universe in general, and you in particular. It would spoil the surprise to reveal many of the lyrics in a review, so we’ll keep it to one single summarising snippet: “The world is a shit tip, your children are fucked.” At least I think that’s what it says; I’m still reeling from what he calls me later in the song, while somehow making me feel I deserve it.
“clearly, some metal fans get off on screamed lyrics and an innate inaccessibility that ensures dickheads like me can’t get anywhere near it”
The band make excellent use of electronics throughout, expanding their own horizons to embrace the type of sound Linkin Park have been toying with for the last couple of albums. It’s also anything but one-paced: from the contemplative Sleepwalking to the hasty assault of Chasing Rainbows it’s an album of supreme dexterity and variety. Shadow Moses covers all tempo bases, and is probably the best track on the album. The language on this album is stunningly brutal, though the hatred spitting out of each song is more cutting and directed very clearly at its targets than the broad-brush rage of previous albums. Naturally religion takes a pounding – this band have little fear holding themselves up as a paragon of atheist virtue and the lyrics for tracks such as The House of Wolves
Oli Sykes’s delivery is of a type that, once again, true metallers may have an issue with. If you’re not heard to shave a few layers off your vocal chords with every syllable you’re plainly not doing it right. And yet the lyrics deserve to be heard, so when even the screaming can be understood it’s only to the benefit of the audience. It’s hard not to suspect that some bands might attempt to mask godawful lyrics behind guttural noise but here there’s nowhere to hide, and no need to. Whether this album is a step forward or back for Bring Me The Horizon is hard for me to judge from my shamefaced position as metalcore noob – I’d heard the previous albums, thought they were average, moved on. Perhaps they have made their sound a little more accessible, perhaps they could be accused of betraying some metal principles I know bugger all about. Perhaps compared to before they now sound like The Darkness to some people. Yeah, maybe. Perhaps, though, Sempiternal is just really bloody good. CL.
my bloody valentine - m b v released february 2, self-released Tricky business, this. How does one review an album of such extreme magnitude and importance to so many people without disappearing up thine own arse? When talking about My Bloody Valentine, it can’t be helped that their last album was quite incredible, making the task of casting an eye over its follow-up harder still. What can be said about 1991’s Loveless? The word ‘seminal’ should be avoided, clearly, not least because of its ironic dual meaning that no-one ever seems to point out when a reviewer’s beating himself off over some old and venerable album. I pity the unfortunate who has to review whatever the Stone Roses come up with next, though at least that band had the good grace to put the crap album out second to soften the blow of the inevitably disastrous third.
develop their craft into something to make other bands cry with envy. Distortion and skewed production are the hallmark of the album, perhaps not surprisingly given the number of returns Shields made to the mixing desk, in doubtless different states of mind each time. Who Sees You and If I Am are perhaps the best examples here of how other-worldly the band’s sound has become, the latter in particular carrying the woozy feeling of the back end of a mushroom trip. New You is the closest My Bloody Valentine have come to sounding like a regular band, but the song fits nicely mid-album. The up-tempo In Another Way and Nothing Is perhaps offers an indication of where the mercurial bandmaster would like to take MBV in future, should he have the strength to attempt a fourth studio album some decades down the line.
m b v arrived with almost no fanfare in February 2013. Over 20 years in the making - literally, given Kevin Shields began working sporadically on it not long after its predecessor hit the shelves. Yes, it was so long ago records were still shelves rather than websites.
A notable change from the band’s previous output is the more obvious presence of Ó Cíosóig throughout many tracks. While the drums were an important part of Isn’t Anything and Loveless, here they act much more as the driving force behind a number of the songs and once again point to the live shows the band returned with in 2007 having influenced this record. Anyone who has had the good fortune to don the earplugs for an MBV show will know this is not a bad thing.
Fans approached it with trepidation, knowing it could do little but disappoint us. Yet what we were given was not only classic My Bloody Valentine but a new, beefier band that seemed more than ever to be trying to capture their bone-shreddingly loud live sound on record.
Wonder 2 ends proceedings with vocals in the background, crazy instrumentation and a drum and bass feel; it’s a bit all over the place, as though to have us end our 46 minutes in discomfort, though that in itself is comforting as the last thing you’d ever want is for My Bloody Valentine to play it safe.
She Found Now settled us down nicely, an opening track that could have been lifted straight from Loveless. What some wanted was simply a repeat of that album; this seemed to suggest just that.
And with a final crash of drums and guitars sounding like aeroplanes, it’s over. Ten listens later the album is just as unfathomable as on first play, and three cheers for that. Ludicrous as it seems it’s quite all right if they want to spend just as long on the next one if taking their time delivers results like m b v. The one criticism would be that the song titles are rubbish, and if that’s the worst thing you can say about an album it’s a fair bet you’re looking at ‘universal acclaim’ and a pretty hearty return in end-of-year polls. CL.
“fans approached it with trepidation, knowing it could do little but disappoint us... yet what we were given was not only classic mbv but a new, beeFIER band”
And then came Only Tomorrow. Shields’ guitars grind nastily, Bilinda Butcher’s lyrics both soothe and menace, Colm Ó Cíosóig and Debbie Googe complete the picture of a song that brilliantly illustrated how My Bloody Valentine had used their 20 years to
daft punk - random access memories Released may 17 via columbia
What else could it be? Daft Punk’s return is - in my opinion - easily the best thing to happen to music this year, and hopefully the best thing that will happen over the coming few years. In a scene that is saturated with generic electronic dance music in which anyone can be an overnight superstar regardless of talent, two of the best producers in the game created an album that eschews everything they were thought to represent. Who would have predicted that the two Frenchman who sewed the seeds of modern music around the turn of the century, would return and be so evidently dismayed with their crop? Where was the passion, the soul? Their classic Discovery-era hit One More Time has fewer words than most modern top 40 ‘hits’ and yet it captures more spirit and emotion than any of the disposable tosh that clogs up the arteries of the music industry these days - the EDM by numbers generation. Yawn. When it was released Random Access Memories
polarised opinion as many of the great albums do, with some reviewers calling it the best thing the French duo had ever done, whilst others lamented it as nothing more than Hipster elevator music. It’s an odd mix of both. On my first listen it was amazing, so utterly different from what I had been expecting – Discovery 2.0 FYI – that I couldn’t turn it off. Yet, on second listen it repelled me, ‘what is this?’ I wondered, it seemed so avantgarde and foreign to anything contemporary. I’m glad I stuck out that second listen, because since then every time I listen to Random Access Memories it just gets better and better.
This is a record with a mission statement: ‘to reclaim music’. By hiring an array of the best musicians of the planet and somehow convincing them to take on the role of session musicians Daft Punk have complemented their already excessive talents with the likes of Chic’s Nile Rodgers, Julian Casabalancas and Girogio Morodor – the father of electronic music. Morodor is deemed so essential to this reclamation of music that he even has a biopic written into the album, explaining the origins of electronic music in ‘Giorgio by Morodor’. A backing track to Giorgio’s soft accented voice that morphs into a guttural, whirring electronic tribute to the man himself. Rodgers’ input is just as integral, as it’s his slinky, soulful guitar playing that adds much of the smooth, laidback vibe to the album. Taking the formula that worked so well for Chic and then blending it with the electronic sensibilities of Daft Punk is inspired and adds a whole new dimension to the funkiness of the pair’s output. That’s what I always loved about Daft Punk, they weren’t afraid to embrace their inspiration and wear their hearts on their sleeves; Discovery is full of funky inflexions and rhythmic melodies, albeit crafted through computers and synthesizers. They were harder to find on Human After All, although that album, in hindsight, now looks like Daft Punk pushing the boundaries of public acceptance – it was some of the most abrasive things they’ve ever laid down and it was greeted with a mixed reception. The time they spent back at the drawing board has evidently been well spent.
who better is there to do the same for the robotic personas of Daft Punk? Get Lucky follows and is by far and away the best song of the year. Expertly teased for months on end by the band and their various PR subsidiaries, what other artists could have captured the attention of the world with a 15 second snippet of a disco riff? In fact who else would have had the audacity to do that? It’s insane in hindsight. The thing is, Get Lucky isn’t even the best track on the album! The footstomping Lose Yourself To Dance gives it a very good run for its money, thanks to Pharrell William’s second appearance on the record and the stadium-electronic that shimmers and thumps behind his falsetto. Both Beyond and Motherboard purr elegantly along, almost ponderously so, as the slow tempo, disco grooves are left to take centre stage. Discovery session singer Todd Edwards returns for Fragments of Time, and evokes memories of The Crescendolls all over again. His voice is delightful, ringing crystal clear against the backdrop of syncopated, layered synths, as he croons ‘I’ll just keep bringing back these fragments of time /Everywhere I do, these moments will shine,’ and it rings true throughout Random Access Memories as they have taken fragments of time from their lives – 70s disco, Discovery, etc - the bits that burn brightest and brought them to everyone’s attention again, and guess what? They are shining brightly everywhere Daft Punk go. The French duo are highlighting what electronic music once was and what it could be again; we, as an audience, are being asked to choose.
“daft punk have risen from the ashes and given music a new beginning - let’s hope people embrace it”
The themes of reclaiming music is evident in the lyrics as straight out of the blocks we are told to ‘let the music of our life, bring life back to music,’ an anthem in and of itself that heralds the rejection of the automated and the embracing of the real. This is further emphasized in The Game of Love and Instant Crush as the robots lament the loss of their senses and desire to experience love again. Touch featuring Muppets composer Paul Williams is a bizarre, operatic jazz odyssey that sounds almost like a parody song, but for some reason I still can’t help but take it seriously, even the Jules Holland style jazzy breakdown is a work of genius; “I remember touch, where do I belong?” ponders a robotic voice, gaining more and more emotion before shuddering into the juxtaposition of Williams’ soulful vocals ringing out. The robots have found a voice to represent them. If he can bring the Muppets to life through music,
As if we needed more persuading, the refrain of Doin’ it Right is obvious enough: ‘Doing it right, Everybody will be dancing tonight and feeling alright.’ – not exactly the most subtle of messages is it? Contact brings the album to a cataclysmic finish, sampling a supposed UFO sighting along the way – Is the astronaut observing a spaceship or is he referring to Random Access Memories itself? He describes a “bright object” that is “rotating in a very rhythmic fashion”, just like a record would do. He seems content to watch and observe this strange, new object – just as how one would feel after listening to Random Access Memories for the first time. They may have taken their sweet time retuning to us, but much “like the legend of the Phoenix,” Daft Punk have risen from the ashes and given music a new beginning. Let’s hope people embrace it. TW.
For Those About To
R a v e Words: Mikey Reynolds - Photos: Steve Gullick When Mogwai released their debut LP, Young Team, way, way back in 197, there wasn’t much like them out there in the vast world of music. Years to follow saw a host of pretenders to the crown appear, and yet the Glaswegian group held off their advances to remain as kings on the post-rock mountain.
band’s multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns. “The Zidane rehearsals did really get in the way of rehearsing the new songs but we really wanted to fit everything in, and we usually do.”
Seventeen years on, and here they are: preparing to release their eighth studio album, after a year spent working on various soundtrack projects. With 2013 devoted to the release of the Les Revenants soundtrack album, and their summer tour performing 2006’s Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, 2014 sees a return to normality - if such a thing is possible for Mogwai.
The “new songs” that Barry alludes to are those for their new record, Rave Tapes. Due for release on January 28, the album will be released through their own Rock Action Records label here in the UK, while overseas it will be released through the historic Sub Pop label, their second studio fulllength release for the Seattle label following 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.
“It wasn’t really difficult, but just quite sudden to go so quickly into the next big project from the last,” explained the
Remurdered was the first of the “new songs” to be revealed to the general public, attached along with information about
the new album, and sees the band premiere a new, hybrid style that brings together two strands of Mogwai; Remurdered hinted that this new album would contain equal parts “soundtrack Mogwai,” who, as evidenced by the Les Revenants OST, seem to find enjoyment in swapping guitars for synthesisers, pianos, and whatever else they can get their hands on, and “old Mogwai,” the band that you probably fell in love with thundering drums, roaring guitars, stretching the loud/quiet dynamic to its absolute fullest. Not that this change is necessarily a bad thing; the Les Revenants OST, though it may not be a proper, 100% “album” per-se, was still an important release for the band, something of a turning point, if you will. All of this helps to make Rave Tapes an even more exciting prospect - is this going to be the sound of a new Mogwai, the coming together of different strands of the same band? All this change does beg the question of the band, though. Having been together for nineteen years, and producing such an impressive body of work in that time, has anyone from within ever experienced the temptation to splinter off into their own Mogwai-lite side projects, and wrap themselves fully in whatever musical desires they have as individuals? “There are very few songs that band members write that we couldn’t present to the others,” answers Barry on the subject of side projects, “We always have a bash at everything and I still think we’re releasing music that’s good enough that we should stay together - plus the soundtrack work is fun.” I’m hoping that my question wasn’t misinterpreted by Barry - I wasn’t putting my head above the parapit
and claiming that Mogwai should split up, indeed, far from it; this flurry of creative activity, their busiest period since their early days, has made the band sound even better than they did some seventeen years ago (or at least, the recordings from seventeen years ago sound). My opinion is just that though - the real question is whether or not the band feel that they are working together better than they have previously? It would certainly seem that way - while Mogwai could never have been accused of being sloppy in their music making, the releases of the past few years just seem to indicate that the band have hit new heights, when you compare back over time. “It’s often been a struggle to get many of our songs together,” said Barry, “Sometimes it’s easier but not often. “It probably should be difficult because a lot of thinking goes on to get them into shape and I think that’s why working with producers is very good for us.”
Tony Doogan. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will and Rave Tapes have, however, seen them turn to an old friend in the production game: Chem19 studios’ very own Paul Savage. Mogwai and former Delgados drummer Savage first worked together on the aforementioned Young Team record, and the years in between saw him continue to produce with a host of rather well regarded musicians in The Twilight Sad, Zoey Van Goey and King Creosote. “I really like working with Paul and if I did have a project on my own, he’d be my first choice of producer,” explains Barry. “I never really worked with the band on the first album but I was around the studio at the time so it’s funny to remember how we all looked compared to now. He’s very accomplished since then but it was always obvious that he had a good idea of how he wanted to work and it paid off for him.” As we mentioned, the band spent most of 2013 working on soundtrack projects - including
“I still think we’re releasing music that’s good enough that we should stay together” The subject of producers and Mogwai is an interesting one. On previous releases they have worked with the likes of Andy Miller (who has previously produced for the likes of Arab Strap, The Delgados, Songs: Ohia and more), David Fridmann (past credits including MGMT, The Cribs, The Flaming Lips) and Belle & Sebastian, Malcolm Middleton and Dirty Pretty Things producer
revisiting 2006’s Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait for a series of live shows. Performing in Manchester, London and Glasgow, the group played the score in full, alongside the film itself. The show in Glasgow in particular was a special evening - the band were the first (and, to date, only) to play at 220 Broomielaw, a new performance space reclaimed from empty land along the banks
of the River Clyde, and watching them tear through the Zidane soundtrack on a warm summer’s evening was one of this year’s more enjoyable shows. “Yeah, it was odd. It was very hot that day so already it was strange in Glasgow….alien. “But because it was a one off in a place you would never have
have been horrible to have messed it up while he was present.”
of the centrepiece attractions for the festival.
From one unique show to another - this month sees the band perform as part of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival. Along with close friend RM Hubbert, they will play at the Royal Concert Hall, a 2500 capacity auditorium that normally plays host to the Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Celtic Connections artistic director Donald Shaw said: “Mogwai are one of the biggest bands to come out of Glasgow in the last twenty years and so we’re really pleased they’re making their Celtic Connections debut in January.
“I worry about pieces of sound treatment falling from the roof... but don’t worry, we’re bringing 75 amateur ceilidh dancers onstage” thought about, it almost felt like we weren’t in Glasgow until you’d occasionally look up and see the M8 Kingston Bridge. Then the sunset, I forgot to wear a jumper and half of the gig was spent violently shivering. I won’t forget it.” Spending the past twelve months as they did doesn’t seem particularly constructive as far as writing and recording a new album goes, yet somehow, Mogwai have managed it. Of course, throughout their career the band haven’t really taken much time off; each album seems to have flowed pretty seamlessly into the next, none of this modern two or three year hiatus nonsense for these boys. “Like I say, it was in the way but just to be able to play along with the film live was much more fun than we thought it would be. “We rehearsed for those shows more than any others because they had to be precise each time and we had Douglas [Gordon, director of Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait] there with us so it would
as opposed to the city’s biggest post-rock band. Like last summer’s set of shows, Glasgow isn’t the only city whose concert hall will be invaded by Barry and Co. Mogwai will also play two shows at the Royal Festival Hall in London in January too, ensuring a packed month for the band - along with, of course, the release of Rave Tapes. “I worry about pieces of sound treatment falling from the roof while we’re playing,” jokes Barry, “But don’t worry, we’re bringing 75 amateur ceilidh dancers onstage in case anyone has accidentally walked in there expecting reels and jigs. We’ve played similar places like the Albert Hall in London and other venues that are less gig and more concert. It always works out fine so we’re looking forward to that one.” The organisers of the festival are looking forward to the performance as much as the band themselves. Celtic Connections has previously hosted the likes of David Byrne, John Cale and Steve Earle, and this year the homegrown post-rockers are one
“A major strand of the festival has always been to celebrate the power of instrumental music and Mogwai continue to do this in their own unique and transcendent way.” Away from music, Mogwai are a pretty active lot, as evidenced from Twitter. Our humble interviewee Barry splits his time between the band and all the associated activities that go along with that and running Das Gift, a pub serving Scottish beers and food on Berlin’s Donaustraße (close to the Karl Marx Grill, according to Google Maps) , while the group’s de facto frontman, lead guitarist Stuart Braithwaite certainly does not mince his words when it comes to politics. Where they make most noise, politically, is on the question of Scottish independence. The band’s - and our - home country will head to the polls in September to decide whether or not to break away from the United Kingdom, and it’s clearly an issue near and dear to Mogwai hearts. Mogwai merchandise has often born the mark of Scotland, from the classic Lion Rampant shirt, to the retro football shirt style t-shirts on offer at the Zidane concerts. “To be fair, most of those ideas for t-shirts have come from designer pals who have projected that onto us and we’ve happily gone along with it,” Barry mentions. Perhaps we were wide of the mark with our assumption then...
“Many people from the USA (though not Canada) and a surprising amount of the rest of the world’s journalists still think we’re “from England” so maybe it is important to establish a country of origin.” How important though, does the band feel that artists like themselves are to any sort of political discussion in Scotland? Helmed by the likes of National Collective, Scotland’s creative industries are making major waves in the country as it moves towards the biggest decision it has taken as a nation. Barry has his own parting anecdote on that for us. “I was reading something on Twitter a few weeks ago and someone had asked our Stuart, why was the arts getting more coverage on TV regarding the big debate than say, a plumber. It might not be obvious to everybody, but art, music, drama, writing etc are inspiring things. “It has the ability to make people think differently, often for the better. It brings enjoyment and sometimes a welcome distraction. Politics is criticised and commented upon by the arts, it’s important. “And although plumbers are very important too - you don’t want the wee drip in your living room to develop into the big pool of water on top of your old piano -I’m not sure you’d class them as inspiring and able to change perceptions through their day job. And what’s to stop a plumber from making art anyway? I thought that was a stupid question that the guy asked.” With all that 2014 is set to bring, rest assured it will be a big year for Mogwai. Whether it’s releasing their newest album, performing at cavernous concert halls around the country, or preparing for Scotland’s big vote, you can be certain that the band won’t be taking a back seat over the next twelve months - but then, when have they ever?
MiddleMusic.net Beginner’s Guide To... Mogwai Albums
Mogwai’s debut album, 1996’s Young Team, has left such an impression that even today it is still talked about as being perhaps the band’s best work. Don’t mistake that for a group that are trading off past glories, but when you listen to this record, it’s easy to see why it enters into many a conversation about post-rock masterpieces.
Mogwai’s next great triumph came in 2003 with Happy Songs for Happy People. Swapping the sweeping guitars of Young Team and Come On Die Young for the electronica introduced on Rock Action, adding another string to their bow and in turn making their most interesting album since their debut. Things got interesting, and haven’t really stopped since. Last year’s Les Revenants is essential listening when we’re discussing Mogwai - yes, it isn’t a studio album proper but it’s still such an impressive collection that it would be ridiculous to ignore it. Much like Happy Songs..., this indicated another turn for the band as they begin to discover a new direction once again on their TV soundtrack album.
Songs Taken from the debut album which we raved about above - get it, rave, Mogwai - Mogwai Fear Satan, a16-minute epic of a closer, is astounding particularly when you consider that it is taken from the band’s debut. It fits though, and changing from section to section, keeps you hooked from beginning to end. Few other album closers have seemed such a perfect fit. If Mogwai were to have a signature song, this would be it. Taken from 2005’s Mr. Beast album, Glasgow Megasnake is one of Mogwai’s “biggest” sounding songs, opening with probably the closest the group will get to black metal, before transforming from those beginnings into almost sludge rock territory. A true tourde-force.
t’s no secret that The Julie Ruin; restructured, revamped and re-ally fucking good, have released an excellent debut album – Run Fast. Garnering praise across the board, achieving the dizzying heights of a 9/10 in these here pages, the record was an invigorating jolt for the ears. Adopting their namesake from Kathleen Hanna’s independent solo offering in the late 90s, The Julie Ruin have defined themselves as a uniquely satisfying band. On paper, the culmination of characters from different areas across the alternative spectrum (Carmine Covelli, Sara Landeau, Kathi Wilcox, Kenny Mellman and Hanna herself) seems a little too good to be true; standing precariously on the edge of implosion.
n practice, the group slot together and play themselves into an excitable, diverse explosion as drummer, Covelli articulates, “I think the recreation of The Julie Ruin, with its respective players, is a perfect example of the arts community in New York City – at least the “downtown” arts community Kenny and I come from. Kathleen sought out a group of people she was inspired by and wanted to make music with. She asked all of us separately and we all excitedly said yes, so it was both planned and a sort of happy mash up.” Those with a prior knowledge of Hanna’s luminaries and colleagues throughout the years will have reacted to the line-up news, back in June, with elation; safe in the knowledge that she’d be reunited with Wilcox and joined by Covelli.
Slightly lesser known, and criminally so, the additions of Kenny Mellman and Sara Landau (keyboardist and guitarist, respectively) were not as immediately identifiable as obvious choices for the outfit. “I think Kathleen, like any observant, well-formed artist, recognised that inspiration and collaborative choices can come from anywhere – and should come from anywhere so that your art is rich and exciting.”
clear direction as to what our sound should be. I’d have friends listen to rehearsal recordings, or rough mixes once we got to that point, and ask them ‘what is this?’ “Most would say, “I don’t know”, but they liked it, which made me happy. Not that we were creating any earth-shattering new sound, but that nobody could immediately place it anywhere in particular was a good sign, I thought”. o stranger to harsh criticisms, or her fair share of controversy, the bands of Kathleen Hanna seem to be regularly placed under a higher concentration of scrutiny than most. Although, sycophancy notwithstanding, Middle Music isn’t the only one to find the new album an interesting offering, something Covelli is noticeably grateful for, “We are, of course, happy that it received a positive response. The fans have been really generous and lovely and
"the julie ruin... is a perfect example N of the arts community in nyc"
Rich and exciting though the new material is, with such a kaleidoscopic collective, it seems difficult to imagine a seamless transition from initial talks to working in a singular, unified direction in the studio. As the album displays, there’s something a little abnormal and genreshirking about the sound. “Speaking for myself”, muses Covelli, “I can say that I had no
are, without a doubt, really happy to see Kathleen on the mend and performing again”. Hanna, having being diagnosed and tasked with battling Lyme disease for a number of years – a subject discussed with admirable frankness for the normally private artist in The Punk Singer (more on that later) – faced an exceedingly difficult time in her life, both personally and artistically.
both had things they wanted to sing about that felt important or interesting to them. “There was no talk of even recording for the first year of rehearsing together. Then, once Kathi joined up with us, we
likeminded people with the ability to get an important message across or provide a voice to the many who feel increasingly dumb. With that in mind, The Julie Ruin find themselves, naturally, predominantly appointed to the same alternative/ punk audience as their ancestors – so is this fervour for simply making music, for the sake of music a sign of calmer times? Does the rebellion still exist? “Certainly alternative and punk as a scene has changed quite a bit from when I was listening to it in the 80s and 90s”, Covelli acknowledges, “But then again, I never felt connected to any one scene. I was into a whole bunch of music and activities that, from an outside point of view, seemed inconsistent and possibly rebellious. “But for me, it was the stuff I was into. Should musicians play the music they like to play and that fans of that music want to hear? Yes. But I don’t limit it to punk music. Elizabeth Warren is pretty punk to me”.
"i don’t want to limit it to punk music. elizabeth warren is pretty punk"
et, here we sit in the afterglow of 2013 – a year witnessing the twitching of a riot grrl-esque reappearance in the uninitiated public eye, a fair slice of which can be attributed to this band. Was this the impetus for The Julie Ruin’s new form? Not so much, as it transpires. “I think the motivation for the record came from a need and desire to make art for the sake of making it. Lyrics wise, Kathleen (and Kenny on South Coast Plaza)
started planning on going into the studio. From there it was just writing songs and recording when Kathleen felt well enough.” The approach of making art for art’s sake is a concept that can be difficult to attribute to certain acts or artists. With particular genres, there often comes the baggage of expectation – some want a repeat of past material, others yearn for an evolution in style but most want the security of knowing the work always stems from the same roots. These are the musicians who speak to you, rather than at you;
eally, the next line of inquiry is obvious: what does such a man find himself listening to in his downtime, or between live shows? (You may notice this as being something of a trend in my interviews, but hey, it’s an interesting insight). “Oh, I listen to a full range of things. It might be easiest for me to take a look at my phone and tell you what’s on there… [he does so]. Let’s see… Wild Nothing, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, LCD Soundsystem, Volcano Choir, Dead Kennedys, The Walkmen, Youth Lagoon, even the
I guess it’s an introduction as obviously lazy as it is relevant, but nonetheless: This year has seen its fair share of Kathleen Hanna. Not only has 2013 birthed The Riot Grrrl Collection (a meaty time capsule of the movement’s origins, of which Hanna and Bikini Kill were proud component parts) and Sini Anderson’s K. Hanna focused documentary, The Punk Singer, but also an album of new material from the freshly incarnated Julie Ruin: Run Fast. I don’t know about other financially challenged UK residents, but having neither the money for the Collection, nor the chance to catch The Punk Singer throughout its original American tour – the release of some new music greatly endeared itself to me. All fears are quelled from the onset, with album opener and first single release Oh Come On. The gravelly track is nothing less than a two and a half minute affirmation that Hanna is still capable of that characteristic vocal energy which layered Bikini Kill as a whole. Successful opener stumbles headfirst into successful follow up, Ha Ha Ha, bringing a sense of certainty that this is ‘Good Music’. Hasty prejudices about recycling or rehashing are essentially eviscerated with the opening quirky fuzz of a synthpop melody, infused with those lovable intones. In regards to content, what becomes increasingly clear is that The Julie Ruin take more than just their namesake from Hanna’s 1997 solo effort, Julie Ruin. Amid the angst and social commentary on the (very) independent record, was an assortment of tracks showcasing a softer side to the usual vocal vehemence with which Hanna had become synonymous – Apt #5, The Punk Singer. This vulnerability rears its head once again throughout Run Fast, particularly with Just My Kind, offering tender lyricism straight off the back of
words of an altogether more incendiary nature in a prior track. This structural alignment is something of a trend on the album, in that: it has no structure. Songs don’t so much lead into one another as they do head butt and clash, which is a surprisingly fitting method of delivery. A mellow atmosphere (Lookout, Goodnight Goodbye), clever songwriting (Girls Like Us, Ha Ha Ha), traits of Bikini Kill-esque gruff (Oh Come On, Stop Stop) and some fucking excellent funk piano work (latter half of Cookie Road) all bring their own comfortable zeal to the record. ‘Comfortable’; not in a static sense, but a gratified sense. The album defies the stranglehold of archetypes and tepidness, makes no attempt at a linear sound and does so without gratuitous punky disquiet. Run Fast’s success is in existing as something evidently interesting within a musical genus that’s often all too easy to cover over with short, trite banalities. Catchy, pleasant, relevant, refreshing, relieving, satirical, excellent. Phil Wilson
soundtrack to the Diving Bell and the Butterfly…” I begin to think I’ve asked a much bigger question than initially suspected. Regardless, it’s clear that not only is Covelli a man of his eccentric word, but that listeners are safe in the hands of The Julie Ruin; a band as nuanced by their own influences as they are influential in their own right. owever, our esteemed interviewee hasn’t always worked with Hanna and co. in an instrumental capacity. Covelli acted as the eye behind the camera for Who Took The Bomp? A lengthy diary-cum-documentary centred on Le Tigre’s final string of live shows, released in 2010. “I had that working relationship with Kathleen, Jo and JD from Le Tigre, from when they hired me to create a series of background videos for their live shows. Then I proposed shooting all the behindthe-scenes footage from the tour after they expressed an interest in documenting their live shows. “So, Kathleen knew what I was like to work with and we got along really well. She had seen me play the drums in various settings – a glam rock party band
to theatrical performances like Neal Medlyn’s Prince inspired show, which Kenny was also in. “I guess from there, making an album together seemed logical”. As previously touched on, Sini Anderson’s Hanna-orientated documentary, The Punk Singer has been making a name for itself touring theatres in America. Although thematically different from Who Took The Bomp? the film feels like a close relative, not only for the obvious inclusion of the artist and her colleagues, but also in its topics of discussion. From both a professional viewpoint, and that of a close friend, it’s clear that Covelli views it with great reverence. “I’ve watched the movie on my laptop and got to see a private screening at the Ace Hotel in NYC. Both times were great, but watching it with a crowd of friends and fans was much better. “I love the movie, I really do. It’s amazing to watch a film about someone you have admired from afar and then became friends with. To see the footage of her and the rest of Bikini Kill overcoming all the bullshit with such ferocity and intelligence was really exciting.
“It felt like a moment in time, and a voice and a personal story that needed to be told. What Kathleen did and continues to do is to demand to be treated equally, with respect and demand to be heard. And get out of the way if you disagree”. Right there, in those sentences, lies the heart of why this band deserve the praise. Sure, the album is excellent and the music is great, but it’s that sense of unity and, dare I say, family that generates the allure. If you’re looking for traits of the rebelliousness and consideration of the alternative scene this band spring from, you need look no further. s things wind to a close, I’m searching around for one last little glimmer of optimism to walk away with: what lies in the future for The Julie Ruin? “More touring is in the immediate future. We’ll announce dates in 2014 and hopefully we’ll get to play everywhere people want to hear us”, he teases, “Oh, and another album. We’re feeling restless already!”
I breathe a sigh of relief.
the french connection... journal de france, a cannes-premiered journey through french life journal de france dir. raymond depardon/ claudine nougaret released january 31 In Raymond Depardon’s Journal de France, we’re strapped into the passenger seat of his tired, rusting transit van as it tours the picturesque landscape of France. On his travels, the acclaimed photographer pauses to document the beauty inherent in normalcy: a tobacconist’s shop front, a sprawling beach or simply friends gathered on a doorstep. Interspersing these visceral, humble scenes is an introspective show-reel of Depardon’s photojournalism career; narrated by long-time collaborator
and wife, Claudine Nougaret. Beginning with his first unsteady, black and white steps into a life behind the lens and stretching to the present day – the footage leaves very little unexplored. He’s filmed it all: the soul, the love, the humour, the cruelty, the politics, the war, the death and the visual poetry of our contrary planet. Through the years’ of footage, Depardon’s growth and consistency as a documentarian reflects the darkening of his subject material; few images as striking as a stumbling Yemen slave, few sequences as unnerving as the aloof conversation between a group of mercenaries in Biafra and few thorny images as haunting as war casualties. The skill of Journal is in its
By Phil Wilson
calculation and steady hand, though: more often than not, the footage speaks for itself, creating a perfect storm of conflicting atmospheres. Whereas, other reels will sift cinematically from the past to the present on the crest of whimsical backing tracks, or lighting cues, updating us on Depardon’s solo trip. Gradually, what appears to be an unstructured, bare autobiography, begins to reveal its true, intelligent form. As the life and work of the man unfolds. alongside the life and colour of the world he shot; we play the same role in his photographic past as he does in his unsuspecting tour of his homeland. There’s no ceremony, no warning and no predictability in the
sequence of footage (save chronology). Where war and pestilence may impose upon the viewer one minute, an impromptu tender twist comforts them the next. It is, simply put, a daring voyage of discovery, not a journey devoid of vulnerability, despite what the distanced coverage may seem to say. Among the imposing concrete of cuts from his career, the buds of romantic endeavours and simple humanistic interviews find room to bloom. Charming shots of Nougaret playfully teasing Depardon whilst he films, or a woman’s frank analysis of her mother’s death (filmed in a public diner) hold
the hobbit: the desolation of smaug dir. peter jackson released december 11 Unbeknownst to Peter Jackson, when he first endeavoured to film his hairy footed soap opera, I’d just begun tackling Tolkien’s opus myself. Being a lonely nine year old, with few hobbies and even fewer friends, the sprawling slice of mythical escapism immediately enamoured itself to me. Jackson’s trilogy ran parallel to my repeated readings and still, to this day, I find myself unable to look at its component features as simply films. They felt like much more
an intriguingly affecting power over the viewer. In a moment of undiluted poignancy, parked at a roadside and awaiting the right lighting to take his next shot, Depardon muses: “I don’t know where I am. I’m in orbit. The van is my capsule. I’m in orbit somewhere”. Perfectly, and accidentally, capturing the essence of the film, he shrugs nonchalantly and continues his wait. The enduring appeal of Journal de France is in that sentence. He’s in orbit, as he’s always been, around the situation, the scene, the death, the love, the bland shop front, the cold beach, the casual friends on a bench – there, behind the lens. at the time, and they feel like much more now. Unfortunately, and I mean the full weight of that word, The Hobbit has thus far lacked the same sense of magic, piety and spectacle. Instead, we have a series of overwhelmingly selfreferential films, keen to show off and prove their worth. From the onset (which sees Jackson ape his cameo from Fellowship in the first of many moments of visual bragging) everything feels lethargic; thick and murky where it should feel misty and endearing. A sense of forced urgency and gimmicky effects make for a graceless slew of set pieces, all widely
And behind him is the audience, the passenger in his transit van.
the punk singer dir. sini anderson released october 20 Sini Anderson’s extensive documentary initially follows the regular beats of a profile piece. With an exhaustive list of talking heads and indefatigable anecdotes from Kathleen Hanna herself, The Punk Singer divulges the childhood, family and beginnings of its iconic figurehead. However, keen to circumvent the welltrodden path of an archetypal documentary, Anderson’s film soon becomes a much devoid of any real sense of danger. Spreading itself thin by tightening scenes to the point of snapping with superfluous dialogue – in order to rank up runtime - the film quickly lands in Mirkwood, and the safety of Orlando Bloom’s familiar elven face. Yes, we all know Legolas has no place in The Hobbit – but it’s plenty entertaining to watch his disorientating choreographed fight sequences again. The real pointy eared quandary is Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel – seemingly written in as an encouraging female presence in an otherwise male film. A shame, then, that
more inclusive look at feminism’s coexistence alongside Hanna. Through a unique view of early spoken word material, we begin to realise the lust for activism and art that sparked the formation of Bikini Kill – in both band and zine form. Expertly, the emotion and incendiary atmosphere of the time is brought to the screen by the inclusion of video tapes of early gigs and painstaking selfpublication. Devoid of sugar-coating the truth, everything is put on display: the rawness of each live show, the hostility and backlash greeting an honest word spoken on stage, the care, despair she’s quickly reduced to a simple object of desire between Bloom’s dreamy elf and Aidan Turner’s smitten dwarf, Kili – the latter of whom immediately suggests he could have ‘anything’ down his trousers. All of this negativity isn’t to say that it’s a principally terrible film. The concluding half eventually begins to find a scaly, fire-breathing grip on its narrative - with shoddy effects making way for a truly awesome, nuanced Smaug and (contrary to popular opinion) a spinetingling ending scene. But it all arrives an hour too late to save this listless, overweight effort that Tolkien fans don’t deserve.
and consideration behind every lyric – this is the caterwauling truth of an entire scene, and the woman at the centre of it. True to its aims, the film takes the same frankness when detailing the singer’s battle with late stage Lyme disease. Providing an interesting counterpoint to the first half, the discussion is both humbling and unsettling - particularly when showing a visibly medicated and distressed Hanna. The Punk Singer is, inarguably, a feat of impressive filmmaking. Seamlessly condensing the history and fallout of feminism into a digestible series of cuts and, with loving delicateness, detailing the full spectrum of the riot grrl movement Anderson reveals the human behind the icon, the Kathleen behind the punk singer.
anchorman 2 dir. adam mckay released december 18 Anchorman 2, would you believe, witnesses the return
of Ron Burgundy and his team of callous news reporters, on the crest of the advent of 24 hour, rolling news broadcasts. With them comes their gimmicky irreverence and somewhat bleary satirical crosshairs, trained on the state of viewer-ratingsjournalism. Where the original gradually wriggled its way into cult status with its buoyant, whimsical dialogue and found a seemingly inescapable half-life in being referenced by secondary school children – Burgundy’s latest outing is a tired attempt at recapturing the same atmosphere. Ferrell and McKay reduce their original work into something of a stretched out blueprint; a formula with which to churn out ramped up re-workings of past jokes. Present and accounted for: the news reporter royal rumble, allowing screen-time for cameo hungry celebs; the threat of a wild animal curbed by Baxter (our esteemed anchor’s dog) and Ron Burgundy’s teleprompter
downfall – it’s all there, and it’s all old.
predominantly formless misogyny.
Consistently wheeling out dialogue to the tune of “By the [something] of [pop culture icon]!” does not make for an engaging comedy, nor do painfully drawn out scenes of meta-comedy in which the characters deconstruct, beat for beat, the punch-line of a joke or set piece.
As a whole, Anchorman 2 feels uncertain of itself; Ferrell and co. seem to fluctuate between moments of sheer euphoria, barely keeping a chuckle hidden behind their domineering facial hair, and periods of lethargy and disinterest. The latter increasingly spilling into the audience as the film ticks ever closer to the culmination of its second hour.
As the film continues down the exact same narrative path as its predecessor, badly formed jokes begin to make way for errant attempts at tonguein-cheek controversy – most of which have no comedic relevance and fall on deaf ears. Dangling over the safety net of established, hapless characters and the prejudices of the film’s setting (1980s), childlike ignorance gives way to a reprehensible game of ‘What-Can-WeGet-Away-With’. This is mostly formed by a misguided string of racial jokes (beginning with Burgundy repeatedly stating “black!” in incredulity) and
All said and done, there are moments of successful humour. James Marsden’s Jack Lime/Lame provides flashes of endearing ludicrousness and the time-decrying appearance of JeanClaude Van Damme is beautiful. But, such few laughs have a long way to go in balancing the scales, and are simply not worth stomaching the majority of the film. Still, let’s remain optimistic about an Anchorman 3, by which point Steve Carrel may have learned the rest of the alphabet beyond his staple of loud vowels.
20 FEBRUARY − 2 MARCH 2014
GLASGOW YOUTH FILM FESTIVAL: 2–12 FEBRUARY GLASGOW SHORT FILM FESTIVAL: 13–16 FEBRUARY
We turn 10 this year − come & help us celebrate! Tickets go on sale Friday 24 January.
Photo by Ryan Russell
the blues are still blue
18 months on from their biggest news yet, against me! are back against me! transgender dysphoria blues released january 21 If you are anything like me, then for a good period of time throughout 2013 it felt like we might never see this album achieve a release. From initial predictions of a springtime release, to a summer of silence, it seemed like Against Me!’s most ambitious project yet had been stuck in whatever the musical equivalent of
development hell is. Finally though, one year after the hype machine began to turn, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is out, and we can finally sink our teeth into the band’s “concept album” about vocalist Laura Jane Grace’s gender reassignment surgery. “Concept album” is a strong term though, and perhaps one that isn’t quite befitting the album - this isn’t quite Tommy, there isn’t any sense of an ongoing narrative throughout the record; instead, the “concept” seems to come from the overarching theme and emotion of the record. If ever a record could be
By Mikey Reynolds
described as triumphant, it’s this one. While Laura Jane Grace’s first announcement, way back in 2012, was met with almost universal support from the Against Me! fanbase, there were certain sections of the online punk community who saw this as some sort of death knell for the band. Transgender Dysphoria Blues flicks two fingers at those detractors. True Trans Soul Rebel and FUCKMYLIFE666, the first two tracks revealed from this album on last year’s True Trans EP, have been fleshed out immeasurably on the album, and indeed, they are perhaps two of the finest
songs on the record. While the last Against Me! album, White Crosses, lacked the immediacy that had made this band such a vital component of any discussion of 21st century punk, that attitude is back with a bang here. Songs like Drinking With The Jocks and the eponymous opener pack as much of a punch as anything that’s come before. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is the first time since 2005’s Searching For A Former Clarity, when the band rallied and raged against the Iraq War, that it’s felt like they truly have something to say, something that needs to be heard. That isn’t to say the album is perfect Dead Friends, situated approximately halfway through the record, feels like a mis-step, with lyrics that don’t quite hit the spot in the same way as the high points
on the album though. Closing the album with Black Me Out ensures that the album ends on a high, as it should Black Me Out, revealed via Soundcloud a few weeks shy of the album’s release, is Against Me! at their angry, vitriolic best, even managing to make a line as puerile as “I wanna piss on the walls of your house” sound like a punchy statement. If anybody thought that the last few years were going to kill Against Me!, they were wrong although, from the shaky times the band (and their fans) have endured over the last few years, they’d have been forgiven for thinking that. Thankfully, the band have come up swinging with Transgender Dysphoria Blues, and far from seeming like the final shot from the band, this seems like the beginning of a brave new era.
katy perry prism released october 18
stephen malkmus & the jicks wig out at jagbags released january 7
studio recording. This isn’t the Malkmus of Pavement lore, indeed, this is an older and maybe wiser man as he tackles both middle-age and nostalgia across the same twelve tracks. The biggest tribute that can be paid to Wig Out At Jagbags though, is that this is an album that you can lose yourself in much the way you could Malkmus’ best works, Wowee Zowee, Slanted and Enchanted et al. Opener Planetary Motion begins the record with some spasmodic guitar work, before segueing
into Lariat, the first “single” - if such a thing still exists in this day and age - taken from the record, and one of the standout tracks amongst the fare offered here. Sweetly nostalgic in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from Malkmus, the song references music from “the best decade ever” - that being the 80s although the trademark witticisms and cutting humour that have come to define Malkmus shine through, referring to them as “the ADDs”. Malkmus is a lyricist
There really is no stopping Stephen Malkmus. Between 2011, when Malkmus & The Jicks released their last full-length, and now, he has jetted around the world with the reformed Pavement, recorded a full-length cover of his heroes Can’s Ege Bamyasi for Record Store Day, and now he’s back with The Jicks’ 6th
The problem with trying to review these sorts of albums, from these sorts of artists, is that there’s very rarely anything to say. Usually I’d launch into some playful self-deprecation (more in a bid to validate my role as a ‘writer’ than anything else), and blame myself for my lack of engagement. However, it struck me very early on in Katy Perry’s Prism, that this is an inevitable reaction to music that has exactly bugger all to say for itself. I’m at a loss as to how anybody could give credence to the following articulate parable: “The clock is ticking, running out of time/ So we should party, all night/So cover your eyes, I have a surprise/I hope
you’ve got a healthy appetite/If you wanna dance, if you want it all/ You know that I’m the girl you should call”. Three tracks in and Perry is lyrically begging me to wallow in disinterest… insisting, really. The blanket drowsiness is punctuated by moments of sheer hilarity, though. A few tracks present themselves as veritable mini games, with the listener on hand to try and differentiate between really poor sexual innuendo and poor romantic imagery. “Just when I think I can’t take anymore/We go deeper and harder than ever before/We go higher and higher/I feel like I’m already there/I’m walking on air” - I’m saying two parts innuendo, one part romanticism for that one, but I’m willing to take counter arguments. Phil Wilson
and musician who has the ability to tug at the heartstrings, and he varies between that and the classic, 2cool4u laconic pose which he struck throughout the entire 90s on this record. While this isn’t a Pavement album,and it would be wrong to expect such, it is an enjoyable journey, and a chance to see Stephen Malkmus older, but having as much - or, alternatviely, little - fun as he always seemed to enjoy through the years. Mikey Reynolds
sky ferreira night time, my time released january 28 If Phil Wilson’s review of Katy Perry’s Prism album on the previous page indicated everyhing that was wrong with modern pop music, then perhaps Sky Ferreira’s long awaited debut album is the other side of the coin. Delayed by numerous setbacks - though in recent interviews, Ferreira has expressed her belief that it was just a lack of interest from her label - Night Time, My Time is a very impressive debut effort. Eschewing the superficial concerns and terrible, terrible lyricism of most modern pop, the album is an instrospective effort that exposes all of Ferreira’s neuroses, perhaps as some bizarre sort of therapy, but instead of becoming a dirge, the smart electroclash sounds that these lyrics are set to helps make the album perhaps the year’s biggest crossover success. Looks can be deceiving: New York singer-songwriter Sky Ferreira
Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay) exposes these fragilities, while still continuing to straddle the line between desperation and empowerment, while opener Boys sounds like the sort of storming, confident romp that would start proceedings, only for a listen to the lyrics to reveal more of the intriguing themes that Ferreira very much plays on throughout the album. The main criticism of the singer-songwriter appears to be that she doubles up as a fashion model; but when she produces songs this good, who cares what her alternative careers are, and whether they fit the indie ideal? Sky Ferreira certainly doesn’t. Mikey Reynolds
toy join the dots released december 9
There’s nothing wrong with the concept of TOY. The band are clearly competent
musicians and singer Tom Dougall can hold a note. Unfortunately it’s pretty much the same note for the duration of each song. They have – though at this point perhaps we move into ‘had’ territory – promise. TOY predictably caught the eye of critics desperate for a guitar band to rescue them from the murky world of singer songwriters and bad rap that has descended on 2013 like a shower of zombies. They released an acceptable debut, pointing towards greater things rather than actually containing any. Clearly it wasn’t pointing to Join The Dots - to be clear, it’s not bad, exactly. Nothing this boring can provoke such strong feelings as anger or misery. The sole hope for the future of TOY is to be found in It’s Been So Long, a concerted effort to force the singer out of his comfort zone in a blast of Eugenius-esque fun. But that really is the sole highlight of a drab album that wants a bit of The Horrors’ recent success without having to put the hard yards in. Consider bread: it’s pleasant, you’re quite fine eating just plain bread if you’re starving, but you wouldn’t choose it as a tasty snack without whacking a bit of cheese in it or jam on it. Join The Dots is bread. If they don’t crack open the Robinson’s before long TOY are likely to become the brown variety. Chris Lockie
cate le bon mug museum released november 11 Uprooting everything and moving to LA has produced undoubtedly Cate Le Bon’s best album. The unavoidable polish added by her new friends across the pond hasn’t done anything to strip Le Bon of the charm that made CYRK such an intriguing listen. The entire album is tinged with something of a retro feel, but the centrepiece of the album throughout are the lilting vocals of Le Bon. Exposed to perhaps their widest audience yet on Manic Street Preachers’ Rewind the Film earlier this year, her accented voice stands out ahead of the varying instrumentation used throughout; pop music doesn’t find many voices as distinctive as this, so to hear it allowed to roam free is something of a joy. Comparisons are often made with Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico, and though Cate Le Bon may be in danger of getting bogged down by them, made here they are linked in the best possible way. The invention that ran throughout Nico’s VU and solo work helped make her one of pop culture’s more interesting icons, and the same sense of invention is here on Mug Museum – Are You With Me Now? very much sounds like those 60’s pop groups discussed above, while I Think I Knew has a hint
of Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson as Le Bon and Perfume Genius trade verses, before Wild introduces an almost punk energy to the album. Every so often someone will bring up Le Bon’s reference to Pavement as one of her main influences (ourselves being one of them, now). This isn’t to say that this album sounds anything like Malkmus et al., but the influence is there. If not in the music, the willingness to mix and mash styles and eras together carries through, and the bold identity that Mug Museum has carved for itself makes it an album that deserves to be heard by as many people as her turn on the Manics’ Rewind the Film. Mikey Reynolds
pusha t my name is my name released october 7
Pusha T’s longawaited debut continues the streak Terrence Thornton has been on. Building on mixtapes Fear Of God I & II and Wrath of Caine, Pusha serves up an excellent batch of audio dope. Opener King Push features an aggressive flow from Pusha as he goes on the subliminal offensive, possibly sneakdissing Drake (“I rap, nigga, about trap niggas, I don’t sing hooks”) and proclaiming himself King of the Dope Boys over one of the best beats of
the year. With excellent beat selection and well-chosen guest appearances, Pusha T’s cold, vicious flow is front & centre for most of MNIMN. That’s both good & bad: T consistently maintains a surprisingly inventive narrative, but when he brings in people like The-Dream for an R&B cut, he can sound rather one-dimensional. With a lean 12 tracks, these missteps are too noticeable to overlook. MNIMN is a good album that could have been great, but it allows Pusha T to reveal his expanded repertoire of raps. The young kid from the Clipse who only rapped about coke, dope & money has widened his horizons. He’s still at his best when he’s rapping about street life, but My Name Is My Name showcases his growth as a lyricist and musician, which should excite fans of Pusha T, the Clipse & G.O.O.D. music. My Name Is My Name is an album that benefits from several listens: each time you notice something new about the beats, or a witty line, or an outstanding piece of shit-talking from Push. It’s like Pusha says; his dope don’t spoil. Jordan Bell
afi burials released october 22 If you read any review of an AFI record, its writer will have made the point that
each of the band’s albums is markedly different from its predecessor. To some extent this is bollocks. Though AFI’s intent differs each time, as the band strive to push the boundaries of their own rock limitations, the output tends to vary most of all based on whether or not they’ve included a couple of poppy numbers to keep the executives happy. Where Senses Fail go, AFI fear to tread. Burials is the ninth studio album from a band that have passed the 20year mark since 2009’s Crash. Its cover of a sun in eclipse is a bold attempt at gravitas, and the weight of opening track The Sinking Night backs up the early notion that AFI plan to be taken seriously here. I Hope You Suffer amplifies the feeling of mild doom, but as is the way of AFI they can’t sit still for more than a few minutes. The schizophrenia of this album is maddening. Upbeat tracks showcase some of the better moments of AFI’s recent career (17 Crimes), but these are mixed in among tedious wastes of airtime (Heart Stops), below-par Sum 41 drivel (A Deep Slow Panic)…and solidly competent and genuinely interesting tracks like The Conductor. Ultimately they decide keeping the punters entertained matters more than angrily staring at them and daring them to give up. The last four tracks are standard, old school AFI, for better or worse, reclaiming
some of the spirit of old in place of the different direction this album toys with but can’t pull off. It’s the easiest section to sing along to, and the hardest section to take into your heart. It’s hard to know whether Burials is a triumph for AFI. This is an album that wants to be malevolent and introspective but can’t resist wanting to shift a few copies while it does so. Fans of previous albums will either take a few listens to get into it, or one listen to hate it. Two remixes of 17 Crimes appear as bonus tracks on a version of this album exclusive to the Best Buy chain in America, which is as good a way as I can think to sum up how little any of this makes sense. Chris Lockie
pixies ep-2 released january 3 Back in September, we reviewed Pixies’ EP- 1 (by ‘we’, I mean someone else entirely), finding it to be mostly disappointing. It felt anti-climactic: the first new material in over twenty years, seemingly to the eventual disfavour of Kim Deal, and more than a little derivative. But, loyal listeners to our shambolic radio show will have noticed a certain revision in recent months – whilst playing Another Toe in the Ocean, in light of its accompanying video release, a certain
Pixies charm eventually began to seep through. So, with the arrival of EP–2, released on my 21st birthday, no less (thanks guys!), it becomes less a matter of fervent expectation and more a case of stoic self-restraint – a difficult feat with such an iconic alt rock mouthpiece. And iconic they remain. Differing from its forerunner in sheer immediacy, the EP kicks off with Blue Eyed Hexe, a veritable slice of nostalgic Pixies guitar rock which could easily find itself welcome among the offerings of Dolittle or Trompe Le Monde ( A great album – I stand by it). Traversing the remaining three tracks sees a slight deterioration in power and energy, Magdalena wafts in a more sullen style, facing off melancholic rhythm work with some misty guitar hooks; whereas Greens and Blues achieves a bizarrely sanguine sort of dissatisfaction. The EP wraps up with Post-Kim: Pixies, sans bassist
Snakes, recapturing some of its initial momentum and ending on a relatively buoyant note. All in all, it’s not a strictly new selection of tracks, but it’s certainly devoid of the tepidness of EP–1. So what’s next? Phil Wilson
future of the left how to stop your brain in an accident released october 21 Future of the Left are a band from Wales who used to toil under the name of a fictional headmistress some of us are old enough to wish we couldn’t remember. Mrs McCluskey turned up in some other programme the other day, playing a teacher, not a headmistress, which fucked with my head a bit if I’m honest as I imagined what kind of scandal could have led to her demotion. Yes, what you just thought of was the first thing I thought
of as well. All right, they used to be called Mclusky and not McCluskey, but Future of the Left is a better name anyway. This is their fourth album. It’s very good. Future of the Left write sideways songs, unexpected sounds that evoke images of homes intentionally built to collapse in exactly five years on a precise timer, or children being slowly and gratefully beheaded by sheets of paper as parents look on proudly. The song titles on this album include: Future Child Embarrassment Matrix; How To Spot A Record Company; Johnny Borrell Afterlife. The lyricism is the album’s main strength, largely because Andy Falkous is quite mad. Included here is a tale of a new television show in which ”Kim Kardashian is chased through woodland by a giant bear wearing a mask which carries the visage of recently deceased film director Michael
Winner. The bear has apparently not qualified for a workplace pension, and is angry with Daniel Day Lewis for what he perceives to be the relative lack of action in There Will Be Blood”. The band have an intriguing relationship with music, as in the sounds made by nonpercussion instruments intended to produce melody. These songs are not for dancing to; these songs are for staring at in confusion. Singing of the Bonesaws is one such song, in which we are told of people “breaking off camera tripods to ram them bloodily into each other’s eyes”. Beats stomp across the album like jackbooted militiamen with a grudge against eardrums. Whether this is as good as the band’s previous output is irrelevant. Is there any point in comparing paintings by Picasso for their artistic merit? Of course not, they’re all shite. And Future of the Left’s music is all excellent. The album was crowdfunded, and that there’s an enormous number of genuine music fans keen to hear a sinister blend of Fugazi and Half Man Half Biscuit should come as a surprise to no-one who has ever heard a record by something called ‘Robin Thicke’. First they came for the twerkers, and we did nothing, except laugh obviously. We’ll be fine. Stay smart, stay positive, stay left. Chris Lockie
if post-rock be the sound of love, rave on... this quarter’s cover stars mogwai aim high with their eigth album
mogwai rave tapes released january 20 If there’s one thing that you take away from Mogwai’s Rave Tapes, it’s the overarching sense of doom that pervades the entire release. When we first heard Remurdered, way back in October, we had something of an inkling of what was to come from the latest Mogwai full player. Building on from the very solid foundations of the Les Revenants soundtrack, the band seem to have made the full-on move into shit-your-pants-interror horror music, and it shows here. Starting with Heard
About You Last Night, a track which harks back to the Mogwai that you may be more immediately familiar with, the album soon switches tack with Simon Ferocious, which introduces the more electronic sounds that soon come to define this album against the backdrop of Mogwai’s back catalogue. The aforementioned Remurdered has most commonly been referred to as “John Carpenteresque,” and you shan’t find us disagreeing. Even with the Les Revenants OST in their arsenal, the track is the most horror movie sounding track that the band have put together - impressive, considering this is a band who have at times
By Mikey Reynolds
traded almost entirely continuing much in the in ominous post-rock same way and providing compositions. some more evolution Repelish is haunting, of their already rather but not so much all-inclusive sound with thanks to the almighty the emotive No Medicine instrumentation that For Regret. The album they bring to the table closes out on The Lord Is instead, it’s the rambling, Out Of Control, a strong almost speaking-incontender for best track tongues style “vocals” on the album, a dark, that have been vocodor led romp that overdubbed onto the rather nicely ties up the track that manage to fill loose ends and closes the listener with dread. out the album. If you’ve managed to If you ever worried make it this far into the about Mogwai losing album, without feeling a their touch, you needn’t little bit like hiding under have bothered. The band the covers and never, a) aren’t going anywhere ever escaping again, you and b) don’t look like are a braver man than they’re going to let up on I. I was looking over my making some amazing shoulder by the time albums any time soon. I had made it through We wouldn’t the first half - and the have them any album doesn’t let up, other way. with the second half Mikey Reynolds