Five of the Best: #9: Me

Well, I finally got around to putting this up. I have had it virtually complete for weeks, but due to various complications and wonderful distractions, haven’t been able to post it online. When I sat down to write it, I had no idea how difficult it would be, so I really appreciate all of the other writers who took the time and effort to donate their Fives. I’ve enjoyed reading all of them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing my own.

Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump (2000)







When I first heard it

I think it was in 2000, a couple of months after its release. I got Underneath the Weeping Willow on a free cd with either Q or Select and from there, went out and bought the album. I had been getting really into the Beta Band in the year previous to it, which prepared me well for this. I was 15 or 16 at the time and I was simply blown away. I loved everything about it: from the name, to the artwork and, of course, the music. I played this album almost continuously for a year and it still sounds as fresh now as it did then.

Why I love it

It’s ramshackle, beautiful, funny, happy, sad… I could go on. Jason Lytle is a country singer trapped in a skater’s body. He combines the heartstring-tugging balladry of Gram Parsons with the kaleidoscopic vision of Wayne Coyne. These are love songs written for robots, machines, household appliances, aeroplanes, dial-a-views and humanoids. I guess they must be taking the piss on some level, but the songs are so sad and beautiful, it’s impossible not to be taken in by them.

I remember there was a sticker on the cover quoting a magazine’s review: “Easily the equal of OK Computer,” and whilst most of you will think this is OTT, I have to agree. This is one of the most complete albums I’ve ever heard and almost ten years on, I still can’t make it past the first track without breaking into a broad grin. I can’t say that about Airbag.

What it reminds me of

Being a teenager, with a head full of artificial angst. This album reminds me of being grounded and stuck in my bedroom. It reminds me of taking hours over chores that really should have taken five minutes, like hovering the landing or cleaning the bathroom. When I play it really loud, I keep expecting to hear a voice coming up the stairs, telling me to turn it down. It reminds me of lying in my bedroom, leafing through back issues of Q, Select and Hot Press. I used to sprawl out on the bed with this on repeat, probably when I was supposed to be revising for GCSEs or something. I remember lending it to some school friends, who couldn’t get my enthusiasm for it. I didn’t get enthusiastic about much when I was 16, so this must be pretty special.

Standout track

For different reasons I toyed with saying Underneath the Weeping Willow, Jed the Humanoid or Broken Household Appliance, National Forest, but ultimately, I can’t look past the opening track. He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot. Quite simply, the finest opening track of an album I’ve ever heard. It’s a little synthy indie rock opera…

“How’s it goin’, 2000 Man?”

Anything else?

I love all of Grandaddy’s albums, but none come close to matching The Sophtware Slump. Lead singer Jason Lytle returned this year with a new album, Yours Truly, The Commuter, which is his best work since.

Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights (2002)







When I first heard it

I didn’t get this album when it first came out. In fact, I only bought it after I’d heard the follow up, Antics. It was during the last year of my degree in 2004. If any one album has soundtracked my decade, it’s this one. I must have averaged three listens a week since I got it. I was surrounded by people listening to The Killers and Snow Patrol. This came as a godsend.

Why I love it

Played from start to finish, this is one of the most powerful, intense albums you’ll ever hear. I rarely use this word, but it’s awesome. The unforgettable opening bars of Untitled introduce you to an utterly hypnotic world of anxiety, tension and shadows.

In a way, Interpol were the flip side to much of the hyped New York scene of the time. The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs etc, are all great bands, but Interpol offered an alternative view of their city. A dark and sinister, but also a lovely view; away from the revelry and merry-making. The musicianship here is fantastic, the songs are complex, layered and brilliant, and the vocals are delivered starkly and coldly.

I love how Paul Banks can shift his voice from composed and tranquil, to frenzied and terrifying at the drop of the hat. I love how this album is completely loaded with paradoxes. It’s confident and self-contained, yet at the same time, seems wracked with doubt, caught up in a maelstrom of confusion, like the swirling, paranoiac guitars on The New. As a singular composition, this is as close to perfect as I’ve heard.

What it reminds me of

Leaving university and moving to Scotland. When I first went to Edinburgh, my old flatmate and I would often play TOTBL from start to finish at about 7am, after parties. We’d hardly speak a word, coming down with our heads tossed back, nodding to the music. It reminds me of looking out the big bay windows of our Haymarket flat, over the rooftops of Edinburgh, the sun slowly creeping up over the chimneys. There aren’t many sights that can match that, and even the thought of it is enough to give me goosebumps to this day. Unforgettable.

Standout track

The final track Leif Erikson is the perfect conclusion; desperate and resigned, a beleaguered Banks lays down some of the best vocals of the decade.

“It’s like learning a new language…”

Anything else?

When I interviewed the guitarist Daniel Kessler, he was a real prick and sneezed all over himself.

Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)







When I first heard it

I think around the time I started working in a bar job at the Caledonian Hilton Hotel in Edinburgh. I had been reading lots about Arcade Fire and hadn’t gotten around to hearing Funeral. When I did, I was completely hooked.

Why I love it

At first, I didn’t pay much attention to what this album was about. I was sold on the tunes, the melodies and the enthusiasm, which are incredible. But eventually, it’s impossible to ignore the themes. This is a devastating record, and one that anyone who has lost someone close to them can relate to. I know I can.

There are two ways you can react when something like that happens. You can wallow in self-pity… everyone does this to an extent. You can dig yourself into a little hole and brood over how shit things are, wondering how you’re going to make it through… thinking: “Why me?!”

Or you can take the Arcade Fire route. Bad things will happen. Loved ones will pass and people will move on. But rather than dwelling on losing someone, celebrate the time you had with them. If ever there was a more sparkling tribute to life than Funeral, then it must be pretty fucking spectacular.

What it reminds me of

To me, this is winter in Edinburgh. It reminds me of walking home from work at 6am and waking up and it being dark again. I don’t think I seen more than a few hours of daylight that winter and despite the fact that I was working in a shitty job, surviving hand to mouth and living on my tips, I struggle to think of a time when I had more fun.

Standout track

Neighbourhood #1: Tunnels pretty much sums up why I love this album. It encapsulates the bittersweet, happy-sad dynamic, and is a brilliant tune to dance to.

Anything else?

Arcade Fire are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. Watching them at the Barrowlands Ballroom in Glasgow is one of the most electrifying performances of my life. And their cover of Naïve Melody manages to give the Talking Heads a run for their money… no mean feat.

The National – Alligator (2005)







When I first heard it

I didn’t hear Alligator until I seen it popping up on a few End of Year Lists in 2005. I got it in December of that year and listened to it regularly for the next six months.

Why I love it

From the first time I listened to it, right up until now, I can be sure that if I listen to Alligator closely enough, it will reveal something new to me. Matt Berninger, the lead singer, with his gangly posterior and baritone voice, reminds me of some sort of mad professor. A tortured soul, a should-be-bedroom-bound geek, a fucking serial killer, even, who has somehow manifested himself as the whisky-sodden singer of a great rock band. I once read a review of this comparing him to House, the eponymous character of the tv series, and whilst there may be some physical similarities, I think Berninger is much more awkward… much too dark.

He’s the most unlikely of heroes; listening to him give out about his father in law, “ballerina-ing on a coffee table, cock in hand”, demanding his girlfriend to “serve him the sky with a big slice of lemon”, or claiming, in what you interpret as delusion, to be “the Great White Hope”, you can’t help but fall in love with the guy, and initially, he is why I loved Alligator. And that’s before you dissect the musical brilliance on the record. Each of the songs has a central melody, but is embossed with nuance upon nuance of excellence. The curious percussive patterns, the woodwind flourishes, the restrained guitar licks… all of these combine to create a subtle masterpiece.

What it reminds me of

This reminds me of getting the ferry back to Ireland from Stranraer to Belfast. It also reminds me of a massive fall out amongst friends a few years back, soundtracked by Alligator: the loveliest angry record ever to have graced my lugs.

Standout track

As with the others, I could have plumped for any one of half a dozen, but I always keep coming back to Daughters of the Soho Riots. It’s the first National song I play to anyone who hasn’t heard them. Mostly, they love it.

Anything else?

Seeing the band live only confirmed everything I thought about Berninger. He pranced about the stage like an eejit and owned the place. He was the absolute star of the show. It was a shame the tent was empty, but everyone that was there was nodding away with a knowing smile on their face.

Midlake – The Trials of Von Occupanther (2006)







When I first heard it?

I got a free mp3 of Roscoe from Pitchfork and fell in love with it. From there, I got into the album.

Why I love it

Midlake filled a Grandaddy-sized hole in my life. I’ve already written about the Sophtware Slump, and this album reminds me of it a lot (as does their fist album, Bamnan and Silvercork). It doesn’t sound massively like it, and thematically, they’re poles apart – as opposed to robots and gadgetry, Midlake are more preoccupied with 19th Century woodcutters.

But both albums are constructed around the nuances of a society neither band could have had any idea about. They hone in on little, seemingly inconsequential parts of these worlds and fill them with colour. Van Occupanther… has got a real warmness to it: it’s comforting. Tim Smith’s voice is like syrup over the gentle, 70s soft-rock music. The harmonies are understated, everything’s pretty simple, but it’s lovingly and expertly put together. The instrumentation (flutes, piano, violin) is lush – not in a grand, overbearing way, but I guess in the same way a forest is lush…fresh, organic even – which, I think, is exactly what they were going for. This is certainly the most serene, lovely album I’ve heard over the past ten years.

What it reminds me of

Although I’ve played this album regularly, it’s crept into my psyche subconsciously. There was never a time when I was listening to it constantly, but I guess that’s what I love about it… its subtlety. I seen them at Indian Summer in Glasgow in 2006 and Andrew Bird played violin with them. It was one of the best festival performances I’ve seen. I interviewed Andrew Bird a couple of hours later and I think he got a bit pissed off at me because I kept asking him about Midlake.

Standout track

Van Occupanther: probably the simplest song on the album, but a great one nonetheless. The lyrics are inspired.

Anything else?

I was out in a bar once and heard a surprisingly brilliant remix of Roscoe, Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve mix.


Choice Cut Video: The National – Daughters of the Soho Riots

http://www.youtube.com/v/v3_YrOULNY0&hl=en_GB&fs=1&

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