6 band names that just don’t work with voice search

Until very recently, I thought that voice assistants were a bit of a gimmick for tech addicts or the lazy, but since having a baby last year, I’ve realised that they are a great way to queue up some music when your hands are full.

I’ve paired my Spotify account to my Google Mini home assistant and Chromecast, so I can just say ‘Play X’ and voila, a greatest hits-style playlist starts up on my TV. Not exactly rocket science you’d think, but as the title of this post implies, there are some bands whose names just plain don’t work:

1. A

I have no doubt the band didn’t see this coming when they came up with their obnoxious name, but searching for their music on Spotify via voice command is nigh-on impossible. It just assumes I want to hear anything on Spotify and resumes my last-played music.

2. The Music

See ‘A’ – it doesn’t even work if you ask for ‘The Music, the band’ – you just end up with a band called ‘The Band’. Confused yet? Me too…

3. Hundred Reasons

One I was really surprised by as their name is two fairly basic words put together, but search with your voice and you get…

4. Only Echoes Remain

Maybe because they’re not (yet) a household name, but Google doesn’t know what to do with this band name. And it’s not just because they’re post rock – I was able to request Maybeshewill, And So I Watch You From Afar, 65daysofstatic and TTNG without any problems. However, when I asked for Only Echoes Remain, I got…

5. The Xcerts

Shout out to Claire for this one – if you search for the Xcerts via voice command you get the equally excellent, but really quite different:

6. !!!

Admittedly not a band I often listen to, but I thought I’d give it a go for the purposes of bringing this blog post to a nice round half-dozen. Apparently their name is pronounced ‘chit, chit, chit’, which Google interprets as:

*Sigh*

Bonus tip: If you’ve got a Google Home Hub (or Amazon Echo or Apple HomePod), you can ask: ‘What’s this song?’ when the radio’s playing and it will identify it. No more need for Shazam. Neat, huh?

What I have I missed? Let me know in the comments…

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Top 20 albums of the year 2018

My first post in over a year* is the compulsory albums of the year round-up. Read on to listen to my top picks from the past 12 months…

1.) The Vaccines – Combat Sports

A perfect half-hour of pop rock delights from “the last of the great romantic poets”. The ideal soundtrack to the hottest summer in living memory.
Stream: Out On The Street, Rolling Stones

2.) Press To Meco – Here’s To The Fatigue

Croydon power trio hit the big time with Marshall Records and supremo producer Gene ‘Machine’ Freeman.
Stream: Familiar Ground, A Place In It All

3.) Eels – The Deconstruction

E lays his heart bare once again, taking in everything from fatherhood to divorce.
Stream: Sweet Scorched Earth, Today Is The Day

4.) The Go! Team – Semicircle

A dazzling smorgasbord of instrumentation and genre-bending, even better than their 2004 debut.
Stream: Mayday, All The Way Live

5.) Editors – Violence

Brummy quintet bring real electro swagger to their latest offering.
Stream: Belong, So Low (Hallelujah)

6.) Muse – Simulation Theory

So garish, so kitsch, so much fun. Their 2019 world tour can’t come soon enough.
Stream: Pressure, Propaganda

7.) Fatherson – Sum Of All Your Parts

This Kilmarnock trio have been lauded as the next Frightened Rabbit, and whilst they may not be at that level just yet, their third album is a huge step forward.
Stream: The Rain, Oh Yes

8.) Art Brut – Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!

The archetypal comeback record from Eddie Argos and co. Feat big brass.
Stream: Kultfigur, Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!

9.) LUMP – LUMP

Laura Marling/Mike Lindsay collab shimmers with chilled-out brilliance.
Stream: Late To The Flight, Curse Of The Contemporary

10.) Ash – Islands

Tim Wheeler’s break-up album is packed with hidden charms.
Stream: Incoming Waves, Buzzkill

11.) Orchards – Losers/Lovers
12.) Smashing Pumpkins – Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.
13.) Frank Turner – Be More Kind
14.) Black Foxxes – Reiði
15.) Thrice – Palms
16.) Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
17.) Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. – Young Adult
18.) Trophy Eyes – The American Dream
19.) Alkaline Trio – Is This Thing Cursed?
20.) The Magic Numbers – Outsiders

Looking forward to 2019, we can expect more pop-rock silliness from Weezer’s Black Album, comebacks from Millencolin and Doves, as well as the rumoured reincarnation of Creeper. In the meantime, I leave you with my video of the year – guaranteed to put a smile on your face!

*Convenient excuse – I became a dad!

 

Top 20 albums of the year 2017

It’s been a particularly strong year for new music – for the first time in a decade I could have easily stretched this to a top 40 – but in keeping with tradition, here are my top 20 albums of the year. Click on the headline to listen in full on Spotify.

1.) Creeper – Eternity In Your Arms

Quite simply the most exciting debut album to come out in years. The goth punk six-piece’s first full-length is electrifying stuff, combining the dramatic riffs of AFI with the gritty vocals of Alkaline Trio and the unashamed mythologising of My Chemical Romance. Their upcoming US tour supporting Neck Deep should see thousands more recruited to the cult.
Stream: Hiding With The Boys, Suzanne

2.) Elbow – Little Fictions

2017 may have been the year that Elbow recorded the John Lewis advert, but the Manchester indie veterans kicked off the year with another memorable record packed with melodic masterpieces and lyrical delights.
Stream: K2, Kindling

3.) Laura Marling – Semper Femina

A dazzling return to form from Britain’s most underrated solo artist, which was capped off by an effortlessly beautiful set on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.
Stream: Wild Fire, Nothing Not Nearly

4.) Arcade Fire – Everything Now

Fully embracing their disco and glam-rock influences, Arcade Fire’s latest release is a significant improvement on Reflektor, although the self-indulgent finale We Don’t Deserve Love is definitely one to skip.
Stream: Creature Comfort, Infinite Content

5.) Tall Ships – Impressions

The long-awaited follow-up to Everything Touching finally saw the light of day after a five-year gestation and it was more than worth the wait, with the band focusing on direct songwriting over gradual crescendos. Clearly it took a lot out of them, as they announced their break-up in  the summer and played their final show just last Saturday.
Stream: Home, Will To Life

6.) Foo Fighters – Concrete And Gold

With no gimmicky concept or studio-hopping marathons, the ninth Foos album is a straight-up classic of hard rock instrumentation and catchy tunes in perfect harmony. The litany of cameos (Paul McCartney, Justin Timberlake etc.) doesn’t disrupt the flow and the loud-quiet dynamic is as punchy as it has ever been.
Stream: T-Shirt, Run

7.) Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains

The Josh Homme show continues in full flow, with the ginger Elvis recruiting Mark Ronson to add an extra layer of swagger to the production of this, the band’s seventh studio album. Irresistibly devilish.
Stream: The Way You Used To Do, The Evil Has Landed

8.) Wolf Alice – Visions Of A Life

This incredibly versatile quartet’s sophomore album is every bit as varied and intriguing as their debut, with singer Ellie Rowsell channeling the spirit of Courtney Love, Billy Corgan and Taylor Swift by turns.
Stream: Yuk Foo, Beautifully Unconventional

9.) Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley

A concept album about a Welsh mining village might seem like a stretch for this most English of art-rock bands, but with clever use of archive samples and some truly stellar guest vocals, the result is utterly heart-warming.
Stream: Turn No More, They Gave Me A Lamp

10.) Everything Everything – A Fever Dream

It’s really saying something that an album about the nightmarish state of media, culture and politics including a song about Michael Gove can still make you want to dance until you drop.
Stream: Big Game, Run The Numbers

11.) Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile To The Surface
12.) The xx – I See You
13.) AFI – AFI
14.) Alt-J – Relaxer
15.) Jamie Lenman – Devolver
16.) Death From Above – Outrage! Is Now
17.) And So I Watch You From Afar – The Endless Shimmering
18.) At The Drive-In – in.ter a.li.a
19.) Arcane Roots – Melancholia Hymns
20.) Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?

I’m sure I’ve missed plenty off, so please let me know in the comments below, and I’ll leave you with my video of the year:

Slow burners: 8 of the best hard rock intros

A recent article on the BBC, which suggests that intros are dying out, prompted me to finally write a post I’ve been knocking around for a while now. Not that you’d know it from the start of this blog, but I believe that well-crafted intros are a fine art and one that I’d hate to see die out completely. Even if we do have an average online attention span of just eight seconds, surely there’s got to be room in life for the slow-burner. The BBC article linked above gives a handful of fairly predictable choices for the best epic song intro, and here are mine:

Audioslave: Cochise

Those pounding drums, that scratchy guitar and then, after nearly a full minute of anticipation, the big riff and Chris Cornell’s immortal voice.

Biffy Clyro: Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies

Convoluted, confusing and utterly brilliant. I must have listened to this intro hundreds of times, but I still get it wrong when I try to sing along.

Foo Fighters: In Your Honour

The most stadium-sized song the Foos have recorded to date, if I was Dave Grohl I’d open every single show with this absolute belter.

Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains The Same

87 seconds long and featuring at least eight separate phases, this masterpiece is the mother of all hard rock intros.

The Mars Volta: Cygnus… Vismund Cygnus

One of those quiet intros that tricks you into turning up the volume before blowing your head off 45 seconds later. Only with a dizzying blast of salsa-inspired post-rock.

Muse: Knights of Cydonia

Within five seconds you’re aware there’s a Western theme coming, within ten they’ve thrown in a sci-fi element and within 40 you’re wailing your head off to Matt Bellamy’s indiscernible shrieking.

Pink Floyd: In The Flesh?

So many of Pink Floyd’s songs start slowly that, in my teen years, I once skipped through their entire greatest hits impatiently searching for instant gratification. But as they say, good things come to those who wait.

Queens Of The Stone Age: (You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A) Millionaire

Most of the tracks on the seminal Songs For The Deaf could make this list, thanks to the brilliant radio intros punctuating the record, but this one stands out for its utter mastery of the loud-quiet dynamic and Nick Oliveri’s inimitable vocals.

As usual, I’ve probably missed some right gems, so let me know in the comments below and I’ll leave you with the best track that totally shuns any concept of an intro and just gets right into it:

 

 

 

 

 

Top 20 albums of the year 2016

For the tenth year in a row, here’s my list of the best albums released over the past 12 months. Follow the links to listen to the full thing on Spotify:

1.) Mystery Jets – Curve Of The Earth

Far more ambitious and adventurous than I ever thought this lot were capable of – the outstanding surprise of the year and a worthy winner.
Stream: Telomere, 1985

2.) Frightened Rabbit – Painting Of A Panic Attack

Perhaps the most underrated indie-rock band in the UK are finally starting to get the recognition that they deserve.
Stream: Lump Street, Die Like A Rich Boy

3.) Explosions In The Sky – The Wilderness

Yet another atmospheric masterpiece from the kings of post-rock, which rewards repeat listening.
Stream: Disintegration Anxiety, Colours In Space

4.) Band Of Skulls – By Default

Southampton power trio add some serious swagger to their bombastic mix of riffs and choruses. Irresistibly catchy stuff.
Stream: Black Magic, By Default

5.) Thrice – To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere

Well worth the wait after a four-year hiatus. Orange Country’s emo veterans are back with a bang.
Stream: Hurricane, Black Honey

6.) The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect

Alex Turner and Miles Kane join forces once again for the second spectacular album from their orchestral indie supergroup.
Stream: Dracula Teeth, Bad Habits

7.) Twin Atlantic – GLA

Glasgow rockers get rowdy on their fourth album, which is interspersed with some truly touching acoustic tracks as well.
Stream: I Am Alive, Whispers

8.) Blink 182 – California

Who needs Tom DeLonge? A change in frontman threatened to derail Blink 182, but Matt Skiba has slotted in seamlessly.
Stream: Kings Of The Weekend, No Future

9.) Weezer – The White Album

Set aside the daft ramblings of Thank God For Girls and this is the most consistent album that Weezer have released since Maladroit.
Stream: King Of The World, Wind In Our Sail

10.) Red Hot Chili Peppers – The Getaway

Still going strong in their fourth decade, the grandaddies of funk-rock are back on form with this solid collection of effortless tunes.
Stream: Goodbye Angels, This Ticonderoga

11.) Pixies – Head Carrier
12.) Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
13.) Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues
14.) 65daysofstatic – No Man’s Sky: Music For An Infinite Universe
15.) Biffy Clyro – Ellipsis
16.) Taking Back Sunday – Tidal Wave
17.) Travis – Everything At Once
18.) Sonic Boom Six – The F Bomb
19.) Green Day – Revolution Radio
20.) PAWS – No Grace

Plenty to look forward to in 2017, with Arcade Fire, Foo Fighters, Elbow and Tall Ships all shaping up to release new records. I’ll go into more depth on those in a future post, but for now I’ll leave you with my video of the year:

Post-rock primer: 5 great albums to get you hooked on instrumental music

Tomorrow sees the start of ArcTanGent – one of the few festivals in the UK dedicated to post-rock, math-rock, noise-rock and generally obscure but mind-bending music – and this has prompted me to finally write a post I’ve been knocking around for months.

Post rock raven

I’ll admit, not all bands that identify themselves as post-rock are strictly instrumental only, but broadly speaking the genre is typified by a reliance on progressive compositions or unexpected dynamic shifts, rather than on clever lyrics and catchy choruses. This can be a turn-off for some, but for others this kind of music is ideal for when you really need to focus and lyrics are a big distraction. So the next time you have to finish an essay, write a report, or even pen a seriously pretentious blog post, pop on one of these magnificent albums (via the orange Spotify links below) and enjoy.

  1. And So I Watch You From Afar – Heirs

Release: 2015
Average track length: 4:19
Key tracks: Run Home, Animal Ghosts
Fun fact: The shortest track on this album, Wasps was recently used as the soundtrack for a Tony Hawk skateboarding video.

  1. 65daysofstatic – We Were Exploding Anyway

Released: 2010
Average track length: 5:34
Key tracks: Mountainhead, Go Complex
Fun fact: After opening for The Cure on their 2008 European Tour, the Sheffield band teamed up with Robert Smith for Come To Me, the only track on this album that features vocals.

  1. Explosions In The Sky – The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place

Released: 2003
Average track length: 9:03
Key tracks: First Breath After Coma, Your Hand In Mine
Fun fact:  The Vitamin String Quartet included an abridged cover version of Your Hand In Mine in their 2010 compilation album The Rock N’ Roll Wedding Collection Vol. 2.

Explosions in the Sky meme

  1. Cougar – Patriot

Release: 2009
Average track length: 4:05
Key tracks: Heavy Into Jeff, Endings
Fun fact: Founded in Wisconsin in 2003, the band decided on their name before it became slang for a middle-aged female sexual predator.

  1. Maybeshewill – I Was Here For A Moment, Then I Was Gone

Release: 2011
Average track length: 4:05
Key tracks: Relative Minors, To The Skies From A Hillside
Fun fact: In a 2008 review, Drowned In Sound described the Leicester quintet as sounding “like Mogwai would if they had ever found love in an arthouse cinema. And then were beaten around the head with a keyboard.”

Five of the best debut albums of the 21st century

On Saturday night at the HMV Forum, Funeral For A Friend called time on their 15-year career by playing their seminal, genre-defining debut album Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation in full. So with the final chords of Novella still ringing in my head, here is my run-down of the five best debut albums to come out so far this century.

5. Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – The Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager (2006)

Crossover maestro Sam Duckworth has dabbled in many styles throughout his ten-year career, from afrobeat to bossanova, but he has never sounded so fresh and so relevant as back in 2006 when it was just acoustic guitar, electronic samples and the odd flourish of brass.

4. Mr Hudson & The Library – A Tale Of Two Cities (2007)

Fans of Ben Hudson’s recent collaborations with Kanye West and Kid Cudi would barely recognise this musichall-influenced debut. Scattered with delicately beautiful vocal performances, virtuoso piano solos, drug-fuelled love songs, and introverted reflections on life in London, this album is a fine reminder of what he is truly capable of.

3. Dry The River – Shallow Bed (2012)

Some debut albums are so intimidatingly successful that a band will only be able to manage one attempt to surpass it before throwing in the towel (see Hope Of The States). Sadly for fans of rustic indie folk, this was exactly the case with Dry The River, who called it a day at the tail end of last year. However, this majestic album stands as a lasting testament to their ability to conjure up orchestral swells and towering choruses.

2. Hell Is For Heroes – The Neon Handshake (2003)

Powered by one of the most urgent voices in rock, Hell Is For Heroes’ debut swept all contenders before it and won Rock Sound’s album of the year in 2003. Emo is a much-maligned genre these days, but the utter conviction of Justin Schlosberg’s vocals mean that this record hits home just as hard today as it did back then.

1. Hundred Reasons – Ideas Above Our Station (2002)

A whirlwind album that set the bar for a new wave of British alt-rock bands coming through in the early 00s. Straight out of the blocks with the irrepressible I’ll Find You, Ideas Above Our Station set the standard by which Hundred Reasons (and many other bands of their ilk after them) would come to be judged.

Honourable mentions must go to the debut albums by Adequate Seven, Bloc Party, Finch, Saosin, Tall Ships and Rival Schools. Feel free to chip in with your favourites in the comments.

Six albums to get psyched about in 2016

The year is barely a fortnight old and the annual flood of new album announcements has begun in earnest. There’s no better way to brighten up your January than to listen to some new music, so here’s my round-up of six of the best albums to look forward to over the next 12 months:

Explosions In The Sky – Wilderness (April 1)

The Texan post-rockers seem to have had their fill of soundtracking movies and are returning for their first full-length LP in three years.

The first hint of what’s to come is Disintegration Anxiety, which is a more contained effort than anything on their previous album, but still retains the soaring ambition that has seen this instrumental rock act book a headline show at the Royal Albert Hall.

The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect (April 1)

Alex Turner and Miles Kane have joined forces once again for a follow-up to 2008’s Age Of The Understatement.

And if new track Bad Habits is anything to go by, they have kept the orchestral arrangements, but fitted them into a more rough-and-ready style.

Tall Ships – 2nd Album (coming soon)

The long awaited sophomore effort from the South Coast quartet is finally on the horizon if a recent Facebook update is to be believed.

Let’s just hope they’ve included the uplifting 2015 release Will To Life, which deserves to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their best efforts to date.

Biffy Clyro – 7th album (coming soon)

2015 was very much a year off for the Biffy boys, with just the one UK gig. But if you’re only going to play once, you might as well make it a headline set at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations.

That show gave us a big hint that another album is in the pipeline, with new track On A Bang nestled in amongst a greatest hits setlist. And given their relentless work ethic, you can safely bet that plenty more new tunes are on the way soon.

Sonic Boom Six – The F-Bomb (Early 2016)

Losing their drummer, a marriage within the band, these distractions would be enough to finish most bands, but Sonic Boom Six seem energised to take on 2016.

Never ones to shy away from the big issues, the Manchester ska-punk collective appear to be honing their sights on feminism if the title of album number five is anything to go by.

Travis – Everything At Once (April 29)

Having long since lost the pressure of being a chart dominating act, Travis finally seem to be embracing the freedom to try something new.

Comeback single Everything At Once is like nothing we’ve ever heard from Fran Healy and co – this could be one of the most intriguing releases of the year.

Top 20 albums of the year 2015

It’s that time of the year again, when everyone seems to be looking back over the best musical releases. There’s been plenty of big albums to digest and discuss this year, so let’s dive right in.

1.) Everything Everything – Get To Heaven
Staggeringly inventive stuff from a band that never seems to run out of ideas. Euphoric indie with a dark heart.
Stream: No Reptiles, To The Blade

2.) Idlewild – Everything Ever Written
Poetic Scottish rockers return re-energised after a six-year break. Guitar solos and big choruses aplenty.
Stream: Collect Yourself, On Another Planet

3.) And So I Watch You From Afar – Heirs
Urgent, explosive post rock, with more vocal hooks than ever before, and they play one hell of a live show!
Stream: Run Home, Tryer You

4.) Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool
This year’s best debut by a mile. Expect great things from this hugely versatile four-piece.
Stream: Your Loves Whore, Giant Peach

5.) Frank Turner – Positive Songs For Negative People
Folk-punk pioneer goes down the self-help route on soul searching sixth studio album. Brutally honest stuff.
Stream: Get Better, Silent Key

6.) We Are The Ocean – ARK
Bombastic rockers amp up the choruses and riffs for fourth LP. Liam Cromby’s vocals are truly spectacular.
Stream: ARK, There’s Nothing Wrong

7.) The Subways – The Subways
11 perfectly crafted pop rock tunes with a snarling undercurrent and a relentless bounce.
Stream: Good Times, Black Letter

8.) Ash – Kablammo!
Who said albums are dead? Kirkpatrick trio get back to what they do best: mixing ballads with upbeat rockers.
Stream: Shutdown, Free

9.) Nothing But Thieves – Nothing But Thieves
Gargantuan vocals and some properly tidy tunes make this a very promising debut indeed.
Stream: Itch, Lover Please Stay

10.) City & Colour – If I Should Go Before You
Dallas Green’s first ensemble album sounds properly fleshed out and has a renewed sense of ambition
Stream: Woman, Lover Come Back

11.) The Vaccines – English Graffiti

12.) Stereophonics – Keep The Village Alive

13.) Coheed & Cambria – The Colour Before The Sun

14.) Mumford & Sons – Wilder Mind

15.) Laura Marling – Short Movie

16.) Tellison – Hope Fading Nightly

17.) No Devotion – Permanence

18.) The Cribs – For All My Sisters

19.) Guy Garvey – Courting The Squall

20.) Four Year Strong – Four Year Strong

Honourable mentions to Muse, Blur and Foo Fighters for their St. Cecilia ep, which has raised a tonne of money for the victims of the Paris attacks. As tradition dictates, I’ll leave you with my video of the year, enjoy!

5 things bands shouldn’t say on stage (but always do anyway)

Credit: Flickr/Superlekker
Credit: Flickr/Superlekker

Whether it’s at a festival or a gig, there are just some things that live bands can’t resist saying, even thought they really shouldn’t. Here’s my top 5:

How’s everybody doing tonight?

An innocuous enough way to start the set, maybe, but how can a crowd react appropriately?

We are an amorphous blob that can only respond: “Yeahhhh!” or “Booo!” Answering “Yeahhh!” to the question “How’s everybody doing tonight?” makes us feel like pillocks.

Please opt for “Is everyone having a good time tonight?” instead…

Would you like to hear some new songs?

Unless you are an earth-shatteringly important band that hasn’t released any new material in years (Brand New, say) then the answer to this is always going to be subdued.

And besides, why would you ask us? It’s not as it an apathetic reaction is going to change your setlist. Just get it over and done with so we can get back to the hits!

We’re so f*cking excited to be here, oops shouldn’t swear…

You’re a musician, so unless you’re Cliff Richard, of course you’re going to swear. Apologising only makes it worse when you inevitably forget and swear again.

This song is about the time when…

Unless you’re Paul McCartney, the origins of your songs probably aren’t that interesting. But if you really can’t resist the urge to elaborate, please stick to one sentence.

Case in point: Guy Garvey at OnBlackheath Festival last night: “This is a song about dancing away the blues, because no-one’s ever written about that before…”

We’re online, check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tinder etc.

Of course you are, everyone is. If you’ve made that good an impression we’ll track you down, we have the technology…

Speaking of which, I’m in a band now. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.