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:

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Top 7 festival bands playing the UK this summer

Me and Max at Reading 2006
Festivals can do horrible things to your face…

For the first time in 13 years, I’m not going to a music festival this summer.

So for those of you lucky enough to be heading for the mud, crowds and euphoria, I thought I’d indulge in a listicle and recommend a few bands to catch if you possibly can.

To narrow down my list to a top seven, I’ve only included bands that I’ve seen at two or more festivals, proving that their brilliance wasn’t a one-off.

Without further ado, let’s dive in:

Elbow

True festival veterans, Guy Garvey and his cohorts never fail to hit the mark, whether that’s tugging at the heartstrings (Real Life) or slapping you in the face with a gigantic riff (Grounds For Divorce). Come for One Day Like This, but stick around for Lippy Kids.

Playing: Kendal Calling

The Hives

The quintessential festival band, The Hives’ brand of unashamed punk rock can make even the most respectable festival goer rush to the front and lose their dignity. Unhinged rabble-rouser ‘Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist serves as the ideal frontman to orchestrate the madness.

Playing: Calling Festival

Manchester Orchestra

Fast-rising American quintet Manchester Orchestra don’t look like festival heroes, especially hermit-like lead singer Andy Hull. But it is the sheer force of their music that makes them unmissable, from the shape-shifting dynamics of Shake It Out to the irresistible singalong of Pensacola.

Playing: Reading Festival

Muse

Going to a festival is an expensive experience, so you want to know that at least some of your money has gone on stage theatrics. Muse have this down to a fine art and are constantly upping the ante, but best of all their music is so bombastic as to make all this theatricality seem totally justified.

Playing: Download

Gogol Bordello

Festivals are a great place to discover a new style of music and with a Gogol Bordello show you can discover half a dozen genres in half an hour. The self-proclaimed gypsy punks tackle a wide variety of styles with unerring gusto and sets often end with frontman Eugene Hutz crowd-surfing on a bass drum.

Playing: Boom Town Fair

Dry The River

Forget Mumford & Sons headlining Leeds Festival, the real folk rock event of the summer will be Dry The River’s appearance at the multi-venue Live at Leeds Festival. From chest-out singalongs to extended outros, a DTR show has it all and Lion’s Den is ultimate set finisher.

Playing: Live at Leeds Festival

Foo Fighters

I’ve saved the most obvious choice to last, but I couldn’t ignore the recent news that Dave Grohl and his band of merry men are headlining the UK’s biggest festival for the first time in 17 years. If you already have a ticket, you’d be a fool to miss what will surely be a monumental headline set from a truly peerless live band.

Playing: Glastonbury

 

Anyone I’ve missed off? Let me know in the comments…

Top 20 albums of the year 2014

I think it’s fair to say that this hasn’t exactly been a vintage year for rock and indie music, with big releases in fairly short order.
Nonetheless there has been plenty to enjoy, so in time-honoured fashion, here is my end-of-the-year run-down: Follow the links to listen on Grooveshark or Spotify.

1) Canterbury – Dark Days
The torch bearers for independent UK rock music come of age on their phenomenal third album. Packed with heartfelt honesty, punchy riffs and enormous choruses, Dark Days is a colossal achievement. The only catch? They broke up last night. Oh.
Top tracks: Expensive Imitation, Hold Your Own

2) Twin Atlantic – The Great Divide
Scottish singalong merchants Twin Atlantic dial up the pop sensibilities on their third full length. Sure there are some cheesy moments along the way, but they are becoming a force to be reckoned with and their live show is a joy to behold.
Top tracks: Action That Echo, Fall Into The Party

3) Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways
You certainly can’t accuse Dave Grohl and Co of lacking ambition on their eighth studio album. Recording across eight cities and trying to capture the local musical history with each stop is a tall order. In truth the latter tracks struggle to match the standard set by barnstorming opener Something from Nothing, but it still shows off the full breadth of what the Foo Fighters are capable of these days.
Top Tracks: Something From Nothing, Congregation

4) Band Of Skulls – Himalayan
Highly polished third album from the Southampton power trio. The stadium-sized riffs and dual vocals work a treat, if only there were more tender moments like the spine-tingling Cold Sweat.
Top Tracks: You Are All That I Am Not, Cold Sweat

5) Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright In The End
Rivers Cuomo and the boys go back to what they do best – “rocking out like it’s ’94”. The three-part finale shows true ambition and Da Vinci is one of the catchiest tracks of the year. Now play a UK tour, dammit!
Top tracks: Cleopatra, Da Vinci

6) Elbow – The Take-off And Landing Of Everything
A soulful return to their roots for Guy Garvey and his band of veteran balladeers. The outro of Lunette alone makes this album a serious contender, even if more ponderous moments weigh down the overall standard.
Top tracks: New York Morning, Fly Boy Blue / Lunette

7) Mongol Horde – Mongol Horde
My biggest regret this year is that I missed the chance to see Frank Turner’s hardcore side project play the Highbury Garage. By all accounts, it was utter carnage, which is hardly surprising given the sheer ferocity of this Genghis Khan-inspired scream fest of an album.
Top Tracks: Make Way, Blistering Blue Barnacles

8) Dry The River – Alarms In The Heart
There are some truly touching moments on this highly accomplished follow up to 2012’s Shallow Bed, but it ultimately fails to raise the bar in terms of emo-folk.
Top Tracks: Rollerskate, Gethsemane

9) Pixies – Indie Cindy
Black Francis and Joey Santiago are an top form here, shredding vocal chords and fretboards alike. It’s just a shame that Kim Deal didn’t fancy joining the party for old times’ sake.
Top Tracks: Bagboy, Blue Eyed Hexe

10) Maybeshewill – Fair Youth
Post rock intellectuals prove there is much more to Leicester than just Kasabian. Sharp dynamics and smart melodies abound on this taught and consistent fourth album
Top Tracks: In Amber, Fair Youth

11) The Retrospective Soundtrack Players – It’s A Wonderful Christmas Carol
12) Manchester Orchestra – Cope
13) Royal Blood – Royal Blood
14) I Am The Avalanche – Wolverines
15) Maximo Park – Too Much Information
16) Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt
17) Tim Wheeler – Lost Domain
18) Oxygen Thief – The Half-Life Of Facts
19) The Bronze Medal – Darlings
20) Lonely The Brave – The Day’s War

A lot of my favourite artists (Muse, Frank Turner, Ash, Sonic Boom Six) are holding out for 2015 releases, so there’s a lot to look forward to. But in the meantime, for my favourite music video of 2014, here’s Weezer on the moon!

65daysofstatic review for Songkick.com

65daysofstatic liveI’ve been a fan of Songkick for a few years now and now it seems this online music diary is now branching out into band reviews.

The latest Songkick competition invites music fans to review their favourite live band in no less than 200 words. If you submit your review before 31 July, you could win $500 of festival vouchers.

Still buzzing from the fantastic eighth edition of 2000 Trees, I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring, so here’s my review of the 65daysofstatic live experience:

“For many a rock fan 65daysofstatic have been the gateway drug to instrumental music and their live show plays a big part in that. Whether they are mid-way through a festival line-up, headlining their own show, or a humble support act (as they have been for Hundred Reasons and The Cure), they always create a memorable atmosphere.

The crowd is always hugely involved and it’s well worth getting down towards the front to experience the full force of noise when the bassline kicks in.

Their music is by turns ethereal and rave-inducing, with their 2010 album ‘We Were Exploding Anyway‘ acting as the touchstone of their career. ‘Go Complex’ is a particular live favourite with a dramatic shift in dynamics from the electronic intro to the hard rock outro.

But it is the more drawn out slow-building tracks that leave the most enduring impression, and the full ten-minute version of ‘Tiger Girl’ is an experience worthy of gracing any festival mainstage.

Their most recent full-length release ‘Wild Light’ has more of a cinematic feel to it, and the light show the band brought on their latest tour was stunning and tightly synchronised (although a little oppressive at times).

As an instrumental band, 65daysofstatic don’t have a traditional frontman, but the guitarists do talk to the crowd between songs and bass player Simon Wright acts as the rabble-rouser in chief, ensuring that the crowd always feels connected to the band despite the lack of vocals.

See them now while their tickets are still cheap – they will change the way you think about instrumental music.”