Thursday, December 5

Albums Of 2013 - No. 10 to No. 1

1. Vampire Weekend 'Modern Vampires of the City'
They haven't just reached the Next Level; they've conquered the art of songwriting, created their own city and filled it with heart and intrigue. Never have they been this serious, this fun, this good.

2. The National 'Trouble Will Find Me'
If you can't feel good because of miserable indie, there's something wrong with you.

3. Jon Hopkins 'Immunity'
Mmmm, pretty.

4. Frightened Rabbit 'Mechanical Bull'
Why aren't these taking over the world?!

5. Arcade Fire 'Reflektor'
We are lucky to be living in the age of Arcade Fire.

6. HAIM 'Days Are Gone'
Debut album of the year.

7. Daft Punk 'Random Access Memories'
Kings of Dance show us how it's done.

8. Arctic Monkeys 'AM'
Most exciting band around.

9. Wave Machines 'Pollen'
Most underrated band around.

10. Franz Ferdinand 'Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action'
Paying us back on all the promise.

Albums Of 2013 - No. 20 to No. 11

11. A$AP Rocky 'Long Live A$AP'
Sorry, 'Em, 'Ye, J and Drizz'. This is it.

12. Yeah Yeah Yeahs 'Mosquito'
Probably their best ever album.

13. London Grammar 'If You Wait'
Something special about these three.

14. Kings of Leon 'Mechanical Bull'
The machine is back on track.

15. Everything Everything 'Arc'
Engrossing angst and special twitching.

16. Local Natives 'Hummingbird'
LA even has great bands now, too.

17. John Newman 'Tribute'
Adele: The Man Version.

18. White Lies 'Big TV'
Their most complete album yet.

19. Daughter 'If You Leave'
It could be one long beautiful song.

20. Swim Deep 'Where The Heaven Are We'
More proof indie isn't dead.

Albums Of 2013 - No. 30 to No. 21

21. Frank Turner 'Tape Deck Heart'
Now he's the songs to match the arenas.

22. Fidlar 'Fidlar'
Why aren't these HUGE?!

23. The Strokes 'Chances'
Certainly their best in a while.

24. Chapel Club 'Good Together'
Too dissimilar to debut. But still solid.

25. Fall Out Boy 'Save Rock and Roll'
Save r'a'r? No. But a decent attempt.

26. Foals 'Holy Fire'
Very, very good. Great still in the works.

27. Sigur Ros 'Kveikur'
Props for trying something new.

28. Rudimental 'Home'
Diamonds in a pile of raving shit.

29. Miles Kane 'Don't Forget Who You Are'
He's getting there.

Not quite the first, but better than the second!

Sunday, December 1

Album Of Last Month

Eminem 'The Marshall Mathers LP 2' (Interscope)

In 2000, Eminem changed hip-hop forever with The Marshall Mathers LP. What's gone on with him since - four albums, divorce/re-marriage/re-divorce, Oscar-winning movie, drug addiction - is all part of the ripping story. But, despite being one of the greatest rappers of all time, The Marshall Mathers LP is still hit-for-hit his best album. So why he even has to attempt a revisitation (his words), 13 years later or not, is irritating in itself.
Maybe Marshall took a look at the healthy condition of today's brotherhood and got a little competitive. Jay Z and Kanye are kings like him; Drake is next in line; Kendrick, A$AP, 2 Chainz, Pro Era are the future - when was the last time rap was this exciting? The Marshall Mathers LP 2 may be Eminem's way of reminding us all what made him and why he's still the master. Whatever the reason, giving this record that name is a brave piece of business.
It takes approximately 4 minutes and 10 seconds to remember exactly who we're dealing with, though, when against 'Bad Guy's squeaking strings the lord of mockery spits: "I'm the bad guy who makes fun of people that die and hey, here's the sequel to The Marshall Mathers LP just to get people to buy." Ouch, we've been told. He also summons back the spirit of Stan from the original record and teases the following 13 tracks as his last... that opening should come with a tissue box.
It ain't all so moody though. 'Rhyme or Reason' milks The Zombies' slinky 'Time of the Season'; 'So Much Better' does death threats with the kind of fun-loving jingle we know Eminem for; his Aftermath label-mate Kendrick Lamar (the only other rapper to feature besides Dr. Dre's exec-producing) drops his own jumped-up machismo on 'Love Game'. 'Asshole', however, overdoes the fooling with Skylar Grey's "Everybody knows you're just an asshole" backing vocal as if she's nicked it from a grainy YouTube parody; it's a shame.
Another counter is how at-odds the flow seems. 'Survival' is obvious in its Guess Who's Back ambition but the trashy rocky production pull it from being anything other than okay. And 'Berzerk's old-school kickabout guitars pay sweet homage to the Beastie Boys but feel out of place here, although its poke at Khloe K ("I fell asleep and woke up in that Monte Carlo with the ugly Kardashian/Lamar, oh sorry yo, we done both set the bar low") is one more oddly comforting throwback to the olden days when Tom Green was accused of humping a dead moose.
On 'Rap God', Eminem is unbelievable. It's not the EDM-pulled beat or scarily turbo verses (6 words a second?!), but the many remarks on his and hip-hop's many ups/downs (Fabolous v Ray J, his 'Columbine' censoring, Run-D.M.C. tribute) and closing "Why be a king when you can be a god?" that turn it into silverware. The gay slurs ever-present are at their heaviest here, however - it's uncomfortable listening and takes away from what should be another game-changing moment. The album might hide behind being a reference point for his past but this feels more calculated than reflective.
In the main, this is his most insightful and self-aware record. After erupting on his abandoning dad on 'Rhyme or Reason', Marshall brings in fun. singer Nate Ruess (sucking the cool out of Lena Dunham clearly wasn't enough for this Mary Poppins tribute act) and writes with regret to his mum. "To this day we remain estranged and I hate it though, 'cause you ain't even get to witness your grandbabies grow," he raps on 'Headlights', also cringing he took things too far on 'Cleanin' Out My Closet'. This is when the LP is at its best; looking back on the original with wisdom.
'The Monster' with Rihanna is even mightier than 'Love the Way You Lie', and the biting 'Evil Twin' - "Borderline genius who's bored of his lines, that defines the way I feel now... I might just strike first and ignore the replies" - defends his position at the head of the table. The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is just as offensive, funny, bleak as its forebear, but - aside from the questionable guest stars and those derogatory comments - Eminem is brooding, in form and the rest should start taking notes again.

Friday, November 1

Album Of Last Month

Arcade Fire 'Reflektor' (Sonovox)

Let's just cut the crap. The costume rules, the secret shows - all this 'fun' Arcade Fire are having presenting their new album. It's out the way. And what do we have? One of the albums of the year and possibly this group's greatest record so far. The last one was exceptional and the first great AF album. But this one? Even James Murphy on production didn't ruin it. 'Afterlife' is immune to ever getting boring. It's a long album but there's too much gold on it to care. We really are lucky to be living in the age of Arcade Fire.

Saturday, October 26

My First El Clasico

My phone has run out of 3G data. Some old busker just played 'My Way' on his violin at the train station and it won't leave my ears. And I'm about to enter Camp Nou for El Clasico - Barcelona v Real Madrid - agitated to hell.

My football team - whom I pretty much care about more than anything in the world - are seemingly about to throw away any remote chance of retaining their title in fucking October. October!

We're 2-1 down to Stoke at home (home!) with 13 minutes to go, last I heard. I was on the train listening to 5 Live on iPlayer when suddenly, amid the eager droll of countless Barca fans packing the carriage, the ramble of Mark Lawrenson just stopped.

Towards the stadium, I walk. I'm upset, concerned about United. The horridly underdeveloped streets that ruin the essence of Camp Nou, I've seen a few times before. I'm sweating in my tight jeans which hold my €100 ticket. 'Please, reds; not again.'

I'm rushing up towards my seat with minutes till kick-off, trying to work out O2's weird Euro data rules and how to add more MB. I make kick-off by seconds - Ronaldo, Messi, Bale are before me but I don't care. I need to know what happened.

I can still hear 'My Way' - Ferguson's song. I've added more data. I can't check yet, too scared. I decide to catch my breath from the never-ending steps I just sprinted up. I'm worried the Barca obsessive next to me will spot Ronaldo on my iPhone background, so I conceal it.

The Barca fans going crazy at only a yellow against them - this atmosphere reminds me of Utd v Liverpool or City, when you don't even talk to the regular guys next to you out of pure anxiety at the level of the game.

Right. Time to check. God, this feels like I'm opening my A-level results. I'm fearing the worst; this new Utd is a new Utd. Bang. 3-2. YES... I'll never forget my first El Clasico. United win a late comeback. All is right in the world again.

Tuesday, October 1

Album Of Last Month

Arctic Monkeys 'AM' (Domino)

Friday night, Pyramid Stage, Glastonbury 2013. Alex Turner is suited like he means business with Bugsy Malone and talking through an Americanised Sheffield twang only Joss Stone would pretend to understand. It was strange - not because of Turner's newfound engagement with his inner Elvis - but because for the first time in a long time, Arctic Monkeys seemed... happy. It was like they'd immediately become at peace with their stature and weren't ashamed to loosen up.
2011's gratifying Suck It and See might have something to do with their pep, having seen the Monkeys return to form after a bout of California-itis - a sound they grew into so much, Suck It was their best record since that debut and maybe why they seem to be making a bigger fuss of themselves this time around. Or perhaps all the Glasto bravado, as well as Turner content to act a little Roger Sterling in their latest video, is because they're confident they've something extra special with the virtually self-titled AM (ripped from The Velvet Underground's outtakes VU).
The hip-hop beat Turner teased of before is instantly obvious amid the droll of 'Do I Wanna Know?' Jamie Cook's creepy "dill-nill-nill" guitar line will disturb you more than The Joker does Ben Affleck, and that's only rivalled by Turner lost and haunted by love/infatuation ("I'm constantly on the cusp of trying to kiss you, I don't know if you feel the same"). It's eerie, sexy and one bitchingly powerful way to begin. The frontman's conflicts with the opposite sex persist in 'R U Mine?' First released 18 months ago, it now works on here as the template for AM; you can tell how the rest emerged from the raw energy it offers.
Arctic Monkeys have never been famed for rocking out but it is striking how sedated the album feels. The nearest we get to a Teddy Picker are 'Arabella' and 'I Want It All'; even both of those sound like they've been doped by the LA sun. And the best part of 'Arabella' is not Cook plus drummer Matt Helders in a 10-second power duet, but when Turner lets fly of the cheetah coat-wearing, organic cig-smoking seductress he's on about atop a spine of sweet falsetto vocals - these which become typical of AM are the Arctics doing rock 'n' roll the old-fashioned way, kicking back without abusing the amp.
'No. 1 Party Anthem', which thankfully sounds nothing like a David Guetta beach rave, has a Lennon-type grandeur to it not miles from Humbug's 'Cornerstone', with the singer again in a state of obsession ("I'm not in love, I just want you to do me no good, and you look like you could"). The bluesy doo-wop returns in 'Fireside', a stripped-down, crisp tune and the most different the Arctics get; it's refreshing. 'Snap Out of It' isn't one that features Josh Homme but it does have a fun, QOTSA-like ooze. The melodies are tighter than ever and it's new, hypnotic territory for them - this band is growing up and only getting better.
Turner clearly had a lot on his mind after splitting from his famous girlfriend in 2011, but although a broken heart is always more interesting than a stable one, the constant pining and courtship here (not to say it's all personal) can become wearisome. What helps lighten it is his never-ending repartee of wisdom, this time assisted by an often seductive spirit: "I wanna be your vacuum cleaner, breathe in your dust" ('I Wanna Be Yours'); "Have you no idea that you're in deep? I've dreamt about you nearly every night this week" ('Do I Wanna Know?'); "You and me could have been a team, each had a half of a king and queen seat" ('Knee Socks').
And it wouldn't be a Monkeys LP without a lullaby of some kind, 'Mad Sounds' acting as a tribute to the powers of music and an endearing interval midway through... This is their most mature album, yet also their most gutsy; the high two-way choruses which make it so distinct would never have happened a few records ago. There's little bounce but the songs feel super sturdy, armed with Turner and his diverting reflections. AM, not that there was much doubt, simply reaffirms Arctic Monkeys as the most exciting band around.

Sunday, September 1

Album Of Last Month

Franz Ferdinand 'Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action' (Domino)

When Alex Kapranos confesses "I don't play pop music... I hate pop music" on 'Goodbye Lovers & Friends', the final song on this album, you wonder if it's the last we'll ever hear of Franz Ferdinand. Not only do they now take four years in between records - even Coldplay don't try that - but they seem to spend them so far off the beaten track, only the endangered species of Glasgow can pin them down. What happened to the bright-eyed art-school sprogs who rushed out their second album the year after their debut?
Playing the waiting game is brave when the modern day is so fickle, and especially as 2009's Tonight: Franz Ferdinand was the first dip in their work - it wasn't hopeless but it lacked the sparkle we fell for all those years ago... Sometimes, though, a ropy record plus time equals perfection and thankfully lead single 'Right Action' is exactly that. Darting guitars sharp enough to perform surgery and Kapranos on a telling crusade of how to kiss and make up ("Right thoughts, right words, right action"); it's fresh, kicking and so darn good it's actually made us suspicious of what follows.
And boy, are we wrong for doubting them. 'Evil Eye' soldiers on with the short, snappy stomp and delves into the psyche of a paranoiac ("It looks so clean but I can see the crawling, crawling creatures"), all via a groove that pays homage to Queen's 'Another One Bites the Dust'. The tribute to the legendary rockers continues in 'Love Illumination' when Kapranos chants about "looking for somebody to love". All this jumped-up funk and the singer at his canny best leads to Franz Ferdinand's most exciting output for ages - there's no question they've still got it.
Some of it does come out screwy, though - even for these. Kapranos supposedly goes for the jugular of religion on 'Fresh Strawberries' ("I believe there's nothing to believe, but I love the instruction manual"), only he chooses to do it by channeling the fruit itself - more weird than wonderful. 'Treason! Animals', meanwhile, runs its course of narcisissim-bashing with a headachy, endless jingle that sounds like a toddler disabling their new Toys R Us keyboard set. Franz should really leave the 'Look! We're young like you!' to the likes of Johnny Marr and his H&M gift vouchers.
More often than not, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action is this band sharpening their particular surefire indie to glittering distinction; it's a big relief there's little dilly-dallying with lifeless electronica. The half-sorry, half-bitter 'Goodbye Lovers & Friends' is probably not Franz Ferdinand's very last act, even if Kapranos proclaiming in the final seconds "But this really is the end" would make one awesome blowout. Although after delivering a record as good as this, they can take as long as they want.

Thursday, August 1

Album Of Last Month

Swim Deep 'Where the Heaven Are We' (Chess Club)

It's a well-known fact that most indie kids who grew up in the '90s equate sunshine with a spaced-out Billy Corgan riding an ice-cream truck through the desert. Judging by this debut album, Swim Deep are so obsessed with that image they want the current generation to hold them as Birmingham's answer to Corgan himself - only less ratty, more lovey-dovey and probably without the looming hair loss.
In his sweet, tranquil vocal, singer Austin Williams must mention the sun and/or sunshine at least a hundred times throughout Where the Heaven Are We - which for a band from the damp West Midlands is oddly admirable. But it takes songs like 'Fransisco' and 'King City' ("I wanna be everything that I'm not") to realise that's exactly what Swim Deep are about - that desire for light in spite of the dark.
The just-do-it attitude is best demonstrated on 'Honey', when Williams knocks out this golden line: "Don't just dream in your sleep, it's just lazy." Such fresh-faced ambition is fun to move to, especially when the music is as well-groomed. The vibrant keys and casual guitars may get samey, plus 'Red Lips I Know's riff borders on a Stone Roses theft case, but there's enough here to foresee a sound of their own.
'She Changes the Weather' was the last track recorded for the album and is also the most intricate - it establishes Swim Deep's knack for heavyweight indie-pop that gets you before you even know it. Given 2013 was the year some marked for a guitar rock resurgence, the much-hyped Palma Violets and Peace never quite delivered with their first efforts. Here's a new band who have.

Monday, July 1

Album Of Last Month

Sigur Rós 'Kveikur' (XL)

Who are these and what have they done with Sigur Rós?! Once the enigmatic oddballs of Iceland, the plucky post-rockers have experienced a slight evolution since, er, a year ago. They've lost one member (keyboardist Kjartan) and become a trio again, moved record labels (from major EMI to indie XL) and, as their seventh studio album suggests here, they've even gone a bit heavy.
Not to mention they recently made their first TV appearance in almost a decade and put out an actual lyric video (you know, like proper popstars); Sigur Rós 2013 are clearly a more open proposition. As bassist Georg Hólm told DS, they wanted to do something "completely different". A fresh image is locked and loaded, but just how "different" can Sigur Rós sound?
The answer is quite. Opener 'Brennisteinn' starts things off about as big and scary as it comes; thumping drums and tearing rumbles barrel into singer Jónsi Birgisson's gorgeous, tranquil falsetto, and it works. All what made Sigur Rós so special in the first place is still very much felt in moments during 'Ísjaki' and 'Stormur', but there's a real darkness to the majestic beauty and it's invigorating.
Title track 'Kveikur' presses on by means of Nine Inch Nails-natured vibes, booming milk bottles and a far-off choir - doom-metal in the Garden of Eden, basically - and 'Rafstraumur's propelling pomp makes for simply one of the best songs this band have ever devised. On Kveikur, Sigur Rós get props for trying something new, and even more for making it work.

Saturday, June 1

Album Of Last Month

Vampire Weekend 'Modern Vampires of the City' (XL)

Teasing your new album with a cryptic ad in The New York Times' classifieds is the kind of thing GaGa might do; it's flashy, it's presumptuous, it's try-hard. And if it was anyone other than Vampire Weekend, we might just have a problem with it. But this is a band who outwardly tugged at the merits of good grammar and punctuation for one of their (and this century's) best tunes, plus singer Ezra Koenig only recently aped all that is Brooklyn Hipster in an episode of (what else?) Girls. Don't be fooled by the tucked-in button-downs; this lot made their name being all smartypants with a wink in their eye.
Given that they mastered the balance of real talk + musical mischief on their classic self-titled debut album and cooked it up even more on their second, Contra, this is the point where Vampire Weekend are supposed to reach the Next Level; Modern Vampires of the City should be bigger and not just in name. Band multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, who co-produced the album with Ariel Rechtshaid, told DS that they threw away what wasn't working "more so than ever before". So, has all the hard work paid off?
'Obvious Bicycle' sets the scene of the city this record represents: New York. Koenig plays God and instructs his people to "listen, don't wait" atop Batmanglij's fruitful piano and a soothing choir out in the distance; you can already sense the splendour. And what would a city be like without religion? It's that which the frontman confronts on the rhythmic 'Unbelievers', wondering: "We know the fire awaits unbelievers... Is this the fate that half the world has planned for me?" It's a bleak look at faith and its conflicts, and a world away from Oxford commas.
'Step', one half of the album's double A-side lead single, is up there with the most affecting songs these have done. Its glistening keys are swanky to hell, but Koenig all grown up and remorseful ("I'm stronger now, I'm ready for the house, I can't do it alone") and the A$AP Rocky-y boom bass conclusion take it somewhere special. One quick hit of the single's other side, 'Diane Young', and bang! The mad-farting synths, the panic-stricken drums, Koenig "baby baby baby"-ing his latest break-up repartee ("You torched a Saab like a pile of leaves, I'd gone to find some better wheels") to warbling Elvis limits; it's simply a one-shot reminder of how adventurous his band are.
What Modern Vampires does so convincingly is take from Vampire Weekend's trademark sound and pay it tribute rather than replicate. 'Hannah Hunt' rehires airy tones first heard on their debut and, about two-thirds in, flies into a fresh climate of rapture. The rumbling drums and church organs are back out for 'Finger Back' - the sweet story of an Orthodox Jewish girl who falls for an Arab guy in a New York falafel shop called Jerusalem (wait till Glee gets wind of this) - and make for the best pop moment on here.
Koenig jabbers faster than ever in 'Worship You', while 'Ya Hey' is as full of beans as 'Diane Young'. It drops us in Les Mis-meets-Holy Grail medieval strings and a chorus Batmanglij and bassist Chris Baio help to squeal merrily, all the while the singer stands against his country's identity ("America don't love you, so I could never love you, in spite of everything"). How such a slap-happy song can be so bitter is an achievement.
And if you thought the tales of remorse, religion and fading romance weren't heavy enough, wait for 'Hudson'; a chilling choir and slow-burning melodies recall the death of Henry Hudson, the sea explorer who scouted New York and was left for dead by his crew... So, what an album. Vampire Weekend haven't just reached the Next Level; they've conquered the art of songwriting, created their own city and filled it with heart and intrigue. Never have they been this serious, this fun, this good.

Saturday, May 11

Life Goes On?!

My life changed forever on Wednesday.

It was a rush of dread and fear I've not experienced since the last kick of last season. Only much, much worse.

I always knew this day would come, but not now. I'd seen the rumours the night before, and even if my head did start to spin somewhat then, it was only until I read the words "Sir Alex Ferguson retires" on Twitter - in a toilet cubical, no less - when it stung.

It's sort of a feeling of 'Wait, so we're still supposed to go on? There is life still to exist?!'

Though I'm not dumb enough to believe in a higher being, I sometimes think I'm just meant to support United; they're like a happy pill of relief for all the shit I've gone through.

He was made United boss a month after I was born. I don't know what it's like to support another team; all I've experienced is glory and, well, heartbreak from so nearly achieving glory again.

It's not easy being a United fan when the expectation is to win all the time. Because when we don't, it just feels wrong. And it was Alex who instilled that in us.

When Beckham left, God was still there. When van Nistelrooy left, God was still there. When Ronaldo left, God was still there. Now, God is not there.

I like that Utd have already announced a successor; it's sensible to act quick. I also like the successor; anyone who Alex backs is fine by me.

But see, Moyes can win the Champions League, the Premier League, even bring back Ronaldo. But his blood isn't United-red and though I know Ferguson's wasn't at first, he's all I've ever known.

I'll forever proudly hold my seat in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand. It just doesn't feel the same anymore.

Wednesday, May 8

Thank You, Alex

Dear Alex,

I just want to say thank you.

Football, Manchester United rather, is a massive, massive part of my life. The memories you've given me - both good and bad - will stay with me forever.

I could not have asked for a better leader. No-one has your determination, your power, your drive. I feel inspired because of your mentality to succeed and that's in my life, not just football.

Thank you for Giggs, Scholes, Neville, Keane, Robson, Ince, Kanchelskis, Schmeichel, McClair, Beckham, Bruce, Pallister, Cantona, Irwin, Solskjaer, Cole, Yorke, Sheringham, Stam, RVN, RVP, De Gea, Van Der Sar, Rafael, Rio, Vidic, Evra, Evans, Jones, Smalling, Chicharito, Carrick, Valencia, Rooney, Ronaldo and the rest.

Thank you for the 13 Premier Leagues, 2 Champions Leagues, 5 FA Cups and 4 League Cups. Thank you for the times it didn't work out; it only made us stronger.

My favourite memory of all, though, has to be standing behind the goal in Moscow in 2008 and seeing Van der Sar save Anelka's penalty… what a feeling. My other favourites are watching Ronaldo's debut v Bolton, Owen's last-minute winner v City and even RVP's title-winning hat-trick v Villa the other week.

I appreciate how lucky I am to support our club and can't even begin to imagine what it's like not to be a Manchester United fan.

I always knew this day would come and fuck, it hurts. It will take me time to get my head around it and, honestly, United just won't ever mean the same to me.

I will forever hold my season ticket in your company, the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand. I can't believe I got to experience your era; thank you so much.

Love from,

Wednesday, May 1

Album Of Last Month

Frank Turner 'Tape Deck Heart' (Xtra Mile Recordings)

He is not a Tory. He is not a BNP apologist. And he is not a whore who sold his soul to Wembley Arena and scattered the blood-soaked internal remains to anyone who bought Million Dead's debut album on release day. Alright, fine… you can have the last one. But on 'Tape Deck Heart' (scuse the shocking title), Frank Turner's fifth solo album, the smiley 'lil folk-punkster is about as straight to the point as it gets; heartbroken, angry and, if his promo campaign goes as it means, about to launch himself headfirst into another stab at those arenas… if not more. 'Four Simple Words' is the best thing here and about sums up his whole shtick ("Forget about your bitching and remember that you're blessed, punk is for the kids who never fit in with the rest"). Simplistic, sure… but sometimes that's all you need.

Monday, April 1

Album Of Last Month

The Strokes 'Comedown Machine' (RCA)

A new album from The Strokes will always be something worth getting giddy over. They saved the world from taking Badly Drawn Boy (too) seriously and made the Gallagher Bros look about as cool as Screech Powers when they surfaced in the early '00s. But after Angles - that bummer of a last album which, amid the band supposedly hating each other and their gazillions of side-projects, took five years to arrive - the suspense for a fifth record is sadly met with as much suspicion as it is confidence. What they've always done well, though, is a lead single. And 'One Way Trigger' (not technically Comedown Machine's lead single, but the first song released) is spot-on; singer Julian Casablancas sissies his deep tones to Timberlake territory aboard classically perky guitar lines and refuses to "settle down out of town, find a dream, shut it down". This back-to-fun mantra is let down by the okay-ish actual lead single 'All the Time', however, with a riff eerily dull and zigzagging synths we can't help but feel we've heard before. Still, the great news is we have some of the best Strokes songs for years on here. 'Welcome to Japan's enlightened dance grooves are sharp enough to soundtrack the city of Paris; JC's girl quarrels ("I will not wait up for you anymore so you can ask me if something is wrong") on the dreamy 'Chances' are absorbing; the sentimental, organ-led '80's Comedown Machine' is boldly mushy but it works. Not since second album Room on Fire have this band sounded this fresh and in unison... what a relief. There are times when their playfulness gets the better of them, naturally. '50/50' is a little too short to fall for and its grimy guitars feel lost among everything else that's going on. And final track 'Call it Fate, Call it Karma' is just strange; its pulpy keys take us to the realm of Boardwalk Empire only after everyone's dead and the music box is on its way out. Most of Comedown Machine, though, is The Strokes charged, adventurous and with their heads on straight. It's not their finest ever work, but it's their best in a while.

Friday, March 1

Album Of Last Month

Frightened Rabbit 'Pedestrian Verse' (Atlantic Records)

Ahhh, finally. We've been teased like one of Taylor Swift's pet boyfies for years, but after three records increasingly alluding they had that special something only not wholly breaking through, Frightened Rabbit's thick-bearded leader Scott Hutchison is declaring things like "This is the best album we've made" and, you know what? He couldn't be more right. Not even half of the dauntless, swanky keys-powered 'Acts Of Man' passes before it's obvious just how confident this band have become; Hutchison using it to come clean and lust after serenity ("I am just like all the rest of them: sorry, selfish, trying to improve") makes for a perfect starting point, too. 'Backyard Skills', meanwhile, chugs along amid such a rapture of hazy, sugar-glazed guitars, you wonder how The National never managed to think it up themselves. 'The Woodpile' couldn't be more impeccable if it tried - blaring yet elegant soft-rocking glee foiling Hutchison's howls of loneliness - but it's on 'Late March, Death March' where his world-weary charm really runs riot; he disputes "drunk priests' staggering sermons" and spits "There isn't a god so I save my breath, pray silence for the road ahead". Their hubbub may be broader and ambitious but it's still gritty, though it's Hutchison's charged real talk that makes this album so compelling. On 'Dead Now', via unexpectedly jivey guitar lines, he yells "There is something wrong with me" like Selkirk's own proudly unburdening Walter White. 'State Hospital' probably has the prettiest furore on here, and 'Nitrous Gas' is one Hugh Jackman monologue away from being more morbidly heartbreaking than Les Mis. Drowning the darkest of places in spirited indie is by no means a new enterprise, but there's doing it blandly and there's doing it like this. Maybe we could lose the two needless semi-song intervals ('Housing (in)/(out)'); still, they're not intrusive enough to take points away from Pedestrian Verse - the album Frightened Rabbit were always supposed to make. Being a cult band is cool and everything, but that's nothing on sounding like you're about to take over the world.

Friday, February 1

Album Of Last Month

Everything Everything 'Arc' (Sony RCA)

Sorry to break it to you, but GaGa really ain't that weird. Neither is Minaj, Paloma or any other of the "I'M MAD, ME!" fraternity who've got 'Quirkeee' carved in to their premium contracts. But a band who straight-up sling anything and everything at the wall then see what sticks, only to OCD it into sheeny harmonic, catchy-as-f**k, about-as-original-as-indie-gets pop? That's weird. And, following 2010's Mercury-nommed debut Man Alive, it's on second album Arc where we meet Everything Everything again. "Yeah... so... um... wait a second," snaps the startling opening of 'Cough Cough', before fidgeting into a worthy beep-bopping tale of greed. The good news is it gets even better; 'Duet' briefly drops the jiggling for tender violin and comes off like Alt-J bed-wetting the night before Comic-Con. Singer Jonathan Higgs screeches tighter than ever on 'Undrowned', and 'Feet For Hands' has him in gripping self-ruin ("I've had enough of all the lights... I'm done with answering the phone"). But 'Radiant' wins best track, as one picky guitar riff bites at Higgs's anti-lazy spiel. It's his angst that makes Arc so engrossing, and Arc's twitching that makes Everything Everything so special.