My Bloody Valentine – Loveless

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“Don’t judge a book by its cover” they say. Well, in case of this legendary Irish band’s sophomore release, the cover really tells you everything you need to know about this record. The image of a blurry guitar drenched in sweet neon pink has become iconic over the years and it perfectly captures the essence of the album: it’s noisy, distorted but also incredibly melodic and warm.

It kicks off with a bang: Only Shallow starts with a quick drum beat followed by a MASSIVE riff accompanied by another guitar making a noise that sounds like something between a vacuum cleaner and an elephant. This part acts like a chorus on this song, while the verses are much more delicate, with Bilinda Butcher’s distant, ethereal vocals.

I could go on and describe all the songs here, but it’s hard to really capture what this is about – it’s an album you have to experience on your own. Multiple layers of guitars, incredibly complex production, dreamy, hazy vocals by both Butcher and Kevin Shields, the main man behind this masterpiece – it all adds to how dense and atmospheric this album is.

From the beginning to the closing track Soon (which echoes a bit of Stone Roses in the rhythm) it’s a wonderful, spiritual experience of an album. It only takes one listen to completely fall in love.

Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?

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I absolutely adored the Brighton duo’s debut back in 2014 – and I still consider it one of the most important rock albums of the decade. It was a fresh and unique take on classic hard rock – inspired partially by Jack White’s minimalistic approach, but bringing something new to the table. It also proved that guitars aren’t really necessary to play rock n’ roll – all it takes it is a bass guitar run by some cleverly put together effects. That album was short, energetic, fresh and also catchy as hell.

So, Royal Blood proved to be innovative musicians and skilled songwriters. On their sophomore record they take the safe route and give us a slightly more groovy set of yet another ten songs. Of course it doesn’t mean the band is afraid to try new things – first album was quite short, so the follow-up should sound just as refreshing, right? Yeah, it should. But sadly it doesn’t. Personally I think the songwriting is to blame – even the singles (Lights Out, I Only Lie When I Love You), arguably the catchiest songs here are no match for the effortless coolness of most of the tracks from the debut. Sure, Hook Line & Sinker is a banger, but it’s probably the only song that sticks with you after the first listen.

Despite all its flaws: playing it safe, slightly (but just slightly) more polished sound and a decrease in songwriting quality this is still a very solid album. The fans should be satisfied, as they finally have more than 30 minutes of the band’s material to listen to, rock purists will be glad that a young band sounds like that and casual listeners get something that (still) is quite fresh. The point is, Royal Blood should really consider reinventing themselves on album No.3, and prove that they aren’t a one-trick pony.

7/10

A Guide to: Manic Street Preachers

Not many people have heard about this band, and many of those who did associate it with stadium rock or dad-rock genres. This is wrong on so many levels. The Manics are one of Britain’s most unique and captivating bands. Their sharp lyrics and colorful persona have gained them a relatively small, but very dedicated group of fans, and constant stylistical reinventions gave the Welsh band critics’ approval. This text will be an attempt to give a little insight to the band’s discography and (hopefully) give them some new fans.

Let’s begin, shall we?

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The band was founded in 1986 in a small town called Blackwood in Wales by singing guitarist James Dean Bradfield, his cousin Sean Moore (drums), guitarist Nicky Wire and a bassist called Flicker. Flicker quit the band before they released any material and was replaced by guitarist and lyricist Richey Edwards (With Wire taking on the bassist duties from now on). On the first three albums the music is credited to Bradfield and Moore, while the lyrics were written by the duo of Wire and Edwards. Following Richey’s mysterious dissapearance in 1995 almost all lyrics are written by Wire.

1992 – Generation Terrorists

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After a few messy, but inspired EPs and singles the Manics’ debut was a bold statement. First of all, it hit the runtime of 73 minutes – not many bands have the guts to do that on their first record. There were also various cocky appearances in the media – claiming they would “sell 16 million copies and split up”. A memorable accident happened during an interview with NME – following the accusation that the band wasn’t taking their music seriously, Richey carved “4REAL” into his arm with a razorblade. The band caused some controversy with stunts like that, but the album was far from a bestseller. Musically, it’s an energetic mixture of glam, punk and hard rock, featuring some brilliant riffs (Slash n’ Burn, Stay Beautiful and the fan favourite Motorcycle Emptiness) as well as some really agressive and passionate political statements (You Love Us, Repeat (UK)). To be expected though, there’s quite a bit of filler too – a single, 45-minute or so album would be much more memorable. Overall though, it’s a solid debut that feels youthful and honest

7/10

1993 – Gold Against The Soul

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A great example that good songs don’t always make a good album. The band attempted to give their sound an extra, grungy flavour and experiment a bit, but the result feels rushed and rather dissappointing. The obvious highlights include From Despair to Where, as well as the marvellous La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh), one of the best songs of their career, but it can’t really save the album from being nothing much than a transition period.

5/10

1994 – The Holy Bible

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This is it. The very pinnacle of Manic’s discography, an album so dark, twisted and disturbing that it’s really more than an album – it’s a brutal, cleansing experience. Edwards took the majority of the lyrical duties, writing about the Holocaust, anorexia or suicide, while the sound is equally horryfing – raw post-punk where haunting basslines meet military drums and razor-sharp guitars. Bradfield’s vocal expression reaches its disturbing height too – sometimes it’s the devilish mumbling, sometimes it’s a shivering scream from the top of the lungs. It’s difficult to really name any highlights here, this album is a complete work of art – almost an hour of music that’s going to either repel you or make you return to this masterpiece constantly

10/10

1996 – Everything Must Go

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The dissapearance of Richey in February of 1995 might as well be and end for the band – the remaining three considered calling it quits before a sudden spark convinced them to continue as a trio. That spark was A Design For Life. A stunning, anthemic song, it quickly became beloved by fans, it also allowed them for a commercial succes. This album produced many hit singles (Kevin Carter, Australia, the title track), but it was far from being a sellout attempt. This is stadium rock at its most noble and honest, joyous and proud, one of the defining British albums of the 90s.

9/10

1998 – This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours

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Unfortunately, the Manics took it a bit too far. The follow-up to Everything Must Go fails to achive the delicate balance between rock and pop, leaning more towards the latter. The hit single If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next is flawless, but that can’t be said about other promotional songs – The Everlasting and Tsunami seem rather bland and uninspired, despite their obvious catchiness. Some really nice moments here (Ready for Drowning, Nobody Loved You) but it’s hard to call this album essential in the context of their entire discography.

5/10

2001 – Know Your Enemy

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Quite possibly their most underrated effort. On the downside, it has a bit of filler (it clocks at 75 minutes), and it would do much better as a shorter, more cohesive album. On the other side it does an excellent job of mixing raw, noisy, distorted tracks with some surprising experiments like a genuine disco song (Miss Europa Disco Dancer) or an attempt to sound like Beach Boys (So Why So Sad). Overall though its led by agressive guitar tones and has a general lo-fi feel to it. A hidden gem in MSP catalogue, definitely worth your time.

8/10

2004 – Lifeblood

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This album nearly caused the band to split, was disowned by fans and critics alike, and the band refuses to play these songs live anymore. But is it really that bad? The biggest problem Lifeblood it’s that it doesn’t really sound like Manic Street Preachers. It’s smooth, cold, melancholic, with synth-driven sound that doesn’t fit the band’s aesthetic at all. On the other hand, songs like 1985 or A Song for Departure are truly amazing, not to mention the astonishing Empty Souls or Cardiff Afterlife (dedicated to Richey). Even the controversial lead single, The Love of Richard Nixon has some undeniably catchy hooks. I’m not sure what were the band thinking at the time, but after more than a decade Lifeblood seems so odd and out of place that it’s not a black sheep anymore – it’s so unique in its weirdness it’s became an asset.

6/10

2007 – Send Away The Tigers

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Apparently, the Manic Street Preachers way of dealing with crysis within the band is recording a postive, triumphant pop-rock album. It worked great in 1996 and proven to be effective in 2007 too. Basically, it’s a collection of 10 songs that mix power pop and hard rock in different proportions, mostly with good results. Hit singles Underdogs and Indian Summer provide the needed dose of catchiness, while Imperial Bodybags hits a little bit harder. Also, this album features one of the greatest moments in MSP career – Your Love Alone is Not Enough featuring a vocal duo with Nina Persson

7/10

2009 – Journal For Plague Lovers

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This one was made from lyrics Richey left behind just before he went missing. Don’t worry though, it’s not an overly-emotional tearjerker cash-grab. Instead, Journal… is the closest the band ever get to reprising The Holy Bible stylistic. It borrows heavily from post-punk, but with some modern elements and a few slower tracks in between. It sounds raw and fresh (Steve Albini was the producer). No single promoted this album, and it’s really hard to pick some highlights, it’s a cohesive work of art that’s meant to be enjoyed as a whole. Direct, but not simple music with an intellectual twist, emotional, but in a natural, poetic way.

9/10

2010 – Postcards From a Young Man

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“One last shot at mass communication” as they described it, Postcards ain’t a bad record, it’s just nice, but forgettable pop-rock album with some nice moments. The title track is monumental and epic, (It’s not War) Just The End of Love is sweet and catchy and A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun brings some energy and passion. Not even near their best work, it’s more of an interesting album for die-hard fans rather than a must-listen staple of modern music

5/10

2013 – Rewind The Film

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It’s the Manics at their most subtle and introspective. A mostly acoustic album, Rewind the Film is definitely a grower – it takes time to really appreciate this record. The opening track features vocals by the stunning Lucy Rose, other guests include Richard Hawley and Cate Le Bon (3 Ways to See Despair was apparently intended for Morrissey). Calm and reflective, it sticks out in the band’s back catalogue.

6/10

2014 – Futurology

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Recorded during the same session as Rewind the Film, this album feels like the total opposite – brave and innovative. There are elements of new wave, electronica and even industrial on this thing, all fitted into the Manics own style. Again, there are some guests on this album, like Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside on melodic Between the Clock and The Bed or Nina Hoss, who sings in a great, bilingual duet with James on Europa Geht Durch Micht. There are also two purely instrumental tracks that fit really well into the overall sound. Despite the band expanding their sound, they still can deliver a great melody – cue the title track, Let’s Go to War or Misguided Missile (which SHOULD HAVE BEEN A SINGLE, dammit!) You can’t really tell what to expect from the band after an album like that, but we’re gonna to find out soon enough – rumours say 2018 or even earlier.

7/10

 

 

Arcade Fire – Everything Now

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Even before the offical release I had an opinion – this is the worst record Arcade Fire ever made. The rather unconvincing, disco-inspired singles failed to connect with me on any level. Even the album cover looks like it’s more suited for Imagine Dragons or shit like that.

After a few listens I see I was a bit too harsh. Still, it’s the worst thing they ever recorded, nowhere near The Suburbs or Reflektor, not to mention the earliest albums. Everything Now is a huge dissappointment, destroying hopes of fans around the world. It fails to be another game-changing, stellar indie record… but it does another thing, something I would never expect from Win Butler and company. It’s an excellent guilty pleasure album. The ever-present synths, disco inspirations and catchy melodies provide an enjoyable but forgettable record.

The opening, title track was growing on me for a while. Yeah, it’s kinda pretensious, sounds a bit like ABBA, but it certainly isn’t a bad track. Great sing-a-long value and the overall joyous feel of the track make it a nice opener. Signs of Life is my favourite song out here – moody, mysterious, with a great bassline – it would be a perfect fit on Reflektor. Creature Comfort deals with some really serious issues, so I’m not sure this style and arrangement really fit here – it makes the song sound a bit like an unintended parody.

The next song, Peter Pan, is a strong contender for the title of the worst Arcade Fire song, so let’s just stop here. Chemistry echoes a bit of Bowie, but it feels a little cheesy. The two-part Infinite Content is a highlight, one song performed in two totally different styles. There’s a bit of filler after that, and the two closing tracks sound like they were meant to be ambitious and epic but kinda lack that special something (maybe they’ll grow on me though).

Overall, it’s not as bad as many reviewers would have you believe. But it’s not good either. Nice album for the summer, but sadly nothing more – you’d expect much more from a band of that caliber. Bonus points for self-awareness and irony in the lyrics and promotional materials – who knows, maybe it was meant as a parody?

6/10

 

 

Eight Best Albums of 2017 So Far

In just six months, 2017 managed to produce more memorable albums than entire 2016, and it seems like the best is yet to come. Anyway, here’s eight of my favourite records from the first half of the year:

1. Alexandra Savior – Belladonna of Sadness

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Great songwriting, unique voice and memorable arrangements make it hard to believe this is Alexandra’s debut album. Mysterious and dreamy, it bears many similarities to Arctic Monkeys’ Humbug – not suprising at all, given that Alex Turner has his fingerprints all over this record – he played most of the instrument, produced the whole thing and did a bit of songwriting too – but he stays somewhat in the shadows, allowing Savior’s personality to be the main focal point here. It’s not flawless, but no debuts are, and I’m seriously excited what we will hear from her in the future.

2. Slowdive – Slowdive

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The first single, Star Roving, really did hype me up for the release of the band first record since over 20 years – and they lived up to the hype, too. Dominated by beautiful, ethereal songs, bordering the line between dream pop and ambient, Slowdive’s forth album is a wonderful, almost spiritual experience.

3. Spoon – Hot Thoughts

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Spoon never really dissapoint – every three years or so they release another solid indie album, this time with a dance-y twist to it. Excellent production, great guitar tones and a couple of really surprising tracks account for an exciting listen and one of the most fun albums of the year.

4. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

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Despite Gorillaz’ Humanz being a rather mediocre album, I have to give it credit for introducing me to this Californian rapper. His second studio album may be short, but it’s an intense one, bursting with agresiveness, creativity and passion. Crystal clear production  makes it even better, with experimental electronica giving Big Fish Theory an extra, avant-garde flavour

5. At the Drive-In – in•ter a•li•a

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Surprise, surprise! Turns out a post-hardcore band can return after 17 years and still sound fresh, convincing and passionate. Of course, Omar and Cedric were constantly playing with each other on countless side projects, but still – in•ter a•li•a doesn’t sound outdated or misplaced in the slightest. Not quite the level of Relationship of Command, but a great return to form neverthless.

6. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

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All aboard the hype train! Yeah, I got caught too, and I won’t hide it – if it wasn’t for the amount of media buzz before the release I probably wouln’t care about this album. I’m glad I did though, cause DAMN. is a perfect illustration of how a modern rap record should sound like. Effortlessly mixing all kinds of moods and emotions Kendrick created a multi-layered masterpiece that has room even for a U2 cameo, and makes it sound good.

7. Bastard Disco – Warsaw Wasted Youth

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Oh, this is a good one. Blending together elements of Sonic Youth (the ever-present noise), Nirvana (energy and a natural sense of catchiness) and post-hardcore (screaming vocals), this quartet from Warsaw hasn’t really gotten as much attention as they deserve. Give it a listen, it’s one of the most promising debuts of the year.

8. Ride – Weather Diaries

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It’s been a good year for shoegaze – two classic bands releasing long-awaited comeback albums (fingers still crossed for MBV). Ride’s fifth studio record didn’t really receive universal acclaim like Slowdive earlier this year. Weather Diaries certainly has its flaws, but Ride were always leaning towards more conventional alternative/pop-rock sound, and they execute that formula really good here. Most of all, it captures the essence of the band enjoying playing together, bringing some excellent songs along the way.