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The Is This Thing On? Top 10 albums of 2015

So… I wasn’t gonna do an album of the year list this year. Mainly because I have been completely neglecting this blog for the most part of the year and felt a bit odd logging back in to just post a list of records I like. Also, I seem to have gone through a slump with new music, preferring instead to listen to older stuff. In truth, the album I’ve listened to most this year is ‘Leaves Turn Inside You’ by Unwound, an album which I’ve fallen head over heels for. But that was released in 2001 so isn’t really eligible for consideration here.

However, I did start to think that I would regret not doing one. These lists are fun to look back on in future years and give a great indication of my way of thinking at the moment.

So here goes….

10. Blur – The Magic Whip


I’ve always had a big soft spot for Blur, even if in the mid 90s I wouldn’t admit it as to not ruin my devout grunger street cred. I was happy to hear that a new record was coming out but had little idea just how good it would be. The Magic Whip is fantastic, It’s Blur back to their ’13’ era best but still sounding relevant. Damon’s genius songwriting with Graham’s inventiveness have been sorely missed and it was great to have them back.

9. Carson Wells – Tread A Northern Path


I thought I was going off post hardcore before I heard this. But Carson Wells reaffirmed my belief that when done well post hardcore is the greatest musical genre of all time. Still bringing the energy and noise they always have, Carson Wells managed to fit in even more passion and heart to this record than before. Essential listening.

8. Title Fight – Hyperview

Some people didn’t seem to get on board with this record which is fair enough due to a sizeable shift in direction. But, to me, this album was an amazing achievement which highlights a great maturity within the band. Title Fight may be heading more towards shoegaze nowadays but the whole album is rooted in their hardcore sensibilities and shows the band to be the great songwriters they are. When they played in Canterbury with Cold World in the spring it was one of the most special nights of the year and a personal highlight.

7. Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp


Another record that soundtracked the summer this year, effortlessly catchy and loveable lo-fi indie pop the like of which I’m a complete sucker for. This record made me chastise myself for being slow on the uptake with Waxahatchee as her previous record is just as good. Maybe I just have to accept the fact I’m usually late to the party with most things, but at least I get there.

6. Spraynard – Mable


I punched the air when I heard that Spraynard had reformed, and couldn’t stop smiling as I listened to ‘Mable’, their comeback record. Missing out on a record like this is is exactly why I was so gutted when they split up, it is the most perfect pop punk being made right now. So much energy, heart and hooks. Oh so many hooks!!

5. Hop Along – Painted Shut


This band can do no wrong, simple as that. To follow up an album as genius as ‘Get Disowned’ must be terrifying but Hop Along take it all in their stride. ‘Painted Shut’ is every bit as good as its predecessor, it sounds amazing and I could just listen to that voice all the day long.

4. Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us


What a revelation Beach Slang are, after two very promising EPs they finally delivered a full length record towards the end of this year and it is a rock triumph. Writing songs as big and as hook laden as Jimmy Eat World used to, if it was still the 90s Beach Slang would be playing the main stages of major music festivals. But it’s not, no good bands get to do that anymore, they’ll just have to make do to with being rock stars in my eyes. Hopefully they’ll settle for that and release many records of this quality.

3. Foxing – Dealer


I made the mistake of listening to ‘Dealer’ for the first time during my lunch break at work at the same time as being really in to reading ‘The Psycopath Test’ by Jon Ronson. Now when I listen to it I’m immediately inside Broadmoor but that’s my problem and I’ll learn to deal with it. You probably know how much I love Foxing’s first record, ‘The Albatross’, so you can probably guess just how excited I was to get my hands on this album. Having recently seen them live they had given themselves a lot to live up too. Foxing, thankfully, were up to the challenge. ‘Dealer’ is a really complete record, the kind that demands to be listened to the whole way through, from start to finish. That way you’ll always get the pay off of ‘Glass Coughs’ and ‘Eiffel’, two of the years most beautiful songs.

2. Shizune – Le Voyageur Imprudent


When you see the words ‘Italian screamo’ you know you’re in for a treat, and this record certainly is a treat. It starts with a bang and caries on being intensely brilliant until the very end. If you think you may be bored of this kinda thing then Shizune will reaffirm your faith, let me tell ya. Very highly recommended.

1. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

Indigo loves this record!!

 

This record and this band has really defined this year for me. I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was that they were releasing a new record after 10 years on hiatus. Their last record, ‘The Woods’, is one of my favourite of all time, they left me sorely wanting more. And ‘No Cities To Love’ was worth the wait. They have said in interviews that they would only release something new if they were up to producing something of quality, this is definitely the case here. Again, it shows a shift in direction, this is a much more straight up rock record but still a sound that is unmistakably Sleater-Kinney. We have Sleater-Kinney on heavy rotation on our car stereo on family days out, the kids each have their favourite songs, Thurston loves ‘Price Tag’, Indigo is a big fan of ‘Oh!’ from ‘One Beat’ and so on. I can’t pick a favourite from this near perfect album. Here’s hoping there’s not another 10 year wait for their next one.


This has been fun, thanks for reading. Maybe see you more in 2016.

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Happy 20th Birthday Reading ’95

This blog post is dedicated to anyone who has ever had an asthma attack at a festival.

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I know that it’s easy to over exaggerate the importance of past events when writing blog posts about days gone by, but, bare with me, because I feel that what happened 20 years ago this August bank holiday weekend can easily be classed as a milestone event in my own personal musical history. And with that, justifies having a whole blog post dedicated to its memory. It seems weird to say, as if it can’t quite possibly be true, that this weekend marks exactly 20 years since I first attended the Reading Festival. Reading ’95 was the first time I had ever been to a ‘proper’ gig where big and famous bands were playing, so as of this weekend I can say that I’ve been going to see live bands for 20 years now. An incredible amount of mind-blowing things have happened in the decades since and it all started with that one life changing weekend.

 

I imagine that most people get misty eyed about the decade they lived their teenage years through and I’m no different. For me, the 90’s was amazing time. The last decade before the internet and mobile phones took over, a time when high streets were still packed with shops that were open, kids could play in the streets and you would watch TV shows when the TV scheduler’s dictated you should watch them. It was also a time when bands and music really mattered. For example, a whole week in the summer of 1995 the news focussed on whether it would be Oasis or Blur who would score the number 1 position in the singles chart that week. I couldn’t even tell you if there is a singles chart anymore let alone name the pop combo who sits on top of it at the moment.
In the July of 1995 I turned 15. At the time I had long greasy hair, played guitar in a band called Toothpaste and had a group of friends at school who everyone else there referred to as the ‘Grunge Club’. Music was all that really mattered to me at the time. I hated school, for the most part, but I had a cool group of like-minded friends there for whom music was everything. We wore Doc Marten’s, had band names scrawled across our school bags and spent our lunch times practicing Nirvana/Pearl Jam/Stiltskin covers.

That year had already been a turning point, our bands had started to try to play gigs in public and not just at school and we were allowed out in the evenings more and more. We would spend these at shows where slightly older teenagers would play slightly better covers than we could (my favourite local band, Flannel, could do a near perfect version of ‘mayonnaise’ that would blow my teenage socks off) or drinking sickening amounts of White Lightning cider at the beach. As part of our work experience fortnight our school had paid for us to spend a day at a recording studio to record songs we had written to form part of our Music GCSE coursework. That day cemented our obsession with playing music, we felt like rock stars to walk away with a cassette with our songs on it. We repaid this privilege that the school had bestowed on us by playing a cover of Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing in the name’ at the end of year school music competition which ended with a group of us being suspended from school for the last couple of days of the summer term.

Despite the amount of trouble I had gotten in at home for this misdemeanour, and to my great surprise, my parents agreed to allow me to go with a small group of friends to the 1995 Reading Festival. I had been going on about going since my best friend at the time had been to the festival in 1994 and when I had seen the line up announcement in Kerrang a few months before it was due to take place I quadrupled my efforts. I repeatedly emphasised how this was a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to see all my favourite bands in one place and in the end they said yes and gave me the money and permission to go.

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This will tell you how different things were back then. To obtain my ticket my parents had given me the cash, I caught the bus in to Canterbury and walked hurriedly to Richards Records believing everyone would know I was carrying more money than I ever had before. I entered the shop, asked for one weekend camping ticket for the Reading Festival and put my £65(!!!) on the counter, the man produced a book of tickets, tore one out and handed it over. I carefully put this in my wallet and headed straight to get the bus home. The thought of being able to go in to a record shop and buy a ticket over the counter a few weeks before the event seems so alien now.

There was a group of 5 of us that were lucky enough to go that year, all of us 15 and for me, at least, it was the first time I was allowed to travel away from home unaccompanied overnight. The sense of freedom was both liberating and maybe a bit overwhelming. I’d gotten the train to London plenty of times before that point, so everything seemed pretty normal until the point. When we boarded the 2nd train to take us to Reading I started to realise that pretty much everyone in the carriage was going to the same place. Then on exiting the train station at Reading and seeing the mass of people who were all heading in the same direction and for the same reason, it hit me that this was really happening. The first sight of the main stage in the distance as you head along the road to the festival site got me really excited, I think it’s safe to say that night I got a little carried away.

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The Thursday night at the Reading Festival gives you no option but to go crazy. The bands don’t start until the next day, you’ve set up your tent, had a walk in to town for supplies and something to eat, played ‘Bollocks’ a fair amount, so then you’re there in a massive field with thousands of young people all wanting to party. So that’s what we did. My memory of that night is pretty vague, I remember sitting in my tent with one of my friends and starting off a 2 litre bottle of cider but from then on it gets hazy. I have a vague memory of being in some strangers tent laughing but apart from that the only thing I can really remember was stumbling into my own tent, throwing up on my sleeping bag, turning it over and then getting in it and going to sleep. It must’ve been quite an eventful night because in the morning I had a massive headache and as I sat outside my tent to eat some cereal I’d bought with me all these people, whom I have no idea who they were, kept saying hi to me and knew my name.

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Absolutely ruined in my tent

There wasn’t a lot of time to wallow in a hangover as there were bands to go and see. Being allowed in to the arena for the first time of the weekend is always a fun feeling. You’re finally allowed to see the stages up close with the promise of bands about to come out, plus there are cleaner toilets here at opening time than there are in the campsite and usually better food options. Although by the Saturday I was usually relying on the salvation army to supply the rest of my weekend’s sustenance, soup and a roll for a quid is all you need to survive. That Friday in 1995 I made my way straight to the front row centre to take up my place for the day. Being naïve I thought I’d stay here all day, not realising that pretty soon the weight of thousands of people pushing up against you is pretty hard to take. It worked out ok for a good while that afternoon though. And at one point, when I felt really sick after the first band had played, I seemed to be in the best place as the barrier provided a nice buffer between the vomit and the rest of the crowd and I. Plus a nice security guard was on hand to give me many cups of cold water to try to hydrate.

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The main stage lineup on the Friday is something etched in my mind and will probably stay with me forever. Even though I was mainly there for the bands playing later in the day, I really enjoyed every band that played that day which is rare with festival lineups. China Drum isn’t a band I would ever go on to buy any albums of but they’ll always be the first proper band I ever saw live. They did a great job of kicking the festival off with their inflatable Newky brown bottles and Kate Bush covers. I pretty much fell in love with Juliana Hatfield from the time she took to the stage, back home I would go on to buy her records and ‘Only Everything’ still gets regular plays to this day and evoking memories of that summer every time. Deus were good fun, it’s always enjoyable when you’re watching a band you barely know at a festival and they play a song you both recognise and like too. ‘Suds and Soda’ was definite highlight and I can still picture them playing it in the sunshine that day.

I was a bit disappointed with Beck, not because he wasn’t good , he was the opposite in fact but because when I’d seen him perform ‘Loser’ on Top of the Pops a few months earlier his backing band had all been really old people. I thought they just must be his band and was a bit gutted when these young guys in backwards baseball caps walked onstage and started playing. Not that it put me off though, I really like Beck and he was great that afternoon playing all the hits from ‘Mellow Gold’.

 

It was during the next band, Teenage Fanclub, though that being in the front row had become unsustainable. The crowd had swelled in size and the pressure felt by being squashed against the barrier, coupled with being at the point where all the crowd surfers landed meant I could stay there no longer. I had desperately wanted to be in the front row for Hole but I couldn’t hack it and shouted for a security guard to pull me out of the crowd. I felt comforted by the fact that I must’ve got some pretty decent photo’s that day from my front row vantage point but even more frustratingly my camera jammed later on that day. I made the rookie error of opening the back which exposed the film and with it wiped every photo I had taken. There was no bringing them back, they were all lost and I feel annoyed to this day just thinking about it.

The next 3 days formed the main basis of why it was that I was so desperate to go that year. Just the mere thought of watching Hole, Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins all in the same evening sent me into hysterics. I was besotted with all 3 of those bands at the time, spending many hours in my bedroom at home playing my guitar along to their CDs whilst staring at their posters on my wall, fantasising that one day they would ask me to join them onstage.

By the time Hole had taken to the stage I was in the much more appropriate place in the crowd of towards the front but to the left. It is still my go to place to stand during shows and it worked out well then too. Not only did I have a great view of the band, I also narrowly missed a section of the crowd that seemed to just fall to the ground whilst pogo-ing to ‘Violet’. I was blown away by seeing Courtney Love in the flesh, I was used to seeing her all the time on MTV and in magazines but here she was screaming in to a microphone just a few feet away. My love for her at the time had been impacted partly by how much my Dad hated her. Not to sound too much like a stereotypical teenager but when Hole were on Top of the Pops to play ‘Doll Parts’, my Dad spent the entirety of the song spewing forth anti-Love vitriol based on how talentless he thought she was. For some reason this made him really angry and this hardened my pro-Love stance. To be fair, he may have had a point and my opinion of Courtney Love has certainly changed over time but back then I couldn’t disagree more and seeing Hole play live that day was one of the most exciting times I had as a teenager.

As a 15-year-old I think I was the perfect audience for Green Day’s set. Not only was it packed with all the hits from ‘Dookie’ but sandwiched in between this was loads of jokes, swearing and audience interaction. Being told by Billie Joe Armstrong to , as part of thousands of people watching, yell ‘Fuck off you Yankee cunts’ at the band felt like the coolest thing ever. The energy didn’t let up for the whole time they were onstage and they even treated us to a new song, ‘Geek stink breath’, which makes me feel really old to say now.

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Talking of new songs, most bands headlining festivals would limit the amount of new material in their sets to appease the crowd. But then most bands aren’t Smashing Pumpkins. And considering those new songs happened to be some of the best songs on ‘Mellon Collie…’ you can understand why they wanted to play them. It was amazing to hear songs like ‘Zero’ and ‘Bullet with butterfly wings’ for the first time in this setting, especially as I would never see Smashing Pumpkins play again having gone off them by the time ‘Adore’ was released. Plus they played my favourite SP song, ‘Geek USA’, just after I’d bumped into my friends in the crowd, one of whom let me watch from upon his shoulders. That moment really topped off an incredible day, my hangover had gone, Billy Corgan had a full head of hair and all was good in the world.

The next day though, things went downhill. Having been asthmatic since I was 6 years old I had done the sensible thing by packing my inhaler. However, no one had warned me how dusty it would be at the festival site and what an adverse reaction I would have to this. In those days the emergency inhaler I carried around with me was really old-fashioned. It required a caplet to be inserted into the bottom of the inhaler, which you would then twist back and forth before breathing it all in. The case I took had the space to carry 8 caplets which you could take up to once every 4 hours as required. In a normal summer I’d probably use my inhaler 5 times tops, it’s always been mild asthma that I suffered from. By the Saturday morning that weekend, I was down to my last caplet. I sat in my tent about to take it when my friend Gee piped up with the classic line, ‘Al, are you sure you wanna use it now, we’ve got Skunk Anansie later!’. However much I wanted to join him in the mosh pit for ‘Selling Jesus’ and all the rest, I was struggling to breathe and needed the momentary relief the Ventolin would provide. Shortly after this I followed my friend’s advice and took myself off to the medical tent in the hope that they would prescribe me some more medicine. This started a long tradition of visiting the medical tent at the Reading Festival. In total I’ve been to the festival 6 times and only have only avoided requiring medical assistance on one of those times, and that’s only because 1996 was a rainy mud fest so it was nowhere near as dusty.

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My friends

Luckily the medical team there saw what a bad way I was in and ordered me a new inhaler, it would take until the next day to arrive so they hooked me up to a nebulizer in the meantime. This got me through the rest of that day, a day that was nowhere near as jam-packed with bands that I wanted to see as the previous day had been.

I made it back in to the arena to watch Skunk Anansie, I didn’t risk getting stuck right into the middle but enjoyed them from my new favourite position to the left. They were a definite highlight of an afternoon that also included watching Tricky and the Boo Radleys out of sheer laziness of not wanting to move from where I had chosen to lay down near the sound booth at the main stage. After a second visit to the medical team later that evening, I headed over to the Melody Maker tent for the first and only time of the weekend, ignoring Paul Weller as I passed the main stage and found myself a decent position for the Foo Fighters.

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The Boo Radleys from afar

The Foo Fighters performance at Reading that year is the stuff of legend. Having booked the band before the release of their self titled album, the organisers had taken a bit of a punt on putting them on the second stage. Little did they know that approx. 20,000 people would try to fit themselves in a tent that could barely hold a third of that. People were climbing the scaffolding holding the tent up and sitting on the fences at the side of the tent. Because of this Dave Grohl had to repeatedly tell people to get down otherwise the organisers were threatening to pull the plug on their set. If only everyone had known that all they needed to do was to get down early and patiently stand through Echobelly’s set to get a good space in the crowd. Maybe the thought of that was too much for some to bear, I never liked Echobelly and they seemed to drag on for an awfully long amount of time but the lure of the Foo Fighters to my 15-year-old self was worth it. And it paid off because when they took to the stage I had a great view of the band and enough space around me to not feel the pressure of the crowd. They tore straight in to ‘Winnebago’ and didn’t look back. Although the atmosphere in the tent that night was pretty electric, I really wasn’t well. By the time they launched in to ‘Weenie Beenie’, which was about halfway through their set, I needed to get a drink and sit down. It took me forever to reach the outside of the tent as the crowd seemed to go on forever but I could still hear them as I reached a refreshment stand, bought a coke and sat down. They sounded amazing and I regret not seeing it through to the end, at the time though all I wanted to do was go back to my tent and try to get some sleep. I made my way back, pausing for a couple of minutes to watch Bjork be great from afar on the main stage.

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This is Foo Fighters, honestly it is. Not that you can tell

I still felt really rough on the Sunday morning, I don’t know whether this is the case for most festivals but Reading is really not the place to be if you suffer badly from a mix of hay fever and asthma. Luckily though there was some good news though when the arena opened that afternoon. My new inhaler had arrived at the medical tent, going to get it meant missing Pennywise and NOFX on the main stage but that was a small price to pay to be able to breathe again. My spirits were instantly lifted, even to the point where I was able to join in a water fight with a friend in the arena.

My friends and I planted ourselves in front of the main stage again that afternoon and that’s where we stayed for the rest of the day. Blind Melon did a good enough job of easing me back in watching bands play, ‘No Rain’ being both a pleasant soundtrack to lazing in the sunshine and an apt description of the dust fest Reading had turned in too. They were nothing, however, compared to what was to come next. I loved White Zombie at the time, ‘Astro Creep 2000…’ being an album I would listen to repeatedly and they didn’t disappoint. I even stood up and moved nearer to the stage for them, which considering the circumstances was a great honour. I still remember being confused though at one point when Rob Zombie was telling the assembled masses how great it had been to play Donington the day before and asked if anyone had been there, a huge roar went up in the crowd as if to say ‘YES!’. Bloody liars. I don’t know why that has stayed with me but it seemed to get under my skin.

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This could be anyone

Babes in Toyland and Buffalo Tom continued that afternoon’s great entertainment but both were blown away by Mudhoney who were truly awesome.

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Mudhoney

By the time they were done, my friends and I decided it was high time we got some dinner and go for a walk. Looking back this was an awful idea as it meant missing most of Pavement. If I had known what a massive fan of Pavement I would become then I would’ve stayed put. Luckily I would get to see them properly a few years later but that was still a dumb thing to do. I wanted to make sure to make sure I was refreshed and ready for the next band so at the time it made sense. For up next were Soundgarden.

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Soundgarden

In my eyes Soundgarden were legends and a huge reason for me to attend the festival that year. To this day their performance that glorious summer evening continues to be one of the most disappointing musical experiences of my life. They were dreadful. They sounded weak, they looked bored, there was zero energy and I was gutted. Being 15 and watching big bands for the first time I must’ve been someone who was easily impressed, I’d much rather be able to enjoy something and was nothing like as cynical as I can be now. So, they must’ve been pretty awful for me to feel that way then. They completely bored me and were the only band that I had wanted to see to do so that whole weekend.

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Neil Young

I stuck around for the whole set though because I wanted a good spot in the crowd to see my absolute heroes. Up next were PEARL JAM!! Well, kind of. It was actually Neil Young, but this was ‘Mirrorball’ era Neil Young so it meant Pearl Jam, minus Eddie Vedder, were his backing band. It was a great thrill to see Neil Young, who I’d come to like by proxy of being a massive Pearl Jam fan, but an even greater thrill to see Jeff Ament, Mike McCready and Stone Gossard on that stage that night. I didn’t last, however. About an hour in there was nebulizer in the medical tent calling out my name and I needed its help to breathe once more. And that’s where I stayed until the bands had all finished.

The next morning I was glad to be going home. That Monday morning trudge to Reading train station is never fun, it is amusing to get back in to London to change trains and realise you are amongst normal people again though. You wear the festival stench with pride as you get back in to normality. I felt instantly well again once I was back home and just wanted to stuff my face and tell everyone I knew what an amazing weekend I had just had.

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The following week’s issue

My friend Gee and I talked about Reading constantly for months after, there wasn’t a school day that went past without it being mentioned. we kept our Reading festival wristbands on until they eventually fell off at around Christmas time. Our stories of the weekend must have had an impact on our friends as come Reading 1996 there was a massive group of at least 20 of us that went. A few years later my friend Gee had Reading 1995 tattooed on his wrist where his wristband had once laid such was the impact that weekend had on our impressionable 15-year-old selves.

I felt rough, but it was worth it!

The festival seems so different now, I haven’t been since 2003 and even then it had started to lose that magic and charm it once had. Overbearing corporate sponsorship, strict security firms patrolling the camp site, the addition of Leeds and the main stage moving further and further away from the crowd have all taken the shine away. But then I guess that Reading isn’t meant for someone in their mid thirties who likes home comforts more and more. It has a youthful energy to it, a spirit that won’t stand being fobbed off and will bottle second-rate performers. I really hope teenagers that go this year for the first or second time get something like that same experience we had back in 1995. It was life changing, I’ll never forget it and still dream one day that, however unlikely, I’ll be able to be in a band that plays the festival. Obviously, as long as there is a nebulizer on stand by at the side of the stage.

Thanks for reading

Get in touch. ittoblog@gmail.com, facebook.com/isthisthingonblog or @alex_itto on twitter.

 

 

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Review: Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

Band – Sleater-Kinney

Album – No Cities To Love

Label – Sub Pop

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I’m going to start this review with a story. I have a few set stories that I seem to tell every time someone mentions a certain band, it drives my wife, Hannah, nuts so I thought if I commit my Sleater-Kinney story to print it might stop my retelling it at every available opportunity and save my marriage. It’s not even a great story but here goes anyway. Back in 1998 I was 18 years old and had gotten in to Sleater-Kinney in a big way, ‘Dig Me Out’ was blowing me away every time I heard it and when they announced they were touring over here my best friend, Paul, and I snapped up tickets.

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It was September of that year that we made our way to Kings College, London, for the show and decided to watch from the upstairs balcony. It was our preferred way to watch bands at the time, especially if the show was at the Astoria, the view from upstairs on the left so you were virtually on the side of the stage was unbeatable. Sleater-Kinney began to play and they sounded great, it was then that we noticed that someone was stood next to us to our right. It was Jarvis Cocker. Now, we were never big Pulp fans and the whole Britpop/cool Britannia thing was definitely fading at this time but that didn’t stop us tapping each other on the shoulder and saying ‘Look, it’s Jarvis Cocker’. We went back to paying our full attention to the band, when I did look back to where Jarvis was standing he had gone, we looked back to where there were some booths with tables at and they were some proper smug, sharp suit wearing, twats with expensive haircuts guffawing loudly and drinking heavily. We soon realised these were Jarvis’s friends and he was sat with them. We gave them so filthy looks to show our annoyance at them, not that they noticed. And after that I noticed Jarvis only came back to look at the band one more time for a couple of minutes during the whole set and spent the rest of the show with his ‘friends’. We obviously managed to watch the rest of the show ok, Sleater-Kinney were incredible and totally cemented my feelings for them. But after the show the Jarvis thing had really wound us up and took up much of the conversation on the way home. What a scenester, what a fake, bet he got in free, bet he spoke to them afterwards and said how great they were, hope his yuppy friends choke on their own vomit, were the kind of things we were saying to each other. It left a bitter taste in the mouth. Thinking about it, he might just happened to have been there, maybe he and his friends always hung out there but that didn’t stop us drawing our own conclusions. In our eyes he was no better than the idiots that would turn up to the local punk shows just to hang outside and get drunk. He has since become revered as some indie godfather, some icon of cool but every time I see his weasley face all I wanna scream is Fraud! Fraud! Fraud!!!

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The poster for the show that I pinched from outside the venue, I now have it framed obvs

 

Ok, hope I didn’t bore you too much with this weeks trip down memory lane, on with the review.

It feels strangely like I’ve woken from a coma to discover that Sleater-Kinney are now the biggest band in the world. This band that I have completely loved since I was a teenager in the late 90s seem to be everywhere right now. It’s weird yet exciting. Weird I never knew anyone, bar a few friends, really cared and obviously exciting because they really are one of the best bands in the world and I can’t believe how lucky we are to have them back.

Sleater-Kinney are an anomaly. Over the course of the 10 years or so that they were actively together putting out records they never put a foot wrong. They consistently released incredible record after incredible record, constantly reinventing their sound without ever losing their identity. They never phoned it in, never lazily put out a live record or submitted anything below par. It didn’t matter how popular they got, they never changed for anyone except themselves. How many bands even get to release 7 studio albums? Let alone their 7th being one of the best albums of their career, yet Sleater-Kinney did just that with their 2005 classic ‘The Woods’. They ended their initial run on a total, overly distorted and noisy as fuck career high. As they’ve said in recent interviews, stopping when they did has made it easier to ‘comeback’. They left us wanting much more and now they can pick up where they left off. Instead of cashing in on former, early career glories, with reunion tours of one crowd favourite record in full, they are properly back. And with ‘No Cities to Love’ they have delivered the goods.

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‘No Cities to Love’ is there most concise record to date, gone are the extended, improvised, noise solo’s and general rocking out that made ‘The Woods’ such a classic, here they have stripped everything back to leave 10 songs that barely exceed 3 and a half minutes all of which have a massive focus on hooks. This record has more hooks than a Peter Pan convention, it’s so flipping instantly catchy that you won’t be able to resist its charms, ‘Gimme Love’ will find itself lodged in your subconscious for quite some time. Even when lyrically mixing in the politics of wage slavery and cultural identity they will be making you wanna get up and move. To back these hooks up, Sleater-Kinney sound big on this record. The production leaps out at you like ‘The Woods’ did, it’s loud but with a crispness to it. Even with the multiple effects laden guitars, there is a clarity to it all which makes it all the more special when Carrie Brownstein’s lead guitar is given free rein to go off on a Sonic Youth tangent like it does on ‘A New Wave’.

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Sleater-Kinney when I saw them at Koko, Camden in 2005

 

Everything that has ever made you love Sleater-Kinney in the past is still all here on ‘No Cities to Love’. The lo-fi indie sound of ‘The Hot Rock’ and ‘Dig Me Out’ are there in the guitar lines and chord progressions, Corin Tucker’s other worldly vocals shine through like only she can and Janet Weiss’s drums are just as solid as ever. This is definitely not a nostalgic cash cow, this is a continuation of an unparalleled, consistently astonishingly brilliant career.

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Again at Koko, amazing show!!

 

‘No Cities to Love’ sounds so relevant it is hard to believe they’ve been gone for almost 10 years. All this talk of guitar bands being dead, albums being a thing of the past and a lack of bands good enough to headline festivals has been made to look ridiculous by 3 friends from Portland making one hell of a fucking brilliant record. Long live Sleater-Kinney!!!!!

Thanks for reading, get in touch: ittoblog@gmail.com, @alex_itto on twitter or http://www.facebook.com/isthisthingonblog

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Review: Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again

Band – Joyce Manor

Album – Never Hungover Again

Label -Epitaph

By Lewie Peckham

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One of the most divisive arguments that follows Torrence, California indie-punks Joyce Manor around is about the shortness of most of their recorded output. Some listeners feel cheated that many of the bands songs rarely exceed the 2 minute mark and albums can be finished in as much time as it takes to watch an episode of Seinfeld (or insert any U.S sitcom in its place..you get the idea). The other side of this debate is that Joyce Manor are the masters of concise punk rock songwriting, trimming the fat of their songs until perfect blasts of hook-laden Indie/Emo/Punk/Whatever you want to call it remain.

Never Hungover Again lasts for about 19 minutes (give or take a couple of seconds) but in that time Joyce Manor have found enough space to make their most musically ambitious album yet. The usual hallmarks of their sound remain, Barry Johnson’s impassioned vocals over gritty Pinkerton-era Weezer and Jawbreaker guitars and Guided By Voices melodic exuberance, but now with added instrumental depth and influences excavated from outside their usual sound.

The swells of gorgeous synths that appear in sublime highlight ‘Falling in love again’ recall the wistfulness of The Psychedelic Furs and the dual guitar lines that arrive in the middle of ‘Schley’ could have been lifted from seminal Ohio art-punks Pere Ubu’s most accessible record (1989’s Cloudland). It’s a testament to Joyce Manors songs that these nods to their record collection never throw the album off track or leave it scrambling to get back on its path. It’s the subtle compliments that make you realise that you are hearing something very special.

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There are still the usual blasts of pop-punk that will appeal to even the most casual fan of the band. The lovelorn ‘Victoria’ and self-deprecation of ‘Heart Tattoo’ are glorious, fuzzy gems that once again are the best examples of Joyce Manors sharp, concise song craft. The ambiguous amped-up Smiths riffage of ‘In The Army Now’ and Jangle-pop of ‘Heated Swimming Pool’ show the different and exiting musical paths the band may choose on future releases and how adept they are at incorporating these into Joyce Manors existing sound. Never Hungover Again is probably one of the most rewarding listens of 2014 and will, quite rightly, find itself lavished with repeated listens and justified acclaim.

Proving that there is still life in a genre that can sometimes feel stodgy and overladen with mediocre bands, Joyce Manor are one of the better examples of what heartfelt, interesting music can be made within the shortest bursts of noise.

Thanks for reading. Get in touch. ittoblog@gmail.com, http://www.facebook.com/isthisthingonblog, twitter – @alex_itto, @BonersaurJR

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REVIEW: EMPIRE! EMPIRE! (I WAS A LONELY ESTATE) – YOU WILL EVENTUALLY BE FORGOTTEN

Band – Empire! Empire! (I was a lonely estate)

Album – You Will Eventually Be Forgotten

Label – Count Your Lucky Stars/Topshelf Records

The first two songs of ‘You will eventually be forgotten’, the second full length album by Empire! Empire! (I was a lonely estate), each tell the story of how both the members of the band were separately involved in near fatal car accidents. Thankfully they lived to tell the tale but imagine for a second if things had turned out differently. Keith and Cathy Latinen, the husband and wife duo that make up Empire! Empire! (I was a lonely estate), are more responsible than most, both as this band and as owners of the Count Your Lucky Stars record label, for reigniting the fire in this once almost forgotten genre. Their tireless output, with their own bands countless splits/e.p’s & debut full length and the consistently brilliant records their label has released, has brought a lot of credibility to the current wave of emo, making it as popular as it is today. Without these two would I even be listening to any albums recorded after 2002?

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Which segues nicely into giving a nod to the guest vocalists that are featured on this record. One of the biggest bonuses from bands playing this type of music again is proving to some of the legendary bands from back in the day there is still a loyal, devoted audience out there for them. You can’t have missed that Mineral are about to embark on a massive reunion tour and I hope you haven’t missed that Braid have come back this year with an incredible new record. Both Bob Nanna of Braid and Chris Simpson of Mineral make an appearance here and with these comes a sense of triumphant togetherness. We die-hard emo fans have found each other and our reward? One hell of a beautiful new record by Empire! Empire! (I was a lonely estate).

The weather is changing, it’s getting colder and the nights are drawing in, autumn is coming. And what an album ‘You will eventually be forgotten’ is to soundtrack this change in seasons. I always feel reflective at this time of year which has made me feel an instant connection with this record. The autobiographical nature of Keith Latinen’s lyrics, telling coming of age stories from his youth as well as asking questions about his own mortality really speak out to me as someone who, ever since turning 30, has started to question everything in life, constantly looking back at big turning points in my life wondering what could have been. All 11 songs here take on a linear approach, eschewing familiar verse/chorus/verse structures and preferring to take the listener on a journey propelled by the powerful story telling of the lyrics. Poetic tales of love, friendship, youth and companionship are told with such an attention to detail that I know feel, after numerous repeat listens, that I really know both members of the band personally. The album is the musical equivalent of those magical nights at the start of a relationship when you stay up all night talking to someone and in the morning you feel like you’ve known the person all your life.

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The lyrics to each song had been posted online in the weeks leading up to the album’s release, being a musician I normally find it takes me time to find a connection to the lyrical content of a song, usually long after I’ve fallen in love with the music. But in this case, the lyrics are strong enough to stand alone without already knowing the melody as a piece of work in their own right. So it was really nice to get to know the songs before actually being able to listen to them. Don’t let me take anything away from the music though, because musically Empire! Empire! are as strong here as anything they have ever released before. Gorgeous guitar tones and big thick drums compliment the vocals throughout, clearly the whole production here has been meticulously worked out with the band knowing when to hold back and when to let the feedback take over for added drama. Echoes of Sunny Day Real Estate’s ‘How it feels to be something on’ and Appleseed Cast, mixed in with Empire! Empire!’s own inimitable style make this a record to truly behold.

With the many songs Empire! Empire! (I was a lonely estate) have put out in the 5 years since their last full length, it would’ve been really easy for them to cobble together enough for a follow-up album. I’m really happy they have waited until they had the time to commit to making something completely new with the sole focus of making a new record. ‘You will eventually be forgotten’ is a concept album of sorts, using moments in their lives to ask big questions about life and what is the real point of it all. Keith Latinen has experienced near death but not had any great epiphanies about what it all means (“My life did not flash before my eyes”), he has witnessed two people who, after a lifetime of devotion to each other, became so entwined that they passed away at the same time, even though they died 2 years apart (“It took 2 whole years to convince his body”) and is left to wonder if what he is doing is really worth it.

How do we ever know that? We can always look back, and consider what would have happened if we had done things differently but it won’t make any difference. As long as we do what we think is the right thing to do in the present tense then there shouldn’t be any regrets. There is a lot of love on display here for each other and the vast amount of love about to be showered on these two after the release of this perfectly amazing album should at least let them know that they are currently doing everything completely right.

Please don’t hesitate to listen to this truly INCREDIBLE record!!

You can stream/download/order the record HERE

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This is me with Keith and Cathy after their amazing set in Brighton, November 2012

Thanks for reading. xx

Get in touch. http://www.facebook.com/isthisthingonblog, @alex_itto or ittoblog@gmail.com

 

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REVIEW: Braid – No Coast

Band – Braid

Album – No Coast

Label – Topshelf Records

Last year on my birthday I got to see Braid play live for the first time ever. Today I wore the Braid t-shirt I bought at that show but had no idea that when I had randomly got it out of the drawer to wear for the day that this would be the day I would get to hear Braid’s brand new album, their first studio album in 16 years. It’s weird, a lot of bands have reformed in the last few years, some of which you are willing them to make new music and some you just wish they’d stick to playing the old stuff. Braid broke up at the peak of their career, they had just released the classic, genre defining album ‘Frame & Canvas’ and had barely had chance to bask in the adulation that creating such a masterpiece would reward them with before they went their separate ways. ‘Frame and canvas’ deserved a follow-up record and not just compilation albums, Hey Mercedes certainly did well to fill the void that Braid left but it was never quite the same so thank goodness Braid decided to give it another go and let us be even more thankful that the new album is really, really good.

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If you’ve ever wanted Braid to make a new album then ‘No Coast’ is definitely the album you were looking for, it’s Braid all over. It ticks all the boxes that you had in your head when you were thinking what a new Braid album should be like. Big riffs, check. Brilliant duel vocals, check. Huge sound, check. And plenty more besides. The only real surprise with this record is how fresh it sounds. 90s emo bands have been referenced to death over the last few years, so much so that if you see a new band listing American Football as their main influence it starts to put you off. But no one has come close to emulating Braid meaning that the trademark big emo sound that Braid have made their own remains as exciting and interesting as it did at the end of the last century.

‘No Coast’ eases you in gently with the slow burner ‘Bang’ but really takes off with the catchy-as-hell second track ‘East end hollows’. My ears really pricked up as soon as this song started, I really didn’t know what to expect with this record as I’ve learned from past experience not to build my hopes up too high with comeback records but ‘East end hollows’ really put me at ease. And from here on in you find that Braid have made a really brilliant record that can stand proudly next to its predecessor. The 3rd song and title track ‘No Coast’ is classic Braid, the vocals intertwine as the song strays between a staccato verse to a more upbeat chorus and then with what comes next, ‘Damages’, you not only have a song you’ll wanna hear again and again but you’re also now desperate for them to come back on tour so you can see them play these songs live at full volume. When Chris Broach screams ‘It’s a call to arms’ I want to be flailing my arms crazily around screaming the lyrics back at him from the pit below.

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‘No Coast’ is an album of real quality right to the very end, the songs released earlier from the split with Balance and Composure sit perfectly amongst some really enjoyable new songs. Although this is instantly recognisable as a Braid record, there are some differences I’ve noticed on the several listens I’ve already had. The biggest being that the lead vocal duties seem to be more equally split between Bob Nanna and Chris Broach, I think this works really nicely, they both sound great separately and even better when they sing together. Other things you hear on this record that you may not have seen on previous efforts include the sublimely grunge ending to ‘Climber new entry’ and the Jimmy Eat World-esque ‘Pre evergreen’

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The album closes in an epic rock fashion, with a mid tempo head nodder and the kind of song you’d expect Smashing Pumpkins or Foo Fighters to end a record with when they were in their heyday. The record drifts off with the refrain ‘This is not a revolution’ and while the same can be said with this record we weren’t looking for Braid to reinvent the wheel. We wanted a classic Braid record that we could fall in love with and that’s exactly what they have delivered. I am blown away with how much I like this record, I hope you will be too.

You can stream/download/buy the record HERE

Thanks for reading, as always get in touch here. http://www.facebook.com/isthisthingonblog, @alex_itto on twitter and ittoblog@gmail.com

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REVIEW: TIGERS JAW – CHARMER

Band – Tigers Jaw

Album – Charmer

Label – Run For Cover Records

I don’t know if you can describe being woken up early against your will by one of your many children as having any benefits, but one of the benefits (If you can call it that) is that you sometimes find out about if something important has happened overnight ahead of time. Given the choice of lying in bed asleep or the chance to listen to the new Tigers Jaw record I can tell you what I would easily choose without hesitation. So my initial annoyance that my daughter, Indigo, was shouting at me to get up at 6am has been replaced with complete gratitude that I now get to sit here listening to ‘Charmer’, while little Indi tries to figure out how to walk, (she just turned 1 by the way).

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The reason a download code for this record was there to greet my bleary eyes this morning was because someone had leaked an inferior version of the album online. Bands these days generally don’t care about illegal downloads and file sharing, instead accepting that as just the norm nowadays, but if you’ve put a ton of effort in to making a new record and then someone leaks an incomplete version of it that doesn’t sound the way you intended, that’s gotta piss you off. Reacting in the best way possible, Tigers Jaw and Run For Cover made the record immediately available on bandcamp to download for $5 and sent out codes to everyone who had pre-ordered the record. I had pre-ordered, of course I had, this is the most highly anticipated record of 2014 and I may have only had one listen through at the point of this paragraph but I can tell you that it doesn’t disappoint.

Tigers Jaw have had a weird couple of years with members leaving, uncertainty about the band’s future and a bizarre mini online backlash when it was confirmed that they were going to continue as a two piece. I couldn’t understand why some people had seemed so upset when they assumed the band had broken up to then being outraged that they were going to continue. I was so happy to hear that Tigers Jaw was staying put and a new album was on its way and so were my whole family. Out of all the bands that I’ve forced my children to listen to by way of having control of the car stereo on long journeys, Tigers Jaw are the one band we can all completely agree on. On the rare occasion that I give them any choice in what we listen to Tigers Jaw are their first choice, 3 of my 4 kids know all the words to their songs and Indigo, being 1, just likes to have a little shimmy in her car seat. I can’t wait for them to hear this because I know they’ll love it. Tigers Jaw, although now a two piece, recorded ‘Charmer’ with all 5 members and it stands proudly with their other full lengths as an instant indie, emo classic.

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‘Charmer’ leaps in to life with ‘Cool’, the unmistakable downbeat pop brilliance that you’ve come to expect from this band is here in all its glory. One song in and you’re already excited with the knowledge that you’re going to love this album. Tigers Jaw are one of the few bands of the last few years labelled as emo that have an original sound, immediately recognisable as their own. Instead of just throwing back to the great bands of the 90s, Tigers Jaw in their own little way push things forward. Superbly sombre, insanely catchy and just downright beautiful. Songs like the single ‘Hum’ and ‘Distress Signal’, which is my favourite Tigers Jaw song ever since it appeared on the ‘Mixed Signals’ comp a while back, totally set this band apart from the rest. Having been disappointed by a few releases that I assumed I was going to love this year, ‘Charmer’ goes a long way to restoring my faith in this genre.

I clearly have a lot more time to spend with ‘Charmer’ and I am extremely excited to do so, to have it on repeat and discover things about it that I may have missed on to start with but I can already tell you that this is love at first listen. This is a genuinely brilliant album, it has the potential to make the band even more huge than they are already and who could begrudge them that? They are the nicest people making near perfect indie rock. Other tracks that have leapt out at this early stage are the energetic ‘Nervous Kids’, the beautiful ‘Slow divide’ and the album closer ‘What would you do’ complete with Morrisey-esque vocals. Can’t wait to find out what will leap out next, go and download it now!!!

You can download ‘Charmer’ HERE

Thanks for reading. Come say hi, http://www.facebook.com/isthisthingonblog, ittoblog@gmail.com or on twitter @alex_itto

 

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