Tourney Time: Greatest Nirvana Tracks

Welcome to (the) Afterworld’s inaugural tournament, where we’ll be discussing a topic through battles in a specific topic. Today, we’ll be announcing the greatest Nirvana tracks of all-time bracket. Over the next month, we’ll be discussing each battle and, eventually, a winner!

It’s only fitting that we (myself, Ben Carter, and the sole participant of NirvanaNews – the “unofficial-official” destination for all things Nirvana-related) discuss the greatest Nirvana songs of all-time, considering the band was just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and 2014 is the 25th anniversary of their seminal album, Bleach. It’s also fitting that we open with a very-opinionated topic, since Nirvana is a beloved band by millions with everyone having their specific favorite song.

Below, you’ll see our bracket! 32 songs were selected for seeding from each of our ballots. We’ll be discussing the top-left quarter in the next few days and then continuing until we finish the whole event! Hope you’ll enjoy our opinions and comment below on what you think is the greatest Nirvana song of all-time. (Click to enlarge.)

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Copia – Eleven : Eleven (+Interview)

Hustling out of a Placebo concert at The Enmore Theatre late February, I was set upon by an army of botherers. I call them botherers; they are the type who usually try to corner you as you wander through the city, and attempt to remind you that whilst you’re listening to a downloaded copy of Hesitation Marks, the $20 you spent on headphones could have been used to build a school in Somalia. First world problems, I guess. On this occasion, one of the botherers handed me a CD. I took it, because free stuff is preferable to no stuff, and paid it no mind.

It languished at the bottom of my passenger footwell for weeks. One day, on a particularly dull drive from Wollongong, I picked it up, slotted it in, and was struck. Copia, a self-described “hard rock” band from Melbourne, are an energetic four piece comprised of Kahn, Parkinson, Bishop and Meyer, in the standard drummer, guitarist, vocalist, and bassist form. Hard rock may be a little… not ambitious, but slightly misguided. In Australia, hard rock consists of Cold Chisel, AC/DC, Screaming Jets… There is a definitive melodic element to Copia, as well as a willingness to experiment with synthesizers and huge, powerful riffs that send them more in to the category of metal.

Eleven : Eleven is their debut record. At times brutal, almost always epic, intensely layered, it certainly doesn’t meander. It is insistent, brash, and immediately likable. Thrashing power chords may be the refuge of the untalented, but Copia prove they have enough nous to create an epic sound without becoming stale. Their current Australian tour is almost too loud. Seeing them live in anything other than the kind of stadium their sound demands is an all out assault on the senses. Serious, intense noise.

Too often bands who mine a particular sound are pigeon-holed in to insufficient spaces. Doom metal is the immediate conclusion, with comparisons to Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium, or even something like Cradle of Filth. This tag would be doing them a great disservice. “Hold on / You’ll see / Where there’s a will there’s a way / Broken down and paralyzed / I’m facing imminent demise / The time has come to rectify.” Taken from the final stanza on their stratospheric “Fortitude,” which blends speed metal with a lovely set of strings and even a little break down when the lyrics kick in, reminding of Linkin Park; it is the most coherent compass to what Copia is all about. Speaking to the band recently, I asked them (interview below) their inspiration for the music, whether they were attempting to create a menacing presence, and how this tied in with song titles like “Elevate,” “Stand United,” and “Open Your Eyes.”

“All the tracks have a positive message in the end.” So, doom metal is off the table.

Opener “Pratus” goes some way to explaining the musical direction. A slow, burning march that begins with a muted fanfare and expands in to a beautiful Aussie rock riff, with chanted vocals that bleed immediately in to “The Awakening,” and that muted fanfare becomes a full blown explosion with prominent brassery doing the grunt work. It sounds almost revolutionary – “We’re awakening / So surrender to it all.” The awakening is no lethargic affair. As those strings screech through high frequency, the band double down on their stadium rock, lashing the track with drama and theater. The revolutionary theme continues on “Stand United” – “We’ll stand united in the fall of tyranny” would sound more appropriate in Crimea rather than Melbourne (although with good ol’ Tone in charge you could hardly blame them for finding inspiration in our disappointing democracy), and the aggression is doled out via the vocals is a rallying point, so beautifully emoted.

Each track has a story to tell. The jittery opening of “Elevate” belies another atmospheric movement, that breaks in to an almost nu-metal consistency, “We’ll rise above the vanity.” A thought carried over on “Transcending,” which utilizes delicate synth touches to temper the deep vocal growl, “By the lies of institution.” What these boys really hate though, above corruption and governmental greed is ego. And they reserve their harshest judgement for themselves. On the appropriately titled track “Ego,” our central figure is intoxicated with the substance of his inner self – one that rises forth when confronted and elevates him to the pedestal he deeply craves, yet outwardly admonishes. It’s the centerpiece of the record, a stunning give and take between the overt message and covert, passive undertone. In seeming to embrace this beast, this thing that resides in all of us like a malignant presence, he can immediately relate to the characters he assassinates elsewhere on the album. Those who are blinded by their ego, who relinquish control to it, those that the revolutionary rallying call of the irresistible siren songs Copia pen so hate, are exposed as weak and submissive in the simple admission that everyone has an ego, it’s whether you accept or reject it, “You won’t let me go, I scathe.”

Progressive metal in Australia has never been better placed. With locals like Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus, and up and comers like Life Pilot and A State of Flux, the landscape is standing on the cusp of a watershed moment. Consumer sentiment is slowly rejecting the traditional, radio-friendly sounds of our blessed late 90’s early 2000’s generation of Silverchair, Powderfinger, and The Living End. The punk mentality has always been at the forefront of Australian music, and Copia are channeling it in a heavier, darker way, yet one which has proven, on Eleven : Eleven to be sonically successful. Hopefully their latest incarnation sticks, because there is a deep well of talent in this band. 8/10.

Copia were gracious enough to answer a few of my questions, which is no small feat as they are currently embarking on their very first national tour. If you are in Queensland, you can still catch them on April 12 at The Tempo Hotel, and if you’ve missed them (trust me, you really did miss out), I am certain that as their tireless marketing campaign begins to bear fruit they will hit the tarmac once more and grace your nearest commercial hub. Here is my interview with the lads.

Ben: What’s the rock scene like in Melbourne?
Copia: There’s a lot of bands here which is great but not enough people to go them the all!

How hard is it for an independent band to make waves in the Australian music scene?
We’d say very hard, a lot of patience is needed.

How important is Triple J to your promotion and overall popularity? Would you say that once a band ‘makes it’ on to their playlist your fan base begins to grow?
Not necessarily, it can help for sure but unless they are playing you constantly on different shows throughout the week – it doesn’t seem to do much. We know of artists who have had no JJJ play yet have bigger fanbases then those that (we) have!

You’ve just begun your first ever Australian tour, and you performed at Bald Faced Stag in Sydney. How hard has it been to put together this Australian tour?
First tours are always the hardest to put together, because you are unheard of, so venues are reluctant to book you. It’s still early days and the thousands of CD’s handed out over the summer will still take some months to circulate and gradually will reveal where the fans are by them messaging us on Facebook! 

How long did it take to record Eleven : Eleven?
About 8 months to record, but there was almost two years of pre-production continuing on from the end of ASM, so all in all a LONG time!

What’s the inspiration around the record? Tracks like “Hostility” and “Ego” have an almost menacing presence, yet “Stand United,” “Elevate,” “Fortitude,” and “Open Your Eyes” seem to have a much more positive message. Was that the intention?
All the tracks have a positive message in the end… it’s just that some of songs’ themes highlight the negativity we go through to get to the positive, which is like life. We can go through a lot of darkness to see the light. Overall, the album’s theme is about becoming consciously aware of what we are going through and changing the perspective of our minds, in order to change the reality we live in.

Finally, what’s promotion been like? I know I came across your music after being handed a CD after a Placebo gig, and I’m aware you’ve been street teaming pretty hard at Soundwave. Has this been expensive, and has it paid off?
It has been VERY expensive… it’s still early days to gauge whether its paid off but one things for sure a lot of people seem to have heard of us… Time will tell over the next year how many of those people actually like our music and come to shows later in the year.

Wanna know more? Copia have an impressive online presence.
Facebook | Bandcamp | iTunes | Website 

Jon Connor – The Late Registration of a College Dropout Who Had a Dark Twisted Fantasy of 808s and Heartbreak

When DJ Drama was arrested in 2007, the police confiscated 81,000 CDs and brought sharply in to focus the thriving underworld of hip hop music that true heads have known about since the 80s. Mixtapes. Unfortunately for the 104 year old music executives at the head of the raids, the attention only served to create more press for independent artists, and those who’s true intellectual property rights were compromised threw their weight behind DJ Drama and the culture. Through his Gangsta Grillz series, and most potently Lil Wayne’s outstanding Dedication 2, Drama was flying a flag for unsigned hype and over-fed GOAT challengers alike.

The brilliance of the mixtape game is that anyone, anywhere, at any time, can jump on any beat in the universe and present it as their own product. The wealth of talent that has been discovered through so called “remixes” is staggering, and both Drake and Nicki Minaj are greatly indebted to the culture. Jon Connor’s story is of a similar thread, although his hustle has been much harder and drawn out. It took him a solid 4 years of mixtape releases before he began to make waves, with basketballer Mateen Cleaves sitting up and taking notice, and Young Sav, then vice president of Maybach Music Group, also taking an interest. Still, he struggled through, and whilst his mixtapes were generally well recieved and occasionally landing him famous cosigns (Xzibit, Rob Tewlow), the elusive deal that laced Drake’s pockets with greenbacks was still absent. It wasn’t until a Twitter rendezvous and subsequent tour with Xzibit in 2013 that he finally landed the motherload. Not long after he released his debut full length LP, Unconscious State, he signed with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath. 8 years of the hardest work finally paid off.

Why Dre signed him, though, is a complete mystery. The Late Registration of a College Dropout Who Had a Dark Twisted Fantasy of 808s and Heartbreak, which will now be shortened to The Late Registration, is a completely redundant project, one so far off the mark in terms of both the mixtape culture and the theme of self promotion that Connor championed so readily on Unconscious State that you have to question just how much Dre is guiding the young rapper. On “Big Brother,” he shouts Dre out and claims that quite apart from money, the mogul has offered his time, advice and guidance, which Connor claims is worth more than any bank balance booster. I think Dre should’ve whispered politely in his ear before he uploaded this to datpiff.com.

“Anybody’s beats, it’s a motherfuckin’ murder scene.” Lil Wayne, on “I Got No Ceilings.” When you jump on another rapper’s beat, you best come correct. There’s no point whatsoever in hopping on something and offering nothing new, nothing exciting, nothing better. You could hop on the hottest single in the streets at that time with a sub-par verse and people will still listen, because they’ve heard the original so many times their desperate for fresh rhymes. But this was exposed when every rapper and his dog dropped an UOENO remix late last year. Jon Connor has form, though. He has previously tackled Jay-Z, on The Blue Album, and Eminem, on The People’s Rapper LP. And, exactly the same as The Late Registration, the only purpose they served was to have you switching off Jon Connor and on to the original.

He doesn’t really need to do this. He’s a likeable enough character. He lingers too long on the petty female squabbles, (“Workout Plan,” “Blame Game,” “Bound 2”), in fact on the latter, the narrative descends so quickly in to a full blown argument it’s actually quite entertaining, “I hurt so many good girls fucking with your crazy ass,” “It make me wonder why I like your ass, either I’m in love or I’m a motherfucking psychopath.” He manages to tell us about his deal about 20 or 30 times, “having people thinking you changed cause of your deal” (“Flashing Lights”) is a constant theme. His work ethic is not to be snubbed though. On “Doin My Job,” the standout track, the hook is smoldering, “this was just a fuckin’ job” as he pokes fun at people who consider “flippin’ cheesesteak” to be something that actually makes a difference in peoples lives. “Days that I didn’t eat, days that I didn’t sleep” (“Touch The Sky”); Connor is still very much involved in his struggle, not yet far enough removed from it to observe how it has shaped him, instead still feeling the hunger pains.

The format of the tape is much more concept than Unconscious State. He stays true to the lyrical themes that Kanye expressed in the original version of each song, which, again, is to the great detriment of the tape. What listening to The Late Registration does is, firstly, make you want to go and listen to Kanye, and secondly admire the sheer brilliance and genius of the man. Even the weak tracks from Yeezus, “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves,” Connor, who is an able emcee, cannot touch Kanye lyrically. Attempting to out-rap him on “Jesus Walks,” “Blame Game,” and “Power” is just suicide. Even the lackluster “Barry Bonds,” Connor is out of breath chasing far behind. “I know nigga’s in condo’s that solve their problems with homo’s.” He means homicide, by the way. “A barber shop confrontation could lead to incarceration.”

The most potent words come at the very end of “Last Call,” a rallying number that attempts to absolve Connor of all guilt surrounding his beat jacking ways. He shouts out Kanye as the best in the world, and pays his respects to him. He then says if this tape makes you want to go listen to the original versions of these songs, my job is done. That shows the most blatant lack of hip-hop knowledge I’ve seen since, well… anything The Grammy’s have ever done. Why in the world would a rapper say “Listening to my music will make you go want to listen to better music.” The Late Registration only serves to reaffirm Kanye’s genius. Yeezus may have been a misstep, but if someone as lyrically able as Connor can’t manage to out-rap him on his weakest lyrical efforts, how in the world did he expect to do it on “Blame Game,” “Power,” “We Don’t Care,” “Jesus Walks,” or “Big Brother!?” 2/10.

Damaged Bug – Hubba Bubba

John Dwyer is busier than your average man. He’s busier than your average single mother. Since entering the music scene in 1997, he’s been involved with 13 separate bands, and since 2006 has released 13 albums, not including his debut LP as Damaged Bug, a solo project, entitled Hubba Bubba. It is probably from Thee Oh Sees that you know him – he is the figurehead and creative licence that has driven their prolific output and such garage brilliance as “The Dream” and “Lupine Dominus.” Funnily enough, Thee Oh Sees was created as something of an experimental exercise for Dwyer, yet their success and gradual move in to a generalized groove has prompted the need for further expansion.

That’s where Damaged Bug comes in. If you manage to get your hands on a copy of his excellent photographic book Vinegar Mirroryou’ll notice a very different dynamic than is presented throughout his musical works. Whilst these have an inherent sense of movement – the almost scatterbrained flurry of activity you associate with someone who doesn’t know the meaning of the word rest –Vinegar Mirror is an absolute refreshment. Each picture, rather than capturing rapid movement or action, instead acts as its intention, to be a static snapshot in time of a story. Rather than telling that story through noise and motion, he is finally able to allow the audience to interact with it and paint their own version.

It’s this feeling that overwhelms on Hubba Bubba. From the minute the needle touches down on “Gloves For Garbage,” you’re actuely aware that this is something different, and is time-stamped sometime in the early 90’s. Which is fitting, as that is where Thee Oh Sees beating heart truly lies, but this time Dwyer is content to rest in his surroundings. The garage rock of his (relative) youth still permeates though, and it’s the rough edges that endear this record. On the bubbling “Rope Burn,” dirty synths parrot the dark mood that Dwyer condures, “I’ll drive a spike in to your vein.” It’s visceral the way he opens that dialogue up, reminiscent of Gary Numan’s last record or Depeche Mode’s darker hours. On the title track, this sloppiness is embraced further, with a simple drone stabbed by random synth noises that appear from nowhere. He dreams of his home and comfortable surroundings – “the lights glow, welcome familiar” – which only further lends to the disturbing atmosphere, that he could feel comfortable amongst these sonics is a scary thought.

In an interview in 2009, he opened by saying “You’re either going to be a terrible old man, or a really cool old man, so you might as well try and point your way towards cool.” At age 40, it’s hard to call him old, when he is younger than Eminem, yet Hubba Bubba does feel somewhat dated in both its execution and its sound. Whilst Nirvana were teaching the world how to grunge in the early 90’s, Orbital, Aphex Twin, and Autechre were conducting sonic experiments of their own that were both disarming and supremely important in dance music history. Hubba Bubba lives comfortably within this space, applying old school techniques to achieve old school sounds. The lonesome funk bassline on “Hot Swells” is a rival for anything The Chemical Brothers ever produced, and that deserted space left by the absence of vocals on “Catastrophobia” is the perfect playground for industrial-strength synth to blossom in Autechre splendour. There’s even a real helping of Air on “1/2 An Airplane.”  I think he’s got the cool down pat.

Ultimately, Hubba Bubba is a side project, a flight of fancy that points towards a mind that works overtime, all the time. Whilst it does deviate from the path Thee Oh Sees have been treading down, his ADD-like fidgety quality shines brilliantly through on “Sic Bay Surprise,” there’s internal movement that cannot be halted, adorned with delicate synth garnish. Even on “Photograph,” a song with an unhappy disposition – “Anyone can see it’s all been a lie” – as Dwyer attracts the ire of a close female, his twitchiness won’t allow the music to stand still, or allow his words to resonate, as the song spits and bursts through.

In a Pitchfork feature in 2012, Dwyer told how he became obsessed with the krautrock of Can and Neu!. In the same feature he explains his penchant for record collecting, scouring for obscure 70’s funk bands and wacky Japanese music. Rather than displaying a lack of focus, it shows a man who sets his mind on something and does it, usually within 48 hours. Damaged Bug may be a fleeting exercise, designed to run his brain around the track whilst his Thee Oh Sees bandmates catch their breath. If it is, that’s unfortunate, because Hubba Bubba is an excellent, textured record, and there’s not a lot out there like it right now. 7.5/10.

Gazpacho – Demon

A soup made out of a fruit masquerading as a vegetable, served cold. People don’t generally clamor for the gazpacho bowl at the buffet table. Equally, people aren’t going to be fighting over Gazpacho, or the band’s latest release, Demon, when they are planning their next party soundtrack. Put it this way. Their previous record was called March Of Ghosts, and was 50 minutes of densely layered progressive rock with lyrics centering around the experiences of someone being haunted by the ghosts of his victims. It’s easy to see why the band felt an affinity with the rejectable soup. I’ve always loved tomatoes, though.

Quickly, a word on our party guests. Gazpacho were formed in Oslo, Norway, in 1996. They didn’t release their first record until 2003, believe it or not, the brilliant, cavernous Bravo. Because of the name, there may be a tendency to dismiss these inhabitants of the prog-metal land as possible charlatans, playing a part in order to gain access to the rather exclusive hard to heavy to death metal scene that generally houses deep back stories laced with fantasy concepts. This is immediately dismissed when you discover they had a full record ready to go called Random Access Memory but discarded the entire thing because “they felt they had not yet reached the level of musical maturity for such an ambitious project.” By the time Bravo came around, it was clear they’d had some time to think. A huge soundscape that roped in the most abstract noises you’re ever likely to hear on a prog record, it signaled a band who were ready to take the idea of a concept further than the simple blood stained note stapled to the linear notes.

The story of Demon, indeed the fact that there is a story at all, immediately casts aside the earlier trajectory of the band. By 2007, on the brilliant Night, Gazpacho had embraced the concept format. Their sound diversified dramatically, with a movement away from more straight-laced progressive rock in to a denser territory, blending elements of their previous sound with the more melodic aspects of post-rock, and at one point during “Chequered Light Buildings” – a unique blend of about 4 genres as anxious strings swirl around an aggressive acoustic guitar and thrashed distorted electric guitar, before opening up beautifully in to this crazy vista of guitar noise. They had moved on to a new phase, and Demon continues this theme, proving very fertile ground.

If you’ve ever seen the first Paranormal Activity movie, you’ll be familiar with the idea that some in the world hold that there are demonic presences who stalk the human race, transcending age and the concept of life and death, existing under their own rules. Demon is based around a conversation main electronics man Thomas Andersen had with his father, in which he recounted the tale of a manuscript that detailed one man’s quest through history to stalk a demonic presence in order to rid the world of it. The manuscript’s author implies that he had lived for thousands of years, devoting all his time to the removal of this presence. Demon, the record, is a re-up of the long song format from Night, and is 4 tracks following the life of this mysterious character.

Immediately, you’re thrown in to this crazy world. Opener “I’ve Been Walking” is an aggressive romp that pushes and pulls, diving headfirst in the to muck and mire of the story then rising from the ground, pulsing towards the sunlight. The autobiographical nature of the lyrics allow us a bit of normalcy, a voice that guides us through the harsher aspects of the song. At 2:30, there is a respite, a lovely blue sky moment complete with background choir and sun tinged sonics as Ohme repeats “and it sleeps,” joining the backing music with a softer delivery – soothing – giving life to the notion of happiness and relief. The most amazing link popped directly in to my head, the moments after Lord Voldemort finally dies in the final Harry Potter movie. A lovely hue descends on all. Unlike that, our demonic presence is only hidden from view. As the song progresses, and Ohme describes the journey of “four horsemen of the night, riding in the shallow light” to the backing of newly found guitar anger, as the track builds to a shattering crescendo.

Gazpacho weren’t lying when they said this was their weirdest record yet. The second song, weighing in at just 4:52, probably mimics the Spanish heritage of their name as closely as anything has since the finger picking on their initial release Bravo, with a sing song tickle of accordion and what is quite possibly a mandolin. Never before has a prog rock band evoked memories and thoughts of musical theater or some sort of theatrical display as strongly as here, you can almost sit in the audience and watch it play out in front of you – “red pants and his leather jacket, and I’m going to follow him home.” Ohme is the perfect narrator, tip toeing delicately around the increasingly anxious song, before departing stage right and allowing the interlude to dance comically for our amusement, with the oddest concoction of sounds to end the track, a sort of Greek waltz that wouldn’t even be out of place in a Soviet Union vodka bar.

This is the wondrous thing about Demon. Scary title, scary thought, yet Gazpacho tackle it with intelligence and wit. There are few other bands who adhere to the metal-concept stranglehold who display any form of wit or humor, and even those like Spock’s Beard who mine a distinctly 80’s throwback sound seem loathe to indulge in the sillier aspects of the sounds they are resurrecting. Demon is actually like sitting down and digesting a story, it’s ties with musical theater may only be superficial, that is, there are no direct influences, yet it’s the overwhelming feeling. On part two of “I’ve Been Walking,” the chipper mood of the previous song gets thrown from view as the track descends yet again in to a swirling sea of rising anxiety. Ohme rides this wave, conveying the emotion behind that instructive song title. The journey is documented in sound, as near misses and close encounters with the demon are denoted by explosions of guitar noise and mournful years and decades spent chasing shadows signified by wallowing violins and a sombre tone of voice. “No Eldorado, there is no reward.” Compulsed to continue, despondent and depleted, our hero marches onwards, despite his despair. Finally, after twelve minutes, he corners his foe, “Now I’ve got you, against the wall,” and the music comes alive, not with menace this time but action, with excitement.

We move on to “Death Room,” the final track on the record. Masterfully, Gazpacho have utilized a handful of techniques to engross and enthrall. The opening movement of the song blends weird popping noises with an ominous 808 and touches and flourishes, “my reward,” Ohme slyly spits. All those weird additions conjure imagery of torture tools and weapons of death being assembled, as anticipation of an action so desired for so long reaches a fever pitch. As the track progresses, however, the expectant apex falters. Ohme, over the top of another fairground accordion number, takes a retrospective look, “Oh, was the man within my head a lie?” Is our hero lost within himself, is the demon a creation of his own? “We forgot about the science.” Rather than the killing room floor of tempestuous noise you expect, the final track ends with almost a whimper, and a tiny piano trails off.

The concept album, as a whole, is something still deeply rooted in metal history. Modern, mainstream examples have tended to be cries for attention or misguided side ventures. Demon would make Pete Townshend jealous, and that is high praise indeed. It is an incredibly immersive experience, a starkly accurate sonic representation of a story. So stark, in fact, that whilst listening I could conjure the entire narrative to play out like a movie in my head. It’s a stunning record. 9/10.

Vulfpeck – the most ingenious band ever. Fact.

And (the) Afterworld Award for Most Ingenious Band goes to…

Michigan funk group Vulfpeck have devised the perfect idea. In the streaming world of music today, it doesn’t pay well to have your track streamed. On Spotify, you receive $.005. Half a fucking cent. I could go off on a diatribe about how terrible Spotify is for artists but I’ll save that for another day. Vulfpeck released an album on the streaming platform last week, titled Sleepify. This is a collection of tracks that are completely silent. But, this isn’t a complete faux, no, the band is asking that you stream the album while you sleep, thus paying them half a cent for each stream and, if you sleep for eight hours, you pay the band four whole dollars.

This entire scheme isn’t just for the money, it’s to fund a tour! Vulfpeck’s one stipulation to doing the tour was to make every show free to enter. Thus, they are funding the tour and placing the stops where the streams are most plentiful. If this idea doesn’t seem absolutely brilliant to you, I’m against you. Welcome to the 21st century – where you can use platforms to make money in all kinds of creative ways, including absolute silence.

Spotify jabbed a joke at the whole idea, stating they liked Vulfpeck’s previous works and this was too derivative of John Cage’s also silent “4’33”. As for anyone who’s never heard of the band, you’ll be delighted to know the band is actually great. Vollmich, the band’s second album, is delightfully blissful with all kinds of instrumental majesty. The band infuses a massive tone of nostalgic funk with forward-thinking rhythms and fresher twists and turns in composition, making each of their tracks an engrossing listen that’ll surely put a big grin on your face while you daydream of doing the Hustle in your head. Or, hell, it makes you want to dance.

Stream Sleepify below, or stream Vollmich. Either way, they’re getting that half cent.

We Are Scientists – Tv En Français

When “I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor” was released in 2005, it was the ability to test and prove it’s generic hypothesis there and then that won the hearts of England’s troubled youth culture. Alternative British music was still the sort of awkward kid at the disco. It didn’t quite have the moves to match it with the juggernaut that hip hop and R&B had become. This song broke the shackles; it got that kid drunk and high and showed him the moves.

Across the pond, the Americans like to keep their genres separate. Nightclubs are for frat boys and girls with father issues. Beaches are for frat boys and girls with father issues and a fast metabolism. For those who prefer to pursue alpine sports, or enjoy a good craft beer and smoke from a pipe, there is a whole landscape of music for them to choose from. From Fleet Foxes to My Morning Jacket and everything in between. That’s what makes We Are Scientists so damn interesting. Formed at the turn of the millennium in Berkeley, California, a place so far removed from a soggy London morning it may as well inhabit an alternate universe, the band has forged a curious path that sees university slacker/high school jock and high achieving Philosophy major all combine to let their hair down and enjoy some good rock music. As the world was beginning to pop ecstasy and dance to guitar music, We Are Scientists were on the crest of their success.

TV En Français is by no means revolutionary, you’d be hard pressed to even call it evolutionary. It’s been four years since their last record, Barbara, and whilst it’s clear they haven’t spent it splurging on analog synthesizers, it’s equally apparent they’ve gone back to a life locked in routine. As each track’s emotional focal point slams down on you, there’s a sinking feeling of redundancy. We’ve been here before. Many times. Opener “What You Do Best” establishes the dynamic immediately, “Go on / Do what / You do best / Shake your head / And walk away from me.” The chorus is almost mournful, with Scott Lamb sounding about two notches down from exasperated. Maybe bored. The song titles do little to soothe, with “Courage,” “Overreacting,” “Don’t Blow It” and “Take An Arrow” possibly stolen directly from a 16 year-old girl’s diary.

Whilst the Arctic Monkeys did deliver a hammer blow for bands like We Are Scientists in the mid 2000s, the road they built soon became very congested. That they have toured with the likes of Editors, Maximo Park, and Arctic Monkeys themselves, and featured prominently at Glastonbury and T In The Park is indicative of their sound. They’ve fallen spectacularly in to that rut that these British alternative bands have created for themselves, each trying to create a better version of what originally made them brilliant. Tracks like “After Hours,” “Chick Lit,” “Ghouls,” they all sparkled with expectation, that butterfly that causes havoc in your stomach just before a huge night out. In 2014, tainted by too many morning afters, their sound has dulled. “Make It Easy” is a sloppy math rock number with Lamb casually, almost whimsically (almost), whispering sweet nothings in a carefree falsetto about a life enhanced by that special girl. “Return The Favor” is an equally anemic affair, with dull sloppy drumming giving Lamb even more excuse to drunkenly stumble around a sick sounding chorus. When the lead guitar finally kicks in during the second half, it’s almost ironic, the last reminder of a tighter, fitter, more youthful mood.

TV En Français isn’t blatantly offensive, and it’s not difficult to see why their previous efforts have won such high applause from such a varied group of fans. On ‘Dumb Luck’, they find their swagger, as Lamb delivers his sermon “you can’t always get by on dumb luck.” It is a condescending tone, purified slightly by the “My First Synthesizer” kit they purchased, which actually lends a nice edge to the music. It’s an energetic beast that is sandwiched between two depressingly flat tracks. On “Slow Down,” he tackles the perennial South London problem of wayward middle age and substance indulgence, and “Take An Arrow” is in fact, despite four million bands doing it better, a touching sentiment, “I would take an arrow, any way, any day.” The fact that Lamb removes himself from second gear helps, although he only shoots for third (and only just makes it). There’s just too much of a formulaic aura about everything. “Don’t Blow It” is mildly melodic and perfect for a concert hall with around 5,000 people in it. “Courage” is the middle of the set slow down, when the lights dim and a few die hard fans crack the lighters out. Overall? Probably a record for them. If you’re desperately enamored with mid 2000’s UK guitar music, you may find some solace and a kindred spirit here. 4.5/10.

Fischerspooner – Odyssey

(Alternatively titled: The Best Albums You’ve Never Heard: Fischerspooner – Odyssey)

Long before Empire of the Sun gained worldwide ire and admire alike, Fischerspooner were reviving the more lunatic elements of 80’s new wave culture through their outrageous dress and outlandish output. Born out of New York in 1998, Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner (get it?) combined their love of art with their penchant for creating bright, drum-fuelled mayhem. On their debut record, #1, this love of all things creative was mistaken for arrogance. Their outward embrace of a blurred line between physical art and music bled in to their demeanor as well as their packaging and promotion. It led to some corners labeling them a gimmick – a bubblegum pop act masquerading as a trail blazing duo. Certainly, the members were keen to highlight their pursuit of more than just the musical aspect of their creations. Just looking at the personnel involved in the making of their first record is mind boggling. They list four separate people for wardrobe, five photographers, and a hair stylist. Most models don’t travel with such an entourage. But hasn’t all this been done before? Aren’t they just retreading the path made famous by David Bowie? Aren’t they just trying to marry Andy Warhol with Devo?

On #1, the music didn’t speak for itself. It was the most blatant throwback record since Nas released Stillmatic. Reviving a lost genre is kitsch, and it has been trendy ever since Keith Richards began his blues riffing. But dusting off the 8-bit synthesizers and playing God with Kraftwerk’s work was less than inspired, despite the physical artistry behind the project. #1 would’ve been killer in 1988, not 2001. It’s little wonder then that it took them another four years to craft Odyssey. A re-think was needed. Keep the art, intensify the music, diversify the sound. Relying on simple drum loops and a disc of ambient noises looped through analog machinery was never going to be a fruitful experience. So, we recieved Odyssey.

It starts promisingly for anyone who has heard #1. “Just Let Go,” the opener, immediately feels different – more edgy, more insistent. A staccato beat underpins an ominous and aggressive bassline that growls out from the speakers. Spooner sounds menacing, “Deep in this anatomy, buried,” “You can find it if you just let go,” punctuated by an oscillating synth groove that’d make Timbaland proud, before a wall of sound penetrates at the end of the song, bursting forth in to raver territory. It’s a decadent beginning, but one in keeping with the duo’s commitment to the high-art-meets-pop-music brief. The entire album follows in this vein. Rather than a total tear-down and rebuild, they focused on maintaining the elements that made #1 listenable – the camp, over the top style, and simplistic structure, and used that as a base to expand. “Cloud” uses the synthesizer almost as a guitar, creating a light riff as Spooner perplexes with “I have you now, but I lost me, I lost myself, because I am just a cloud,” before the song again steps up a notch and dips back in to the electroclash genre.

There’s an overriding sense of push and pull throughout the record, as themes of love take a backseat to more pertinent life lessons. “We Need A War” – “We need a war to show them that we can do it.” and “Everything To Gain” – “Nothing to lose, and everything to gain.” benefit hugely from their own simplicity. “Ritz 107” probably delivers the deepest lyrical concept, even if it does contain the line “The clocks are ticking, they’re old and sound strange.” This is the standout track on the record, a slow burning masterpiece that utilizes mournful strings to set a melancholic tone before exploding in to the sunlight with a turtle drum phase and Spooner’s spaced out delivery. It’s the only real moment that we get to explore their compositional abilities, and it is a welcome interlude from the perma-haze inflicted from the rest of the record.

The production is what is most impressive about Odyssey. There’s no stylistic left turn here, it’s almost as if Spooner and Fischer have taken their previous work and added a whole new layer of depth. “We Need A War” is a straight-laced electroclash tune, complete with resplendent sci-fi attack synths echoing around your speakers. “Wednesday” promotes their new found pursuit of melody, which they’d only really displayed on breakout track “Emerge.” This melody carries throughout the entire record. It’s such a key element of this form of music, and distinguishes the good from the dull. New Order were masters of it, and recently Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark gave us an example of how tinny and hollow an album can feel at times with their misstep on “English Electric.” On “Happy,” “Ritz 107,” and “Get Confused,” the lads pre-date Madonna’s brilliant Confessions On A Dancefloor by several months, tapping in to this beautiful electronic perma-haze that envelops the listener and draws them in to an intense experience. In a good pair of headphones, this record sounds absolutely beautiful. It’s almost a direct rejection of the new wave sound, yet it feels so much more like an evolution, as if this was the arc it was always meant to follow. Records like Bloom, by Beach House, and xx by the xx share similar qualities, and it’s interesting to note that before Odyssey, there really weren’t a lot of electronic acts around with this ability.

If there is a parting shot on any record, it’s “O.” An absolute sonic experience that blurs the lines between listener and music, as you fall backwards in to the sea of synth noise and attack drone shots of sound. This is the part of the live show where the strobes would be worked till breaking point, where the bass would be so strong you can feel it pulsing through your body, where people start fainting from the sheer sensory overload. It exists as a summing up of exactly where Fischerspooner took Odyssey. They started with a sound, and nurtured it until it blossomed in to a giant technicolor experience. 9/10.

Elbow – The Take off and Landing of Everything

When Guy Garvey brings life to the phrase “We never learn from history” on the brilliant second track, “Charge,” it’s tempting to take him to task on the sentiment. The song – a sordid tale of advancing age and the desire to be treated as a true institution within the community – betrays the mystery of the hidden anxiety that runs like a varicose vein down the spine of this record. Taken out of context, that lyric is super charged and colored with clear, almost bullish modesty, something the band has been happily guilty of. In 2004, a sheepish, slightly (okay, quite) drunk Garvey fronted a moorish group at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney, opening for the comparative firebrand Placebo. Over the course of 45 minutes, they didn’t offend, barely spoke and Garvey, whilst front and center, seemed to almost cower. The music was entrancing, yet the performance was anything but.

Fast forward to 2012, and on the evening of the 12th of August, Elbow played to an estimated 750 million worldwide viewers, displaying all the pomp and ceremony of their more illustrious stadium companions Coldplay, McCartney, and Bowie. History, it seems, has taught these boys more than just the delight of a well earned hangover. Their arc from traditional English alternative crooners to Mercury Prize-winning critic pleasers is so blatantly removed from the usual path tread by their contemporaries you’d be forgiven for thinking they were Welsh or Icelandic. As the years have passed, Garvey has emerged wonderfully from behind his imagined shortcomings, morphing in to one of the most interesting and prophetic lyricists in modern music, with a band behind him that seem to time their run perfectly on every occasion. From the layers of reverb and the almost whispered words on “Any Day Now,” off their first album, to the stunning vocal vista’s of “On A Day Like This” or “High Ideals,” and the bursts of aggression on “Leaders of the Free World” and “Grounds For Divorce,” a truly wonderful sound has emerged.

The Take Off and Landing of Everything finds the band at a critical juncture. With the wild success of Build A Rocket Boys! behind them, and with a back catalog now viewed by the musical press as one of the true gems of the modern era, Elbow have enviable but daunting shoes to fill. The record immediately feels like a note has been removed, as if they made the curry paste but forgot to add the chili. This isn’t a criticism, but an observation. As opener “This Blue World” moves gracefully forward, you sit awaiting the traditional explosion, akin to “Ribcage,” “Station Approach,” or “Starlings.” That this moment never truly arrives, despite more than 7 minutes of waiting, is almost as revealing as the relaxed mundanity that Garvey extols, “Hope that you and yours are sleeping / Safe and warm in size formation.”

Elbow have always had this canny knack, and I stop slightly short of calling it a genius tendency, to transform the routine blandness of life in to a vivid spectrum of emotion and wonder. The clue to this talent came on “Lippy Kids,” off Build A Rocket Boys!, as Garvey breaks his doleful shackles to enforce “Build a rocket boys!” before musing on whether they recognized what a blessed existence they found themselves in. It’s a joyous trait to have, a fact that Garvey acknowledges on “Real Life (Angel),” announcing “You always found peace in the grip of the beat, darling / Time alone with the pounding of your heart,” his humility starkly outlined as he details those enviable qualities in another, whilst modestly uttering the most heart swelling of phrases “You’ll never need fear a thing in this world while / I have a breath in me; blood in my veins.” When he delivers “To be here, and now, and who we are” there is such weight behind it, if only it could be bottled.

In an interview with Uncut earlier in the year, Garvey described this record as being a lot more experimental than they’d ventured on their most recent records. At first, it seems as though The Take Off shares it’s most important DNA with the beautiful collection of b-sides they released in 2012, Dead In The Boot. The blue sky glare of those well placed horns from “Starlings,” the choral heights scaled in “Open Arms,” the melodic harmony of “Forget Myself” are all clearly missing from this record, and the most indicative refutation of their claimed experiments comes at the beginning of “Honey Sun,” where a drum machine briefly appears before being quickly cut off to the laughter of those in the studio. It certainly did feel out of place – a disco in an old folks home. The strands linking this to Dead In The Boot, however, are more by design than circumstance. There are a variety of instruments utilized in an almost non-Elbow way. Whereas before a piano would feature prominently, a focal point of the performance as on “The River” or “The Fix,” here it is used as they have previously done with strings, to rise and meet Garvey’s high points and accentuate them. On “New York Morning,” the chorus is lifted as he double tracks and major chords prop him up and on the title track, the piano adds a light texture to a heavy atmosphere. There are less strings and more acoustic guitar work, yet they’ve diversified their use and delivered on their prog rock promise, experimenting with every type of guitar to deliver a more varied response.

The shadow of advancing age and lingering anxieties continue to stalk Garvey and co. Whilst his trademark observational technique serves well on the anti-anthem “New York Morning,” and his penchant for telling a story that evokes empathy in even the most stone cold listener is on display on “Colour Fields” – “Bright girl, dead town, open mouths for miles around” – there’s more than a touch of remission in that forceful youth he so adeptly displays. On “Charge,” he brags “I am electric with a bottle in me,” yet he retreats on “Fly Boy Blue,” “I’m reaching the age when decisions are made / On life and liver.” Despite being, by all accounts, a modern poet and a truly gifted lyricist, this is Garvey’s true strength, his ability to descend to the levels of us mere mortals and chat to us on our own terms. He follows his musings on the possible deterioration of his liver with  “But mother forgive me / I still want a bottle of good Irish whiskey and a bundle of smokes in my grave.” He’s a man of the people.

The Take Off is a strange package. It’s Elbow’s most varied LP, yet it operates in such a claustrophobic environment that true creativity seems confined to Garvey’s musings. “New York Morning” is the most curious song on the entire record. It blends so many different Elbow elements. The rushing percussion, Garvey’s heaven opening belt, the double tracking of the chorus to give it that choral feel, and a lead guitar that meanders, as if chasing a darting laser pointer. It’s lasting impression is that of retrospective ponder. As you wade through their beautiful back catalog, Garvey’s emergence becomes so clear that The Take Off all of a sudden makes perfect sense. He is now the focal point, the lead instrument in all endeavors. In that smoke filled room on March 19th 2004, his perceived role was on par with the mute pedal. Now, with the weight of a lifetime of experience and a mind as dextrous… and yet as common as anyone in contemporary music, he stands starkly alone, backlit by a band who’s ability to enhance his wordplay is second to none. Beauty may be subjective, but Elbow have become synonymous with it. 8/10.

Real Estate – Atlas

There emerged a fast burning trend around 2009 that is now patched in to the cultural history of the garden variety hipster. Dubbed lo-fi (sorry), it involved bands who could quite comfortably afford to record their music in comparative opulence seeking out lower quality recordings to foster a new kind of fuzzed-out, 60s garage/surf noise that proved, fleetingly, desperately popular. Purveyors included Best Coast, Wavves, Beach Fossils and Woods, although this is in no way an exhaustive list. Real Estate were born of those days, and from New Jersey they emerged – sun soaked and addicted to reverb. Disconcertingly, rather than gazing blissfully at the rays that made them the companion of choice for bearded men in sweaters who found themselves on a beach, their eyes were firmly trained on their shoes, strumming the same dull tune almost endlessly. Their first two records were truthfully just one track, portioned out accordingly.

For Atlas, it appears someone who loves them went and bought them all a pair of sunglasses. Finally, liberated, they have been able to enjoy the nature they so enhanced. “All light up above us / Oh but I can see the sky” Courtney sings on “Past Lives.” It’s not a complete burst in to sunlight, they haven’t turned in to Evermore, yet what Atlas has done is uncover a band who is more than a passing fad, more than a Grumpy Cat or acid wash jeans. With a slight shift in focus, Real Estate has created a thoroughly enjoyable piece of music. It’s a blink-and-you’ve-missed-it transformation but has done wonders.

The changes are purely aesthetic. Whereas previously, a melancholic track would have been greeted with a down turn of lights and a high picked lead part set to mournful, slower percussion (“Three Blocks,” “Let’s Rock The Beach”), on Atlas there’s an added element. Courtney lowers his voice, breaking the hazed sepia tone and becomes more than a little introspective, “How might I live to betray you, how might I live to see the day,” getting a little Jim James, take stock of your surroundings action involved. It’s another progression from their previous work, which above all else favored simplicity in both language and theme. On “Navigator,” his apparent indifference to the rapid passing of time is a refreshment, and on “Crime,” the music belies a caged and jittery circumstance bound by anxiety and curled up in a metaphoric ball, desperately seeking an out, “I don’t wanna die / lonely and uptight.” Uptight is the very last thing you’d expect of Real Estate, yet there is density behind that tan.

Atlas triumphs in the details. With bands like Real Estate, it can be easy to paint a broad brush and detune your ears, gorging on the entire sonic experience without tackling the real nuts and bolts of a track. It’s why, whilst you may not think they are anything superbly special, music like this appears almost critic proof. On “April’s Song,” acoustic, percussion, and that wallowing lead guitar all combine wonderfully to shift the gaze from the shoes and up in to the audience. On “The Bend,” it is this time the percussion that delivers the adrenaline, with a staccato high hat acting as a ballast to keep the sound from falling back in to the hazy underworld. The simplicity that has served them admirably still remains, though. “Talking Backwards” is almost Foals-level math rock, it’s an earwig of a tune that races along, with Courtney firmly on our level, “And the only thing that really matters / Is the one thing I can’t seem to do.” Saying you relate to that lyric is like saying you like pizza. Everyone can, and does.

Ultimately, it’s the shackle breaking nature of Atlas that has catapulted it from fixed gear cyclist fare to razor enthusiast iTunes collection material. Whilst lo-fi favored archaic methods and equipment to replicate the sounds of the past, Real Estate have finally gone down their local hi-fi store and dipped in to their ramen noodle fund. They’ve entered the 21st century, and Atlas is the result, in all its technicolour, quadrophonic glory. Listen to this once, take a short break and go back, and you will actually remember individual songs and unique moments. On Days and Real Estate, you could listen for hours and it may well have been the same song you’d accidentally put on repeat. Atlas is not ground breaking, nor is it an overwhelmingly brilliant record. Wild Nothing, Woods, and Best Coast are still the only truly essential listening in this category. But find yourself down the beach one day, with your long curly beard and knitted sweater causing you discomfort as you peddle your fixed speed bike to an out of town PETA meeting, you may just find some solace in Atlas. 6.5/10.

A change is coming.