Tom Connick, Staff Writer
Joyce Manor – ‘Never Hungover Again’ (2014)
“At just 19 minutes long, Joyce Manor’s third album might not immediately come to mind as the perfect example of the album format, but that brevity is its greatest asset. Not a second is wasted across its 10 tracks, every chirrupy, Smiths-like guitar line and spirited punk singalong slotted perfectly into place. Like the very best albums, it’s one I can’t listen to individual tracks from without immediately anticipating the next – drilled into my long-term memory, all 19 minutes are one chunk of perfectly-executed punk-rock, one song perfectly segueing into the next. And as for the title? Well, it’d be nice, wouldn’t it?”
Jordan Bassett, Senior Staff Writer
Modest Mouse, ‘The Moon & Antarctica’ (2000)
“Halfway through recording the band’s expansive, extraordinarily beautiful third album, Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock – a man who appears to find trouble with ease – got into a fight with some hoodlums. They broke his jaw, which was wired shut for three months (‘My jaw felt pretty loose and weird,’ he told Buzzfeed in 2015, ‘turns out they knocked it off the hinge’). Because he couldn’t sing as much, the group focused on loose, spacious instrumental arrangements; as a result, there’s more space on this album than on their previous, gnarly thrash-punk records.
This was also the Washington group’s first release on a major label, a bridge between the scratchy indie-punk album ‘Lonesome Crowded West’ (1997) and indie-pop breakthrough ‘Good News For People Who Love Bad News’ (2004). It’s a perfect combination of their early aggression and later penchant for melody, making this an ideal example of the album form in that it includes heavy rock bangers (‘Dark Centre of the Universe’), psych-tinged freakouts (‘The Stars Are Projectors’), acoustic weepies (‘Gravity Rides Everything’) and even grindhouse disco (‘Tiny City Made of Ashes’). It’s a complex web of mood, atmosphere and tone, reflective and abrasive all at once.
Over the course of 15 tracks, Brock tackles grief (“I don’t want you to be alone down there,” he screams on the industrial ‘Alone Down There’) and self-loathing (over the finger-picked ditty ‘Lives’, he croaks, “It’s hard to remember to live before you die”), finding beauty in melancholia. ‘Gravity Rides Everything’, with its eerie, backwards-looped percussion, is one long sigh of a song, with Brock pointing out, “No-one really cares for it at all / That gravity plan.” Sex, pain, loathing, love, depression, death and disco – ‘The Moon & Antarctica’ has it all.”
Thomas Smith, New Music Editor
Talking Heads, ‘Talking Heads 77’ (1977)
“I’m going to see Talking Heads frontman David Byrne in a few weeks and I am SO BLOODY EXCITED. The man behind some of the most wilfully-inventive pop hits of the last half-century, playing said songs right in front of me? Brilliant. A marching band-style live performance that subverts what gigs are supposed to be like in 2018? Ace. Holding his own brain as a prop? Well now we’re cooking with gas.
Byrne will, of course, be playing cuts from ‘American Utopia’ – his surprisingly relevant 2018 solo album, but it’s his Talking Heads stuff we’re all really there for. In preparation, I’ve been throwing myself back into old material like a desperate student hoping to know every nook and cranny of these songs before the big night. The NYC band’s debut album ‘Talking Heads 77’ has proved to take my fancy this time. It’s not their best (‘Speaking In Tongues), nor their most groundbreaking (‘Remain In Light) – but it is undoubtedly their most exciting and complete project.
From the steel-panned featuring opener ‘Love Comes To Town’ through to the jaunty piano sequence that closes ‘Tentative Decisions’, the creative thread that the band so chaotically placed in their music is woven into such a wonderful and confounding pattern. By the time it reaches track 10 and 11 – their breakout single ‘Psycho Killer’ and the anxiety-ridden ‘Pulled Up’ – the intelligent and immaculate design. design they loosely sketched comes into realisation.”
Liz Aubrey, News Writer
The National, ‘High Violet’ (2010)
“The National’s High Violet isn’t the cheeriest of records: frontman Matt Berninger somehow manages to sound even more self-destructive than on the record’s full-length predecessor – the melancholic masterpiece, ‘Boxer’.
Yet the beauty of High Violet lies in the brutal honesty of a band unafraid to express the darkest and most painful thoughts of tortured souls and broken hearts. Delving into the deepest of human anxieties and neuroses, they opened up conversations about mental health long before many, rooting the discussion in the ordinary, everyday struggles of life. “It takes an ocean not to break”, Berninger sings in his broody baritone alongside lyrics like: “I never thought about love when I thought about home”, “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe” and “I’m afraid of everyone.”
Amid the gloom is also the tenacity and triumph of the human spirit as the characters in Berninger’s songs overcome amidst the pain. The release also coincided with the band’s own tenacity: after ten years of trying and struggling to make it, they finally started to receive some deserved critical acclaim. The message of ‘High Violet’ is still vital today and will remain so for years to come.”
El Hunt, Staff Writer
St Vincent, ‘MASSEDUCTION’ (2017)
“Pay any attention to the grumbling naysayers, and they’ll tell you that nobody appreciates albums anymore. ‘You kids only download your pop fad singles on The Spotify,” they’ll croak between reading pages of The Daily Mail and voting for Brexit, “you youngsters don’t have any patience!” I call bullshit.
Think of St Vincent’s ‘MASSEDUCTION’ – which came out last year – and it’s likely you’ll immediately picture garish neon pink, and a leopard-print clad ass. Clashing more textures than Pat Butcher’s living room, Annie Clark’s fifth record – like all the greatest albums – can immediately transport its listener into a vivid world; in this case day-glo advertising slogans, hyper-queered glam rock and pills for every imaginable ailment.
It’s strangely sterile, and oddly emotional at the same time. Poking fun at the very nature of cultural consumption – ‘MASSEDUCTION’ seduces, but in a mass-scale, impersonal manner – it’s an aggressively silly and sexy record from one of the greatest artists of our time. It also perfectly nails the throughly absurd times we live in. If that’s not the hallmark of a ‘proper album’ then what is?”
Dan Stubbs, Commissioning Editor
The Beatles, ‘The Beatles’ (The White Album) (1968)
“BEATLE BORE ALERT! I am one. And the reason there’s no band I go back to as much as JohnPaulGeorge’N’Ringo is because they’re the greatest band of all time. There, I said it.
I was recently lucky enough to attend a playback of the brand new version of ‘The White Album’ at Maida Vale Studios, where Giles Martin, son of producer/fifth Beatle George Martin, talked through the process of remasterpiecing this masterpiece – and I haven’t stopped dipping into since. And that’s the thing about ‘The White Album’ – it’s a record you can dip into. You can play all the Paul songs in a row and think of it as a secret Macca solo album. You can do the same for John. You can make a mini-album of George cuts. And Ringo is there too! It’s full of oddities and experiments, it’s sketchy at times, and it’s imperfect, like all the best albums.
‘The White Album’ is also a cynical choice for this brief, because it’s a long album (a double, though probably still shorter than a Drake record), and genuinely would keep me entertained over 24 hours of continuous listening. And finally, I’d be forced to listen to ‘Revolution 9’ for the first time since I was 16, which may open my third eye. And that’s a worthy use of a day.”