Sufficiently summing up this sizzling and completely bonkers debut album in a mere trifle of words is as tricky as slapping a satisfactory genre label on it. It’s just too slippery for its own good. Ok, well, it’s certainly eclectic, and it’s inventive as hell for sure, a galvanising collage of ideas and genre-splicing that absolutely will not hold still, not even for a second, as it squirms restlessly in ever more implausible directions, often mid-song. The result is a riveting and often hilarious ride along soaring guitar hooks and dastardly synth spasms, which successfully infects the listener with the sense of fun the band clearly had welding it all together.
Favourite Track – The Enemy are the Future
Never has the term ‘grower’ been more apt in describing an album’s effect on me than with this effort by New York’s finest purveyors of bleak, yet somehow life-affirming, melodic sentiment. Interpol’s 2nd album ‘Antics’ is far sharper and tuneful than their darkly atmospheric debut ‘Turn on the Bright Lights’, as Paul Banks’ distinctive and mournful baritones are deployed within even more memorable hooks. Tracks like ‘Evil’, ‘C’mere’ and the stomping epic ‘Not Even Jail’ are a delight to chant along to, whilst also marvelling at the near flawless song construction that has you grinning with contentment at every majestically scaled summit.
Favourite Track – Evil
18. Antidotes – Foals (2008)
After being hideously over-hyped pre-release by the likes of NME, who thought they had the new Radiohead on their hands (they are from Oxford after all), Foals’ debut album had much to live up to. However, ‘Antidotes’ didn’t quite blow critics’ minds the way most expected and, on first listen anyway, it sounded more subdued than was probably anticipated. Repeat listens, however, reveal a finely-tweaked, richly embroidered album, laden with subtly sensational tracks and dance-infused trips along the highest parts of the guitar fretboard. The lyrics don’t mean shit (your guess is as good as mine for “that’s one step, two steps, speed bikes”) but this doesn’t matter a jot when their bright, sophisticated sound does so much to inspire one’s mind and dancing feet.
Favourite Track – The French Open
Five years prior to scorching the charts with their ‘Sex on Fire’, Kings of Leon had come rocking out of Nashville with a debut that gnashed and gnarled its hillbilly teeth and packed more of a punch than an irate redneck who has downed off half a litre of musty, old whiskey. These four hairy kings (consisting of three brothers from a preacher father) exploded onto the scene in 2003 with this album chocker block with imaginative lyrics and riot-fuelled riffs. Notable highlights, on a furiously fast-paced tour-de-force that wastes no time with pedestrian tracks, include opener ‘Red Morning Light’ and the witty tale of revengeful widow Joe in the song ‘Joe’s Head’. Caleb Followill’s husky and stupendously apt vocals add to a sense of endearment that meant, back in ‘03, I well and truly fell for these sons of a preacher man.
Favourite Track – Joe’s Head
A choice few may agree with I’m sure but, well, what can I say, it’s a guilty pleasure that appeals to the immature boy that dwells within me and just will not be abated. I guess you’re either on the wavelength of such juvenile humour as ‘Naked Pictures of your Mother’ or you’re not. There is certainly much excellent guitar riffage on offer, as it rifles through one blast of dance stimulating rock after another. And it’s just littered with moments that send cheeky grins shooting across my totally unashamed face; the “STOP!… CONTINUE!” moment in ‘Improper Dancing’ being the most notable of these. ‘Dance Commander’ gets me rocking and hollering every single time and ‘Gay Bar’ is a gloriously inventive smash and grab track, with a riff that can scorch a path of flames through any dancefloor. That reminds me actually, I must pop down the store… to get more… FIRE!! (To start the war).
Favourite Track – Dance Commander
This album saved my Christmas Day back in 2004. Feeling absolutely wretched at 9am following some very unwise, boozed up Xmas Eve antics the night before, and realising I had a long day of festive cheer on the cards, I whacked my recent album purchase in the CD player whilst gingerly righting myself in bed. And by the time it was through I was ready for action! ‘Funeral’ is as epic and ambitious a spectacle as you’re likely to experience from a debut album, coming across so assured and full of grandeur and yet simultaneously conveying sentiments that are fragile, intimate and touching all at once. It’s an album for all my moods, be it when I want to go stomping about the house and shouting along to it or if I need to ever so delicately manoeuvre myself out of a stonking hangover.
Favourite Track – Rebellion (Lies)
It’s remarkable to think that it was this decade at all, let alone only 8 years ago, when this raucous mess of razor sharp energy ransacked the indie dancefloors and made them its own. It feels like it’s been part of the nightclub fabric forever, especially given all the headline grabbing drama that has occurred since Pete and Karl guitar thrashed their way into the spotlight. Never was there an album more suited to living it up and getting smashed out of your face to. Tracks like ‘Vertigo’, ‘Horror Show’ and ‘Up the Bracket’ became instant classics, coming spiked so full of sassy, carefree, ‘who gives a shit’ flair and vitality that few could ignore the forceful nature of it’s hardcore intentions. But, one shouldn’t forget, that there’s much skill and imagination on show here too, both lyrically and compositionally. It has achieved somewhat nostalgic status now though because, unfortunately, these high times simply couldn’t last forever.
Favourite Track – Horror Show
This pulsating menagerie of peculiarity twisted into being following Thom Yorke’s exhaustion from touring off the back of the storming success of ‘Ok Computer’, which left him moaning that he was fed up with melody, and has since proved itself to be a daring and awe-inspiring venture into alien territory for a band not content to rest on their laurels. From the first few seconds, when ‘Everything in its Right Place’ arrives and trips over itself in starting, as if Radiohead practically stumbled into their new sound, to the last resounding syllables of ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’, Kid A seeps into your consciousness like some crackpot idea that’s been brooding in the back of your mind and seems to grow more inspired and enticing the more you allow yourself to think about it. Sure it’s a little bit insane (as the trumpets in the most demented ‘National Album’ I’ve ever heard will testify) but it scales some quite beautiful heights too (as the soaring climax to ‘How to Disappear Completely’ testifies). An album that serves as an obscure reminder that the only true way to progress and to grow is in daring to change.
Favourite Track – Everything in its Right Place
Music in the noughties (Grr… I don’t know why but I dislike the term noughties immensely, maybe because I associate it with ghastly music channel best ofs) just didn’t come any better than this flawless, sauntering album from then debut band The Strokes… well, according to NME anyway, because ‘Is This It’ was indeed very much ‘it’ in their albums of the decade list. And, for once, NME’s unrestrained adulation didn’t mean the kiss of death for a budding new band all those years ago. And do you know why? Because this album is so effortless and full of swagger, so absolutely right on in its pitch and its execution, and so seamless in its flow, as we are swept along the streets of New York by Julian Casablanca’s drowsy vocals and atop of Nick Valenti and Albert Hammond Jr’s scintillating layers of guitar, that nothing, and I do mean nothing, could spoil this. Don’t fret; even NME can be right sometimes.
Favourite Track – New York City Cops
Called ‘The New Fellas’, not because these dubiously hair-styled Wakefield ruffians were new to the scene (for this was their second album), but because it’s a witty swipe aimed at the generic and unoriginal new “indie” bands that gained popularity following the success of bands like themselves and The Libertines. It’s a bold move by the Jarmans to take such a swipe, for it could have been construed as pompous and bitchy. But as soon as ‘Hey Scenesters’ has finished rocking its socks off there’s little danger of that, mainly because they’re right, but also because their lyrics and choruses are just too damn catchy. So many memorable tracks and lyrics race past but possibly the pick of the bunch for me is the opening to Martell: “How hard can it be, to get a slap on the back from a room full of morons? So you hate my sunglasses. Well, you’re precious Leeds is dead just so long as you know”. Hey! Leeds is alright!
Favourite Track – Mirror Kissers
The top ten now and no album in this list is as complete a manifestation of its creators’ identity as this one. Overtly labelled ‘Gypsy Punks’ you know exactly what you are in for right from the off, as crazed gang leader Eugene Hutz croaks out gypsy gibberish in the build-up to first track ‘Sally’. There’s never a dull moment, from the fetish delights of ‘Start Wearing Purple’, the screaming protests of ‘Not a Crime’ and the blood-curdling female wails of ‘I Never Want to Be Young Again’, each song comes infused with the magic of Eastern European gypsy punk parties. The lyrics are rich with rebellion and the rampaging music, which encompasses twiddling fiddles and agitated accordions, is berserk and inventive to the last.
Favourite Track – Not a Crime
Yes ok, so there was a big furore over the whole business of releasing it as a free download over the internet. I was never really interested in any of that, I get most of my music for free anyway. What got me excited was a new album by Radiohead, the most consistently innovative band of the last 15 years. Following three albums that propelled their ever evolving sound into increasingly more baffling but brilliant territory, In Rainbows finds a rather more settled Radiohead, exulting in where their evolutions have taken them and indulgently stretching out their mutated musical limbs. It’s an almost luxurious experience listening to a band so at ease with their own sound that they can assuredly tease and tantalise every track into maximising its full potential. There are moments of real beauty here (notably Nude, Weird Fishes/Arpeggi and House of Cards) as Thom Yorke’s voice drifts impeccably towards the precise notes and melodies that send each song soaring into pitch perfect being.
Favourite Track – Jigsaw Falling Into Place
The album where people began to sit up and take notice of Jack White and his partner come sister come ex-wife come bash happy bad drummer. This album is an exercise in song writing made simple: Simple riffs, simple structures, simple topics, simple lyrics. In this album Jack White makes song-writing look easy. So why can no-one else do it this well? Because the truth is that what The White Stripes achieved with this album is not easy. Jack White is just a natural with a guitar in his hands and lyrics on his mind and it’s an absolute joy when dazzling sentences like ‘She turns and says “Are you alright?” I said “I must be fine cause my heart’s still beating”’, ‘Have a doctor come and visit us and tell us which one is sane’ and my personal favourite, ‘I’m finding it harder to be a gentleman every day. All the manners that I got taught have slowly died away. But if I left the door open for you it would make your day’ are sandwiched between such arresting bluesy riffage. Yep, this one still remains the best showcase for White’s supremo song-writing talents.
Favourite Track – Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
This album has either somehow managed to dodge everyone’s attention or people just don’t know a great album when they hear it. My hunch is towards the first of these possibilities (for the sake of all your tastes) but either way it is a crime that this album from debut band Stellastarr* of New York is not more widely revered. For sure it wear its influences on its sleeves (stellar rock blast ‘Jenny’ even slots in half the riff from Pixie’s ‘Where is My Mind’) but ingeniously manages to take from its peers and still give back something fresh, inventive and breathlessly great. It’s an astounding pop debut that veers wildly at every crank of Shawn Christenson’s resonant vocals, churning forth a merry parade of infectious riffs and gorgeous melody. I couldn’t get enough of its imaginative vitality the first time I heard it and the urge to wail gleefully along to it hasn’t waned in the time since.
Favourite Track – My Coco
The only dj-ing record to make it into the list. My university party life was consistently illuminated by this menagerie of mixing that mashes together an incredible 114 recordings into its one hour run time, and at no point does it feel forced or seem to affect the natural flow of, what has to be, one of the most expertly realised DJ albums there ever was. Basement Jaxx’s ‘Where’s My Head At’ bulldozes us straight into the action followed sublimely by Peaches’ ‘Fuck the Pain Away’. There’s New Order mixed with Lords of Acid, The Stooges with Salt n Pepa and, in the most hilarious section of this turntabling extravaganza, Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5’ squeezed between Destiny’s Child and Royksopp’s ‘Eple’. It’s a magnificent, totally seamless experiment in the DJ arts. And one hell of a party album to boot.
Favourite Track – Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5’
When Muse released this record in 2004 it might have been safe to assume their sound couldn’t get more epic than the apocalypse enquiring grandeur of this effort. At the end of 2009, and two albums later, we of course know better. But neither of their two more recent blockbusters has achieved so successfully the audacious, majestic heights of ‘Absolution’. ‘Absolution’ is the moment when Muse realised how spectacular their sound really could be. With mad, scheming musical scientist Matt Bellamy pulling and finger tapping the strings Muse concocted an earth-shattering album bursting with boombastic instrumentalism and end of the world portents. The album’s ambition knows no bounds, from the violent piano pounding of opener ‘Apocalypse Please’, through the madcap shredding of stadium stormer ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ to the improbably graceful interlude of ‘Butterflies and Hurricanes’ this is Muse doing what Muse do best… rock your bloody socks off.
Favourite track – Hysteria
All the hype in the music press of 2006 was centred on how awesome the Klaxons’ debut was but, although I was quite partial to the Klaxons’ space-agey efforts, it was Sunshine Underground’s debut that dominated the parties I was raving at that year. There are several reasons why this album is special for me. Firstly their origins mirror my own. They’re from Shrewsbury and moved to Leeds, where they made it big… I haven’t made it big yet but I, well, err… anyway, next point! Secondly every time this album was pumping forth it meant that I was having a fucking awesome time; it was the soundtrack to a whole summer of partying. Lastly, seeing these songs performed live at Leeds Met uni still ranks as the best gig I’ve ever been to. Without a weak moment on the album there is not a second to rest, which often resulted in me having no option but to keep dancing right the way through, until I was practically plodding my shattered body through the motions come track 11… but with a big gurning grin on my face.
Favourite Track – Communication Breakdown
The Arctic Monkeys were a revelation months before the release of this sparkling debut, due mainly to the power of self-promotion on the internet. It meant these young whippersnappers from working class Sheffield had their work cut out in living up to the hype. But boy did they live up to it. It’s a quite outstanding album, as Alex Turner loads his wry lyrical observations with a rapier wit sharper than the broken bottles and whoring fingernails that make up the subject matter, whilst the lively riffs create a clamour and racket of such freewheeling invention that it’s hard not to become infected by its vital urgency. The songs are absolutely spot-on and could probably sum up my youth as a cider-swilling chav better than my own words ever could. From the grapples with the bouncers in ‘From the Ritz to the Rubble’, to the pathetic pulling attempts in ‘Dancing Shoes’ and the dodging away from the coppers in ‘Riot Van’, this album is my teenage years in a neatly packaged nutshell (I actually kicked a riot van once. Don’t really know why. I was a dick). Many before them and many, many after have sung about similar strifes of inner-city living but none have done so as perfectly as this.
Favourite Track – Still Take You Home
If ‘White Blood Cells’ was the album where most people sat up and took notice of The White Stripes existence ‘Elephant’ is the album that made sure Jack and Meg White would become a vital part of that existence. Listening to it, even now, it’s hard to believe that there’s essentially only one man behind everything that goes on inside it. Grander in scope and bolder in ambition than their previous efforts it is a sheer delight sharing in the energy and enthusiasm that has clearly gone into crafting it, as Jack begins to realise that he can actually pull off half the stuff going on inside his demented imagination, as it shoots off in one direction after another. ‘Seven Nation Army’ conquered the charts and radio stations like nothing they’d done before, the riotous cover of Dusty Springfield’s ‘I Just Don’t Know What to do with Myself’ is one of the all-time great cover versions and ‘Black Math’ might just contain the most outrageous musical interlude this side of ‘Whole Lotta Love’. That’s not to mention the sublime lyricism of ‘Girl There’s No Home For You Here’ and ‘I Want to be the Boy to Warm your Mother’s Heart’ or the rampaging beast that is ‘Ball and Biscuit’. A quite extraordinary achievement.
Favourite Track – Black Math
This has been my favourite album for so long now I’ve almost forgotten how to love anything else. That is, of course, a lie (as this list testifies), but with this record released way back in 2001 there is still nothing to challenge it in my eyes. I don’t want to create a monster paragraph gushing like a giddy schoolgirl with a petty crush over it so I will try and keep this short. But from the moment ‘New Born’ draws me in with it’s twinkling piano and marauding bassline I’m in heaven, or ‘Bliss’ if you will. There is an abstract experimentation on display here that is not present in any of their more explicitly themed albums of recent years and it is this abstraction which, in my opinion, gives them a freer rein for exploration, for pushing the boundaries of where Matt Bellamy’s quite mental imagination can take them. There’s hardly a song in existence with a catchier, more satisfying riff than ‘Plug-in Baby’, ‘Citizen Erased’ is a staggering rollercoaster of structure and ambition and ‘Micro Cuts’ is a thrilling exercise in pure, unadulterated derangement. Having come riskily close to self-parody with their latest album, ‘The Resistance’, it’s time to shed the agenda and get back to the magnificent abstracted nature of their Origins.
Favourite Track – New Born