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Rank The Albums: Reading & Leeds 2014 (The Top 10)

10. Queens Of The Stone Age – Songs For The Deaf

By 2002 Queens Of The Stone Age had proven to be masters of a new breed of heavy, sexy, psychedelia and were ready to display some real muscularity. From the bassline that swept the Queens into the upper echleons of the charts to the despairing grind of the title track, Songs For The Deaf was a display of primal intent. However, the Queens would never be so dull as to release a conventional rock record, Songs For The Deaf comes at the listener from awkward, uncomfortable, angles. Riffs spiral downwards, Homme’s vocal toes the line between hypnotic melody and decaying death note and, perhaps most remarkable, even the darkest and most intense guitar work is underwritten by a feathery technical dexterity. This album is often dismissed as a meathead record, but it is nothing of the sort; it’s gnarled oddity, but an intensely alluring one at that.

9. Danny Brown – Old

Danny Brown doesn’t do anything by halves. The former drug dealer manages to blend poverty-inspired-viciousness with a warm, all smiles, personality that has made the Detroit rapper an enticing proposition. Old is the moment when Brown not only brings all his disparate talents together, but the moment when he said, “screw it”, and threw everything against the wall – and everything stuck!

The genre hoping is staggering, from depressing tales that detail the deaths of close friends and his starved existence to club jams of the highest order and the beautiful escapism of “Kush Koma” – Old is an ambition as an album. Danny Brown leaving no stone unturned as he’s displays the breadth of his talent and the complexity of his struggle.

8. Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare 

Following up a near perfect debut album that spoke to the times with an unparalleled clarity was never going to be easy, but Alex Turner seemed content enough to give the difficult second album the cold shoulder. Favourite Worst Nightmare was more muscular and more musical, without taking away the immediacy or youthful energy that elevated the Monkeys’ debut above the indie thoroughfare. “505” showed Turner’s potential as a balladeer while “Brianstorm”, “Fluorescent Adolescent” and “Teddy Picker” proved that the band’s early hits were no fluke. Favourite Worst Nightmare was never destined to be a statement record; instead it picked away at their fringes of Monkeys’ breakthrough sound and pointed toward future development. Naturally enough, the Monkeys slow evolution came not in the form of a stumble, but in the guise of one the 21st Century’s best records.

7. Paramore (Eponymous) 

At 67 minutes, with 17 tracks, it is tempting to suggest that Paramore have leaned harder on the punk part of their pop-punk heritage – but remember, that’s gone. Now changed, the Tennessee three now lie firmly with contemporaries in alternative rock, and all of that pedigree of rock knowledge has been condensed into tracks without stagnation – without becoming droll or boring. Instead, the album is packaged sweetly into 3-4 track bundles separated by these adorable ukelele and vocal ditties, releasing the listener from the more intense messages and juxtaposing the same message against a bouncy, poppy rhythm.

Against their first three albums, Paramore stands completely alone. The new influences, which clearly drip across the LP. Paramore are a cookie cutter Kerrangcore band, right? No – not anymore. Not this Paramore. Paramore are a band reborn, a band who have taken the test of time and come out shining. Hate them or not – it is hard to deny this albums quality.” William Sorenson

6. Disclosure – Settle

“Disclosure’s music is intelligent and slow burning. They recall Frankie Knuckles and the great house innovators, but Settle struggles when they London duo attempt to tease out the beat in isolation. Instead, they thrive when they use their skills to subvert the saccharine hooks and soulful croons of their collaborators. Settle is unashamedly pop, but it doesn’t patronize like Guetta and it’s never knowingly cloying in the Daft Punk tradition. No matter how strong the hook or vocalist, they are subdued by Disclosure’s vision. They dull the tempo, create a luxurious or alien swirl, and then give the listener the release they crave by bringing the niggling hook back in all its glory.

In this warped unstated way, Disclosure never lose their sense of identity or vision, while Jessie Ware, AlunaGeorge and Sam Smith deliver surprisingly anonymous star turns (the names don’t matter, only the whole). This is smart, thoughtful pop music: the type the British public deserve but are seldom treated to.”

5. Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American

 

Jimmy Eat World might well be the least profound band on this list, and yet, they produced an album that meant absolutely everything to an entire generation. July 2001 is defined by the release of Is This It by The Strokes, but secretly, while indie was on the verge of its next great revival, Jimmy Eat World had sneaked out the pop punk manifesto for the next decade. It didn’t arrive with grand political overtures, but it did wear its heart on its sleeve, turning their once derided earnestness into a weapon of weapon of mass destruction. I still remember sitting on holiday in Italy and reading the five star reviews come in, I was dumb struck; who could imagine critics talking with such an intensity of feeling about a Jimmy Eat World record?

 

When I returned to the UK I headed to the stores, grabbed Bleed American, heard “A Praise Chorus” and understood implicitly. 

4. Arctic Monkeys – AM

It was looking dicey there for moment. The Arctic Monkeys were fumbling, not unsuccessfully, towards a new sound without either the impetus or originality of youth. They hinted at awe-inspiring balladry, murky seasick atmospherics and a new rip roaring technicality, but struggled to pull it all together in the years following Favourite Worst Nightmare. AM was the somewhat unexpected breakthrough. The first big leap came on the road. Alex Turner opened up to his audiences as the band marriage blitzkrieg assaults to stadium sized riffage – the Arctics appeared reborn. Then the album arrived. Thick, luscious, brutish and thoughtful, it pulled all the frayed strings the Arctics had begun to unravel on Favourite Worse Nightmare taut – and rather than reasserting the patterns of old, a new, richer, more worldly design emerged.  The Arctic Monkeys had not been granted a second stab at being the biggest and most important British band in a generation, with AM, they simply earned it.

3. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City 

Here’s what we said about Vampire Weekend’s stunning quarter-life-crisis LP on release:

“By the time the stunning “Hudson” arrives to deliver the album’s emotional coda, Vampire Weekend have set themselves apart from their peers. They sound utterly singular as the orchestra swells into a scattered shot blend of glitch-percussion and military precision. Portentous and timely, Arabic strings meld with a gorgeously downbeat melody to create an unmistakable feeling of frosty desolation. The colour sapping clouds of the album artwork have descended on a heartless Manhattan and Erza summons a new found biblical potency to weave a miserable prophecy, laced with only the slightest sliver of hope.

The post-recession world is as terrifying as it diffuse and, astonishingly, this complex moment in time has been perfectly inhabited by four preppy and utterly un-imtimating New Yorkers.  Vampire Weekend have never sounded this vital and no album in 2013 feels more modern, more inventive or more urgent than Modern Vampires Of The City.”

2. Queens Of The Stone Age – Rated R

 

Cocaine is a hell of a drug – and if Rated R is anything to go by then so are nicotine, vallium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol. Josh Homme doesn’t so much hide his influences as list them on the fabulously obnoxious opener “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer”. Rated R swims in a shifting sea of narcotics; even as sailing appears smooth (“The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret”) there are nervous twitches and macabre undercurrents. The wheels are almost constantly falling off reality as Homme battles for power and control over his life, his various women and the melting walls of his mind. However, unlike so many modern drug addled release, Rated R recalls the psychedelia of the 60s and 70s – no matter how trippy and weirdly lovey this record gets (and trust me it does), Homme never lets his pop nous slip. Instead, far from disappearing down the rabbit hole, Homme asserts his songwriting chops and delivers some of the biggest hits and most enduring riffs of his long career. 

1. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That Is What I Am Not

 

Whatever People Say I Am, That Is What I Am Not stands in direct opposition to the other definitely British indie masterpiece of the 21st Century: Up The Bracket by The Libertines. Both seek to capture the youth in all its glory, but where The Libs existed in an imagined unreality – a noble Albion of war poets and romantic gestures – The Monkeys thrived in the muddy underlying truth: stifled but enduring relationships, drunken nights fuelled by moronic braggadocio, misguided text messages, girls coated in fake tan, guys happy to go home with absolute anyone rather than spend a solitary night along, broken ATM machines, clashes with the police – not underwritten by grand political ideals, but by the desire to cause mischief – and, of course, lads scrapping with pool cues in their hands.

 

The Monkeys never try to romanticise these images, but they are shrouded in a warm glow. Alex Turner doesn’t long for shit bands or traffic jams, instead he sees what really matters beneath the thick grime of reality: the good times, the memories, the feelings of kinship and fleeting romance. Whatever People Say I Am, That Is What I Am Not is youth in all its immaculate, unquestionable, glory – these memories are not blemished by the unflinching glare of reality, they thrive in spite of it.

 

Your hometown is a shit hole, your childhood friends are dickheads and the girl you hooked up with on that one glorious drunken night five years ago isn’t all that you remembered – and you know what? You wouldn’t have it any other way. They are your mates and you love them, it was your younger self and you are absolved.

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Author: david

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