Another year is coming to an end and it’s about time we asked our writers which acts and artists made their year. Which album were they playing on loop? What track lodged itself in their head for 12 straight months? Who knocked their socks off live and, perhaps most importantly of all, if they had things their way who would headline Reading and Leeds 2014?
The Album Of The Year: Wakin On A Pretty Daze by Kurt Vile
Clocking in at over 70 minutes, Wakin On A Pretty Daze, is a long winding road of reverie, spacious psychdelia. Book ended by two gratifying 10 minutes pieces, “Waking On A Pretty Day” and “Goldtone” respectively, it is Mr Vile’s most accessible record yet, with hints of Lou Reed and Neil Young along the way. Perhaps this generation’s songwriter for the neo psychedelia revival, the poetic crooning is enough to send you drifting off into the sunset, whilst the smooth guitar solos gain momentum, rather than merely extend the song. A perfect ‘road’ album.
The Track Of The Year: “Stoned & Staving” by Parquet Courts
Filling the void left by the likes of Pavement, Parquet Courts’ debut Light Up Gold was slacker rock at its finest, with catchy hooks, incessant quotable lyrics and tuneful melodies. On “Stoned & Starving”, they delivered a spiky guitar sound, reminiscing the late 70s/early 80s New York college rock sound, but updated toward a new indolent generation. They will be the standout favourites of 2013 to a cult audience, but may not make it too far outside there.
The Best Live Band: Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire, simply because no one anywhere does it better than them. Managing to make a festival field headline set seem as intimate as a pub corner, they don’t rely on gimmicks or stage shows to provide a colossal act, just heartfelt and passionate performances. It’s become almost a necessity to see Arcade Fire live and after spellbinding reviews to their Relektors shows in 2013, they will be on of the most wanted live acts for 2014 all over the globe.
Who Should Headline Reading 2014: Pearl Jam
Speaking from my perspective, they’d be one of the few headline standard bands I’d be yet to see, and they are regularly booked to headline over in Europe, but remain a scarce entity over here on the festival circuit. Would they still appeal to the Reading audience of 2014? It’s hard to say, but then again, who’s knows without giving them a go? Despite that, they have been booked for Milton Keynes Bowl in July, so there goes any chance of them playing next year.
The Album Of The Year: AM by Arctic Monkeys
It took a while for me to get a copy of ‘AM’. I heard it was good but I also heard that about ‘Humbug’ and thought that album was utter tripe, add to that a poor Reading Festival appearance in 2009 and I had properly been turned off the band. However surrounding myself in music and people who do the same means I couldn’t ignore the album for long. In fact I wish I hadn’t ignored it at all, the album is brilliant.
From the very start the album is incredible, kicking off with the filthy sounding ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ and thundering along through a whole selection of delicious sounding tunes. There is such a familiarity with the record as well, the first time I heard it I felt like I knew every song already and in a tongue in cheek way they do seem to have ‘borrowed’ small parts from quite a few songs throughout the album. This takes nothing away from the brilliance though and the Sheffield lads can rest assured that they have created a true classic.
The Track Of The Year: “White Noise” by Disclosure
I never would have thought that two twenty-something brothers from Surrey would reignite my interest in Dance Music but that’s just what has happened. Disclosure have had a hugely successful year, a whole host of highly attended festival appearances, a Mercury Music Prize nomination for their number 1 album ‘Settle’ and numerous chart hits including my pick for track of the year.
Clocking in at just under 6 minutes of brilliance, ‘White Noise’ is a deep house belter. With a bass line reminiscent of the classic garage hits of the early noughties and beautifully whisping vocals from Aluna of AlunaGeorge it was a obvious stand out track.
The Best Live Band: Biffy Clyro
This was a very easy decision for me. Not only were Biffy the best band I saw live this year, their headline performance at Reading was quite possibly the best I have ever seen. I was taken completely by surprise to be honest, I have seen the band before and they were good but not like they were that night. They had everything I look for in a live band; the performance, the hits including huge sing-a-longs, the stage set up, a completely dedicated crowd, to put it bluntly they put on one hell of a show. I really don’t think anyone who was there will disagree either, hearing people talking on my way back to camp the general consensus was they blew everyone away.
Who Should Headline Reading and Leeds 2014: Outkast
The hip hop legends have announced they are back, allegedly headlining Coachella and are heading out on tour in 2014. What a perfect headline band they would make at Reading. The demographic has clearly shifted in recent years and the inclusion of more hip hop music means this would be the perfect time to build on Eminem’s appearance last year and have the ATL act top the bill. With a fantastic back catalogue and the rarity of the rap duo performing together they are sure to be in high demand and Reading could really make a statement but booking them next year.
The Album Of The Year: Days Are Gone by Haim
It may seem like a bit of an NME choice but just like Andrew Marr’s ears I cannot stop listening. It also helps that they have worked their collective butts off this year playing at more festivals than you can shake a muddy panda hat at and winning over audiences everywhere. The wait for the songs to be fully recorded and put on an album seemed to take forever and I think the majority of fans were delighted with the end result.
The Track Of The Year: “Ain’t It Fun” by Paramore
I just love the evolution of the band from slightly punky light nu metal head bangers to being able to comfortably incorporate an actual gospel choir into a song and have it sound awesome. The only tragedy about this song is the fact it wasn’t released as a single as it is easily the strongest song on the album.
The Best Live Band: Two Door Cinema Club
This one comes as a major shock to me as a few weeks ago I simply knew them as that band who have songs in adverts. This all changed when I managed to see them at the 02 a couple of weeks ago and they blew me away. I may be later than Axel Rose but I am fully on their bandwagon now as I fully intend to annoy my friends with song recommendations and live videos.
Who Should Headline Reading and Leeds 2014: Rage Against The Machine/The Prodigy
Firstly I have to remain realistic because as much as I’d like a hologrammed Joe Strummer to step out with the Clash I think it’s pretty unlikely. With that in mind I think the Prodigy would be a great shout as it allows the dance theme of last year to evolve into a band that, unlike the majority of last years additions, aren’t mind numbingly boring but do play dance themed music. The second choice has to be someone heavier as I have my dose of pop punk already and therefore I would love to see Rage Against The Machine return. I know they’re not exactly around at the moment but surely no one can turn down a Reading headline slot and it would be a far more exciting heavy alternative to Iron Maiden or Metallica who have attended more festivals than hipsters wearing parka coats on a sunny day.
The Album Of The Year: Tape Deck Heart by Frank Turner
The fifth studio album in six years of a solo career for Turner, Tape Deck Heart is a ‘break up record’, and conveys a multitude of emotions throughout to support this. Turner is at his loudest and quietest, his most raucous and reserved, and his most reflective and impulsive for the duration, and there are moments when listening becomes almost uncomfortable due to the honesty of the lyrics. From the Weezer-esqe opener ‘Recovery’ this album is a winner, particularly sparkling for the first time on ‘Plain Sailing Weather’; a brutally honest and sacrificial ode to lost love. Live favourite ‘Four Simple Words’ sees Frank and The Sleeping Souls in full punk rock flow; bending guitar solos and gang vocals to machine-gun drums and the album is kicked into the next gear with ease. The quality of the engineering is particularly evident on this track, excellence that you’d expect from a professional as esteemed as Rich Costey (Rage Against The Machine, Foo Fighters). A personal favourite comes with ‘Polaroid Picture, a nostalgia trip especially poignant to someone with such a connection to photographs. Frank Turner is a once in a generation artist, and Tape Deck Heart has become the jewel in an already glittering discography. Honest, hopeful, heart-breaking and anthemic, Album of The Year 2013.
The Track Of The Year: “Wilderness Of A Wild Youth” by Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun
An anthemic belter that can only mean great things for the next full length album, Wilderness of a Wild Youth was released as a single by the Cheltenham quartet in mid-October and has immediately become a live favourite, and possibly the best song the band have ever released. Jim is a special songwriter, lauded by many in the know as one of the best in the UK underground scene. The band played the Olympic opening ceremony and toured extensively with both Frank Turner and Dropkick Murphys, so they’re in good company. The kind of songwriting displayed on ‘Wilderness…’ really holds the band in good stead for the years to come; if their popularity continues to soar like it has in the last year or so then they could very well be hot on the heels of label mate Turner and producing music like this will do them no harm whatsoever.
The Best Live Band: Green Day
Long overdue, Green Day returned to Reading and Leeds in 2013 as a main stage headliner once again having smashed The Emirates Stadium attendance record earlier in the summer. With the 20th anniversary of it’s release on the horizon, the California punks played major label debut Dookie in full as well as a setlist littered with classics and new material from their recent trio of albums. This band are seemingly supercharged on stage, holding any audience they play for in the palm of their hand and giving everything they have, every night of tour. Their headline sets at the legendary festivals were electric this summer, and I can’t wait for the chance to see them again.
Who Should Headline Reading and Leeds 2014: AC/DC
This was the hardest decision of all. Culturally, Blur would be a fantastic choice. For British bands, you can’t look much further than the Glastonbury-conquering Arctic Monkeys. A big metal booking has all fingers pointing at Black Sabbath. Want to give another band a chance to step up like Biffy Clyro go this year? Queens of the Stone Age are that band. But I’ve been entirely selfish, and gone with the band I want to see the most, and that is legendary Australian rockers AC/DC. They’re a band that don’t really play festivals, so booking them would be the coup of all coups. They’ve got an enormous back-catalogue capable of pleasing any rock music fan, and can obviously still cut it live if their Live at River Plate DVD is anything to go by, so why wouldn’t R&L book them? Money and availability are the only reasons. AC/DC’s headline slot at Download in 2010 was turned into almost a day festival separate from the rest of the weekend, and I’m unsure that Reading would stretch to that length to book the band. But please, please do. This is the band that will sell me a ticket.
The Album Of The Year: Some Say I So I Say Light – Ghostpoet
This year has been a strong year for albums. I’ve struggled to really pinpoint the ‘best’ album I can think of, that was released in 2013. But I just can’t. I have enjoyed so many albums. So my album of the year is simply the album I seem to listen to more than any other. It’s the one I keep returning to, and it’s the one that I picked 6 months ago as ‘the album of the first 6 months’. That album is Ghostpoets – Some Say I So I Say Light. Is it the best album of the year? You tell me. But I’ve just got a strange fascination with it, that draws me to it, time and time again. It’s Ghostpoet, with added nihilism, and swathes of surrealism. The final track exemplifies this as it transcends the audience from a bleak and nihilistic rock-bottom, full of depression and personal decay into a scrabbling, pseudo-safe-haven.
By the end your left ravaged, it’s only the last few seconds that the listening is rewarded (maybe somewhat naively) with the faintest glimmer of hope. Ghostpoet’s mumbled declarations of urban dread are set to a backdrop of vast and absorbing midnight landscapes. With ‘Dorsel Morsel’ being a uniquely moving cut. An eloquent and somewhat avant-garde exploration of an all-too-familiar, but ever-so-indefinable aura present in midnight urban landscapes. There’s is something about listening to this LP, in the dark, or walking down a city street, that just feels right.
The Track Of The Year: “2020″ by Suuns
Y’know what? I’m going to stick with my rule. Who am I to tell you the ‘best’ track of the year. But I know outright the song that had me spellbound on first listen. That song is the lead single from Suuns’ new(ish) album Images Du Futur, and it’s called ‘2020’. I think I can honestly say, since first hearing it, I have listened to it more days than I have not. I never get bored of it. It begins with a pulsating bass that oozes out of your speakers. Which descends into a rather sinister riff that is as disorientating as it is eerie. It’s quite freaky as the mess of screeching riff and pulsating bass noise fill the air to make room for a whispered voice revealing that “what you see is really what you see”.
At this point, I was hooked, and slightly perturbed. It’s as I’ve we’d marked the arrival of some ungodly apparition. But then, through the undergrowth of noise, a drum beat becomes audible. Transforming the piece from some sci-fi horror soundtrack into something, dare I say, danceable. All the noise begins to mesh together forming a singular groove that encompasses your body. Hearing it in a live setting, even better. The some (and album) kinda eerie, but an the good kind (i’m talking Portishead eerie not Ron Perlman in a dress eerie). Whack out your Ouija-boards, Stick on 2020, have a dance, see what happens.
The Best Live Band: Portishead
Friday Night Glastonbury Festival Other Stage headliners Portishead put on an unforgettably mesmerising show. Beth Gibbons is such an unassured and uncertain front woman. She hunches over the microphone, eyes closed, clutching at the mic-stand as if it were life support. The band do not address the crowd, they are focused on delivering. The band played their most memorable hits, mixed with a selection from their latest album, Third. The sound is so clear, and loud, that it reverberated through the audience. The audience were mesmerised, and were deafeningly loud. Singing over Beth on tracks like Sour Times and Glory Box, and at times gasping at what they were seeing. There was a genuine feeling of love and respect between every person present.
It’s hard to put in to words just how good this show was. Injecting politics back into a festival (anti-trident clips during a pummelling version of ‘Machine Gun’), but also retaining their otherworldly and often heartbreaking sound. Beth’s vocal delivery was stunning at every corner, and the band were the tightest of any I have ever seen. And their visuals were astounding with beautifully animated cartoons, alluring and seductive lighting, images and pleas for peace, and David Cameron’s evil laser eyes (to name a few). Everything about this gig was perfect; audience, band, sound. It’s rare that that happens. Everybody knew they were witnessing something special, and it was. it’s rare to see Portishead perform, but see a band playing to this level is even rarer. When it all came to a close, Beth finally spoke to crowd for the first time simply saying “thank you, I hope it was ok”. it was adorable, and honestly touching to see such a genuinely humble statement. But she knew, we all knew, that everybody had delivered with this show; band and audience alike.
Who Should Headline Reading and Leeds 2014: Black Sabbath/QOSTA
My thing with festival headliners is this; One legend that draws prestige to the festival, one new current act to draw the numbers, and one new headline act that will draw the future. So where does one find that classic act? Well, it doesn’t get more classic than Black Sabbath. Like The Cure, they’re one of the acts bands that are legendary, still active and remain relevant and popular. They released a number one album last year, and have done a sell out world tour. They’re the band that reinterpreted the blues through modern industrial depression, and created the metal genre. They’ve got iconic members, their hits are timeless, and their live show looks impressive. You can count on one had the amount of acts that have that kind of status, and prestige, and are still relevant with a young audience. There won’t be many more times that Sabbath will be about. I say Reading should snap them up while they can.
The newer headline act? Queens Of The Stone Age. They’re Reading favourites, and are surprisingly loyal to the event. They’ve worked their way up the lineups over the years, and it’s time for them to be given a shot at headlining. It might be a risk, but after 15 (ish) years of loyal service to Reading, they deserve it. So Blink 182 (wouldn’t have chosen), Queens of The Stone Age and Black Sabbath is who i’d pick.
Album Of The Year: Shaking The Habitual by The Knife
When I wrote my top 5 of the year so far, this didn’t quite take the number one spot. I knew it had the potential, but I still hadn’t quite got my head completely around it. Since then it’s grown and grown on me. Absolutely the most demanding album they have released, taking many of the best and most interesting features of their previous releases and turning them up to 11. The experimental, rattling, and avant-garde, A Cherry on Top is The Knife putting their own spin on what could otherwise sound like an Eno release. This ambient side of their persona is maximised with the midway point of the album Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized, which is a 19 minutes long out and out ambient piece that plays like an interlude in what can only be described as the experience that is Shaking the Habitual. The Knife still manage to create fantastic high energy, not quite pop songs as well with the likes of Tooth For an Eye, Without You My Life Would Be Boring and a highlight in Full Of Fire. The last time I wrote about this album I said that it would be impossible to fully do this album the credit it deserves in a small segment like this; it’s an album that takes a huge investment of time, but that investment is absolutely worthwhile.
Track Of The Year: “Good Ass Intro” by Chance The Rapper
I remember this song dropping when I was in the middle of an essay during the last stretch of my degree earlier in the year. This was the first thing I’d heard of Chance the Rapper, and I instantly knew it would be my favourite song of the year. I’d not heard anything of Chance before this song, so it took me completely by surprise, and I had to stop myself from downloading the mixtape so I could get some work done. Good Ass Intro was exactly that, a good ass intro. There’s an abundance of energy that leaps out immediately, something that has been missing from a lot of modern hip-hop. Chance isn’t taking himself too seriously, but has fun, and does it well. The rest of the mixtape shows off a lot of other skills that Chance has under his belt, but just in this short three minutes Chance shows off his lyrical prowess, his beats, and flawless flow. 2013 has been a great year for hip-hop, and this has really lead the way.
Best Live Band: Yo La Tengo
When you find out that Yo La Tengo are playing in walking distance from your house, and you live in a town where the ‘santa dash’ has been the most recent talking point, then it’s always a bit of a no brainer. After the release of their most recent album, Fade, a largely quiet album, the band played two sets on their tour this year. Instead of having a support band, they essentially supported themselves, opening with a stripped back semi-acoustic set filled mainly with songs from Fade. This first hour showed off the voices of all three members of the band, along with lyrics that had never stood out to me before; the somewhat minimalist nature of it was absolutely astounding. A half hour break later, and Yo La Tengo were back on stage, and ready for their ‘LOUD’ set. This included songs such as ‘Ohm’, from Fade, which had also been played during the quiet set, making it a completely different track; showing how impressive the juxtaposition in their style is, neither Jekyll or Hyde being superior. From a beautifully played, beautifully sung song that was watched wide eyed, still and silent, to a heavy as hell, guitar-above-head, and guitar-behind-back jam, you’d hardly believe it was the same song; but that indeed is the beauty of Yo La Tengo. 30 years as a band, and with this they’ve come to know each other inside out, and become incredibly sophisticated musicians in the meantime. Yo La Tengo are nothing short of breath taking.
Who Should Headline Reading and Leeds 2014: Kanye West
With Arcade Fire out of the picture, my choice is the what would possibly be considered controversial, Kanye West. West’s career spans six almost flawless solo albums (808’s and what now?) and now is the perfect time for him to take the stage at Reading. After last year’s festival taking steps towards a more dance/hip-hop oriented line-up, and Kanye West at the top of his game, it seems like the perfect time for Festival Republic to take a chance on him. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is easily one of the best hip-hop albums of the last ten years, and despite some slight lyrical issues, and perhaps some of the most innovative beats seeming to be borrowed quite heavily from Zach Hill and Death Grips (see: On Sight), Yeezus has yet to become an album I can barely go a week without listening to and still enjoying massively every time. On top of his undeniable musical credentials, true to his reputation Kanye’s most recent live shows have been nothing short of a spectacle. So as opposed to going back to the same old headliners that have no surprise and have been seen at Reading before, and as opposed to taking on an artist that is losing their relevance (Jay-Z), bring on someone who would be a massive surprise; has never played the festival before; and it at the pinnacle of their career.
[Disclaimer I'm going to be tailoring my answer to actually fit with Reading and Leeds, if you want my overall winners, check out my blog]
The Album Of The Year: Modern Vampires Of The City by Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend continued to age majestically on Modern Vampires Of The City; a meditation on the end of youth (that period when the fear of mortality superseeds any notion of Carpe Diem). Remarkably, for such an inherently overwrought subject matter, Vampire Weekend produced an album that was bold, exciting and consistently funny. Not ones to rest on their laurels, Erza and co took the burgeoning modernism of Contra and blew it up to the nth degree. This is a defiantly modern album, mixing auto-tune, hip hop beats, world sounds and a range of loopy sonics seamlessly around a selection of charming melodies and bookish narratives. Beautiful forward thinking pop songs like “Step”, “Unbelievers”, “Ya Hey” and “Diane Young” play host to an emotionally bruising internal monologue. Vampire Weekend’s conclusion is uplifting but, for a 26-year-old like me, not wholly convincing: “Wisdoms a gift you’d trade it for youth, age is a number it’s still not the truth”.
The Track Of The Year: “I Wanna Be Yours” by Arctic Monkeys
Who could have imagined that those cheeky teenagers recounting their drunken antics on the Festival Republic Stage in 2005 would go on to transform the performance poetry of John Cooper Clarke into an oozingly thick ode to obsession and commitment. “I Wanna Be Yours” is magnificent, providing the perfect end to one of the year’s stickiest and sexiest albums.
The Best Live Band: Vampire Weekend
Here’s what I said in my 5 star live review: “Tonight’s headline show thrives not merely on the strength of Vampire Weekend’s already potent back catalogue, but on their sheer differentness. This isn’t a band who adhere to the post-U2, slow it down, space it out and fill-the-void formula. Vampire Weekend assault their audience from peculiar angles, keeping them eternally off balance like a champion boxer with immaculate footwork. In fact, the calypso rhythms supply so much herk-and-jerk that a brief glimpse across the arena during stunning set closer “Walcott” reveals 15,000 fans wobbling like blancmanges as they struggle to keep time with these illusive rhythms…
…It wasn’t conventional and it wasn’t big in any recognisable sense, but Vampire Weekend successfully delivered the kind of forward thinking and undeniably poignant performance that will stick long in the memory. Daring, demented, new and utterly magnificent: Vampire Weekend at the O2, the gig of the year.”
Who Should Headline Reading and Leeds 2014: Slipknot
I would have plomped for The Prodigy but Sonisphere beat me to the punch, so to match Blink-182 and create a satisfying start to finish experience, let’s go for Slipknot. They are the one contemporary metal band who can draw fans from all corners of the pop spectrum and I suspect there are plenty of fans who couldn’t stomach a trip to Download or Sonisphere who would like to see them.