Tag Archives: Elbow

Poll of polls, or, Best of the best-of-2008 album countdowns

A music writer casts his voteConfession: I’ve had some free time lately.

I had to use up the rest of my holiday entitlement before 2008 was out, so I now find myself with nine days of welcome but unproductive home-time in mid-December.

My internet browsing is on the high end of the scale at the busiest of times, so inevitably my modem has been working overtime as I endlessly, inanely surf the web in search of… what?

News, snippets of useless information, Wikipedia facts about minor film actors, the mindnumbing allure of Facebook, the still mystifying appeal of Twitter… and best-of-2008 music polls.

And so I’ve been wondering about year-end polls:

Are they reliable barometers of the very best music created over the past twelve months?


Are they totally whimsical, subjective, indulgent, show-off lists by various cliques of self-important critics who sneer at mainstream taste?

It’s the latter, of course. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t completely bloody addictive. I have found myself scouring music websites from the other side of the Atlantic desperately seeking out that essential album that somehow escaped my attention.

So to take the poll theme to a whole new level, here’s my poll of the best and worst polls of the year!

The Best

5. Rolling Stone: Props on TV on the Radio, but otherwise a bit tokenistic along the beardy rawk/hip-hop/legends lines. Turned me on to Blitzen Trapper though.

4. Pitchfork Reader’s Poll: Can’t really argue, other than point out its obvious American folksy prejudice.

3. Times: Surprisingly well-informed for a Murdoch rag.

2. Drowned in Sound: Friendly Fires should never be in the top ten, but good to see my #2 choice M83 top a poll.

1. The Skinny: OK, maybe I have to say this, but we really hit the nail on the head again this year, even if my nomination for Late of the Pier unsurprisingly missed the cut! Year of the Rabbit indeed.

The Worst

3. musicOMH: I don’t care how well-intentioned the poll is if they put Elbow at the top.

2. Last FM: Coldplay. Best album of the year? Really?

1. Q magazine: Kings of Leon. Best album of the year? Really?

And is this really the definitive poll of the year, with the top three comprising artists I’ve barely heard of? Surely not!

(I still have a few more days off. Maybe I’ll compile a poll of the best Poles of the year now…)


Filed under internet, music, thoughts, etc

Connect 2008: roving report

Mud, glorious mud at the Oyster Stage

On top of the ‘live’ blogging I was doing for The Skinny while in the muddy environs of Inverary last weekend, I’ve also cooked up another series of rehashed mini gig reviews for the magazine. This covers pretty much everything I saw, with the exception of The Roots, who were so disappointing in the acoustically shite Unknown Pleasures Tent that I couldn’t bring myself to write about it.


Plonked behind eight synthesizers, black-clad and distant, like a state-sanctioned pop group of the former Soviet Union, Ladytron are definitely no festival band. Rocking their Eastern Bloc, disco-in-a-tower-block style for all its worth, they are pretty unemphatic in this open-air arena, but Seventeen and set-closer Everything You Touch remind us that they have produced some of the best electro-pop since the Human League.

Manic Street Preachers

There have been those, myself included, who wrote off the Manics as Britpop dinosaurs. How wrong we were, because Bradfield, Wire and Moore rollick triumphantly through their back catalogue, plucking out fan favourites such as Motorcycle Emptiness, Of Walking Abortion, Everything Must Go, You Love Us and tailor-made final song, A Design For Life. Covering Rihanna might smack of ageing desperation, but they’re still a superior live band.


With divided loyalties between Kasabian and Mercury Rev, I can only attest to the first half of the former’s Friday headlining set. They could have ended with a cover of the Postman Pat theme for all I know. But early on it’s business as usual: big, swaggering indie hits like Processed Beats and L.S.F, an impressive lightshow, and the newly long-haired Meighan’s hilarious rock-God complex.

Mercury RevMercury Rev

Having enjoyed the Kasabian spectacle for 40 minutes, it is a sense of musical duty that makes me head over to catch the remainder of alt-rock veterans Mercury Rev. Swirling clouds of dry ice may conceal them, but the music is clear, direct, and loud. Their take on Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime, with layers of intense guitar and crescendo, is immense, and they save Goddess On A Highway for a rousing encore.

Late of the Pier

Late of the Pier live up to their name, with their set delayed an hour as they’re moved up to replace the cancelled Joan As Policewoman. An early afternoon in a muddy field is not the best context in which to enjoy their schizoid, experimental pop, but the musicianship and free-range clattering of this freshly-hatched quartet are still mightily impressive. They’d sound phenomenal in a claustrophobic wee club.

Friendly Fires

Friendly Fires arrive hot on the heels of their self-titled debut album, and they match the hype with a sprightly set of punk-funk. Singer Ed Macfarlane is the main source of entertainment: dancing crazily in skin-tight clothes, a maniacal glare in his eyes, firing off plumes of confetti in all directions. Their music is anything but original, but it still injects some firey fun into a damp Connect.

SpiritualizedJ Spaceman

Spiritualized are one of the most highly anticipated acts of the weekend. We know Jason Pierce’s death-cheating tale, and it’s extra-special to have him, with full electric band, back on stage. They offer no connection to the audience though, facing each other like a studio band, and the set doesn’t nearly delve deep enough into their back catalogue. Just as well the few classics we do hear, like Come Together, are awe-inspiring.


If one band was made for the live setting, that band is Grinderman. On record, Nick Cave’s side-project comes across like cod-badass; it’s only when confronted with his spitting, lanky, wildly gesticulating frame at close quarters, along with his destructive, bearded side-kick Warren Ellis, that you get it. They run riot, dragging us all along with them on the road to oblivion – and huge fun.


One band on the Your Sound Bandstand I am determined to see is Errors. The touted Glaswegians combine esoteric electro with crunchy post rock, and they play a blinding second-top billing set on Saturday night, to a sizeable segment of Scotland’s music-loving fraternity. Salut France and Toes are great, but, as was the case at their Triptych gig, it’s Mr Milk that stands out.

Young Knives

Young Knives are a head-scratching lot. One minute you’re enthralled by the wacky Britpop revivalism of Terra Firma, the next you’re tuning out, put off by the very same-ness of their guitar-bass-drums formula. They do their best to cheer the sodden Sunday early-comers with some witty asides, but it’s impossible to really let yourself forget the conditions with such ironic fare.


If anyone can dispel the rainclouds – or help us forget them at least – it’s Santi White, the effervescent urban diva behind Santogold. Although a delayed arrival means they only play half a dozen songs, White, in a shiny blue jumpsuit, gets the plastic ponchos in the crowd moving with Lights Out, You’ll Find A Way and The Creator.


It is more a lack of options than any fanboy enthusiasm that draws me to the Oyster Stage for Elbow, and this flat set of sleepy indie only embeds my prejudice. The bluesy single Grounds For Divorce does redeem matters slightly, but their uninspiring attempts at emotive, lighters-in-the-air ‘moments’ fail utterly in this early evening slot.

The Gutter TwinsGreg Dulli and Mark Lanegan

In the general hubbub of Connect, it’s easy to overlook two of modern American rock’s true greats. With little fanfare, The Gutter Twins, fronted by Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli, take to the stage before a sparse crowd. But instant respect is granted to the ever-morose Lanegan, who growls through the songs on autopilot, backed by the loudest, heaviest band of the weekend.

Sigur Rós

The dusk mist hanging in the pine forest on the hill behind the Oyster Stage provides the ideal backdrop in which to enjoy the mystical splendour of Sigur Rós. They open with the sublime Sven-G-Englar, and even reveal a sense of humour when a brass section marches on stage in See You Jimmy hats. The rest of their extensive set is rarely less than spellbinding, and they even trash their drumkit on exiting.

Franz FerdinandFranz Ferdinand

During their only festival appearance of the summer, Franz Ferdinand play a set that acts as a reminder of their sophisto-pop appeal and reveals the musical direction in which they’re headed. Hits like Michael, Do You Want To and Take Me Out rev up the masses, but another half-dozen new songs get an airing, the majority of which boast a fuller, synth-ier and funkier sound than we’ve been accustomed to.

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June in singles: reviewed by The Twilight Sad

The Twilight Sad admire a copy of Gavin Rossdale's new single
[Images: John Lewis]

Instead of my usual ramblings on the month’s singles for The Skinny magazine, this time we decided to let someone else do the slagging. The Twilight Sad are one of my favourite bands of the past year, and even produced The Skinny’s album of 2007. I met them before their gig at Tigerfest in Dunfermline to play them some CDs. It went well until they started stamping on them…

James Graham – vocals
Andy MacFarlane – guitar
Craig Orzel – bass


James: I don’t mind that.
Andy: It just sounds like that other band, the Shadow Puppets.
me: D’you not think he sings like Alex Turner?
Andy: Aye I’ve listened to that Shadow Puppets record and I get confused.
me: Rating out of ten?
James: Six.
Andy: Aye, it’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s just aaaaverage.
[Craig enters]
Andy: Ye missed the first one. A scouse band. Would you be intae that?
Craig: Aye why not?
James: He doesnae need tae hear that one.


James: Put on Little Man Tate, cause I know that’s gonnae be pish! I heard one song by them and I nearly spewed.


Andy: They should just give up man.
me: Rating out of ten?
James: One. Two. One and a half. That was bollocks. I knew that was gonna be bollocks. I could dae this for a living. This is great.



Andy: Is What A Beautiful Day getting reissued? That’s a ten!
James: How old are the Levellers? Pretty old.
me: I didn’t know they were still together.
James: Neither did I.
Andy: It sounds like a gypsy version of The Associates. I dunno why they’re still together.
James: Four, at the best. One for the fans!



Andy: See if it sounds like Gwen Stefani, it might be awright! Anyone who’s boabin’ her gets five marks straight away!
James: This is gonnae be shite. [sings] Swallowed. This sounds like a drummer’s old band. Pure pop rock. They were amazingly bad. This just sounds like too American, like that band Daughtry. Slash played wi them once, and that’s what this sounds like.
Craig: The start of it sounds like the Velvet Underground.
[play intro again]
Andy: Aye, Heroin.
James: It sounds like Heroin, plus he’s got five bonus points for shagging Gwen Stefani.
Andy: Two points for Heroin and five for Gwen Stefani, so that’s seven.
James: Naw ye cannae give it seven!
Andy: But if ye read the review it’ll be explained!



Andy: What’s he got tae dae wi anything?
me: “San Diego-based troubadour”, apparently.
James: Eek.
Andy: This sounds like Jack Johnson or something.
James: I think a wee minus point might be in order.
Craig: [copying a lyric] I can’t take no fucking more either!
Andy: That’s no even worth talking about!
James: Gie that nothing. They were signed for tax reasons.



James: She used tae go out wi Elliot Smith. [It was actually Jeff Buckley – easy mistake to make]
Andy: He’s pure deid but.
James: It’s pretty shite that eh?
Andy: It sounds like that lassie fae High Fidelity. She can get five bonus points for being in Rufus Wainwright’s band, but she can get minus three for sounding like that lassie fae High Fidelity.
me: Equals two.
Andy: Aye but ye’ll need tae explain that.



me: Have you heard of Lykke Li?
James: Aye I like her. I’ve seen her name all over the place. She’s touring wi that band that we played wi, Shout Out Louds.
Andy: Sounds like Feist.
James: Aye she is quite feisty but!
All: Hahaha!
James: I seriously didnae mean it like that!
Andy: I quite like it. I’d say a seven.



James: I’ve got this album but I’ve no listened to it yet.
Craig: It sounds like Sex and the City!
Andy: It pure does!
James: I could take or leave it.
Andy: It gets a point off for them being in that cheesy film Garden State.
James: I liked that!
Andy: Was a seven, point off for Garden State.
James: So six.



James: It’s meant tae be quite good this.
[CD fails to play]
Andy: Give it a zero. A big fat zero cos it doesnae work!
James: Gie it a ten!
Andy: Nut! Zero.
[CD eventually plays]
James: Orzel you like it already! Orzel likes Italian disco.
Craig: It sounds like Streets of Rage 2. It’s got a dance soundtrack like this.
Andy: Is that Antony [Hegarty] singing?
James: Naw it cannae be. Pitchfork gave it like 9.8 or something.
Andy: Fuck Pitchfork!
Craig: It sounds like a wild night of sex and cocaine and it’s all gone fucking wrong and they’re fucking each other and there’s coke everywhere and they thought, we’ve got tae do a song!
Andy: Give it two.



me: Will this offend you, yeah?
James: Yeah I’ve heard that and it’s bollocks. Nearly as bad as the new Fratellis one.
Andy: It sounds like it should be on Skins. It sounds a bit like The Dykeenies.
James: They’re no American enough tae be The Dykeenies! Give it two.
Andy: Dae gie it fuckin two, gie it zero!



James: They did that Nine in the Afternoon song that was in Heroes. I liked Heroes. I didn’t like the song though.
me: I thought they were an emo band but this isn’t emo at all.
James: It seems like they’re trying to go for the Queen vibe.
Craig: Give it 4.4.
James: One point for trying to sound like Queen, but take it off for sounding like The Feeling!
me: So that’s a healthy zero?
Andy: Aye.
James: Andy, none of your ratings have got anything to do wi the tunes but.



Andy: He cannae sing.
James: He’s a really nice guy but.
Andy: Who cares if he’s a nice guy? He cannae sing!
James: Apparently he was one of the top 20 hottest guys in Glamour magazine.
Andy: He’s a scruffy bum! Is there a B-side? We should review that instead.
Craig: A lot of bands just focus on one part. There’s no chords in there. It’s like a vacuum of noise. You can’t identify the chords or bassline or anything.
James: I wanted tae be nice in these reviews.
Andy: Why kid on that you like something when ye clearly don’t? Give that one.


The results have been collated and there is a tie for single of the month, but given that Gavin Rossdale’s rating consisted entirely of bonus points for, ahem, being Mr Gwen Stefani, and sounding like The Velvet Underground, it seems fair to hand this month’s accolade to the perfectly feisty Lykke Li.

The Twilight Sad resort to violence

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March in singles: the good, the bad, the Blunt

M.I.A - Third World copper vixen

Attention all you closet Bryan Adams fans: was Everything I Do the soundtrack to your first game of school disco tonsil tennis? Then I’ll be kind. I Thought I’d Seen Everything (**, 10 Mar) heralds Adams as the new Bob Dylan. In a parallel universe where Dylan wrote infantile, wuvvy-duvvy swill, that is. On that note, James Blunt, the finest modern addition to Cockney rhyming slang, offers more saccharine pomposity with Carry You Home (*, 21 Mar). The thing that really irks me about Blunt – apart from his disgustingly awful music – is the fact that, by giving him a bad review, he’s making this column as predictable as he is.

Having nominated themselves spokesband for the Jeremy Kyle demographic, The Enemy present a more serious snapshot of pill-pushing pram-pushers with This Song is About You (**, 17 Mar). It’s determinedly real, innit, but too plodding to be a hit. Another poster-boy band, Panic At The Disco pre-empt their new album with Nine In the Afternoon (**, 17 Mar). The song takes some interesting turns, but the syrupy production and pathetically contrived singing leave a sicky aftertaste.

A product of that post-millennium slump of unexciting, grown-up indie that gave us Travis, Coldplay and Doves, Elbow made next to no impression on this scribe. But their bluesy comeback single Grounds For Divorce (***, 10 Mar) isn’t half bad. The rise of the equally earnest Editors has been extraordinary. Just three years ago they were unsigned; now they’re colossal, in an Interpol-gone-soft way. But Push Your Head Towards the Air (**, 3 Mar) finds them in anthem mode, and dull as dishwater. Another class-of-’05 alumni, The Futureheads were inexplicably dropped by their label in late 2006. Their self-released new single, The Beginning of the Twist (***, 10 Mar), sees them in defiant, fuck-you form, without reaching the career pinnacle that was their Kate Bush cover.

They may have grown up in the concrete wasteland of Cumbernauld, but that doesn’t seem to have dented The Dykeenies‘ spirit. Waiting For Go (**, 10 Mar) is bright but conventional indie-pop, and that seems to be the full extent of their ambitions. Glasgow-based Highlanders Cuddly Shark may sound a bit mid-’90s with their flat guitars and slacker ethos, but The Punisher of IV30 (***, 3 Mar) – a reference to their old Elgin postcode – is a likeable, quirky diversion from the serious world of mass-market music. Continuing the shark motif, Nottingham’s Swimming are an interesting proposition. Debut single Tigershark (***, 8 Mar) is a synth/guitar-led oddity that flits between the slightly cringey and the eye-openingly inventive.

The B52s put colour back into puritanical post-punk when they burst out of Athens, Georgia in the late ’70s. Now they return with Funplex (***, 10 Mar), the title track from their first album in 16 years. With its power chords, synthetic beats and snide lyrics, it sounds like The Offspring meets Peaches. But single of the month goes to the untouchable M.I.A. The world-pop doyenne has enraptured critics with her cross-cultural pick’n’mix beats for a few years now, and her latest, Paper Planes, (****, 3 Mar) is huge fun, with its playground rhyming, Clash sampling and gangsta gunshots.

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