Archive for The National

Spike’s Top Albums of the 00s

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2009 by Spike Marshall

Seen as I’m getting all reflective about stuff, here’s my top 10 albums of the 00s in Alphabetical Order, because I could never hope to rank them otherwise.

Spike's Albums of the 00s

Spike's Albums of the 00s

Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

The first Arcade Fire I ever heard was their EP, Us Kids Know, and I was a massive, massive, fan of their work from Funeral onwards. But as much as I loved Funeral I think Neon Bible is an album which just ‘clicks’ and works on a completely different level. Whilst Funeral had moments of ramshackle greatness (Rebellion, Power Out, Wake Up) it was an album that felt like an advertisement for their live show more than anything else. Neon Bible felt like a more cohesive piece of work whilst keeping the discordance of their previous work.

Amanda PalmerAmanda Palmer – Who Killed Amanda Palmer

For everything the Dresden Doll’s achieved I found myself drawn to Amanda Palmer’s solo record as ‘their’ definitive. Whilst only one half of the duo is presented on the record, each song carries the base DNA of what the Dresden Dolls had been doing over the course of three albums. Whilst the spiky punk edge was varnished from her record, Palmer was able to craft insidious little pop songs that had all the nasty little barbed lyrics and manic intensity of the Dresden Dolls whilst making her own sound. Runs In The Family and Guitar Hero weren’t a revolutionary step for Amanda Palmer, but they marked the evolution and growth of her previous sound into something truly special.

DeVotchKa – How It Ends

Whilst the plaintive, aching, title track is what drew me to the album in the first place ‘How It Ends’ turned out to be an almost perfect album from a group that had been operating on the periphery of the music scene. Chic balkic rock was all the rage amongst the indie scene throughout the 00s and whilst groups like Beirut and Gogo Bordello received accolades for their appropriation of this Romani/Slavic sound DeVotchKa simply powered on, slowly building up their sound and moving away from straight homage and into a place where the orchestral elements were still their, but they actually served a purpose in creating great, inspiring, music rather than being mere affectations. How it ends with it’s simple pianos and soaring cellos is an obvious stand out of the album, but songs like The Enemy Guns and She Loves Me both show a band who have mastered their sound and are comfortable to experiment within it.

Esbjörn Svensson Trio – Leucocyte

When it comes to Jazz my head is stuck in the 50s and 60s. To me Jazz is Bill Evans and Dave Brubeck and as such it takes a lot for me to embrace less ‘traditional’ Jazz. E.S.T.  were one of the few contemporary Jazz bands who really struck me and it’s because despite the ‘pretension’ of their music and experimentations with form, the band were always concerned with the music and as such you often felt that their albums were three musicians jamming, rather than a bunch of jazz artists trying to deconstruct the form. It’s one of the great musical tragedies that Esbjorn Svensson was killed before his time and just when his group was starting to make some truly accomplished works.

final-fantasy-blogFinal Fantasy – He Poos Cloud

Owen Pallett is the kind of geek that can make other geeks uncomfortably because he approaches his geekish subjects in ways that feel cryptically ironic, but also uncomfortably honesty. As such it’s hard to tell if he’s really geeky or just being wilfully ironic, and songs about his relationship with The Legend of Zelda games do little to help with this problem. The touring violinst with Arcade Fire and collaborator with several other groups from The Hidden Cameras through to The Last Shadow Puppets Pallett’s two solo records have both been minimal affairs, his compositions designed to be played by a solo performer. Yet these limitations never stopped his brand of baroque pop from sounding incredible. His scathing, literary, lyrics fuelled with geek references coupled with quaint, propulsive, insidiously addictive violin compositions helped to craft two albums that were small in stature but still enrapturing.

LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

Deftly ironic lyrics? Propulsive, ever building beats? Immaculate soundscapes? Yeah, this is an album I was almost designed to love. Everyone’s who played GTA IV is familiar with Get Innocuous! and it’s ability to make even the smallest action seem utterly iconic. To me, Sound of Silver is probably the most ‘of its time’ album on my list. It’s ironically hip and detached, but it’s also got an infectious sense of fun and at it’s core it’s an album which just demands people pay attention and start dancing. Songs like North American Scum, Sound of Silver and All My Friends have so much energy and so much spark that it’s often hard to categorise just what works about them, it’s like trying to quantify fun.

Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell – Sunday at Devil Dirt

There’s something about the matching of these two voices, grunge singer Mark Lanegan’s american personified voice and Isobel Campbell’s sweet ethereal tones, which gives me shivers whenever I hear them. As individuals they would be great performers, but together they have the kind of frisson and interplay which made Nick Cave’s duet with Kylie Minogue work so well. It’s a beautiful, soulful, simple album.

The National – Boxer

Alligator has the better singles but in my mind Boxer is the stronger album by the National. As individual pieces many of Boxer’s songs don’t really match up to Alligator (in fact Start A War and Slow Show are the only songs I can listen to outside of the context of the album and REALLY appreciate) but as an expansive whole there’s some kind of audio alchemy going on. The tone of the album is perfect and within its own context the album is almost flawless. The only gripe I possibly have with the album is the cacophony of noise the band seem intent on ending all of Boxer’s songs with when playing them Live which whilst sounding great, often takes away from the sleepy, dreamy qualities of the album I really enjoy.

The National

Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, You Are The Destroyer

Concept albums are terrifying things, spawning mental images of beardy prog rock bands and half boiled homage to Tolkien. In the case of Hissing Fauna, You Are The Destroyer the concept seems almost accidental, wounded self destruction transposed to music by the albums creator Kevin Barnes. Dealing with Barnes’ deteriorating personal life the album is a spiral of madness and melancholy crescendoing with the horrifically wounded The Past Is A Grotesque Animal before transmorphing into something almost blissfully prog rock. Despite the album being a soundtrack to the disintergration of its creator’s personal life there’s an underlying quality which makes it almost irresistible. The melancholy is constantly balanced against sparkly, almost pop like, music and even the Past Is A Grotesque Animal (a 12 minute long evisceration of his relationship with his wife) is made into something almost beautiful, the embarrassingly painful lyrics backed by a beat that is almost hypnotic.

Queens of the Stone Age – Songs For The Deaf

Josh Homme might be an egotist beyond repute and Nick Oliveri probably was an abusive girl friend beater, but the two of them together with the help of Dave Ghrol and Troy Van Leeuwen would create an album that was a piece of flash in the pan brilliance. I’m not a heavy music sort of guy, I’m not a fan of metal and I prefer my punk to be post, so the fact I adore this album has always been a bit of an enigma. I think personally there is a melody and throughline to the heaviness which allows me to latch onto something, it’s also pretty kick ass.


Spike’s Top Tracks: 16th March – 23rd March 2008

Posted in Music, Spike's Top Tracks with tags , , , on March 23, 2008 by Spike Marshall


Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

“Wait….they don’t love you like I love”

yeah-yeah-yeahs.jpgThe Yeah Yeah Yeahs debut album Fever to Tell is characterised by its propulsion and brutish punk sensibilities. The opening salvo of the album showcases a modicum of finesse, but it soon gets overtaken by a ferocity which doesn’t really let up until the album has just about reached its end. There is a certain kitchen sink mentality to the album, with discordant elements thrown at every song in a hope of something sticking. That isn’t a criticism as such songs like Date With The Night and Pin are wonderfully frenzied, even Karen O’s vocals take on an air of hysteria as the intensity of the music becomes almost insurmountable.

Amidst all of this lo-fi, screeching, breathless energy is a song that is for want of a better word elegant. Maps is the ninth track of a twelve track album and it bears absolutely no relation to any of its accompanying songs. Yet despite this disparity it becomes a focal point of the entire album, a song that would define the band. Maps is the song that would be covered by other bands, the song that would even appear in the current rash of Guitar Hero games. On an album desperately trying to be destructive and iconoclastic, Maps is an iconic song.

Whereas other songs on the album seem to have the different elements fighting each other for dominance, Karen’s exhausting vocals usually winning, Maps sounds immediately like a collaborative effort. A guitar kicks things off, shrill strings providing an introduction before the almost tribalistic drumming that will underscore the whole song kicks in. Karen is at her most bluesy and most earnest in Maps, her vocal track tempered and mild compared to her usual agitated style. Maps doesn’t go full throttle like the rest of the album, it just pulses into life and invokes an effortless which the rest of the album just can’t sustain.

Leaders of the Free World by Elbow

“The leaders of the free world are just little boys throwing stones”

elbow.jpgElbow are without a doubt the best kept secret in British music, a fantastic, empowering, hook driven band who for whatever obscure reason have always operated on the periphery of the public consciousness. Even with four albums under their belt and a controversial tour of Cuba (becoming the first British band to play outside of Havana) to their name the band has never hit the mainstream in any qualifiable way.

Elbow’s third album Leaders of the Free World would be their most calculated attempt to break the mainstream. The album itself is far poppier than anything they had released previously and the bands unprecedented miserablism had been toned down. There was still an overriding angst to most of the songs, but nothing quite as acutely depressing as their previous songs on abortions and cot death.

The single Leaders of the Free World defines its titular album perfectly mixing angry lyrics about the state of global politics with a thudding guitar led beat. It is almost a marching song in its construction, a percussive rallying call for the disenchanted of the world.

Slow Show by The National

“you know I dreamed about you…..for 29 years”


Boxer by The National is an unusual sort of album because it sort of sneaks up on you after a few listens. Arcade Fire’s Funeral did the same thing, a few listens opening up every song to me and making me fall rapturously in love with it. Boxer has yet to fully open up to me, there are moments of brilliance which are easily perceived but as a whole the album still feels a little too restrained, a little too run of the mill.

Slow Show is probably my favourite song off of the entire album, a piece of music which is forcing me to try and appreciate the rest of Boxer. There is a simplicity and economy to Slow Show which is fantastic, simple orchestrations forcing attention onto the vocals (which to me invoke Berlin era Lou Reed). If the guitars, accordions and drums of the first section were all that made up Slow Show it would still be a great song, but when the song switches halfway through and becomes a piano led piece it becomes truly special.

There is plaintiveness to the vocal track which is apparent throughout the score, but the interplay of voice and piano in the last half is fantastic. The keys replicate the harmony of the voice completely and in doing so it gives the last repetitious verse a real sort of punch.

The Good Ship Lifestyle by Chumbawumba

“So sail a course, a course for nowhere”

chumbawamba000080975.jpgA brief success can often be the end of a band, the term ‘one hit wonder’ hanging around their neck like a millstone. For the anarchist group Chumbawumba their success would be doubly troubling, their breakout song misinterpreted and decontextualised to the point where a treatise on the ridiculousness of club and pub culture became a full hearted drinking anthem.

Tubthumping would become the anthem of the late 90s, lunk headed masses adopting it without any realisation of the scorn the lyrics of song contained. It would also propel Chumbawumba into the spotlight, the groups becoming the ‘comedy anarchists’ of the charts a point exemplified by reaction to a band member throwing a bucket of water over John Prescott. With one song Chumbawumba had become a complete and utter joke in the public eye, which is a shame as the album Tubthumper was actually legitimately great.

Interspersed with vox pops of union members, striking miners and the general people, Tubthumper was an album which masked its deeper messages and meanings with acceptable pop rock. The Good Ship Lifestyle is a great example of this, its tale of urban alienation underscored by a riotous and explosive chorus. It is a song that is desperately trying to tell its listener a deeper truth, but it works against itself by virtue of how well produced it all is.