Thursday, 10 December 2015

Album per day: Day 25

Artist: Fall Out Boy
Album: American Beauty/American Psycho
Released: 2015

It's the old chestnut of an artist that makes surprising, and somewhat drastic changes to their music. Do they do it for the shock factor? Or do they do it because they are bored of their old style? Fall Out Boy, the former stalwarts of the emo trend, hit us up with their sixth album American Beauty/American Psycho at the start of this year, an album they wrote whilst on tour with Paramore. An attempt at making a more cohesive album than their previous efforts followed, but the problem with this is it sometimes takes away the artists identity as they intend on replicating what's currently popular.
Irresistible was one of the tracks I was familiar with beforehand, with its somewhat humorous music video where the fellas get their asses handed to them at basketball. It was, and still is, my least favourite of their singles. You just wouldn't think this is the same band that added tonnes of weight to Beat It or wrote The Carpal Tunnel Of Love. The title track is a step in the right direction; poppy hooks with a rock beat, and whilst Centuries doesn't carry that description on, it still sits high because it's just too damn catchy to simply forget. It also reminds you that Patrick Stump can kick it with the big boys when it comes to his voice. I'd love to see him perform this live just to see if he can manage the chorus vocals for the entire song. The Kids Aren't Alright takes it down a notch, and even manages to sample Motley Crüe, complimenting the sombre guitar riff and echoed vocals.
Uma Thurman, like Uptown Funk, is one of those songs I just have to dance to every time I hear it. Surf guitar alongside bouncy piano chords ensure feel-good vibes all around. The powerful chorus of Jet Pack Blues is just about enough to make it stand out, otherwise I feel it would be one of the more forgettable tracks on the album, and Novocaine has that infectious disco feel that The Phoenix had, but it almost seems like a lazy rip-off. Fourth Of July could've been a sub-par Katy Perry single, and Favorite Record (yes that's how it is spelled; I know it hurts me too, but remember where they're from) mixes elements of Snow Patrol and The 1975 to form an indie stomper. Immortals is another uplifting and memorable pop song, and just like that, the album finishes on Twin Skeleton's (Hotel in NYC), and with the guitar work on this album being a little threadbare, it's refreshing to be able to swoon over the riff in the chorus. It's a fitting end, and what will be another reminder of just how far these boys have come from Grand Theft Autumn.
I didn't dislike this album, I just... found it boring at times. There are some songs on it I'd definitely have on my playlists, but when some of the filler is, well, exactly that, it's hard to rate the album so highly. The guys are growing up, and you knew that they would never want to rely on their pop-punk forever, but Save Rock N'Roll was risky business as it is. For someone who has seen them put on a terrific rock show twice, this was just a bit too much for me to get my head around. It could be a grower, but for a band who have incredible instrumentation skills, this album felt like it could have all been produced by lifeless machines. Were it not for Patrick Stump's pipes, you'd be forgiven for not having a clue who wrote this album.

Rating: 6/10
Recommended songs: Centuries, Uma Thurman, Twin Skeleton's (Hotel in NYC)

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Album per day: Day 24

Artist: Justin Bieber
Album: Purpose
Released: 2015

When I started this trainwreck of a challenge, let alone this blog, I never thought that I'd find myself so desperate to review the new record by Canadian troublemaker Justin Bieber. From humble beginnings on YouTube, to poisoning eardrums worldwide, whilst infatuating many others, his rise to stardom has been well documented as a cacophony of troublesome behaviour and having to grow up very quickly. His fourth studio album Purpose, which features a wide range of artists providing their input in both musical and production duties, dropped last month, and sees the 21 year old venturing into the more mature territories of EDM and R&B, mixed in with his usual brand of teen pop. Will his more mature image alienate his hordes of obsessed fans, or will he win over the haters with an infectious new sound?
Mark My Words starts things off short and sweet, with Bieber falsettoing over a vocal loop. Ever since this guys balls dropped, his vocals have definitely become a lot more appealing, jumping so effortlessly between falsetto and a more tender tenor vocal. This continues on I'll Show You, a track produced by none other than Skrillex, who you will hear a lot more of on this album. A slow dance number perhaps inspired by the likes of Ne-Yo, it's got quite a romancing hook. Recent single What Do You Mean? follows, which sounds like a classic club anthem with repetitive lyrics, but even more recent single Sorry is, honestly, a tune. I would much rather hear this in a club than What Do You Mean?, and beyond that, the lyrics are actually quite meaningful and are sure to touch a nerve. Love Yourself is a simplistic song that fans of acoustic music will gush over, and it's no surprise that this was co-written with Ed Sheeran; it wouldn't be out of place on either + or x.
Company only really gets going in the chorus when the bass drops, no matter how lightly it does drop. I'm noticing that the chorus' are now filled with more instrumentals rather than what we're used to hearing from JB: a typical 4/4 pop chorus with simple rhyming lyrics. Big Sean makes an appearance on No Pressure, another chilled out track with a delivery that reminds me a little bit of more recent Mariah Carey tracks, but then Big Sean comes in. The man that gave us the delightful internet anthem I Don't Fuck With You then suddenly goes all lovey-dovey on us to contribute a throwaway verse. The contribution of Travi$ Scott to No Sense was a little more prominent, but involved a lot of autotune, thankfully not detracting too much from the surprisingly complex musical arrangement of this track. American singer Halsey appears on This Feeling, a track that compliments both vocalists well, and is a rather impressive pop song overall.
Life Is Worth Living had me stand to attention as soon as the first grand piano note sounded, and is at this point in the record, a curveball. Behind the carefree, pretty badboy image, Bieber can write very meaningful songs, and this is an important one for anyone having doubts about their life. Where Are Ü Now brings things back, and you will surely recognise this one from over the summer. Skrillex and Diplo team up to churn out a floorfiller, but still to this day I can't decide if the hook in the chorus is downright irritating or incredibly catchy. I'm sure a lot of you reading this have a pre-drinks playlist, well Children should probably be on there somewhere, a statement that could almost be applied to the majority of Purpose, and now the pop electronics give way to the solemn title track. Justin Bieber can do ballads, and it seems he can do them well. I think he's ended this record the right way, admitting his misgivings in both song and interview form, as a recorded statement from JB plays over the final minute of the song.
I've read a lot about this record, and funnily enough, not one of the statements I've read has been negative. I've seen the jokes ("would Bieber like some mash with all of these bangers?"), and I was intrigued to say the least. It's never nice to see child stars go down the pan, and there are times when the whole world wanted Bieber wiped off the face of the Earth, but if you ask me, he's matured in a way that a lot of other fellow child stars have failed to do. I remember watching his roast on Comedy Central earlier this year, hoping to see him get ripped to shreds, and he was... but you know what? I respected him after that. He took the abuse well, and even made a few wisecracks himself. There's no reason to condone his destructive behaviour in his personal life, but I'm no psychologist; I'm only here to give my thoughts on this album. And I never thought I'd write this on what is a public page, but I enjoyed it. Bieber has found a healthy mix of contributors that offer a lot to the album, even if the structures of the songs and typical three minute lengths are a little predictable. He hasn't won me over, but this year has seen me change my opinion of him. I hope he doesn't fall into the trap of completely losing it a la Miley Cyrus, but this is a step in the right direction. Now, if you'll excuse me, I am off to go and break some ribs at The Prodigy. And they say I don't have a diverse taste.

Rating: 7.5/10
Recommended songs: Sorry, This Feeling, Life Is Worth Living

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Album per day: Day 23

Artist: Sia
Album: 1000 Forms of Fear
Released: 2014

The Australian poster girl for individualism, Sia has had trouble adjusting to fame throughout her career. Penning hit after hit for artists such as Beyonce and Rihanna, it was a fear of fame that led Sia Furler in the direction of songwriting over performing. Last year, she released sixth album 1000 Forms of Fear to a mixture of awe, confusion and disgust. Now, I'm an advocate for artists that stir up these sorts of reactions; they're making noises and stirring things up a bit. Sia though, does not intend to be particularly groundbreaking with her music, but more with her image and her more tangible art. There's a fine line between being pretentious and being secretive, but I think she treads that line with plenty of dignity. She's been through some shit in her life, so I herald her before even giving this album a listen.
If you haven't heard Chandelier, you must have been living under a rock these past couple of years. It really is modern electropop at its finest, and was arguably my favourite song of 2014. The powerful chorus soars like the bird in the night that she croons about, and with its infectious melody it was always going to be a smash hit from the get-go. In one of the most low-key musician feuds of all time, Sia attacks Fergie's claims that Big Girls Don't Cry by writing... Big Girls Cry. Okay, this isn't a diss song or a response to Fergie's 2007 take on mature songwriting, but you can't help but feel touched by Sia's words, especially when you read into her life experiences. Definitely an album highlight. Burn The Pages is a little sombre in comparison, a more generic take on contemporary pop, while Eye of the Needle takes things back to the top. You can just imagine Glee getting their mitts on this one.
Hostage cranks it up a little more with electropop cloaked in indie rock guitars. It wouldn't sound too out of place on a Florence and the Machine record. Sia's vulnerability becomes clearer with each song, and the aptly named Straight for the Knife spells out her ordeal over fuzzy guitar and wobbly keyboards. "Give me your wallet and your watch", demands Sia on Fair Game. No, she has not suddenly gone all Cockney pickpocket on us, but she still bloody means it. She may want to play a fair game, but what game is fair when she adds in a xylophone solo for good measure? There aren't many who can get away with that. Perhaps better known for a music video that exposed us to a little too much of Shia Labeouf, Elastic Heart had to follow Chandelier as a single, which was no easy task. Still as incessantly catchy as the latter, yet with a more basic approach to the instrumentation, you will find yourself singing along by the final chorus.
It's not really until the chorus of Free The Animal that my interest is peaked, sounding something like a Miley Cyrus side project. The rest of the song is kind of forgettable though, save for the looped vocals at the end. What usually happens when we make Fire Meet Gasoline? It doesn't take a scientist to work out that it usually ends up in a lot more fire, with a chance of explosions. Whilst the song is somewhat enjoyable, it feels like Sia's voice can only give a song so much individuality. There are no explosions, only sparklers I'm afraid. Cellophane begins with a hint that it'll grow into a monster, and whilst it does grow, it's more like a blossoming flower. Final track Dressed In Black shakes things up further, with abstract chord changes and a prolonged outro that seems to be the only fitting way to close an album this convoluted.
I went in with hopes that Sia would not take on the form of any other artists out there, that she would just be herself. She is clearly a vibrant and creative talent, but the air of mystery surrounding this persona that she refuses to display doesn't quite add up to the hype. It's hardly Blue Man Group or Slipknot; those two acts have brought something new to the table in their respective genres whilst hiding behind so called "gimmicks", but this album doesn't feel like anything new to me. Don't get me wrong, there are some good songs on here, some that are very good as a matter of fact. However, I remember first hearing Chandelier and subsequently struggling to listen to anything else for the next couple of hours, not just because of the songs quality, but because of how massive and exciting it was. 1000 Forms of Fear didn't quite recreate the emotions I felt that day, but it does suckerpunch when it wants to.

Rating: 6/10
Recommended tracks: Chandelier, Big Girls Cry, Elastic Heart

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Album per day: Day 22

Artist: Fightstar
Album: Behind the Devil's Back
Released: 2015

I'm going to see if I can talk about Fightstar without mentioning frontman/heartthrob Charlie Simpson's turbulent past in teenage trio Busted... well that went tits up didn't it?
Anyway, even while he was still playing with Busted, Simpson was flirting with the heavier side of music, as he was practicing with Fightstar in his spare time. Then came the news that nowadays would  be like comparing Zayn's departure from One Direction: Charlie Simpson had left Busted to pursue alternative musical paths. The band combine the brutality of British hardcore usually heard when trawling through Hell Is For Heroes and early Biffy Clyro, with an atmospheric, sometimes soothing rock sensation more reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails or Deftones. After three albums and a five year hiatus, they returned to the live circuit this year (check out the review I did of them at Download Festival here). And now, they have a new album out, but is it a welcome return, or are they not showing the promise they used to? We'll see.
Beginning in slickly produced guitar riffs, Sharp Tongue is a promising start. Dual vocals are shared with guitarist Alex Westaway, whilst Simpson provides his trademark scream. I'm not afraid to admit that he possesses one of my favourite voices in music at the moment; the way he can transition between death growls and the cleanest of voices is incredibly enviable. If Twitter has taught me anything recently, it's that Fightstar have a lot of "bros", including, but not limited to, Bring Me The Horizon and You Me At Six. You can definitely hear the influence from the former on Murder All Over, a track based around electronica samples and a pulsating hook. The vocals from Behind The Devil's Back calls to mind the more recent output from Biffy Clyro, combined with the technical musical performance of Deftones. The Blackest Of Birds seems like a fitting title for a track that resembles the more mature side of Slipknot, given the fact that Slipknot used to sniff jars of dead crow before their gigs to get them into the appropriate frame of mind. Melodies take flight, and... lay eggs in your ears? I tried bird puns, and I quailed... or fowled?
Overdrive's punky nature is mashed with what sounds like left behind 80's synth from a Journey record. If there's one thing Fightstar can do, it's rope people back in who may have been scared by songs like Deathcar. More Human Than Human picks this up, albeit with deeper tones, and a bass that could wobble the unwobbled. Animal starts like a pack of lions on the hunt, and then flutters between a colourful parrot and a herd of galloping gazelles. This could well be the anthem of the record. The gargantuan Titan is as massive as its title suggests, and I'm practically circle pitting around my dining room table and typing this letter by letter per rotation.
Sink With The Snakes prolongs the metallic elements of this band, with gruff vocals aplenty. The production values are exceptional, but one thing I've noticed is that Fightstar appear to be making more impressive verses than choruses, a quality seldom picked up when it comes to other acts. Culminating in the shoegazey Dive, Charlie Simpson's falsetto voice over power chords calls to mind a tormented Thom Yorke crooning over what would easily have been the heaviest Radiohead song ever released. It's not anti-climactic, but it's not an epic ending.
Bands return from hiatus because they have explored life away from their original routine, but soon come to realise that what they had was too good to step away from. Reforming can sometimes be pointless and disastrous, but in most cases, they are exciting times for fans and bands alike, with the new lease of life unleashing a breath of fresh air on the music industry. And whilst Behind The Devil's Back will hardly leave the music industry quaking in its fragile boots, it will no doubt make a loud enough noise to be noticed. It's a solid album, applying a similar formula to the one that spurned Fightstar to originally tackle the rock and metal scene ten years ago, but with an added maturity. They're currently on a UK tour, playing my hometown tomorrow, and I am even more tempted to now turn up at the door.

Rating: 8/10
Recommended tracks: Sharp Tongue, Animal, Titan

Monday, 12 October 2015

Album per day: Day 21

Artist: Bring Me The Horizon
Album: That's The Spirit
Released: 2015

My relationship with Bring Me The Horizon goes back a long way. I remember spotting them in an old issue of Kerrang! Magazine, and thinking "what the fuck do they look like?!". I then heard Diamonds Aren't Forever, and thus dubbed them "metal for pussies", because you see, I was such a testosterone-fuelled jock back then... Nowadays the quintet from Sheffield are more civilised and, having outgrown their old style of angsty deathcore, they have left behind the days of being bottled off stage when supporting Machine Head or Killswitch Engage, and have now swapped it all to be festival headliners-in-waiting. They have set about becoming the UK's answer to Linkin Park. This year, they released their fifth studio album entitled That's The Spirit, which displays even more of a shift in dynamic. The transition over their last three records nowadays favours a more diversified, mainstream rock sound, with frontman Oli Sykes industrially cleaning his vocal cords with some sort of toilet brush.
Now, the opener, Doomed... Doomed starts with what sounds like two people engaged in what can only be described as "the dance with no pants". It starts off a bit Imagine Dragons, but once it builds, it sounds like something that could come straight off of Linkin Park's album Minutes To Midnight. I heard Happy Song the day it came out, and I still think it's a fucking monster. Clearly inspired by American metal along the lines of Deftones, the riff in this is just what I was looking for. It's the kind of progression that I am very happy to hear from BMTH, and Oli even manages to scream a little. Throne had also been released to the masses before the album release, and it has everything the band could want from a single; a mix of clean and gritty vocals, looped synths and a powerful rhythm section. True Friends picks up where Happy Song left off, but doesn't quite display the same energy. Oli's lyrics seem heartfelt though and the way he shouts his way through the verses could be a hint at his personal experiences.
Follow You begins and wait, have I just shuffled to Blank Space by Taylor Swift? Oh wait, of course not, I'm listening on Spotify! The song's smooth, ambient tones fill me with a lot of questions. How desperate are these guys to shake off their early noise? Based on this effort, the answer is rather. What You Need may as well be a You Me At Six song (not a bad thing); maybe Oli really enjoyed working with them on Bite My Tongue. It's just one of many sounds that the group have taken inspiration from on the album. The chorus smashes it, mind. As That's The Spirit plays on, you begin to understand just how much of a change keyboardist Jordan Fish has brought to proceedings since he joined the band before the release of Sempiternal. Avalanche's orchestral synths over detuned guitars are becoming a little predictable, but it's usually a winning formula for their new style of anthems.
Run is nothing like it's Snow Patrol namesake. The only similarity is the quiet-loud-quiet-loud dynamics between verses and chorus. Here is another one that could have been a Chester Bennington brainchild. NEW Drown? Spotify, what ever could you mean? I warmed to this song very quickly after it was released, after some initial scepticism about what this meant for their future direction, and bar a couple of added guitar reverbs and piano keys, it's the same beast it was when it was released in time for their Wembley Arena show last year. A dark Blasphemy, with its bluesy guitar solo and infectious chorus, becomes a truly standout moment for me in this record. Culminating in Oh No, the longest track on the album, it is tailored to feature on Made In Chelsea at some point, playing over multiple shots of posh, Instagram-filtered London. Perhaps more akin to Two Door Cinema Club than Bring Me The Horizon, you can just picture Oh No playing soundtrack to a small room full of teenagers jumping and smiling whilst colourful balloons fall from the ceiling. A strange, yet brave finale.
Seeing BMTH at Reading Festival 2013 shone a whole new light on them for me. I was adamant that they were going to be crap, but that gig changed my opinion completely. They smashed it, tore it up, threw it away, and then smashed it some more; they blew my fucking head off. Now I regularly keep up to date with them, and from time to time dig into their back catalogue. How does That's The Spirit rank? I'd imagine that there are A LOT of furious fans from the Count Your Blessings/Suicide Season era who have watched their idols sell their souls for a shot at commercial success. I'm okay with this though, it's a good change. This album has had to follow Sempiternal, one of my favourite records of the last few years, and it matches up to it most of the time, save for a few repetitive song formulas. The mind can only wander as to how much more experimental BMTH will go for album number six.

Rating: 8/10
Recommended songs: Happy Song, Drown, Blasphemy

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Festival season: Glastonbury

Four months ago, I promised you and myself that I would write a review of Glastonbury Festival 2015 to coincide with the review I wrote of Download Festival. My own laziness and ineptitude got the better of me though, and here I am, in October, trying to make up for it. As far as I'm concerned I'm determined to finish what I started, and yes, this includes the rest of the albums I didn't review when I did my "30 albums in 30 days" challenge (yeah... because that went well too).

Last weekend, the struggle began to get tickets for the 2016 event, but I didn't try this year for a variety of reasons that I won't bore you with. So here I sit, feeling a little bit nostalgic, about to shower your eyes with my recollection of my five day experience in a Somerset farm. Thankfully I remember it like it was yesterday, which is my cop out for publishing this stupidly late. Let me take you back to a time when it was still raining, we were still shit at rugby, and I still felt like kicking Kanye West in the gonads: 110 days ago.

"Let's hear it for Jay-Z. The man has got bollocks to come here, and play the tunes you don't even remember. Imagine if it was a c*** like Kanye West" - Amy Winehouse, 2008

I'm lucky enough to have been to a lot of festivals, ever since my first V Festival in 2006, but you always wonder what makes other festivals so special. Glastonbury is the main attraction, the Woodstock of Britain, whereas V is more like Austin City Limits. I've got to be honest, I had my apprehensions about going to Glastonbury beforehand. The line up, as eclectic as it was, just didn't excite me, especially after Foo Fighters pulled out two weeks prior to the event, and I was still just about recovering from Download. I really need not have worried. Travelling down by coach was the best idea anyone has ever had in the history of anything; none of the horror stories about queueing to get in (or out for that matter) had materialised. This was followed by two days of glorious weather and heavy drinking a la Castle Donington, but with the added glow of the view in the picture above. There won't be many views that will beat that in my lifetime. Thursday gave us time to check out secret sets from Drenge and Wolf Alice, albeit outside the packed tent, but we squeezed our way in for Old Dirty Brasstards, an extremely enjoyable brass band who delivered top banana covers of everything from Uptown Funk to Man In The Mirror.

As soon as the first day of music rolls up, the clouds threaten a hissy fit and start leaking profusely. Choosing to begin our weekend at the Other Stage at 11am, we were greeted by "special guests" The Charlatans. There's no way to be kind about it, they were just drab. The band just didn't seem bothered, and the crowd reciprocated that. 
The Cribs were at least a little better, but for a band who were once exciting and virile, their lack of anthems, save for a couple of songs, didn't scream progress to me. They may be doomed to an eternity of low key appearances if they continue this way.
A promising outfit, Everything Everything had everything everything going for them. The crowd was in a buoyant mood after finding their stride, and opening with Cough Cough set the tone for a creative and fun set. Let's all hope that their next album sees them propel themselves further up festival bills in the future.
Pulling an enormous crowd, Catfish And The Bottlemen frontman Van McCann had been throwing up half an hour prior to his bands debut at Glastonbury. This was not down to nerves, he was allegedly rather ill, but you would never have guessed it. Accepting his frustration with the crap weather making his guitar go out of tune, his anger seemed to make him play better, with the set culminating in some rock star-fuelled instrument destruction. Next time you see them here, they will be on the Pyramid Stage.
After Metallica won over pretty much everyone with their all conquering heavy metal set on the Pyramid Stage in 2014, many saw it as a gateway for other heavy metal bands to show their faces. Enter Motörhead, the granddaddies of "rock n'fucking roll". Lemmy's health problems are well documented, and frankly it's a medical wonder how he's still standing. Despite the main man jumbling his words on different songs, the crowd were still hanging on his every word, and the 'head even managed to make the sun come out, confirming our suspicions that God is indeed a heavy metal fan. A mix of young turks and old codgers braved the mud, and the double barrel shotgun of Ace Of Spades and Overkill left the front section of the crowd collectively needing treatment for bruised bodies and whiplash.
Curiosity was just around the corner, as rumours were flying around over who was going to replace Florence and the Machine as the sub-headliner for the Friday night now that she had been promoted to the peak of the event? The anticipation was palpable, so me and my fellow campers decided to wait from our campsite (which was within view of the Pyramid Stage) to see who would rock up. In the greatest anti-climax of all time, it was The Libertines. The fucking Libertines. I've long made my feelings for them known, and I've always wondered why people hold their indie tripe in such high regard; a couple of songs are okay, but that's it. Well, determined not to be biased when watching their set from a safe distance so that I may not catch whatever drug-induced illness Pete Doherty was carrying at the time, what I observed was total, utter bollocks. Out of time playing, out of tune guitars, drunken mumbling instead of singing, and generally just some below average songs just made me realise that I may actually be right on this one. I long for the day when this band aren't covered in the glory that they don't really deserve, breeding fans who make Oasis fans look like wordsmiths. Replacing Foo Fighters with Florence and the Machine was bad enough (even though I don't mind Florence, it's just I've seen her live before and she was nothing too spectacular), but to then add The Libertines to the line up just made me think that there was someone up there looking to piss me off a little bit more. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts.
Running for the Other Stage, Mark Ronson was halfway through his set, but it looks like we caught the good bits. Closing with his well-renowned cover of Valerie, and a star-studded guestlist of Grandmaster Flash, Mary J Blige and George Clinton joining in on a triumphant Uptown Funk, I have never seen a crowd enjoy themselves this much. Busting our best white guy dance moves, it was a great experience to settle us into the night.
It says a lot that I was seeing Enter Shikari for the fifth and sixth time this weekend. A band who I have very on-off moments with, yet they tour like no other band and seem to pop up everywhere I go. However you feel about them, do you dare doubt their credentials as a live band? For one hour that seemed to fly by, the John Peel Tent was a permanent circle pit. Ravers and metallers alike beat the crap out of each other in the name of music, and the band still haven't lost their exuberance. They may never turn into world beaters due to their wayward style of music, but they will always draw crowds and deliver results in impressive fashion.

The Saturday was about one man only: Kanye West. Not in my eyes though. A controversial gay fish, the very foundations of his existence are built entirely on blocks of idiocy. I'm sure Sleaford Mods had a few choice words for Yeezus too, but their set was focussed on angry, incoherent spoken word. I'm not sure whether they take their alternative, anti-political hip hop seriously, but I sure as hell didn't. What I did was laugh every time frontman Jason Williamson rapped the words "Mr Jolly Fucker", and I ended each song with a raised can of Wifebeater. Strangely enough I enjoyed their set, but probably for reasons based on humour rather than respect.
The only word I can use to describe Ella Eyre's sun-soaked set was "forgettable". Bigging up Kanye didn't help her cause much either.
Clean Bandit brought some summer tunes into the fray. Rather Be and Real Love had everyone on their feet, and a cover of Robin S' Show Me Love was the icing on the cake.
A band I was most looking forward to, Death From Above 1979, sadly delivered the most disappointing set of the weekend. Ever since the explosion of Royal Blood in the UK, there have been a lot of punters sticking up for DFA1979, claiming that they are more original and better in every sense of the word. What I witnessed though was a bassist who played like an animal, but didn't know where he was, and a drummer whose lack of enthusiasm produced an unpleasant aura around their set. Would've helped if we could understand what he was singing too. Was it a bad day at the office, or was it the wrong audience?
Getting into the Left Field area was a task in itself, as the 300-capacity tent was about to play host to Enter Shikari for their second appearance of the weekend. There is a level of intimacy at any Enter Shikari gig, but it was something special here. Changing their set up from the previous night, they appropriately threw out their political mind-melter Arguing With Thermometers halfway through the show to a rapturous reception. In what was one of the sweatiest gigs I've ever been to, it even came with two free back massages courtesy of some rather intoxicated fellow punters.
Saturday culminated in a sea of lasers and glowsticks with Joel Zimmerman, better known as Deadmau5. Combining his chilled sounds with big drumbeats, everyone's favourite Canadian rodent drew a large crowd, with some leading the chants of "fuck Kanye!" between songs. A shameful lack of his bigger songs did deter me a little bit (Sofi Needs A Ladder, Brazil, I Remember... anyone?), but once the set got going from the off, the party never stopped. It put me in the right frame of mind for when I stumbled through Shangri-La later on whilst holding a chocolate martini; it was quite possibly the weirdest, most hedonistic place I've ever been to.

Despite the tent leakage and the fact it was the last day, Sunday was no reason to whine. However, I should be thankful I'm still here after managing to spill a cup of tea on my mates severely sunburnt leg. Had he killed me there and then, in the afterlife I would've cursed his name for not waiting until at least the end of the day. Taking in the start of the day from the campsite, we drifted in and out of sets from Hozier and Patti Smith. The former has been getting on my nerves ever since Take Me To Church became one of those songs that just never leaves the airwaves, but I weirdly found myself singing along to said song, and his more impressive release Someone New. Patti Smith though, was about as captivating as a broken toenail. That is until she brought on a special guest: The Dalai Lama. I prayed that he drop his wisdom on us unworthy ones with a fire new mixtape, but the man preached love and care to the perfect audience, who were lapping up his every word. Talk about surreal experiences...
A sentence I never thought I'd say or write: I saw Lionel Richie live! Only at Glastonbury would you get this man. Filling up the appropriately titled "legend slot" previously filled by Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers and *ahem* Rolf Harris, the crowd numbers swelled well past 200,000, which smashed the record held by Dolly in 2014. You could tell Lionel was genuinely thrilled to be there, but it was also rather moving to see just how surprised he was that everyone was there to see him. Everyone from hippies to punks to old time rockers made up the crowd. With over 100 million records sold, you'd think he'd be used to such a monumental audience. A communal sing along to Hello, Dancing on the Ceiling, and Three Times a Lady left the singer stricken and caught off guard, and at times he found it hard to control his emotions. He was an absolute joy to watch, and my Mum will forever be jelly.
In a complete juxtaposition, alt-J were up next on the Pyramid Stage. They may not be the kind of act that gets crowds moving, but shakers like Fitzpleasure at least ensured that the crowd got their dancing shoes on briefly. There was still time for Left Hand Free and Tessellate to leave spectators dazzled. Critically acclaimed albums and sets this high up festival bills can only mean good things for this trio. It's refreshing to see an act with such a left field style of music dominating the British music scene, and long may it continue.
The weekend climaxed with Pilton Farm bathing in glorious, ear bursting rock n'roll courtesy of The Who. Many saw this as an underwhelming booking as they had last topped the bill in 2007, and didn't really have anything new to show for it since then. This was all soon forgotten though as Daltrey and Townshend struck us hard with hit after hit after hit. I wished they still had the youthful energy displayed in the above picture, but you can't really blame them for ageing I guess. Pete Townshend at least demonstrated some throwback angst as he tore down the visors next to the drum kit in frustration at not being able to hear the drummer, but alas there was no drum smashing, or playing guitar with his teeth. Even though the set felt a little short, ending on Won't Get Fooled Again left everyone more than satisfied, and there is no way I can complain after I had rendezvoused with The Who.

Bravo for reading all of that, or some of it if you skipped here to see if it would ever end. Well yes, it thankfully does; this is the last paragraph you weakling. It may have been the weakest Glastonbury line up in recent memory, but why should I care? Glastonbury isn't just about the music. It's a magical place with so much happening, and nobody would begrudge you for getting lost in there, or wanting to stay forever. We may have been one of the youngest groups of people there, but it didn't show, as everyone had this careless free spirit about them. Give me Download's music with Glastonbury's layout and you've got my perfect festival. I spoke to Michael Eavis on the Sunday, and in my hot flush I forgot to ask him to book all of my favourite bands next year. Had I done that then I might have been first in line to book a ticket for next year. It's Download for me next year, but if you're reading this, you need to try Glastonbury at least once in your lifetime. Tell 'em Sam sent you, and say hi to Michael for me.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Festival season: Download

Having been lucky enough to be going to festivals ever since I was 13, I decided this year it was time to expand my experience further and tackle two very different events, with most of the years being taken up by V Festival before it completely went to shit. In the red corner, we have Download Festival, the spiritual home of rock, and a festival I have spent countless hours watching videos of on YouTube and reading about over the years, and is living proof once more that rock will never die; I will be reviewing it in this post. In the blue corner, we have Glastonbury, the juggernaut of the music calendar with artists spanning just about every genre and a place to just cut loose and be chill, which I will review in a later post, otherwise this post will be even more dreary.

"The home of heavy fucking metal" - Rob Halford

After sampling the delights of Sonisphere last year, I knew I wanted to try a bigger scale festival that was committed to pleasing those who hold a candle for rock and metal music. Then I heard who was headlining and I knew it must be done; I had to see Slipknot again after losing my shit to them back in January at the NIA. I was quite keen on experiencing the infamous Kiss live show, and as for Muse, headlining Download is something I've wanted them to do for a long time, so I knew I couldn't pass up a trip to Castle Donington.
Wednesday and Thursday were as good as they could get. Apart from the almost four hours of queueing to enter the village, there wasn't much to complain about; good weather, brilliant company, but wait a minute, what's this? OH YEAH. The cashless system won't work for you and you can't eat or drink anything of ours for one day, because Sam, or Captain Beige as I had been affectionately referred to, you should fuck off back to V. After getting this fixed, safe to say I binged hard on liquids and burgers.

Rising and shining, excited for what was to come, Friday began with a group of excitable, tipsy young adults feeling as giddy as children on Christmas Day. The weather was a little more accommodating to those of us who would rather not be cooked alive, and the first band to receive my full attention were Lacuna Coil, who always have a strong following, but have never really been the most exciting prospect when it comes to the stage. However, they delivered a confident performance, with vocalist Cristina Scabbia (who I still can't believe is over 40) whipping the crowd into chant after chant, and their cover of Enjoy The Silence soared like a raven.
Staying on the Main Stage, blues rockers Clutch, unlike Lacuna Coil, have a sterling reputation for their live shows, and they definitely backed up these claims with a note-perfect set, with closer One Eye Dollar receiving one of the biggest crowd reactions the festival would see that day.
Five Finger Death Punch are not afraid of anything, whether it's getting three youngsters from the crowd onstage to bang their heads along to Burn MF, or even daring trying to upstage Clutch. They just about pull it off, which was no easy feat. They're on an upward trajectory, and we could be seeing future headliners in the making. One thing they don't do is manage to stop the almighty downpour that follows, which is more evidence that God is not a Judas Priest fan... who'd have thunk it?!
With the rain dampening camp spirits, we headed for the sanctuary of the third stage to witness the return of Fightstar. Unsure of their live prowess, but confident in their ability to write stellar rock songs, I went with an open mind. Opening with Paint Your Target was a brilliant move, and from thereon the crowd were on their side. The aforementioned song and an almighty Deathcar were the highlights of what was the set of the day. The tent may have been heaving because of the flood in progress outside, or everyone was actually there for Fightstar; whatever the reason, Charlie and co. left a big impression on everyone that day.
Not to be outdone, Slipknot were back after having a year off headlining Download. The stage setup was different, the masks were different, the line up was different... it felt like a new experience, and not the same stage shows, or even members they brought to Download in 2009 and 2013. Clearly a little miffed by the rain, Corey Taylor did his best to keep everyone warm, reminding everyone that the UK is the reason they are a band, and how nothing means more to them than Download, and it really did sound genuine. The set was very well chosen, with new single Killpop sitting nicely alongside oldies such as The Heretic Anthem and Eyeless (which was killer). The rain wasn't the only heavy thing at the main stage that night, and the 'knot left their mark once more to remind everyone that whatever the barrier, there is still plenty of fire in this monster's belly yet.

Not to be outdone, the weather insisted on remaining as wet as my pants after that Fightstar show. Making an effort to get into the arena a bit earlier today, I caught a bit of Welsh emo stalwarts Funeral For A Friend. They've had a fall from grace it seems, and even though the opportunity to play the Main Stage is one that should not be taken lightly, they just didn't seem fussed. Nine years ago they would've tore Download a new arsehole when they sub-headlined just beneath Guns N'Roses, but like their good songs, those days seem to have sadly passed by.
Radio 1 poster boys Mallory Knox were next to grace the Main Stage, and it was certainly a step in the right direction. Determined to keep a hold of the impatient, wet crowd, vocalist Mikey Chapman keeps them engaged with some surprisingly political comments, and closer Lighthouse provides a ray of sunshine on an otherwise gloomy afternoon.
Cello metal? Those two words alone were enough to convince me to check out Apocalyptica on the Zippo Encore Stage, who claimed they were suffering from technical difficulties, which did not matter due to the fact that three cellists were playing heavy metal on orchestral instruments! As impressive a skill as it is, the show felt flat and rather average. For a band who started out playing Metallica covers, one of those songs might not have gone amiss.
The only time Parkway Drive managed to make me stand to attention was with their delightful cover of RATM's Bulls On Parade. It takes balls to cover Rage, but these guys just about nailed it. The rest of their set was your run of the day metalcore, and got the crowd moving on a very wet and cold afternoon.
Tim McGrath led his band Rise Against through a strong back catalogue with plenty of back and forth with the crowd, but their aggressive take on political punk lacked that little bit of oomph their live shows are usually credited with. Maybe they were suffering from the pathetic fallacy? By no means a bad set, but definitely not a great one.
Two years on since their last performance on the Zippo Encore Stage, A Day To Remember have been the band everyone thinks will next make the step up to headliner status soon; this is a fact that frontman Jeremy McKinnon even acknowledged between songs. A very random cover of Champagne Supernova both confused and delighted the crowd, and closer The Plot To Bomb The Panhandle left us yearning for more, but a nicely brewed setlist left many punters thrilled, even if McKinnon was running out of breath towards the end. But then again, who can blame him?
Then it was party time. Time to party. Party hard. It was Andrew W.K. time. Every song was introduced with "this song is about partying", and just when you think he'll drop Party Hard, he'll play another banger. Even a totally absurd rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful didn't stop the packed tent from having the time of their lives, but unfortunately we had to vacate the tent in order to pick up a decent spot for the next headliner.
A lot was said from both camps about Muse taking the top spot at Download. Many said that they were nothing more than a pop rock band who belonged at Glastonbury and Reading, some being far too ignorant to even give them a chance, whereas others who were perhaps more reliably informed insisted that they'd blow everyone away when they mix their heavy material with their hits. For casual listeners it was a questionable booking, but for the superfans it had been a long time coming. Did Muse pull it off? Of course they did. Right from the get go the capacity crowd was bouncing off the proverbial walls, and with a few rarities dropped in such as Micro Cuts and Citizen Erased mixed in with rockier songs from seventh album Drones, you get the feeling that there have been a lot of doubters eating their words after this gig. You only have to look at the reviews and the forums to see how well they went down. When Muse go heavy, they go hard, and they once again showed that they aren't a band who rely on a pretty stage show.

Sunday was the day I was least looking forward to, not just because it was the last day of the festival, but also because the line up is a classic rock fan's dream. Whilst I enjoy classic rock, I'm not sure a day of it on the Main Stage would gauge my interest. Nonetheless, I had a quick watch of both Cavalera Conspiracy and We Are Harlot. Both of these bands were shining examples of why most of the time, when you're the frontman and you're forming a new band, it won't cut the mustard when compared to your back catalogue. The former were abrasive and heavy, but not remotely interesting, whereas the latter were just plain boring.
There was a lot of excitement in the camp for the "secret" set from returning heroes of rock The Darkness. It took me two songs to make my mind up that Justin Hawkins was losing his infamous falsetto voice, and with a dragged out introduction, it just wasn't worth the hype.
The final trio of acts that would be witnessed at Download would all be on the Main Stage, kicking off with Slash. A set that mixed Guns N'Roses, Velvet Revolver and Slash's solo project with Myles Kennedy made for a very well received performance. Slash hasn't lost his magic at all, and Kennedy is easily one of the best rock vocalists out there. Ending on a triumphant Paradise City left everyone in buoyant mood whilst the dark clouds overhead decided we'd suffered enough this weekend.
Bearing down on us for their final performance at Donington were Mötley Crüe, the granddaddies of glam metal. It was awfully nice to see their backing dancers, and even though guitarist Mick Mars looks like he's about to disintegrate at any second, the man can still shred. Their gratitude to Donington was clear, and with a show laden with special effects, they were definitely out to steal Kiss' thunder. Their final UK tour is later this year, and this was the best possible advertising campaign for it.
To close the weekend, Kiss went out looking for new recruits for the Kiss Army. With lights and fireworks that would be more accustomed to a celebration of the millennium, Paul Stanley seemed to be feasting on the 80,000 smiling faces in front of him. They had all the old tricks, from Gene Simmons' bloody mouth, to Paul taking some sort of zipwire to a stage in the middle of the crowd, and it felt like the 1980's were back. Of course there were the songs too. Kicking off with Detroit Rock City, and encoring with the terrific trio of Shout It Out Loud, I Was Made For Lovin' You and Rock And Roll All Nite ensured that Sergeant Stanley would be welcoming thousands of new applicants to put their life on the line for rock n'roll. This is a band that will live forever. I also would like to know if Gene Simmons still really believes if rock is dead?

And so it comes to an end. Well done if you got this far... I started to get bored reading it back to myself. Download may just well be my favourite festival, even after going to Glastonbury a week prior to writing this. The music is solid, and the people are real music fans who may also be some of the friendliest people I've ever met. There's still plenty to do when there is no live music to enjoy; even if you want to get married to the burger you just bought, they'll do it in the inflatable chapel which turns into a rave cave after hours. Weather and initial cashless issues aside, Download 2015 was a killer experience, and I'm already packing for 2016.