Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Top 50 Albums Of The 2000s (Part 2)

Before choruses of 'Auld Lang Syne' start sweeping the country and unwanted christmas trees start lining the pavements, it's time to reveal the Triple Threat readership's top twenty albums of the past decade. So without further ado...

20. The Streets - A Grand Don't Come For Free
While it lacked the shock of the new that greeted 'Original Pirate Material', Mike Skinner side-stepped the potential pitfalls of following such a unique debut by launching into a full-blown concept album. Rich in narrative prowess, the album also gave us the heart-on-sleeve geezer anthem 'Dry Your Eyes' and 'Fit But You Know It', a perfectly observed follow-up piece to Blur's 'Boys & Girls'.
Download one track: Blinded By The Lights

19. Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights
Sometimes derided as mere Joy Division copyists, this New York band's debut actually bears influences from and, more importantly, a great understanding and appreciation of both the goth and post-punk movements, in particular bands such as Echo & The Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs, Bauhaus and Magazine. In turn, these stylings went on to inspire a British revival in anthemic gloom, characterised chiefly by Editors and White Lies.
Download one track: Obstacle 1

18. Magic Numbers - Magic Numbers
Polling surprisingly high, given the subsequent plummet from sales and stardom that greeted second album 'Those the Brokes', their debut album was nonetheless a perfect pop record, albeit one that is as tied to the stormy summer of 2005 as to its myriad of '60s west coast reference points. A fleeting summer fling of an album which will always inspire a healthy dose of nostalgia upon future plays.
Download one track: I See You, You See Me

17. Outkast - Stankonia
Hinting at the stylistic differences between Andre 3000 and Big Boi that would characterise 'Speakerboxx/The Love Below', 'Stankonia' was epic in scale and ambition, but uncertain of what was lurking round the corner, culminating in a classic album that still sounds like the future. Propelled in 2000 by the massive chart success of the wonderful 'Ms Jackson', the high points were the post-millennial tension and paranoia of 'Gasoline Dreams' and 'Bombs Over Baghdad' - chillingly prophetic of a decade engulfed by conflict.
Download one track: Gasoline Dreams

16. Daft Punk - Alive 2007
Challenged at the death by Blur's Hyde Park release, 'Alive 2007' is still the greatest live album of the decade, even more surprising given that the live arena is meant to be the domain of the rock star, not the robot. Mixed immaculately with an extra thump to the beats, particularly on the underrated 'Robot Rock' tracks, all that's missing from 'Alive 2007' are the lights.
Download one track: Da Funk/Daftendirekt

15. LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver
After forming the DFA label and carving a niche as a trend-setting boutique specialising in the dance punk sound characterised by The Rapture, James Murphy really hit his stride with this second album under the LCD Soundsystem moniker. Taking in elements of Detroit techno, Talking Heads and Brian Eno, the album uses hipster irony as a stick with which to beat its protagonists. A beautifully-sequenced album, with 'All My Friends' its great pumping heart, an epic seven-and-a-half minute ode to getting older, which starts off all Steve Reich-minimalist before building immeasurably and emotionally to its climax.
Download one track: All My Friends

14. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP
If the title implied we were to see a human, caring side to counteract the cartoonish violence and drug-fuelled naughtiness of 'The Slim Shady LP', then thirty seconds of the opening track 'Kill You' quickly dispel that notion. Adding depth and character to the verbal dexterity, savage slurs and murderous diatribes which account for most of the work here was, however, Marshall's real triumph as a writer, as evidenced on the poignant, gripping and completely unique 'Stan'.
Download one track: Stan

13. Kings Of Leon - Because Of The Times
The point where Kings Of Leon recognised that their ambition extended beyond rollicking, swampy rock in the vein of Creedence Clearwater Revival and towards conquering stadiums, 'Because Of The Times' was an accomplished document of a band in transition. Although it lacked the one knockout hit single that was just around the corner, the brooding intensity of 'Knocked Up' and delirious singalong of 'Fans' were ample compensation.
Download one track: Black Thumbnail

12. The Libertines - The Libertines
Challenging The Strokes as the most influential sound and vision of the decade, Pete Doherty and Carl Barat's motley crew made their true classic in this, their second offering of knockabout skiffle and punk, shot through with Doherty's poetic allusions and experience of London's sordid underbelly and Barat's knack for a great hook. The tension between the two is so rife, 'Can't Stand Me Now' constantly threatens to desend into a scuffle to the sound of bass, drums and fists.
Download one track: Last Post On The Bugle

11. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
Twenty years into their career and The Flaming Lips followed up on the huge critical adoration for 'The Soft Bulletin' by making this wondrous set of symphonic pop delights, rich in sadness and hope and dressed up in tales of Japanese girls, pink robots, hypnotists and magicians. 'Fight Test' borrowed the melody from Cat Stevens' 'Father And Son' and transformed it, while 'Do You Realize?' became one of the most worthy festival anthems of the decade.
Download one track: Do You Realize?

10. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Critics fell over themselves to tell the tale of how Justin Vernon retreated to a log cabin in the wilderness for months to pen this epic, emotional voyage of a break-up album, rich in the tapestry of yearning, isolation and heartbreak but glimmering with hope for the future. However, one review on Amazon read (hilariously) 'Man Sulks In Shed'.
Download one track: Skinny Love

9. Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
With a sensational buzz causing an explosion of file-sharing by fans before they had any official releases, Alex Turner and crew made good on the hype with a whirlwind album of pinpoint social commentary in the grand tradition of The Kinks and Sheffield forefathers Pulp. Whether lambasting wannabe Yanks on 'Fake Tales Of San Francisco' or observing the ladies in various others, the band's playing was as taught throughout as Turner's tales were well-observed vignettes of modern Britain.
Download one track: Mardy Bum

8. Kings Of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak
Uproarious second album which caught the Followhill clan at their riotous best, before they set sail on the path to becoming the next U2. Their most exciting and cohesive album, the titles give away the album's primary obsessions - namely wine, women and song, and the band make good on their standing as the post-Strokes next big thing with big-hitters such as 'The Bucket' and 'King Of The Rodeo'.
Download one track: The Bucket

7. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
Released on the same day as Conor Oberst's underrated electronica excursion 'Digital Ash In a Digital Urn', it's sister record was a moving, oetic country blues album, which made good on all the promise of the umpteen angsty albums he had offered thus far. Recruiting the classic harmonies of Emmylou Harris proved the album's master-stroke while Oberst's fierce intellect and political engagement shone through on opener 'At The Bottom Of Everything' and the stirring 'Old Soul Song'.
Download one track: We Are Nowhere, And It's Now

6. Antony & The Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now
Possessed of the most stunningly unique voice since Jeff Buckley, Antony Hegarty managed to create one of the decade's most unlikely successes with this stunningly beautiful set of songs, borne of gender anxiety, loss, hope and desparation. Opener 'Hope There's Someone' is the perfect introduction to Hegarty's bewildering, other-worldly vocal while 'Fistful Of Love' adds swaying horns and a spoken word intro by early champion Lou Reed to its dark tale of sexual violence.
Download one track: Hope There's Someone

5. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
Powered throughout by the mighty drumming of Matt Tong, Bloc Party's debut release timed with the arrival of a whole host of post-punk and new wave-inspired angular rockers such as Franz Ferdinand and The Futureheads, but has outlasted these peers in longevity. Gang Of Four's jerky rhythms steer 'Banquet' and 'She's Hearing Voices' but the majesty of Kele Okereke's song-writing shines through on 'Blue Light' and 'This Modern Love'.
Download one track: Like Eating Glass

4. The Killers - Hot Fuss
Self-confessed anglophiles, this Vegas quartet soaked up the cream of the UK's '80s musical achievements and sold them back to us as dramatic anthems, laden with arena-slaying hooks. While follow-up Sam's Town looked to Springsteen's America for inspiration, 'Hot Fuss's success can be attributed to the country that inspired and adopted The Killers. Anyone who hasn't sung "I've got soul, but I'm not a soldier" at least once is either a liar or has been living in Bon Iver's shed for the past six years.
Download one track: All These Things that I've Done

3. The National - Alligator
The real surprise of this list, Brooklyn's The National had been quietly putting out excellent material under the radar since 2003's 'Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers' without making much of a dent in anyone's end of decade lists until a chance encounter with the stirring, poetic and wonderful 'Mr November' led me, for one, to jump around the room uncontrollably and recommend them vigorously to more or less every person I met over the next couple of years. If you're wondering, the next National are Yeasayer, who hail from the same neck of the woods and are equally wonderful and considerably more weird.
Download one track: Mr November

2. The Arcade Fire - Funeral
Another unlikely triumph which heralded the rise of blog-rock (it had virtually no press and buzz grew via sites such as Pitchfork and net whisperings) these Canucks made grand, orchestral, almost baroque songs which told of children digging tunnels through towns, murdered Haitians and brothers bitten by vampires. suddenly the decade was about more than skinny jeans and taught basslines.
Download one track: Wake Up

1. The Strokes - Is This It
It had to be really, didn't it. While many may hate 'Is this It' for a multitude of reasons (the decline of baggy trousers, spawning a multitude of crap bands etc.) the reasons to admire it far outweigh them. Essentially rich upstarts with a passion for CBGBs-era New York, Julian Casablancas murmured his vocals in a deadpan, art-school version of cool and the band chugged out post-punk-inspired tunes which while indebted to the past, sounded incredibly fresh in 2001 after a few years of Travis, Coldplay, Limp Bizkit and Korn. Just put on the first few bars of 'Hard to Explain' to hear the sound of the decade.
Download one track: Hard To Explain

Thoughts? grievances? hate mail? Leave a comment and keep the debate raging into the new year!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Top 50 Albums Of The 2000s (Part 1)

Voted for by readers of Triple Threat, and painstakingly collated and compiled by the editorial team, our Top 50 list is an experimental rebuke to the traditional critic selections which you'll see in every music publication/website you choose to investigate. A bold move, which throws up the odd surprise here and there, but otherwise generally feels like an on-point assessment of the decade's musical high-points. There are more commercial achievers than critic choices tend to allow for and minority music tastes are conspicuous by their absence (while it's a representative move to include a world or jazz title or two, it's clear that these are the musical domain of the afficionado and enthusiast, rather than the average music fan). Some interesting anomalies emerged during the compiling of the votes, including the four selections which were revered and loved enough to elicit an individual top spot but made no mark on any other list. If you're interested these were Bright Eyes - Cassadaga, The Enemy - We'll Live And Die In These Towns, Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles and my own selection, D'Angelo's Voodoo. The selections encompassed pretty much every conceivable genre, from Steve Reid and Kieran Hebden's left-field free jazz to Charlotte Church's Tissues And Issues. I shit you not.
It has been said that the biggest argument against democracy is spending five minutes with the average voter. Perhaps it is actually spending an evening with their record collection. Weirdly enough, with a few notable exceptions, this is not far from a list that could have been cooked up in the offices of The Independent or Q. So without further ado...

50. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus
Expansive 2004 double album that began a rich vein of form for Cave, culminating in the Grinderman and Dig, Lazarus Dig!!! albums.
Download one track: There She Goes, My Beautiful World

49. Justice - Cross
Built on the success of their Simian remix We Are Your Friends by following the example of Daft Punk by turning in a relentless, perfect modern dance album.
Download one track: Rivers Of Nazareth

48. The Klaxons - Myths Of The Near Future
JG Ballard-obsessed London troupe who did their best to invent a genre (nu-rave's glowstick adorned heyday seems to have been strictly two years ago, but it was fun while it lasted) and left us this Mercury-winning debut, which bore the stamp of producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Simian Mobile Disco) and his late-decade midas touch.
Download one track: Two Receivers

47. The Streets - Original Pirate Material
A stunningly original set which replaced two-step and UK garage's bling and champagne with everyman tales, told through a thick fug of weed in an irrepressibly homegrown accent.
Download one track: The Irony Of It All

46. Bat For Lashes - Fur & Gold
The first in a sequence of two knockout albums from Natasha Khan, and one which chanelled Kate Bush's more accessible, inspired moments through tales of enchanted worlds and wizards.
Download one track: Priscilla

45. Red Hot Chili Peppers - By The Way
The mega-selling follow up to the mega-selling Californication which saw the Frusciante-bolstered line-up deliver their most cohesive album, before the bloated and disjointed Stadium Arcadium ruined their purple patch.
Download one track: Tear

44. Interpol - Antics
Moody basslines, motorik beats and deadpan vocals saw this lot accused of pilfering from Joy Division, before going on to inspire Editors and White Lies to follow suit. Contained more bona-fide hits than their acclaimed first.
Download one track: Evil

43. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
Four twenty-odd minute, vocal-less compositions of breathtaking scope and composition, earning the band's fans post-rock bragging rights at ATP for years to come.
Download one track: The first one (whereas Sigur Ros go for the no title approach, GYBE make them so long they'd take up the whole article!)

42. Cold War Kids - Robbers & Cowards
Christian rockers with a nifty line in family-based, narrative songwriting, evoking misguided but welcome comparisons to the likes of Radiohead.
Download one track: We Used To Vacation

41. Razorlight - Up All Night
A bawdy night out in skinny jeans of an album, whose punk overtones were stripped away by the time Borrell and co regrouped for their commercial breakthrough.
Download one track: Vice

40. Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Ie. the one with Float On. The group's signature tune was one of the best tracks of the decade and the album veered wildly from Tom Waits-style skronking jazz to more streamlined blog-rock, acquiring them the services of one Johnny Marr for their next outing.
Download one track: Float On

39. Tool - Lateralus
Third album of pioneering, sprawlingly-ambitious art-metal from Maynard James Keenan and his motley crew. Opener The Grudge is a rhythmic masterclass in tension and relief.
Download one track: The Grudge

38. Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly - Confessions Of A Bohemian Teenager
The bedroom project of Southend's Sam Duckworth allied laptop beats to Billy Bragg-esque political musings and occasional trumpets, creating a sleeper hit in the process.
Download one track: Call Me Ishmael

37. Sufjan Stevens - Come On Feel the Illinoise
Setting the bar too high for Stevens to ever possibly complete his album for every US state project, this alt-folk meditation on Illinois' history was a wonderful and impeccably-researched patchwork of topics from serial killers to Superman.
Download one track: Chicago

36. Hot Chip - The Warning
Winning second album of ear-worming tunes from the London collective, mixing dancefloor nous with affecting vocals and a great understanding of pop history.
Download one track: Over & Over

35. TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
The Brooklyn art-rockers came up trumps on their second major label album, effortlessly melding the impressive, densely-layered studio trickery of Dave Sitek with the soaring gospel-inflected harmonies of Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe.
Download one track: I Was A Lover

34. Jay-Z - The Blueprint
The then-unknown Kanye West supplied a steady stream of classic soul sampling beats which Jay-Z took to the cleaners with his wit, pathos and massive vocal charisma. Verbally slayed New York rivals Nas and Mobb Deep on the Doors-sampling The Takeover in the process.
Download one track: The Takeover

33. Amy Winehouse - Back To Black
The highest ranking female-fronted album had all the hallmarks of a classic upon release and the three years of tabloid headlines have done little to dim its greatness. Producers Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi recruited The Dap Kings to spice up Amy's torch-song prowess and belting Motown impressions with sharp horn-playing.
Download one track: Love Is A Losing Game

32. The Kooks - Inside In/Inside Out
Massively successful, critically-savaged debut album that fired out a sequnce of lightweight indie-pop smashes along the way which the band proceeded to blow with their massively unsuccessful, critically-savaged second album.
Download one song: Naive

31. The Libertines - Up The Bracket
Ramshackle, vibrant and defiantly English, the combination of Pete Doherty's pre-crack swagger and poetic leanings with Carl Barat's riffs and melodic focus provided one of the most memorable debut albums of the decade.
Download one track: Time For Heroes

30. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Wearing their Ivy League pedigree as a badge of honour, these preppy east coasters assembled an array of instruments to construct this impeccable set of African-influenced power-pop which worships heavily at the altar of Paul Simon's Graceland.
Download one track: Oxford Comma

29. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
The most recent release to grace this list, AC's ninth album saw a pulsing, electronic bounce underpinning the fragments of melodic genius which characterise most of their output. Singles My Girls and Brothersport are notable highlights but opener In The Flowers is key, exploding from Floydian whimsy to a carnivalesque riot, accompanied by one of the most rousing chorus harmonies in recent memory.
Download one track: In The Flowers

28. Kasabian - Kasabian
Lairy, groove-led dynamics from the Leicester band, who claim to be influenced by all manner of obscurist psychedelic rock but still wind up sounding like Primal Scream covering The Stone Roses on every album.
Download one track: Club Foot

27. Radiohead - Kid A
The mother of all sonic u-turns saw these national treasures taking risks and indulging in a boundary-pushing collection which experimented at every turn, inspired by vocalist Thom Yorke's love of avant-electronica mainstays Warp records.
Download one track: Idioteque

26. Wolf Parade - Apologies To the Queen Mary
Lauded by fellow Canucks Arcade Fire and produced by Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock, this debut saw dual-frontmen Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner wailing plaintively over a ruminative, electrical storm of keyboards and drum-heavy tracks.
Download one track: I'll Believe In Anything

25. The White Stripes - Elephant
The primitive, sexually-charged blues-rock that The White Stripes had already been excelling in over the course of their previous three albums bore commercial fruit this time around via the ubiquitous Seven Nation Army and Jack White's howling take on I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself.
Download one track: Seven Nation Army

24. Daft Punk - Discovery
Dispensing of the minimal techno which characterised previous release Homework, these two French maestros replaced this with vocodered vocals and potentially cheesy samples to create a modern disco masterwork.
Download one track: Harder Better Faster Stronger

23. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
With three hit singles which defined the festival season of 2008, MGMT's debut was a woozy trip which arrived fully-formed of melodic prowess and psychedelic aspiration. Best of all is Electric Feel's wonderfully silly lyrics and meshing of the Scissor Sisters and Prince.
Download one track: Electric Feel

22. The Postal Service - Give Up
Sub-Pop's biggest selling album since Nirvana's heyday was a collaboration between Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello, named in honour of the method they used to complete the album. Stand-out Such Great Heights was covered to the delight of soundtrackers and advertising execs everywhere by Iron & Wine.
Download one track: Such Great Heights

21. Sigur Ros - Takk
The Icelandic group's fourth album continued to trade in soaring orchestral magic, embued with a geophysical heartbeat and natural beauty.
Download one track: Hoppipolla

The Top 20 will be published soon. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Keep On Rockin' In The Free Bonkers World - Glastonbury '09 Diary Pt 2 (The Videos)

Just a few snippets of some performances - the camera-work shows why I generally stick to the writing, but worth a look, nonetheless. Ranging from the sublime (Blur's crowd-bolstered performance of 'Tender') to the ridiculous (The newsflash from Shangri-La announcing the assassination of its mayor). Warning: do not attempt anything you see in the Fucked Up video at home. Or anywhere. Can't seem to tag these videos, so from the top they are: Bat For Lashes, Blur - Out Of Time, Blur - Tender, The Boss, Noisy bearded legend, Fucked Up, Jose James and finally, the Shangri-La newsflash.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Keep On Rockin' In The Free Bonkers World - Glastonbury Diary 2009 Pt 1

Since overcoming the latest testing episodes in its near 40 year history, the event formerly known as Pilton Festival and Glastonbury Fayre opened its gates on Wednesday to nearly 200,000 revellers, the highest attendance since the super fence was erected in 2002 to combat mass breaches of the site's perimeter.
The successful new band showcase the Queens Head was moved from its spot by the Other Stage, meaning a hike across the site on Thursday to attempt to see Maximo Park open the festival, which was ultimately unsuccessful due to most of those 200,000 others having the same idea. While energy levels were still at a premium we spent the early evening hopping between tents in the Dance Village, culminating in a surreal episode involving a very, very bad performance by one-time chart-topping soul-pop geezers East (or is it E?) 17 and the wildfire rumours of the untimely demise of a world superstar. Guilty pleasure 'Stay Another Day' took on an eerie quality rather than the joyous, mass sing-along expected. Novelty rave hit 'House Of Love' never appeared to salvage the mood so it was on to the Silent Disco to watch the Kleptones' headline slot.
Constructed in the manner of 2ManyDJs or Girl Talk's eclectic, party-starting mash-ups, the sea of headphones were soon bopping along as Aphex Twin does strange things to Bon Jovi and Phil Collins waxes lyrical over Edwin Starr's 'War'. The best is saved 'til last as 'Rehab', 'Disco Inferno' and 'Toxic' combine for one momentous chorus, inexplicably leading into a rabble-rousing mix of Rage Against The Machine's 'Killing In The Name Of'.
Camping near a massive dome-shaped structure called the 'Bassline Circus' suddenly seemed not such a great idea while trying to get to sleep at 4.30AM, the tent situation made infinitely worse by the early emergence of a burning Avalon sunrise followed by the distant strains of 'Waterloo' being sung by Bjorn Again and a legion of early bird Abba devotees at the Pyramid stage.
No chance of any Abba covers from Canadian anarcho-punks Fucked Up who follow up Mark Ronson-supported Devonians Rumble Strips in the John Peel tent. Singer Pink Eyes (who must be upwards of 20 stone in weight) scales the rigging to deliver 'Twice Born' before launching himself into the crowd for the rest of the performance. The hordes of moshing fans lap it up and afterwards the stage's organiser thanks the security present for their light-handed approach.
The Pyramid stage's special guests turn out to be Pharell Williams and his NERD crew, who work the crowd into hyperactivity with 'Rock Star' and 'Lapdance', and even show a moment of overwhelmed humility while gazing at the sea of bodies watching them. Sadly this doesn't last, as the late start time means the sound is cut before they've finished doing their thing. This provokes Williams to argue "You've all paid 200 dollars to come see NERD" before storming off in a huff.
Luckily, delusions of grandeur and diva antics fail to sully the warm glow that descends across the field as Fleet Foxes reach their first beautifully-realised three part harmony. Unphased by what must be the biggest stage they have played so far, they seem totally relaxed, bantering and talking over each other between tracks. 'White Winter Hymnal' and 'Your Protector' have the crowd singing along, right up to the tree perched at the very back of the field.
The Park stage's secret guests are thankfully not NERD but Dead Weather, Jack White's new play-thing, featuring the sultry Alison Mosshart of The Kills on vocals. Their performance is bluesy and sinister, promising much for the forthcoming album. Jogging back down to the Other Stage means we manage to catch a fair chunk of Friendly Fires' pleasingly danceable, synth-driven indie-pop - the euphoric 'Paris' one of the best crowd pleasers thus far.
Declining the oportunity to witness the year's biggest selling artist (until Jacko overtakes that in about 10 minutes) Lady Gaga "riding a disco stick" we decide to check out Coventry's finest The Specials over on the Pyramid. With collaborator and super-fan Lily Allen bopping to the side of the stage having just completed her own performance, they run through a set chock-full with hits, which resonate in 2009 as strongly as in their Thatcherite birthing period. It's hard to imagine a more uplifting way to put across subject matter of economic decay and civil unrest but boy do they pull it off, 'Ghost Town' soundtracking the sunset and setting the stage for something special to come.
Chosing a headliner to watch on the Friday was the toughest decision of the festival, one of the downfalls of enjoying a wide spectrum of music, but in the end it was no choice really. While there were strong reasons to watch Bloc Party, Doves, Q-Tip, Ray Davies and Animal Collective (though possibly not Jason Mraz), these were ultimately negated by the appearance on the Pyramid Stage of the legendary Neil Young. While his Isle Of Wight appearance had given some clues as to the direction of his set, he is renowned for doing whatever the hell he wants, even if this means touring through the Republican heartlands of America with a setlist including 'Let's Impeach The President' as he did with Crosby, Stills and Nash a couple of years back.
So, instead of fragile, acoustic strummer Neil, we are treated to gnarled, grizzly and cantankerous rocker Neil. 'My My, Hey Hey' opens proceedings in style, while an almost impossibly passionate 'Down By The River' and 'The Needle And The Damage Done' are awe-inspiring. 'Keep On Rockin' In The Free World' sees Young tease the crowd for ten good minutes by constantly pretending each chorus is to be the last before launching back into another. He closes with a fantastic cover of The Beatles' 'A Day In The Life', the finale of which sees him systematically dismantle his guitar while attacking it with vicious abandon. He carefully places the mangled instrument upright which provides a great opportunity for all the keen snappers in the audience.
Buoyed by the classic rock 'n roll stylings of a true great, we head to the Avalon field's Diner for some classic '50s grooves before venturing into the wild and wonderful badlands of Shangri-La and Trash City to honour Neil's sentiments and "keep on rockin'".

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Young Knives go Hoxtonite

Last week I headed over to the impressively intimate Hoxton Bar & Kitchen, scene of Titus Andronicus' wonderful gig earlier in the year, to see the Young Knives ditching larger venues for a bit of face time with the fans. They had some new songs to boot. Check out the full review at

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Contributors Choice: Favourite 20 since 2000

Before I start, I'd like to acknowledge and own up to the sheer nerdiness of compiling lists to compartmentalise (I think that's a word) memories and your favourite things. But, if you must be a nerd, be a rock 'n roll nerd. We're the best kind. John Peel was a rock 'n roll nerd and the best (if not biggest) stage at Glastonbury is named in his honour. Disclaimer finished, I would like to present to you my little piece of history, my favourite 20 albums of the decade:

20. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)
19. Outkast - Stankonia (2000)
18. Radiohead - Kid A (2000)
17. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (2008)
16. Old Crow Medicine Show - Big Iron World (2006)
15. The Libertines - The Libertines (2004)
14. LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver (2006)
13. El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead (2007)
12. White Stripes - White Blood Cells (2001)
11. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)
10. Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (2002)
 9. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm (2005)
 8. Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004)
 7. TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain (2006)
 6. Jay-Z - The Blueprint (2001)
 5. The Strokes - Is This It (2001)
 4. Common - Like Water For Chocolate (2000)
 3. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (2005)
 2. The National - Alligator (2005)
 1. D'Angelo - Voodoo (2000)

Monday, 4 May 2009

Your Threat-makers Need You!

Ten years is a long time in any creative field, but within the musical world it's an eternity. Bands, fashions and even whole genres come and go in a much shorter time-frame. The year 2000 saw Eminem wreaking havoc with his profane provocations while The Strokes were just a twinkle in Rough Trade's eye. Travis and Stereophonics were just beginning to surrender their chart success to Chris Martin's all-conquering behemoths of politeness, Coldplay. Thom Yorke had just begun listening to Aphex Twin and plotting a landscape shift in popular music with the polarising and initially bemusing 'Kid A'. Hell, Pete Doherty probably even had clean fingernails back then. Triple Threat are honouring the 2000s (still can't bring myself to call this decade the 'noughties') with a poll to find out our readers' favourite albums of the past decade. Simply send an email to with your ten favourites and the winners will be announced later in the year.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

A Horror Renaissance?

"Sturgeons Law- which states that ninety percent of everything is crap- needs to be revised to be applicable to the horror genre; the percentage has to be raised." ~ Dean Koontz

The horror film genre has become stale and predictable, with the American release schedule predominantly consisting of lazy sequels and lazier remakes of homegrown and foreign classics. I will highlight the reasons for this decomposition and offer examples of productions that may remedy this decline.

South-East Asian filmmakers, regarded by many as the masters of psychological horror, are experiencing a dry spell. Peaking with films from Japan, such as The Ring (1998) and from South Korea, such as A Tale of Two Sisters (2003); recently directors have relied on their productions being ineffectively remade overseas.
Chan-wook Park’s Thirst (2009). A failed blood transfusion turns a devote Christian into a vampire. Great premise and with the visionary director of Oldboy (2003) at the helm expect a deeply psychological exploration of faith and a diversion from vampire conventions.
Regarding unconventional vampire films, be sure to catch Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In (2008) before it is remade in 2010.
American audiences are lapping up what has contemporarily been labelled the torture-porn genre; a movement originating from films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Barring the ingeniously constructed SAW (2004), torture-porn has had little to offer in terms of psychological depth, instead relying on over-excessive gore and sadism to shock.
Dario Argento’s Giallo (2009). Adrien Brody hunts a maniacal serial killer known as “Yellow”. From the director of the seminal horror Suspiria (1977), expect relentless pacing and evocative imagery.
Horror has begun to consistently parody itself with the Scary Movie (2000-06) franchise, to the point where these takeoffs have become more popular and gross more money than the films they lampoon.
Instead of producing lazy parodies, companies should take a chance with independent filmmakers. Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez’s The Blair Witch Project was the highest grossing film of 1999.
A large percentage of filmmakers choose to establish their careers with the horror genre and there is a misconception that the genre is easy to tackle; that to scare the public is an easy task. Audiences have become desensitised to horror conventions.
Be unconventional: Don’t think horror, think story. The Mexican’s have broken the mould with Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006) and Spanish born Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage (2007). Though not conventional horrors, their films hinge on elements of the genre.
Most of the great examples of horror have come from master filmmakers: Herzog, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Spielberg, Tarkovsky, Scott; to name but a few. Contemporarily, our most celebrated filmmakers have avoided the genre.
Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell (2009). The director of the Evil Dead series returns to his roots. Some critics are already declaring this a classic of the horror genre, though the furore may be an exaggerated backlash from the monotony of substandard examples in 2008.
For experimental horror wait for Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009).
On September 11th 2001, the American population experienced a very real horror; the advent of terrorism may have had a profound affect on the film industry, and in particular, the horror genre.
Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer (2008). Films dealing with dystopian future societies can generate a palpable sense of horror, particularly relevant to modern global deterioration.

Thursday, 2 April 2009


Coming Soon:
Articles on the future of the film industry.
Part One: "Time to Get Serious." A prospective look at the future of animated features.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Crimes of Passion

When you hear the word graffiti you may be forgiven for your negative reaction, but street art has come a long way since being exclusively labelled as vandalism or urban defacement. To acknowledge this transformation The Royal West of England Academy (RWA) has showcased the work of nearly 50 of Bristol’s most celebrated graffiti artists in a six week exhibition.
Graffiti arrived in Bristol in the early 1980’s, as established street artists from New York emigrated. Despite the movement’s infancy, the youth of Bristol quickly embraced both its artistic and political potential and its ability to communicate. Despite graffiti remaining a standardised pastime for vandals and antisocialists; artists such as Bristol born Banksy have received international recognition and his pieces not only connect with the political landscape he belongs to, but sell for thousands of pounds.
The RWA’s mid-nineteenth century building has not only displays of the artists’ stretching canvasses and 3D installations, but has allowed them to paint straight onto the walls. The effect is striking, with some pieces covering whole sections of plaster; infused with flamboyant shapes and luminescent colours. Many of the Bristol based artists successfully maintain a living through their art and some are internationally renowned; regularly working in America and Japan. The influence of Los Angeles and Tokyo can be seen throughout the exhibition; from gritty social observations to colourful stylised cityscapes.
Despite some pieces exploring disturbing subjects; there is always vibrancy to the art; it leaps from the canvas and never fails to engage. Much of the art remains founded in its grassroots of tagging names from elaborately designed characters, but there are also examples that could easily be defined as ‘illustration’ or ‘fine art’. It is clear when moving though the galleries that many of the artists are expert draftsmen, demonstrating precise drawing abilities as well as a keen judgement of colour arrangements. Some works are startlingly inventive; achieving an animated and dramatic expression.
Despite the variety of exhibited art, some designs fall into the category of traditional graffiti and those pieces have less personal appeal. They feel a little immature amongst examples attempting to push the art form forward.
I believe the exhibition will engage people from all walks of life and all age groups. Street art has matured in the public eye and Bristol has gained a positive reputation from negative beginnings; indeed, Bristol’s graffiti artists should hold their spray-cans high.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Animal Collective Live Review

Last week, the newly titled HMV Forum played host to one of the most anticipated London gigs of the year. Following their sold-out January date and giddy admiration all round for their recent 'Merriweather Post Pavillion' album and ecstatic live form, Maryland's Animal Collective were back in town. Read all about it over at the (also newly titled) Artrocker TV site:

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Resident Evil 5 Review

Following the success of Resident Evil 4; arguably one of the greatest games ever made, I had high hopes for the latest addition to a celebrated series.
From the opening credits to the first movements, what becomes starkly clear is that ‘this feels a little familiar’.
Part narration, part play, time is divided between teaching my co-op buddy (a Gears of War fanatic who is unfamilar with the series) the controls; the best way to kill zombies; the boxes you can break; combing for herbs; selling treasures etc etc.
Early on, some tension is present, mainly from the slightly dated controls. Not having the ability to move whilst shooting leads to a number of frustrated cries; while I’m trying to justify that it ‘builds tension’. The control system is both Resident Evil 5's greatest triumph and its biggest failure: a conflict perfectly demonstrated through Cooperative play.
When it triumphs, the pieces all fall into place. A great example is a stage where you and your partner have to flick two different switches, which trigger two chainsaw wielding maniacs wearing bulging fly-infested sack-clothes for hats. The desperate running and dodging that follows leads to a brilliant moment where I’m being chased by both of them around a gas cylinder; my partner frantically trying to place a well aimed sniper shot. It brilliantly infuses comedy and fear, something that very few games can ever boast.
When it fails, it’s nothing but sheer frustration. Evidence of its flaws occur on a number of occasions, especially in areas where there is little room to manoeuvre. One low point arrived jogging (there is no sprint) down a narrow corridor, towards an open elevator, being chased by an army of Lickers (the games toughest and most annoying enemies). Trying to reload; heal yourself; save your partner from instant death and press the lift is a juggling nightmare, and grinds against the generally smooth flow of the game as a whole.
In terms of setting, it’s the more expansive, open-world environments that really work. One of the games highlights is a stage set in an underground Aztec Kingdom. The objective is to take different routes to acquire different items and pull different switches, before taking on a boss. The freedom given allows for a variety of tactics to be used and is an absolute triumph. The opportunity to navigate different paths is not explored enough due to the linear design of many of the stages and their environments. Eventually both players are going to have to leave through the same door.
Playing through the game in single-player is an adequate experience, but the loss of comradeship is never too distant from memory; especially on parts where you are divided from each other or they die un-ceremonially as you dash for a door, only to find them being mauled by the last remaining Licker they failed to kill. It feels like something is missing, and although it is manageable, it doesn’t feel like you’re playing the game the way it should be played.
The sense of sharing the experience with a good friend is clearly enough to take this pure action B movie to its finale, especially when the final boss is simply epic. The story is tight; if not a little déjà vu inducing and the settings are memorable; especially the Aztec Kingdom and slightly controversial tribe hut villages around a lake (but hey, its fiction right?). Overall, Resident Evil 5 a good game, however only with the addition of its Co-op mode does it reach moments of greatness. It’s the joy of playing a game where constant communication is essential; where tactical discussion is key and the triumph of beating difficult stages and bosses is enhanced through teamwork.
I must say that there will always be a part of me that feels I should have just given my mate a copy of Resident Evil 4 to play through instead.

by Liam Hocking

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Unconventionals

Chan-wook Park: Thirst
The director's dark revenge trilogy of Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance were astonishing examples of the noir thriller. Now the Korean film-maker is exploring the subject of vampires. Following the release of the beautiful Swedish film; Let The Right One In, I have high hopes for Park's foray into the horror genre.

Richard Linklater: Me and Orson Welles
1937, and a young Orson Welles is directing the theatre production of Julius Caesar. Linklater always understands characters and insists on naturalistic performances. Christian McKay is a revelation as Welles and Zac Efron, away from his High School Musical noose, gives a mature performance. The production should also be commended for convincingly portraying 30's America.

James Cameron: Avatar
Combining a titanic (sorry) budget and revolutionary special effects, Avatar looks set to be revelatory. Given Cameron's science-fiction pedigree, at the very least this film should be a mammoth spectacle.

Pixar: UP
Following the magnificent Wall E, Pixar are tackling a decidedly more human story. The elderly protagonist is a first, but as demonstrated in Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, an aged character works as well as a teenager. Press screenings indicate that Pixar's standards are ever-increasing.

Nicolas Winding Refn: Bronson
Tagged as the Clockwork Orange of the 21st Century, the films cinematography is striking and Tom Hardy, as the titular lead, gives an electrifying performance.

Alex Rivera: Sleep Dealer
Made with a low budget, the film is a disturbing distopian vision of future technologies and social reliance.

Shane Meadows: Somers Town
The flag bearer for British independent film-making, Meadows' latest should be another stark but creative exploration of life in suburban England.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Top 100 Hip-Hop Tracks Of All Time

What follows is the culmination of 15 years’ work, if it can be referred to as such. A lot of time, money and love has gone into the composing of this list, which started out as a Top 50 until I realised there was no possible way that I could cut any of these tracks. So without further ado, here are my Top 100 hip-hop tracks:
100. I Got 5 On It - LunizA nostalgic choice - one of my first CD singles - a summer ode to mary jane.
99. Overnight - Hudson MohawkeThe most recent addition, the Glasgow beatsmith’s club-ready fractured instrumental which just edges out label-mate Flying Lotus’ ‘Massage Situation’.
98. Live At The BBQ - Main SourceA consummate posse cut, featuring the then unknown Nasir Jones AKA Nas.
97. Holla If Ya Hear Me - 2PacThe perfect distillation of Tupac Shakur’s fury, swagger and street insight.
96. Down With The King - Run DMC/Pete Rock & CL SmoothA leg-up for past masters courtesy of the mid ‘90’s most in-demand beat-maker
95. Thuggish Ruggish Bone - Bone Thugs N HarmonyCleveland’s finest announced their arrival with this truly unique gem. Just don’t mention Blazin’ Squad.
94. The Man To Praise - Percee PNew York old-school mainstay takes a lap of honour with help from Madlib.
93. Concrete Schoolyard - Jurassic 5Warm, witty childhood reminiscences from the old-school throwbacks.
92. Get Ur Freak On - Missy ElliottTimbaland’s finest ever production and a visionary megastar at the top of her game.
91. The Scenic Route - PanaceaDaisy age throwback from the reformed Rawkus label, with buttery flows and melodic beats.
90. Mice In The Presence Of The Lion - HardnoiseA nod to the UK scene of the ‘80s, which spawned other luminaries such as the London Posse and Hijack.
89. Regulate - Warren G/Nate Dogg“It was a clear black night, a clear white moon”.88. Nobody Beats The Biz - Biz MarkieOften derided as comedy-rap, Biz was also responsible for some of the genre’s most influential novelty classics. Ask Rahzel.
87. Bump - Spank RockFilthy, funny and funky, mostly courtesy of Amanda Blank’s scene-stealing last verse.
86. Workinonit - Jay Dee/J DillaThe late, great producer’s ‘Donuts’ was a visionary suggestion of future routes for hip-hop.
85. Livin’ Proof - Group HomeStark New York boom-bap, with the trademark Premier cuts.
84. 99 Problems - Jay-ZRick Rubin-bolstered flossing from one of the greatest.
83. Nothing In Particular - The BrotherhoodLittle known gem from the solitary album (5* in Hip Hop Connection) by the UK’s Shylock, Spyce and Mr Dexter.
82. Children’s Story - Slick RickWimbledon’s finest at his very best. No Slick Rick, no Snoop.
81. The Corner - Common/Last PoetsKanye West’s finest moment behind the boards, as Common ropes in the venerable Last Poets to pay tribute to a cornerstone (pardon the pun) of ghetto life.
80. Raw - Big Daddy KanePure lyrical skills from one of the sharpest rhyme-writers to pick up the pen.
79. You Got Me - The Roots/Erykah BaduThe wonderful, Jill Scott-penned hook and ?uestlove’s drum n’ bass breakdown made this one of the Philly crew’s best.
78. All That I Got Is You - Ghostface KillahHeartfelt, childhood ode to poverty and love by the otherwise seemingly Neanderthal Wu-Tang Clansman.
77. Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme - EdanGeeky, fan-boy tribute to his predecessors from hip-hop scholar Edan.
76. Grindin’ - ClipseMinimal production genius from Pharrell underpins his two protégé’s street smart hustle.
75. South Bronx - BDPFierce defence of hip-hop’s geographical origins from the Boogie Down’s most famous team KRS One and Scott La Rock.
74. The Militia - Gangstarr/Big Shug/Freddie FoxxxA powerhouse collaboration, made all the more memorable by Freddie Foxxx’s frankly terrifying final verse.
73. Rappers Delight - Sugarhill GangThe first hip-hop track? A dubious claim perhaps, but one of the most iconic, infectious ditties ever committed to wax.
72. Run The Line - Peanut Butter Wolf/Rasco/Q-BertStones Throw Records’ first breakthrough, initiated by label founder and vinyl junkie PBW, backed by razor-sharp beats and rhymes.
71. Talk Like Sex - Kool G RapMisogynistic to the extreme, G Rap’s filth-fest goes all-out to offend but maintains a sense of humour. Sample lyric: “Time or place don’t matter to me sweetie, I’ll fuck you on a (sic) A-train while I write graffiti”.
70. Award Tour - A Tribe Called QuestOne of Q-Tip and co’s finest, boasting a fabulous intro and hefty beat.
69. My Mind’s Playin’ Tricks On Me - Geto BoysAffecting study of urban paranoia from Houston’s Geto Boys.
68. Resurrection - Common SenseBefore he lost the ‘Sense’, Chicago’s dazzling MC laureate crafted the visionary album ‘ Resurrection’. It’s title track still sounds astonishing.
67. Fix Up Look Sharp - Dizzee RascalA colossal beat and Dizzee’s irrepressible rhyme style combine to create one of the UK scene’s biggest crossover hits.
66. Drop - The PharcydeBoasting one of J Dilla’s greatest beats and a fantastic, boundary-pushing video from Spike Jonze, these LA stoners came up with another winner in ‘95.
65. Over The Counter - Madlib/Talib KweliInsanely talented leftfield pairing with a scorching beat and bassline providing the platform for Kweli to deliver one of his best verses.
64. It Was A Good Day - Ice CubeBefore the dismal film career got in the way, Cube was a great documenter of life in the hood and its ups and downs, as this warm track shows.
63. Sucker MCs - Run DMCOft-quoted first release from hip-hop’s first megastars.
62. Real Estate - Blak TwangFrom the ill-fated holy grail of UK hip-hop, Taipanic’s ‘Dettwork South East’ came this stark depiction of life on the Tanners Hill estate in SE8, filtering Nas’ ghetto narratives through a British lens.
61. Bring The Noise - Public Enemy“Yeeeaaah booooooy”.
60. Bucky Done Gun - MIAA straight lift of Deise Tigrona’s Brazilian baile funk classic ‘Injecao’, supplied by MIA’s producer Diplo.
59. Juicy - Notorious BIGBIG’s rags to riches tale was recently the subject of a Hollywood movie. Here, he tells it in his own words.
58. Shimmy Shimmy Ya - Ol’ Dirty BastardThe late, great ODB, the Wu-Tang’s loose cannon with a crazy, deranged classic.
57. Devil’s Son - Big LDevilish by name and nature, Big L’s first single packed in the punch-lines.
56. Fuck The Police - Jay Dee/J DillaOne of the greatest producers and possibly the most loved and eulogised artist no longer with us.
55. Cell Therapy - Goodie MobBefore Cee-Lo Green became synonymous with Gnarls Barkley he was a founder member of the unique and trail-blazing Goodie Mob, always in Outkast’s shadow but creators of this classic.
54. Eye Know - De La SoulThe archetypal daisy age track. Peace and love hadn’t sounded so good since the ‘60s.
53. Planet Rock - Afrika Bambaata & The Soul Sonic ForceIgnoring its featuring in any film scene involving break-dancing, this early electro classic paved the way for a huge amount of subsequent dance-floor fillers.
52. Microphone Fiend - Eric B & RakimWhen I interviewed Blak Twang back in 2003, he told me that it was this track which first inspired him to become a rapper. It’s not hard to see why.
51. Top Billin’ - Audio TwoProbably the most simplistic beat and rhyme scheme of any hip-hop track, but somehow still sounds glorious.
50. Fortified Live - Reflection Eternal/Mos Def/Mr ManThe centre-point of Rawkus’ underground classic ‘Soundbombing’, with Kweli and Mos Def showing why they were heralded as saviours of alternative hip-hop.
49. Sound Of Da Police - KRS OneDamning indictment of New York’s finest from KRS with its iconic “woop woop” chorus and Jamaican-style toasting.
48. Bullet In The Head - Rage Against The MachineTry telling Zach De La Rocha he’s not in a hip-hop band. That dude is angry.
47. Braggin’ Writes - J-LiveBewildering rhyme skills from an unsung maestro of the art-form.
46. What’s My Name - Snoop Doggy DoggIf only for the hilarity of Snoop performing it at Live 8 and getting the broadcasters in all kinds of trouble for his judicious use of ‘fruity’ language.
45. The Seed (2.0) - The Roots/Cody ChestnuttA spruce-up of Cody’s bizarre, funky-as-hell ode to procreation performed by the legendary Roots crew.
44. Dettwork South East - Blak TwangThe London anthem to end them all, edging out London Posse’s ‘How’s Life In London?’.
43. I Know You Got Soul - Eric B & RakimProbably the most-quoted track in hip-hop history, its Bobby Byrd sample creating the canvas for Rakim to create pure verbal art.
42. Welcome To The Terrordome - Public EnemyAn exhausting barrage of samples and ideas courtesy of the Bomb Squad, the co-operative production geniuses behind PE’s ‘Fear Of A Black Planet’.
41. Rock The Bells - LL Cool JIt’s hard to believe now, given the god-awful loverman schtick LL has been dining out on since 1990, but once he was the greatest battle rapper alive. This track is testament to those days.
40. Straight Outta Compton - NWABirthed ‘gangsta rap’ in the public consciousness and showed the breathtaking capabilities of a fired-up Ice Cube.
39. Ego Trippin’ - Ultramagnetic McsFrom the ‘88 classic ‘Critical Beatdown’ came this swaggering, old-school stormer.
38. Unbelievable - Notorious BIGOne of DJ Premier’s best productions and a cheeky R Kelly vocal sample on the hook gave Biggie all the ammo he needed to get busy.
37. The Takeover - Jay-ZFrom Jay-Z’s finest hour ‘The Blueprint’, this Doors-sampling put-down of Nas and Mobb Deep showcased a masterful MC at his most cutting.
36. Scenario - A Tribe Called Quest/Leaders Of The New SchoolIntroduced to the world a young Busta Rhymes, whose brilliant, bonkers verse stole the show and made him the household name he is today.
35. Bang Your Head - GravediggazWu-Tang spin-off project from leader The RZA which featured this astonishing adrenaline shot, characterised by screaming, bowel-shaking bass and OTT performances all round.
34. Liquid Swords - Genius/GZAAn unlikely dalliance with ska, showing the Wu-Tang have a knack for finding great source material, regardless of the genre.
33. The Message - Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5Took hip-hop out of the clubs and on to the street. Melle Mel’s social commentary engaging the fledgling movement with the problems at the core of its communities. There was no turning back from here.
32. Eric B Is President - Eric B & RakimFrom Eric B & Rakim’s stellar debut ‘Paid In Full’, which is basically the key text for any aspirant MC.
31. End To End Burners - Company FlowFiercely underground crew expressing their love for the train carriage graffiti ‘burners’ which popped up all over New York in the early ‘80s.
30. Shake Your Rump - Beastie BoysFrom the Beastie’s wonderful ‘Paul’s Boutique’ album, which with help from the Dust Brothers, revolutionised the world of sampling.
29. The Light - CommonA love song every bit as beautiful as those of the Motown greats. Reputedly inspired by Erykah Badu, the muse of choice for boho hip-hoppers the world over.
28. Lady Don’t Tek No - LatyrxAn irresistible invitation to indulge dance-floor desires by bay area legends Lyrics Born and Lateef. Along with DJ Shadow and Blackalicious they formed the highly reputable Solesides collective.
27. Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park) - Nas“Sentence begins indented, with formality. Moderations infinite, money-wise or physiology. Poetry, that’s a part of me.”
26. Organ Donor - DJ ShadowThe highest ranking instrumental track, from Shadow’s epoch-making opus ‘Endtroducing’.
25. Witness (One Hope) - Roots ManuvaThe highest-ranking UK track, by the brilliant Rodney Smith. A timely reminder of the capabilities of home-grown talent in a US-dominated industry.
24. Nuthin’ But A G Thang - Dr Dre/Snoop Doggy DoggG-funk’s finest hour, the high-pitched synths and laconic drums of Dre’s early ‘90s creations were showcased brilliantly here while a young MC with a sing-song drawl and laid-back delivery announced his arrival to the world.
23. Hip-Hop - Dead PrezFurious political polemic from MC’s Stic Man and M1, backed up by what could possibly be the heaviest bassline ever committed to wax.
22. Patriotism - Company FlowAnother onslaught of politics, delivered with a sarcastic scowl by El-P and Big Juss and backed by the dense production style which characterised El-P’s beats and made him one of the most challenging producers since the Bomb Squad.
21. Alphabet Aerobics - BlackaliciousA harmless bit of showboating here, as Gift Of Gab pulls out his party piece verbal work-out over a quickening beat. I want to find a karaoke bar who will let me attempt a version.
20. Ms Jackson - OutkastOutkast’s heartfelt apology to a certain “baby momma’s momma” with Andre 3000 showing his wonderful knack for composing choruses which embed themselves in your brain, never to leave.
19. Passin’ Me By - The PharcydeA breath of fresh air in ‘92, these LA oddballs were self-deprecating, funny and shy. This break-through track heralded the arrival of a west coast counter-point to the macho tales of guns and gangs which characterised the city‘s output at the time.
18. Stan - EminemHell, even the Dido sample worked on this truly unique work by one of hip-hop’s all-time biggest stars. The form and structure of this track is where its genius lies, Eminem skewering conventional wisdom with a seven minute epic told from the perspective of a deranged fan. It almost topped the UK Christmas chart, too.
17. ‘93 ‘Til Infinity - Souls Of MischiefSimilarly to J5’s ‘Concrete Schoolyard’, Souls Of Mischief reminisce beautifully on this all-time classic from the year of its title.
16. Come Clean - Jeru Tha DamajaDJ Premier at the height of his powers blessed his protégé with a beat that’s as close to perfect as any on this list.
15. The Headbanger - EPMDThe finest example of the posse cut, with great turns from Erick Sermon, Parrish Smith and K-Solo before Redman turns up with his characteristic zany style and walks away with the plaudits. The beat is like a shot of pure adrenaline, too.
14. Fight The Power - Public EnemyChuck D lays into some holy cows on this 1989 classic from Spike Lee’s seminal ‘Do The Right Thing’. Elvis and John Wayne get it in the neck as Chuck vents his righteous fury over a deluge of samples.
13. Shook Ones Pt 2 - Mobb DeepCold-as-ice self-produced street smarts form Mobb Deep’s Havoc and Prodigy who continued the chronicles of the 41st Side Queensbridge projects started by neighbour Nas, but imbued them with chilling menace and ill-intent.
12. Mama Said Knock You Out - LL Cool J“Don’t call it a comeback!”
11. CREAM (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) - Wu-Tang ClanThe hauntingly beautiful piano sample frames Inspectah Deck and Raekwon’s tales of the hard-knock life. From a damn-near perfect debut LP, this was undeniably one of its most special moments.
10. Work The Angles - Dilated PeoplesTextbook underground hip-hop with dextrous cutting, pounding beats and insightful MCs. Everything about this track is executed so clinically it could have been fashioned by robots.
9. 8 Pt Agenda - The Herbaliser/LatyrxNinja Tune’s Herbaliser may not have been a name you’d expect to see on this list, their usual stock in trade being chilled-out beats for smoking to. However, on this rare nugget, they enlist Latyrx to school all the fakers out there with their inventive manifesto, filled with pearls like “We don’t believe in other people stealing the ideas that our cerebrums cultivate and create. Make no mistake”.
8. Mass Appeal - GangstarrWhile ‘Unbelievable’ may be close and ‘Come Clean’ equally pulls no punches, DJ Premier saved his greatest sonic creation for his day job. The sample is amazingly simple and the scratching akin to a manual for aspirant turntable wizards. Guru, as always, allows his monotone flow to complete the tripartite wonder that is ‘Mass Appeal’.
7. Life’s A Bitch - Nas/AZA stunning evocation of impending manhood and coming of age from arguably the greatest hip-hop album ever recorded, Nas’ ‘Illmatic’. “I work up early on my born day. I’m 20, it’s a blessing, the essence of adolescence leaves my body, now I’m freshened.”
6. Method Man - Wu-Tang ClanGuru once noted that the key to being a great MC is “mostly the voice”. Method Man definitely fits into this category of great MC, he could literally say anything and it would sound amazing. Again, not convinced by the acting career, however.
5. Nature Of The Threat - Ras KassFrom the underground classic ‘Soul On Ice’, ‘Nature Of The Threat’ is that distinctly un-radio friendly concept, the eight minute dissection of the shameful history of western civilization, set to music. Citing Schopenhauer amongst others, Ras Kass’s academic bombardment both shocks and inspires, in equal measures.
4. TROY (They Reminisce Over You) - Pete Rock & CL SmoothA masterfully-placed horn sample dominates this layered, indelible track by the third of ‘90s hip-hop’s acknowleged masters, after Premier and The RZA. The heartfelt lyrics obliquely pay tribute to a deceased friend, Trouble T-Roy of Heavy D & The Boys.
3. My Melody - Eric B & RakimAnother selection from ‘Paid In Full’, elevated to a much-higher placing than ‘I Know You Got Soul’ and ‘Eric B Is President’ by virtue of Rakim’s incredible third verse, which may well be the best ever laid down.
2. Respiration - Blackstar/CommonAlthough Talib Kweli might have something to say about that. His contribution to this conceptual track about the breathing city boasts line after line of poetic majesty, out-stripping excellent contributions from Mos Def and Common. “Look in the skies for God, what you’ll see besides smog is broken dreams flying away on the wings of the obscene”.
1. Rebel Without A Pause - Public EnemyTopping the poll is this tour-de-force from possibly the most important act of the 1980s. A screeching, insistent siren leaps out from the Bomb Squad’s dense, noisy squall of a track, while Chuck D’s righteous fury inspires and hits like a battering ram. There’s been nothing like it before or since. All the other elements which made PE such a vital group - Flava Flav’s comic relief, Terminator X’s signature scratch - are present and correct and play their part to perfection.
The Top 100

Rich's 300 Word Reviews

Gake no ue no Ponyo (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea)
Dir: Hayao Miyazaki

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (Jap 2008) is the latest animated feature by the revered director Hayao Miyazaki. As with the majority of his films, the auteur took the roles of screenwriter and lead animator, as well as director.
The film is essentially an exploration of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, where a 5 year-old boy discovers a goldfish of royal descent who wants to be a human. But that’s where similarities with Anderson’s fable end: As with many of Miyazaki’s features, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea becomes a parable on modern Japan and the countries isolation from values and customs it upheld in the past. Beginning with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), through to My Neighbour Totoro (1988) and on to Princess Mononoke (1997), the filmmaker has always explored Japan’s disregard for its environment.
Dispite his moral piety, Miyazaki is careful not to alienate his audience and he gives his characters and their surroundings remarkable depth; adding layer after layer of imaginative detail to every cell of animation. Miyazaki creates his films to be accessible to both children and adults and refuses to patronise either.
The soundtrack by the director’s longterm collaborator Joe Hisaishi is a sweeping orchestral piece that never distracts us from the images onscreen.
Although arguably lacking the originality or clear voice of his much cherished My Neighbour Totoro, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is a welcome addition to Miyazaki’s sociological catalogue.
Since 2001, when Spirited Away took the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, the West has begun to take notice. Even John Lasseter; head of Pixar Studios and dedicated admirer of Miyazaki’s work is beginning to pay homage. One wonders if Wall E (2008) would have been conceived if it were not for Miyazaki.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Rich's 300 Word Reviews

Watchmen (2009)
Dir: Zack Snyder

Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel (one of the Times’ top 100 novels of the 20th Century), about a historically alternative America, whose society is altered incomprehensively with the arrival of super being Dr. Manhattan, is a bold, but inconsistent production.
Moore’s philosophical machinations on a dystopian America are preserved, while Snyder implements his particular style of filmmaking; demonstrated in previous feature, 300 (2006). And style is something Watchmen exudes; the soundtrack, which includes songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Nat King Cole and Jimi Hendrix, complements the frequently switching time periods and anarchic onscreen action. The cinematography is saturated with Snyder’s trademark slow-motion camerawork and displays of graphic violence, which add visual flair, but distract from the sombre observations on a nihilistic culture.
The performances mainly convince. The narrator; Rorschach, is handled expressively by Jackie Earle Hayley, whose portrayal imbues the character with the perfect imbalance between compassion and psychosis. Dr. Manhattan is sensitively portrayed by Billy Crudup. The actor manages to earn empathy from the audience through a character who is fundamentally detached from the human condition. The representations of the remaining Watchmen could have easily drifted into parody, but the cast manage to give their characters distinct personalities and psychological depth.
Watchmen was regarded by many to be unfilmable, but some striking productions have evolved from such a challenge; such as Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003).
While Snyder’s film may not be recognised as a classic of the science-fiction genre alongside other contemporaries such as Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and more recently The Matrix (1999), it will hold a place in the creative landscape due to its revered source material.
Other films in a similar vein include V for Vendetta and Sin City, both released in 2005.

Rich's 300 Word Reviews

Let the Right One in (2008)
Dir: Tomas Alfredson

Recently, the vampire genre has become staler than garlic bread left overnight.
Underworld (2003), Van Helsing (2004) and Twilight (2008): Conventional, stereotypical and safe.
Let the Right One in (2008), directed by Tomas Alfredson is a contemporary vampire film set in the director’s homeland of Sweden.
The film focuses on the relationship between severely bullied twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), and Eli (Lina Leandersson); a peculiar girl who moves into the apartment next door and turns out to be a 200 year-old bloodsucker.
Alfredson’s film uses beautifully stark and restrained cinematography to represent an isolated, snow covered Sweden, contrasting dramatically with the lashings of blood following Eli’s feeding habits. The score also manages to evoke the barren landscape and the remoteness between the film’s characters.
The script by John Ajvide Lindqvist, adapted from his original novel, is minimalist and poignant, complementing the film’s backdrop and unsettling themes. From a director’s point-of-view, Alfredson is not afraid to slow the pace down, lingering on scenes that develop Oskar and Eli’s connection.
The film succeeds through its ability to disturb and shock, without using established horror conventions, such as an over-reliance on gore, erratic camerawork and molevelent sexualised characters. Instead, the film’s intensity builds through elements suggested rather than shown, such as Eli’s conflicting otherworldly nature and her unhealthy relationship with Oskar.
The performances by the principle leads are mesmerising. Hadebrant portrays Oskar sensitively and subtly, delivering fear and love with equal conviction. Leandersson has a unique physicality; her strikingly androgynous features and figure lend a sinister quality to Eli.
This is a welcome addition to a tired genre, proving that well-trodden paths can still be re-laid. It should be recommended to all followers of horror or World Cinema.
Other films in a similar vein include Shadow of the Vampire (2000) and Martin (1977).
Trailer @

Rich's Top 20 Mixed Genre Games

I recently compiled a list of my top twenty games spanning the range of genres. A few choices are nostalgic, but remain superbly crafted examples of the media.

Top 20 Mixed Genre Games

1) Street Fighter II: Turbo (Arcade)
King of brawlers, only the most dedicated players could perfect its honed systems, until it became a virtual art form. Street Fighter IV may eventually steal its crown, but not yet. Preferred over Soul Calibur’s and Super Smash Bros’ button mashing.
2) Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
A majestic videogame, practically flawless, barring a semi-conventional storyline. Preferred over A Link to the Past’s devious puzzles and Okami’s calligraphic wonder.
3) Baldur’s Gate II: The Shadows of Amn (PC)
Epic in scope, with an excellent storyline and fully interactive characters. Roleplaying’s pinnacle. Preferred over the original and Planescape Torment.
4) Super Mario 64 (N64)
Nightmarishly addictive, with ingenious platforming puzzles. The first time Mario turned three-dimensional. Preferred over other incarnations such as Super Mario World and Allstars.
5) Goldeneye (N64)
Superbly crafted shooter. Solid single player story, but it excelled in multiplayer. No first person shooter has bettered it. Preferred over Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Doom and Half Life 2.
6) Resident Evil 4 (Gamecube)
The pick of a great series with fantastic physics and a tightened control system. Arguably moved away from its survival horror roots, but managed to reignite a flaccid franchise. Preferred over the Silent Hill series.
7) Championship Manager 3 (PC)
Uber detailed and addictive simulator. Preferred over the The Sims and Theme Park.
8) Day of the Tentacle (PC)
Best point and click adventure from a fabulous stock of LucasArts games. Combined surrealist humour with a roster of charming characters. Preferred over the Monkey Island series, the Broken Sword series and Grim Fandango.
9) Mario Kart 64 (N64)
All about the multiplayer, just so much fun! Preferred over the SNES version, Wipeout, F Zero and all driving simulators.
10) Shenmue (Dreamcast)
A story driven masterpiece, with incredible character exploration and dialogue. The way games are heading. The button sensitive combat is a flaw, but why complain, when the game contains a full edition of Space Harrier. Preferred over Fable II.
11) Star Wars: Tie Fighter (PC)
Superbly atmospheric flight simulator, evoking the vast Star Wars universe. Preferred over others in series and all flight simulators.
12) The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (Xbox 360)
Epic RPG with specific first person perspective interaction. Ingenious Guild quests and dialogue strings overshadowed a distinctly average storyline. Preferred over Ultima Underworld and Thief: the Dark Project.
13) Turtles: The Arcade Game (Arcade)
Fabulous arcade scroller, taking full advantage of the TMNT licence. Playable with four players. Preferred over X Men: The Arcade Game and Golden Axe.
14) God of War II (PlayStation 2)
Greatest action game ever created. Sublimely detailed graphical flourishes, beautifully modelled enemies and relentlessly paced. God of War III may trump it. Preferred over Tomb Raider.
15) Diablo (PC)
Amazing hack and slash fantasy establishing the foundations of World of Warcraft. Brilliant design and perfectly balanced difficulty curve. Preferred over all imitators.
16) Streets of Rage II (Megadrive)
Side-scrolling heaven. Typified the Sega Megadrive, with catchy music, a steep difficulty curve and excessive violence. Preferred over Double Dragon and Final Fight.
17) Command & Conquer: Red Alert (PC)
Pinnacle of strategy games. Great units to command and varied missions. Preferred over Cannon Fodder, Age of Empires and Starcraft.
18) Final Fantasy X (PlayStation 2)
The complete J-RPG package. Random map battles are a sore point. Preferred over Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy VII (yes, I know! Blasphemy).
19) Wonder Boy (Arcade)
Nostalgic masterpiece, simplistic, but packed with charm and imagination. Appeared childish, but disguised a devilishly tough game. Preferred over Shinobi and the Alex Kid series.
20) Deus Ex (PC)
Deep first person shooter/RPG, paved the way for augmenting characters and the later success of Bioshock.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Web Watch - Daytrotter Sessions

Anyone with even a passing interest in contemporary North American music in its myriad forms - from acoustic guitar wielding folksy troubadours to lavish preppy pop or raging, bile-spraying punk - should have a look at the amazing Daytrotter Sessions website. The premise is simple - invite band to studio, record few tracks, put them on web for general consumption. The genius of the site is in its subtleties - the quirky illustrations of each band, the tangential musings of the narrator and the features. Even Pitchfork will be quaking in their boots at the labyrinthine prospect of a writer documenting a WHOLE WEEK of listening to an album, day by day. The sessions are extensive, as a new one is updated pretty much every day. So here is a quick run-down of some recent highlights:

Princeton Ivy League indie band with an ear for a pop hook, cue 'This Year's Vampire Weekend' heraldings.

The Acorn Last seen supporting Fleet Foxes on a series of sold-out dates across Europe, these fellow Bella Union signings have a similarly captivating style, particularly on the amazing 'Hold Your Breath'.

Cold War Kids Big news in 2007, have they succumbed to the sophomore slump? Not on the evidence of the excellent 'Something Is Not Right With Me'.

The site is excellent for discovering new bands, but also great for getting free exlusives by more established acts such as Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, The National, Two Gallants, The Ting Tings(?) and Vampire Weekend (also known as 'Last Year's Vampire Weekend And This Year's As Well').