10 Tracks on Repeat:
1. Spells by Backxwash (2020)- A fast-paced, spooky and downright catchy experimental hip-hop meets horrorcore number off the female rapper’s menacingly engaging new LP God Has Nothing to Do With It Leave Him Out of It.
2. Grounds by IDLES (2020)- I doubt an album announcement in 2020 has got me as excited as the news that the politically driven British punk rockers known as IDLES would be releasing their third LP, Ultra Mono, including a more artsy yet crushingly loud single called Grounds, complete with some typically heavy instrumentation and an aggressive yet rousing vocal performance from front-man Joe Talbot.
3. Wish by Cymbals Eat Guitars (2016)- The original band of indie singer-songwriter Joseph D’Agostino (who is the mind behind Empty Country, a project who’s debut record is a definite highlight of the year so far), the band had many tracks such as Wish up their sleeves, a loud, messing yet undeniably catchy banger overflowing with plenty of emotion.
4. Dawn Chorus by Thom Yorke (2019)- Though last year’s solo release from Radiohead front-man Thom Yorke wasn’t a significant step in a new direction for the musician, Anima has some of his best-written material to date, with the formless, dreamy, seemingly bitter-sweet Dawn Chorus serving as an excellent example of this.
5. Soul Alphabet by Colleen (2015)- Shown to me by a friend, Soul Alphabet is an absolute gem of a song, built upon acoustic instrumentation and moving at the perfect pace for it to become totally hypnotic and addictive.
6. Degausser by Brand New (2006)- Brand New lead singer Jesse Lacey is a man who has carried a lot of guilt around him and seemingly always trying to escape his past, which managed to catch up with him in 2017 when he confirmed allegations of grooming and sexual harassment against him were true. This has rendered a lot of Brand New’s music difficult to stomach, with the emotion on display at times unbearable. However, many songs, such as the powerful Degausser, remain emo classics to this day.
7. Am I In Heaven? by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (2014)- Probably my favourite King Gizz song, this seven-minute psychedelic epic is the perfect example of just how good this Australian band can get.
8. Buggin’ Out by A Tribe Called Quest (1991)- Found of Low End Theory, which is quite possibly the best album of the 1990s, Buggin’ Out is a jazzy, catchy East Coast hip-hop anthem and a perfectly uplifting song for these tough times.
9. Place to Be by Nick Drake (1972)- A profoundly impactful yet hauntingly simple acoustic ballad, Nick Drake constructed an album’s worth of songs like Place to Be on Pink Moon, a record’s whose tragedy is only made sadder with the fate of singer-songwriter who created it.
10. Beach Life-In-Death by Car Seat Headrest (2018)- Standing at a powerful 13 minutes long, many would consider Beach Life-In-Death to be Will Toledo’s swan song. Though personally, I wouldn’t call it my favourite song from Car Seat Headrest, it’s certainly one hell of a ride, dragging the listener through just about every emotion a human is capable of feeling.
You can find this week’s tracks here- https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5F2wvhpKQKv79dXJfid52m?si=FhT2NEyLQduVVz6TbRORWw
Muzz by Muzz- 6.1/10:
Interesting if a tad inessential. Muzz’s self-titled debut is a lay back and well-crafted debut from three veterans of the New York/East Coast indie rock scene. For me, the most influential member of this band is easily Kaufman, who’s tendency for slow, atmospheric and mournful folk-meets-indie rock oozes through this record, which in many ways is the biggest drawback for me. While I found every song to be incredibly well put together, they far too often just ended up sounding like The National or The War On Drugs, making some of the songs frustrating to listen to. I also wasn’t the biggest fan of Paul Banks and his softer vocal style, finding a little jarring considering my only other reference for his singing style is the brooding, cold and manic baritone he delivers with Interpol. Though having said that, I really cannot fault Banks lyrically as the man is seemingly capable of telling some beautiful and meaningful stories without trying at this stage. Ultimately, this album is inessential. It quite obviously wasn’t created so to push the supergroup’s boundaries too much; instead, it feels like a long-term passion project from three friends content with making music the way they know-how, which is all in all a pleasant thing, yielding relatively pleasing results.
Best track: Broken Tambourine
Chromatica by Lady Gaga- 3.7/10:
Chromatica sees Lady Gaga attempt to recreate the success of Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, with little to no effect. Over 16-tracks, the pop superstar manages to churn out some genuinely bland, repetitive and sanitised dance-pop. In all seriousness, I think she used the same beat drop at least three times across this LP, with the production that, while being of an expensive quality (I would be shocked if it wasn’t to be honest), manages to be totally and utterly devoid of any personality and uniqueness that supposedly in possession of Lady Gaga. Vocally I found this album to be strangely annoying as well, Gaga’s voice just seems lacking that power and charisma a massive pop album such as this needs (and don’t get me started on the awful delivery on that final track). Most of the guest features really don’t work as well for me, often feeling out of place and awkward. I especially wish I could un-hear that auto-tune laced feature from Elton John on Sine From Above. In conclusion, Chromatica just did not stick the landing in any way shape or form for me. I will say, I have heard far worse music this year, but this LP certainly (and I mean CERTAINLY) is of an embarrassingly low quality. An artist with access to resources as great as Lady Gaga should merely not be making an album this bad.
Best track: Stupid Love
Dissimulation by KSI- 3.0/10:
It’s always an alarming sign when the guests are the best thing about an album, and that is certainly the case with the debut album of prominent YouTube superstar KSI. Dissimulation is a record that follows in the grand tradition of most rap records created by YouTubers in being pretty terrible. Lyrically, KSI shows himself to be ridiculously lacking in versatility, rapping mostly about all the money he has earned and all the sex he has. When he finally demonstrates that there is indeed some emotion within him, it comes off as awkward and uncomfortable. None of this is helped by the fact that the YouTuber’s delivery is bland and lacking any sort of charisma, making him sound bored for most of the record. Some minor highlights come from the average but aggressively generic production and some okay guest features. Other than that, Dissimulation has no real reason to exist other than to help stroke the already astronomical ego of the already wildly successful KSI.
Best track: Houdini
God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It by Backxwash- 7.9/10:
God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It is one of the strangest yet endlessly fascinating releases I have heard in hip-hop this year. An intriguing contrast exists between many of this album’s instrumentals and rapping. Production-wise, the record veers between There Existed an Addiction to Blood era clipping and Death Grips, with a sprinkling of rock samples throughout. However, the vocals are delivered in an Eminem meets 6IX9INE style, with mostly strong impact. Sometimes I do feel like this contrast leaves some songs a little confused and lost, which is not what you really want in a 22-minute album. Backxwash’s biggest drawcard for me, however, was her menacingly classic lyrics, they’re violent, dark, pseudo-religious undertones harking back to 90s horrorcore in the best possible way, an element that, unlike some of the rapping, is paired incredibly well with the wild, dark and spooky instrumentals. Overall, Backxwash has delivered an incredibly good piece of experimental hip-hop that sees her showing no fear in blending styles that might otherwise be seen as too contrasting, with it working the vast majority of the time.
Best track: Spells
This Week’s Feature Article: Radiohead Ranked
British rock band Radiohead is one of the most critically praised groups in the genre’s history. Over a career that has lasted close to four decades, the five-piece have shown themselves to be continually innovative and shapeshifting, almost always pushing the boundaries of what a rock album can be. I, like just about every music nerd in existence, am a great admirer of Radiohead’s music. And with that in mind, let me go and cause all sorts of strife by ranking from worst to best each record in the band’s beloved discography.
9. Pablo Honey (1993):
Probably my least controversial selection, Radiohead’s debut album is ok at best. Created not long after the sudden explosion of what remains their most popular single, the simultaneously loved and loathed Creep, this LP is messy and unsure of itself, made by a band who went from playing small gigs in their local area of England to being flown across the world to play live on MTV. It’s pretty basic early 90s alternative music, filled with anxiety and catchy hooks. There are some flashes of brilliance here and there, but the album is easily the most inessential moment in Radiohead’s discography.
Highlights: Creep, Anyone Can Play Guitar.
8. Amnesiac (2001):
Built from leftovers birthed during the mythic Kid A recording sessions, Amnesiac for me feels like an LP of B-sides rather than a body of totally original working, rendering it a far inferior version of the band’s beloved Kid A. Having said that, I still think there are plenty of excellent moments throughout this album, showcasing some of the experimental tendencies of the band, however never really extending itself beyond its older brother. A good record, but one that has simply never resonated with me.
Highlights: You and Whose Army?, Pyramid Song, Knives Out
7. The King of Limbs (2011):
What is easily the most contentious release in Radiohead’s discography, the IDM infused The King of Limbs both isolated and wowed long-term fans of the band. Drawing away from the band’s keys/guitar-driven sound for one far more based on beats and electronic glitches, I have always thought that this record can be a little over-hated, but I place it at the lower end of this list, nevertheless. I certainly enjoy the tight, eerie atmosphere this record manages to construct, however, issues such as a short tracklisting and some overly-ambiguous song-writing on the part of frontman Thom Yorke, The King of Limbs simply doesn’t stand up to the rest of the band’s releases over the years.
Highlights: Lotus Flower
6. Hail to the Thief (2003):
This is the stage of the list where the albums go from being ok-to-decent to be being genuinely excellent. Hail to the Thief is Radiohead’s largest and messiest LP to date, working better as a collection of good songs than it does a coherent album. It was also the band’s return to more straight-forward, guitar centred rock music, which still managed to hold the distinctive experimental edge the band had over many of their peers. Overall, Hail to the Thief is a big, messy record, but one that is overflowing with some of Radiohead’s best individual songs as well as what is easily Thom Yorke’s most socio-politically centred lyrics since 1997’s OK Computer.
Highlights: 2+2=5, There There, A Punch Up at a Wedding, Myxomatosis
5. A Moon Shaped Pool (2016):
Radiohead’s most recent and mournful LP, A Moon Shaped Pool is a beautifully haunting LP that almost feels like an amalgamation of what Radiohead have done with their sound so far. Bouncing between orchestral arrangements, experimental rock and ambient electronica, Thom Yorke also shines on this record, giving listeners what I think are some of his best vocal performances. Lyrically, this album also feels likes Yorke’s most personal and emotional, seemingly touching on issues such as loneliness and his separation with his wife and her eventual tragic death. It is a beautiful record and one that, despite its relatively young age to the rest of Radiohead’s discography, can stand confidentially next to its iconic older siblings.
Highlights: Burn the Witch, Daydreaming, Ful Stop, Identikit, True Love Waits
4. Kid A (2000)-
What is this you see before you? Kid A not in the top two of a Radiohead worst to best list? Outrageous, I know. However, that’s the thing with music… it’s subjective. The way many people talk about Radiohead’s near-mythic experimental rock album Kid A, you would think it is the best thing to ever happen to humanity. Which has always made it a strange experience for me. In other words, I love this record, a lot even. It’s a striking and well-balanced combination of post-rock, ambient and electronica created with care and extreme attention to detail, complete with some engagingly strange lyrics from Thom Yorke. If I were to summarise this record, I would say it is an effective encapsulation of experimental music throughout the 1990s. It is one of the greatest left turns in music, Radiohead seemingly abandoning the alternative and art rock that had made them a household name. However, it doesn’t sit higher in my rankings for one reason- I just don’t think it is as innovative as people made it out to be. Sure, it was ambitious, but the sonic territory it covers was nothing new, with artists like Swans, Aphex Twins, Disco Inferno and many others being the originators of many of this album’s directions. Nevertheless, a great album and essential listening for any music nerd.
Highlights- Everything in Its Right Place, The National Anthem, How to Disappear Completely, Optimistic, Idioteque
3. The Bends (1995)-
First, I place Kid A outside the top three, then I go and put The Bends in a higher position? Are you ok Alex? In fact, I am, because I really genuinely love this album. Why? Simple, nostalgia. Created in the wake of their sudden fame and the subsequent failure to follow up the success of Creep, many wrote Radiohead off as a one-hit-wonder with no real original ideas to speak of and an overall lack of artistic integrity. Those perceptions were quickly changed with their second album, The Bends. Not as innovative or boundary-pushing as their later works would prove to be, The Bends is simply a well written, emotionally performed alternative/art-rock album. It was also the first Radiohead album I ever listened to. It was the album that saw Radiohead finally settle as a band; Thom Yorke found a vocal style that suited him, guitarist Johnny Greenwood discovered his manic, aggressive style that would come to define Radiohead’s sound and the rest of the band finally blended as a group. The Bends and all its alternative rock goodness (as well as a healthy sprinkling of sonic adventurism) holds an extraordinary place in my heart, and I will fight anyone who doesn’t think it is one of Radiohead’s best albums.
Highlights: Planet Telex, The Bends, High and Dry, Fake Plastic Trees, Just, My Iron Lung, Black Star, Street Spirit (Fade Out)
2. In Rainbows (2007)-
Probably another uncontroversial placing, In Rainbows is likely Radiohead at their most refined. Coming out in 2007 as a digital-only record that had its price determined by the buyer (so, it was basically free), it has since become the album that nearly every Radiohead fan can agree is one of their best. It contains both the band’s most complex and straightforward arrangements, however they are all held together by a sense of lightness and beauty, making it a good break from the typically gloomy sounds the band produce. What I love the most about this album is that I can never seem to pick a definite favourite in the track-listing, each song making an excellent case for itself, whether it be through a gorgeous Thom Yorke vocal performance or a well-constructed instrumental. In Rainbows is probably the album I would suggest to anyone wanting to get into Radiohead should listen to first, with its accessible yet innovative and totally unique sonic blueprint being a great introduction for any new listeners.
Highlights: 15 Step, Nude, All I Need, Reckoner, House of Cards, Jigsaw Falling Into Place, Videotape
1. OK Computer (1997)-
About as basic as any number one placing in any Radiohead list, there is a very good reason why Ok Computer is so loved. And that reason is this- it is a practically flawless masterpiece of rock music that helped change the genre over the next decade. It is the album that saw Radiohead’s reputation go from a solid alternative rock band to that of musical legends. It is tough to describe what kind of music OK Computer is, but I will try my best. For me, it is the sound of alternative rock music. It is experimental, anthemic, emotional, anxious and angry all at the same time. Throughout the LP, the band dabble in string arrangements, electronic glitches and unconventional song progressions that would help form the basis for rock music over the coming decade. It is also a lyrical and thematic masterpiece on the part of Thom Yorke. It is a quasi-concept album that deals in issues of encroaching modernity. From technological paranoia to urban-induced loneliness to environmental destruction, OK Computer’s lyrics still resonate today with an unsettling loudness, helping this record endure for over twenty years. It is a piece of music that simply has to be heard, and an album I will probably continue to love well into my life.
Highlights: The whole album, it genuinely has no duds or skippable moments.
For those interested, I have created a playlist of my favourite Radiohead songs off each album (if I had to pick that is)- https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3dq2RJhYvd3cBZun5aMFnr?si=e5DyM2nqREKKaT1qI9uZ5w.