Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Favourite Album: Infinity Land, Biffy Clyro

Greetings, dear reader. My name's Adam, I'm co-Hype Machine (or "Hype Engineer", as I'd prefer. I maintain the machine) for Offbeat and I'm going to tell you about my favourite album of all time. It's this:

This album is Infinity Land by the mighty Scots that are Biffy Clyro, my personal outright favourite band of all-time. Now I'm sure some of you will question this decision, due in no small part to the appearance of Many of Horror on X Factor. Frankly, it was a poor cover of an already not great song and I don't really criticise them for doing it but whatever, this isn't the place for a debate on the merits of X Factor.

I ask you, dear reader, to cast aside any doubts you have after that "incident", or the fact that Mountains may have been played at every "rock & indie night" you've been to for the past 2 years, or anything else that may have tainted your view of this excellent band. Instead, we're going on a journey back in time to two albums before these shenanigans. Following the perfectly executed quiet-loud dynamics of Blackened Sky and the pseudo-prog genius of The Vertigo of Bliss (complete with its mildly disturbing cover of a lady masturbating), the unusually named 3-piece from Ayrshire released an album that manages to incorporate elements of both, but sounds like neither. An album that features, among other things, an intro that sounds almost like it's been stolen from a dance act, a xylophone, a piano, a trumpet and an a capella track, and is named after a concept from a book written by infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Lovely.

Trying to explain why these tracks are so incredible is pretty difficult for me. I could tell you how every member's vocals are perfect, the guitars are exactly right in the mix (and with just the right amount of distortion when needed) and the absolutely solid back-line from the two Johnston brothers shows the kind of synchronicity you can only get from actually being twins, but that doesn't do it justice. I could tell you how the music changes from fast to slow and quiet to loud without sounding jarring or missing a beat, or how Simon's lyrics seem to alternate rapidly between life-affirmingly beautiful and head-scratchingly weird but that still wouldn't quite cover it. This, to me, is the Biffy album where everything just fits. It's more accessible than The Vertigo of Bliss, but without the mainstream feel of Puzzle and Only Revolutions that alienated some of the band's long-term fans. Most notably, it's got that element of weirdness that those two albums seemed to lack somewhat. This is arguably best shown by the double-header of There's No Such Man As Crasp and There's No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake. The former is the aforementioned a capella track and serves as an extended intro for the latter; a swirling, convulsing beast of a song that changes tempo at the drop of a hat. It's ballsy, bonkers and absolutely brilliant. Elsewhere on the album, the magnificently titled Some Kind Of Wizard and The Kids From Kibble And The Fist Of Light provide more stop-start angular masterpieces. Wave Upon Wave Upon Wave handclaps its way joyfully through some of the darkest lyrics on the album to culminate in the wonderful repeated call of "do you believe in magic?". The slower The Atrocity and Got Wrong provide a welcome respite (and an insight into the developing songwriting skills of Simon Neil that would soon spawn massive hits Machines, Folding Stars and the previously mentioned Many Of Horror) following the quality opening trio of Glitter and Trauma, Strung To Your Ribcage and My Recovery Injection. It's also worth mentioning that the video for Glitter and Trauma is rather good. A tribute to the classic film One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, it's the perfect match to what is a schizophrenic, explosive song. Watch the video (unfortunately backed by the "radio edit" of the song, which lacks the extended dance-y intro) here, and appreciate:


Now, wasn't that good? The album finishes with the slow, drawn-out Pause It and Turn It Up before a period of silence and a good old "hidden track". Better known as Tradition Feed to fans of the band, it's a poem read by Simon about mother shortly after her death, backed by some loud (I think) bagpipes. It's poignant, and rounds off the album nicely.

If pressed to pick my favourite song on the album, I'd pick one of two depending on my mood at that time. Strung To Your Ribcage is a fairly short and fairly loud song that thrashes around for a little over 2 and a half minutes, beginning with screaming and ending with pretty singing. Yeah, a lot happens. On another day, it'd be Only One Word Comes To Mind. One of the more subdued songs on the album, it's quiet and beautiful and features one of the best cymbal noises I've ever heard (0:41). I love both for totally different reasons, and that's probably what makes them my favourites on the album.

I've barely scratched the surface in talking about the music itself, and even if I carried on for pages I doubt I could. The easiest way for you to get a proper grasp on the album and to decide whether you like it or not is to listen to it, which I hope you do. What I can talk about, however, is my own personal attachment to it. I bought it in 2007 for £7 from HMV after hearing Saturday Superhouse (from the then-unreleased Puzzle) on MTV2 and enjoying it a lot. It was the cheapest Biffy album HMV had and, since they didn't have the album with the song I'd heard on it, I bought it. I remember sitting in the car and leafing through the booklet, fascinated by the ridged paper it was printed on (I was, and still am, a complete simpleton). Upon arriving back at home, I put the album into my CD player and Tony Hawk's Project 8 into my Playstation 2 and played the two simultaneously for the next few hours. My relationship with the Tony Hawk series was longstanding, but my love affair with Biffy was only just beginning. I repeated this activity several times until Infinity Land was firmly lodged in my head, but that wasn't enough. In the months following I sought out the band's previous two albums, pre-ordered Puzzle and saw the band live for the first time. The addiction had begun.

It's been over 4 years since then and the effect that one album has had on me is huge. Biffy were a break from the metal that dominated my music collection at the time, and served as a gateway to a whole different kind of music. It was only a matter of time before they became my favourite band, a title they still hold. So many things that I listen to now can be traced back to association with Biffy, and I'm hugely thankful for that. Everything I listen to that could come under the Offbeat umbrella of "indie/alternative" is arguably down to Biffy, so I suppose my membership of Offbeat can be traced back to this album. This band has been a huge presence in my life for several years, and not only did this album start that but I think it's their best musically. I hope you listen to it, and I really hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Offbeat Summer Mixtape

Just when you think a blog post isn't coming, two come along at once! (in other words, read my Metronomy review below, you suggestible people you)

What with summer in full swing, we thought it might be nice to share with you some tracks to help augment your Dog Days. Latin astronomy references aside, we would like to present you with the
Offbeat Summer Mixtape

It's important to remember that not everyone has the same kind of summer. Therefore, the mixtape is based around three films of very different summers, and I hope that you get a little taste of each.


Chilled Out Summer
The Endless Summer (1966)

"You cant tell how good a wave is until you actually ride it.
On Mike's first ride, those first five seconds,
he knew he'd finally found that Perfect Wave."

If your life is like this seminal surf film then you are a lucky person indeed. Everyone needs a bit of a recharge, and summer is regarded as the socially acceptable time to take leave of the weight of the world and recuperate. To help with this, perhaps listen to:

Everything Goes My Way - Metronomy
What Became of You and I - Treefight For Sunlight
All Around and Away We Go - Twin Sister
Summer Holiday - Wild Nothing
To Have in the Home - Woods
Kaputt - Destroyer
Take A Knee - Swim Party
You Only Live Once - Unsolved Mysteries
Alouette! - Tallest Trees
Grown Ocean - Fleet Foxes

Party Summer
Beach party (1963)

"It's wild and it's wonderful when ten thousand kids
sleep on five thousand beach blankets...
Laughing, Loving, Living it Up!"

Beach Party was the film that spawned a teensploitation phenomenon and birthed part of our cultural consciousness, and some things haven't changed: summer is a great time to get out with your friends and party like you haven't got work tomorrow (because you probably don't). Some things have changed though, like the music! How's this for a slightly more up to date party accompaniment:

Dominican Fade - Battles
The Dawn of Your Happiness is Rising - Violens
Blood on the Deck - Thee Oh Sees
What U Gonna Do - Jim Noir
Christopher - Alphabet Backwards
Orange - Yoyoyo Acapulco
Cloud Computer - Miaoux Miaoux
Hollow Hollow Eyes - Crocodiles
Bright Young Things - The Crookes
15 Years - Pull In Emergency

Adventurous Summer
180ยบ South: Conquerors of the Useless (2010)

"Fear of the Unknown is the greatest fear of all,
but we just went for it."

This 'thinking person’s adventure film' tells the story of a man following in the footsteps of two of his heroes, Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins, emulating their 1968 expedition into the heart of Patagonia (see there was a 60's connection after all...). Many Offbeat members are going on their own adventures into the real world having finished their degrees. I always like listening to music that attunes to how I am feeling, and here is some really good 'into the unknown' music for you:

Postcard From 1952 - Explosions in the Sky
Need You Now - Cut Copy
The First Last Dinosaur Song - The Last Dinosaur
Black Sands - Bonobo
Where It All Starts - Thievery Corporation
A Lot of People Cutting Grass On a Sunday - Lullatone
Like A Stranger - Bodies of Water
Don't Help Me Up - 4 Guys from the Future
Daydreaming - Dark Dark Dark
Rattling Cage - Forest Swords

There you have it! Please enjoy, and if you like what you hear check out the bands we have put on here, buy their albums and so on. I hope your summer works out for the best!


Monday, 11 July 2011

Lapage Reviews Metronomy - 'The English Riviera'

If you are like me, every few months you will find an album that ends up getting played as your 'Go-To' album. Back in the days of physical media, it would be the CD that stayed in your player all season, and presumably before that, the sheet music that remained on the stands of your house band. These days, it's just what I first go to on Spotify if I want to listen to 'some music'.

Most important amongst these Go-To albums are the summer albums: the soundtrack that ends up being the backdrop to those sunny memories, evoking picnics and parties in years to come when that smoking-induced tickle in your throat has gone metastatic and left you bedridden. The English Riviera is my album of Summer 2011.

If you are a fan of the last two Metronomy albums, this one might be a shock. For one, only half of the current band were on the last album, so in that respect the sound is a bit different, but beyond that this album represents a much greater stylistic change from their second outing than they dared make for their sophomore effort. One friend dismissed it as 'too soft' and passed on it, but I hope you will not make the same mistake.

Fans of the old Metronomy, enter with third single from the album 'the Bay': this is definitely the closest to their past outings, and is dripping with their trademark nonchalant groove-mastery. They still have the edgy chops that made them big in the first place, but it's the fuzzier tracks that make more of an impression.

'The Look' is the best of their newer sound, presumably why they chose it as their second single (after the moodier 'She Wants'). Smothered with louche Eighties appeal, it represents a pretty exciting new direction. A lot of the album is like this, and it's pretty reminiscent of other dreamy retronauts like Destroyer: don't come here for a rousing club beat, it's all popped collars at dawn with this album.

My personal favourite of the album is 'Everything Goes My Way', wherein Joseph Mount takes a back seat to the vocals of Roxanne Clifford of Veronica Falls. This dependency will only ever relegate this to album gem status, because they are less likely to be able to promote it live, but it shows a side of Mount's composing that he hasn't really expressed before with Metronomy.

I find myself comparing this my summer album from last year: 'Black Sands' by Bonobo. Again you have a composer best known for upbeat tracks taking a sleepy summer break, and they were even released in pretty much the same week a year apart. They have beautifully distinct but vibrant allusions though: Bonobo evokes a secluded Halcyon island paradise, while Metronomy paints their 'English Riviera' in shades of seedy decadence and quality time nonchalantly wasted.

All in all, go get this album. I know that for myself it is firmly jammed in the summer CD tray of my mind, and so should it be for you.

If you like it, try: 'Kaputt' by Destroyer, 'Smother' by Wild Beasts, 'Surf Noir' by Beat Connection

If you miss old Metronomy, try: 'Zonoscope' by Cut Copy, 'From the Cradle to the Rave' by Shit Robot, 'Build with Erosion' by The Berg Sans Nipple

Other things gracing my soundholes: 'Castlemania' by Thee Oh Sees, 'Treefight for Sunlight' by Treefight for Sunlight, 'Jim Noir' by Jim Noir