Posts Tagged ‘biffy clyro’

Three Scottish rockers, balancing mainstream success with personal struggles such as depression, alcoholism and miscarriages, decide to make a double album. The scales tip, the opposing forces weigh out, and the catharsis is palpable…

Biffy Clyro - Publicity Shot for 'Opposites'

It’s a heart-warming tale for the left-field lunatics of alternative rock, whose propulsion into international recognition that started with 2007’s gritty-yet-accessible Puzzle, followed by 2009’s anthemic smash-hit Only Revolutions, signalled a proverbial crossroads in the band’s 15 year creative history. Fans of their earlier work demanded a return to the quirky, dissonant, grungy riff-fests of The Vertigo of Bliss and Infinity Land, whilst legions of new devotees adored the apparent radio-friendliness of hit singles ‘Mountains’ and ‘Many of Horror’. The latter, a gorgeous power ballad, also netted a Christmas Number One single for the winner of the 2010 X Factor Show, Matt Cardle (retitled to a less-macabre ‘When We Collide’). With that sort of publicity, the path to prosperity is a swift and wide one, as headlining tours become a reality, and popularity allows for a succession of increasingly polished, plainer products to be fed to eager music consumers. 

One way of releasing a large amount of musical product to the masses is the double album, and in choosing to make one, Biffy Clyro needed to know that it is a divisive and potentially dangerous form of record. Many suffer from pitfalls such as poorly-executed concepts or inevitable filler material, whilst with some projects, artists produce their best work on the format, innovating and experimenting with the increased length available to them. Without a clear artistic vision or worthy material to sustain it, the double album is a risky gamble – critical success, or ego-trip mess? 

Some famous double albums: The Who's "Tommy", Stevie Wonder's "Songs In The Key of Life", and The Clash's "London Calling

Some famous double albums: The Who’s “Tommy”, Stevie Wonder’s “Songs In The Key of Life”, and The Clash’s “London Calling”

Amidst their stratospheric rise to fame, there were internal sufferings for the trio, enough so that the future of the band was on tenterhooks. Drummer Ben Johnston’s alcoholism had descended to grievous levels, resulting in frequent blackouts, missed rehearsals, and on one occasion, an accident where he cut his ear. Twin brother James (bass) felt most affected by his brother’s actions, sinking into deep depression and guilt for about two years, weighed down by a kinship responsibility. In addition to these pressures, lead singer and guitarist Simon Neil’s wife suffered a succession of miscarriages, and the accompanying grief. Although these tragedies could’ve derailed their dreams, instead they provided song writing inspiration for Neil, helping him navigate the seas of despair towards a brighter place; a journey full of ideas and concepts. 

It’s no surprise then that Opposites is an album of contrasts, both subtle and overt, yet the sprawling body of work is very much unified and seamless. Each disc is given a title, and with it, bearing the moods and lyrical outpouring fitting of the name. ‘The Sand at The Core of Our Bones’ is a bleak and dark chapter rooted in the past, brutally examining the difficulties of life and crumbling relationships, with the occasional tinge of nostalgia and the bubbling ferocity of rage. ‘The Land at The End of Our Toes’, on the other hand, looks forward to the future with a more optimistic lens, musing on one’s hopes and fears, and finding ways to make things better and more wholesome. 

Don't be fooled by the theatrics (seen here on their live album/DVD at Wembley Arena) - Biffy Clyro are still as eccentric and earnest as their early years

Don’t be fooled by the theatrics (seen here on their live album/DVD at Wembley Arena) – Biffy Clyro are still as eccentric and earnest as their early years

The first disc begins with a run of anthems, starting with the slow-building synth-laced epic ‘Different People’. The upbeat, euphoric music matches the twisted optimism of the lyrics, and is the great showcase of Neil’s gorgeous vocals, bathed in reverb. First single ‘Black Chandelier’ is revealed next; unexpectedly plain upon first listen, but morphs into a typical barnstorming Biffy bombast after the bridge. The track has seen decent crossover success on pop radio, reaching 14 on the UK Singles Chart, as well as ascending to number 1 on the UK Rock Chart. Staccato slices of guitar punctuate ‘Sounds Like Balloons’ over a galloping rhythm, before an unexpected harp interlude reveals the unwieldy disc titles in the chorus. Surprisingly, they make for catchy sing-alongs.

Third single ‘Opposite’ wanders into mid-tempo ballad territory, but fortunately avoids cloying sentimentality with sharp, hard-hitting lyrics (“You are the loneliest person that I’ve ever known/We are joined at the surface but nowhere else”). It’s a brief respite from the punchy, buzz saw riffs of ‘The Joke’s On Us’, the chattering computer beeps and monster riffs of ‘A Girl And His Cat’, or the cinematic pop-rock of ‘Biblical’. The latter, which is the second single from the album, glistens with orchestral touches, and has a chorus fit for festival faithful to bounce along to, but ‘The Fog’ is where the first disc gets really interesting. Slowing down the pace, the dark and hazy song is minimalist and sorrowful (“The fog has cast a shadow homeward/We’re losing our direction/So forget the whole thing”), anchored by a keyboard part that wouldn’t be out of place on an 80’s sci-fi flick. It’s one of the band’s most daring moves thus far, and the glorious noise rock outro builds to a crescendo of doom. The album never lets the listener truly settle, and whilst wallowing in the pool of accumulated emotional outpouring, the tempo is suddenly ramped up on the punky, punchy ‘Little Hospitals’, replete with its snarling, snotty vocals and bizarre lyrics (the winner being the opening lines of “I’ll turn your baby into lemonade/Suckle lemons and trade, trade, trade”). And how does disc one close off? With ‘The Thaw’, a swinging ballad, complete with twanging country guitar elements that suddenly lurches into a magnificent stadium-sized sing-along. Even the pacing within songs cannot be trusted.

Biffy Clyro - Live at T in The Park 2010

Simon Neil onstage live at T in The Park 2010

A common question asked of double albums is “could it all have been condensed into just one album?” Biffy answered this with a single-disc edition of Opposites, trimming the 20 tracks down to 14 – a relatively rare and compromising act. By releasing both editions, the band has shown that whilst the artistic narrative of Opposites is important, it’s still flexible enough to lose a track here or there, and not lose integrity. As the album careens into its second disc (‘The Land at The End of Our Toes’), the quality and range of ideas on display is vast, and it’s a quantity that normally sees an artist stockpile them for later releases. But Biffy is just warming up, and the pompous and heavy ‘Stingin’ Belle’ sets the tone for the emotionally brighter half, with lyrics as stinging as its title (“Grow some balls and speak your mind”). The song is a rousing spiritual successor to ‘The Captain’ from Only Revolutions, with an oh-so-Scottish bagpipe bridge that brings it to a triumphant climax.

A throbbing bass line highlights the urgency of ‘Modern Magic Formula’, whose lyrics, as the title implies, hint at a ‘magic formula’ that’ll solve the problems in a relationship. Reconciliation is on the horizon, but Neil, with typical acerbity, admits that “I’m trying the best I can, but there’s a white flag burning in my hand”. ‘Spanish Radio’ marks another bizarre-but-it-works creative detour, employing an exquisite trumpet intro and acoustic flamenco-style guitars to create a completely new sound for the band. The album’s fourth single, ‘Victory Over The Sun’ is a dour, meditative and nostalgic affair, but is lyrically strong, with possible references to Johnston’s drinking issues (“Collapse in front of all of your peers/Stop bleeding, keep blocking your ears/Eating babies, drinking black brandy/Squinting all night through your demonic haze”). The darkness soon makes way for the sunniest Biffy song yet: the power-popping ‘Pocket’. If it weren’t for the brilliant unorthodox lyrics and Neil’s trademark Scottish burr, one might mistake them for a completely different band, and the catchy, toe-tapping, piano-led rhythm is one of the unexpected highlights of the album.

As we reach the final few songs of the album, the mood has dramatically shifted to a more positive space, but with a bitter yet determined viewpoint. This attitude fuels the intriguing and loopy ‘Trumpet Or Tap’, with its waltzy tempo, bluesy guitar notes, and humourous vocal patterns. A moment of sombre reflection is found next on ‘Skylight’, and similar to ‘The Fog’ on disc one, shows Biffy making a mature attempt at a subdued but ominous ballad. “If this is an accident then where’s the hurt?” asks Neil on ‘Accident Without Emergency’, a return to stadium-rock posturing with lumbering drums that show no signs of flagging energy levels. Quite the opposite in fact; ‘Woo Woo’ is one of the most boisterous songs on Opposites, and with a title like that, how could it not be? Unashamedly giddy and upbeat, Neil makes grand declarations in the midst of a personal renaissance, such as “I wanna change, I wanna listen/My selfish ways have reached their limit”, and naively yet passionately implores “I will love you for the rest of my life/Can you love me ’til the end of time?”. These pave the way for the album’s final statement, ‘Picture A Knife Fight’ – a mirror image of opener ‘Different People’, interbred with ‘Pocket’.

Biffy Clyro - Live at Leeds Academy September 2012

The Johnston twins (Ben on drums, James on bass) onstage live at Leeds Academy, September 2012

Opposites confirms that whilst Biffy’s music still flows with eclectic electricity, their confidence in the power of bombastic, stadium-sized anthems has increased from Only Revolutions. Catchy hooks abound throughout heavier and quieter moments alike, and the band is clearly aware of its talents in shaping their post-hard core, grunge and prog rock influences into radio-ready pop. That’s not to say that this album is merely Only Revolutions, Part 2; experimentation has been sought out in earnest, and melded with the band’s oddball humour and macabre lyrical backbone. As stated before, listeners will hear (in varying levels of contrivance) bagpipes, harps, kazoos, a mariachi band, tap dancing, church organ and tubular bells, in addition to the band’s rock-standard angular-but-booming guitars, pulsating bass and delirious drumming. It is these little complexities that break up the relentless onslaught of emotion and thunder which stadium rock can so easily fall foul to, and provide a fresh, unsettling and intriguing look at the genre. The melodies soar, but the stop-start dynamics will often cut them in full-flight, bringing them back down to earth with a biting line – whether it’s on guitar or in lyric-form. It makes for fascinating listening.

Double albums are bold statements regardless of the source, and Biffy’s dogged decision to weather through the making of one was as much about dealing with personal demons as it was making a definitive artistic declaration. Some of the best art is born through a labour of inner turmoil, and the timing of both factors in this case has resulted in not the leanest of albums, or even their best one. The process behind it, the relentless passion, determination and commitment that went into it; that is what marks Opposites as probably the most important Biffy Clyro album thus far. It’s an album that saved the band, and the road ahead is as unpredictable as the twists and turns found within these songs.

Biffy Clyro - Live at Isle of Wight 2012

Biffy Clyro performing at the Isle of Wight, 2012

(From the 19th to 21st of April 2013, I attended the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California, USA. More details on this trip can be found here. A number of South African media sources provided me with coverage for the event, and this article focused on the second day of the festival – Saturday 20th April 2013. It is part 3 in a series of 5 articles, and should be seen in conjunction with the others. All photos are my own, and are publically available here.)

 

Friday had mostly been a rollercoaster ride of rock, taking corners with reckless abandon (Palma Violets’ beastly bash in the Mojave, complete with hoots and hollers), or with long climbs and mammoth drops (The Stone Roses’ trance-inducing nostalgia trip on the Coachella).

But as the second day of Coachella dawned, an exploration into more experimental territory would be undertaken, populated with dance rock, indie pop, acoustic folk, and pop rock. The festival offers a wide variety of exotic locales to visit, but one soon realises that as a dedicated fan, your schedule has been booked in advance, and might offer little leeway to venture into unknown lands. The rise in popularity of EDM (electronic dance music) in recent years has highlighted this divide, or opportunity, depending on which way you look at it. Although Coachella was a forerunner in catering for that bulk of genres, those stages and tents are now sizeably populated and a festival unto themselves, with the capital to be found in the monolithic Sahara Tent, home to a raging party with high production values from noon till midnight. Elsewhere, the enclosed Yuma Tent and Heineken Dome offered more EDM excitement, whilst the DO Lab, an outdoor arrangement of tall multi-coloured, Dr Seussian tents around a central dance floor, doubled up as a shady retreat from the daytime desert haze.

 

The monolithic Sahara Tent, home to one long EDM party

The monolithic Sahara Tent, home to one long EDM party

 

Coachella offers the same line-up for both weekends, but occasionally an artist pulls out from the second instalment. One such disappointment was the highly-anticipated Biffy Clyro; the leftfield lunatics of alternative rock who have slowly earned a stadium-sized reputation over the past five to six years on the other side of the Atlantic. After a ragged appearance on Weekend 1, the band bowed out from the rest of their US tour, with lead singer and guitarist Simon Neil suffering severe respiratory problems brought on from the relentless promotion of their first UK Number One album, ‘Opposites’.

This unfortunate loss to the Saturday afternoon line-up meant that there was an opportunity to discover some other highly-recommended acts, starting with singer-songwriter Ben Howard’s laidback acoustic folk at the Outdoor Theatre. With much of the crowd seated or reclined on the grass, Howard’s troupe flitted through his soothing repertoire, with highlights including ‘Old Pine’ and ‘The Wolves’.

 

 

Moving to the Mojave, the alluring indie pop of Bat For Lashes melded tribal rhythms (“Horses In The Sun”) with a synthpop aesthetic (“Daniel”). Natasha Khan (real name) gave an impressive performance overall; seductively sashaying across the stage in time to the jittery beats, her powerful voice evoking a young Kate Bush on the exquisite “What’s A Girl To Do?”. After the stunning ballad “Laura”, Khan acknowledged the blistering heat (“I want some of that spray, it’s bloody hot”), but pushed on to the most intriguing song of her set. ‘The Haunted Man’ (the title song of her highly-acclaimed 2012 album) saw her make use of an old transistor radio as an instrument, with her triumphantly holding it up to the mic at the climax of the song.

At the climax of 'The Haunted Man', Natasha Khan a.k.a. Bat For Lashes brought this old transistor radio up to the mic

At the climax of ‘The Haunted Man’, Natasha Khan a.k.a. Bat For Lashes brought this old transistor radio up to the mic

 

A voyage to the main Coachella Stage via one of the eight food vendor areas is a gastronomic adventure in itself. With a total of sixty vendors plying their trade at the festival, there is an array of international options, including Mexican, Greek, Korean, and Italian (it’s considered a festival right-of-passage to have at least one gigantic slice from Spicy Pie Pizza). Portable outlets of some well-established Los Angeles eateries also find their way into the Coachella melting pot. Feeling fed and well-nourished, it was now possible to make it through the marathon run of the last four acts of the day at the festival’s sprawling focal point.

First up was the electronica enchantment of Hot Chip, whose energetic, quirky, and danceable set focused heavily on their latest album (2012’s In Our Heads) and creating beat-driven improvisations of their hits. The rave atmosphere brimmed with excitement; the sweet ode to monogamy ‘One Life Stand’ being spiced up with live steel drums, the heavy slabs of bass and galloping drum line on ‘Over And Over’, as well as the staggering synthesizer solo on the call-to-arms ‘Ready For The Floor’. The band’s slinky sound even moved into ballad terrain (‘Look At Where We Are’), but never lapsed into laziness, as evidenced by the beautifully programmed live synth-and-drum combination on set-closer ‘I Feel Better’.

The Postal Service was in business next – an ostensibly imaginary band that only recently regrouped for the tenth anniversary of their one and only debut album Give Up. Despite the irony of that nomenclature, the group (featuring Death Cab For Cutie’s vocalist Ben Gibbard) were well-received and remembered, as their lone album a decade ago was a critical and commercial success. Their forward-thinking, twinkly new-wave melodies have aged well, triggering crowd sing-alongs (such as on set-closer ‘Brand New Colony’) as Gibbard’s lead vocals were given a delicate backing by the redheaded Jenny Lewis of fellow indie poppers Rilo Kiley. Interpreting these songs live led to some interesting moves onstage, as Gibbard dashed across to a drum set to give the magical soundscapes of ‘We Will Become Silhouettes’ some added percussion. Soaring magnum opus ‘Such Great Heights’ (the soundtrack to many a commercial or television series in the intervening years) was also given a great rendition for the crowd, whose enthusiasm for the group had clearly not waned over time.

 

 

Captivating and cool, The xx’s hauntingly beautiful indie pop was a bold choice for the main Coachella Stage, something which guitarist and singer Romy Madley Croft confessed to (“3 years ago, we were at the Outdoor Theatre next door. We could never have dreamed of being here”). For a group that trades on hushed, intimate confessions between lovers, it was a rare peek behind the veil. Croft’s spiralling guitar lines mesh fluidly with Oliver Sim’s throbbing bass grooves, whilst sonic architect Jamie xx completes the mysterious trio, whose subtle and sparse stage setup echoes their mellow choice of sound.

 

 

Opening with the woozy ‘Try’, the mood shifted effortlessly between melancholic (the propulsive ‘Crystalised’) and romantic (the steel-drum-inflected ‘Reunion’). The spectral duets between Croft and Sim were gorgeous to behold, whether it was their serpentine sighs or their forehead-to-forehead, heart-to-heart instrumental passages. Fan-favourites ‘VCR’, ‘Intro’, and ‘Islands’ highlighted the group’s taut chemistry, and the undulating, danceable numbers from their recent album Coexist hinted at their R&B roots. Surprisingly, they closed off their emotive set with the minimalist (even by their standards) ‘Angels’. Not surprisingly, the crowd sang along, echoing Croft’s every word. The xx’s claim for the main stage had been confidently validated.

The hot topic of conversation over the course of Weekend 2 was “do you think Daft Punk will show up?”. The revered French DJ duo had released a teaser trailer the previous weekend to rapturous response, apparently causing a sudden mass exodus to its screening at the main stage. For those wishing for that cameo appearance, their best hope seemed to be with Saturday headliners, fellow Frenchmen Phoenix. The eclectic pop rockers had their own trick up their sleeve on Weekend 1, bringing R&B superstar R Kelly to the stage to blend his own ‘Ignition (Remix)’ with their hit single ‘1901’, but no such star-studded sideshows were in order second time around.

 

 

They did, however, assuredly and earnestly cement their headliner status, jubilantly opening and closing the set with their irresistible new single ‘Entertainment’. The upcoming Bankrupt! was to be released the following Monday, and the band took the opportunity to reveal a plethora of new material, showcasing their style evolution from the laidback and endearing indie rockers of 2000’s United and 2004’s Alphabetical, to the stadium-sized synth scientists of their breakout success, 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. In addition to the crowd-pleasing past hits ‘Liztomania’ and ‘1901’, hot-off-the-press new tracks that were revealed included the bouncy ‘Don’t’, the new-wave niceties of ‘Trying To Be Cool’, and the expansive electrohaze of ‘Chloroform’. An exquisite stage setup, an acoustic rendition of ‘Countdown (Sick For The Big Sun)’, and a lengthy remix of two instrumental tracks (‘Love Like A Sunset’ and ‘Bankrupt!’) all rounded off an impressive and immersive extravaganza. But lead singer Thomas Mars was not finished just yet: on the reprise of the euphoric ‘Entertainment’, he launched into the crowd, surfing his way towards a lighting rig far from the stage. Clambering up the scaffolding, Mars then surveyed his faithful flock, and knew that it was a job well done.

Nowadays, big-name festivals such as Coachella are not just about the music; it’s about the experience. In a matter of days, places like the Empire Polo Club are transformed into mini-communities, which the regular concertgoing experience would struggle to match in scope or variety. Whether you exalt the excellence of EDM, profess your passion for pop & rock, or just follow the crowd, you come to a festival seeking to be entertained.

Each time Thomas Mars leaped into that chorus, singing the high falsetto of “Entertainment, show them what you do to me”, thousands of exuberant voices didn’t realise that they were providing the evidence.

(From the 19th to 21st of April 2013, I attended the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California, USA. More details on this trip can be found here. A number of South African media sources provided me with coverage for the event, and this article constitutes an introduction to the event and my trip. Each written source received a version of the article tailored to suit their website/newspaper, which has been presented here generically as “The Eagle’s Nest”. It is part 1 in a series of 5 articles, and should be seen in conjunction with the others.)

 

Nestled in the Coachella Valley of the California Desert is a glittering oasis that springs to life every April. Music and art are celebrated and expressed amidst the baking heat, bringing together pilgrims from all over the world. And the author will be one of the many making the exodus.

In its short 14-year history, The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has established itself as one of the most highly-attended music festivals in the world. Evidence of this impressive reputation was seen in 2012’s edition, where over 80 000 people per day passed through the Empire Polo Club to get a taste from Coachella’s musical melting pot. By combining acts from multiple genres, ranging the mainstream right through to a more alternative flavour, the festival has built a strong, diverse following over the years.

And it’s not just the music that brings people there en masse. The event brings out the best that rock, indie, hip hop and electronic music genres have to offer, as well as sculpture and installation art from the visual arts community. Across several stages dotted around the polo grounds, fans can experience live music, ranging from the main Coachella Stage, and Outdoor Theatre, to the smaller Gobi, Mojave, and Sahara Tents.

Coachella is known for showcasing musical artists that are popular and well-established, as well as emerging artists and particularly, reunited groups. With the emergence of electronic dance music, world-class DJ acts have also found a place in the Coachella chemistry, increasing the popularity and diversity of this exciting festival.

Every April since 1999 (except for 2000), the Empire Polo Club grounds in Indio, California have played host to alternative and indie music’s desert royal ball. The likes of Radiohead, Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse, Beastie Boys, Arcade Fire, Rage Against The Machine, Kings of Leon, and The Black Keys are but a few of the many past headliners of the event, with each year providing a smorgasbord of support acts, numbering 190 by the 2012 edition.

 

The Empire Polo Club – host to the Coachella Music Festival

 

This year’s event will continue that tradition, with the iconic Red Hot Chili Peppers in a headlining role again, along with French indie rock band Phoenix, and the legendary Stone Roses. Due to increased demand over the late 2000s, the festival now rises up from the desert soil for two weekends per year, offering the same stellar line-up each weekend. Friday features British greats Blur and Johnny Marr, as well as exciting North American talent in Passion Pit, Band of Horses, and Japandroids. Saturday has the likes of The xx, New Order, Franz Ferdinand, and Biffy Clyro up its sleeve, whilst Sunday shows no signs of slowing down, placing Tame Impala, The Gaslight Anthem and Wu-Tang Clan on the bill.

Coachella offers onsite camping facilities for each weekend, allowing festival-goers to immerse themselves in the three-day experience. These facilities include showers, general stores, mobile phone charging stations, and an internet cafe with free Wi-Fi – all features to make the festival-going experience a thoroughly modern one. Sustainability initiatives also form part of the festival makeup, as organizers involve employees and attendees alike in reducing Coachella’s carbon footprint through recycling facilities, carpooling, and education on energy reduction.

The Eagle’s Nest will be receiving on-the-ground coverage during and after this year’s edition of Coachella, specifically the second weekend from the 19th to 21st of April. Readers will get a proudly South African perspective on a truly global festival, and how its cutting-edge, forward-thinking initiatives compare to our country’s current festival scene. Summaries of live performances from each of the three days will allow readers to vicariously enjoy the festival experience, and to discuss and share moments of musical magic.

Once again, this oasis will emerge, accompanied by gorgeous weather, beautiful scenery, and high-quality live music acts. This intrepid music journalist will soon be arriving in the Land of The Cactus and The Chorus, and it goes by the name of Coachella.

 

The Coachella Experience – coming soon to The Eagle's Nest

The Coachella Experience – coming soon to The Eagle’s Nest

 

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 27th of June 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes. About three weeks of field research were put into this article, which has the scope to be expanded upon, particularly with regard to reviewing internet radio stations/sites)

 

Every now and then, you as a music-listener get adventurous, and want to find something new to listen to. Not necessarily something that was just released yesterday, or is the most popular thing right now. Something new to your ears. In my mind, the process one goes through to find a new tune closely resembles the dating world, where us humans pursue nearly every means available us to find our next fling, stable relationship, or even lifelong lover. It’s often a daunting journey, riddled with missed chances, lucky breaks, bizarre introductions and moments from where you can pinpoint that your life was changed forever.

 

 

You Complete Me (Puzzle Piece)

 

 

Dating, no matter how confident you are, always has an inherent risk attached to it. Such is the chaos and unpredictable nature of people. For example, you might only find out halfway through your first date with someone that they have a creepy fetish that doesn’t set well with you, or completely offend you with their style of humour. But with the right techniques and approach, there are ways of you reducing that risk, so that hopefully, you will achieve what you set out to get.

 

“So let me tell you about the one with the…”

 

Just like with people, I don’t know all the dating secrets. One can never guarantee that you can find the ‘perfect catch’, or something even nearly as good. Musical tastes are mostly subjective; liking one band doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll fancy another similar one. The crux of recommendations is really to have a general idea of what you like already, and together with that knowledge, what you intend on looking for (sometimes not even the latter, as you’ll see with certain music suggestion sites). So if, dear reader, you feel the need to breed (in a musical sense), then take heed of some of my tried and tested advice:

 

1. Know thyself

Okay, this might sound a little too obvious: take stock of what’s on your iPod, in your CD collection, on your hard drive, etc. Honestly, some people just add and add and add, building up clutter which never gets listened to, especially in an age where digital music is near-total in its influence, as well as its apparent ease of acquisition. Look at your Play Counts (if applicable) or manually keep track of what you listen to the most; always a good indicator of preferences. If you own, or even just listen to music enough, you should have a basic idea already. Foo Fighters fanatic, a Justin ‘Belieber’, Jay-Z worshipper, Bon Jovi groupie; whatever your tastes, surely you listen to some artist enough to say “Yeah, I kinda like this guy”? Good. That’s a start.

 

Come to think of it, that would make a ridiculous collaboration...

Come to think of it, that would make a ridiculous collaboration…

 

2. Time and effort

Put aside some time and get ready to put effort and research into finding what you want. Although most people have very busy schedules and can’t afford to waste time looking for music, the more work you put in, the more likely it is that you’ll find something you instantly fall in love with. Nothing beats the feeling of discovering a band after much spade work, and finding that they suit your tastes exactly. Really, it should come as no surprise to you then.

 

3. Knowledge is power

Wade your way into the shallow end of the dating pool by finding out more about whatever artists you like already. Doing so firstly makes you a better fan. You begin to understand the faces behind the music, as well as their intentions for making it the way they did. Secondly, many Wikipedia articles, album reviews and news reports, etc, tend to mention similar artists when speaking of a particular artist: “a Beatle-esque chord progression”, “an early Led Zeppelin swagger”, “introspective lyrics reminiscent of 2Pac’s Me Against The World era”. The list goes on and on. After reading enough about your favourite artists, you’ll soon start to see patterns emerge, and they’ll be difficult to ignore! Comparisons like these are used to help describe a sound that the reader might not have heard yet (especially if say, a new album by the artist has just been released), so reviewers and journalists will try to patch together a sound scape in the reader’s head of existing material; simple and effective. Just like with dating people, you cannot expect the perfect man/woman to fall into your lap if you sit at home doing nothing about it. Proactivity is the key! Personally, this method works really well for me. For example: whilst doing research for my Foo Fighters review in April, I kept on hearing about this Scottish band called Biffy Clyro. And since these mentions weren’t a once-off thing, I decided to give them a try, and download their two most recent albums. And what do you know…I was blown away by them, and instantly knew they were the exact match for my tastes. So, those reviewers were right: Foo Fighters’ ‘Rope’ does seem to “tap-dance in stoppy-starty guitar weirdly reminiscent of ‘Infinity Land’-era Biffy Clyro

 

And now, thanks to their music, I occasionally sing in a hideous attempt at a Scottish accent.

And now, thanks to their music, I occasionally sing in a hideous attempt at a Scottish accent.

 

Music of today, more often than not, bears some similarity to music of yesterday. Artists wear their influences on their sleeves, and whilst they still continue to progress and innovate the art form, their mentors will always shine through them in some way. Going back to the roots of what inspired your favourite band to produce their magnum opus is generally the next step you’d take if you’re serious about exploring new music. But it’s not always a successful venture; sometimes the reason you enjoy an artist is because they’re an amalgamation of various influences, not just a specific one, whose back catalogue might bore you or be too old-fashioned. But it’s worth a try, since the world has a nice collective half-century or so of popular music sitting there, waiting to be experienced. If you’re into classical music, you’d probably want to go back further, but then again, that genre is timeless.

 

4. Your friends are my friends

Look to your friends and find out what they like. Just like meeting that blonde hottie through your friend Dave, introductions to new and exciting artists from people you know (and hopefully, trust) eliminate the effort you have to make searching for the perfect tune. Usually you are friends with people whom you share similar interests with, so take advantage of that closeness and find out what hidden talents they’ve discovered. For example: I should really follow my advice, since my housemate from last year shared very similar tastes in music to me (plus, he was an expert on guitar). Towards the end of the year, he discovered and fell in love with this indie rock band named The National. He played one or two songs of theirs to me when we were relaxing with our other housemates one night. Since I really just wasn’t in the mood for that kind of music, I sort of brushed aside his impassioned recommendation. Fast forward to April this year, and I eventually decided to take him up on his offer. And one album in, I was entranced by the singer’s smoky, baritone vocals, obscure & gloomy lyrics and the band’s beautiful, subdued, yet lush melodies. Ross, I’m really sorry for not listening to you back then…

 

We can get Matt Berninger to write an epic ballad about our suburban tale of indifference.

We can get Matt Berninger to write an epic ballad about our suburban tale of indifference.

 

5. Digital solutions

Finally, there’s the online dating option; one which I believe has some fun, interesting, unpredictable, yet mostly disappointing results. Over the past few weeks, I’ve attempted to have a look at as many websites as possible offering ‘music suggestion services’. With such a vast scope, I could’ve very easily devoted a post with a length comparable to a Doctorate thesis reviewing each one intently and professionally. But my ambivalent attitude to their success rate (if you want to quantify it like that) means that I’ll give you a rundown on the ones that stood out for me. The main reason I feel so cynical about this option was that as a non-American citizen (i.e. a sizeable portion of this world), I am denied access to what sounds like the most perfect and exhilarating service in the world of music: Pandora Radio. Internet radio stations are a dime a dozen, and are probably the most popular websites devoted to finding new music, not necessarily just listening to it (as radio’s traditional role has been). Basically, they allow you to pick a station from a range of genres, or other variables of your liking. By listening to a station matching your current interests, these websites hope that you’ll enjoy anything new on there. Pandora takes that one giant step, if not leap, further.

 

What do we find inside Pandora's Box?

What do we find inside Pandora’s Box?

 

Pandora is a custodian of the Music Genome Project, a musical analysis and research initiative that was formed to fundamentally capture exactly what traits makes songs unique, or similar. It uses almost 400 musical attributes, which, when combined in larger groups, amass about 2000 focus traits. If this sounds oddly scientific, it is. The founders based their idea on the study of genetics, and have statistically deconstructed music down to exceptionally precise terms such as: gender of lead vocalist, rhythm syncopation, level of distortion on electric guitar, key tonality, and many more than the average person has the ability to name. Organise these altogether with complex mathematical algorithms, and you…wow, the jealousy is flooding my veins as I type this…get a service which eventually is guaranteed to pinpoint exactly what you like and might like, in ways that you probably would never have thought possible. It’s actually scary to think what potential there is if one took advantage of such a mindbogglingly brilliant service. To sum it up: if I had unrestricted, full access to Pandora, this post would be the shortest I’ve ever written, or ever write. Only one line: “Sign up at www.pandora.com. You will experience heaven on earth”. So after briefly meeting the girl or boy of your dreams, then finding out that you can never be with them, what does one do? Settle for less…

 

5.1. Radio lovin’

If internet radio sounds like your kind of thing, then the following are pretty decent. Last.fm focuses more on social networking and using the service as your primary medium of listening, which I found a bit frustrating, with me being an iPod slave. Despite its popularity, my earnest attempts to actually find new material with it were hopelessly convoluted. It wanted me to ‘scrobble’ my iTunes library to get an idea of what I listen to already (good start), but then very little became of that endeavour on the website itself, where it showed my (incomplete) listening history, but mainly for the purpose of others finding it, since the recommendations it gave were rather weak and short-reaching (it only gave recommendations of artists I had actually listened to already, according to my Play Counts. Go figure). iLike was much the same, focusing heavily on getting other users to ‘like’ what you like, but this time you have to input your favourite artists. Too much effort, not enough reward; especially for something which is meant to streamline the process!

 

Emphasis on the 'social' part

Emphasis on the ‘social’ part

 

Jango sets a good standard, and one can easily ignore the social networking part and get down to the nitty-gritty of finding new music. You can fine-tune the variety of artists and songs, and its interface is kept simple; all it asks you to do is input just one artist, and it will base your personalised station around that. With a rating system and music video section too, Jango is uncluttered with very little frills, and is worth having a look at it. If Jango’s interface was simple, Musicovery‘s is even more so. Its innovative design focus on moods, rather than artists, allowing one to find a station based on what type of mood they want to the music to convey. A graph, with ‘Energetic’ and ‘Calm’ on the y-axis, and ‘Dark’ and ‘Positive’ on the x-axis is your tool, and can be tweaked chronologically and by genre. A ‘dance’ radio option also sorts music by tempo and by, what it seems to be, whether you can dance to it. Stereomood goes one further, and specifies oddly specific moods and activities that might apply to you as a listener, such as ‘just woke up’, ‘good karma’, ‘dinner with friends’ and ‘spring cleaning’. Mood radio might find just the song for you right now, and if used smartly, many times more when you’re feeling a little different. It’s like meeting an arty and intellectual cutie in a coffee shop, then later meeting a bold and passionate Casanova in a bar. Different moods, different situations, different desires…

 

Some of the moods that Stereomood offers

Some of the moods that Stereomood offers

 

5.2. In blogs we trust

Just as one would trust a friend’s opinion (see point number 4), opinions and recommendations from blog-writers are a marriage of authentic journalism and newsy chats. Their personal nature can make one feel like the writer is speaking directly to him/her (oh, the irony…), and their recommendations can come across as friendly advice. But since there are so many out there on the web, where just about anyone can start one up, it can be really difficult to find the good ones, or ones that appeal to you. Aggregators like The Hype Machine and Elbows trawl through the proverbial ‘blogosphere’ to track trends and find the most talked-about artists and songs. The Hype Machine focuses on providing MP3 links, so that one can hear what’s on their Latest or Popular charts and read about it too. This way, both the music and the blog are discovered, so that future plays of the former and visits to the latter will hopefully occur. As such, blogs that post actual MP3’s seem to be the focus, and are more likely to get recognition. Elbows handles the music industry as a whole, and aggregates articles, videos and anything else one might find interesting that’s currently being discussed. Both sites provide one with easy access to discovering good music and thought-provoking discussion of it.

 

5.3. Indie Cred

Discovering artists before they hit the big time is becoming easier and easier nowadays. Whilst attending small, cramped gigs in seedy bars and buying limited first pressings of garage recordings aren’t activities that are going to completely die out, the quest to find independent artists involves much less on-the-ground activity than in the past. Artists can post their work on music-sharing websites, upload performances to Youtube and create a buzz amongst their fans, who in turn can share their indie favourites with just a click of a button. thesixtyone is one of those websites that strives for that indie aesthetic. Named after Highway 61 in the USA, a place rooted in music tradition and history (à la Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan and the King himself, Elvis Presley), independent artists can post their music in a homely forum where substance is valued highly, and talent can hopefully be discovered by the right people. Or just you, as an inquisitive soul, seeking a refreshing burst of creativity from people that have yet to secure a massive record deal, churning out hit after hit.

 

A typical quirky backdrop to a song on thesixtyone

A typical quirky backdrop to a song on thesixtyone

 

As such, the site is a lucky packet of pleasures, modelling itself on the internet radio format, but with high resolution photographs forming the backdrop of each song, and quirky quips from and about the artists artfully integrated into the interface. It’s an intimate, enriching and engaging experience, and you can feel good about the fact that you are giving exposure to someone who needs it more than your big rockstars and popstars.

 

5.4. A map to/of your heart

Lastly, there are the ‘map’-designed websites, which are fun for exploring the relationships between artists and genres. Personally, I found these to be the most useful and successful, because of the visual aspect. Seeing the links with your own eyes is incredibly effective, and it’s no wonder teachers at schools and universities recommend mind-mapping to their students; the human mind responds to the ‘spider webs’ well. Just like a little stalking session of someone’s Profile Picture album on Facebook upon meeting them, you get a clearer idea of how the music is related.

 

Map Of Your Heart - knowing2wonder.blogspot.com

 

TuneGlue is a straight-forward, nifty mapping tool that creates webs of similar artists based on one input by you in the search bar. From there, you can branch out of the original six suggestions it gives, looking at artist bios, discographies and even links to the official websites. The key here is its simplicity. In my own experience, I discovered Klaxons after inputting my favourite band Bloc Party, and found their indie-rave-punk chaos close enough to be associated with my beloved Bloc.

 

So what's next? Kasabian?

So what’s next? Kasabian?

 

Music-Map (and its sister website Gnoosic) continue with the trend of simplistic interfaces (see where I’m going here?), and are akin to gentle nods in the right direction of true love. The former takes on the form of an orbiting galaxy of stars, placing the artists you choose in the middle of the cosmos, as more similar artists orbit it in a closer trajectory, and less similar artists spiral around the periphery. The latter is also developed by the same person, and requests that you enter three of your favourite artists into the search bar, upon where it will give an automated recommendation. Don’t like it, or don’t know it? Rank the suggestion, and it will adapt for the next five or so suggestions. No profile, no sign-up, just a ‘Like’/’Don’t like’/’Don’t Know’. Personally, I put in Bloc Party, The Strokes and Kings Of Leon, and the first suggestion, Interpol, completely suited my tastes and made me wonder how I had never heard of them up until now. And since they’ve been around since 2002, it’s nearly a decade I’ve wasted without their dark, angular riffs buzzing through my ears…

 

Summary

Finding love, both physically and musically, can be a nerve-wracking experience. I still get that pang of worry as I load an album of an artist I don’t know onto my iPod. But that fear of something new gets washed away when I feel a bond between the music and myself that was probably always there, but I never knew of it. Like a conversation between long-lost friends that gets picked up after many years. Like a reflex reaction between the ears and pleasure centres of the mind. You want to experience that feeling more and more. But you can’t expect to blindly stumble upon it every day and be successful. Falling in love may sound romantic, but I’d rather dive into it, thanks.

 

Love Music - danjlovesthe90s.wordpress.com

 

 

Links to recommended websites:

 

(On a side note: I made a chance discovery of The Music Map: The Landscape Of Music project whilst researching for this post. It’s a site I highly recommend anyone to have a look at, regardless of what you’re searching for. A certain computer programmer, Dr. Yifan Hu, develops algorithms and software for mapping the relationships between anything on the internet, and his music map is thorough, well-researched and fascinatingly useful. Treat it like a browsing session on Google Maps, except it’s not countries and cities you’re hovering over; it’s genres and artists.)