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Play Television’s masterpiece debut ‘Marquee Moon’ to your friends. “Who’s this?” they’ll ask before inquiring if it’s a new release. Enjoy the shock on their faces when you tell them, “Actually, it was recored in 1977.” Thirty-three years later, ‘Marquee Moon’ still sounds just as revolutionary and fresh as anything Radiohead has produced in the last decade. It’s a punk record with intricate extended jams. It’s a new wave record with garage rock power chords. Mostly it’s an astonishing virtuoso guitar rock album. Television never got much commercial recognition, but after a single listen, it’s easy to hear the profound influence they had on the American underground rock scene of the 80’s. From The Pixies to Pavement, anyone who picked up a guitar owed a little to Television.

Television in turn are indebted to the punk-meets-blues noise experiments of The Velvet Underground. Although Television stripped out the blues and white noise freakouts and went for arty guitar rock, the connection can be traced like DNA. Without the blues rhythms, it’s difficult to dance to anything on this album. Mostly, you’ll just want to sit back and listen to the interplay between the two guitarists, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. They take center stage for every song, not so much trading licks as interlocking their rhythms and melodies into a fascinating and gorgeous sonic architecture.

The opening ‘See No Evil’ is a high energy first track that demonstrates that interplay perfectly, with Verlaine and Lloyd laying down grooves and veering off in jazz like flourishes as they explore around the melody. There’s even a blazing tight solo in the middle that has hooks enough for a whole album. Later on the album ‘Guiding Light’ slows things down with a gentle anthem and one of the prettiest outros this side of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’. The undisputed finest track is the eponymous ‘Marquee Moon’, a masterpiece of experiment, virtuosity and beauty. Rolling over ten minutes, it’s chock full of extended jamming concluding with one of the greatest guitar solos in history.

‘Marquee Moon’ has never lacked for accolades. Rolling Stone, Uncut, NME, Pitchfork, VH1 and Q Magazine have all placed the album high in various all-time lists. It only lacks a wide audience. It’s true the band never turned in a three chord pop song, but it’s a must listen for anyone who is a fan of heartfelt rock and roll.


John Hughes, may he rest in peace, must be flattered. M83’s ‘Saturdays=Youth’ doesn’t just owe him a debt of gratitude, it’s practicially a sequel to his movie canon, picking up the day after Claire fell for Bender in ‘The Breakfast Club’. Even the cover of the album looks like a family portrait of Hughes characters, wistful, disaffected teens, neatly arranged in a sunny field. The 80’s permeate every glossy song on the album so it’s both an irony free re-creation and a modern nostalgic update.

Every sound has been run through the synthesizers and fuzzed out or sharpened up. Each instrument is layered and layered under a heavy atmosphere of production so there’s a constant comforting hum to the songs. The opening ‘You, Appearing’ gently washes up, serving as the traditional mood setting track one. ‘Kim & Jessie’, the first single, breaks the calm by opening with a echoey drum snap before floating away under towering synths. It’s dinstinctly goth, but the pretty sort of goth like The Cure or The Cocteau Twins.

The smoulderingly sexy ‘Skin of the Night’ sounds like it would be equally at home in ‘Twin Peaks’ or ‘Miami Vice’, with it’s languid high register vocals punctuated by thunderous drum beats. ‘Graveyard Girl’ threatens to cross over into laughable teenage angst, but is saved by the shear exhileration of the rushing melodies and anthematic energy and a Molly Ringwald namedrop that will make you smile. If you aren’t immediatly won over, then it’s possible you don’t remember the feeling of growing up.

But after the the hot instrumental dance club track ‘Couleurs’, the album loses its pace. Because it’s frontloaded with the singles, there is some slow down to the last half the of the album. With the exception of the dramatic anticpation of ‘We Own the Sky’, the snyths keep building, and the delicate white noise pulsates, but the songs lack the hooks and can’t stand up to the brilliant opening four tracks. The album concludes with the pretty, but slightly confusing ‘Midnight Souls Still Remain’, an 11+ minute ambient experiment that consists entirely of two lazily alternating notes.

‘Saturdays=Youth’ is gorgeously cinematic, honest music about an ironic time. It might be inconsistently paced, but the love, attention and craft on each song ends up counting for a lot. In it’s effort to transport you back to the 80’s, it succeds on nearly every level. If you have fond memories of John Hughes and synthetic shoegazing soundscapes, you’ll love every moment of this nostalgic album.

If ‘The Suburbs’ had a tagline, if could read ‘Now with 40% more Arcade Fire!’. The album is longer, the songs bigger, the concepts sprawling. And it couldn’t sound better. It proves that despite a three year wait between albums, the band hasn’t run out of creativity or surprises. They have managed to actually get better at what they do, namely, deliver monstrously orchestral rock songs with emotional hurricanes at their cores. ‘The Suburbs’ takes the drama and anger and sadness of their previous albums ‘Funeral’ and ‘Neon Bible’ and directs it to the malaise of the ordinary. Singer Win Butler sounds like Francis Ford Coppola when he says that the album “is neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs, it’s a letter from the suburbs.” The greatest triumph of the album is that even with the mundane subject matter, the songs are richer and more varied than ever.

Things open up with the eponymous, intentionally misleading bright single. It sounds like a lazy summer evening, with the band practicing on the front porch, singing about overpasses, grass and grabbing the keys. But it steadily shifts tone until the final confession at the end: ‘In my dreams we’re still screaming’ and music segues cleanly into ‘Ready to Start’. The band plugs in the guitars, layers on the production and reminds you, HEY! You’re listening to Arcade Fire! The effects shimmer and the sounds builds until the final minute when you know things are going to veer again and burst into something glorious.

‘Rococo’ brings a bitter indie stomp with hints at the harder rock sounds to come. ‘Empty Room’ follows with a busy flurry of strings before things fall into ‘ City With No Children’ which sounds of all things like Kieth Richards playing a lick for Bruce Springsteen. Butler sings about ‘The summer that I broke my arm’ and ‘We listened to the engine failing’, delivering lyrics like Polaroids.

For however outstanding the first half the album is, nothing can prepare you for the spectacular trilogy of highlights in the second act. ‘Half Light II’ is a densely layered crystalline cathedral of sound, with gentle synth beats and languid strings over rushing guitar melodies. It reaches the highs of ‘Wake Up’ and ‘No Cars Go’ while still keeping an air of gentle flow rather than full on bombast. The songwriting is some of the most personal and soul bearing on the album as Butler sings ‘Wanna wash away my sins/In the presence of my friends.” It’s a blunt confession that breaks your heart just for being so honest. ‘Suburban War’ is almost as good, with a grand finale that builds tension without ever completely resolving it, keeping the listener feeling slightly uneasy to the end. The trio of songs resolves with ‘Month of May’, one of the several stylistic surprises on the album. Just when you expect another orchestral anthem, the song bursts out of the gate with a jagged driving guitar which never lets up. It’s the most straightforward rock song Arcade Fire has recorded, but it still fits the tone of the album, with a jittery nervous mood. It’s a masterful transition from song to song, changing styles but holding onto the thematic integrity.

The final act turns further inward, and at times feels like the band might be repeating themselves. ‘We Used to Wait’ is the kind of song that seems too easy for them to crank out at this point. Nervous lyrics? Check. Layered, dense production? Check. Slow burning, building finale? Check. On ‘Funeral’, this would have been a highlight. On the epic ‘Suburbs’, it’s just another chapter. It’s a minor gripe, since it feels like complaining about having too much of a good thing.

The final surprise is possibly the best: ‘Sprawl II’ is a full on new wave dance track. Arcade Fire has always shared a thematic kinship with bands like Talking Heads. But they’ve never fully embraced the sound until now. If you check your music player to make sure Blondie hasn’t gotten mixed into the album, you’re not alone. Even with the throwback sound, it’s still is unmistakably modern. The synths are lush and beats clean as candy. It’s a unusual achievement since it is both unique in the Arcade Fire catalog and one of the best tracks they’ve ever recorded.

The only issue with the album could be the length. At just over an hour, the album is a good fifteen to twenty minutes longer than their previous LPs. But it’s hard to pick out any songs that don’t belong or that should have been left out. Sequencing and rhythm are important on a conceptual album and everything here is exactly where it should be. The third act does slow down, but that only makes the final impact of ‘Sprawl II’ that much more dazzling. Arcade Fire has delivered another instant classic, a document of today. This is what daily life feels like, living in the post-Bush era. Yes, things got a little better, we avoided the apocalypse, so why are we still so unsatisfied?

New wave throwbacks Metric have recorded the heaviest, most propulsive, slickest 80’s record that was never recorded in the 80’s. ‘Fantasies’ moves from hook to hook, tossing off ultra catchy melodies and sing-alongs as if it were as effortless as just picking up a guitar. Metric have done their share of genre hopping in the past, previously emphasizing electronic dance beats, synth pop and alternative. Here, they’re in full stadium anthem mode. And it’s stadium rock like it should sound: majestically huge, slyly fun but not completely devoid of intelligence.

It’s hard to pick out single highlights in a set this consistently exciting. The opening ‘Help I’m Alive’ starts out with a nervous kick and paranoid lyrics. Under an upward spiraling build of crashing beats, it’s quick to deliver one of the most immediately catchy lines on the album: “Help I’m alive/My heart keeps beating like a hammer”. It’s the kind of epic, yet emotionally direct line that made The Smashing Pumpkins so accessible through their waves of distorted noise and the kind of line that shows up in nearly every song on this album. On ‘Satellite Mind’, singer Emily Haines quips “Coming home cause I want to/Hang out with a starlet/Stare up at the ceiling/Preview of a screening/Flashback of a feeling/Sixth sense of a calling/I heard you fuck through the wall/I heard you fuck”. She delivers each line with a sneer and a tone so biting, she could scare away Billy Corgan. But her voice is still always velvet lined, high pitched and doll like. Part of the fun is that you can never quite believe such a cute girl would be singing about such dark subjects.

There are a few pauses for breath, on the delicately pleading ‘Twilight Galaxy’ and the spacey melodies of ‘Collect Call’. But they’re each followed up by rousing rockers like the double timed ‘Gold Guns Girls’ which threatens to trip over itself as it hurdles along. One of the huge successes of the album is that even the anthems stay personal and have compelling stories. The defiant chant that culminates ‘Blindness’ is a perfect example. The song begins as a moody, low register piece that half way through suddenly unfolds into a full blown foot stomper with Haines repeating over and over “What it is and where it stops nobody knows/You gave me a life I never chose/I wanna leave but the world won’t let me go/I wanna leave but the world won’t let me go”. Stadium rock at its best.

Appropriate then that the final track on the album, ‘Stadium Love’ is a song as bombastic as anything Muse is putting out. All it’s missing is the orchestral flourishes. Metric keeps things rooted in a simple rock structure, all guitar heavy and soaring vocals with whip sharp drumming and driving bass lines layered and layered until they’re as big as their ambitions. It’s a brilliant achievement that reminds you that there’s still room for fun in the bleak world of alternative rock and roll.

When ‘Terrible Love’ opens The National’s newest album ‘High Violet’, you might catch yourself checking your speakers to make sure there are no loose wires. The first 15 seconds are pure lo-fi fuzz, an airy ode to My Bloody Valentine. But then Matt Berninger starts his instantly identifiable drone, which pierces the static like a sheet of water. What began as a gentle wake up slowly builds until the the reverb fills the room and Berninger repeats over and over “It takes an ocean not to break” and the band hits a layered, uplifting crescendo that would make Arcade Fire smile. It’s a powerful track one, and it’s only a teaser of what is already the best album of the year.

It still sounds like The National, but they’ve never sounded this awake. Berninger, always understated, sometimes monotone, delivers soulful, literate, stream of consciousness thoughts in a delicate baritone that sounds like he might splinter apart if pushed too far. But he keeps pushing this time out, finding a range to match his soaring emotions. Sometimes it’s an awkward stutter like on ‘Afraid of Everyone’ where he sounds like a record jumping grooves ‘Your voice is swallowing my soul-soul-soul’. It turns to pure silk on ‘Sorrow’ where the band plays a sparkling angelic driving beat as he half whispers, as if he might be ashamed to admit it, that ‘I don’t want to get over you’. And on ‘England’ it becomes an operatic, layered projecting chorus. Even if you can’t fully decipher the words or the meaning behind the lyrics (’cause all the silver girls gave us black dreams/leave the silver city/to all the silver girls/everything means everything/I was afraid I’d eat your brains /Cause I’m evil’ on ‘Conversation 16’) you can gather connotation from how he sings. Like The Cocteau Twins or The Talking Heads, the meaning of these songs does not come through a concrete narrative, but through a texture of words, sounds and inflection.

The band displays a similar broadening range, moving between the gentle chamber indie-folk of ‘Runaway’ to the slow burning storm of ‘England’ to the towering anthem of ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’. Everything sounds thickly layered, with horns and strings washing through and choruses of backing vocals adding further depth. It’s a wall of sound, but it never sounds muddy. Even the lo-fi fuzz on tracks like ‘Terrible Love’ comes gently and feels comforting. Indie rock likes to sound pretty, but it rarely hits the highs that ‘High Violet’ reaches on every other track.

‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ deserves special mention. The first single from the album, it’s also the first song by The National that actually deserves to be released as such. For a band that willfully kept their heads down and played to the critics, ‘Bloodbuzz’ sounds like a wake up call. The drum beats burst out of the gate, hurtling the song into a lush, spiraling wall of sound and the best use of piano in rock and roll since Pink Floyd’s ‘Us and Them’. It’s an epic road trip of a song, one that will raise hairs on your arms and make your chest hurt with the staggering beauty of it all. As it climaxes in a final rush of insistent pounding tides of sound, you’ll find yourself looking for the repeat button. ‘Bloodbuzz’ is easily one of the best songs of the decade.