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A (not so) Short History of Biffy Clyro – part 2

21 Mar

biffy_clyro02_website_image_bstc_wxga“Puzzle.” The aptly named fourth album, saw the band find that final piece and reach the commercial success their talent warrants in 2007. This was the album that brought them into the collective consciousness of the nation. It allowed their long-serving fans the opportunity to proudly talk about their knowledge of previous albums, boast of how long they had been fans for and brag about how many times they had seen them play live in small and intimate venues.

The problem with your favourite lesser-known band suddenly becoming popular, however, is that the songs are now everywhere. They get over-played on radio. People not nearly cool enough begin to express their interest in the band. They start to play larger venues. And tickets are sold out before you get a chance to buy them. Basically, it’s a nightmare.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your stance, this album achieved all it deserved. The album is brilliant and the songs are instantly accessible to new fans while being Biffy enough to please existing ones. Written in the wake of singer Neil’s mother’s death, the lyrics are so blatantly obvious about love and loss and coming to terms with death that it could easily have sounded cheap and cheesy had it come from almost anyone else. But Neil accomplishes it with style, passion, integrity and apparent ease. The band simultaneously showed their heart while flexing their muscles through their biggest sound to date. For any prospective Biffy Clyro fans, this is the place to start. Whether you choose to move on from “Puzzle” forward or backward chronologically is up to you. Forward means commercially more successful tracks with slightly more catchy choruses. Backwards means musical strangeness that will keep you coming back for more.

Start with track 1; “Living is a Problem Because Everything Dies”, and keep going.

I then had a small fall out with Biffy over 2009’s “Only Revolutions”. I felt that it was too soft, too ‘mainstream’ and lacking of that classic Biffy twisting-turning song structure which caught my attention at the start. And then, after a bit of a break, I listened to it properly. It is still not my favourite Biffy album, but it has some great songs that showed Biffy Clyro’s growth into their new success.

Tracks: “Mountains”, “Bubbles”, “Many of Horror”.

January 2013 saw the release of their most recent offering, the 2-disc “Opposites”. On this album, the band look to have found the formula that balances the technical skill and musical interestingness of early Biffy with the mainstream appeal of latter day Biff. There are songs with heavy distortion and wild vocals, and others with clean guitars, harmonies and beautiful melodies. And then there are tracks with touches of both. They seem to have delved deeper into the realm of heavy guitars and sweet, sweet melodies working together. Biffy Clyro continue to grow as stars and musicians both. They have put in the time and are now reaping the benefits. And rightly so.

Tracks: “The Joke’s On Us”, “Victory over the Sun”, “Black Chandelier”.

However far they have come up to this point, the recent announcement that they will be headlining the UK’s Reading Festival Main Stage this August has left some questioning their worthiness of this Sunday slot usually reserved for legends of the industry (previous performers include Pearl Jam, Muse and Metallica). So dedicate your ears to the mighty Biff, spend some time getting to know them and make up your mind for yourself.

A (not so) Short History of Biffy Clyro – part 1

19 Mar

BiffyClyroNMEAwardsDC250211Though you may not be aware of it yet, Biffy Clyro have earned your listening pleasure. As far as hard-working bands go, they are up there near the top. But they have not simply been putting in extra shifts to compensate for any lack of ability. Hardly. These are talented musicians who, for a three-piece, have a massive sound that has been years in the making, but has also been around for years longer than the general public might be aware.

While studying at Glasgow University, Scotland, the band gigged relentlessly, often playing five, six or even seven shows in a week. That sort of live exposure, when added to the quality of both song and performance, led to a terribly devoted fan base that was constantly growing. Their first album, “Blackened Sky”, was released in 2002 and was made up of many of the songs from this period. It is a fantastic début record showing some of what was to come from the band, containing well-crafted songs that are interesting and unafraid to be different. They work the quiet/loud dynamic brilliantly, which would be polished to a sheen in later releases, and gave us a taste of singer Simon Neil’s vocals.

Tracks worth listening to: 27, Justboy, 57.

Then came 2003’s “The Vertigo of Bliss”. The band was largely unknown outside of their home land at this time, but the album was embraced by their adoring fans. With the luxury of hindsight, however, it doesn’t seem to measure up against their other releases. Joining Simon Neil’s vocals and guitar, are (Scottish and ginger) twins James and Ben Johnston, on bass and drums respectively. When your rhythm section have shared a womb, and your band have shared stage space as much as these three have, it creates an undeniable musical understanding between the members. They are tight. Very tight. When they perform live they seem to move as one and can read each other’s playing in a way that can only come from spending endless hours locked away in rehearsal rooms and exposed on stage, and they put that to good use when recording their second album.

You see, they recorded it in a day. One day in the studio to lay down thirteen tracks. That is how tight they are. The songs that make up this album are powerful, tender and interesting, changing direction mid-song when you’re not quite expecting it. Unfortunately, though the songs are solid, the album tends to get largely overlooked by fans as it doesn’t feel quite right as a whole, probably due to the rushed nature of the recording. But it is still definitely worth a listen.

Tracks: Questions and Answers, The Ideal Height, Toys Toys Toys Choke, Toys Toys Toys.

Biffy’s third album, “Infinity Land”, is many fans’ favourite and an incredible musical achievement. The sound is different to their previous releases, but it is still unquestionably Biffy. The guitar is more angular, the sound at times heavier, the changes of direction more pronounced while still making perfect sense within the context of the songs. The album keeps you interested even after years of listening, which is not an easy thing to achieve. For me, this is the Biffy that I know and love. Biffy at their best. They may have reached higher heights with later albums, but this is their best musical achievement. It sounds like nothing else before or since and has a timeless feel to it that calls you back time and again.

Tracks: My Recovery Injection, Got Wrong, Glitter and Trauma.

Tune in again soon for Part-2..

Album Review: An Awesome Wave by Alt-j (∆)

5 Feb

Do you remember that elusive creature, that almost mythical monster, the complete album? I do. Just. But it has become such a rare occurrence in this degenerating industry of massive hit singles and album filler that it is so very noticeable when an entirely good album comes trundling along. Well, 2012 saw the debut release of England’s alt pop newbies, Alt-j (∆), with the album An Awesome Wave. And it lives up to its name.

Taking their name from the keyboard shortcut for the Delta symbol (triangle) on a Mac keyboard (“triangles are my favorite shape”, sings Joe Newman), they arrive in your awareness already inciting curiosity. Having been accused of a contrived ideal, it is difficult to see where the accusation is supposed hit them. Openly stating that they tried not to push too many boundaries, but tried more to make the sort of music that they enjoy listening to, and having spent five years working on this record, it is slightly contrived. But it is more well-thought-out. And it needs to be.

The varied sound and the genre-straddling nature of the album is surely enough to piqué anyone’s interest. From the ominous piano intro and growing, dirty bass on opening track “Intro”, slipping seamlessly into the intricately stuttering a Capella “Interlude I” before the first track proper kicks in, this album takes you on a journey.
“Tessellate” revolves around a simple yet elegant bass line and well-used spacing, often stripping right down to vocals only, before building the layers toward the end. The record has some upbeat moments, namely on “Breezeblocks” and “Dissolve Me”, there’s the Radiohead-inspired “Something Good”, and the slightly heavier (read louder) “Fitzpleasure” which uses, to bigger effect, the fat, dirty bass touched on in “Intro” which is only highlighted by the clever and gentle interplay with the softer instruments and the breaks in the song.
One of the standout tracks is more delicate “Matilda”. Once again the simple bass and guitar interplay over percussion bears most of the load, but by changing back and forth between major and minor keys, the song has a somber yet uplifting feel.

When listened to with headphones it is easy to notice the balancing, splitting the instruments over the left and right channels, making it easy to pick them out individually. It also enhances the subtle touches used so brilliantly throughout the record and gives each song more space to roam around your head.
The use of spaces and breaks within each song, and the well-placed interludes across the album to a larger degree, works beautifully. At times it sounds as though the components of each song may have been written separately. Like verse, chorus and breaks were conceived in isolation and compiled at a later stage. But each song flows excellently despite the seemingly independent writing. With the almost separate parts of these songs flowing so well on their own, this could be a major factor in the overall smoothness of the album as a whole.

Toward the last few tracks you have become aware of the basic formula and have a good idea of what to expect. While each song has its own defining nuances, the album tends to slowly fade out instead of bidding farewell with a bang in a giant ball of flame and glory, which is a pity. Sort of. You see, this, oddly, seems to fit very well with the flow of the album as a whole. Though you may be disappointed with this unremarkable ending to a remarkable album, the disappointment can be averted by simply turning on the ‘repeat’ function and sliding from “Hand Made” straight back to “Intro” and starting the journey all over again.
Believe me, this is a journey you will want to undertake more than once.