Writing for three records is something I really wanted to do but now that it actually comes to it is very daunting, how do you only pick three!?
I’ve decided to come at it by approaching stuff that absolutely changed my outlook on the type of music I myself wanted to make and that have heavily influenced my songwriting. These are also records that opened the door to all the things I listen to now, rather than albums I’m purely nostalgic about. This really is the only way I could pick just three records. These aren’t necessarily obscure or niche albums, more so ones that when I first heard them I just had that “WHAT IS THIIIIISSSSS!?” moment. Another rule I used was that I still listen to them regularly now, so here goes…
Idlewild – The Remote Part
In the summer of 2002 I was busy trying desperately to grow out my fringe and escape the boredom of growing up in the small Scottish village of North Queensferry.
I had two siblings who would physically race me home from school to the one computer in the house (I am shite at running) and dial up internet so access to music online was limited at best.
My only love musically at the time in terms of genres was pop punk, some pop punk, and more pop punk and I was just getting into singing in a band – me and some friends spent a lot of time in our then drummer’s house trying to recreate our favourites by Blink-182, Green Day, or anyone on Drive Thru/Fuelled By Ramen records.
I say trying because even with my unbroken teenage voice, I just couldn’t hit the notes some of my American heroes could. Even though we were just covering songs we liked, they were all improving as musicians and I felt like I was the weak link, particularly as I didn’t play an instrument. One such practice hitting the ol’ insecurity nail on the head when our drummer’s mum shouted “who’s that singing!?” in a polite tone before poking her head in the room. “Me” I replied excitedly! “It’s REALLY bad” was the blunt reply.
Walking home from an early practice, our bassist handed me The Remote Part on CD as he turned into his house. “This band are from Edinburgh, you should listen to this” was all he said.
Excited by the idea I was about to listen to people who were from a city ten miles away (Edinburgh) and not across the Atlantic, I put the disc in the CD player I always kept stuffed in the waistband of my jeans at the time.
With a singular drum hit the string and guitar intro to “You Held The World In Your Arms” kicked in and I was blown away. Even before Roddy Woomble started singing in the low Scottish drawl I’ve since come to cherish I felt like I really did.
To me, the album just has it all; a point exemplified as it shifts between stratospheric stadium rock (“You Held The World…” “American English”), tracks with heavily distorted riffs (“The Modern Way…” “Out of Routine”), folk tinged songs of self reflection (“…Hiding Place” “Tell Me Ten Words”), and finishes with the epic shoegaze of album closer “In Remote Part” – featuring Scots Poet Edwin Morgan reciting one of his works over the out. My mind was blown. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and wandered around til dark just listening to it on repeat.
The whole record has this unmistakable sense of identity and place and started a love affair with the band, Scots literature, and Scottish bands I’ve never been able to shake. Although a couple years and many an Atticus T-Shirt later, it gave me the confidence to eventually sing in my own voice and try writing my own lyrics. I can’t understate this album’s impact on me.
The Format – Dog Problems
Formed in Arizona and comprised of vocalist Nate Ruess, and multi-instrumentalist Sam Means, The Format were a band who’s first album and single – mockingly titled “The First Single” as a dig at their label (Elektra) who told them to write more “hits” had them on the way to becoming a bit of a MySpace sensation (mind when that was a thing?).
Things turned a touch sour when the label was absorbed by Atlantic records and they started taking major influence from the 70’s dream pop pioneered by Harry Nilsson, ELO, and the Beach Boys when making their second record- which left Atlantic so unimpressed with the album demos that they were duly released from their contract.
Thankfully, they then self released the record anyway and it is an album I still bang on to anyone and everyone about now, telling them to listen this instant – which is exactly what my friend (and acoustic guitarist in The Youth and Young) Alex told me to do in 2006.
The album is a massive departure from the snappy, fast paced pop-rock of their debut, and believe it or not I think it actually benefits from the fact they absolutely DID NOT have a producer willing to say “yeah…maybe that’s a bit much”.
Beatles-esque psychedelic swirls, carnival organs, musical theatre style vocals and string arrangements, a bloody cheerleading section, the hum of crickets as the intro to a song. They threw the kitchen sink and then some at this thing and I’d never heard anything quite like it that I didn’t think was absolute cheese until then.
What was produced is (in my opinion) a flawless pop record of unashamed flamboyance and some of the catchiest hooks imaginable. It also has some of the sharpest lyrics I’d heard at the time, detailing the break up of a relationship, along with the bands frustrations at issues they faced regarding their record labels and the music industry in general.
My album highlights would be “Oceans” – which is a lesson in how to write a catchy pop song that maintains artistic integrity; and Closing track “If Work Permits” – a massive lyrical “fuck you” to Atlantic Records with one of my favourite outros ever.
Had it been another era, or under different circumstances, I think every one of these tracks could have made this band massive as no one sounded like them at the time. Nate Ruess’s more recent band FUN. have had massive hits, but they feel like really slick and over produced stabs at just making Format songs.
It’s the first time I heard a pop album that I absolutely adored (listening to mostly post-hardcore/screamo stuff at the time) and will always have a special place in my heart. My Dad, who would usually order me to turn my music down, didn’t seem to mind when this was on. Perhaps a sign of the fact my music taste has basically become steadily dad-like since.
Sigur Ros – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (With a Buzz in our Ears we play Endlessly)
Icelandic art-rockers Sigur Ros were already four albums in before I first heard a record by them, and bloody hell, what a record it is. The title sets the scene for what was the band essentially severing ties with their original spacey, minimalist approach, and deciding they’d really like to have some fun whilst still being able to soundtrack every nature documentary ever made.
Right from the opening strums and pounding drums of “Gobbledigook” the album just has this joyous and childlike energy throughout.
Whilst entirely new to me at the time, the band do mostly trod the well beaten post-rock path of building songs to massive crescendos – but who really cares when the pay offs are as good as the horn outro of “Inni mer syngur vitleysingur”!?, or the life-affirming (not kidding) end to the quite spellbinding “Festival”.
Seriously. go for a run and warm up with a walk to the latter track, when the bass comes in start running, and if by the end of the song you don’t feel like you could climb Mt Everest then you just don’t like this band.
If you decide you do, not to worry, every other track has at least five goosebump inducing moments.
For those unaware, all of singer Jonsi Birgissons lyrics are in “hoplandic” which is basically a mostly made up language/bastardised version of Icelandic. The words are therefore what you make them and that to me is the most beautiful thing about them. These songs have come to mean different things to me throughout the years as I’ve aged with the album.
The first “post-rock” band I’d ever really paid attention to and still the best. A band that made me consider the spaces in between singing (I’m sure my band would argue I could do this more) and for me, the importance of melody over anything else in a song. When their first EP sold just three hundred copies, Jonsi said in an interview that it didn’t matter because “we will change the way people think about music” and I can’t say anything else other than that for me, this is very true. Hearing this band for the first time is a thing of real beauty.
Honourable mentions/stuff I could easily have written about!
Bright Eyes – Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run, Nebraska, and Born In The USA
Circa Survive – Juturna
Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight
Gang Of Youths – Go Farther in Lightness
Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile to the Surface
New Found Glory – Catalyst
The Shins – Wincing The Night Away
There Will Be Fireworks – There Will Be Fireworks
Underoath – Lost in the Sound of Separation
The Youth and The Young is a folk/post-rock/pop band from Dunfermline/Edinburgh, Scotland.