Rhythm and Views: Best of Reading 2014

We all know by now how much I love to ramble about bands I love so, as promised, I thought it was time to carry on that tradition in the form of my Reading 2014 highlights. If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know I was lucky enough to go to Reading this year and now, with a couple of weeks of sleep behind me (although still with an annoyingly persistent collection of illnesses and bruises), I feel I can properly look back on the weekend.

First off, it wouldn’t be right to start with any other than my beloved Arctics, who unsurprisingly smashed it. My friends and I were right near the front before they came on but decided to move further back so we could actually breathe- let alone dance- and I am so glad we did, as I think such a large part of enjoying a band is having a good crowd (yes I’m talking to you, crappy Vampire Weekend audience). From the opening riff of ‘Do I Wanna Know’ I just knew it would be a good’un; Alex was on point all the way through with his perfectly calculated obnoxious charm and the crowd were lapping up his every word. In terms of the setlist, they played ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ which I’ve always wanted to see live, but I can’t help feeling they missed some of their best hits- namely 505, Mardy Bum and Pretty Visitors (probably my favourite live track when I saw them on their AM tour). It’s hard to compare their Reading performance to seeing them at their own show; the latter was probably more slick and technically perfect, but you just can’t beat the amazing festival vibe and a fantastic crowd ten times the size.

One band who have definitely thrown themselves into the industry head first thanks to Reading has to be Catfish & The Bottlemen, who’ve managed to sell out their tour even before the release of their debut album (I’m still bitter that I missed out on tickets). I know they’re going to be huge, and I can’t be more happy that I got to see them in the tiny Festival Republic stage with one of the best crowds of the festival- complete with a naked crowdsurfer, egged on by the band themselves to “take it off, take it off!“. On straight after Catfish came King Charles, hands down my favourite act from 2000 Trees last year; nothing makes me want to dance more than his music does. Fab music, fab voice and even fabber hair- what more could you really ask for?

Now I’ve always been a fan of Cage The Elephant from their ‘Aint No Rest For The Wicked’ days, but I can’t say I’ve listened to a lot of their newer releases (my beautiful signed Shake Me Down picture vinyl is still unashamedly one of my favourite possessions). The same cannot be said for one of my friends though, so at her request we elbowed our way to near the front and I ended up counting it  as hands down one of my favourite acts of the festival. Definitely will be seeing them again sometime in the future. The end of Cage’s set meant a quick dash back to the main stage for Foster The People- I’ve been wanting to see them live for four years now and I’m still pretty amazed that I finally have. I know a lot of people aren’t fans but I really don’t get that- Mark Foster’s voice is just to die for and everything about their music is so happy, especially at a festival- nothing beats being in the middle of a crowd belting out some indie-pop lyrics as the sun slowly sets behind the stage.

I could go on for weeks about every band I saw at Reading, but I think (know) I would probably lose every subscriber I have, which is probably best avoided. I  just had to give a particular mention to a few bands that particularly stood out or I was especially impressed by- as I said before, any chance to ramble about music is a chance that I never fail to grasp with both hands. As I’m sure you’ve gathered.

Rhythm and Views: Supermodel- Foster The People

It’s very rare that a band releases a debut album that defines them immediately, but this is exactly what indie-pop heroes Foster The People managed back in 2011 with ‘Torches’. Songs like ‘Houdini’ and ‘Call It What You Want’ became the songs of the summer; the perfect aftermath of a collision between half of the genres under the sun. It was completely original and oh-so-very-Foster; there’s no mistaking those dreamy  harmonies and dulcet tones. Not to forget, of course, ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, the hit that rocketed them to fame and became something of an anthem that even my parents recognise and sing along to on the few occasions that I get control of the dinner music.

So after a success like ‘Torches’ that I’m still listening to regularly 3 years later, it was inevitable that a follow-up album that lived up to or even exceeded those standards was a pretty big ask. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that I’ve hotly awaited their second album to see what they’ve managed to concoct this time. After only a few listens, I must say that ‘Supermodel’ doesn’t fail to please.

The album kicks off with ‘Are You What You Want To Be’, which I’ve heard many people rightly point out has a very Vampire Weekend-esque feel to it, matched with their compulsory catchy sing-along style chorus. The pace slows down for ‘Ask Yourself’, a song that takes you to sunny-beached summer holidays as Mark’s silky vocals glide over the dreamy lyrics. ‘Coming of Age’ is the next song and is arguably the most reminiscent of ‘Torches’ whilst still definitely acting as a move away from their roots- although a move towards what I am unsure as of yet. It seems Foster have used this as a chance to ignore the pressure to fit into a genre and to push the boundaries and find their own place in the music industry.

Skimming past the unassuming yet charming ‘Nevermind’ we hit the real stand out track on the album- ‘Pseudologia Fantastica’. At five and a half minutes, it’s the longest  song, and it seems just like any other FTP song until you hit the fourth minute and it starts to slowly descend into a psychedelic frenzy. And I mean that in the best way possible. This is picked up again by the almost choir-like interlude that comes in the form of thirty-three-second-long  ‘The Angelic Welcome of Mr. Jones’. Leaving you sitting there confused, no time is wasted before leaping into the opening riff of ‘Best Friend’ in a way which is very atypical of Foster, before continuing towards a chorus and bridge which is much more familiar, yet somehow still fresh.

Following this you find the wonderfully new and original ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon’, which hides it’s unusually thought-provoking lyrics behind electronic undertones and the only track on which their full display of vocal range is displayed (plus I can’t help but note the fantastic song name). This is succeeded by ‘Goats in Trees’, which I have heard many people call the low-point of the album, yet I can’t help but find the simple, almost country-like feel of it rather charming. Not something you’d be playing on repeat but it slots into the album nicely, fully proving that Foster have indeed done some growing up in the past three years.

The penultimate track is called ‘The Truth’ and is possibly the epitome of the dream-like state which the album induces, with layer upon layer of refined vocals paired with a toned down backing beat that is an absolute pleasure on the ears. As if they hadn’t varied enough in the tracks so far, the final track ‘Fire Escape’ is almost heart-achingly beautiful. We finally get a chance to hear Mark’s exquisitely raw  vocals with no pretenses to hide behind; a totally unexpected yet warmly welcomed acoustic conclusion that somehow just works.

So is it better than their debut? I would have to hesitate before affirming this since I loved ‘Torches’ and it still remains firmly in my most-played pile of vinyl, but I feel like ‘Supermodel’ is one of those albums that will just keep growing on me. Whilst I can’t help compare its relatively laid-back feel to the makes-you-want-to-dance aspect of their debut that I loved so much, I’m definitely excited to see how the new tracks will translate live when I see them at Reading in August. So well done boys, you’ve done it again. Not half bad.

Best Tracks: ‘Ask Yourself’, ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon’, ‘Pseudologia Fantastica’ and ‘Fire Escape’