All posts tagged stone

  • The Weekend Australian album reviews, June 2013: QOTSA, Sigur Ros

    Two album reviews published in The Weekend Australian Review in June 2013.

    Queens Of The Stone Age - …Like Clockwork

    Queens of the Stone Age - '...Like Clockwork' album cover, reviewed in The Weekend Australian by Andrew McMillen, June 2013The sixth album from this Californian hard rock band solidifies its reputation for consistency. Though founding singer-guitarist Josh Homme is the only ongoing member, he has become known for attracting a rotating cast of accomplished players since the band’s self-titled debut in 1998.

    This time he has re-enlisted master sticksman Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) to keep time, after first trialling this experiment for 2002′s Songs for the Deaf, widely regarded as QOTSA’s finest album. (It helped that the pair hooked up with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones in 2009, too, as Them Crooked Vultures.)

    As expected, it’s an inspired decision, one that sets the tone for yet another compelling collection. Songs such as ‘If I Had a Tail’ and ‘Smooth Sailing’ swagger with a momentum that only Homme and his comrades can muster. First single ‘My God is the Sun’ is the weakest of these 10 tracks; the real gold is buried towards the back.

    ‘I Appear Missing’ and the closing, title track exceed five minutes and hark back to the expansive suites that featured on the band’s excellent second album, 2000′s Rated R. Homme has long since learned that rock music is all about contrasts: atmosphere is just as important as breakneck chord changes.

    “One thing that is clear / It’s all downhill from here,” he sings in the album’s final lyric; he must be taking the piss because six hits and no misses is as remarkable a scorecard as you’ll find among bands of any genre.

    LABEL: Matador/Remote Control
    RATING: 4 stars

    ++

    Sigur Ros - Kveikur

    Sigur Ros - 'Kveikur' album cover, reviewed in The Weekend Australian by Andrew McMillen, June 2013There are bands with distinctive sounds, and then there’s Sigur Ros. These Icelandic gentlemen have produced seven albums, including Kveikur (pronounced ‘quaker’, meaning candlewick in the mother tongue); and with each successive release they further distance themselves from any other act, past or present.

    Formed in 1994, Sigur Ros has long been associated with the post-rock genre that favours sprawling, intricate compositions eschewing traditional verse-chorus structures. Kveikur is the group’s strongest album yet. It’s certainly Sigur Ros’s most accessible collection. Nine tracks, 48 minutes in total; only the closer, ‘Var’ (Shelter), is forgettable: a wordless, aimless dead-end of sunken, delayed piano notes and sighing strings.

    The other eight tracks are thrilling, powerful and inspiring. The nature of the cinematic sound, coupled with the band members’ Icelandic heritage, inevitably conjures mental images of snow-capped mountains and glaciers. Its winter release is ideal. Here, the former quintet is reduced to a three-piece for the first time. Jon Por Birgisson’s incomparable falsetto and bowed guitar playing practically defines this band; even his solo album, 2010′s Go, was virtually indistinguishable from the Sigur Ros catalogue.

    Only Georg Holm (bass) and Orri Pall Dyrason (drums) accompany him here, yet you’d never guess that based on the complexity of the production. Layered strings, clattering percussion and soaring sampled effects run through these songs, as best exemplified on second single ‘Isjaki’ (Iceberg). This is excellent music, unlike anything else on earth. For the uninitiated, Kveikur is the ideal starting point.

    LABEL: XL Recordings
    RATING: 4.5 stars

  • Rolling Stone album review: Midnight Juggernauts – ‘Uncanny Valley’, June 2013

    Midnight Juggernauts - 'Uncanny Valley' album reviewed in Rolling Stone Australia by Andrew McMillen, June 2013An album review for the July 2013 issue of Rolling Stone Australia.

    Midnight Juggernauts
    Uncanny Valley

    Melbourne outfit hit the bullseye on third full-length

    Midnight Juggernauts’ first two albums suffered from inconsistency, but there are no such issues here: Uncanny Valley‘s 10 tracks is packed with hooks. If anything, they’ve streamlined their approach, cutting the fat and boning up on the pop smarts that’ve been central to the Juggernauts’ appeal since their excellent debut, 2007’s Dystopia. Distinctive, sinister first single “Ballad of the War Machine” isn’t the strongest song here: that’d be the masterful finale, “Melodiya”, a stunning summary of the trio’s ability to marry shadowy dance music with elements of electronica, rock and pop. A fine way to close their most accomplished set yet.

    Label: Remote Control
    Rating: 4 stars

  • Rolling Stone album review: The Drones – ‘I See Seaweed’, March 2013

    An album review for the April 2013 issue of Rolling Stone Australia. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the review text underneath.

    The Drones
    I See Seaweed

    The Drones explore cracks of beauty and humour amid the darkness on sixth LP

    The Drones - 'I See Seaweed' album reviewed in March 2013 issue of Rolling Stone by Andrew McMillenThis album’s greatest surprise is saved for the penultimate track, ‘Laika’: an orchestral upswing suddenly blooms from nowhere, and it’s later paired with a harmonising female choir. Neither stylistic decision sits well with The Drones’ reputation for misanthropic, noisy rock ‘n’ roll, but the result is beautiful.

    This Melbourne band’s sixth studio album sees keyboardist Steve Hesketh expanding the quartet to a five-piece. His contributions here work well, often providing another layer of rhythmic bedrock to keep these eight tracks grounded; on ‘How To See Through Fog’, though, Hesketh’s tinkering accounts for a memorable lead melody.

    Singer Gareth Liddiard is well-known for penning some of the most original rhyming couplets in Australian music; I See Seaweed is no exception. The eight-minute title track alludes to rising seas and overpopulation: “We’re locksteppin’ in our billions,” he sings, “Locksteppin’ in our swarms / Locksteppin’ in the certainty that more need to be born”. It’s the heaviest song – lyrically and musically – that The Drones have released since ‘Jezebel’, the devastating opener to 2006’s Gala Mill.

    But it’s not all dark. ‘Nine Eyes’ sees Liddiard using Google Street View to visit his childhood home – accompanied by a sinister groove – and wondering “what kind of asshole drives this lime green Commodore” parked out front; ‘A Moat You Can Stand In’ matches a hilarious skewering of modern religious practices to a taut, thrash-rock tempo that nods at their early material.

    I See Seaweed captures a singular band in scintillating form, delivering yet another astounding collection of songs.

    Label: MGM
    Rating: 4.5 stars

    Key tracks: ‘I See Seaweed’, ‘Laika’, ‘Nine Eyes’

    Elsewhere: I interviewed Gareth Liddiard for The Vine a fortnight before the album’s release

  • Rolling Stone story: ‘Hungry Kids of Hungary Get Serious’, February 2013

    A story that was published in the March 2013 issue of Rolling Stone Australia. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    Hungry Kids Of Hungary Get Serious

    Personal tragedies and isolation inform the Brisbane band’s second album

    'Hungry Kids of Hungary Get Serious' story in Rolling Stone by Andrew McMillen, February 2013A band that writes a debut album brimming with sunny indie pop songs can be reasonably expected to write more of the same for their follow-up. Such was the situation in which Brisbane’s Hungry Kids of Hungary expected to find themselves following 2010’s Escapades, which hit a sweet-spot between classic Sixties-era pop and their modern take on the form. Real life has a habit of intervening, though.

    In March 2011, the four-piece – Dean McGrath (lead vocals, guitar), Kane Mazlin (lead vocals, keys), Ben Dalton (bass) and Ryan Strathie (drums) – were booked for a three-week tour in North America, including showcases at South By South West and Canadian Music Week – great opportunities to extend the band’s growing reputation overseas. Then, suddenly, all shows were cancelled and the band was homeward bound.

    “2011 was a pretty full-on year for me,” says McGrath, whose experience triggered the return journey. “A lot went down. Naturally, that really coloured the songs I was writing.” He won’t be drawn on specifics, but notes that a “personal tragedy that affected someone I was close to” meant that he had to catch the next flight home.

    “That incident echoed throughout the whole year for me,” the singer/guitarist continues. “It was an ongoing ordeal. It’s funny; writing songs for this band, we’ve always been fairly carefree, but after that [experience], these songs started coming out that were fairly intimate and personal. I was like, ‘shit, how are people going to react to this when they hear it?’”

    The result is You’re A Shadow, a collection of songs somewhat divorced from Escapades’ brimming optimism. Kane Mazlin’s contributions were coloured by a sense of isolation and melancholy, too, in part influenced by a stint in Denmark while his girlfriend took an internship. “She was busy during the day. I was by myself: I didn’t speak Danish, didn’t know anyone,” he says, over a beer in late December. “That had a huge impact on two or three of the songs that I wrote.”

    It wasn’t all bad news internationally, though: footage filmed at the Dutch festival Pinkpop in May 2012 shows the band performing before a crowd of thousands. “The Netherlands seems to be the area where it’s taken off, which is weird,” says McGrath. “When we started talking about doing overseas stuff, that’s not really the area that we imagined we’d be delving into.” Mazlin chimes in: “I think Nirvana started there, didn’t they? It’s a goldmine!”

    After the rush of Pinkpop, though, it was an abrupt comedown in Belgium. The band played that show – “a giant blur of fun” is how Mazlin describes it – and then drove half a day to Antwerp. “We played a tiny show there, where no-one knew who we were,” says McGrath. “We were like, ‘what the hell? We only drove for a few hours, why don’t people know us here if they know us there?’ You forget that it’s a different country! We crossed a border, and they don’t get the same radio [stations]. Touring Australia has conditioned us to think that it’s natural to drive a few hours to get to the next big city!”

    When it came time to choose which tracks made the new album, the four tended not to argue too much about what made it past the rehearsal room. “We do try to keep it to four equal votes, but if two of us feel really passionately about something, then the other two will probably either give it a go, or scrap it,” says McGrath. “Song-wise, we haven’t had to do that a lot leading up to this record, because we’ve seen eye-to-eye on most things without any need for debate – which makes life easier.”

    Five things that influenced You’re A Shadow

    Classic pop

    Kane Mazlin: “I listened to a lot of Camera Obscura, The New Pornographers and The Shins; really nice, classic-sounding pop records with great guitar sounds.”

    Live quintet

    Dean McGrath: “Knowing that there’s a second guitarist during live shows drastically affected the way that I write my parts – it’s not so chordal, busy and strummy.”

    Debut co-write

    Mazlin: “We were on the same wavelength this time, to the point where we were able to co-write a song, ‘When Yesterday’s Gone’ – something we’d never done before.”

    Deerhunter

    McGrath: “I listened to Halcyon Digest on repeat for months, and it heavily influenced how we recorded a few songs in the studio: that ‘lo-fi pop songs, washed out’ approach.”

    Producer Wayne Connolly

    Mazlin: “He had great ideas from the very first email: he told [bassist] Ben Dalton, ‘you need a hollow-body bass and flatwound strings’. It sounded awesome!”

  • Rolling Stone Q+A: Paul Kelly, December 2012

    A Q+A with Paul Kelly in the December 2012 issue of Rolling Stone. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    Q&A – Paul Kelly

    The singer-songwriter on his new album, having his life documented, and nephew Dan’s cooking skills

    Few of us will ever know the feeling of watching a feature-length documentary about our own lives while sitting in a cinema filled with friends and family. Paul Kelly is one of the lucky few, though he probably wouldn’t use that adjective when describing the premiere of Stories Of Me at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August. Its limited release in October coincides with the release of the acclaimed singer-songwriter’s eighteenth album, Spring And Fall, which sees Kelly pare back rock-band tropes in favour of largely acoustic, softly-sung songs.

    Before we discuss that, though: what was it like to watch your life dissected on film? “It’s something I want to do only once in my life,” Kelly replies. “I had some of my brothers and sisters there. That was the best part of it for me; the celebration of my family. The rest of it was a pretty awkward thing to watch. But I got through it.”

    First the memoir two years ago, now this film. What in your life hasn’t been documented, Paul?

    I think too much has been documented, so it’s probably time to jump back into the shadows again for a little while! [laughs] I gave Shark Island [Productions] pretty good access, but from that point it was their film, not mine. It’s funny; I don’t feel connected to the doco like I would to my own work. I liked that they picked up a lot on my family; generations back, as well as my wider clan. That’s showing that people don’t work in isolation – they’re a product of a whole lot of things.

    Speaking of family, you and your nephew Dan have spent thousands of hours together, both onstage and off. Which trait sticks out more in your mind: the fact that he’s a great musician, or that he’s family?

    Family’s first, but he’s a joy to play with. He can be a bit of a worrier. He’s a great cook, so he’s great to travel with. He cooks like he plays [guitar]; never really follows a recipe, but he’s a great improviser. His playing has big, deep roots, because he listens widely to a lot of music. He’s got one of those ‘fermenting’ brains: there’s always a lot going on in Dan’s head, and it’s just a matter of catching it as it falls out.

    Spring And Fall is a love story – what can you tell us about the starring characters?

    It’s a love story from a couple of different points of view. Some of the songs are narrated, like ‘When A Woman Loves A Man’; ‘Time And Tide’ feels a bit more like a third-person story. Others are more directly speaking from the characters involved. But to me, the emotional arc of the record starts with love’s beginning – the ‘spring’ – and there’s a turning point in the middle around ‘Someone New’, followed by the aftermath.

    With your characters, do you go as far as envisaging their physical appearances and personality traits?

    Not on this record. I didn’t have it that defined; I don’t have names for them. But a bit of a model was a Willie Nelson album from 1974 called Phases and Stages. It’s the story of a divorce: side one is the man’s point of view, side two is the woman’s. I wasn’t getting quite as specific as Willie, but I kinda liked that idea.

    I’m not sure what you’ll make of this, but every time I listen to your song ‘When A Woman Loves A Man’, I think of how perfect it’d be as the soundtrack for a sex education video.

    Really? [laughs] Well, you know, if you know people in the know, then send it off!

    “Time and tide wait for no-one,” as you sing. You seem to have taken aging in your stride better than many musicians, perhaps even working harder as you grow older.

    Songwriting’s really a form of play. I still find it fascinating. It doesn’t feel like a grind. There are certain aspects of my job that’s grinding; sometimes the touring, and proofing, and approving YouTube videos. [laughs] If you want to be any good, you have to get involved with everything. There’s more work on the creative side now. And also, the record companies do less now than they used to: I do it, or me and the team do it. But the actual thing that starts it all is ‘play’: writing a song. Nothing would happen without playing in the sandpit. And that’s all it is.

    That’s a view that hasn’t changed over the years?

    Yeah. Songwriting’s not real work. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s a “craft”. It’s play.

  • Rolling Stone story: ‘Building A Better Brain: Wired on Nootropics’, November 2012

    A 4,000 word feature story published in the November 2012 edition of Rolling Stone Australia; my first non-music feature for the magazine. Click the below image to view a PDF version, or scroll down to read the article text.

    Building A Better Brain: Wired on Nootropics
    By Andrew McMillen / Illustration by Amanda Upton

    A new generation of “smart drugs” that promise to enhance cognitive ability are now available, but are they the key to the human race’s next evolutionary leap or merely 21st century snake oil? Rolling Stone finds out…

    Before he swallowed the designer drug NZT, Bradley Cooper was having a shitty day. Scratch that; he was having a shitty life. Cooper was an unproductive, depressed writer with few prospects and fewer friends. His long-suffering girlfriend had recently left him. His unkempt appearance implied that his deep apathy extended to his body image. Here was a man broken by the accrued stress and malaise of living a seemingly pointless, joyless existence in modern day New York City.

    Moments after taking the transparent, odourless NZT pill, though, Cooper’s world changed dramatically. His visual and auditory perceptions sharpened significantly. His brain could instantly summon previously forgotten snatches of glanced-at facts and figures. His empathy and charm were suddenly amplified to the point where he was able to bed a woman who previously loathed him. A burst of inspiration saw him cleaning his apartment for the first time in years while forgoing both food and his usual addiction to nicotine. Within a few hours, Cooper produced a hundred pages of brilliant writing, which pleased his editor like never before.

    As his interior monologue put it, “I was blind; now I see. I wasn’t high, wasn’t wired; just clear. I knew what I needed to do, and how to do it.”

    This isn’t a scene from Bradley Cooper’s actual life, of course. It’s the life of a fictional character named Eddie Morra, which Cooper portrayed in the 2011 thriller Limitless. Right now, I’m psyching myself up for a Bradley Cooper moment of my own. My version of the make-believe NZT is a little, white, very real pill named Modalert. Produced by Indian manufacturer Sun Pharmaceuticals, the drug’s generic name is modafinil and it costs around $2 per 200mg dose. In Australia, it’s only prescribed to narcoleptics and shift workers who have difficulty staying awake. I’ve acquired some through an online retailer and at 5pm on a Monday, I take the drug for the first time.

    By 10pm I’m wide awake, and aware that my resting heart-rate is higher than normal. By midnight my mind is racing around like an agitated puppy: “Hey! Here I am! Play with me!” I occupy myself with the normally tedious task of transcribing interviews; when I next look at the clock, it’s 3.30am and I’m finished. I’m washing dishes to take a break from work, when I realise that my randomly chosen soundtrack has taken on an eerie parallel to real life. In the classic Nas track ‘N.Y. State of Mind’, he raps: “I never sleep / ‘Cuz sleep is the cousin of death.”

    For as long as I can remember, my answer to that age-old ‘just one wish’ hypothetical has been ‘to never fatigue’. To never need to sleep. To be able to learn, create and achieve more than any regular human being because I’m no longer confined by the boring necessity of a good night’s sleep.

    Thanks to modafinil, I’m closer to this long-held dream than ever before. And I feel incredible. Not high, not wired; just clear. The computer in my skull is crunching ones and zeroes while the rest of the world sleeps. I yawn occasionally, but my mind feels focused, at capacity, even as 5am approaches.

    It’s a kind of cognitive dissonance I’ve never experienced before; I know I should be feeling fatigued by now, but everything’s still working well. At 8.30am – roughly fifteen hours after taking the drug, which corresponds with its stated half-life – its effects wear off, and fatigue sets in. I take a three-hour nap, then pop another modafinil upon waking. I’m back on the merry-go-round of sleeplessness, and loving it.

    Giddy at the near-endless productivity possibilities that I’ve suddenly unlocked, I confess my off-label use of Modalert to a Sun Pharma spokesperson via email in a moment of clarity (or, perhaps, over-earnest honesty). The reply arrives in my inbox a short time later, and I’m briefly quietened by its ominous tone.

    “You’ve seen Limitless?” the Indian drug rep replies. “The cost is too much. Please evaluate what you are doing, even for test purposes. Neuronal circuitry is not to be messed with.”

    ++

    Modafinil is the brightest star in a galaxy of drugs and supplements called ‘nootropics’. The word was coined by a Romanian doctor in 1972; in Greek, its definition refers to ‘turning the mind’. More commonly known as ‘smart drugs’ or ‘cognitive enhancers’, nootropics work in one of three ways: by altering the availability of the brain’s supply of neurochemicals; by improving the brain’s oxygen supply; or by stimulating nerve growth.

    Smart drugs are not a new concept. Last century, both cocaine and amphetamine were considered to have enhancement potential. As researchers at the University of Queensland wrote in a 2012 paper, “…their use for this purpose was regarded in a wholly positive light. [Cocaine and amphetamine] were seen as safe and effective ‘wonder drugs’ that increased alertness and mental capabilities, thereby allowing users to cope better with the increasing demands of modern life.” These views became unpopular once both substances were found to be addictive: cocaine became a prohibited substance, though amphetamine is still widely prescribed as a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) under the brand name Adderall.

    The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), Australian drug regulation authority, does not yet recognise nootropics as a class of drug, as “the information available on nootropic products provides a very broad definition.” A TGA spokesperson tells Rolling Stone that they are unable to comment on the matter, as “the issue here is that the definition of nootropics goes from nutritional supplements all the way through to prescription medicines, so depending on what the product is and its claims, it might be considered as listable, a registered complementary medicine, or a registered prescription medicine.”

    So regulation is a murky topic, then. But nootropics aren’t illegal, either. Admittedly, taking modafinil off-label is not a smart thing to do. I am not a narcoleptic. I sleep just fine, if begrudgingly. I am a healthy 24 year-old male who exercises regularly and eats well. My recreational drug use is occasional. I’ve never been addicted to anything, and I intend to keep that clean sheet. I would like to be able to concentrate for long periods during the work week, though. I’d like to be able to instantly summon previously forgotten snatches of glanced-at facts. In short, I’d like to be smarter. Who wouldn’t?

    In the fictional account of Limitless and its inspiration, a 2001 techno-thriller by Irish author Alan Glynn named The Dark Fields, the universally appealing idea of self-improvement through minimal effort is explored by a guy taking a designer drug to boost his brainpower to superhuman levels. In reality, nootropic enthusiasts claim significant cognitive benefits with few, if any, side effects from taking these supposedly non-addictive, non-toxic substances.

    Sounds too good to be true? You bet. With my bullshit detector cranked up to eleven, I’m wading into this contentious field with the goal of separating science from fiction. Are smart drugs the snake oil of the 21st century? Or am I about to become a better man just by taking a bunch of coloured pills?

    ++

    After Eddie Morra tires of writing while under the influence of NZT, he turns his attention to the far more lucrative stock market. When I tire of writing on modafinil, I waste away the night-time hours by shooting terrorists in Counter-Strike: Source online, trawling internet forums, and reading about nootropics.

    With a newfound surplus of time arises an interesting dilemma: how to spend it? I chose to alternately work, read, and play games. What if every night was like that, though? What if I had all that time? How soon would I become accustomed to operating on little, or zero, sleep? What would be the side-effects of this for my health, my relationships, my career? Would I become a kinder person? Would parts of my personality become amplified, or atrophy? Obvious productivity gains – or productivity opportunity gains – aside, would less sleep make me a better person?

    All Tuesday night, I’m keyed into a writing task with laser-like focus. By sunrise, I’ve produced an article which, at the time, feels like some of my best work yet. (When it’s published online, weeks later, I read it with fresh eyes and I’m pleasantly surprised to find that I still feel the same way.) On Wednesday, I choose to take a break from the drug, but I’m still up until 4am. My sleep cycle has been totally disrupted.

    Thursday just feels like a regular day. I’m yawning more than usual, probably due to the sleep debt I’ve incurred this week. But it does feel a little… boring to be operating at this level, rather than on modafinil, where I feel like I’m connecting all of the dots all of the time. I suddenly find myself weighing up the costs and benefits of taking a pill right now. I have nothing in particular that needs to be completed for the remainder of the week, but there’s an internal argument happening: “Being awake is so much more enjoyable than sleeping. Who needs sleep, honestly?”

    I dose another 200mg, and within the hour, I again find myself making connections in music that I’d never previously noticed. The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club song ‘Stop’ aligns with my current mindset: “We don’t know where to stop / I try and I try but I can’t get enough…

    I feel like an outlaw; as though I’m in on a secret to which everyone else is oblivious. I know how to subvert sleep; that knowledge is in the shape of a small white disc containing 200mg of modafinil. I feel as though taking this drug might be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I want everyone around me to take it, too, so that we can share our experiences and revel in the euphoria of the unclouded mind.

    That night, I drive to and from a rock show. I meet friends and strangers at the venue; as I talk, I feel as though I’m not making sense, and that those around me are acutely aware of this. I feel in control, but my mind is racing faster than my mouth can keep up. I buy one beer and feel a little drunk, but I don’t come close to crashing my car on the drive home. Around 2am, I note that I’ve got an impending feeling of doom going on. Like I’m riding this too far, and it’s about to start doing some serious damage. I turn in at 3.30am on Friday.

    My first nootropic odyssey whimpers to a close, after beginning with a giddy bang at 10am on Monday morning. I’ve taken three 200mg doses of modafinil during that time – 5pm Monday, 1pm Tuesday, 2.30pm Thursday – and napped for around 11 hours total. In all, I’ve been awake for 79 out of the last 90 hours.

    I arise at midday, refreshed, having effectively reset my debt with one normal sleep. I reflect on how my views toward modafinil have veered between utter devotion to, now, in the cold light of day, a realisation that it’s probably not a good idea to be taking that shit on consecutive days. I was feeling so fucking average the night before. I couldn’t bear the thought of continuing to stay awake. The body and the mind aren’t made for it.

    ++

    Next, I purchase some homemade nootropics from a vendor named Tryptamine on Silk Road (SR), an anonymous online market where illicit drugs are purchased with virtual currency and sent through the international postal system. Tryptamine’s vendor profile states, “I am a biologist who develops nutritional supplements to improve your health, sleep, and cognition. I use only natural or orthomolecular ingredients, and no adverse effects have been reported from my products.”

    Tryptamine makes and sells three nootropics. I order two 24-pill bottles of MindFood (“designed to optimize brain function, protect against stress- and drug-induced neurotoxicity, prevent/alleviate hangovers, and reverse brain aging,” among other alleged effects), and ChillPill (“designed to promote relaxation, attenuate stress, calm excess brain activity, enhance mood, and promote dreaming”). The seller kindly includes a bonus five-pill sampler of ThinkDeep (“designed to stimulate brain metabolism and glucose uptake, improve memory formation/recall, expand attention span, prevent mental fatigue and enhance blood flow”), too.

    The total cost is around AUD$100. As I pay this seemingly exorbitant amount, I’m reminded of that old aphorism about fools and their money. The package lands in my mailbox via the state of New York around two weeks later. The pills are brightly coloured and strong-smelling. I try all three nootropics in isolation, one or two at a time, on different days.

    After swallowing a ThinkDeep for the first time, I realise that I just took an anonymous black and red pill created by an anonymous internet seller who claims to be a biologist. They’ve got a 100% feedback record from over 400 transactions on SR, which counts as a sort of social proof, but still: bad things could happen to me after taking this pill, and the person responsible would never be caught out. (Tryptamine denied Rolling Stone’s request to verify his/her identity, or scientific credentials. “Whatever image you have in your mind’s eye from reading this, that’s how I look,” the seller wrote.)

    “Silk Road allows me to sell my products anonymously, and provides me with hundreds of thousands of potential customers who already take pills that aren’t made by pharmaceutical companies,” Tryptamine tells me. “On the other hand, it is a bit off-putting to see my products listed beside bags of heroin.”

    As it turns out, ThinkDeep doesn’t do much for me, even on another day when I double-dose. In fact, the only significant effect I notice from these three products is when one dose of MindFood eradicates a hangover much faster than my regular methods of paracetamol and/or ibuprofen. Perhaps ThinkDeep and ChillPill are so subtle that I don’t notice their effects; perhaps they don’t work at all. Potential hangover cure aside, it’s difficult to recommend these products for cognitive enhancement purposes.

    At the other end of the nootropic spectrum, far from secretive biologists and solo recipe-tweaking, is an Austin, Texas-based company named Onnit. Their flagship product is named Alpha Brain, which is slickly marketed as a “complete balanced nootropic”. Their biggest public advocate is the comedian, podcaster and former host of Fear Factor, Joe Rogan; they also have a few World Series of Poker players hyping the product on their website. I ordered a 30-pill bottle of Alpha Brain for around $40.

    Each green pill includes small amounts of eleven impressive-sounding substances, from vitamin B6 and vinpocetine, to L-theanine and oat straw. The serving size on the label suggests two pills at a time; as I discover, taking one does nothing. With two Alpha Brain pills circulating in my system, though, I feel an overall mood elevation and a heightened ability to concentrate on tasks at hand: reading, writing, researching. These effects last for between four to six hours.

    Alpha Brain worked for me, but it also feels like a triumph of marketing, too. As there are no clear estimates about the financial side of the nootropics industry, I ask Onnit CEO Aubrey Marcus whether it’s a lucrative field. “Absolutely,” he replies, though he won’t comment on Onnit’s annual turnover. “It’s something that everybody can benefit from. Whenever you tap into something [like that], there’s ample opportunity to make good money.” Marcus says that Alpha Brain has been purchased by around 45,000 customers across the world since launching last year. The company currently employs 13 full-time staff.

    He acknowledges that nutritional supplement manufacturers are met with their fair share of critics. “The pharmaceutical industry has done a good job of telling people that synthetic drugs are the only things that have an effect on the body. There are plenty who’ve never tried our products who’ll swear that they’re snake oil,” Marcus laughs. “We encounter that, and we just do our best to show as much research behind all the ingredients that we have.” He mentions that Onnit are intending to commission a double-blind clinical study on the effects of Alpha Brain, which he believes “will go a long way to silence the critics.”

    ++

    Perhaps nootropics aren’t a mainstream concept yet because the people most enthusiastic about their potential benefits are all scientists, marketers out to make a buck, ‘body hackers’, and other weirdoes. There are few ‘normals’ taking these drugs and supplements on a daily basis, so it all looks too strange and confronting for outsiders to try. As a society, we’re taught by our peers and the media that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

    There’s also the possibility that nootropics will never become mainstream because their effectiveness is difficult to qualitatively measure, or alternatively, they don’t work at all. In this regard, Australian researchers are world-class sceptics of cognitive enhancement. When I visit the University Of Queensland’s Centre for Clinical Research (UQCCR) in Brisbane, I’m greeted by Professor Wayne Hall, who was first published on this topic in 2004. His essay, which appeared in a European biology journal, was entitled “Feeling ‘better than well’: Can our experiences with psychoactive drugs help us to meet the challenges of neuroenhancement methods?”

    Hall has studied addiction and drug use for over 20 years. “There’s been a fair amount of enthusiasm for cognitive enhancement [in scientific circles], but it hasn’t looked critically at the evidence on how common this behaviour is,” he says. The professor and his peers argue for “taking a step back, and not getting too excited or encourage unwittingly lots of people to experiment with stimulant drugs for the wrong sorts of reasons”.

    “If you look at the lab studies that have been done on whether these drugs [work], the effects – insofar as there are some – are fairly modest and short-lived,” Hall says. “To be jumping from that, to saying it’s good idea for people to be using these drugs regularly to enhance their cognitive performance, is a bit of a long bow.”

    Dr Bradley Partridge is another UQCCR academic who specialises in investigating “the use of pharmaceuticals by healthy people to enhance their cognition”. I bring along my bottles of Alpha Brain and Tryptamine’s homemade nootropics for him to cast a critical eye over. “I have never used any of these things,” Partridge says. He peers at the labels with bemusement. “And I’ve never heard of most of these ingredients.”

    He places the bottles back on the table. “The thing is, a lot of these supplements are touted as being ‘all natural’, and for some people, that implies that they’re perhaps safe. But it’s very hard to evaluate exactly what’s in it. Aside from safety, where’s the evidence that they actually work for their stated purpose?”

    “There’s no scientific literature on some of this stuff; for others, the results are very mixed. Also, there might be a really strong placebo effect.” He holds up the Alpha Brain bottle, which mentions ‘enhancing mental performance’ in its marketing copy. “You take this and you do an exam; maybe simply taking something makes you feel like you ought to be doing better, and maybe you convince yourself that you’re getting some effect.”

    Hall and Partridge co-authored a study which analysed media reports on “smart drugs”. They found that 95 per cent of media reports mentioned some benefit of taking a drug like Adderall, Ritalin or modafinil, while only 58 per cent mentioned side effects. “I tend to be very cautious about this stuff,” Partridge says. “I don’t like to see this getting portrayed as a widespread phenomenon, as a fantastic thing, that it works, that there are no side effects. That runs the risk of encouraging people who hadn’t thought about it to take it up, which could cause problems for people.”

    I offer to leave some of my nootropics with Dr Partridge for him to conduct his own research; he laughs, and politely declines.

    ++

    Underscoring this entire discussion is the threat of one-upmanship. If I’m taking these drugs and they markedly improve my performance, am I nothing but a filthy nootropic cheater? To address this question, I spoke with Dave Asprey, who has used modafinil constantly for eight years and describes himself on Twitter as a “New York Times-published Silicon Valley entrepreneur/executive/angel who hacked his own biology to gain an unfair advantage in business and life.”

    Asprey has a prescription for the drug, after a brain scan showed a lack of blood flow at the front of his brain – a common symptom of attention deficit disorder (ADD), he says. “Modafinil is actually used commonly as a treatment for ADD,” he tells me. “It’s an off-label use, but it’s accepted; it’s even reimbursable by some insurance companies.”

    Asprey takes modafinil most workdays, upon waking. “It’s not like it’s a great secret out there, it’s just that people don’t talk about it because there’s some feel as though it’s ‘cheating’,” he says. “My perspective is different: if you eat healthy food, then you’re also ‘cheating’, because that impacts brain function. Surprisingly, the only people who’ve ever given me shit about taking modafinil are like, ‘but how do you know it’s not hurting you?’ I’m a bio-hacker; I’ve done all sorts of strange things to my body and mind in the interests of anti-aging, health and performance. I look at my body as part of my support system.’”

    Asprey says that he considers modafinil to be on the healthier spectrum of drugs. He’s also a fan of aniracetam, a fat soluble version of piracetam, which itself was the first-ever nootropic discovered in 1964. “It’s longer lasting [than piracetam],” Asprey says. “I recommend it as a basic biohack. I’ve been using it for a very long time.”

    Though Asprey has never met anyone who bluntly considers nootropics to be bullshit, he hears another argument reasonably often – and he has a clever rebuttal ready. “People say, ‘[nootropics] are evil, because if you take them, then everyone else will have to take them!’ I don’t think that’s a very fair argument, because from that perspective, fire is evil. Back when there were two cavemen, and one had a fire, the other said, ‘you can’t use fire, that’s unfair!’ Well, we know who evolved.”

    ++

    Whether or not I’m qualitatively smarter after experimenting with nootropics for this story is difficult to measure. I feel slightly wiser, and more aware of the limitations of both mind and body after that week of bingeing on modafinil. I certainly appreciate the restorative value of sleep better than ever before, after staying awake for the best part of a full work-week. I found that Alpha Brain is useful for focusing for a few hours, but considering that a two-week supply costs $40, it seems a touch on the expensive side.

    I did order a few dozen additional pills of modafinil, but I intend to use these only when emergency deadlines necessitate long hours. (I’ve read it’s good for combating the effects of jet lag, though, so perhaps I’ll try it on my next international flight.) Ultimately, the nootropic I found most useful – and intend to continue using regularly – is aniracetam, which Dave Asprey told me about. Its mind-sharpening effects are subtler than Alpha Brain, but it’s much cheaper – around $40 for a month’s supply if purchased online – and its effects taper off much more pleasantly than Alpha Brain’s comparatively sudden drop-off in concentration and energy levels.

    Late one night while researching this story, modafinil coursing through my body, I watched Limitless for the second time. It’s not a brilliant film, but it’s entertaining and thought-provoking enough to make the viewer consider seeking out smart pills of their own. It’s easy to see why the nootropic industry’s shadier sellers have attempted to draw parallels between their products and the fictional substance of NZT. After viewing the film, I contacted Alan Glynn, the author behind the 2001 techno-thriller The Dark Fields, which Limitless was based on, via email.

    “The original idea of NZT – called MDT-48 in my book – came from the idea of human perfectibility, of ‘the three wishes’, of the chance to re-invent yourself, of the shortcut to health and happiness,” Glynn tells me. “This is why the diet and self-help industries are so huge. Hold out a promise like that and people will respond. The fact that most of these products and therapies don’t work, or are bogus, doesn’t seem to matter. The real magic here, the real dark art, is marketing. I think that if nootropics ever go mainstream, they’ll be fodder for the marketing industry.”

    I send Glynn a link to the Alpha Brain website and mention that I’ve been taking it while researching this story. “Look, I’m just as much of a sucker as anyone else and when I look at that website, I’m going like, ‘Woah, gimme some of THAT!’” he replies. “And I’m actually seriously considering ordering some. So, from a marketing point of view, I’d say it’s a total success. It’s shiny, professional-looking and stuffed full of ‘the science bit’.”

    “But it’s the massaging of the science bit that is the marketer’s real dark art. The truth is, I couldn’t argue with someone who can talk about ‘GPC choline’ and ‘neurotransmitter precursors’. My instinct is that it’s all bullshit… On the other hand. I don’t know. Have you taken Alpha Brain? Does it work?”

    I reply in the affirmative, and describe my findings in some detail. Alan Glynn, author of the book that inspired the movie that inspired me to write this story in the first place, writes me back immediately: “That’s interesting indeed. I’ve ordered some Alpha Brain, and I’ve just got an email to say it’s been dispatched. I’ll report back to you – in the interests of science, of course.”

    Note: At no point should any of the products mentioned in this article be ingested without first consulting a health professional. An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Ritalin as an amphetamine; it belongs to the methylphenidate class of stimulants.

    To read more on nootropics, I recommend that you continue your research at Smarter Nootropics. Good luck!

  • Rolling Stone album review: Die! Die! Die! – ‘Harmony’, August 2012

    An album review for Rolling Stone, published in the September 2012 issue.

    Die! Die! Die! - Harmony 
    (Inertia)

    Kiwis hone their brand of noise-punk to a sharp edge

    Since forming in 2003, this Dunedin noise-punk trio has gone from strength to strength. Their last album, Form – released in 2010 on Flying Nun Records – was a muscular mix of rock aggression and pop smarts. Die! Die! Die!’s fourth LP, Harmony, is another leap forward, and their finest work yet. The formula is simple – guitar, bass, drums and vocals – yet these three continue to make thrilling new breakthroughs. Their career represents an ongoing tug-of-war between noise and melody, and on Harmony they excel once again: a pair of slower, melancholy tracks contrasts well against the gripping flurry and bluster of the remaining eight songs. Highly recommended.

    Key tracks: “Erase Waves”, “Seasons Revenge”

    ++

    Elsewhere: an interview with Die! Die! Die! singer/guitarist Andrew Wilson for The Vine in 2010

    Elsewhere: a review of Die! Die! Die!’s 2010 album, Form, for The Vine 

  • The Vine interview: The Butterfly Effect, April 2012

    An interview with all four members of The Butterfly Effect for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    The Butterfly Effect: “I felt that I’d lost everybody’s faith and trust.”
    by Andrew McMillen

    I arrive at The Butterfly Effect’s rehearsal space in an inner north suburb of Brisbane on the afternoon of Wednesday, 8 February 2012. After pushing open a door bearing the band’s name in bold type, I find all four members in band position, almost as if they’re ready to begin playing. Ben Hall is sitting behind his drum kit, Kurt Goedhart is sitting before a wall of amps and noodling on his guitar, Glenn Esmond is cradling his bass and leaning over his pedalboard, and singer Clint Boge sits at a desk behind a computer and a set of speakers. They’re not rehearsing at the moment, though: instead, these four men are working on a first draft of the setlist for their final tour together. Two days earlier, the Brisbane-based hard rock act announced that Boge will be leaving the band after the tour culminates in early June. The other three members will keep the name, audition to find a new singer, and press on.

    Though the announcement was a shock to the band’s significant national fanbase, it’s less surprising when you consider their last few years of activity – or lack thereof, perhaps. Their last album was released in 2008, the sprawling, ambitious Final Conversation Of Kings, which saw the band reaching toward a more epic, prog-rock sound than what we heard on their 2003 debut Begins Here or its superb follow-up, 2006’s Imago. Though the quartet had toured occasionally throughout the last few years – including a short run of dates celebrating their 10th year together, in October 2011 – they had also been trying to produce a fourth album. They still haven’t gotten very far, apparently.

    Clint disconnects the speakers on his desk and distributes the milk crates that supported them. Kurt stays more or less in the same spot he was sat when I first entered the room; he continues to hold his guitar, and absent-mindedly plays a few notes occasionally, while the other three position themselves around the desk and do the majority of the talking. It’s clear that Clint and Ben are most interested in having their say, though Glenn does interject with a few nuggets of wisdom throughout our 45 minute conversation. Immediately before the interview begins, there’s an air of friendliness which morphs into tension remarkably quickly, as I start with the most important question: why is Clint leaving, after over 10 years fronting one of Australia’s most successful hard rock bands?

    TheVine: How long have you all known about Clint’s decision?

    Ben: It’s been a few months.

    Clint: September [2011]. It was mid-September when I came in and said I didn’t feel like going on anymore; continuing on. It took a little while to cement in, I suppose.

    How did the rest of the band react?

    Ben: I think it’d been coming. Everyone knew that there was something that was simmering. Not simmering, but… we’d obviously been trying to make a record for three years, and I just don’t think we were getting very far. I don’t think we were all happy with the way it was going. There was many tense moments, lots of points over those three years where we sat down and tried to realign, and I think it just came to a head on that day. We all agreed that we weren’t in the same direction, so maybe we shouldn’t waste any more time doing that. It was not a decision that was made…

    Clint: It wasn’t made lightly. It was something I’d thought about quite a lot leading up to that day. I think it came from… there were a couple of suggestions made to me about who I should work with, and who I should be trying to extract the best melodies with, and not really getting the songs, or delivering them in the right way. That was the last straw for me. I thought, ‘If I’ve lost the faith from my bandmates to produce what I think are the best melodies…’ and to have that trust taken away, then I couldn’t go on working like that. Not only that, but I don’t want to be the weak link in a band. I don’t want to be the guy that’s not pulling his weight. That was another reason, too. I thought, ‘If that was the case, I’ve got to go.’

    Not only that, man, but I think musically-wise I was looking for something different that I wasn’t quite hearing in the songs. I [think that some] of the ideas that I [was trying to communicate] weren’t being actioned. They weren’t being done, so I felt lost in that department, as well. It’s probably been happening for some time. I really felt some pressure, to not make the same mistakes that I feel we made on Final Conversation. Wanting to step up and go beyond was the focus.

    In terms of the band’s style, you mean?

    Clint: Yeah, yeah, and especially my vocal delivery, and what I heard in the songs and what I could hear being the final product. That was all taken into consideration, and the decision was made based on all of those points.

    Where were you on that day? Did you meet here [at the rehearsal room], and discuss it?

    Clint: Yeah, it was just another practice day, pretty much. I sat in my car for about 20 minutes, pretty nervous, thinking, “This is a big decision to make.” And not only that, to come in and do it cold. I pretty much walked in, grabbed my mic, put it in my pocket… because I thought, “I’m taking my bloody microphone!”

    [Ben begins laughing, and says, “Far out!” Glenn laughs and says, “I’m taking my bat and ball, and going home!”]

    Clint: [laughs] It was a bit symbolic, but nah, I actually needed it to do something with it. I was going to do some singing at home, and it’s a better microphone than I’ve got at home. I said to the guys, in light of the email that was sent and the two band meetings that happened previously in the year, I felt that I’d lost everybody’s faith and trust, so I removed myself from the band. Everyone took it pretty well. I thought so. There was no, “Fuck you, and up yours Jack” and whatever. “Get the fuck out of here or I’ll bash you,” or any of that sort of bullshit.

    Ben: Would’ve made for more of an exciting story, but. We can organise it?

    Clint: And also, Benny sent me a text message afterwards and just said, “Look man, you know we don’t want to go out like that.” Which I said to the guys, “I don’t want to go out arguing and screaming, and calling each other names”.

    Ben: We’ve done plenty of that over the years. There’s been of that sort of shit going on. It’s not just Kurt and me; it’s Clint and Kurt, or me and Glenn. We’ve had plenty of years worth of fights and all that sort of that shit. The second that Clint walked in, when that was the outcome, I think we all felt that this time, more than any before, that it was probably the right decision. It was probably something that had been coming for a fair while. As much as you don’t want to let it go, you fear having nothing. This band’s everything to all of us. It has been. But you go, ‘Cool, let’s reflect and look at what we’ve done.’

    Clint: And celebrate it.

    Ben: Immediately, I started to feel a better sense of achievement than I had the whole time I’ve been in the band. We’ve done a lot of stuff together, and we’ve achieved a lot, and it’ll be great to hold this together in light of what we’ve done, and do this tour that’s coming up. Already today, we’re talking about the setlist, piecing it together, and getting excited about it. Which is awesome. It could be a terrible break-up, but everyone’s been adult-like.

    Clint: I think that’s the surreal thing for me — when we did that tour in October. That week or two for the [band’s] ten year anniversary. We all came in, the pressure was off of writing an album, and it felt good to hang out. I really enjoyed that tour. [He looks around the room and is met with nods.] I thought everyone got along really well. There was a good sense of camaraderie. There was no hint of any malice towards each other. It was really… and it was odd, because I was expecting being at the airport and being sat in a different section of the plane. Sort of feeling this – ‘Oh shit, I’m the odd guy out’, and having the crew shun me and go, ‘You bastard, you’ve effectively taken one of our meal tickets off the table’ sort of thing. But no, it was good. Everyone was really good. And now it’s — do the last tour, really celebrate and enjoy a long time in the music industry, and some great achievements, and off we go. And then it’s a new singer for The Butterfly Effect, and a solo album for me, and rock’ n roller.

    For the full interview, visit The Vine.

    Note: Quotes from this interview originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Rolling Stone Australia

  • Rolling Stone story: ‘The Butterfly Effect splinter’, April 2012

    A story which appeared in the April 2012 issue of Rolling Stone Australia. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    The Butterfly Effect splinter
    Brisbane rockers part ways with singer after 10 years together

    In mid-September 2011, Clint Boge drove to The Butterfly Effect’s rehearsal space in an inner north suburb of Brisbane. It was just like any other practice day for the hard rock act, who had released three albums since their debut EP in 2001. Boge switched off the engine and sat alone in nervous silence for 20 minutes, thinking about the bombshell he was about to drop on his three bandmates: he was quitting.

    Boge recounts the tale in blunt terms. “I felt that I’d lost everybody’s faith and trust, so I removed myself from the band. Everyone took it pretty well, I thought,” he says. “There was no, ‘Fuck you, and up yours Jack,’; no ‘Get the fuck out of here or I’ll bash you,’ or any of that sort of bullshit.”

    Rolling Stone arrives at the same rehearsal space on February 8, two days after Boge’s announcement was made public. The band are putting together the first draft of a setlist for the 20-odd tour dates that will run through late April until early June.

    The ‘Effected’ tour and the best-of compilation released simultaneously will allow fans to farewell Boge, and mark the end of an era for one of this country’s most successful hard rock acts.

    Boge’s bandmates weren’t entirely blindsided by his decision. “It’d been coming,” says drummer Ben Hall. “We’d obviously been trying to make a record for three years, and we weren’t getting very far. There was many tense moments; lots of points where we sat down and tried to realign. It just came to a head on that day. We all agreed that we weren’t [heading] in the same direction, so maybe we shouldn’t waste any more time doing that.”

    It wasn’t a decision that Boge made lightly. “I’d thought about it quite a lot leading up to that day,” he says. “There were a couple of suggestions made to me about who I should work with, who I should be trying to extract the best melodies with; and [that I wasn’t] really getting the songs, or delivering them in the right way. I couldn’t go on working like that.”

    The Butterfly Effect was formed in 1999 by Hall and guitarist Kurt Goedhart while the pair were in high school. Boge saw one of their first gigs, at the Ipswich Racecourse – with a different vocalist – then rode home with Hall and showed the drummer lyric ideas that would form the basis for their debut EP. Bassist Glenn Esmond joined the group in 2002.

    “It’s definitely going to be sad. I’m not going to bullshit to you,” Boge says of the forthcoming tour. “I have moments where I just think, ‘Fuck – it sucks that it’s gotta go like this.’ But the thing is, I’d rather walk now than have these guys looking at me in a year’s time, saying, ‘Fuck you, I hate you, get out of my face.’”

    After the ‘Effected’ tour, Boge plans to record and release a solo album, continue working with his other hard rock act, Thousand Needles In Red, and devote more time to his vocal coaching clinic, Road Coach. His three former bandmates will audition for a new singer – they won’t reveal who’s on their shortlist – and work toward the release of their elusive fourth album.

    “We’ve been extremely blessed to be able to do this for as long as we have,” says Esmond. “I really do appreciate all the stuff we’ve had done far. I just feel stoked to have been able to do it. Whatever happens from here – I’m content that I satisfied all my dreams [doing] this.”

    “I’m sure we’ve all still got more to achieve,” adds Hall. “We’ve lost a limb, but hopefully we’ll find another one, and power on. We’ve got plenty of songs, so we’ve just got to find the right person. They’re some big shoes for someone to fill.”

    Further reading: The full transcript of my interview with the band was published on The Vine in April 2012.

  • Rolling Stone ‘My Record Collection’ interview: Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol, January 2012

    An entry in Rolling Stone’s regular ‘My Record Collection’ interview series, published in the January 2012 issue. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    My Record Collection – Gary Lightbody

    Snow Patrol’s frontman takes us through his favourite albums

    “I’m certainly the one who listens to the craziest music,” Gary Lightbody says of his four bandmates in Irish rock act Snow Patrol. “I make mix CDs for everybody. Sometimes they’re met with raised eyebrows. If I make one for my Mum, it’ll definitely be little country songs, some pop songs, nothing too crazy. But I might throw in a cheeky wee Four Tet song!” Lightbody is on a promo tour in Amsterdamwhen RS calls, ahead of the release of their sixth album, Fallen Empires.

    Metallica – …And Justice For All (1988)

    “This was their best record, and probably the one I listened to most. That style of music was a bit lost on me, because I couldn’t emulate it on guitar. It sounded like alien beings were creating the music: virtuoso guitar solos, and chugging that I couldn’t match with my right hand. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t masturbating enough as a teenager. But it was still intense; I’d always be thrashing away, headbanging to it in my room, or with my mates.”

    Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)

    “This record changed everything for me. It made me realise that I can actually do something with my guitar. Nirvana brought music into the real world, for me. Writing from the heart, rather than playing from the head and thinking from the ballsack. Kurt’s songs were extraordinary deconstructions of the human mind. As a sullen, sensitive 15 year-old – who was very insular, awkward, and loved his poetry – Nevermind spoke to me, just as it spoke to millions of other kids around the world.”

    Super Furry Animals - Fuzzy Logic (1996)

    “This is just an insane record. These are all songs that I still absolutely adore today. The Super Furries are one of those bands that opened up all sorts of music. People call them psychedelic because they don’t have any other words to describe them. They’re on their own little trip; in a class of their own. If their boundary-less expression of music has showed us anything, it’s that you should never keep doing the same thing again and again. It taught us to be adventurous.”

    Young MC – Stone Cold Rhymin’ (1989)

    “When I was 18 I started going to clubs, so my music tastes widened. I still listened to guitar music, of course – I mean, I’m in a band that plays guitar music – but I found a lot of dance music, funk, soul and hip hop. This is my favourite hip-hop album of all time. I love it when hip-hop is playful, and not about guns, bling and bitches. His records were about things like ditching school, and first loves. There was a naivety about it that’s unusual in hip-hop these days, and even a little unusual back then, when hip-hop was so political and racially charged.”

    Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006)

    “I completely fell in love with this record, as well as that whole genre of music – Americana-ish, bluesy- and folky-tinged rock music. ‘Roscoe’ could possibly be my favourite song of all time. It’s an extraordinary piece of music: sweeping, lyrically phenomenal, and dense. It’s incredibly tricky to take in on the first goodness-knows-how-many listens. That’s the testament to a great song: you’re always finding new things in it.”

    Bon Iver – Bon Iver (2011)

    “Their first album was incredible, too, but this is just a beautiful, beautiful record. I’ve just been in its little universe for the last few months, loving every minute of it. ‘Michicant’ and ‘Holocene’ are two songs that I’ll take with me forever, I think. They’ll always be on my mind.”

    Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (2010)

    “On The Suburbs, themes and little motifs reoccur. You discover more about the song before by listening to the song after. It’s the sort of record that is essential, and cherishable. That’s the style of record that we wanted to make, too. Goodness knows if we’ve achieved it [with Fallen Empires], but my God, our ambition was high. Bands like Arcade Fire make your ambition high. When I listened to it, I went, ‘Fuck me, we’re gonna have to be better.’”