02. Radiohead – In Rainbows

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It was inevitable. They could have drawn the money without asking any questions and I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. Pay as much as you like for the download or £40 for a ‘Discbox’ containing the album on CD and double vinyl, along with a bonus CD of extra material and assorted artwork and the like. I didn’t even think it was that unreasonable, after all a high quality double vinyl, 45rpm pressing could easily set you back £20 and then a double CD book edition of a Radiohead album for about "£20 didn’t seem that odd, plus you got the download for free as soon as it was released – what was there to think about.

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I remember being a little disbelieving about the whole thing when the first announcement appeared on the internet. We were a good five years or so into a culture whereby the first time people heard new albums was when they leaked, rather than when they were released. Widespread excitement about a certain day on which everyone would listen to a new record was long gone. Reviews had less importance as most records would be floating around the web by the time the reviews appeared in print and anticipation was becoming an increasingly irrelevant part of music consumption. The notion that everyone – including the critics – would hear this album on the same day was exciting.

The low-quality mp3 files were quickly unzipped after a surprisingly rapid download time but I didn’t have time to actually play them after a manic day at work. So, in attempt to get to hear the album as soon as possible, it was burnt to a CD-R and put on in the car during the next morning’s journey. Sadly, a combination of shit bass on tinny speakers and poorly encoded music meant that it all fell a bit flat on that first play. I was a little underwhelmed and wondering what the fuck was going on. Over the next week or two, I started to identify ‘Reckoner’, ‘Weird Fishes’ and ‘Nude’ as pretty impressive tracks, while the rest of the album continued to grow on me. But it hadn’t smacked me round the face. Or punched me in the ear. Or kicked me in the cobblers. Or whichever tortured analogy for realising an album is great you wish to use right now.

In fact, ‘In Rainbows’ didn’t really make much sense to me until the box arrived. The 45rpm double vinyl pressing is an absolute delight and, if I ever need to demonstrate the power of a decent vinyl setup to somebody, it’s one of the albums I reach for. I still play the CDs from time to time, but they simply can’t match the out and out euphoria I experience at certain points in the album when listening on vinyl.

Take ‘Reckoner’, for example. That is a truly brilliant track whatever format or system you listen to it on; the wide-panned percussion is impossible to ignore. But when the bass starts to really creep in around the lyric, “you are not to blame for bittersweet distractor” it is genuinely mesmerising. By the time the strings are weaving in and around proceedings, it’s a thing of sublime beauty. Forgive me if this sounds like typical Radiohead fanboyism, but this record is above and beyond such naive chit-chat. It is, frankly, a masterpiece and this wonderful song sits stunningly in its midst.

15 Step’ is a similarly superlative performance, also built around innovative and jaw-dropping drums and percussion. It’s an insistent and bold opener and I can’t really imagine now how I didn’t spot that, even on a crappy car stereo. I know I’m at risk of sounding like some hi-fi snob, but this album really does deserve a decent pressing and a decent playback. It’s no less brilliant a record if it doesn’t get that, but it’s something just a little bit special when it does.

All I Need’, ‘Faust Arp’ and ‘House Of Cards’ can sometimes be overlooked at the expense of some of the other, more instant tracks surrounding them, but this also marked the return of Radiohead’s simple beauty, something they’d touched on with ‘Sail To The Moon’ on ‘Hail To The Thief’ but which hadn’t really been seen since 1997’s ‘OK Computer’. Gentle, simple pop-rock songs of this ilk were a revelation and it only served to prove that they hadn’t lost their ability to melt your heart, they’d simply been avoiding do it for a little while.

That said, my absolute favourite track on the album, and one of the songs that means most to me in my entire record collection, is ‘Weird Fishes / Arpeggi’. The whole song is pretty much perfect – from the direct pace set from the off by Phil Selway’s drumming, through the introduction of a gently weaving bassline and on to the wonderful vocal from Thom, it is a magnificent piece of music. But, where it really gets me, and by this I mean every single time I hear it, is when Ed O’Brien’s backing vocals kick in, essentially wailing ‘ahhhhh’ at the end of each line in the third verse. There is something about the combination of each line sung by Thom, followed by that brief addition from Ed that is as close to a perfect moment in music as I can honestly put my hand up and say I know about. I can’t put my finger on why that is, and I think if I could it probably wouldn’t be that special anymore. So, I might just leave it be and continue to love it. Next time you listen to the album, pay close attention to it and hopefully you’ll hear what I’m on about.

I truly adore ‘In Rainbows’. It is my favourite Radiohead album. I’m not going to say ‘OK Computer’ just because that is the conventional viewpoint. I’m not even going to opt for ‘The Bends’, because that’s what everyone who doesn’t want to seem obvious by saying ‘OK Computer’ says. ‘Kid A’ is great, and so is ‘Amnesiac’. But for me, all of their innovation and jarring, thought-provoking styles and textures are put into stark perspective by this perfect collection of ten songs. This could quite easily have topped this list. It is, sonically, the best album of the decade and one which I suspect will only get better with age.

03. Doves – Lost Souls

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I bought ‘The Cedar Room’ just as a relationship fizzled out. Not the most sensible seven minute solution to feeling shit, it must be said. But what a fucking song! I’d first heard it in 1998 when the original 10″ version was released and Adam Walton played it a lot on his short lived but absolutely essential Radio Wales weekday evening show. For some reason, I never chased down a copy at the time so, when I heard it was to be re-released ahead of Doves’ debut album, I was pretty chuffed.

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We were both on the same sixth form trip and I, rather than skulking around the group attempting to look moody, opted to bugger off to Our Price instead of having lunch. I recall buying ‘Kill All Hippies’ at the same time – a glorious purchase on reflection – but it didn’t get played for days. ‘The Cedar Room’ went on a pretty much constant loop, just as its parent album would a few weeks later.

James, the unassuming muso who ran Dominion Records in Chepstow, had to order a copy of ‘Lost Souls’ in for me and it was due in on the Thursday after it was released. I can still remember dashing into town for it and then virtually jogging home, clutching the small carrier bag like it contained one of my vital organs. Despite all of this, it still managed to live up to expectations. With the possible exception of ‘Catch The Sun’, it is an album that creates a specific atmosphere, evokes a certain mood. All of the songs simply fit so well together. They’re not samey, just from the same place.

The album was a long time coming, appearing out of the traumatic end of the band’s previous incarnation as Sub Sub who were largely famous for ‘Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)’ the 1993 chart hit but who were also responsible for a curious dance/indie hybrid album, now as scarce as you’d imagine, entitled ‘The Delta Tapes’. This record featured Bernard Sumner and Tricky and compiled the various bits and bobs that might have formed their second album had the band’s relatively short lifespan not been brought to an abrupt halt by a fire which destroyed their studio in 1996.  Sensing that the omens weren’t great, a rethink was on the cards and 1998 marked the first, tentative steps as Doves, though the scars of recent years remained on this debut album.

The creeping uncertainty of ‘Firesuite’ is fully explored in ‘The Cedar Room’, the fragmented melancholy of ‘Break Me Gently’ has plenty in common with the never entirely comfortable ‘Rise’. When you think that Doves’ initial three releases, all put out essentially by themselves were the aforementioned seven minute masterstroke, plus ‘Sea Song’ and one of my all-time favourite songs, ‘Here It Comes’, it seems hard to believe that the band didn’t become huge. Those three songs alone are enough to get this record into the top twenty of this list but ‘Lost Souls’ needs to be heard in its entirety to really hit you. It might not seem all that striking at first, but if you spend some time with it soundtracking your life, its remarkable powers never leave you.