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5 Albums About Reality

Neon Bible


Since today’s anodyne, bubblegum pop rarely touches on subjects more serious than the nuances of nightclubbing, here’s five LP’s that look a little deeper at the world we live in.




Although one might pinpoint their later effort, The Suburbs, as their most overt critique of society, it’s Neon Bible that is the most contemplative and cutting Arcade Fire record to date. Introducing many of the themes that feature in the band’s later work, opening track Black Mirror creates a powerful sense of unease with the world as it seems, whilst songs like Black Wave/Bad Vibrations and Ocean of Noise dwell upon themes of illusion and distraction. The album gains its edge, however, from the excellent Keep The Car Running, which grounds the lyrical themes of the whole record in a more politically cynical, environmental message. Finally, the closing track My Body Is A Cage – arguably the best song Win Butler has written to date – with its soaring crescendo of melancholy, is a phenomenal coda to an unsettling and intelligent rock album.




Victorialand is such a damnably strange record that it’s pretty hard to label it with a theme or category, especially since it lacks lyrics or words in any meaningful sense. Musically, it’s a bewitching masterpiece, full of weird and wonderful sounds all layered about each other, like sediment. Fans of Beach House will recognise the dream pop synths and murmurations of guitar, but you could also point to the nonsense vocalisations of Sigur Rós as a corollary. Jarring to the ears of the uninitiated, Victorialand is basically a bit mad. With that in mind, it couldn’t be about anything other than reality.




Nine Inch Nails don’t really do light subjects. As the premier industrial rock band of the nineties and the early noughties, Trent Reznor was notorious for covering all sorts of weird themes. Their 2005 album With Teeth deals primarily with substance abuse, and the perspectives of reality that result from it. From the observational terror exhibited in All The Love In The World, to the brooding The Line Begins To Blur, it’s a heavy record. It’s the final track, Right Where It Belongs, that contains the most vitriol of the record; an emotional, passionate piece of music. The lyrics themselves, like in most NIN records, are a little uncoordinated – and so it’s the music that does the heavy lifting. The documentary maker Adam Curtis makes extensive use of the music in his films, relying on the emotive power of the music rather than the lyrics, to highlight the absurdity of his subjects.




As one of the best progressive metal bands of the last decade, Tool gained a reputation for dark, often disturbing subject material. On Lateralus they delve deep into ideas of consciousness, perception, and the blurred line between reality and drug-infused unreality. It’s hard to recommend specific tracks – the record works best as a whole – but the central section of the album is the most focused, and the best written. The jagged melodies of Schism present an awesome example of a modern metal track, whilst the slow-burning gapless tracks Parabol and Parabola move from brooding quiescence into a climactic guitar piece.




Rage Against The Machine’s eponymous debut may have had its sights trained upon the ideology of modern America, but its themes may just as easily be framed within a look at the nature of reality. There’s a reason it’s used over the credits of The Matrix. Compared to the other albums on this list, Rage Against The Machine is a little overt, and certainly angrier. Still, it’s the only one I’ve picked out that offers active resistance, as opposed to scared observation. The best tracks are the most lyrically versatile ones, like Know Your Enemy and Wake Up, though the whole record is best listened to in order, without interruptions.

Nanu on Bond: Sam on You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice

When it comes to Bond, the popular consensus tends to favour Connery over his later

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counterparts. Despite Ian Fleming’s famous disdain for the Scot, Connery is the alpha dog of the Bond tribe. You Only Live Twice, the crown jewel of the ‘Blofeldt Trilogy’, is his finest hour.

The fifth film in the Bond canon is sublime. Roald Dahl’s screenplay provides Bond with some brilliant dialogue and manages to mix bombastic cinematic ambition with gritty espionage action. Of course it’s the best.

“You’re forgetting, Moneypenny, that I left Cambridge with a double first in Oriental languages.”

It’s 007 in Japan! Not only does he undergo surgery to look ‘convincingly’ like a Japanese rural fisherman, he drinks sake, pilots a gyrocopter and watches sumo wrestlers.

Bond is the consummate Brit abroad; bedding the local women, brawling with security guards and remaining suspicious of just about every foreigner he meets. And all in a damned fine suit.

Let’s not forget his accomplices – Tiger Tanaka, the subterranean spymaster who cackles as his grunts drop cars in the sea from helicopters (“How is that for Japanese efficiency?”) – and Q, who appears ruddy-faced and grumpy with the heat to dispense murderous stationary whilst modelling some fetching khaki shorts.

“I shall look forward personally to exterminating you, Mr Bond.”

It also has the finest villain in film history. Cat lover Ernst Stavro Blofeldt is despicable, Machavellian and brilliant. What’s the easiest way to provoke an apocalyptic war between two superpowers? Well, kidnap their space rockets with your own Pacman-esque spacecraft and bring them back to your volcanic lair, of course.

Donald Pleasance’s rendition of SPECTRE’s main man simply oozes style. Who else would have the chutzpah – the sheer force of will – to build a monorail-equipped volcano base with a piranha pool and a drawbridge?

You can keep your realism and emotional subplots to yourself. I’ll take Sean Connery and a glass of sake any day of the week.

Nanu Maps: Edinburgh film locations


Ignore the fact that London gets all the premieres, red carpet receptions and star-studded frippery. Disregard Sheffield’s Sean Bean-themed chip shops and rugged sky; snub Derbyshire’s rugged hills (what, like there’s nowhere else to film a Jane Austin adaptation?). The Athens of North has

more than its fair share of movie locations.

One Day

Let’s get the obvious one over with, shall we? One Day has several scenes set in Edinburgh – notably Anne Hathway and Jim Sturgess’ first on-screen kiss – which takes place on Cockburn St in the Old Town.


Princes St features right at the start of the 90’s classic, with Euan McGregor’s Renton and Ewan Bremner’s Spud being chased down the city’s foremost high street. McGregor’s iconic voiceover playing over Lust For Life made this exhilarating opening scene one of the most famous in British cinematic history.

Hallam Foe

A weird, magnetic film, Hallam Foe stars Jamie Bell as an oedipal teenager on the run in Edinburgh. He lives in the clocktower of the Balmoral Hotel and spies into his lover’s apartment on Cockburn Street, and somehow nobody thinks this is strange.

The Illusionist

An enchanting animation from the makers of Belleville Rendesvouz that sees a French magician leave Paris on an impromptu search for work in Edinburgh. Most of the animated scenes of the city are idealised, though Salisbury Crags and the Jenners department store both feature. In one iconic scene, the magician watches a Jacques Tati movie in the main screen of the Cameo cinema on Leven St.

Chariots of Fire

Whilst Salisbury Crags might be an imposing, rugged stage on which to shoot a pivotal scene of your film – the filmmakers got one major thing wrong about this section of the film that sent Hollywood into an Anglophiliac frenzy. Namely, that nobody in their right mind ever goes for a jog in Holyrood Park in the rain. It just doesn’t happen.

Young Adam

Euan McGregor features again in this dark, grimy film about coal miners in the Central Belt. It heavily features the Union Canal (which starts in Edinburgh’s West End and runs all the way to Glasgow), because much of it set on a coal barge.

The Thirty-Nine Steps

The colour remake of Hitchcock’s 1935 adaptation of Buchan’s thriller was mainly shot in a studio, but used footage of the Forth Bridge to recreate Hitchcock’s shots of the bridge for a scene where Richard Hannay climbs out of a train.

Two Weeks In September

You’ve probably never heard of it, but this 1967 film had some profound consequences on the local area; it means that Brigitte Bardot visited Portobello beach. That strip damp of sand just got a lot sexier.

Nanu Maps: Pubs


Bored of warm lager and LADS in Teviot? If you want to get under the skin of the city, then trying out some of Edinburgh’s pubs for a taste of real beer is a good place to start.

The city has a hidden trove of watering holes, each with their own character, charm, and unique selection of drinks. Tucked away in the secret parts of town, some can be hard to find, but are always worth the trip.

The best places to go for a pint in Edinburgh are mapped by Sam in the third edition of Nanu Maps.


Brougham Place

Nestled into the old vicarage of St Michael’s church in Tollcross, Cloisters is always busy. Alongside prints of Edinburgh landmarks and old maps of the city, you can pull up a stool and enjoy the finest ale selection in town in a completely unique setting, for a really good price.

You won’t find your normal IPA range here; the bar keeps guest ales that change regularly along with a cast of gorgeous bitters and microbrewery-sourced beers, as well as a fine set of specialist whiskies. The crowning jewel in their collection has to be ‘Holy Grale’, a microbrewery ale that is not served anywhere else in the world – though it’s also worth trying the lighter ‘Trade Winds’. If that’s not enough, the welcoming atmosphere, log fire and homemade food should be temptation enough.

The Abbey

Nicholson Street

There’s not much to do in Newington past seven o’clock, but the Abbey is a good bet. Good solid pub food, a huge selection of local ales and bitters and comfy seats. It’s always packed with locals – a good sign of a healthy establishment – and it’s far enough off the beaten track to avoid the wide-eyed tourists who are always so thrilled to have ‘found the real Edinburgh’.

Additionally, they always show sports – so you can watch the football with a pint and friends, without being annoyed by the boorish crowd that hang around sports bars.

The Blue Blazer

Spittal Street

An oasis amongst the strip clubs and bookies of West Port, the Blue Blazer is on a back street pokies online just off the main road. With a great selection of local ales, their IPAs are some of the best in the city. And being a local’s pub, it has the right mix of bookbinders, football fans and students to make for a friendly atmosphere.

Pull up a pew or barrel and have a pint, or get cosy in the tap room in the back.

The Blind Poet & The Pear Tree

West Nicholson Street

Owned by the same proprietors, these pubs have managed to retain their distinctive senses of character despite being located next door to each other. The Pear Tree shows sports and occasionally live music in its large open air beer garden, serving a selection of pale lagers and the usual selection of local beer (Deuchars, Caledonian you know the drill). It also keeps a guest beer on rotation.

The Blind Poet is smaller and cosier, and with a more niche range of beers. It also plays better music than the Tree, even if it can be hard to get a seat. In the Fringe, both of these pubs act as comedy venues, as does the Counting House upstairs – the third pub in this beery triumvirate, which is usually only open for functions and private events.

The Guildford Arms

Rose Street

One of Edinburgh’s best preserved Victorian public houses, the Guildford hosts a month-long folk festival during the Fringe. With a large gallery bar in addition to the main bar, this place is pretty huge, and the interior is beautiful.

Even with its prime New Town location, the Guildford is surprisingly cheap, and in this part of the city its selection of cask ales is unrivalled – highlights include the Flying Scotsman (a brew named in honour of the famous locomotive) and Merman.


Lauriston Place

Doctors is rarely less than packed; situated on the corner of Lauriston Place it serves a fine range of beers and snacks, amongst idiosyncratic surroundings. On first sight it might look like a normal pub, but delve a little deeper and you’ll find some curious features – for instance, the drawers of old medical documents and the forceps framed on the wall. Doctors is a unique pub, and its handy location near campus makes it perfect for post-class drinks (or pre-class drinks. Or mid-class drinks…).

Sandy Bells

Forest Road

Tucked away on Forest Road, not many people know about Sandy Bells, but it’s an experience that’s hard to forget. Inside it’s a nice pub – good beer, good food and always a friendly atmosphere. In the evening though, there’s live folk music every night, either from guest bands and artists or from the regulars. So if you want some traditional, live folk to go with your pint and chips, this is the place to be.

Cuckoo’s Nest

Leven Street

Located in Tollcross, across the road from the King’s Theatre, The Cuckoo’s Nest is bigger than it looks. Downstairs from the main bar area there is a whole other room to sit and have a pint in, on some really comfy chairs. Alongside the bitters and ales, the bar keeps a pretty good wine selection. Its real advantage though, lies in its location – close to both the arthouse Cameo Cinema and the King’s Theatre, the Nest offers special food deals if you show them a theatre ticket, and stays open late so you don’t have to go far for an after-show pint.

The Brauhaus

Lauriston Road

Between ECA and Tollcross, the Brauhaus has a huge selection of European and international beers and spirits to choose from. Although it’s a way off the main strip, it’s worth the trip, for the huge range of choice, and it’s always comfortingly busy with students, hipster locals and people who just like beer.