Saturday, 30 December 2006

2006: A Year in Music [Part 6: Re-evaluation of 2005 list]

Time to look back on my top albums of 2005 post to see how my opinions have changed over the course of the year. Since lists are very much a product of the time they are written, I think this is a great way of keeping the analysis of the year a bit more open-ended and allow opinions to be re-evaluated. Sometimes albums are initially overrated, and after some time I get sick of them. Other albums may be growers and they didn't have enough time to "hit" me yet.

This was my top 10 albums of 2005, as published at the end of last year:

1. Antony & The Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now
2. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
3. Super Furry Animals - Love Kraft
4. The Eels - Blinking Lights And Other Revelations
5. Wolf Parade - Apologies To The Queen Mary
6. The Drones - Wait Long By The River And The Bodies Of Your Enemies Will Float By
7. Spoon - Gimme Fiction
8. Oasis - Don't Believe The Truth
9. My Morning Jacket - Z
10. The Go-Betweens - Oceans Apart

And here are the 2005 albums I have purchased/acquired since I made that list:

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Supergrass - Road To Rouen
Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene
Mike Noga - Folk Songs
The Rosebuds - Birds Make Good Neighbors
M. Ward - Transistor Radio
Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
Machine Translations - Wolf On A String (EP)
The Polyphonic Spree - Thumbsucker (Soundtrack)

Out of these more recently-purchased albums, there are some solid albums in there and also some underwhelming ones. The Thumbsucker soundtrack was only a very recent purchase and I've only had one listen of it so far. It may eventually make the cut but it's too soon to comment.

I have already mentioned the Rosebuds and Mike Noga albums in my previous post, so no need to repeat myself here. Needless to say they are great albums which come highly recommended. Of the others, the Bloc Party album is another pretty solid album although maybe not quite the masterpiece I was expecting.

The self-titled debut album from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is a solid effort with a similar sound to the Wolf Parade album of 2005. Think quirky indie pop with a whiny David Byrne-esque vocalist and you get the drift. The new album from Supergrass, Road to rouen, was a surprisingly mature effort from these Britpop veterans; quite mellow and subdued overall, but still not losing sight of what makes them who they are.

Broken Social Scene's self-titled album was a bit of a disappointment for me after the brilliance of their previous album You forgot it in people. There's some great songs on it but it all blends into one long track for me, and I miss the eclecticism of their past work. However, it is still growing on me with each listen, so not all is lost.

M. Ward's album Transistor radio was a real disappointment for me. Initial spins seemed promising but I have grown incredibly bored with it on subsequent listens. The Machine Translations EP Wolf on a string was also a disappointment, especially after the brilliance of their previous albums.

Having said all of this, this is my updated top 10 albums of 2005 (old positions are in brackets):

1. Antony & The Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now [1]
2. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois [2]
3. Mike Noga - Folk songs [New entry]
4. Super Furry Animals - Love Kraft [3]
5. The Eels - Blinking Lights And Other Revelations [4]
6. The Drones - Wait Long By The River And The Bodies Of Your Enemies Will Float By [6]
7. The Rosebuds - Birds Make Good Neighbors [New entry]
8. The Go-Betweens - Oceans Apart [10]
9. Spoon - Gimme Fiction [7]
10. Oasis - Don't Believe The Truth [8]

Summary of changes:
  • The Mike Noga and Rosebuds albums are the only new entrants in the top 10, as I only bought these in 2006 and they are incredible albums which deserve a place in the list.
  • The Wolf Parade and My Morning Jacket albums have been kicked out of the top 10. While Wolf Parade is a decent album, I haven't listened to it for a long time and I think a lot of the magic of the album has been lost for me. My Morning Jacket seems to be one of those albums that becomes less impressive with each listen, which is disappointing.
  • The Go-Betweens album has moved up a bit in the list, and the Spoon and Oasis albums have moved down a bit. Just some minor tweaking here.
And that concludes my 6-part series on 2006, the year that was. Hope you enjoyed reading it. Remember to grab the MP3s on the other posts as soon as you can, as they will be taken down in a few weeks.

Happy new year!

Friday, 29 December 2006

2006: A Year in Music [Part 5: Musical discoveries]

Here's where I give you a quick rundown of some of my musical discoveries of 2006. I won't include albums which were released in 2006 in this list as they have been covered in previous posts. But these albums have rocked my world in some way or another this year.

To make this post more interesting, I'll also include a sample MP3 from each album listed. Download them immediately, as they'll only be up for a few weeks!

Rosebuds - Birds Make Good Neighbors (2005)

There's nothing particularly innovative about this album on the surface. Dig a little deeper, and...well it's still not particularly innovative. It's just an indie-pop album, but it's an indie-pop album done particularly well. It's a male/female duo who record music in a similar vein to The Arcade Fire. Some songs remind me of a more upbeat version of Melbourne's Art Of Fighting. Catchy music, some great tunes. Nothing more, but they aren't pretending to be anything more either.

MP3: Rosebuds - Boxcar [Link Removed]

Mike Noga - Folk Songs (2005)

Mike Noga is the drummer from Melbourne-based blues-rock band The Drones. The Drones are an excellent band, but on this album Mike has provided the perfect retaliation to all those stupid drummer jokes by releasing an album of incredibly accomplished self-penned folk songs. What amazes me about this album is that despite the mellow nature of the songs on this album, every song is different enough to make it interesting enough in its own right. Mike is never afraid to let his accent shine through, resulting in an excellent folk album with an Australian twist.

MP3: Mike Noga - The battle [Link Removed]

The Wrens - The Meadowlands (2003)

This album has been an indie critics' darling since its release in 2003. All sorts of superlatives have been used to describe it, with many critics not afraid to call it a masterpiece. It took me many listens to warm to this album -- a few of the songs are lyrically a little too close to emo territory for my liking -- but when it works (like on most of the songs from the second half) it does take you along on an emotional rollercoaster in the catchiest way possible.

MP3: The Wrens - Ex-girl collection [Link Removed]

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Barafundle (1997)

I had a few GZM albums before I got this one -- Spanish dance troupe (1999) and How I long to feel that summer in my heart (2001). While I enjoyed those albums in their own right, they are in their essence very simplistic albums when compared with this amazing work. Before I got this album, I always considered GZM to be a bit of a hybrid band that combined the experimental work of fellow Welsh countrymen Super Furry Animals with the melodic songwriting skills of Belle & Sebastian. Judging by the sound of this album, the roots of GZM stem more from the progressive bands of the 70's and the psychedelic bands of the late 60's. This is an amazingly complex album that deserves some overdue recognition. How many bands reached their peak in 1997? A great album from a great year in music.

MP3: Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Sometimes the father is the son [Link Removed]

The Fall - This Nation's Saving Grace (1985)

I love discovering musical gems from the 80's. That decade has such a bad reputation, but you only have to discover a band like the Smiths to realise that not everything from that era sounds like dated synth-pop. The Fall's music fits into the post-punk category, with leader Mark E. Smith providing all the attitude through his snarling vocals. What makes this album more interesting to me than traditional punk is the groove that the band manage to work each song into; it's addictive stuff.

MP3: The Fall - My new house [Link Removed]

Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells A Story (1971)

Yes, this is that Rod Stewart. No, he wasn't always a publicity-hunting sellout. This is actually a really solid album from a remarkable vocalist. Proof that even the most daggy artists can be traced back to real talent. Released in 1971, a great year for music, this is the album that contains his hit single Maggie May (which was originally a B-side before a DJ flipped it over and turned it into a hit). Rod Stewart has real soul on this album -- the only sole [sic] he will find thesedays is on the bottom of his shoe.

MP3: Rod Stewart - Mandolin wind [Link Removed]

Richard & Linda Thompson - I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight (1974)

It's great discovering incredibly talented artists many years later. I already had this duo's swansong Shoot out the lights from 1982, and this year I picked up this, their debut album. This is a folk-rock album, alternating between the vulnerable vocals of Richard and the stunning traditional folk pipes of Linda. Richard is also an incredibly talented guitarist. Add some great songwriting into the mix, and you have the makings of one of those classics which never got as much recognition as it should have. The end of the rainbow is quite simply one of the most beautifully melancholic songs I have ever heard.

MP3: Richard & Linda Thompson - The end of the rainbow [Link Removed]

Shack - Waterpistol (1995)

Considered a bit of a "lost classic" from the Britpop era, this is also quite a difficult album to find. I was therefore pretty ecstatic when I found it at a HMV store in London when I was there earlier this year. This is a great British pop album, nothing more, nothing less. Similar in sound to the Stone Roses and the La's, it's a record that is both of its time and timeless.

MP3: Shack - Walter's song [Link Removed]

Bright Eyes - Lifted (or...) (2002)

Bright Eyes (basically a moniker for singer-songwriter Conor Oberst) is an artist that has attracted many critics. I can see why; on the surface he can give the impression of being a fairly self-obsessed whinger. But his critics are missing a very important detail; he is an incredibly accomplished songwriter. He has crafted an album of immaculately written folk-pop songs here, and if it wasn't for an overlong and whiny opening track, this album would be approaching masterpiece territory for me.

MP3: Bright Eyes - Laura Laurent [Link Removed]

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - The Tyranny of Distance (2001)

This is an incredibly top-heavy album, but the first five songs are so fantastic that they almost compensate for the quality of the rest of the album (there are some exceptions on the 2nd half, but there's no doubting that the start of the album is where the shit's happening). So while I wouldn't completely recommend this album, some of those melodies on the first half are so sweet that my list of musical discoveries of the year wouldn't be complete without mentioning this album. Under the hedge is one of the best pop songs I have heard all year -- a great example of a fantastic vocal-driven melody.

MP3: Ted Leo - Under the hedge [Link Removed]

The Libertines - Up The Bracket (2002)

I had the Libertines bundled into the same category as other "nu-rock" bands like the Strokes and the White Stripes, which meant that they really didn't interest me in the slightest. After doing a bit more researching, I realised that many of their fans thought that they deserve better than that. After getting this album, their debut, I have to agree with those fans. What this album has that elevates its over those of their peers is rock swagger. You know that intangible coolness factor that the Clash had on London Calling? This album has that in spades, and maybe having Mick Jones as producer had something to do with that. There's a surprising amount of depth to this album, and its charms reveal themselves over multiple listens. Even if Pete Doherty's life has gone to shambles lately, this album is living proof that the man has genuine talent when he applies himself.

MP3: The Libertines - Up the bracket [Link Removed]

Johnny Cash - American Recordings (1994)

This is the first album in the "American" series that the Man in Black recorded with producer Rick Rubin. It's basically Johnny and an acoustic guitar, and the album is predominantly made up of cover versions (only five of the thirteen tracks are Cash originals). What is apparent in such a minimalistic setting is how powerful the man's voice is -- he is able to convey so much emotion just through his enunciation and tone. I'm not normally a fan of "cover" albums, but this is a special recording.

MP3: Johnny Cash - Redemption [Link Removed]

Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance (1978)

You know how Amazon has that ListMania feature where customers can recommend some of their favourite albums? I saw Pere Ubu come up quite a few times, with their fans calling them one of the more influential art-rock bands of the late 70's. When I saw this (their debut album) at JB Hi Fi, I took the risk. It's a fascinating album with an incredible vibe; the best way to describe it would be a band from the original punk era with a heavy Captain Beefheart influence adding a major avant-garde element. It's weird shit but all the more fascinating because of it.

MP3: Pere Ubu - Over my head [Link Removed]

Camper Van Beethoven - Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (1988)

My only previous knowledge of Camper Van Beethoven was that Manic Street Preachers had covered their popular song Take the skinheads bowling. I did a bit of research on them and this seemed to be the most popular choice for their best album. Considering my love for discovering lost classics from the 80's, I decided to give it a go. I can now honestly say that it's a gem of an album -- the best way to describe their sound would be a cross between the Go-Betweens and the Pogues. Strange mix? Indeed. This is quirky American underground pop at its best, with not a wasted note on the whole album.

MP3: Camper Van Beethoven - One of these days [Link Removed]

The Feelies - Crazy Rhythms (1980)

"Caffeinated pop" is the term that many people use to describe the sound of the Feelies on this album, and it's a very apt description. This album is now out of print and is therefore very rare, but I was lucky enough to snag a copy of it on eBay recently. This is tense pop music that always keeps the listener on edge, with a definite Velvet Underground influence in the vocals (the singer definitely has the Lou Reed thing happening on many of the songs). It's a fascinating listen from an underground band who were apparently a big influence on Peter Buck from R.E.M.

MP3: The Feelies - Loveless love [Link Removed]

UPDATE: Song links removed.

Thursday, 28 December 2006

2006: A Year in Music [Part 4: Top 5 albums of the year]

Without further ado, these are my top 5 albums of the year. Let's start the countdown!

5. Yo La Tengo - I am not afraid of you and I will beat your ass

If this was a best album title award, this one would easily get the top gong. I'm not a huge Yo La Tengo fan -- I have what is considered their best album (I can hear the heart beating as one from 1997, which I really like) and one of their later-period efforts (And then nothing turned itself inside out from 2000, which doesn't do a lot for me).

This album shares the pop eclecticism of I can hear the heart, while mixing in some of the more ambient textures of And then nothing and 2003's Summer sun. It's a long listen at almost 80 minutes, bookended by two distorted guitar freakouts (Pass the hatchet and The story of Yo La Tengo), with the beautiful instrumental Daphnia being an excellent centrepiece.

Overall, there's enough diversity on this album to make it an interesting listen despite its long running time. It isn't quite the classic album that I can hear the heart was, but it's impressive nonetheless.

4. Jarvis Cocker - Jarvis

I don't think anyone was expecting this album to be as good as it is. Even though it is Jarvis Cocker's solo debut album, it's pretty much another Pulp album in all but name (erm, and the fact that Richard Hawley is the only other member of Pulp who plays on the album). For Pulp fans, this is a godsend.

It took me a few listens to warm to this album, but its charms have revealed themselves to me over time. It mixes the various facets of the Pulp sound, from Britpop (Don't let him waste your time, the political From Auschwitz to Ipswich) to brooding Scott Walker-esque ballads (I will kill again, Disney time). And if the hilarious profanity-laden hidden track "[Cunts are still] Running the world" doesn't bring a smile to your face, you don't have a sense of humour.

3. Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit

The 2nd album from B&S since they turned their back on their early melancholic sound, opting for a more indie pop sound. While previous album Dear catastrophe waitress was transitional in all senses of the word, this album (with the exception of Dress up in you) pretty much sounds like it's from a different band than the one who released If you're feeling sinister.

I was a little worried when I heard how pop this album was, as this term usually implies something that sounds pretty good for the first few listens but (like feta cheese) doesn't have a very good shelf life. But this is a strange pop album, as it has quite a bit of depth and reveals more with each listen.

Not all the songs do it for me (White collar boy and Sukie in the graveyard being the biggest culprits) but there is an embarrassment of riches on this album -- from the T-Rex swagger of The blues are still blue, perfect pop of Another sunny day and Funny little frog, and the stax pastiche of Stevie Jackson's To be myself completely. And the two Act of the apostle songs tie the album together, making the whole album a little more than the sum of its parts.

Where they go from here is anyone's guess. B&S are still releasing interesting albums 10 years into their career, and that itself is something to be proud of.

2. Augie March - Moo, You Bloody Choir

Let me start this entry by saying something incredibly controversial. This album was, and still is, a disappointment for me. Yet it's still my 2nd favourite album of the year? It's all relative. Sunset studies and Strange bird were idiosyncratic masterpieces and easily the best albums of the year they were released in (2000 and 2002 respectively). We waited four years for this one, and the expectations was definitely raised into the red zone.

On the surface this is a bloody impressive album. I could also see how many fans could consider this to be their best album, as it is easily their most consistent and polished effort to date. To make an analogy with Brisbane band The Go-Betweens, this album would be their 16 Lovers Lane. Every note seems to be in the right place and every melody is pretty much perfect. But while 16 Lovers Lane is my favourite Go-Betweens album (and one of my favourite albums of all time), this album is my least-favourite Augie March album.

Why? Everything seems a little too polished, a little too perfect. I guess I like my Augie March a little rough around the edges, and their previous albums often had a left-field oddity like Angels of the bowling green and There's something at the bottom of the black pool to up the quirk-o-meter when required. This album feels a bit too much like their shot at commercial glory -- I wouldn't go so far to call it a sellout (that's way too unfair) but it's missing a lot of the magic for me.

All that being said, One crowded hour, Bottle baby and Victoria's secrets are some of the finest Augie March tracks to date. I'm glad that they are finally getting some more commercial success, because these lads deserve it. Who knows? Maybe it's just sour grapes, and I preferred when they were "my" band and not getting songs played on commercial radio.

1. Joanna Newsom - Ys

I caught up with a few old friends Adam and Leora for a coffee today. I asked Adam if he liked Joanna Newsom, and he said Ys is a masterpiece and one of the best albums of the year. As you can see from its position in my top albums of the year, I tend to agree with him.

This is not an album for everyone. And I don't mean that in an elitist sense; I'm not saying that if you don't like it you aren't as good as me. To use a movie analogy, some people would be quite happy watching an Adam Sandler movie, getting a few belly-laughs, and having a good night's entertainment. I have nothing against Adam Sandler movies, but every now and then I like to watch something deeper with more meaning. This is one of those albums. Nice segue?

I honestly can't think of a precedent for this album. I guess the closest comparison (and I don't mean musically) is Van Morrison's Astral weeks, in that this album creates its own world in which you as a listener get lost in. The constants throughout the 5 epic songs on this album are Joanna's otherworldly voice, her gentle harp playing and Van Dyke Parks' beautiful string arrangements (with the exception of Sawdust & diamonds which just contains voice and harp).

The lyrics are archaic poetry, but at no point does this album feel pretentious. The songs are long, but they don't feel that way because each song is made up of multiple movements where different musical textures and lyrics are explored. And just look at that album cover. In this age of commercial pop designed to make a quick buck, who takes risks like this?

Her debut album The milk-eyed mender didn't even hint at what Joanna Newsom has achieved here. She has come from out of nowhere and shoved a red hot poker up the ass of almost every other artist releasing music nowadays (with the exception of Tom Waits, another innovative genius).

The benchmark has been set; I look forward to another Beatles/Beach Boys ante-upping contest, a fight to the end in the name of musical genius.

Tuesday, 26 December 2006

2006: A Year in Music [Part 3: Cutting room floor]

Here's the albums which didn't make the cut of my top 5 list this year, together with appropriate explanations. Some clearly deserve to be on the cutting room floor, but in my re-evaluation of 2006 next year maybe they will crack the top 5? Who knows, stranger things have happened.

Sorted alphabetically by artist name, as there is no order to these.

Bob Dylan - Modern times

High expectations can be nasty things. This is an album I had very high expectations for, so the most likely scenario would be that it would disappoint. Critics were raving about this album, calling it one of the highlights of his almost 50-year career. My skepticism radar needed servicing, because I didn't see through these rave reviews.

Truth is, it's a decent album. But c'mon, one of the highlights of his career? I don't see how any of the critics can sleep well at night comparing this album to his earlier masterpieces like Highway 61 revisited, Blonde on blonde and Blood on the tracks. There's simply no comparison. Even his two albums before this one, Time out of mind and Love & Theft were more interesting than this one.

My biggest gripe with this album is that so many songs follow generic blues structures, and the non-bluesy ones are just repetitive ballads. There are some exceptions, in particular Nettie Moore, Workingman's blues and When the deal goes down. But half of this album doesn't excite me, and that's disappointing.

Gomez - How we operate

My, my, my -- what has happened to my beloved Gomez? They used to be such an interesting band, and so different to many of their peers. On this album they've taken such a simple path, and to be blunt, this is a mighty bland album.

This is one of those albums that sounds pretty good on the first listen. It's their most polished and accessible album to date. For some bands, this approach works. All it does for this album is make each subsequent spin less rewarding than the last.

The originality of Gomez was in their ability to fuse blues influences with modern production techniques. It was their shtick, and they did it so well. But they've lost it here. For those who are new to the music of Gomez, I highly recommend checking out their debut album Bring it on. Then you'll realise how boring they have become.

Guillemots - From the cliffs

I bought this EP by the London band Guillemots after hearing the excellent single Trains to Brazil on the radio. Unfortunately, the rest of the EP doesn't live up to the quality of that song. There are some moments that get close: Made up love song #43 is a beautiful ballad with a passionate vocal performance by Fyfe Dangerfield. Guillemots need to develop a more unique sound, and it looks like they are still finding their way around the studio here.

Something For Kate - Desert lights

Initial reviews of Something For Kate's 5th album Desert lights called it their rockiest album since Beautiful sharks. While there is no denying the raw power of this album, there is also no rocker on this album up there with Hallways either. It's actually the ballads on this album which are the highlights for me, with Down the garden path and Washed out to sea up there with some of the best of SFK. All in all, this is their least impressive album since their debut.

Kelley Stoltz - Below the branches

Kelley's Stoltz's 2nd album Antique glow was one of my lucky discoveries of 2003. While the man had his influences, he managed to weave them into an album in which his own formula of quirky whimsy still managed to take centre stage.

Below the branches is his major label debut, and it's a perfect example of where injecting more money doesn't always yield better results. My biggest issue with this album is that Kelley seems to have lost a fair chunk of his originality here -- just listen to Ever thought of coming back, which could easily be confused with a Beach Boys song circa Friends.

There's still some great songs on this album, in particular the great sequence from The rabbit hugged the hound to Prank calls. It's just missing some of the magic from the previous album.

The Strokes - First impressions of earth

The Strokes managed to dodge a bullet with their 2nd album Room on fire, cleverly avoiding the dreaded "2nd album syndrome" (or as the Yanks love to call it, the "sophomore slump"). They managed to do this by pretty much releasing the same album as their debut. They realised that they probably couldn't do this again on their 3rd album, and I have to give them kudos for branching out and trying different things.

There are several problems with this album. Firstly, it's way too long. At 52 minutes it's way too long to sustain my interest over the course of the album. Their first two albums combined added up to only 68 minutes, making their new one almost as long as the both of them. Secondly, it's too top heavy. If they had edited this album by removing some of the average tracks from the second half, they could have turned this into a lean album under the 40-minute mark. And they could have done this without losing some of the tracks which take them in interesting new directions like Juicebox and the bizarre Ask me anything. This would have allowed them to miraculously dodge another bullet, but unfortunately they became a bit too self-indulgent on this album.

Thom Yorke - The eraser

I only purchased this album a few days ago, so unfortunately I can't really give a meaningful review yet. Standout tracks from the first few listens are Atoms for peace, Harrowdown hill and Cymbal rush.

Tom Waits - Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards

I only purchased this album today, and haven't had a chance to listen to it. But I'm very excited about this purchase as I am a huge Tom Waits fan and this has been getting rave reviews. This is 3 discs of rare previously-released material and new songs. Brawlers contains mostly bluesy rockers, Bawlers contains his trademark weepie ballads and Bastards contains the experimental stuff. Tom Waits is a genius, and I don't use that word lightly. Just writing about this album makes me want to listen to it!

Albums Yet (Or Never) To Purchase

Here's some of the 2006 albums that I may consider purchasing, but I haven't gotten around to getting them:

Beatles -Love
Camera Obscura - Let's get out of this country
The Drones - Gala mill
TV on the Radio - Return to cookie mountain

And here's some 2006 albums by artists and bands who I like, but based on reviews and feedback from friends, I'm unlikely to purchase them:

Badly Drawn Boy - Born in the UK
Ben Harper - Both sides of the gun
The Flaming Lips - At war with the mystics
Muse - Black holes and revelations
The Sleepy Jackson - Personality
Sufjan Stevens - The avalanche
The Streets - The hardest way to make an easy living
The Whitlams - Little cloud
You Am I - Convicts

Coming next, my top 5 albums of 2006!

Monday, 25 December 2006

2006: A Year in Music [Part 2: Top 5 songs of the year]

As per my comments in last year's top songs post, this is not a list of my favourite singles of the year. Merely a list of choice cuts. To make this list, I must own the song on CD. That means that a lot of great songs which I don't own are not eligible. My blog, my rules.

This year, to make it more interesting, I will include a link to an MP3 download of all the songs in my top 5. Please download them all; it won't take long, especially for you broadband folk. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Note that the MP3s will only stay up for a couple of weeks. Please grab them as soon as you read this post the first time, even if you don't listen to them immediately. Otherwise you may miss out! If you like them, please buy them on CD or legally download them.

5. Jarvis Cocker - Tonite [Link Removed]

I'm a big fan of the minor album track, and this is one of those songs. It's not from the first half of the Jarvis album where most of the songs which sound like they could be hits are from. It's tucked away near the end, and it's a gem.

Lyrically, it sounds like something which was sweeped off the cutting-room floor at the This is hardcore sessions. Jarvis revisits his familiar themes of sex and drugs, and also stabs the wannabes in the back like he did so often on the Pulp magnum opus Different class.

One could argue that this is Pulp-by-numbers, but it's the sparse production of this song which takes it to a different level for me. Jarvis gives this song so much space to breathe in, and it makes it a much more fascinating track for me than it probably deserves to be. And for some strange reason, the sound of this song reminds me of a few tracks from the latest Go-Betweens album Oceans apart.

4. Belle & Sebastian - Another sunny day [Link Removed]

This was the first song I heard from the 2nd album of the reinvention of Belle & Sebastian, and I fell in love with it instantly.

Where Seeing other people, My wandering days are over and The boy with the arab strap were perfections of their earlier melancholic cardigan-wearing sound, all cylinders are firing on this power-pop masterstroke. It's catchy as all hell, and it's one of the few tracks on The life pursuit that sounds like it could have easily been one of the poppier tracks on an earlier album. It introduces their new sound without rubbing your face in it, and the end result is that the band finally feel completely comfortable in their new incarnation.

3. Bob Dylan - Nettie moore
[Link Removed]

Most of Sir Bobness' latest album Modern times alternates between standard bluesy numbers and drawn-out ballads. There are a mere handful of gems, and this is one of those.

Lyrically, it sounds like a lost Basement tracks song; it's musically organic and Bob's husky vocal performance gives a sense of honesty to the proceedings that not many artists could pull off. It pulls on all the right emotion heartstrings, both lyrically and musically.

This is a track that is comparable with some of the finer songs in his vast catalogue. For a man who has been recording music for five decades now (and is still going strong), this is no small feat.

2. Augie March - Bottle baby [Link Removed]

After a handful of EPs and 3 albums, Glenn Richards is one of the few vocalists who can almost bring a tear to my eye, so beautiful is his voice. And this highlight from their latest strangely-titled album Moo, you bloody choir could possibly be his finest vocal performance to date.

The lyrics can probably be best described as surreal poetry. I'll admit I don't always know what Glenn is on about in his lyrics, and this song is definitely no exception. But it doesn't matter, as his voice tells you more than you need to know. Every syllable, every nuance, every turn of phrase: this is emotional singing at its best and that alone makes it one of the finest Augie March songs to date.

1. Joanna Newsom - Emily [Link Removed]

I pretty much fell in love with this song, the opening song from Joanna Newsom's ambitious 2nd album Ys, on the first listen.

Over the course of its 12 minute running time, it ebbs, it flows, it revisits lyrical and musical themes. It's an epic song of breathtaking beauty. No song better encapsulates the richness and scope of what she has achieved on her new album Ys than this.

I'm definitely more of a musical person than a lyrical one. I also have a fairly short attention span which is continuing to diminish as I get older. I never would have thought that a song as long and lyrically dense as this one would be my song of the year.

The meteorite, meteor, meteoroid movement (yes, merely calling it a verse is unfair) is breathtaking. It doesn't even matter that she's not astronomically correct. This song urges you to meet somebody named Emily and befriend her, just so you can make this the leading song on a mixtape for her.

UPDATE: Song links removed.

Sunday, 24 December 2006

2006: A Year in Music [Part 1: Overview]

It's that time of the year again!

Some things are pretty certain about this time of the year. Finding a parking spot at a shopping centre is incredibly difficult. You quickly grow sick of hearing Christmas carols wherever you go. And it's also that time when online music publications put up their retrospective of the year. It's a controversial and exciting time of the year for music geeks like me.

At this time last year, I had bought many albums from 2005. This made it very easy for me to write a good retrospective, and I could even come up with top 10 lists for my favourite albums and songs. At the time of writing, I have only purchased 12 albums from 2006. So it doesn't really make a lot of sense to do a top 10 list, because not all the albums I purchased deserve the acclaim of a position in a top 10 list. So I'll be toning things down a little this year, and only doing top 5 lists.

Here's a quick schedule of my next 6 posts (including this one).

Part 1: Overview
Part 2: Top 5 songs of the year
Part 3: Cutting room floor
Part 4:
Top 5 albums of the year
Part 5: Musical discoveries of the year
Part 6: Re-evaluation of 2005 list

Part 1: Overview

If I had to sum up 2006 in one word, it would be disappointing. Harsh, isn't it? But that's the reality for me.

This was the year in which I was in a bit of a rut with respect to new music. I wasn't buying as much new music as I used to, and my attitude towards new albums by artists I loved had changed. In previous years, if a new album came out by an artist that I really loved, I would use the rule purchase unless proven not worthy.

In 2006, my rule became purchase only if proven worthy. I became really strict with what I bought. I had grown sick of buying music based on hype and being disappointed. It had happened too many times in the past, and now I was gonna be a hardass. Only buy something if I'm convinced it's going to be really good. After all, why by a lesser album by an artist who I already like? If I'm going to choose an album of theirs to put on, I'll put on one of their better ones.

I used to think it was a cool thing to get the monopoly of an artist - i.e. own all of their albums. Not so I could build houses and hotels on them, but just for the satisfaction of owning all of them. In 2006, I threw this attitude out of the window.

Keep in mind that 2005 was and still is a great year for music. So shouldn't I have been on such a high from 2005 that I'd be buying everything? Well, that's the attitude I had going into 2006. But after a few disappointments early in the year, I quickly realised that 2006 wasn't going to be as great for me.

In 2006, I started to embrace a lot of older music. There was a lot of older music out there, which has been around for many more years. I grew so sick of overhyped bands, and older music is so much better in this sense because it has had the ability to grow a reputation on its own merits and not on the back of NME (and the like) sponsored hyperbole. In a nutshell, I was sick of being taken for a ride.

Early on in the year, NME published a list of the greatest albums of all time. The Arctic Monkeys debut, which had only been out for 2 weeks before their published the list, made it to the top 10. Even if it was a good album (and from what I've heard it's decent, but nothing ground-breaking), this was absolutely ridiculous. And it was also one of the many straws which broke my music buying camel's back.

Getting married in November also probably had something to do with it. With all the stresses and organisation and lack of time, I simply didn't have as much time for music this year. Maybe in many years to come, I will be able to grow an appreciation for the music of 2006. I hope that time does come.

That's not to say that 2006 wasn't without its share of great music, and there will be a discussion of the great music of the year in the next few posts. Also, there are many albums from 2006 which are still on my list to purchase but I haven't gotten around to them yet (for various reasons). Because I have a rule that I won't review something that I don't legitimately own, none of these albums are eligible for making any of my lists (but they will get a passing mention).

Maybe in my re-evaluation of the 2006 list (published at the end of 2007) I will be able to expand my top 5 lists to top 10 lists. I certainly hope so! Enjoy reading the next few posts, and as usual I encourage anyone and everyone to comment. If you have any recommendations for 2006 albums, please let me know in the comments as well. Anything you can recommend that will make my appreciation of 2006 better will be greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Robbie Williams gig [18th December 2006 @ Telstra Dome]

No, this isn't an early April Fool's Day joke. I really went to the Robbie Williams concert.

Lorin wanted to go to see him and she couldn't find anyone else who wanted to go, so I performed my husbandly duties and accompanied her to see him at the Telstra Dome in the Docklands.

Look, to be quite honest, I quite enjoy some of his music. I'd never buy one of his albums, but Lorin does have his Greatest Hits CD at home which pretty much includes all the songs you'd want of his on a single disc. He has released some great catchy songs over the years, and if I had to pick a contemporary "pop" artist to see in concert he'd probably be high up on my list (keeping in mind that most of the music I like is not classified as "pop"). He also possesses that cheeky British arrogance (similar to the Gallagher brothers) which is a strangely likable quality.

Opening with hit singles Radio and Rock DJ, it did take a while for the gig to start taking off. The acoustics were pretty poor at the start, and the first few songs were reminiscent more of a poor karaoke performance than a superstar rocking 65,000+ fans in a huge stadium. He pranced around with cocky swagger, and pictures of him flashed up on the giant screens. Yes, this was truly a man who was way too much in love with himself. When he did talk at the start, the only words he could seem to get out were "Australia!!!" and "Melbourne!!!". It wasn't looking pretty from our vantage point in the standing general admission section.

Luckily it got better. The hits starting coming one after another, Robbie started talking to the audience a lot more and his charisma starting to shine through. He also used the sure-fire technique of audience interaction to get the crowd into the music, getting fans to wave their hands in the air during Monsoon, encouraging an "Australian wave" (basically a Mexican wave) and talking to a fan's friend on her mobile phone (in which you could simultaneously hear 10,000 teeny-bopper girls' hearts flutter).

He came out for his encore in an Adidas-sponsored outfit, and sung his early anthem Let me entertain you (which would have made a better opening song than Radio). You could really feel the energy in the place by this stage, and after singing a few other less-memorable songs, he appeared to be ending the night with his lovely ballad Angels (probably my favourite in his repertoire). Then he made some comment about "doing it for the kids" before playing the final song of the night Kids (sans Kylie, who he duets with on the studio version).

All in all, a surprisingly enjoyable gig for me. Lorin's enjoyment was unfortunately reduced due to not being able to see the stage properly, even from standing far back in the general admission section (but luckily there were big TV screens which she could see most of). I also assured her that she wasn't missing much by not being able to see the stage. Next time we go general admission we'll have to follow the lead of an enterprising young person we saw there, who brought along a small esky that also worked as a height-enhancer :)

But it does raise an interesting point -- can't they design standing sections in stadiums to be more friendly to the shorter fans? I'm sure it wouldn't be difficult to angle the floor, in a similar way to how they arrange seats in cinemas, to increase the chances of shorter fans being able to see the stage. Maybe even make the stage higher up?

UPDATE: According to the Blogger stats, this is my 100th blog post. Woohoo!