The golden age of Comic Kingdom

I have heard, through the traps, that the owner of Sydney’s Comic Kingdom, Steve Smith, has passed away. It has brought up a swell of old memories for me. Comic Kingdom was a very important place for me.

As a kid in Sydney, I remember passing the shop on Liverpool St many times. It was near Chinatown, and I wondered what was inside long before I would go in. But when I finally did, around 1990/1991, it was a wonderland. A confusing wonderland, but a wonderland.

I know it was 1990/1991 because I remember what I bought. It was the era of some of the most seminal comics of all time. Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1. Claremont and Jim Lee’s X-Men #1, all four covers. Death of Superman. That first wave of Image Comics. I remember bundling upstairs where the super hero comics were. Leaving my school bag downstairs, of course. And scanning the new releases lined up across the floor.

Comic Kingdom was a strange store. It seemed like most of the time they didn’t want you in there. It looked more like an adult book store, with a small side door and no way to look into store from the street. Half of the upstairs was this strange rarities section, roped off and out of bounds. The bottom floor back room was full of strange games and fanzines and again, you’d get asked why you wanted to go in there. And the comics on the ground. The mess everywhere.

Somewhere along the line, Comic Kingdom fell behind the times. I think it was in Scott McCloud’s Making Comics, where he talks about the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, and how the grains of truth in that character had to go if comics were to survive. As comic stores became more family friendly, girl friendly and just generally friendly, Comic Kingdom did not. That small hidden door. Leave your bag downstairs.

Their cross town rivals Kings Comics seemed to understand the changing world of comics better, and thrived. I discovered comics at Comic Kingdom. But I held my standing order at Kings for many years. Other stores that felt like secret clubs, like The Land Beyond Beyond, went away. But somehow, without changing or updating, Comic Kingdom survived. I pass it all the time, but I never go in. I still, now, don’t want to impose.

That facade did a great job advertising comics to Sydney. It’s so faded and out of time. You can’t see into the store. The only change was when they stopped trading on Sundays and the sign says Open 6 Days. But it was in a prominent space, that shop held a promise of fantastic stories and great heroes. In a time when superheroes are such a big part of culture, it is sad to think that one of the key pioneers in Sydney has gone. At some point, so will that wonderful store facade.

Mojo Reviews Challenge #015 – Stone Roses – Second Coming (1994)

The Stone Roses
Second Coming
1994 – Geffen

It feels odd that as a 90s anglophile, I never really had an opinion on the greatest musical question of my times – is the Stone Roses Second Coming any good? I had a copy of this, packed firmly away. I probably listened to it, but maybe I didn’t. It is reviewed in the old Mojo I’m going through so I thought- let’s tackle this shit.

Before I do – I love that first Stone Roses album. I don’t listen to it all the time, but when I do, there are moments when I think it could be the greatest album ever made. There is certainly so much about it that is special. I also loved various best of collections, as they had some incredible songs that followed. I come with the expectations the whole world had in 1994. How do you top perfect? The answer is – you can’t. And they didn’t.

A lot have been written about this album’s troubled genesis. The legal battles, the drink and drugs, and so much more. Oh well.

All the big reasons this album sucks remain. God, it is long. Very long. The rush of the new is gone, and the band sounds pretty repetitive in places. Lyrically in particular, Ian Brown has not moved in 6 years. John Squire brings some incredible work, but sometimes he brings nothing and is just doing the same old Squire jamming.

That said, I like what this band does, even if they aren’t at full strength. The full 11 minute version of Breaking Into Heaven sounds incredible. John Squire has so many ideas in just that one song, it opens the album on a promising note. Those other famous songs like Ten Story Love Song still kicks ass, an anthem for the ages.

But there is some filler. Brown’s lyrics seem like a retread, the wide eyed optimism seems naive and simplistic. Add to that songs that all need a good two minutes lopped off means that this album drags along. The first album was 11 tracks in less than 50 minutes. This is 12 tracks in 70+ minutes.

But there I am, comparing it to that first album like everyone else. Which is unfair, because they certainly didn’t want to remake that record. You can feel them wanting to make something weightier, and even more inclusive to a large audience. They also wanted to make songs that fill bigger venues. And they were probably on different and better drugs. They called the album friggin Second Coming.

I cant help it, but half this album is just plain boring. A song like Tears is just a long jam with some lovely moments probably, if you saw it live. But its just an indulgent mess. Theres 40 great minutes in here. Non singles like How Do You Sleep bristle with youth, vigour and spirit. Some of those minutes are truly great.

The other thing is just, the world passed them by. The sheer number of great British records released between 1989 and 1994 meant that this album was just old hat.

So. Second Coming. It is mostly harmless. None of it is bad. But when you made one of the greatest albums of all time, you have to add to the legacy. This album just didn’t do a good enough job of that.

New Redbubble Store

Hey there. I have a Redbubble Store. It’s a showcase for my artwork, and a place for you to buy something if you care/dare.

Two series up so far. One is Music And Places. The other is Vintage things I’ve come across.

More ideas and work to come.

I’ve started an Instagram for this @yausdraws.

Everything I watched in 2017

03/01 Lions for Lambs
05/01 Umbrellas Of Cherbourg
06/01 Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared
09/01 Practical Magic, Gilmore Girls season 2, Einstein’s Biggest Blunder
10/01 Mad Max Fury Road
13/01 Nathan For You Season 1
15/01 Mozart In the Jungle
18/01 Series Of Unfortunate Events Series 1
20/01 Nathan For You Season 2
28/01 A Simple Plan
04/02 Beautiful Girls, Rick And Morty Season 1
05/02 The Jungle Book, Robots,
06/02 La La Land
02/03 Gilmore Girls Season 3
04/03 The Craic, Moonlight
06/03 Star Trek Enterprise Season 1
07/03 Trevor Noah Afraid Of the Dark
09/03 Children Of The Revolution
10/03 Logan
15/03 Rick And Morty Season 2
20/03 T2 Trainspottin
22/03 Ken Burns: Prohibition
04/04 Gilmore Girls Season 4
01/05 Keanu
15/05 The Good Dinosaur
08/06 Enterprise Series 2
10/06 Don’t Worry Baby
30/06 The Secret Life Of Pets
02/07 The Leftovers Season 2, Doctor Who Series 10
09/07 Love Sick Season 2, Spider-Man Homecoming
15/07 Veep Season 6
19/07 Star Trek Beyond
22/07 Steve Jobs
23/07 Angie Tribeca Season 3
25/07 Hunt For the Wilderpeople
01/08 Sing Street
08/08 X-Men Apocalypse
15/08 Star Trek Enterprise S3
18/08 Orange Is the New Black S5
19/08 Fleabag
20/08 Knight Of Cups
22/08 Long Strange Trip
24/08 Danny Says
28/08 Game Of Thrones Season 7, Shampoo
29/08 The Nice Guys
30/08 Miss Stevens
01/09 Everybody Wants Some!!
04/09 Glow
15/09 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
17/09 Hologram For The King
20/09 Wet Hot American Summer
23/09 The Firm
25/09 Married To the Mob
28/09 Narcos Season 3
29/09 Night Owls, War Machine, Fargo Season 3
01/10 30 Minutes Or Less, Walk Of Shame, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
02/10 Jerry Before Seinfeld, Throw Mama From The Train
04/10 Long Shot
09/10 Star Trek Enterprise Season 4
10/10 I’m Dying Up Here Season 1
11/10 Gilmore Girls Season 5
12/10 Baby Driver
15/10 Love And Friendship
16/10 Rick And Morty Season 3
20/10 The Lobster
22/10 Kingsman The Golden Circle
24/10 Thor Ragnarok
1/11 Death Of Stalin
13/11 Trumbo
14/11 Me Earl & The Dying Girl
23/11 Call Me By Your Name
27/11 A Bronx Tale, The Big Sick, A Trip To Spain
30/11 Silicon Valley Season 4
1/12 The Founder, Mickey Blue Eyes
10/12 Wonder Wheel
12/12 The Crown Season 1, Brooklyn Nine Nine S4
16/12 Gilmore Girl S6 (the worst)
17/12 The Last Jedi
21/12 Passengers
24/12 The Hidden Fortress
25/12 The Meyerowitz Stories
26/12 Doctor Who Xmas, Arrival
27/12 Little Men
28/12 Alan Partridge Welcome To The Places Of My Life, Big Fat Quit of the Year 2017
29/12 Alan Partridge Mid Morning Matters,
30/12 Mindhunter Season 1
31/12 Black Mirror S4

Long Time Running (2007) – The Tragically Hip

Long Time Running (2007)
The Tragically Hip
Directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Nicolas de Pencier
Netflix (outside of Canada)

I am probably a rarity when it comes to The Tragically Hip. I am a casual fan. OK, maybe a little bit more, but they are a band that are loved for everything they did, or completely ignored. That usually correlates to how Canadian you are, and a teenage (pretentious) exploration of Canadian music led me to them, the biggest band in Canada. It also helped that they were on Warners, where I worked for a while. In Australia, we valiantly tried to release singles like My Music At Work to deafening indifference.

This documentary tells the story of one moment in the band’s history – the final ones. Lead singer and lyricist Gord Downie was diagnosed with a brain cancer. Against the odds, the band rallied for a bunch of farewell concerts around Canada, which became huge, national events. Downie died, shortly after the documentary was released.

There’s a lot of story to tell, and the film takes us through the personal rather than the musical. There’s a lot about the sickness, the decisions made, the effort to learn songs, and the feelings of everyone involved. Only in the very last minutes of the film do we get anything close to a performance of a full song. This is not a way to discover the band’s music. This is also a loving portrait, not a critical assessment. Don’t expect skeletons here.

Where this documentary works best is the feels. At one point, Justin Trudeau turns up, and he is emotionally overwhelmed (Trudeau was in tears when he announced Downie’s death). There’s seas of fans singing along to every song, saying goodbye to their hero. This was a band that had their rabid fanbase, and this film is for them.

The other important part of this film is serving as a portrait of Gord Downie. His lyrics, and his worldview, is much of what gives the band their special flavour. And we get a lot of time with Gord, and him being Gord. We get to see him get dressed, with two socks sown together as a neck tie. The way he kisses and hugs his band mates. And in a touching interview for this film, talks long about life and mortality. He is a special man.

The film takes us through the decision to tour, the planning of the tour, then the tour itself. It ends with their final show in Kingston, a huge event beamed into public parks throughout Canada. There’s lots of tears fans singing along to the big hits when they finally come, like Grace, Too and Ahead By A Century.

This is a special moment, captured. Very few people get to face their death head on, and even fewer have a platform like being the biggest band in their country. It’s not a great place to discover the music, or hear some great music.

3/5

My Favourite Albums Of 2017

1. Charlie Fink – Cover My Tracks

Easily, easily my favourite album this year. A quiet, intimate little story telling album, that at places sounds like an extended tribute to Leonard Cohen, but the man can sing and there’s lots of colour. Best are the stories, the lyrics and the rush of images and hope. Unabashedly joyous without being naff, and timeless without sacrificing hooks. I’m still finding new moments of wonder in it every time. The best track is still the first, Firecracker, a simple story, beautifully told, culminating in an image as memorable as anything I’ve ever heard or read.

2. Real Estate – In Mind

Comes in seconds simply due to the number of plays. It’s like Television grew up in a stable family and got some sun. Long blissful jamming matched with long blissful lyrical nonsense. Everything here is serving mood and tone, and they hold it down for a whole album without getting boring. You can hear all the influences but still its own thing. If you like minute-plus intros, you’ll love this album.

3. Elbow – Little Fictions

I’ve always liked Elbow, but as I get older they make more and more sense. Go figure. The band create an inventive, emotional bed for Guy Garvey to be all wise and insightful. And they songs seep in, with incredible hooks, matched with an incredible way that Garvey sees the world. He’s mellowed with age too, and his kitchen sink love songs were the perfect antidote to 2017.

4. Toby Martin – Songs From Northam Avenue

A big change from Toby’s normal inventive pop, he collaborated with a bunch of musicians in Western Sydney to write songs about those suburbs. It leads to a more scrambled, rickety take on Martin’s pop smarts. Far more relaxed and sweet than his previous Love’s Shadow, there are great escapist moments – the single Spring Feeling is a real highlight and doesnt end up where you’d expect.

5. Laura Marling – Semper Femina

Marling continues to be on time – she’s done the Joni Mitchell folk period, and is now two albums into her Joni Mitchell sonic experimental period. This album seems to be a compilation of her last fee years. There’s jazzy songs, intimate acoustic songs and rocking electric songs. She also still sings with the experience of an 80 year old, spinning anachronistic stories about women in strife, and the living of life. Reliable, but let’s hope she mixes it up again.

6. John Kennedy – JFK & The Midlife Crisis

Not sure what I was expecting from a John Kennedy album in 2017, but he has delivered a pleasure of an album. So many of the songs here that sound like they should be radio smashes, with big choruses, and big hooks. His obsession with our place is not lost with plenty of Sydney, almost none more than the wonderful Peter Says, which mentions the Cat Protection Society in Enmore. His voice is sounding particularly great too.

7. Alex Dezen – II

Dezen made my favourite album last year. This doesn’t consistently reach the heights of the last one. It’s still a hopelessly sad album, matched with a more upbeat set, some are truly danceable. Simply put, a couple of duffers on this one, but then also moments of amazing beauty, like New York To Paradise, imagining his mother in heaven and getting her dreams. The themes continue from the last self titled album, and a nice book end. Heartbreaking honesty, without the Ryan Adams type posing, and actual song craft.

8. Paul Kelly – Life Is Fine

Every decade or so, Paul Kelly decides to make a crowd pleaser. And reminds us he can kick pop rock ass, if he only cared to. Life Is Fine is this decade’s collection – so fun, so soulful, so sexy. The first three tracks – Rising Moon, Finally Something Good, Firewood And Candles – are about as great as any Paul Kelly singles. Unlike his contemporaries (Walker, Finn, et all), Kelly has always been more red blooded, and he really lets that part of him shine. Surrounded as usual by a kick ass band, with plenty of Vika And Linda. Album cover of the year too.

9. Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher

Cloher probably knew her new album would be greeted with a big audience, with the success of her label. And in many ways, she has delivered a year one album – restating all the excellent things about her music, uncompromisingly. Restless, repetitive guitars mixed with beautifully thrown away lyrics. It’s less about intimacy, more about big statements. It’s matched with an energy that suggests these songs will be a lot of fun live (the album is incredibly captured).

10. Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott – Crooked Calypso

Three albums in four years, all of them huge chart successes in the UK. Heaton has found a fourth life (after the Housemartins, The Beautiful South and his solo career), and he is revelling in it. Writing for Abbott has brought a sweetness to his songs, and as usual he writes them with more energy and speed than anyone else his age. This album is even more indebted to Northern soul, and the big gospel-ly numbers probably reflect the large rooms they play. He’s still a grumpy old fuck – an unapologetically working class, anti-authoritarian, cynical, bitter bastard. But he makes it sound such fun. The soundtrack to dance with the madness of this year.

Here’s actual music videos from these albums, and 10 other albums/EPs I liked this year.

Mojo Reviews Challenge #014 – Dave Edmunds – Chronicles (1994)

Dave Edmunds
Chronicles
1994 – Connoisseur Collection

Dave Edmunds has always been a bit of a Zelig like figure for me. He is associated with and hangs out with a lot of artists I love. But I have never explored his music.

I, of course, know two songs. Both were hits and written for Edmunds – Girls Talk by Elvis Costello and I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock N Roll) by Nick Lowe. He is scattered on various compilations (Live Stiffs, the Stiff Records box set, etc) I own, and guested on other records that I his name didn’t front.

I guess what kept me away from Edmunds was that he wasn’t a songwriter, and he didn’t have a special point of view. He just sang cool songs of others. Listening to this compilation, it is very compilation-y. This is a classic 90s best of where they just filled the disc to capacity.

This album is filled with familiar songs. They are all covers – John Fogerty’s Almost Saturday Night, the classical piece Sabre Dance (heard in lots of films) and more. The songs sound pretty good, Edmunds is a fine player and singer. I drift towards the less produced stuff like Crawling From The Wreckage.

In the end, I already had better versions of these songs. And for me, these songs are OK – they all seem to touch upon good time 50s rock n roll, which is not my favourite genre. It’s riff heavy, simple lyrics – I know people who love it, and they are the biggest Dave Edmunds fans I know. It is nice to have a great version of Girls Talk. The version of I Knew The Bride is fine.

After this, I’m not rushing out to buy a whole lot of Rockpile or Dave Edmunds albums. This pub rock era of British music was full of filler, and if this is the best, then I’ve heard it before. It ticks a box, solves a mystery. I’m sure he’s a blast live, he looks neat and has a good voice. His frequent collaborator Nick Lowe talks about Cruel To Be Kind (which Edmonds plays on), saying it was simply his turn to have a hit. Edmunds, he just kind of had a turn.

Everything I watched in 2016

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Based on a thing that Stephen Soderbergh does. Ironically, I watched nothing by Soderbergh this year. No repeats listed. TV shows show the date I finished the season.

01/01 Bloodline
14/01 Down With Love
16/01 Casanova 70
17/01 Transparent Season 2
20/01 Only Connect Season 11, Theory Of Everything
23/01 Maron Series 1
24/01 Worlds Fastest Indian, The Beast Of No Nation
29/01 Mozart In the Jungle series 1
30/01 Jupiter Ascending
06/02 Mozart In the Jungle series 2,
07/02 The Red Shoes
13/02 Big Eyes
14/02 Boytown
15/02 2012
16/02 Twelve Chairs
24/02 A New Leaf
27/02 While We’re Young, Hannibal
28/02 Men At Lunch
02/03 Canadian Bacon
04/03 X files season 10
06/03 High Crimes
09/03 Whip It
13/03 Heart Of Darkness
16/03 Marnie
20/03 Holy Rollers
26/03 House Of Cards Season 4, Jimmy Carr Funny Business
27/03 Megamind
31/03 Grace And Frankie Season 1
07/04 The Parole Officer
17/04 Narcos
19/04 Creation, Better Call Saul Season 2, Swimming Pool
22/04 Best Of Enemies
23/04 Around the world in 80 Days, Mad Dogs (series 4), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (series 2)
24/04 Love Is Strange
27/04 Good Bye Lenin
29/04 Fever Pitch
28/04 All Or Nothing
01/05 Aloha, Larry Sanders Show Season 1
07/05 Hot Tub Time Machine 2
08/05 Fish Tank
11/05 Any Given Sunday
14/05 Cunk On Shakespeare
19/05 Sherlock Jr
20/05 Larry Sanders Season 2
21/05 Terri
22/05 Transporter 2
02/06 Tomorrowland
04/06 Mission Impossible 5, Deadpool
06/06 Gasping, Frankie Boyle Laugh Like You’ve Never Been Loved
15/06 x&y, The Wrecking Crew, Out of Towners, Robin Williams Remembered
18/06 Cobbler
20/06 Catfish, Fright Night (2011), Neil Young Journeys
24/06 Absolutely Anything
25/06 Charlie Bartlett
26/06 Irma La Louce
27/06 Dear White People
28/06 Spotlight, Hail Caesar, The Martian
29/06 The Larry Sanders Show season 3
30/06 Superheroes A Never Ending Battle, Man Up, Kingsman, Top 5
1/07 Wild Target
02/07 Marty
06/07 Look Who’s Back
07/07 American Ultra, What We Did On Our Holidays, Ted 2
09/07 What If
12/07 Heavens Gate
18/07 Man From Uncle
21/07 Special Correspondents
28/07 She’s Funny That Way, The Thomas Crown Affair
30/07 Larry Sanders Season 4
01/08 Stranger Things
4/08 Scrotal Recall, A Most Violent Year
08/08 Focus
09/08 Angie Tribeca Season 1
10/08 Straight Outta Compton
12/08 The End Of the Tour
14/08 Jurassic World
15/08 Mr Holmes
16/08 Larry Sanders Season 5
22/08 Bojack Horseman Season 1
30/08 Bill
01/09 The Dressmaker
02/09 Road To Perdition
06/09 Larry Sanders Season 6
07/09 Love And Mercy
09/09 The Lost Honor Of Christopher Jeffries, Bojack Horseman S2, Westworld, The Big Short
10/09 Creed
14/09 Angie Tribeca Season 2
15/09 Downloaded, The Losers
19/09 Vacation
25/09 Brooklyn Nine Nine Season 3
27/09 Roadies, I Am Road Comic, Lavender Hill Mob
28/09 Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2
07/10 Houdini
15/10 American Gangster, Ex Machina
23/10 Narcos Season 2
28/10 Black Mirror
29/10 Wait Until Dark, Minions
30/10 Good Dinosaur
1/11 Doctor Strange
5/11 Into The Inferno
7/11 Yes Man
17/11 Justice My Foot
19/11 Zootopia
25/11 Our Brand Is Crisis
28/11 Man On Ledge, People Places Things
30/11 Arq, Blunt Talk Season 1
6/12 John Wick
12/12 Gilmore Girls Season 1
16/12 For The Love Of Spock
17/12 Snake In Eagle’s Shadow, Star Wars Rogue One, A Grand Night In The Story Of Aardman,
23/12 Mississippi Grind
25/12 Mr Mum
26/12 Doctor Who: The Return Of Doctor Mysterio
27/12 The Man in the High Castle season 1
29/12 La La Land
30/12 Overboard
31/12 2016 Wipe, Cunk On Christmas

The Best Albums of 2016

A few notes on 2016.

I pretty much didn’t hear any chart music. There’s a longer conversation to be had about the large number of people who love music, who would claim music is their lives, but don’t come across what’s trending. But another time – but this list is definitely just the records I somehow come across or knew about.

Listening habits were strange this year. I listen to more podcasts than music. But the iPhone 7’s 256GB storage meant I could finally load 130GB or so of music on there and I’ve gone back to listen to a lot of old stuff. I probably listened to more Lorenz And Hart than Wilco.

I’m not sure if this was a good year for music. For completely self-centred reasons, I found music to be largely lacking in the emotional solace I was looking for. Maybe because it has been a tough year with no easy answers. But the artists who should be providing wisdom were lacking. It ended up being personal stories, and personal records that resonated with me. It’s such a simple trick, one often forgotten, that sometimes all art is about is connecting to another human.

As usual, no friend’s albums on the list, excluding wonderful albums by Adam Gibson and the Ark Ark Birds, Bryan Estepa, Katie Brianna, Jason Walker, The Nature Strip, Fallon Cush and many more.

1. Alex Dezen – Alex Dezen

alex-dezen-alex-dezen-cover

This is supposed to be a top 10, but this album I’ve listened to more than the rest of the ten combined. This album is 2016 for me. Dezen was the frontman of The Damnwells (who made my 2nd fave album of 2011) and this is his first solo album. with no commercial restraints or ambitions, he kind of went for it here. It’s an inventive pop/singer songwriter effort, and Dezen plays just about everything.

But the songs. Dezens drags out the demons. Like Revolver, an album pinned by three gorgeously melodic ballads, this album at its heart is the three gut-wrenching ballads; ‘I Don’t Want To Be Alone’ – about how his fear of time trumps his fear of death. It is his mother’s least favourite song. ‘I Have’ – as beautiful song about (in part) not looking at your phone when a friend plays you their music. And ‘Ode To Ex-Girlfriends’ is the kind of novelist detail of stunning lines and memorable images.

There’s a failed marriage, a disappointed mother, and an absent father all taken through the wringer. From the complicated feelings about the killing of Osama Bin Laden to a guitar he shouldn’t have sold. 10 wonderful short stories that I will go back to over and over in years to come.

Songs: Ode To Ex-Girlfriends, I Don’t Want To Be Alone, I Have

2. Sarah Watkins – Young In All The Wrong Ways

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Sarah Watkins of Nickel Creek fame has released solo albums before, but this is a wonderful, rocking, fun album with plenty of heart. If there’s strands to this album it is confidence and empowerment. Watkins is pretty clear on what she wants (‘Move Me‘), which regrets to bury (‘Young In All The Wrong Ways‘) and walking away from bad situations (‘One Last Time‘). It’s an utterly charming album.

In Nickel Creek, she was already the best singer in a band of great singers. There’s not a lot of her trademark fiddle, but she translates that musicianship easily into the guitar, creating stunning moments of power and intimacy when needed. On the track, ‘Like A New Year’s Day‘, was by far the best song-for-making-me-feel-better of 2016. A simple story of a drive to a friend’s house to relax and unwind – the softest kiss of music all year.

Songs: Like A New Year’s Day, One Last Time, Move Me

3. The I Don’t Cares – The I Don’t Cares

i-dont-cares-wild-stab-westerberg-hatfield

Paul Westerberg teams up with Juliana Hatfield on a rocking new duo, pushing Westerberg to make exactly the same kind of album he’s been making for 30 years. And god it’s a good record. It sounds like it was again recorded in Westerberg’s basement, with lyrics that sound tossed off yet impossibly cool. A heart tangled up by the opposite sex, in a teenage milkshake way. There is, kinda, nothing personal going on here. But it sure is sweet.

It’s hard to know who this album is for. It sounds like a teenage party record – but I don’t think this duo’s audience has parties anymore. So there’s a layer of nostalgia here – this is the type of music, and songs, I used to like when I was a 17 year old discovering The Replacements. A nice place to visit.

Songs: Kissing Break, Back, Just A Phase

4. John Prine – For Better, Or Worse

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John Prine‘s long career got a boost in 1999 with In Spite Of Ourselves an album of duets with the (then) hottest female singers of the alt-country set. That title track became a standard – there’s twenty couples somewhere playing the song right now. For Better, Or Worse is the sequel, with some newer country singers, alt-country but a memory.

The joy of this album is hearing (and discovering) these old duets, usually from the 1930s (‘Falling In Love Again’) to the TV honky tonks of the 1960s (‘Mr & Mrs Used To Be‘, originally by Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn). The songs are a snapshot of love from a different era. Married early, lots of alcoholism and fighting – you can’t help but think it’s a slightly more honest portrayal of a relationship than, say, The Bachelor.

The other real highlight from this album is how it sounds. Clear as crystal, laid back Bakersfield country. It sounds like one mic, recorded live, with great musicians. Pretty sure Hank (who has a song covered here, and whose granddaughter Holly Williams sings on a track) would have done it this way. Let’s hope there’s a third volume in another 17 years.

Songs: Falling In Love Again, Mental Cruelty, Just Waitin’

5. Emmy The Great – Second Love

emmy-the-great-second-love-1500

One of my favourite albums ever is Central Reservation by Beth Orton. Her album this year was a return to electronica – it was a bit underwhelming. Which is a long way around to Emmy The Great, another  British singer songwriter, who dived into electronica and came out with something dramatic, deep and lovely.

I guess she was probably on the path to being a nice indie pop person, in the vein of Kate Nash. I really loved her last album. But it seems like a break-up (with her famous boyfriend) and discovering America has made something more interesting. I always find the best electronica creates this distance between the listener, and then great songs or great ideas break through with more impact. Newly single Emmy tells fascinating tales of finding her feet again. One arresting image (one of many) is being taken to a bar where the drinks cost more than music.

Songs: Social Halo, Swimming Pool, Algorithm

6. Wilco – Schmilco

schmilco_wilco

Wilco were once my favourite band. But around 2009, after seeing about 150 shows and sitting through too many noodle-y versions of the same songs, I drifted away. I bought every record since, listened to each a few times, they were fine. I wouldn’t say Schmilco is a return to form, but it’s closer to what I like about the band – acoustic, slow, thoughtful, tender, basically American Beauty.

I’d be pretty happy if this band pumped out one of these records a few times a decade, mixed with a couple of rocking ones or whatever. It’s like Neil Young. Happy to hear what he’s up to, but I love Silver And Gold and I love Prairie Wind. Schmilco joins Sky Blue Sky as laid back hippie Wilco. It’s not their best work – but it’s what I like.

Songs: Cry All Day, North American Kids, If I Ever Was A Child

7. Teenage Fanclub – Here

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No one’s had a good year, and we’ve all needed comfort. Hello Teenage Fanclub, the biggest comfort band there is. I’m not sure this album breaks any new ground. In fact, the last three Fanclub records seem to refine what they do. There’s a song on here called ‘Hold On‘. Initially, I was disappointed – they already have a (great) song called ‘Hang On‘ – thinking the well was dry. But you can’t have too many hugs, and if anything, we need these quietly positive songs even more.

I once remarked that all my favourite songs say the same thing – life is hard, but with you by my side, we can leave this bad situation behind. Teenage Fanclub mine that idea at medium heat, and it’s the joy of slowly sinking into a warm bath. Not that the album is boring – it’s full of great riffs, great solos, and great singing. It just doesn’t feel the need to show off. Who wants to start a TFC covers band?

Songs: Darkest Part Of The Night, I’m In Love, Thin Air

8. Paul Simon – Stranger To Stranger

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I’ve always had Paul Simon. So when he sings, on this album, about looking for Proof Of Love, I feel like I’ve been looking for the same thing for decades. Through ‘Homeward Bound‘, ‘America‘ to ‘Outrageous‘ and ‘Questions For the Angels‘, his search for human connection has soundtracked my own. Which is to say – I’m utterly blind to this man’s faults. I guess I can see he’s a bit short.

The old crowd (boomer era critics) praise the latest Simon records for their adventurous sounds and strange touches. It doesn’t actually sound that much different to your run of the mill indie band, say like Magnetic Fields. The strange buzz of feedback and the odd sample are hardly adventurous. But he’s still a phenomenal writer, a cataloguer of love as it gets old and remains strong. And there’s a healthy Randy Newman-esque cynicism and quite a bit of humour – in his own way. Wristband tells the story of being locked out by security for one of his shows, but he turns it into a bigger thought like a great master can do. and how can you beat a line like – “most obits are mixed reviews.”

Songs: Proof Of Love, The Werewolf, Wristband

9. Whitney – Light Upon The Lake

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Whitney‘s debut record has made some best of lists, and yeah – it’s a bit hipster nonsense. But the album sounds amazing – and it’s very fun. It’s not a head record – it’s one for the hips and one for the feet. I know they are supposed to sound 70s, but it really sounds like a 90s band doing 70s – like Sloan or Phoenix. Or more modern precedents like Real Estate or Avi Buffalo. This was the record most likely to make me break out into a dance when on my headphones.

Maybe having something to say would detract from what this album is trying to do – it’s not a lyricist trying to get a worldview across. It’s a broadly romantic record, with more than a little sweetness. But it’s more about that trumpet, that rush of bass and that high lonesome vocal. It’s fun, and let’s hope there’s more in them.

Songs: No Matter Where We Go, No Woman, Dave’s Song

10. The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect

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The first album by The Last Shadow Puppets is one of my favourite albums, a perfect surprise of an album. This album, 8 years (i.e. the entire Beatles recording career) later, is like another band entirely. Gone is the heartbroken Scott Walker, and back is Alex Turner’s desperate need to be Nick Cave. Like the last several Arctic Monkeys albums, there’s a lot of dramatic and dangerous women.

This is more Bowie (they’ve been covering ‘Moonage Daydream‘) here than Bacharach, with much heavier guitars and tempos. Iggy Pop, Queens Of the Stone Age, the Bad Seeds at their baddest…all mixed in here. From their videos, they look like they may have learnt drugs. It’s a ballsy, crazy arrogant album. When Turner and Kane decide to write tunes – like the magnificent ‘Miracle Aligner‘ – the album really shines. But it’s fascinating anyway.

Songs: Miracle Aligner, Sweet Dreams TN, The Dream Synopsis

Here’s a YouTube playlist of my favourite 2016 songs that had videos. It includes tracks from the ten above.