Category: music

100 for 2000 – #66. Regina Spektor – Begin To Hope

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2006 – #6. Regina Spektor – Begin To Hope

Emily was quite surprised with me, as we stood in line, outside that synagogue in Marble Arch. How can I not have heard Regina Spektor? It was a good question. Somehow she just missed me by. I think I got her mixed up with Ronnie Spector. So here we were then, lining up to see her. I had not heard a note of her music. I was still so new to London, and she was doing a short showcase at a beautiful synagogue. It was the launch of her album Begin To Hope.

She only did 8 or 9 songs that night, but I was blown away. I was actually in love by the first song – Summer In the City. A lonely, sexy ballad about missing a faraway lover, it wrapped up my time so far in London. Missing friends, wishing it was summer, drinking too much.

The rest of that gig was filled mainly with material from Begin To Hope, and each was better than the next. For the next year or so, this album became a big part of my life. It seemed the deeper I dug, the more rewards I found.

I have a soft spot for girl-y singer songwriter stuff. I always have, and it’s somewhere between a crush and being in love. Or maybe it’s more like a soap opera. And I’m not in love with Regina Spektor, the person (or Angie Hart, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Beth Orton etc) – I’m in love with the mysterious girl who exists for about 45 minutes on their records.

But to really get the most out of Regina Spektor, you have to meet her halfway. Her strange erratic melodies, and her imagery – cereal boxes, dolphins, wonder bread, November Rain. But between the clever stuff, there is real heart. The climax of On the Radio sums it up. After questioning funny things about life and love, she backtracks and spells it out

No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else’s heart
Pumping someone else’s blood

It’s probably one of the most beautiful expressions of love and life I’ve ever heard.

I still carry this album with me. For albums about love, girls and matters of the heart, it’s the most important album for me in the late 20s. Every minor and major encounter with love has been reflected on this album. The intimacy of drool on another’s pillow (Samson), a night in with a little bag of cocaine (Hotel Song), trying to kiss anywhere except the mouth (That Time)…and so much more.

A few years after that synagogue show, Regina came up in conversation. I brought up that show, that awesome first show. Well, turns out Mike somehow had a recording of the show. Which I now have as well. It’s pretty cool to have a recording of a show that changed your life.

100 for 2000 – #65. Darren Hanlon – Fingertips and Mountaintops

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2006 – #5. Darren Hanlon – Fingertips and Mountaintops

I left Australia, with one bag, one iPod, and started again, in many ways. When I got to London, this great city of music, a whole new batch of records entered my life. Those records make up the rest of the 2006 list. But there is one album in the middle, one that I listened to when I was wondering around Europe, with no one I knew knowing where I was. It was one of the very last albums I bought in Australia – Darren Hanlon‘s Fingertips And Mountaintops.

I had heard some of these songs live, but I barely had time with the album. On planes, trains, buses and just walking, I listened to this album. Wandering around Madrid, or Vienna, or Copenhagen, listening to Darren Hanlon. It became my little bible.

The jokey-est song is Couch Surfing – an acoustic surf rock song about ‘dossing’ (a word I only learnt when I got to London). It’s clever and witty, but the lines about the weightlessness the philosopher’s teach – just a back pack and the open road – captured the romance.

It helps that this record is so soothing. Hold On, this non-descript expression of support, guided me through many strange streets. The low level bitterness of the mindless People Who Wave At Trains was amplified at every platform I travelled on. My encounter with Mischa Barton in a Spanish bar was captured quite well by the song Elbows.

There was one other song recorded in these sessions that never made the record (it came out on a Candle compilation) – My Life A Blur. For me, it lives well with this album, and it’s all about travel. The carriages that rocked me into slumber. Of all of Hanlon’s songs that I love, it’s this one that hits home for me the most.

I clung onto the lyrical advice on this record for dear life. I drank up it’s stories. There is something quite zen about this record. The title track is named after a brilliant image;

If you put one finger in front of your face
And close one eye
You can block out a mountain

It doesn’t mean anything, and yet everything.

Hanlon has come such a long way from that guy I saw at the Lansdowne Hotel, playing two songs between a mate’s set. He’s been with me this entire decade. It’s now been four years since his last proper album. When that next album comes out, I’m sure it will help me deal with what life brings me.

100 for 2000 – #64. Youth Group – Casino Twilight Dogs

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2006 – #4. Youth Group – Casino Twilight Dogs
(Ivy League)

Yup. Why, it’s another Youth Group album. Casino Twilight Dogs was probably their big chance at mainstream success, having had their cover of Alphaville‘s Forever Young featured on the OC. It was a number one single, and the guys even toured with Coldplay.

A few words about Forever Young. Now, I had no idea how hated this band were until Forever Young hit the airwaves. The amount of jealousy and anger people had at this band because of their success was shocking to me. That they were the best band in Australia at the time didn’t seem to matter. Because they were on a cool label they got all the chances.

(I would think they were the lowest selling artists on Ivy League who made more than one record, but why let facts get in the way)

So, yes, it’s a cover. But that is the schtick for the OC. Having worked on a couple of those soundtracks, they are full of cover versions. Also, Forever Young is a great song. It’s a weird doomed prom night teen suicide song – and the Youth Group version, which slowed it down and added sweetness and menace, was an interesting take.

All the fuckers who hated them knew far too much about the OC. The tall poppy syndrome was in full force. And finally, the fact this song got to number one shows how much Australia is a little America. I mean, I could not hate the OC any more than I do, and it just wrapped up a generation. We are sheep.

In the end, Forever Young is the last track on this record, and I think of it as a separate thing. The delights of this album come from all the other songs, some of Toby Martin‘s finest.

The biggest problem with Casino Twilight Dogs is that it sounds like a compilation. It jumps around a bit, from the opening Catching And Killing, a strange, jagged song that’s almost like the Fall. Then there’s Start Today Tomorrow, one of Martin‘s most beautiful songs, backed by a string quartet. And there’s everything in between.

Martin lost none of his ability to express big emotions. Let It Go (which oddly was left off the international version) nods to Dylan, but is about sweet release. Similarly, Daisychains is a gorgeous apology to an abandoned lover. I would be on the balcony at work, listening to these two songs as I had my regular cigarette, wondering if I could actually pack it all in.

Th album trails off at the end. There are a few too many mid tempo pop rockers. And there are great songs, but it’s probably their weakest album overall. It was still easily one of the ten best of 2006.

Success did not come knocking after all. Youth Group bunkered down and continued on.

100 for 2000 – #63. Belle And Sebastian – The Life Pursuit

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2006 – #3. Belle And Sebastian – The Life Pursuit
(Rough Trade)

It’s funny to think that for a band that I love so much, their last album was the first one I bought on release. But I guess Belle And Sebastian have slowed down. Ever since the band regrouped after the departure of Isobel Campbell and Stuart David, learnt to play live, do interviews and enjoyed being in a band. The Life Pursuit is even more slick, more fun and more exciting.

The band really shines on this record. As the story goes, the band started rehearsing and writing without Stuart Murdoch, and he finally came in and finished off the song ideas. And so, never has this band sounded less like Murdoch‘s backing band. Blues Are Still Blue, Price Of A Cup Of Tea and the amazing 70s funk of Song For Sunshine.

And as great it is that the band is on fire and the music sounds great – it is still Murdoch’s show. He brings in some of his best songs. Funny Little Frog, the first single, a twisted song of devotion. White Collar Boy is a bizarre cartoon of the simple boy led astray by a beautiful woman, set in a prison. Weird, but fun.

I know people who hate this record (most significantly, people who put out their previous albums). And yes, it’s almost like the second album of a new band.

I obviously love the new band though. And with this record, I finally felt like I was in the club.

One more thing. I always thought Mornington Crescent was in Scotland, but as it turns out it is of course in London. I think of their song every time I pass it. As we head into the London years, I thought I should point that out.

Tuesday Tunes: Pavement – Gold Soundz (remastered)

Quarantine the Past - Pavement

Welcome back to Tuesday Tunes! We try to focus on new music, but we could not let Pavement pass. Last year they announced they were reuniting for a big world tour, and will be releasing a the first ever Pavement compilation to celebrate. Finally we have some details – but you can make up the rest.

The compilation is called Quarantine the Past, and it will feature 23 tracks, according to their label Matador. It will open with the fantastic Gold Soundz, from their Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain album, but after that – they aren’t telling us.

But you can guess, and win. Matador are running a competition to guess the other 22 tracks. Full details are on their site, but cooler still is there is an award for ‘most creative’ tracklisting’. And they will even print up copies of the creative version for the next Record Store Day.

A whole lot of reunion shows and this compilation is going to make for a big year for Pavement. But right now, Matador are also offering that opening track, Gold Soundz, as a free download (halfway down the page here).

And look, there’s now even an official-like Pavement site.

100 for 2000 – #62. Lazy Susan – Every Night

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2006 – #2. Lazy Susan – Every Night

I played bass on Lazy Susan‘s Every Night album, their third.

Here’s some fun facts for fans about each track on this record.

1. Every Night is just Paul. It was a home demo that we all thought was sounding great enough to include. He recorded it on one of those then-new digital multi track home recorders, with faders and a CD drive, that I think are now completely redundant.

2. Something Worth Waiting For always seemed like the first song we would play for about two years. It was certainly the first song we tried to record in the studio. Which right now would be a good time to say it wasn’t so much a studio but a recently converted general store. It was the domain of Mr J Walker, of Machine Translations, who was producing our record. It was in regional Melbourne in the middle of nowhere and I loved every minute.

As it was our first bit of recording, and we had just got out of a big drive down there, we were feeling pretty ready to attack. We wanted to put up some pictures torn from magazines for inspiration. Pretty sure I had the Ramones ready to go. Our producer said no.

3. Fake Our Deaths was the first single and the one we made a video for. In a strange art space in Camperdown, we ran around, avoiding to imaginary attacks.

4. Wreckage had the funniest bassline. It was needlessly complicated, but I liked it because it made me feel like Bruce Thomas. We played a gig with C-minus Project once and their bassplayer, Bruno, said something onstage about me not being a real bassplayer (the in-joke was, neither was he). After this record, I felt like I was only a bassplayer. Guitar and piano are just hobbies for me.

5. Don’t Fail Me Now. I love this song. This might be my favourite on the album. Again, it’s very fussy on the bass. This for me is typical Lazy Susan, and what I loved about the songs. The songs were about “Very attractive but unhinged women”. If you want to hear what we did, start here.

6. Pretty White Girls was Pete’ song. Actually Pete had plenty of songs, but the only Pete vocal (For those who always ask me who writes what, here are the Pete ones – SWWF, PWG, Pieces, ITTLWH, Optimism. Rest are Paul’s). I had very little to do with this song, which makes me think of Australian beaches. I often think of this song when I’m wishing I was at an Australian beach. Those pretty white girls are also missed.

My greatest musical contribution to the album came in two funny chords at the end that is the same two funny chords used in several Beach Boys songs.

7. Missing Out On Sleep – the big ballad moment. This and Every Night was the two songs that put the album’s theme into one, recurring night. Which was one of those self fulfilling prophecies, because my last year in Sydney was pretty much the same night over and over. No sleep, alone, listening to music.

Having written songs for my own band, I was always amazed how little the other guys knew the songs I wrote. Whole chorus lyrics would go by unnoticed. Which happened to me with this track, where I never notice how great the opening couplet was for a long time.

(It’s All the planets that were aligned/Now lie scattered across the sky)

8. By & By. This was the last song written for the album. We had more than enough songs, until someone told Paul that what we were doing sounded like the Band. Now, I LOVE the Band. And I was flattered at the time (my two bassplaying heros – Dee Dee Ramone and Rick Danko). But in retrospect, I think that person was high.

Either way, Paul decided it would be a blast to try and write a song that sounded like the Band. What he wrote instead was this fantastic song that, if I had a vote, would have been our second single. This record was getting pretty depressing and/or angry. This song was just a delight. It’s such a Sydney song for me. I think of Oxford St, at 2am as I walked home, leaving all the madness behind, but loving the madness anyway.

I mucked about with different bass things, but only really figured out what to play in the studio. I’m pretty proud of what I came up with. Screw the tonic.

9. Rubbed Off is one of a series of long, build up pieces by Lazy Susan. Scuffed Up and Why Don’t We Just Call It A Night came before on previous albums. I don’t recall ever playing this live, but I love the way this track sounds. It has that evil chord progression that we just kept pushing harder and harder.

I loved the fact that we did this kind of stuff – had album songs. That’s what albums about.

10. Pieces. The big rocker. Pete loves his open G tunings, and this was a great punky thing. And like all great punk, it’s actually close to impossible to play as you have to be so spot on. There was a lot of looking at eachother. Great thing about this song though is there are lots of moments to jump up and down live.

11. I’ll Take The Long Way Home used to be louder, more Oh Darling-ish. I much prefer the quieter version. It’s got every cliche – the diminished chords, the running bass etc. It was originally called just Long Way Home, but I thought that sounded a bit too much like the new Norah Jones album, so it got expanded. We played this song a lot, because it worked.

12. Optimism – this was an odd song. Lyrically I think it’s perfect. Sound wise I think it jumps around a bit, not sure what it should be. It’s very sweet though, and it makes me think of my friend Bec a lot. She is the biggest optimist I know, and how hard it is to maintain that. I’m assuming no English person understands this concept.

13. Nobody Feels Safe Anymore. You know, I barely know this song. Another live hold out, I did my little bit in the studio and that was it. And as I played these songs live so often, putting the actual CD on didn’t happen every often. So it snuck up on me, a member of the band, how powerful this song is. In an album where everyone is sad, angry and lives are falling apart, this track is the saddest, angriest and fallen apart the most. It’s such a bitter note to end an album on.

100 for 2000 -#61. Bob Evans – Suburban Songbook

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2006 – #1. Bob Evans – Suburban Songbook

2006 was like no other year in my life. For various reasons over the course of 2005 I found myself in new situations – jobs, home, life, music, love, etc. And I met lots of new people. In 2006 I probably met more new people than in the last 3 or 4 years combined. And by the start of 2007 it was all different again.

2005’s batch of serious, serious albums faded into the background. And at the heart of my 2006 was a sweet, wistful, cautiously optimistic and affectionate album by a guy named Bob Evans. The album is Suburban Songbook.

Actually, his name’s not Bob Evans but Kevin Mitchell. And although this was the second Bob Evans album, I had been following Kevin Mitchell’s career (on and off admittedly) since 1997 with his old band Jebediah’s album Slightly Odway. Bob ended up on EMI (staffed by some of his Murmur records buddies at the time), which is where I found myself in 2006.

I liked his first album but didn’t love it. So when Craig gave me this album before it came out, I had lukewarm expectations. His hook in selling it to me was the production by Brad Jones (who worked on the two Josh Rouse albums I talked about earlier) and Ken Coomer (formerly of Wilco) on drums. I have to admit the first couple of listens passed by without event, without any revelations or epiphanies.

But then the simplicity of Don’t You Think It’s Time?, the opening track, started to seep into my brain. I have vivid memories of going to work, sitting on the bus at Military Road, passing the McDonalds just before my stop, and listening to this song. Then, listening to this song as I caught the bus down Spofforth Street to the ferry, and then going over Sydney Harbour at sunset, adding an unnecessary 20 minutes to my trip, but the most beautiful thing you will ever see. In winter when it was dark already, and this song was still on high rotation, I would be halfway through this song at the bus stop at the IGA and Jo would turn up and we would talk about something random, and I’d continue the song after she was gone.

It’s a beautiful song. It has a real hymnal quality. A hymn for us, the cautiously optimistic romantics. It’s kind of what Pete Seger calls a grocery list song – it jsut lists stuff. And the lyrics could be so banal in other contexts. But Bob’s clear, uncynical heart shines through. And the song becomes some weird Zen help book. Like a good friend who opens your mind, and questions you in your safety zone.

It’s no small step to say that when I started to think about going overseas, this song was playing in my mind. Didn’t I think it’s time for moving on? Time to leave the past behind? All this for quite a simple song, that took me ages to get my head around.

So this is the number 1 album for 2006, so I like every song to some degree. But there’s other BIG ones, that are on the same level of Don’t You Think It’s Time. Clear second is Sadness & Whiskey. I always thought it should have been a single.

It’s another escapist song. I don’t want to be that sentimental guy/Always dreaming of the years that passed him by. And there is something about the fact that it’s Kevin, it’s Bob, it’s this guy that I have known and followed for 9 years, that makes this song resonate. That guy in that band that inspired my first band so much, who dressed in bonds t-shirts, scruffy dyed hair, converse indie etc, was becoming a grown up. And I felt I was too.

(An aside. I have stickers on my guitars, something else I stole from Jebediah)

Sadness & Whiskey also had a pure, romantic core. And that love is all over the album, which was dedicated to his then-girlfriend, and now wife.

There’s more songs I can waffle on about, but I will pick just one more. Me & My Friends is the last, hidden, track. Like the whole album, it’s brilliant in it’s simplicity. It’s vignettes of a night out – getting stuck into a few, leavinga trendy bar for a dirtier one, being left alone as everyone’s on their mobiles and saying cheers. It’s a perfect song about drinking with friends, and I don’t know anyone else who’s written such a song without making it sound like Oasis. This song has captured many a nights I’ve had, and if there’s a god, many a night to come.

So it seems it comes in waves. Serious and sad albums followed by one pop record that turns back the tide, and keeps me going. Some people wait every five years for the new Nirvana. I wait every five years for a pop record to stop me getting too obsessed with Zappa or Cohen or other serious rock.

100 for 2000 – #60. The Reservations – I Blame This On You

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2005 – #10. The Reservations – I Blame This On You

I left this last slot for 2005 for this record. Our last album as a band that was never released, although most of my friends have it. In my mind it was finished and done.

I was going to do a longer piece. Essentially the liner notes and track-by-track for an album no one’s ever heard, really. Then I realised how boring and arrogant that is/was.

Here’s some quick fire points instead.

– This album is largely unhappy. As opposed to our first album which sounded very bright and happy. Odd then that this record was written in a time of happiness and the previous one came from deep unhappiness. Fascinating, as Stephen Fry might say.

– I’m not only proud of this album, I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Encompassing all my life experience, this is the top thing.

Okay, enough indulgence.

100 for 2000 – #59. Nada Surf – The Weight Is A Gift

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2005 – #9. Nada Surf – The Weight Is A Gift

Looking at my 2005 list, I have other albums that were great. Some even have heaps better stories (Coldplay, Arcade Fire, MCartney, Teenage Fanclub, Weezer…), but I would listen to Nada Surf’s the Weight Is A Gift before any of them.

Thing is, a lot of my good will for this record comes from my good will towards their last record. And The Weight Is a Gift is not as good, by any means. But there is a handful of the songs mean so much to me. And the so-so songs are still good.

But the highlights. Concrete Bed, which I first heard on the Let Go tour, is one of their finest. So is the closer Imaginary Friends. It’s exactly the sort of sad eyed power pop that I have loved all my life. Group it in with an album that has Always Love and Your Legs Grow and so yeah, it makes the ten.

I had a wonderful moment in Spain a few years ago, when Nada Surf were the first band on at a festival (Benicassim). I rushed my friends so I could catch them. They stood there, at the back of a large crowd, soaking up the atmosphere, finding friends they were supposed to meet up with. There I was, dancing near them, drunk, singing along to every word. Months later, I met a friend of a friend who saw me and said “hey, you’re the guy really loved Nada Surf”.

And yup, I’m that guy.

So even though this album is a bit of a lesser Let Go, it’s still a big part of my life. I still lived these songs. I will still sing them to you if I’m drunk. And yes, it looks like they have settled into a nice pattern of just rewriting this album, but I’m happy with that too.

100 for 2000 – #58. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2005 – #8. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
(Asthmatic Kitty)

Ah. Sufjan Stevens. Now, this record has TOPPED several best of the decade lists. So not sure what else needs to be said about Illinois. So here’s some quickfire points/questions/thoughts/flotsam/jetsam.

– So, have we all decided this is called Illinois and not Illinoise? Not that Illnoise is not brilliant, although I doubt he came up with it.

– So, it took me years but I finally worked out Superman. It’s because there is a very small town in Illinois called Metropolis. Which makes it funny. Apparently people used to steal the local yellow pages out of the phone boxes.

– I remember one night, I was drinking with a friend. Not a close friend, but a good one. One I looked forward to seeing and joke around with. And downstairs at the Town Hall Hotel, we were talking about this album, and Casmir Polanski Day. The song mentions cancer of the bone, and I discovered this friend once fought cancer and how much that song meant to him. I love when people talk about what songs mean to them.

– I really don’t think Sufjan will ever make another pop album. If he does, it will be like those Violent Femmes albums that came after the first. Nothing against Sufjan’s abilities. I just think he missed his chance to follow this up, and his career, at least this part of it, has broken off and fallen away.

– That said, the stature of this album is kind of set. This album will never fall out of print. I think it will be a classic as long as I live. You can just sense that history will be on it’s side.

– I never saw him live. But my friend Craig did and I’m always secretly jealous when he wears it. But that’s what buying a cool t-shirt is all about. It’s a great shirt too.

– Can there really be no videos made for this album??