Category: music

6. Now I Have To Start All Over Again

6. Angie Hart – Grounded Bird

Some facts-y stuff: Angie Hart was the former singer for Australian pop band Frente. They had one massive hit (Accidentally Kelly Street), then burnt out after their second album (Shape, 1996, a personal fave). She then left Australia with her husband, musician Jesse Tobias, and formed a second band, Splendid. They did one album, one of the best I ever heard, called Have You Got A Name For It. Some tracks are in the Buffy TV show but otherwise, her career ended there.

So did her marriage. A couple of rare EPs and things since, Angie, single again, has moved back to Australia and has decided to take her first steps as a solo artist, some 15 years after she was first heard.

At first, I missed the guitars. Without Jesse Tobias or her Frente backing band to rock out behind her, it seemed like something was missing. But this IS a slow record, but it’s also a beautiful one. It has the keyboard-y, trippy sounds that made Beth Orton’s early records so great. It’s maybe a bit rock, and a bit heavier than that. Still, it’s a hushed, Sunday morning album.

And the voice! The record starts with a short blast of harmony. And ends with one of the best tracks of the year, Start My Day, which is built on a sample of Angie singing;

Get back up when I fall off

Then layers on top, verse after verse of beautiful, simple, life affirming stuff. It’s a mantra, mixed in the thoughts of modern life. Bits of feedback drop in and out and all, but it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard, except maybe Spiritualised’s Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space track.

And the songs, usually co-writes, are top notch. Lyrically, Angie is on top her game. The heartbreaking album centrepiece is ‘Kiwi’, the wingless bird, capped off my the fantastic line;

If I don’t set my sights too high
I can fly

Every song ticks every box for a wonderful song. Thoughtful lyrics. Wonderfully sounded. Heavenly singing. Smiley moments. Sad moments. A place to start is the current single ‘Care’. Although it’s pretty straight compared to some of it.

It’s the newest album on this list. I’ve had it just over a month and I’m looking forward to spending more time with it. And I’m so glad to have her back.

7. The Devil And John Berryman

7. Boys And Girls In America – The Hold Steady

The name that gets dropped with this band is Springsteen. They mix that urban poetry, that hopeless romance, that growing old feeling, with grinding guitars and rapid fire lyrics.

But many have done this before (hello, Marah) but the Hold Steady have gone for the throat. The album is called Boys And Girls In America for fuck’s sake. Let’s put aside the freakiness of a 37 year old (lead singer/songwriter Craig Finn) singing about teenage girls, and celebrate a doomed youth.

Most of the songs have to do with the great unwashed, and how beautiful that is. Chillout Tent is about being taken out of a festival and catching the eye of another outcast of the opposite sex (and never meeting). You Can Make Him Like You is about a girl who is seeking boyfriend who comes from a better school.

I love the album cover. Just a bunch of kids partying. And how those weekend nights will add up to their life. And how important it is to them, to us. And the title of the album, declaring that they are going mass market. Indie band is going for the suburbs. It’s all there in the standout, Massive Nights, about liquor runs, fights, girls with something to prove, and one of my favourite lines:

“Everyone was funny, everyone was pretty
And everyone was heading to the centre of the city.”

This has got to be the getting-ready-to-go-out record of the year. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s the best record to feel nostalgic about the times when you did that.

The best song on the record though, the one that’s gotten the most talk, is the opener, Stuck Between Stations. An inflated, overly romantic retelling of John Berryman’s suicide. It imagines his depression, walking with the devil over Washington Bridge, the moments before his suicide. And hidden not very far below the cleverness and the wit, is a big fat slab of riff rock.

The perfect record for a massive night.

8. Don’t Care If It Sounds Cliché

8. Structure And Cosmetics – The Brunettes

Oh, great, glorious, silly pop music. The Brunettes are Jonathan Bree and Heather Mansfield, two New Zealand multi instrumentalists (and perhaps to two sexiest people in music) who have put out previous albums of indie pop fare. Adorable little Jonathan Richman tributes, with titles like ‘When Ice Met Cream’.

That’s all pretty much gone out the window for this year’s best BIG pop record. Opening with Brunettes Against Bubblegum Youth, a huge, symphonic, kinda Pet Sounds-y, kind of Queen-esque, but utterly charming opening number. It sounds like several hundred people singing “B-A, B-Y, I love to call you baby”.

And from then we are off. Eight more wonderful pop confections, each moving and swaying with no real sense of strong structure. Just brilliant catchy pop bit after brilliant pop bit.

Heather is singing her heart out. Her layers and layers of vocal melody, matched with the sweetness (and oddness) of the lyrics are the album’s heart. She sings about hairigami sets, banana bread, aliens, and lots of sha-la-las.

But the star is Jonathan Bree. Nothing about the Brunettes before suggested they could make such big leap. Breezy psychedelia, beautiful arrangements…this sounds like a classical record, or a song suite. Keyboards, guitars, trumpets and all manner of noodling swim in and out. It’s very exciting on headphones.

In the end, this record is something new. I can’t really think of anything like it. And I like it. More than like it, I love it. I suggest you start with “If You Were Alien” and go from there.


9. You Gotta Have A Problem To Invent A Contraption

More ramblings on my fave albums this year.

9. Icky Thump – The White Stripes

I completely gave up on this band until I heard the first single and title track on Icky Thump. The riff sounded like a machine gun, Jack White howling over the top. Like John Spencer says – the blues are number one.

I love the guitar playing on this record. It’s so up front on this record, in ways it hasn’t been in the life of Jack White in a while.

But what makes the White Stripes so awesome is the myth of the White Stripes. They are these almost Chaplin musical characters. They are mariachi spaghetti westerners on Conquest. They are Oliver Twist style hoarders in Rag & Bone. They have their own little (red and white) world so wrapped up. You either have to dive right in or leave the party.

Lyrically too, Jack is on fire and having a lot of fun. “In some respects I suspect you have a respectable side” he sings on You Don’t Know What Love Is. And the highlight, the last track, Effect & Cause is beautiful, playful fuck-you to an ex.

When I first heard the White Stripes, I was so taken with these odd siblings and their candy striped madness. And it’s a feeling that’s come and gone over the years. But this record brings it all back. Even after having become superstars and tabloid fodder, listening to Icky Thump still makes me go “wow, who are these guys?”

I’m still excited to find out.


10. Chocolate Biscuits Wired To A Car Alarm

Welcome to our annual top 10 countdown. Warning you now, a lot of music posts coming up.

10. The Boy With No Name – Travis

This could be considered loyalty buying if not for the fact I almost didn’t buy this album. But slowly, the singles started to get caught in my head, and I pulled out the money to see what my old friends were up to.

There is a lot of talk about a return to form, that the wonderful politically angry Travis has been buried with 12 Memories. And that’s true, it’s not an angry record at all. And yes, it’s full of the optimistic melancholy that Travis mines better than anyone else.

And in the end of the day, what I like about Travis is they are just good. No tacky tricks. No stadium anthems. It’s a very intimate band – which I guess is why fans get so obsessed.

It seems songwriter Fran Healy is in a happier place. There is maybe a bit more optimism than melancholy this time around (and a theme in most of the albums I loved this year – happy albums). It’s slow, beautiful, and at moments very fun.

The slow burn winner is the first single – Closer. The only way to describe this track is seductive. It’s a beautiful love song, nothing more, nothing less. Tremendous backing vocals. A classic that these guys will be playing at every concert for the rest of their lives.

There is, of course, quite a few gorgeous mid tempo-y things on here. One Night and 3 Times And You Lose being top of the list. And some genuine rockers. Selfish Jean was everywhere on radio at one point. Eyes Wide Open is in the same mould.

But two other songs are worth a mention. My Eyes, the current single, is pop bliss. When they abandon the sadness, they always do well. And a great film clip to boot. Finally, New Amsterdam, the closing track. So breezy, romantic and reminds me of listening to French records and having no idea what the singer’s on about. Just a loose collection of images, sparsely recorded, and sweet as truffles.

Maybe it’s me, but I don’t need fireworks. I need just good solid bands. Songs I can rely on. And it’s been used as a degrading term for them, but I love a reliable band.

The Greatest Album of All Time

I’ve been sitting in my wheelchair, tired, unable to do much today. I decided I needed some cheering up and I put on Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys.

It’s a very, very important album for me. It’s one a cherish deeply. It’s not my favourite album ever, because sentimental reasons come into play. Not that I’m not sentimental about this album. But if aliens ever come, and they ask me what the greatest album, the greatest achievement of music mankind has ever known, I would point furiously at this CD.

Apart from being a marvellous, complex, involving bit of music, it’s also so pop. So accessible. Anyone who’s ever looked into it could tell you Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys’ resident “genius” (and it’s an overused term, I know), used some amazing musical tricks. It’s performed fantastically. The vocals! Geez. Mind blowing.

But it’s a record you can enjoy when you’re 12. Or 120. You don’t need a degree to get everything you need to get out of this album.

By luck, I came across this album in high school, at a time when I had no right to be finding music this cool. I had some great mentors who pushed me into the past. The Nuggets box sets. Television. The Ramones. All sorts of stuff that you just don’t hear in suburban Sydney.

Sean, the You Am I tour manager at the time, told me this great story. When he was a wee lad, he was given a cassette tape (by his parents? By a friend? I will ask him when I next see him). The tape had Pet Sounds on one side and the Byrd’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo on the other.

(I fell madly in love with Sweetheart of the Rodeo many years later, remembering Sean’s sage words. It was an album when every other fucker went psychedelic, they did a country album. And what an album. Oh Gram Parsons…)

Everyone knows the Beach Boys – from golden oldies stations and nostalgia documentaries. I even knew Wouldn’t It Be Nice, sort of. I knew the hooks. But when I got the record and put it on…and after the twinkle of bells, the drum snap! Bam!

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older?
Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long.
Wouldn’t it be nice to live together
In the kind of world where we belong?

For me, Pet Sounds is about being young. Or not being young anymore. Just listen to the fucking marching band rattling along behind the glorious vocal on Wouldn’t It Be Nice. Isn’t that the tumbling hearts of a million teenage dreams? Isn’t it the power of teen romance. All big and exciting. We are going to last forever. God, this song just rules the school. It’s just a glorious, glorious thing.

I love the line about the kind of world where we belong. It’s something that comes up a lot. That’s Not Me, I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times and others all allude to someone feeling kind of left out by the world. Of not fitting in. Is there a more teenage, or post-teenage emotion than that? The feeling that this world is not ours. Yet.

Then there are the handful of love songs. The heartbreaking Caroline, No. The absolutely timeless God Only Knows. It’s done with such hopefulness. There’s nothing complex there. It’s big, sad love.

And then there is just the nice familiarity that comes from loving an album for ten years. I know all the little breaks. The horn solo in I Know There’s An Answer. I can and do sing along to every single bit of backing vocal. It’s an old friend.

I will always say that there is more to the Beach Boys than this one record. And many people I know own this, maybe a best of, and calls it a day with the Beach Boys. Fair enough, really. Can’t blame you. At least you have Pet Sounds.

If you don’t, you’re really missing out. Grab a friend’s copy, a glass of wine and a window to look through. You’ll think of love, of expectations, of hopes and dreams, of the world as a whole. It will also make you happy, ultimately. Nothing cheers me up like this album. There’s something really rewarding about listening to it.

So this world probably has enough writings on this album. All I really wanted to say is, well, ignore all that. It doesn’t matter how revered an album is. All that matters is I had a kind of crappy day and this album made me happy again.

Genius, ain’t it?



Becky asked me for a little timeline of bands she should listen to, of old stuff. I sent her this…

Here is a timeline of significant events in human history.

5 Billion Years Ago: The Big Bang

1972: Todd Rundgren realeases his double album masterpiece, Something/Anything.

Todd Rundgren was at one point the talented frontman of The Nazz, one of so many bands in the 60s who thought they could be something like this band called the Beatles. The Nazz were actually way better than the Beatles. At least they were for one glorious song, Open My Eyes, a song that sounds like Snow Patrol only in title.

The Nazz did three albums, called ‘Nazz‘, ‘Nazz Nazz‘ and then, just as you thought the third album would be called ‘Nazz Nazz Nazz’, they called it ‘Nazz 3‘. And by ‘they’ I mean everyone other than Todd, who left.

Todd did two fantastic solo albums, Runt (1970) and Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren (1972). ‘Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren‘ should not be confused with ‘Runt‘. Although it often is. That’s because it’s fucking confusing.

All that was like taking off your shoes and squishing your toes before the long, orgasmic glories of Something/Anything in 1972, released on Bearsville, a label out of Woodstock (the real one, not the fake one) run by Bob Dylan’s manager.

To be clear, it is a glorious ride of 70s radio rock. From Carole King ballads, Motown thumpers, Rolling stones rip-offs, New York Dolls like sex drenched glam, Rufus Wainwright show tunes with flutes – you put it on and you are on a trip through all that is great about music.

The album is split into four sides – each with a name.

First is a ‘Bouquet of Ear Catching Melodies‘. Which is exactly what it is. Take the best of the Beach Boys, the Cars, Queen, Chicago…all the greatest shiny over produced pop, and that’s what this start of the album is about.

This side, and the album itself, opens with the single lifted off the album – ‘I Saw The Light‘. Todd writes his own notes on the album, saying he thought it would be a great single, so he put it first on the album, like Motown. This confused me for many years, as I had a copy of the Bearsville pressing, but didn’t understand why he would write liner notes for himself. Then I realised people did that back then. Nowadays they wait for the reissue.

(Another reason Todd is better than everyone else)

It has such great tunes. It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference that was used in Almost Famous, and Wolfman Jack, a tribute to the legendary DJ.

Sides two is ‘The Cerebral Side‘. It starts with a spoken word skit, where Todd runs you through all the different glitches you can get in a studio (bad mastering, hiss, pops, etc). It’s plain weird, and lightly experimental. What a guy.

Third side is ‘Kid Gets Heavy‘. Now, I’ve heard Prince say he loves Todd Rundgren a lot, and seeing him recently, reminded me how great Prince is as a guitar playing, but he’s no Todd. Todd is the man. It’s the jam rock side. I mean, it’s a double record from the seventies. Expect jamming.

The first three sides of the album, Todd PLAYED EVERYTHING.

And he played everything better than anyone else.

That’s just the way he is. He is the Chuck Norris of 70s pop.

But, just to prove he has friends (because, we all know Calvin Harris has no friends), the final side of the album, brilliant named ‘Baby Needs a New Pair of Snakeskin Boots‘ is recorded live in the studio, raw and tough. From this side, we get the album’s other big hit, Hello It’s Me, which probably made it all the way to #30 or something, but was straight to the top of my personal charts, and has stayed their ever since.

The album ends with three of the weirdest songs. ‘Some Folks Are Even Whiter Than Me‘, which is horribly politically incorrect now, ‘You Left Me Sore‘, which is about sexually transmitted disease, and finally, the awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome rocker ‘Slut‘, where the whole band is singing along

She may be a slut but she looks good to me!”

And another line about not keeping his hands to himself that I find quite funny. The trumpets groove the whole thing along, as Todd belts the tune out. Then it’s all over.

It’s a great album.

The original vinyl only has the word SOMETHING on one side, ANYTHING on the back. It has a stupidly cool looking photo of todd standing on a chair in his studio. He looks so damn cool, that if you held the gatefold cover up to the sun, it would stop global warming.

The album’s catalogue number is 8122711072.

End of timeline.

Sleeping Lessons

I am sleepless again, so I thought I’d write something. Quick note: life is good and I’ll tell you all about it later. Right now, something else I’ve been meaning to write about.

The Shins are going to go down as my favourite band of the 00s.

It’s heartening and inspiring that, after all these years, I only just saw the greatest gig of my life. And that the next one around the corner may even be better.

I’ve seen the Shins a handful of times. And, they have been one of the worst live bands I have ever seen. To turn around and say they are now one of the best…well, that’s one big almighty turn around.

I love how a band can bookmark a life.

My first encounter with the Shins was through a band called Beachwood Sparks. In a lot of ways, the Shins stole their thunder. Out of nowhere, that dated grunge label SubPop had signed a pretty cool band. And then they signed this other one, one that people told me sounded like Love (the 60s band). Weird little indie album cover. You know, I didn’t even buy it. Someone sent it too me, when I was working at a community radio station.

The album is called Oh! Inverted World. I listened to it and liked parts of it. But it wasn’t as good as Beachwood Sparks…

Hanna really loved the first song, ‘Caring Is Creepy’. And it’s pretty good. I remember Craig and me at some girl we just met’s house, at around 2am on a random night, her trying to find some demo of some guy she used to go out (he wrote a song about her) And we were listening to something, and Craig and I discussing the Shins, and him quoting some lines I’ve never noticed before…

Lucked out, found my favourite records
Waiting for me at the Birmingham Mall.
The songs that I heard, the occasional book
Are all the fun I ever took.

I don’t think I ever heard lines that summed up my upbringing and teenage life so well before. The record still didn’t really hit me though. Yeah, it was VAGUELY Love-esque, but there was one more part of the puzzle I didn’t have to unlock that first album.

I don’t even know who it was now but some guest host on Rage introduced ‘New Slang’. And they just said that this clip was amazing, and how it referenced some 80s album covers. And did it ever. Oh my. Let It Be. New Day Rising. Double Nickels On A Dime. And other more random ones. Faithfully recreated in this silly little film clip with the saddest melody. By then the record was pretty old but yeah, I was all ears for the next one.

And for Chutes Too Narrow again, after a slow start, it won me over. And by won me over, I mean bowled me over completely. It was my early 20s album. To it’s raw and angry-ish sounds I felt my highest and my lowest.

But it was the songs itself. It towers over other albums that soundtracked that part of my life. The mystery of the lyrics, the weird chord changes and rhythms. That terrible/wonderful mix. The wisdom. The images. And the great record cover – so much better than the first.

It’s album for the early to mid twenties. It’s when life gets a bit more complicated, and you need a voice to reflect that. As the relationships in my life got more grown up, the more Chutes Too Narrow spoke to me.

The songs of love – ‘Gone For Good’, ‘Kissing the Lipless’, etc, just struck a chord so much more than say, the love songs of Oasis did for me 7 years earlier. There was a smartness to them, but also a maturity. Something that I call a gentleman-ness, that you can find in the music of Ray Charles. When Ray sings a heartbreaking ballad, you know he’s being a gentleman about it, and not being a whiny singer-songwriter.

But it was ‘Mine’s Not A High Horse’, a brilliant pop song about arguments and close-mindedness that really struck me. In ‘So Says I’, Mercer regretfully chronicles our own violent natures. For an optimistic kid moved out of home and living in the melting pot of cultures that is Newtown NSW and the indie rock scene, those songs meant a lot.

I remember pretty much killing that record. My girlfriend at the time used to listen to it all the time, and we would one-up eachother with the details we could find in it. She explained to me the line;

Just a glimpse of ankle and I
React like it’s 1805

It’s about perving on girls. We think. Anyway, we listened to that record as we drove through NSW that Christmas. Later, I got the record for a friend who knew all I knew about music and more. He later said it was his favourite album ever. And as much as I’m loving the new one, I think it’s my favourite too.

But like I said, it’s amazing that when you think you have all your favourite things worked out, a record and a band can come along and top your personal chart. I have been listening to the Shins every day.

The new record is fantastic, obviously. The lyrics are amazing. The production is very different, but hardly commercial radio fodder. Early highlights are’ Turn On Me’, which sounds like Roy Orbison, and ‘Girl Sailor’. That 50s backbeat is used in a number of tracks and apparently a big influence on this record. And the single ‘Phantom Limb’ – geez, what a song. If you’ve never heard of this band and decided to make your way all the way through my rambling and down to here, I suggest you seek out this track.

All I know is that it’s already the soundtrack to this part of my life. I think of my through those songs now. I’ve been sitting with Charlie Brown and working out the chords. And I’m in love with a band completely again. I’m starstruck. I’m 14. I want to join the fanclub. I want to play the record to all my friends.

I hope they get another record out before the decade ends. And when I look back at those ten years, the memories will sing with the voice of James Mercer.

Danny Yau

Top 10 of 2006: 1. Bob Evans – Suburban Songbook

1. Bob Evans – Suburban Songbook

Album of the year. This album has soundtracked my year, all my ups and downs, left and rights, the laughs, the dancing, the silliness, the sadness, every moment.

I’ve had it just about all year. It only really hit me in March, when the first song, Don’t You Think It’s Time, was basically on repeat play every day, after work, walking to the bus stop. It’s simple acoustic hymn to future, better times, seizing the day, and I used to leave work every day thinking I had to do more with my life.

Later in the year, when the album came out, I was in love with it. The hidden track, Me & My Friends, had lines about sitting alone while everyone else is sending text messages. I loved the line, and it reminded me I was the only single guy in a five piece band and I was the only one not going home to someone.

Friend, the second track, I would listen to walking around Enmore in Autumn, thinking about the line “It’s true everybody knows/people come and people go” and realsing some friendships fade and that’s okay.

I saw Bob play a few times over the year and I remember synchronise dancing with a friends to I’m Coming Around at the Annandale. And discussing how Sadness & Whiskey, my favourite song, sounded a bit like a Weezer song at Newtown RSL.

I would sing harmonies openly and loudly at my desk to the new mix of Nowhere Without You and when work, life and everything got too much in the winter, I would listen to the Battle of 2004 with it’s sad refrain of “I’m coming down..” over and over again.

In September I would listen to Rocks In My Head when I thought maybe I had made a stupid decision. And every time it rained, I would think of The Great Unknown‘s middle eight, the stupidly simple “I guess I’m stuck in the rain again.”

When I finally left Australia and I felt like singing Darlin’ Won’t You Come (“…run away with me”) and make somone come with me. And now that I’m here, tonight, I was walking through Covent Gardens, Don’t You Think It’s Time came on the ipod, and it was like walking through a silent crowd, as the remains of Christmas lights withered the streets.

See, you had to be there to appreciate it – and you weren’t. And I don’t really mind if you never hear this album, and if it means nothing to you. It meant a lot to me, and you had to be there to really get it. Oh, I can recommend it on it’s musical merits or something. But that’s not why I treasure this record. It’s because it was my year in song.

Danny Yau

Top 10 of 2006: 2. Darren Hanlon – Fingertips And Mountaintops

2. Darren Hanlon – Fingertips And Mountaintops

I only barely got this record before I left Australia. And it only just missed out on being number one. It’s got everything, beautiful songs, insightful lyrics and also one of the last Australian musicians who to write about Australia.

The towering highlight is Elbows, a simple story that unfolds so carefully unfolds about dancing at a club next to a movie star and touching elbows. From it’s man-walks-into-a-bar type introduction (“On a warm night in March, on a dark disco floor/I danced up a storm like I never before), through to the punchline (See we only touched elbows, it’s the plain naked truth/And I can’t even back up my story with proof), all the way to how we all bump and knock eachother all the time, then back to the dance floor, then the wonderful conclusion – “Some take others home, waking up to regret it/We only touched elbows and I’ll never forget it.”

It’s Hanlon’s way with words, and he’s getting more expressionist by the minute. He’s turning into a great song writer, and his jokes are turning into charm. The album even opens on the sad note of Hold On, followed by an almost angry People Who Wave At Trains (They way they pass through every moment/with nothing on their brains/Like the people who wave at trains). Manilla NSW features school hall piano, the title track sounds like the Modern Lovers and Fire Engine doesn’t have Darren singing on it at all.

Two things hold this record back. One is Couch Surfing, an amazing song by all accounts, but it’s so jokey that it’s going to do nothing to save Darren Hanlon crowds. Last few times I’ve seen him, when Hanlon sings one of his new ballads, the crowd stares like they are waiting for a magic trick. And the slightest whiff of a pun or wit is greatted by a loud cheer. Anyway, I find his shows almost unbearable these days, and a song like this doesn’t help. It’s like the squash song on his last record. Some dumb fuck will yell out “squash” all through a gig.

The other is the production. It’s fine but not great. Imagine the production of a Youth Group album on these songs! If only. And what’s with the cover?

Still, I’m completely in love with this record. It’s completely subjective, but I can’t stop listening to it. So many great lyrics, great musical moments, and so varied and never boring.

Danny Yau