Top 10 films of 2014

The year started off great, in terms of catching lots and lots of films. It dropped off by the end of the year, but it really doesn’t seem to be much. Here in Australia, various films that make the 2014 list (say Foxcatcher or Mr Turner) are not out yet.

So here are the films, for what it’s worth.

1. Boyhood
Richard Linklater

What can I say that has not been said? Breathtaking, and groundbreaking. Started me on a year of filling the gaps on Linklater’s work. He took out my number 2 spot last year too.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson

He’s my favourite director. So what can I say? Other than he’s making his best work yet. The last couple have been so great, and he’s really found how to spread his wings whilst keeping with his style. The opening a closing bookend scenes alone are enough to fascinate. His nod to Lubitsch, it is beautiful and dark yet affirming.

3. Dawn Of the Planet Of the Apes
Matt Reeves

I’ve never really heard of Matt Reeves til this year. But he’s pulled off the best blockbuster of the year. And yeah, I saw my share of blowing stuff up films, but they are usually a nice ride and that’s it. Reeves managed to make a Shakespearean epic that just breaks your heart. And he’s even improved on the script – you’ll notice how quickly he cuts away from the minor, undeveloped characters and keeps it about Caesar. And that tank shot…wow.

4. God Help the Girl
Stuart Murdoch

God Help the Girl is one of my favourite albums of all time. According to my iPod, it’s my most listened to album – ever. So to finally see the film, I was always going to love it. I knew the songs so well, and the details of these characters. But to see it – Murdoch’s rose coloured view of Glasgow – is stunning. The songs, a big part, are great. And these characters who I have thought about for years, great to meet them. Top of the bunch is Olly Alexander as James, one of films great music philosophers, up there with Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs.

5. Her
Spike Jonze

One of those films that was last year for everyone else, but 2014 for me. A film that has touched me very deeply – the bright romantic side to Black Mirror’s brutal cynicism. It’s a vision of life with technology that is beautiful. Never has skyscrapers looked so gorgeous, computers looked so wooden, and typing looks like handwriting. In the end though, it joins the very, very short list of great break-up films.

6. Gone Girl
David Fincher

A powerhouse performance by Affleck and Pike make this drama one of the best of the year. It feels like even by now, this might have been turned into a TV thing. But Fincher shows what cinematic drama can be. A scene, that I will only say features someone driving in a car, is beautiful cinema. I watched this without knowing anything, and even if you pick it, it is worth the ride.

7. Guardians Of the Galaxy
James Gunn

Plenty of jokes out there about how Marvel is just so good these days that they can make us see anything. I’ve never read Guardians Of the Galaxy as a comic (and when I was reading Marvel, the team was a completely different thing anyway) so I had little expectations. And I’m pretty sick of superheroes onscreen, but this managed to stave off that sickness for just a little. The best thing about it was the humour – it’s swashbuckling fun. It’s not perfect in script, but it is in tone.

8. The Wind Rises
Hayao Miyazaki

Another 2013 in the US one. The last film by Hayao Miyazaki, one of my favourites. He returns to his more realist dramas to tell the story of Jiro Horikoshi, its beautifully animated and very touching. Wrapped in this prettiest of presents is bigger ideas, especially the price for progress. A stunning last picture – lets hope the old man was lying.

9. Magic In the Moonlight
Woody Allen

Still fantastic after all these years. What starts off as a light hearted romp ends up deadly serious. Eventually we have to face what we do and don’t believe. I don’t want to give it all away, you have to decide for yourself. So why not get swept away to the gorgeous French Riviera to do it?

10. Frank
Lenny Abrahamson

Not really about Frank Sidebottom, and after you see the film you only see Michael Fassbender’s Frank. A lovely tale about what makes artists really artists, and not just a hanging out guy who plays a bit. Quirky in a good way throughout, and the songs are wonderful.

Top 10 Albums Of 2014 #2-1


2. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

This album is a clear number 2. These last two records twoer above anythign I heard this year, and are albums I will carry around with me for years.

I have loved so much music from Damon Albarn. Blur were a favourite, and the Gorillaz has many moments of pure joy. I like the man too, I love his approach to art, and what he has to say.

This is Albarn’s first genuine solo record. It took a long time, and a lot of flirting with opera and musicals before coming back with a pop record. But it’s not a Blur record, and he has synthesised his explorations in opera, world music and electronica, and then went and wrote some songs. Actual songs.

I listened to this album quite a bit and it never quite hit. But over time, those hooks, those melodies, and those sentiments started to stick. This is a grower, but I cannot imagine living without these songs. It makes little sense on first listen.

So many highlights – and oddly the singles are the least strong. The gentle History of a Cheating Heart, to the epic Heavy Seas Of Love. I love Photographs and the samples used. And Everyday Robots – the killer title track – it feels like Albarn has been trying to write this song his entire life.

The problem with Albarn is you never know what he will do next. Maybe his next record wont be so softly and lovely. Who knows where his spinning head might land next.


1. Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott – What Have We Become?

The voices of the Beautiful South return with my album of the year. A modern, angry political record, wrapped up in some of the prettiest melodies. I often complain that music has nothing to say – well there’s more said on this album that just about every album I’ve heard this year combined.

The world is broken. And Heaton, who has been writing scathing songs about life for over 30 years now, has plenty to say about it. The idiot who is led astray in ‘Moulding Of A Fool‘, the type that gets to vote and run our lives. How we should talk about the baseball cap like we do the burqa. The enduring image of pizza boxes stacked towards the sun.

The phrases, the ideas, and the story of this record still roll around my head. It’s Heaton’s talent that he can turn that anger into wonderful images and great songs. And then it was a stroke of genius to get Jacqui Abbott on board to make the medicine even sweeter.

It’s not for everyone – not everyone cares for the subtext. That has been Heaton’s trick from his very first hit single, Happy Hour. He has always hidden deeper meanings in songs that milkmen can whistle. He’s back at it, and I couldn’t be happier.

Modern music is supremely lacking in balls. No one is challenging anything. Our artists have stopped leading us, and left us with nothing to learn. This record was the only bright spot of a year of ball-less music. Maybe some of the bands Heaton has inspired, from Manics to Arctic Monkeys to Belle And Sebastian, will follow suit.

Top 10 albums of 2014 #5-3

Part 2! Numbers 3-5!
Part 1 here.


5. Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey – Going Back Home
Chess Records

I was very touched by Wilko Johnson‘s year. At the start of the year, he was supposed to be dead, diagnosed with a cancer that was supposed to kill him last October. Then he made this record with an old friend and it actually did better than any album of his career. One more tour then. Then another. Right now, it looks like Wilko will be ok.

This record is a lot of fun. It’s also a lot of covers which is the reason it’s not higher up on the list. However, many of the songs, taken from Wilko’s later career, are still new to me.

Here’s the blistering title track.


4. King Creosote – From Scotland With Love

I’m still very sad about what happened to Scotland. But one of the by products about the swelling of national pride there, was the art. And this album would not exist if Scotland did not make the brave move to go on their on own.

One of the more lovely art projects is From Scotland With Love – a film of archival material, showing the progress and life of Scotland of old. The soundtrack was this, a sentimental synthesis of Scottish folk. Emotionally charged and tender, it’s a trip through time. Even without the film, the music makes sense.

I’ve heard of King Creosote many times, but this is my first album. It’s love for me, and I’m exploring the catalogue.

Here’s a scene from the film, with music from the album.


3. The New Mendicants – Into the Lime
Ashmont Records

The team up of Teenage Fanclub‘s Norman Blake and Pernice Brother‘s Joe Pernice. It’s one of those records that feels like it’s made for me. That beautiful pop songs left unadorned.

Not quite power-pop, not quite alt-country, this is just a collection of lovely songs by two master songwriters.

Starting an album

I don’t know what it’s like for anyone else, but there is definitely a point where a bunch of songs start to feel album-y. I like the idea of writing albums – they are like writing a play. When you have enough scenes and moments that you start to get a sense of the story.

There are two main things for me that separate an album from a collection of ten songs.

1) thematic consistency in the story.

For the last couple of years I’ve been writing songs that fit into various themes. There are some political songs. Lots of songs about death. Alcohol. Usually one or two ideas win out – some just end up with better songs.

The two that won out this time, and jostling to win, were the Inner West and the idea of writing just third person character studies of women. It’s feeling like the album is a mix of the two – it’s not a hard and fast rule. But I’m excluding songs based on theme.

I’m also excluding songs based on intent. There were a couple of angrier, more mean spirited songs. And as the album develops, those songs are going away. I’ve made one very angry record before. This one will be quite intimate.

We are over halfway through the record making process and I am tossing between two titles – both reflect the two themes. They are:

Do You Think We’ll Live Here Forever?


12 Girls

2) musical consistency

This is sort of the easy one. At any given time, in probably writing songs to solve a puzzle. Trying to figure out how a particular genre of song works. Or how to make certain chord patterns fit.

More so than the last album, I’ve wanted to use more chords again. I feel like I’ve done the simple country songs for now. I was also fascinated by getting from a minor chord to the same major chord (Am to A for example) and what keys and ways to make that work. The other big one, that appears in almost every song, a major chord that descends a half step and then a minor (C to Bm for example).

It really helps with songwriting, these ideas. If you need variation, or if you’re stuck, you have a way out. They key is to repeat the trick in different ways.

By nature of the recoding process this time, the record will slow and hopefully soulful. That third Velvets album has loomed large in my mind. Soul music, the sound of Memphis, and how they do things, is a constant touchstone. A definite process when it comes to production or instrumentation.

These are all high falootin’ ideas that may never come off. There’s at least one song that won’t be about the Inner West or a girl and it’s looking like track 2.

But, developing both those steps is crucial, for me anyway, in sort of feeling like there’s an album here.

But it’s the spine that makes up an album. And once we had that – I could start the painful process of selecting songs. Which I will write about next.

Top 10 albums of 2014 #10-6

Not a great year for music for me. Not many new discoveries, and plenty of disappointing efforts from some of my favourites. Instead, I find myself going back to older weirder stuff, and trying to fill in gaps of my knowledge with my Mojo reviews challenge.

But what of contemporary music. It was kinda tough to even put together 10. But here we go.


10. God Help The Girl – Original Soundtrack
Milan Records

This should be number one. The songs on this record are re-recorded versions of the original, one off, God Help the Girl album, now repurposed for a film. I love that original record so much. According to my, I’ve listened to it more than any other, and I can’t describe how much it means to me.

So any album that contains these songs is always going to win. That they are not songs of 2014, I’ll put it at #10.

This is probably my favourite song from this album at the moment.


9. Real Estate – Atlas
Domino Records

It’s very similar to their last album, but they solidify a sound. There’s just something about this band – they worked out a sound that is so familiar yet original on their first record. They own it here.

Lots of mysteries abound for me still in this record. It’s murky and mysterious, soulful and jangly. One of those records that kept coming on, and I kept not skipping. They are working their way towards a masterpiece – I can feel it


8. Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits
Signature Sounds Recordings

A discovery from the documentary Another Day Another Time. A modern soul band. Some people call it indie – but there’s nothing indie about it. It’s beautiful, fresh, honest music. And what a voice, with Rachel Price up front. This band could be as big as Amy Winehouse. They need slightly better song ideas to do it, and if they do – look out.


7. Elbow – The Take Off And Landing Of Everything

I’ve written about this record before. A gorgeous album, that is probably perfect for someone my age. What I love about this band most is the unabashed romance. They write poetically, about big things or not at all. They are also, let us say, older men, who are not making retro music.


6. Ball Park Music – Puddinghead
Stop Start

The only Australian album to make the list this year. Sad that. But oh well – this album is killer. Such an abundance of musical ideas, so many catchy hooks and production ideas. But really, it comes down to this band actually has something to say. There is a real conversation about what it’s like to be young today. The best reflection of it is Next Life Already – one of my favourite tracks of the year.

They are getting angrier, and sharper, and it makes them stand out. The best Australian band at the moment.

Numbers 1-5 to come.

Making an album

I’ve been writing songs since I was 17. Playing in bands most of that time and occasionally making albums, I have started making my fourth. (The long term plan is to be like Felt – 10 albums, 10 songs each. At this rate I should get there sometime in my fifties. ) It will once again be under the name ‘The Reservations’.

I have no aspirations for the album to sell or change my life in any way. I mainly enjoy the writing of songs. Or more accurately (and to quote Randy Newman) I like having songs written. Making an actual album has always been secondary. But it is necessary – otherwise you never finish anything.

I’m terrible at sharing info, and ironically I tell a lot of young bands out there to do just that. So, to heed my own advice, I’m trying to figure out how to write about this experience.

The decision to make an album usually comes these days of having enough for an album. I’ve been toying with certain ideas, musically and thematically, and when I have enough, it’s off on an adventure to figure out how to make it!

I’m recording with Tim Kevin in his studio in Marrickville. Tim has played in many fantastic bands and ushered many great records. I first saw Tim play in the band Hoolahan in the late 90s. I loved that band.

Right now I would say we are a little over half way through. I came in with 12 songs, intending to record 10. For various reasons we’ve lost 3 and now I’m one short. There is certainly a direct connection between writing this blog entry and delaying writing a 10th song for this record. There’s more than enough half written bits lying around to make something.

This is not a terribly insightful entry, but future entries will focus on particular aspects of this process, like choosing songs, or tracklisting, or organising musicians, etc.

Stay tuned

Mojo Reviews Challenge #008 – Syd Barrett – Barrett

Sydbarrett-barrettWhere I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

Syd Barrett
1970 – Harvest

I’m not much of a Pink Floyd fan, although I must say in recent years I feel that wall breaking down. Maybe it’s age, but even listening to some of the new, apparently final Pink Floyd album, I find a lot of it nice. Maybe it’s what someone my age does instead of buying jazz….later Pink Floyd.

What I do like about Pink Floyd was Syd Barrett. He’s easy to like. Firstly, he looked great. Syd in 1967 was as striking as any figure in popular music – that mess of hair, those deep eyes, those fancy shirts. Not to mention that wild, wild imagination.

Musically, I definitely could have spent more time with him. Piper At the Gates Of Dawn is never one of my go-to’s. I love ‘Bike‘. Somewhere along the line I picked up The Madcap Laughs and quite enjoyed it. I never got any further, and his second a technically last record Barrett passed me by. If that Crazy Diamond box set didn’t look so awful, I probably would have picked that up.

So what of Barrett? It seems widely accepted that this record is more of the Madcap Laughs style acoustic mumbling. The pair would make a nice twofer, and are both reviewed together in this issue of Mojo. It’s part of the very first proper reissue of Barrett’s stuff.

The record – a lot of it is very nice, and his random imagination is still spinning. But this feels more Daniel Johnson than Ray Davies – it’s more naive pop, not a craft master.

There is some lovely stuff, and top of the pile is ‘Gigolo Aunt‘. A bright, sparkling pop song that maybe could have been a chart hit like ‘See Emily Play‘ if it had been performed by steadier hands. ‘Baby Lemonade‘ and the other English weird folk stuff still taste the best. The blues-y jams…god. Utterly disposable. ‘Effervescing Elephant‘ – genius. Overall it’s a fine record, and that naivety gives it quite a lot of charm. And god knows I love obscure little quirky records such as this.

Poor Syd. I think I’ve always liked the story of Syd Barrett more than his music. He was barely functioning at this point, and there’s probably an awesome biopic in the works that tells the rest. I’m probably still going to reach for Madcap first, but it’s great to finally cover off many of these songs.


Mojo Reviews Challenge #007 – Phil Ochs – All The News That’s Fit To Sing

Front Cover copyWhere I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

Phil Ochs
All The News That’s Fit To Sing
1964 – Elektra

It’s pretty interesting that I’ve never dived into the career of Phil Ochs. I love this era of music. The pre Beatles American folk scene – so well captured in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis‘. The period Chris Thile says that Greenwich Village was the world’s living room of beatniks and poets.

Phil Ochs is always held up as one of the best – and worst – examples of the era. His music managed to reach and connect people. But he doggedly refused to stray from his politics, even when the world moved on. His later years was also marked by personal problems and a struggle to change his sound.

But that is all later, as we are talking about his first album – All The News That’s fit To Sing. He is young, his voice is clear and his ideas are fresh. It is reviewed in Mojo alongside his second album ‘I Ain’t Marching Anymore‘.

My knowledge of Phil Ochs pretty much comes from his mentions in Bob Dylan biographies and his most vocal champion, Billy Bragg. So as I got this album, I also decide to watch the documentary ‘There But For Fortune‘. It is excellent and tells his full story. There’s also heaps of footage, none of which I can find full clips for online. My one big takeaway from the film – how many men did Bob Dylan psychologically destroy? Ochs, Donovan, Dave Van Ronk, the fictional Llewyn Davis….what a jerk!

The worst things about 60s folk are nowhere to be found. The songs are melodic and memorable, not flat and droning. His lyrics are often clever and memorable. But what is most interesting to my new ears is how much heart is in the songs. He genuinely wants to save lives. His sad to see the world fall apart. His anger would rise, but now it seems like a young man sad and trying to change the world.

That he can sustain the one-man-and-one-guitar schtick is impressive. He has a couple of things going for him. One More Parade, Too Many Martyrs and others are emotional, filled with genuine sadness and regret. Or he fills his words with so many ideas and images that there is always something new to discover.

It’s dated, but it was always going to. Mentions of Soviets, Vietnam and Nazis, it could only be the sixties. Yet, it’s powerful stuff, and one wonders why there aren’t equivalent songs about our times. How chickenshit are modern bands?

It is kinda crazy that this album has not come my way earlier. There was a few years here when I would have been responsible for this album. Having never been given a lovin reissue by Elektra, it has passed me by. Which begs the question – why? When even Judee Sill gets lavish reissues, surely this album is deserving of the same treatment? A reappraisal is overdue.

Hippies get a bad wrap, and protest music is out of fashion. It went out of fashion very soon after this album in fact. The Beatles would destroy Ochs. But right now, the world could still be changed by one-man-and-one-guitar. It still sounds pretty good today.


Mojo Reviews Challenge #006 – The Auteurs – Now I’m A Cowboy

440px-AuteursNowImaCowboyWhere I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

The Auteurs
Now I’m A Cowboy
1994 – Hut Records

Britpop was the first music that was mine. Grunge I had known loved a lot of, but it was my older brother’s thing. Britpop, and that blast of energy and melody, was mine and no one elses, and an era of music I still find fascinating. However, what I call Britpop was a few years too late. There was a scene before Blur hit it big, where bands like Suede were making fascinating inroads into the charts. Amongst them was The Auteurs.

I’ve been pretty aware of Luke Haines for a long time. His name just keeps popping up, especially in English magazines. Baader Meinhof, Black Box Recorder and The Auteurs were all band names I’ve heard of, but never heard.

This is Haines’ breakthrough, and biggest record, it seems. It features one big hit – ‘Lenny Valentino‘. It’s a hit that has somehow never appeared in any of the Britpop compilations I’ve collected over the years. I had never heard it until I bought this album. Lenny Valentino sounds like a hit single…a hook every 7 seconds indeed. In the clip, they definitey look more glam, before Britpop essentially moved north and into Oasis.

And oh, is it Britpop. There’s those jangly guitars mixed with loud guitars. There’s lots of lovely melodies and kitchen sink concerns. But there’s also a bit of Paul Westerberg here. There’s a graspy-ness to the vocal and a tenderness in the guitars. It makes sense that this did quite well (kinda) on radio in the UK and they toured the states.

Some really quite great songs. ‘New French Girlfriend‘ and ‘Chinese Bakery‘ are pretty great (as in pretty and great). That cello they have throughout adds a different colour, and used wonderfully on ‘A Sister Like You‘. Some of it has dated, and it doesn’t cover the stunning breadth of vision that, say, Parklife or Different Class would end up doing. There’s more than a couple of Britpop by numbers here.

What happened to The Auteurs was that Haines broke both his ankles in a drunken accident. It took them off the road and Haines came back with a downbeat record. There seems to be plenty of Haines devotees, people who follow his every band. I’m not sure I’m there yet. But dammit, that ‘Chinese Bakery‘ song is just so good. It’s definitely staying on the iPod. It’s actually getting better with every listen.

The review on Mojo #006 was broadly positive. They alsoe interviewed the band in the issue, about a recent tour with The Fall. This record was some success, to the point where it was actually reissued earlier in the year as a 2CD set.


Mojo Review Challenge #005 – The Fugs – The Fugs First Album

The+Fugs+-+First+Album+-+Sealed+-+LP+RECORD-422006Where I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

The Fugs
The Fugs First Album
1965 – Folkways

This is more like it! This is a wonderful, wonderful record. I have no idea why I’ve not delved unto The Fugs. Maybe it’s because the 60s, there is just so much to explore. Maybe cos the records were kind of hard to find. And such is the import of reviews, blogs etc, to briefly hail-mary-pass a band like this in front of people.

The early 90s reissue of The Fugs First Album (and with it, The Fugs Second Album) managed to get a big review in Mojo #5. And rightly so. This band has it all – an interesting pedigree (New York poets with ties to the beat movement), an indie integrity (they were on the beloved Folkways label) and a rude sounding name.

It’s sounds very modern. In the era of the Bonnie Prince Billies or Jack Whites, the Fug’s lo-fi folk fits right in. It probably killed them in the 60s, but it sounds so cool now. The only thing that really dates this record is some of the topics. There’s a bit of free love on here, and dated references to Allen Ginsberg.

As challenging and weird as some of this stuff is, there’s still plenty of fun catchy songs. ‘Supergirl’ or ‘Slum Goddess’ could be pop songs. ‘I Couldn’t Get High’ feels like The Doors. In fact, here’s a weird interview with the band where they perform that song.

On top of that, it’s a great record. It starts fun, goes weird and ends with a bit of tenderness before ‘Nothing’, a great album closer.

This is exactly the kind of record I was hoping to dig up in this weird project. The Fugs are such a Mojo kind of band too. Easily the best record I’ve looked at in this project so far.