I love a good musical smartass. Be it Prine or Newman or Wainwright, someone who can have a clever turn of phrase will always get me. Rarely do they come with such optimism, and in the frame of a 24 year old woman.
This album is a delight. It just brings a smile to my face, line after line. There’s a girl here who knows who she is, and doesn’t pander to the pop market now, and reaping success because of it. She’s so cool I want everyone to know her. Someone with something to say that isn’t just about her.
Follow Your Arrow has been getting a bulk of the acclaim. If you aren’t bowled over by the opening couplet then this probably isn’t for you. If you do, then you will find more sweetness in My House and Silver Lining. There’s a beating heart under all this too – closer It Is What It Is cuts to the core, but in a clever way too.
Being clever is not often rewarded, and it’s not what this album is about. There is a sweetness and an optimism that seemed to be missing in all other music I heard this year. And it’s not banal, brainless happiness. In fact, it’s the smartest album of the year.
1. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart
Broken people can get better if they want to.
This has been a terrible year, one of the worst. Music played the least role in my life than any year I remember. And there was only one record that I returned to time and time again for solace. When you love something so much that just listening to it makes you feel better, like the drag of a cigarette.
I’ve never really been one for sad music. This is one of those escape-your-sadness albums. It’s an age old rock n roll trope – our lives can be better (yeah!) but given a new set of clothes. The fact that Turner is around my age helps.
The album opens with Recovery, a plea for help but also something stirring, moving out of the fog. Throughout are thoughts on the fleeting nature of life, seizing every moment and all that jazz. Polaroid Picture and Losing Days are other highlights.
For Turner, it’s a slight change from his last album. It’s more a love story, and the piano is now an integral part of his sound. The songs are just about the strongest his ever written, and it’s now my second favourite of his after Love, Ire and Song.
But it’s my favourite album of the year so more about me. Artists are people who teach you something, who see the world in a way most people do not, and then captures that lightning and shows it to you. In a depressing, confusing, frustrating year, this album and this man taught me more than every other album this year combined.
In the end, life is a fight, but a good fight. And I’m thinking of getting my first tattoo.
Part 3 of this year end round up. One more post to go.
4. Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
Every Laura Marling album so far, once I’ve fallen in love with them, are 5 star albums. Every new Laura Marling album turns the old one into 4 star albums. She manages to progress at an epic pace. Once I Was An Eagle is, once again, her best record yet.
It’s a record in two halves. The first feels like a song suite. The tracks merge together, although the songs change. It’s an extended sequence of sex and passion. She is still writing about the clash that happens when a poetic young woman meets a charming young man. But in her songs, as epic as they are, covers so many emotions it’s almost overwhelming. She’s also abandoned that ‘Hissing Of the Summer Lawns’ jazzier stuff for something a bit more straight forward.
The songs. It opens with four that all go down as classics. Take The Night Off urgency sweeps into the lovely, seductive I Was An Eagle. It’s those moments, the sneaky changes (the jump to a high note, the introduction of drums, etc) that makes the suite side so great. The other song in the album title – Once – may well be her best standalone song, with an organ sound lifted straight from a Band record, a sound I cannot resist.
And her. Laura herself. Still a mystery, and still progressing at an unbelievable pace. She avoids the spotlight, and seems so out of time. Her music could be a lost folk record from the early 70s, yet she is defiantly of our time. And already she has been playing new songs on tour and they are all over YouTube. A true Artist in every sense of the word.
3. Melody Pool – The Hurting Scene
I discovered Melody Pool’s music through someone who knows her. I was given some headlines – there was break up, she sounds a bit like Joni Micthell (a pattern emerges…). Then I heard ‘Henry’, as breathtaking a dissection of an ex-lover as any Bob Dylan song. And I was hooked.
This is, I guess, a country album, but it’s very pop. Behind the dials (and recorded in Nashville) is Brad Jones, who has produced three of my favourite albums – Josh Rouse’s 1972 and Nashville, and Bob Evan’s Suburban Songbook. This album mixes the same pop smarts with country music ideas. Occasionally, it even rocks out. But in the end it’s the stories, this Melody Pool person, finding her voice and finding herself.
Henry is the standout, but it’s not indicative of the album. The title track and Lion On the Loose both rock out with a decent band. Somebody You’ve Never Met Before being the most devastating of the rockers. After 100 years of people trying to write about love, this young woman from the central coast has found yet another new angle.
Who knows where she’ll go. She could front a rock band, or she could be a troubadour. It seems she has that side to figure out. In the meantime, her voice and her songs are already there.
The second part of our yearly round up of music and more.
7. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of the City
It feels like his album came and went. No one really talked about it, and it’s a shame. I loved their first two albums, and this one, whilst very different, is just as good. It’s heavier, and less a sum of their influences. No one is going to think this sounds like ‘Graceland’.
‘Diane Young‘ (great title…) sets the scene. It keeps the youthful energy that is all over their early records, and makes it more barbed. ‘Step‘ brings in a hip-hop sound that has gotten our next album so much acclaim. Their strange lyrical pictures remain evocative and mysterious. But it’s the hooks, dozens upon dozens of them, that make this record. It’s bridged with quieter moments, such as the magnificent ‘Hannah Hunt‘. I have, as usual, no idea what they are on about, but it sounds mysterious and intriguing.
I found myself returning to this album over and over again. The songs rolled around in my head, and they followed me around for long walks and long drives. Maybe, if it was 10 tracks like their other albums it would have been more punchy.
I imagine that Vampire Weekend will have to do something very different next. This is the same record with a bit more oomph, but that might not be enough.
6. Arctic Monkeys – AM
There’s already a lovely album called AM. So that was never going to help this, a somewhat make or break album for the band. Suck It And See was as inventive and catchy as any of their records, but they seemed to have lost their motivation. AM recaptures some album magic, and they’ve made a dark and sleazy album.
It took me far more listens to get my head around this album than every Arctic Monkeys album. This is a nighclub album, and I didn’t do much clubbing this year. But its groove is undeniable. And the songs grew on me.
There were some big singles. RU Mine?, Do I Wanna Know?, Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High? (all questions for some reason) keep the Arctic Monkeys thing of songs that are far too complicated than they need to be, mixed with hooks that radio couldn’t resist.
The best track on the album, for mine, is Mad Sounds. Its the best Lou Reed song I’ve heard in decades. And the crazy, outspoken and restless characters from Lou Reed songs also populate this record.
A detour or a new direction? I don’t know. This experiment works – just – but it feels like the band is still searching. They are trying to be anything but the Arctic Monkeys who came before. Who knows where they’ll go next.
5. Travis – Where You Stand
Look. I love Travis. Fran Healy is just a classic songwriter – in the same world as Neil Finn, Paul McCartney and more. The classic song, and great chorus, a good middle eight. Songs for everyone and for every day use, not just being a self centred saddo with a guitar. Where You Stand, their first album in five years, sees them returning to classic songwriting, and some of their best songs.
How can you resist Moving? It’s as great as any of their anthemic ballads, but about the small things of moving around, trying to find your place. But it’s so lovely, so positive, and so full of life. Better still is Where You Stand, as devotional a love song that they’ve ever written – and they’ve written their share.
There’s lots more than just lovely songs on show. Another Guy follows the path of previous songs of strange, experimental music with pretty melodies on top. Mother sees them cutting loose yet, again, sounding a little Lou Reed, ‘Loaded’ era. They mix it up enough to remain the critics darling.
The key is song craft. It’s songs that sound like they’ve been around your whole life. Which only very few people on the planet can do. It’s not cool – but why be trendy when you can be timeless.
It’s top ten time again. Counting down the records first, then some other bits of writing to round out the year to come.
10. Jason Isbell – Southeastern
My bible in the late 90s was No Depression magazine, whose tagline was ‘Alternative Country Music – Whatever That Is’. Well, it sounds like this album. There is something very late 90s about this album. When that music was only ever going to appeal to a few thousand people worldwide, and a lot of young men discovered the power of being simplistic.
Isbell’s been around the traps for many years now (solo, and as a Drive By Trucker), but he’s cleaned himself up, in sound and in life. There’s a purity here that has been missing in his music. This is not the music to play over a crowd of drunks. It’s direct, occasionally devastating, down-to-earth romantic and doesn’t fuck around.
Highlights abound. ‘Traveling Alone‘ is probably his most pop song, but paints a vividly evocative lyric on top. ‘Elephant‘ is rightly praised for it’s amazing subject matter. But the quieter moments and album tracks, like ‘Relatively Easy‘ and ‘Different Days‘, are showing a new maturity.
I gave up on Isbell after the album he did with the 400 Unit. I figured I left him to a life of hard drinking on the road, and he wuld continue to write about less and less. But he got off that path and now I’m back on board too.
9. Manic Street Preachers – Rewind the Film
Still angry, still vital, but something has changed in the Manic Street Preachers this year. The loud electric guitars were put away, and something more reflective was given to us. 2010’s Postcards From A Young Man, from the title down, was trying to recapture that youthful energy (and volume) of their early records. Rewind the Film sounds like men their age, still trying to find relevance and fire.
The album opens with perhaps the quietest song in their 20 year career. ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart‘ is a humble hymn, but an ode to never being happy. Is it depression – or how we’re made? And then we find ourselves in 70s Elvis period for ‘Show Me the Wonder‘, probably the most optimistic song they’ve ever written (and the first single ever not to feature an electric guitar).
The album moves into all directions from there – and some work better than others. ‘As Holy As The Soil’ is as touching a love song as they’ve ever written. However, the six-and-a-half-minute, Richard Hawley sung title track meanders and gets lost in it’s own pompousness. But there are so many pretty moments on this record. Yes, Manic Street Preachers, the pretty band.
This album is Poscards To Middle Aged Men. We’re not sure what punk bands are supposed to do, two decades in. Many don’t survive that long. Perhaps, making quietly triumphant records is the new path. It certainly works for our number 8 entry.
8. Billy Bragg – Tooth & Nail
I’m not a young man anymore, and that has been reflected in my music choices this year. How to age gracefully, and find my age. Bragg is the same. An early 80s punk rocker that is still going, how do you not turn bitter (Elvis Costello), obscure (Wreckless Eric) or dead. He’s opened his heart even further, possibly more than he has since his mid 80s, for his sweetest collection of songs.
It’s really the lyrics that hit home. Musically, he’s the same one guy with a strong accent, but he’s got a new wit about him. How’s this for an opening verse for the entire album.
I’m so tightly wound in tension Feel just like a guitar string Wait until revealed emotions Touch me and you’ll hear me sing.
Bragg has been using the internet to get out his topical songs as soon as possible. Which means it has been 5 years since his last album, and the songs he had left the rebellion behind. While it doesn’t rock out or get too carried away, he is busy laying out a consistent humanity. ‘Do Unto Others‘ and ‘No One Knows Nothing Anymore‘ addresses today’s issues from the heart, not the head.
Handyman Blues is a great summary of the album. Funny, sweet and from the heart. And one of the better film clips of the year.
Bit late with this but here’s my favourite albums of the year so far, a mid year list.
Maybe it’s because it’s been a very slow year for me. I’ve been let down by many artists I love, but it seems many of them have taken a break this year. New discoveries are few, but funnily enough they take up my top 2 anyway.
Some promising albums (Bell X1, Duckworth Lewis Method) I’ve not spent enough time with. And some great tracks with no albums to them. Here’s what I do recommend – and love.
5. Modern Vampires Of the City – Vampire Weekend
There’s a few new things on offer – samples, autotune – but it’s still Vampire Weekend. And there might be a limit on how far they can go with their soweto schtick, but they pull it off again – and I think marvelously. That weird mystery of what they sing about is up front, and they’ve made a really modern pop record. And they know how to craft a hook – just let Hannah Hunt or Diane Young live in your head for a few seconds – it will last for days. Against all odds they made another really good album – maybe they are keepers after all.
4. Tooth And Nail – Billy Bragg
The album I’ve wanted for years. Just Billy and a guitar again. No big rawkous rock band behind him, he hands in a bunch of crafty, sweet songs that are somehow deeply personal AND say his peice about the state of the world today. The opening three are the killers – January Song’s sly stabs at politics, No One Knows Nothing Anymore’s provocative uncertainty and Handyman Blues – as sweet a love song as he’s ever delivered. We always knew Bragg would turn into an fine angry old man, and if he can just not bury it keyboards, he is doing great.
3. Once I Was An Eagle – Laura Marling
Laura Marling has a way of making her last 5 star album feel like a 4 star album. This album wrecks me. The title track is one of the sexiest things she’s ever done. Whoever is looking after her is doing a great job. They’ve let her develop into a pure emotional wallop. And to that the ridiculous guitar playing and that hammond organ – swoon. And the way the songs drift in and out of each other… It’s a beautiful hazy dream. And we’re four for four.
2. The Hurting Scene – Melody Pool
Again, it’s the emotional honesty that really shines through. But this is a bit more fun, sometimes rocking job. Brad Jones, who did such a great job producing three of my favourite albums (Bob Evans’ Suburban Songbook, Josh Rouse’s 1972 and Nashville) does a great job here, really bringing pout the pop, without giving it too much of a gloss. But it’s the song – Someone You’ve Never Met Before, Xavier and Henry – all heartbreaking. A real star in the making.
1. Same Trailer Different Park – Kacey Musgraves
It’s a year for the ladies. This album is so fantastic – it’s hard to imagine anything topping it this year. Funny, fun, tender – it’s like a Randy Newman album, written by a 24 year old woman. Highlights abound – Follow Your Arrow is an anthem for the ages, This Is What It Is breaks your heart, Silver Lining shows the kind of wisdom that songwriters get at age 60.
On the 17th April, Vevo put out a press release that was picked up by various media. The story was about the state of Vevo’s service, and video services in general, in Australia. The claim: Vevo’s reach is 23% bigger than all the catch-up TV properties online.
The digital world is full of numbers. You just need to read any article about piracy to see that these numbers have an agenda. And how easy it is to make a headline that sounds good.
So here are the four TV catch up services that have been included in their survey – Channel 7 (through Yahoo7), Channel 10, Channel 9 and SBS. This excludes ABC’s iView and Foxtel’s Go (Full disclosure here – I work for Foxtel, but hey we were not included). These figures come from Nielsen, the all conquering ratings company, and they can’t get what they can’t get.
But is it fair to compare Vevo to these services? And is reach really a true metric of this?
I say no to both counts.
Vevo’s reach is now 123% the size of the catchup TV properties combined.
1) Music vs TV
Vevo is about music videos. It’s not show prgramming.
But you can argue – hey, what is it that is taking up Australia’s attention? and sure, it’s fine to say people are moving away from (catch-up) TV, and we have more options. But those options include YouTube. And Angry Birds. And any streaming video. (I recently watched a great hour long interview Conan did with the Simpsons creators. It was awesome).
Australia’s streaming video options are pretty low. We don’t have Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, BBC iPlayer or a myriad of other services. What we do have is a black screen and the words “this video is not available in your country” (including the odd Vevo video, to be fair).
Comparing a streaming video service to just catch up TV is to say bread sells more than caviar. Both can be eaten, but they are eaten for different reasons and different occasions. and this is catch-up TV – plenty of folks are still tuning into their TV sets.
Catch Up TV and Music Video – they don’t compare.
Reach is how many people you get to. Is it unique views? Or number of streams? Either way, the form of the content is so vastly different.
The last season premiere of doctor who had a record breaking 80k views on ABC iview. That took 80k man hours to watch. 80k views of Gangnam Style – that takes 6k man hours to watch. You can simply watch more videos.
Vevo themselves claim their average is 15 videos, and 60 minutes use a month. That means one TV show a month, is their average use. And so, the fair comparison, in per hour usage, the VEVO should be divided by 15. Suddenly Vevo’s time spent is 8.2% of the combined catch up TV channels. I can play with numbers too.
Reach is deceptive, when one player has lots of short content and the other has longfrom. It’s points counting, but comparing cricket runs to soccer goals.
So here’s the point. Vevo’s not wrong. They need to make money. But it’s these little bullshit press releases designed to get a cheap headline that really piss me off. Because misinformation ruins us. We could be so far ahead – we as Australians have such a thirst for technology. But big companies are misrepresenting us, and that showing of bullshit trickles down to us all. That a company like Vevo is willing to send out such an openly decieptive numbers, to try and get a cheap PR win, hurts us all. It poisons conversation. It skewers public perception. It’s a blatant lie.
Be careful of numbers – and whose behind them. 23% of statistics are made up anyway.
This morning, the Police Association Of NSW issued a statement. The statement was in reaction to a story that has been picked up on the mainstream news. At the heart of it is a video of a young man involved in a scuffle with police.
There is a lot to be said, and probably will be said in the coming days, about the content of the video. I have my opinions, sure. But reading some of the press this morning, I feel more clearly disgusted at the Police Association’s statement.
Lets have a look at the statement from Scot Weber from the NSW Police Association.
The Police Association hasn’t seen the footage from the Mardi Gras yet, but in saying that, we need to go down the proper lines of investigation
We’ve seen time and time again where footage looks very adverse, such as we saw at the Sydney Cricket Ground, but then on proper investigation it was easy to highlight that the police officer’s actions were justified.
It is, frankly, an insult.
The Police Association hasn’t seen the footage from the Mardi Gras yet.
It is the most talked about video in Australia this morning. It’s on all the major news outlets. It directly concerns you and your employer.
When do you think you might get around to watching the video? Is the Internet down at the Police Association of NSW headquarters? How much time is allowed to lapse before you get around to watching it? I would think that’s the first thing you would do. How can you make a statement with such arrogant ignorance. To be proud of it.
Of course, it’s not that simple. He didn’t want to be questioned about the content of the video, and protected himself. It is the only thing that makes any sense. Which makes Weber a clear liar. Otherwise the NSW police can’t even type YouTube into their Google.
Or worse of all, they don’t even care to watch the video. Which leads us to this….
We’ve seen time and time again where footage looks very adverse … on proper investigation it was easy to highlight that the police officer’s actions were justified
This first of this two line statement was an awful lie. The second is truly scary. They’ve passed judgement.
Go back to sleep everyone. Shut up. Turn your computers off. Move along. Fuck off.
They haven’t seen the footage, but they know how it’s going to go. Well, Mr Weber, h about Rodney King? What, there’s no correlation between Rodney King and this? My bringing it up just poisons the conversation in one particular way? Yes.
How about those hidden cameras of corrupt NSW cops taking bribes from over a decade ago? Is that relevant?
It’s different cops, different situation, different case. You aren’t even entertaining the thought of judging or investigating this on its own merits. Has the NSW Police taken a stand to disregard any consumer video footage as evidence? And is this policy? I would like these questions answered.
But I would imagine Mr Weber could be presented with the Rodney King beating and say “we’ve seen time and time again…”. And not even watch the footage. It could be a video of a police officer jerking off into the face of a puppy. How the hell would Weber know?
Our culture has a long history of people protesting films, music or more, from reactionary groups who have never even seen it. I think it’s clear that we all think that is not the best part of us as humans. An awful part of us that the NSW Police are embodying, this morning at least.
Who knows what will happen with the video. I am going to be extremely forgiving and say this. It was most likely a heightened situation. And on both sides, any wrongs, were not premeditated, likely regrettable and ultimately forgivable.
But to make a planned statement that is deliberately, wilfully and belligerently ignorant, and to pass judgement on the case already, is an insult. If there is police brutality, ever, it’s your help we, the community, need.
I’ve been sitting on this album for a while. I figure putting it out there might be the thing to do. Recorded over a year ago with friends and members of what has become the loose collective of The Reservations.
The songs were written and about my time in London. It was supposed to be a very long album, but in the end became a very short album. Anyway, enjoy. For the record, I think the song Strummer has some pretty good lyrics.
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard created a mini masterpiece. Hilarious, scary and about the art of film itself, it questions what we love about violent films. A bunch of teenagers set out on a camping trip in a cabin, and they are soon attacked….but by what? and why? It’s a horror for those who hate horror, with the two funniest performance of the year from Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. Also two of the most holy shit moments of the year – one involving a motorbike, the other a big button. But anything more is spoiling this wonderful puzzle of a film.
2. Holy Flying Circus
Another fun film with a really strong message. A BBC telemovie about the banning of Life Of Brian, it is a Monty Python film about Monty Python. It is, of course, hilarious, and the performances – Darren Boyd as John Cleese in particular – are perfect. I love letter to Monty Python, but also a stand against this culture of offense that we are trapped in. The film asks – why can’t we be offensive? In the era of oublic apologies for Tiger Woods, David Petraeus and the Jonathan Ross fiasco – should we give a shit that people get offended? Are people who get offended inherently shit? We need offensive humour more than ever, and a reminder that people are often stupid and we should rally against the idiots.
There’s no trailer so here’s a key clip.
3. Moonrise Kingdom
I love Wes Anderson, and the films that people don’t like, I love. So it’s weird to see one that everyone likes, which has all the elements of Anderson that people usually hate. It’s perhaps the sweetness of the story – two kids on island runaway and build their own fantasy life – while the adults around them fall apart. It’s high fantasy, on an Amelie-esque level, but it works perhaps it’s easier to swallow when it’s a kid’s fantasy. Anderson is on fire – the scene where Sam and Suzy write letters – is the kind of thing that only Anderson can pull off.
4. 21 Jump Street
This is the funniest film of the year. This is Zoolander/Anchorman level humour. Every second line is awesome, dozens upon dozens of laugh out loud moments. There’s no reason for this film to be this good. But every cliche is popped, but it’s a well made teen drama action thing. It doesn’t blow minds like Cabin In the woods, but it’s just funny. Channing Tataum, who I’ve never seen before, is the funniest thing in the film. And the greatest cameo of the year. Put it on, turn your mind off a little and just laugh.
5. We Bought A Zoo
I saw this on a plane, on my own, thinking a lot about people dying. And Cameron Crowe, for better or worse, can really tap into heart strings. Based on a true story about a family dealing with loss by buying a zoo, it’s a family film with cute kids and cute animals. But above all that is those moments that make Cameron Crowe such a crowd pleaser. When Matt Damon explains how he met his late wife, it’s one of the more heartbreaking and sweet scenes you’ll ever see. The film goes exactly where you expect – it’s happy, quiet heroism. But done really well and again, much better than it needed to be.
6. The Master
Long, rambling, and there’s no story to speak of. But it’s brilliant. Always captivating, every frame is a winner, and nailed down by Joaquin Phoenix, who I normally hate, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Phoenix in particular is totally lost in his character. For my part, it is the struggle for control – a man who wants the world to bend to his image, and the impossibility of people being tamed. As much as it’s denied by the filmmakers – it is a tale about religion, and the struggle of religion. Weird, wonderful and you hold your breath the whole time.
7. The Avengers
In a lot of ways, the fact this film exists is a miracle. It’s easy to pull apart the elements that don’t work, but it terms of pure superhero joy, it doesn’t get better than this. A big colourful spectacle, with big laughs, air punching moments and just enough sophistication to lift it above the summer blockbuster. The praise for this film mainly comes from the fact it’s not utterly terrible. I’ve never loved the Avengers, or any of the films before it, but the pay off was completely worth it.
8. The Raid Redemption
A brilliant martial arts film. A group of police men raid a slum tower, hoping to get to the boss at the top. But they are trapped and the entire tower turns against them, and they have to fight their way out – or to the top. It’s one big video game of a film, but it’s the action – old school martial arts film with some of the most inventive fight scenes you’ll see this year. It’s never indulgent, very cool characters and a great ride of a film.
This probably should be higher but it came out in January in Oz, and these kinds of lists are awlays tough on January stuff. A love letter to the silent era, it’s a fairy tale of a boy who lives in a Parisian train station, trying to build a clockwork robot. But it quickly turns the magic of robots into the technical magic of film. Surrounded by fun chracters, and set in a time and place that I love, it’s just a quiet thrill of a film.
10. To Rome With Love
I love Woody Allen, and I’m utterly biased. His humour just gets me, and as soon as he’s on screen, it lights up. The film is big and silly – four stories set in Rome that have little connection – but it’s chance for Rome to look pretty, some fun escapism, people looking sexy, and killer one liners. Nothing deep – it’s a throw back to Allen’s weird, funny films.
2012, for me, was not a great year for music. It also wasn’t a great year of listening to music. I think I may have listened to the least music this year than any year since my teens. It’s still probably more than a lot of people, but it the year kind of got away from me.
Still, no huge revelations this year. No new sounds, and very few new artists. What got me through the year was mainly old songs. It’s happened before. 2002 in particular. Maybe there’s something about a decade finding her feet.
What else has gotten me through is film. I’ve watched a couple of hundred films this year. Perhaps it’s technology, and it’s nicer to look at a screen than out a train window.
Is it a break from music? Or a break up? I don’t know. I look at 2013 and no albums make me that excited. But maybe a break is good. There will be more to discover one day.
There were still at least ten records I loved this year. Here they are.
1. Joel Plaskett – Scrappy Happiness
I’ve been listening to Joel Plaskett since the 90s, when he was in a fine rock band called Thrush Hermit. I’ve enjoyed every album to some degree, but something happened on this record. First, his last was a TRIPLE album. As great as it was, this single album is a breath of fresh air. Second, it sounds like a classic rock record, no fancy stuff.
The album it really reminds me of is Electric Warrior. Bluesy, muscular rock n roll, and a handful of beautiful ballads. Lyrically there’s a whole lot of nonsense, but it’s that kind of nonsense that makes sense in a song. Short, sharp, fun. It’s my album of the year, and clutching to the blatant escapism in this record says a lot about my year.
2. The Shins – Port Of Morrow
Three perfect records so far, this album has a lot to live up to. Luckily those expectations were met. That pop sound, those lyrics, that voice – maybe it will just always get to me.
It’s been over 10 years now that James Mercer has soundtracked life. Something about his music is well shaped to place memories into, and this new one is no exception. Some say its samey, but I’d be pretty happy to get variations of this record for another decade or two.
3. Toby Martin – Love’s Shadow
The former(?) lead man in Youth Group went solo this year and it definitely doesn’t sound like a band. Mainly piano or guitar and a bit of strings, with a couple of louder exceptions. But it’s intimate and hidden away, but that’s perfect for an album of songs about loneliness, loss, missing people and keeping secrets.
I guess I love Toby best because he writes about Sydney, but not in a cheap, easy reference way. He squeezes out some romance to this city, but doesn’t fetishise it. In fact, there’s plenty of looking beyond it. This is a fragile, beautiful little album, that I kept returning to.
4. Jack White – Blunderbuss
We’ve been wondering for years what a Jack White solo album might sound like. Aren’t we glad it was actually wonderful? I thought the Raconteurs and Dead Weather was patchy. But he’s returned to something a lot simpler here. It’s not the primitivism of the White Stripes, but it’s close.
No one rocks like White, and no one knows how to craft a bizarre lyric like him too. It interests me how such a student of rock history is so great at avoiding cliché. He makes power chords sound fresh. This album made plenty of best of lists, and I’m definitely in the camp that’s good to have him back.
5. Ben Folds Five – The Sound Of the Life Of the Mind
I’ve loved every album Folds has ever made. I loved his wild ‘punk rock for sissies’ days of Ben Folds as a teenager, and I loved his more mature, understated work on his solo albums. ‘The Sound Of The Life Of the Mind’ is a bit of all of that – funny songs, ballads and even a Hornby collaboration. The kind of album that is probably really difficult to make, yet sounds like fun all the way.
6. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
Dan Boeckner of Handsome Furs and Britt Daniel of Spoon get together to bring a bit more of a raw, punk rock sense to Spoon’s groove. There’s not much to this album – it’s a bunch of great riffs, songs and sounds.
7. Hot Chip – In Our Heads
I love this band – but I occasionally have problems with some of their albums. They are too long, and this one is no exception. But they know how to craft a good pop single and they have 6 or 7 of them here. They’ve continued down their love song route. It’s like 65-era Beatles, but electro pop. It wasn’t a terribly exciting year for electronic music for me, but Hot Chip keep the flame alive for me.
8. Beth Orton – Sugaring Season
It’s good to have Beth Orton back, no matter how sporadic. We thought maybe she had left us, but maybe now she can just turn into one of those folkies who just makes albums in her own time.
This album isn’t really like her other albums. There’s a sweetness and prettiness on show that hasn’t been there before. She sounds happy, and here’s something nice to hear that, having followed her voice for a decade, through some incredibly low lows.
9. Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy
A straight ahead, fun, rock ‘n’ roll record. I kind of miss the more tender moments they are so good at, but mixing it up 7 albums in is fine. It’s a really exciting record, and the pace doesn’t really let up. ‘No Snow On the Mountain’ and ‘Teenage Dreams’ are two of the best. They aren’t just boring rockers either. Another solid rock album, in year where they were few and far between.
10. fun. – Some Nights
Something strangely fascinating about this album. This band seems like assholes. The songs have been A&R’d within an inch of their lives. The film clips are annoying. But something about the songs that work. Something fascinating about someone trying to write a song that connects with millions of people. These wide reaching, open armed songs that can’t have too much complexity but enough to fascinate.
Its like those big 70s albums, where they knew they would be selling 20 million and unite an audience. It’s like watching big blockbuster films. The singles sound great. They will probably go down as a one album wonder, but this year, I enjoyed the bombass of it all.