16 Good Tweets From 2016

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5 Good Songs From 2016

This year my 5 good songs/albums got published by the good people at RMITV – In Review. Check it out here.

I also wrote a 5 Most Overrated Albums of 2016 piece. Check it out here. I must warn you though, it’s pretty harsh.

 

10 Good Tweets From 2015

10 Good Songs From 2015

Firstly, here’s my Top 30 Albums of 2015

And now, here are 10 songs that I liked that were released this year, in no particular order.

1. Courtney Barnett – Dead Fox

On this blog in 2013 I wrote about Courtney Barnett: “I hope she takes over the world.” Since then, well, guess what? She has. Without major label backing and before she even released an album, she played on Jimmy Fallon, hung out with Steve Tyler and sung a locally specific song about house hunting in Preston (where I used to live. Yes, it can be depressing.) to millions of Americans on the Ellen DeGeneres show, which I find particularly freaky considering how culturally self-absorbed the U.S. is. (Did the U.S. have to remake The Office? Australia’s The Slap? Why can’t they just watch the original? The Bridge? The Killing? They can’t read subtitles?)

Courtney Barnett has followed through with the potential of her first couple of EPs with a stellar debut album. My two daughters love it, too and I’m ordered to put it on every time I’m in the car with them: “Play the origami song” (Pedestrian At Best), “play the swimming song” (Aqua Profunda!), “play the song that goes quiet and then loud” (Kim’s Caravan). Dead Fox is my favourite track from Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit. I love the opening verse:

Jen insists that we buy organic vegetables
And I must admit that I was a little skeptical at first
A little pesticide can’t hurt
Never having too much money, I get the cheap stuff at the supermarket
But they’re all pumped up with shit
A friend told me that they stick nicotine in the apples

 And then the chorus soars. Speaking of soaring, I must mention  that Courtney’s guitar playing (so much attention is placed upon her lyrics) throughout the album totally rocks out. 

Maybe I shouldn’t care so much about whether Australian acts make it big overseas or not but I am hoping her success will draw overseas eyes on other good local bands which she has done a good job at plugging. Will Melbourne’s dolewave scene become the next early 90s Seattle? Careful what you wish for.

2. Darren Hanlon – My Love Is An Ocean Away

Courtney Barnett’s biggest influence, as far as her cutely detailed narrative lyric style goes, appears to be Darren Hanlon. She took him out on the road as a support slot in the U.S. this year and voted for this song in Triple J’s Hottest 100. I’ve been a big fan of all of Dazza’s albums ever since I discovered his debut, Hello Stranger, at the Coburg Library.

A few of the tracks on his fifth album go back to traditional, passed-along song forms. The great, very funny Chattanooga Shoot Shoot, for instance, is lifted from Bob Dylan’s early jokey narrative tunes, which were no doubt lifted from other folkies like Woody Guthrie.

I find some of the tracks off Where Did You Come From? to be a bit too light and breezy but My Love Is An Ocean Away is first-rate. Behind a lone finger-picked acoustic guitar and a simple but strong melody, his emotions go from sad drudgery (“every moment moves through clay”) to a bitterness and jealousy towards those who don’t understand the perils of a long distant relationship. Love has no divide? “Well, that’s easy for them to say.”  There’s also the oddity of him soaking up the ocean with tissue paper which could only come from the mind of Darren Hanlon.

3. Blur – Go Out

This is another song my four-year-old likes (“Play the O, o, o, oh song.” It’s Ok. I don’t think she realises that the song is about masturbation.)

For a late-period album that appeared to be made quickly, The Magic Whip is not too shabby. It’s a mixture of Damon Albarn’s whimsically melancholy solo album from last year, Everyday Robots, and the 90s Blur of old. My favourite Blur phase was the late nineties ‘America’s alright’ period of Blur and 13. By the mid-90s they needed to move away from the Britpop scene and get weirder and they did, leaving rival bands like Oasis far behind. Graham Coxon’s guitar work on 13 is out of this world.

 

The other song I was thinking of choosing was There Are Too Many Of Us which refers to Daman’s experience of being stuck in a hotel room above Sydney’s 2014 hostage crisis while staring off distantly at the news screens. So close yet so far.

4. Shana Cleveland and the Sandcastles – Holy Rollers

Shana Cleveland is the leader of surf rock band La Luz and they released an album I enjoyed this year called Weirdo Shrine. She also released a kind of solo album I liked even more called Oh Man, Cover the Ground. The very organic sounding folk style on this album is comparable to early Cat Power, though this song chugs along at a perky pace. It’s, as you young people would say, ‘groovy’. 

5. Sufjan Stevens – Fourth Of July

The new Sufjan Stevens album has received pretty much universal acclaim in some measure because it has an authentic narrative behind it, i.e. it’s about the death of Sufjan’s mother who died in 2012. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this personal narrative thread, in fact I think Sun Kil Moon’s Benji from last year, an album also about death, is a masterpiece partly because of its thematic unity. After the overly cluttered electronics of The Age Of Adz, I certainly welcomed the return to the simple folk sound of Seven Swans, but his strongest album of songs for me is still Illinoise. Even though I think Carrie & Lowell is not his highest achievement, I think this song is certainly one of his best and most heart-wrenching.

6. Tica Douglas – I Didn’t

This is a great song about not doing something. I was thinking of writing about it, but I didn’t.

7. Joanna Newsom – Sapokanikan

I recall, back when she was going out with Bill Callahan, Joanna Newsom talking in an interview about how Bill listens to music. He takes his shoes off, sits cross-legged in front of the record player and listens to the album from start-to-finish with his eyes closed. The music of Joanna Newsom is designed to be listened to like this. The orchestration on her new album, Divers, are (like her lyrics), particularly dense and take some time to get your head around, which is not such a bad thing.

Divers is another great album from Joanna Newsom and although it may not be quite her strongest collection of songs, her voice is sounding much more confident and shrill than it was on Have One On Me (she momentarily lost her voice during the recording of that one). It’s the sound the words make as she sings that are just as compelling as the meaning.
What was that? You don’t like her voice? You’re crazy.

8. Palehound – Dry Food

“You made beauty a monster to me. So I’m kissing all the ugly things I see.”

A new discovery of 2015 for me was the band Palehound and their debut album, Dry Food. The off-kilter but strong melodies remind me of The Breeders. The music chops-and-changes a bit like Deerhoof but not in a disruptive way. For $8 on bandcamp, the album is a bargain.  

9. Built To Spill – When I’m Blind

I’ve never got into Built To Spill before but I quite liked their new album Untethered Moon. This song rocks out like it’s 1993 and has an awesome face-melting chaotic guitar jam that sounds like a hell of a lot of fun to play and is, consequently, fun to hear.  

10. Dick Diver – Leftovers

I don’t know how you can listen to this song without feeling good.

 

Dick Diver’s third album, Melbourne, Florida affirms their place as the best Australian band of the 2010s. I like this album more than their last, Calendar Days, which I found too uneven and eclectic, though I still like their first album, New Start Again, best, with its Television-like guitar jams. Melbourne, Florida sees them introducing horns to many of the tracks and the muted guitar playing with light touches of synth give the songs an 80s tinge. As usual, the Steph Hughes tracks are among the highlights (You should check out her work with Boomgates). Her songs just ooze with her own gorgeousness. If you didn’t know she was a national songwriting treasure, well, now you do.

Hear Simon’s (slightly different) 10 Good Songs From 2015 on Spotify.

5 Good Songs From 2014

topfivesongs2014This year I decided I’d give you 5 good songs from the year instead of the usual 10. I thought I’d show you a little mercy. Not that there has been less good music than previous years or anything, though as one gets older it does sometimes seem that way. I could’ve included recent tracks from good-but-not-great albums by 90s legends like Thurston Moore, J Mascis and Stephen Malkmus but I’ve written about those guys on this blog before. You already know I love ‘em.

Firstly, here’s my Top 30 albums of 2014.

5. Leonard Cohen – Slow

When using a sexual metaphor – in this case, unhurried copulation – usually one doesn’t ostensibly bring their mother into it, (“I’ve always liked it slow, that’s what my mother said.”) yet here we are.

Released on his 80th birthday, Leonard Cohen’s 13th studio album, Popular Problems, shows that one needs to take their profession slow and steady for a long and enduring career and few songwriters have grown old as gracefully as Leonard. I’ve never been that impressed with the whole ‘poet turned songwriter’ thing – poetry and songwriting are two very different beasts – though, of course, his lyrics are usually great. And I’ve always loved his voice, particularly in the second half of his career as it got deeper, heavier, and slower; like a record player set at the lowest speed.

Leonard Cohen also released a Live In Dublin album this year but the Live In London release from a few years back is a superior recording. In fact, it’s one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard.

He’s still got it but, man, what a hideous album cover.

4. Luluc – Passerby

The principal songwriter of Luluc is Zoë Randell who has, for some time, been singing backup for Grand Salvo, who I’m a big fan of. Apparently, Grand Salvo’s Paddy Mann snatched her up after she sang at a Nick Drake tribute show at The Corner, which I attended. This year I discovered Luluc have a solid 2008 debut called Dear Hamlyn and they do a great version of Townes Van Zandt’s None But The Rain, too.

This year, Luluc has been touring with J Mascis to promote Passerby and I attended their album launch at Northcote Social Club, which was great. Like Grand Salvo, the songs of Luluc have a brooding elegance but instead of being sung by a sad man with a beard, they’re sung by a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice. It’s a big call I know, but I’m willing to state that Zoë Randell is the finest singer from Upotipotpon I’ve ever heard.

 3. Laura Jean – First Love Song

I’ve given all of Laura Jean’s previous albums a red hot go but her latest (4th) self-titled is the first that I’ve really, really liked. Like Mark Kozelek, her writing has become more personal and specific and like Frankie Cosmos, she has a lot of songs about her dog. The melodies are strong and catchy, the vocals are warm and intimate, the production from PJ Harvey side-kick John Parish is nice and clear and she plays her nylon-string guitar with grace. Laura Jean is my favourite Australian album of the year.

2. Frankie Cosmos – Art School

First little contextual fact to get out of the way: The singer-songwriter of Frankie Cosmos is Greta Kline, daughter of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. Now, the music: Zentropy is her first ‘proper’ studio album but she has released over 40 lo-fi bedroom albums on bandcamp, which shows that if you want to create something good, like an album, you need to have at least 40 practice attempts at it first. This album of 10 songs can be bought on bandcamp for 8 bucks and most of her other quickly recorded and released albums can be downloaded from her bandcamp page for free. There’s a certain immediacy in that. Reports of the death of the album may have been greatly exaggerated, but the way a musician can compile and release their music in the digital age is certainly a-changin’.

Usually, I’m more likely to complain about an album being too long than too short, but Zentropy goes for just 17 minutes! Really, I shouldn’t complain, though. In fact, partly because of the economical running time, it’s hard to find a single fault with this album. She crams a mighty load of super-strong, infectious pop-hooks in that 17 minutes. Not a second is wasted.

So two of my most favourite albums of 2014 were by a 47-year-old-man and a 19-year-young woman. Greta Kline may not have experienced as much death as Mark Kozelek, but when she sings mournfully on the last track, “He was just a dog. Now his body’s gone. Now what is left but me and my poem?” that kind of sums up the over-5,000-word Benji album.

 1. Sun Kil Moon – Carissa

This is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard from one of the most moving and heart-wrenching albums in recent memory: Sun Kil Moon’s Benji. Sounding like something from Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, this opening track kicks off the theme of death and mortality that looms throughout Benji, in particular how death, from victims of school shootings to family members, have affected singer-songwriter, Mark Kozelek. Kozelek was 47 at the time of release, a rare age for someone to have a creative resurgence, with death becoming more of a prominent presence in his life. Reportedly, 176 people die throughout the album. Yeah, I know. It all sounds depressing and self-centred, but there’s a whole lotta love in the songs (it is not only the loss of a life that makes us cry, it is also the moments of beauty, tenderness, kindness and forgiveness that we long for) and studies suggest that an awareness of death can be good for you.

Carissa was Mark Kozelek’s second cousin. The mother of two died at 35 when an aerosol can blew up as she put out the trash. Her death sets Mark off back to his hometown and family to try and find meaning in a freak death (freaky, yes, though he mentions on the track that his uncle died the same way.)  The song doesn’t just have a strong sense of place but also a strong and specific sense of time. It’s about just hearing the news of the death of a relative, (“Yesterday morning I woke up to so many 330 area code calls…I’ve got a 10.45 am flight. I’m leaving tomorrow morn’.”) putting the listener in a clearly defined time, place, and emotion. Despite the particularity of the lyrics, the song is also a universal meditation on the random unfairness of death and the fragility of life, and the fact that we know very little about Carissa adds to her appeal as an everyman. Anyone who hears the song can legitimately mourn her death.

The most extraordinary and compelling thing about the Benji album and what makes it so potent is the directness, specificity and unflinching honesty of the lyrics (metaphors be damned!). I’ve never really got into this guy’s stuff before and I’ve foolishly argued with long-time fans online who don’t like his new diary-entry style of songwriting. His recent songs are driven by lyrics more than melody and his sweet, soft croon has turned into a J Mascis croak. But if you’re a new fan like me, I recommend the album he did last year with Jimmy LaValle, Perils from the seawhich is similarly filled with eloquent storytelling. It’s like an electronic version of Benji.

I’m inclined not to even mention the stupid, unprovoked hostility Mark’s been throwing at The War On Drugs. For a guy that shows so much sensitivity, love and empathy in his songs, he sure can be a cranky old self-sabotaging douche. I guess with such an uncomfortably honest songwriter like him you have to take the vulgar meanness with the tenderness and seperate the art from the artist no matter how close those two things appear to be. One may hope that over time Benji will go down as a deserved classic, the dumb beef will fade away, and he’ll start treating his fans with respect.

But then again, since when have good musicians been nice people?

10 Good Tweets from 2014

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10 Good Tweets from 2013

10 tweets that I liked this year from some of my favourite tweeters.

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