50% Australian made.
10. “TRIGGER FINGER” – YOU AM I
My favourite Australian band of all time are You Am I. Still, I’m surprised that I have chosen them as a notable in 2010. I haven’t really got into any of their albums from Deliverance to Dilettantes. And Tim Rogers losing his voice hasn’t helped. But their latest self-titled album is very impressive.
I can’t easily explain the return to form. Perhaps they are finally getting it together as a band since Davey Lane joined (it took McCartney’s Wings quite a few albums before they gelled) or perhaps they’ve learned to adapt their songs to suit Tim Rogers’ rasp (I think it’s been a challenge for Bob Dylan in the last couple of decades to match the right songs for his croak). I mean, Convicts tried to rock hard but Tim no longer had the voice for it. The songs on You Am I are more soft-spoken.
Anyway, this song is like a great Rolling Stones track – funky, sexy and soulful. And these are characteristics I don’t usually associate with You Am I.
9. “Love and war” – neil Young
I like what Daniel Lanois has done with this. As you may know, the Le Noise album (Lanois, Le Noise – get it?) is a solo album consisting of just Neil and guitar. But it’s not one his breezy acoustic albums. Some songs rock quite hard. It’s like a Crazy Horse album without Crazy Horse. Daniel Lanois adds the effects. While M.I.A. and Sufjan Stevens convoluted their albums with electronic dots and loops, the atmospherics added here are much more subtle and never get in the way of the songs. “Love and War” is the barest track on the album and puts his frail, love-and-war damaged voice to the front.
Le Noise is not a perfect album – not all the songs are super strong and some of the lyrics are a bit daft – but it’s his best record in a long time. As with Dylan, Neil’s (recent) woefully substandard albums are forgivable when you know he can make numerous comebacks with albums like this.
8. “all these things” – darren hanlon
Four albums in, I wasn’t expecting Dazza’s I Will Love You At All to be as good as it is (I’m a pessimist when it comes to new releases in case you haven’t noticed), but it’s up there with his best (and I would recommend you check out any of his albums. They’re all good and underrated). “All These Things”, with it’s unashamedly daggy video, provides a list of snapshots that make up our lives.
Whenever I post an online link to a Darren Hanlon song, I usually don’t bother describing or praising his music, I just quote his lyrics. One of my favourite lines from I Will Love You At All is from “Scenes From A Seperation”:
Maybe love takes the form of a mountain
With no choice but forever to linger
Or maybe love lives in a soap bubble
At the mercy of a child’s finger
Each one comes with a little rainbow
Designed to hypnotize us
But I wouldn’t trade one heartbroken minute
For a years worth of dull happiness
I recall Nick Cave talking about Leonard Cohen in some crap documentary (why was it crap? One word: Bono) and he said, “Well, the thing about Leonard Cohen is that he can actually write” making a barbed point that most musicians can’t write. I don’t think this quote means much in that you don’t have to be a genius with words to be a great musician or songwriter. But Darren Hanlon can write. And it helps.
7. “Too much” – sufjan stevens
Sufjan Stevens strikes me as a somewhat troubled artist. Not troubled as in ‘Oh, woe is me, my inner demons are causing me so much personal pain’ but creatively troubled. It has been five years since Illinois, one of the defining albums of the noughties, and in that time he has kept himself busy with his music but has done everything but make a proper follow-up. He also suggested that making music in album-format was obsolete (albums are my favourite art form. Surely the rumour of their demise is just crazy talk, right? You may also notice that I end up commenting less about the actual songs in this list and more about the albums they come from. My apologies for that, I just tend to think in terms of albums more than artists or songs.)
The Age of Adz sounds like an artist working doggedly to break new ground with something original and innovative and the album both profits and suffers from this. Although I sometimes wish Sufjan would ditch the rich and complex (“Too Much”, Sufjan?) and make an album of just him and a banjo, I still think it’s a great record. I mean, there’s no denying this man’s immense talent.
I first heard this song streaming from some site on headphones and it brought me back to the delight of hearing a song like ‘Come On! Feel the Illinoise!’ for the first time – like there was a party in my ears and everyone was invited. It basically has the same kind of insane instrumentation and arrangements as many of the songs on Illinois but with added Kid A-esque electronica. It’s a sensational track.
6. “second guessing” – eddy current suppression ring
Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s second album Primary Colours would make my top 10 Australian albums of all time (and what a live band!) so I was really looking forward to this local band’s follow up. Rush To Relax is not nearly as consistent as Primary Colours – half the songs are below par and while some of the lyrics are dumb and genius, others are just dumb – but there are enough highlights to make it worthwhile. “Tuning Out”, “Gentleman”, “Walked Into A Corner”, “Isn’t It Nice” and this one, “Second Guessing” are killer tracks.
A large part of the appeal of ECSR comes from the innocent sincerity of lead singer Brendan Suppression, but “Second Guessing” shows how great a band they are. This song, essentially an improvised jam session, is a great example of how the whole of ECSR is greater than the sum of its parts.
5. “born free” – m.i.a.
There’s been a bit of a critical backlash towards M.I.A. this year. I can see a number of reasons why (silly tiffs with journalists, Google-government conspiracy theories, the expectation of having to succeed such an exciting album like Kala, f’ugly album cover) and I don’t want to get into details about them, but I stand by Maya as a great album. In fact, I would argue that it’s her most consistent. Maya has a good blend of the accessible and the challenging and it reflects our current manic technologically excessive digital world more articulately than any other I’ve heard this year.
I first heard this song via the disturbing, mind-blowing video clip of the year. But the actual song only gave me a jolt after hearing it in the context of Maya. It’s one of those energetic songs that comes in towards the end of an album giving it the kick-start needed to conclude the gratifying journey. It may seem weird but when she triumphantly yells, “Oh Lord, whoever you are, yeah come out wherever you are and tell ‘em! Boooorn Free!!” I get a little emotional for (to quote Dylan) “the countless, confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones and worse.“
4. “blondin makes an omelette” – gareth liddiard
Probably the best Australian band of the last 5-10 years would be the Drones, so I was really looking forward to Gareth’s first solo venture. Strange Tourist is a bit of a strange beast: 8 tracks of lyrical storytelling, averaging about 9 minutes a song, entirely solo with just him and an acoustic guitar. I find some moments of Strange Tourist to be quite chilling (even more so when I saw Gaz play the album live from start to finish this year). He has a powerful, very emotional voice (a la Lennon, Cobain) that really cuts through. He maybe takes the “I’m an authentic songwriter” thing a little far; every second song involves someone committing suicide to make it clear that he doesn’t write silly poppy love songs, and the album could have done with a few more melodic hooks and some songs could have been shorter, perhaps, but these are minor quibbles. You’d be hard finding a more moving, on-the-ball (distinctly) Australian songwriter right now.
This song tells the story of wirewalker and acrobat Charles Blondin from the point of view of his eternally suffering jealous understudy, though when Gareth introduced this song live he insisted that it wasn’t a song about a tightrope walker. It was about imperialism. Go figure.
3. “On A GOOD DAY” – joanna newsom
Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I’m obsessed with this chick and they will not be surprised when I say that I give Joanna Newsom’s triple album, Have One On Me my number one album of 2010. It almost goes without saying. Loyalty marketing says that once you convert a customer, you’ve got them for life.
My main argument, though, for the greatness of Have One On Me is that it is and will be an album of lasting quality. It’s a sprawling, rich album that I will no doubt frequently revisit for years to come and with each listen, wherever I choose to enter it, find something new and rewarding. It will live forever.
I was going to choose either of the two most accessible tracks from Have One On Me, “‘81” or “Good Intentions Paving Company”, but this performance on Letterman of the simplest and shortest song on the album, “On A Good Day”, will suffice.
2. “golden town” – super wild horses
There have been plenty of femme garage pop bands coming out of the woodwork lately and that can only be a good thing. In fact, here are 17 hand-picked by rock critic Everett True. Obviously, the best band from this mix tape are going to be the group from Melbourne, right? It pretty much goes without saying.
One of the charming things about girl groups is that they are not usually driven by technical proficiency or ‘musicianship’ (think about the unconventional, original drumming style of Maureen Tucker, the only female drummer that comes to mind from the 60s. The Velvet Underground’s Loaded album just wasn’t the same without her.) The Super Wild Horses are driven by feel, character and a songwriting craft that is both simple and adolescent and smart and sophisticated at the same time.
What I love about the album Fifteen is how economical it is: two girls on just drums and guitar, sharing vocal duties, playing 2 minute melodic pop songs recorded brilliantly lean and mistakes-and-all raw by Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s Mikey Young.
As I get older there becomes less new artists that take my fancy but I can say with confidence and pride that Super Wild Horses are my new favourite band.
1. “thieves” – she & him
Ah, this brings me back to the innocent days of the jukebox, Roy Orbison, hula hoops, black leather motorcycle jackets, the thrill of holding hands with my dream prom date…Ok, so maybe those days never existed for me (or anyone for that matter) but this song transports me to another mythical era.
While I love Volume 1, overall I found Zooey Deschanel and M Ward’s follow up to be a little too light, fluffy and cute, but there are a few tracks from Volume 2, such as this one, that are timeless classics. First, we just need to move beyond the idea that beautiful actresses are not supposed to be this good at writing and singing songs. I know it’s hard, but I think we can do it.