This year it’s 40% Melbourne. And proud of it.
10. Grand Salvo – She woke at three with a thumping heart: she had dreamed once more of the night they met. (19th of May, 1928, Chateau de Chaalis, Seine-et-Marne)
The great opening Joanna Newsom-esque line to the Slay Me In My Sleep album is “They say a bear knows when someone looks at its tracks” (really!?) and I like how Paddy Mann subtly adds the muttered word ‘then’ after the line “I was younger than you, you were older than me.”
Slay Me In My Sleep is a concept album which tells the story of an old lady and a young boy who breaks into her house and falls in love with a photo of her as a child…or something. But you don’t need to think about that. Just feel the sound.
9. Jack White – Sixteen Saltines
Debut solo album Blunderbuss is the best work that the Rock God of the Noughties has done since the White Stripes’ final, brilliant, underrated Icky Thump album and this is the one track on it that Rocks with a capital R. The album could’ve done with more rockers like this.
8. Fabulous Diamonds – Downhill
Your typical Fabulous Diamonds track consists predominantly of a single note played over and over again for a long period of time. Eh? Eh? Have I sold you on them yet? Dying to check them out? Perhaps not. I’m not usually into this post/kraut rock (or whatever you call this music. It’s unique.) stuff either but this year I couldn’t stop listening to their second album, Fabulous Diamonds II. Music like this is often fully electronic but I like how Jarrod Zladic’s electronica is married to Nisa Venerosa’s acoustic, tribal drums. I like a good female drummer (bad female drummers, too.) Their album from this year, Commercial Music, is more dark, uneasy and, um, uncommercial. Overall, I found it too claustrophobic but this track, which ends the album, is trance-inducing. I guess all good long jams should have that effect.
7. Lucinda Williams – Tryin’ To Get To Heaven
I wasn’t overly impressed with Bob Dylan’s new album. Rolling Stone gave it 5 stars which shows he could release the sound of water guzzling down a plug hole and they would still call it a classic. I did like his interview with Rolling Stone, though, where he claimed to be the transfiguration of deceased Hell’s Angel bikie Bobby Zimmerman. “You’re asking questions to a person that doesn’t exist.” Batshit genius. I usually don’t have a problem with his voice but on Tempest it grated on me. And don’t get me started on the album cover. Jesus. So, alternatively, here’s a nicely done cover version that was released this year of a Dylan song originally from 1997’s Time Out Of Mind (an album more deserving of 5 stars). The lyrics are monumental. “When you think that you’ve lost everything, you find out you can always lose a little more.“ “I’ve been to Sugar Town and I shook the sugar down. Now I’m tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door.”
Neil Young was another elder living legend who released two albums with Crazy Horse this year and an autobiography (I consumed them all, of course) so he deserves a mention. It’s nice hearing that Crazy Horse sound again. With Neil’s soulful guitar, they would have to be one of the greatest rhythm sections of all time. Psychedelic Pill isn’t bad but only an aging, pony-tailed, crusty, Mojo-reading, tie-dyed, nostalgic baby-boomer hippy would claim any of the songs were exceptional. Some songs are tainted by dodgy lyrics and others go for too damn long. Neil Young’s proud ethos of “I do whatever I damn well want” is not necessarily a good thing. His book would’ve been better if it was edited and reworked. It did inspire me to revisit the ragged glory of Ragged Glory though (man, I love that album. I can play it from start to finish on guitar). And that’s a good thing.
Oh, and Leonard Cohen. His album sounded great – really dark – but none of the songs were memorable. And Paul McCartney. I think I liked one song from his new album but it doesn’t matter if it was better than Revolver. No one with an ounce of self-respect would take an album called Kisses On The Bottom seriously, would they.
6. the Tallest Man On Earth – 1904
The new album from this Swedish, early Dylanesque singer-songwriter was a bit more lush and power-ballady than previous efforts, but this song is an example of his considerable talent.
A google search tells me that Kristian Matsson, The Tallest Man On Earth, is 5’7″.
The last song on There’s No Leaving Now, On Every Page, is really good, too.
5. Lisa Mitchell – Providence
I find the production of Lisa Mitchell’s music interesting (and good). The arrangement for this song, for example, which walks along at a brisk, chipper pace, is intriguingly eccentric, accumulating grandly almost to the point of bombast while still remaining kind of homely. Like, she could have got a choir to sing backing but instead goes for a chorus of wild, unrestrained children.
Her new album, Bless This Mess features Belinda Carlisle-esque pop (if you’re into that sort of thing), some hippy dippy musings (being inspired by Scorsese’s George Harrison doco is not necessarily a good thing), and her ode to New York, “You Pretty Thing” is friggin’ woeful, but there’s also some really nice moments that put most unambitious male indie guitar rock bands to shame. I wasn’t persuaded by most of her new album but I can’t help but be totally swept away by this song.
4. Boomgates – Whispering or Singing
“I don’t know when you’re leavin’, but I hope it’s when I’m dead.”
The two shared vocalists from this Melbourne supergroup consist of Brendan from Eddy Current Suppression Ring (creators of the best Australian album of the last 15 years, Primary Colours) and Steph Hughes (think Gen Y’s answer to Janet from Spiderbait. She’s almost as gorgeous as Brendan!) from Dick Diver who made the best Australian album since Primary Colours, New Start Again (I discovered the greatness of that album this year but it was released towards the end of 2011). So they can’t really go wrong here, and they don’t. Maybe the recording of the Double Natural album could be better (you need to play it on a good stereo) and perhaps some songs could do with just one guitar instead of two, but I didn’t hear a better Australian album from this year.
Check out Brendan’s sincere nervous energy in this great clip.
3. Dinosaur Jr – See It On Your Side
The title of Dinosaur Jr’s second album, You’re Living All Over Me is a reference to the tension between J Mascis and bassist (and contributing songriter) Lou Barlow and it took me a while to realise that Bug, their last album together before reforming in 2005, was also probably a reference to Lou, as in “you bug me.” After Bug, J told Lou that the band were breaking up and continued on as Dinosaur Jr without him. It’s amazing that Lou and J got back together.
Dinosaur Jr are one of my favourite bands of all time and, 10 albums in, they are still going strong (Bet On Sky is not as strong as their previous album, Farm, but what is?) and the full-throttle guitar solos of 46 year old J Mascis (like on this song) are still blowing me to smithereens. Here’s hoping they rule the world for the next 165 million years.
2. Cat Power – Manhattan
It took me a while to get used to the synths, autotune vocals (don’t worry, it’s used sparingly), her new blonde mohawk and ‘inspirational’ lyrics (actually, I’m still not used to all the lyrics – some are pretty bad, but I’ve grown really impressed with the production which she apparently did all herself) but most of Chan Marshall’s albums go in a different direction and she still has the finest voice in the business. Like Fiona Apple, she’s a troubled, authentic wild card (the last time I saw her live, it was a car crash – complete disaster. It was just like this. No joke.) The latest news is that she’s bankrupt and suffering from angioedema. Sun, as the title suggests, may be the Queen of Sadcore’s most optimistic album to date but she may not have reached complacent nirvana quite yet.
This song is soothing, soulful, hypnotic and my favourite from the Sun album.
1. Fiona Apple – Hot Knife
“I’m a hot knife, he’s a pad of butter.” i.e. I will make him melt in the palm of my hand (and potentially, as all women have the ability to do, destroy his soul) but she also reverses it: “If I’m butter, then he’s a hot knife.” S E X.
Like early Violent Femmes and Eminem, Fiona Apple is a rare act that can write songs about personal pain and relationship breakdowns that are genuine and sincere and at the same time, quite funny. “I made it to a dinner date / My teardrops seasoned every plate.” “I could liken you to a werewolf the way you left me for dead, but I admit that I provided a full moon. And I could liken you to a shark the way you bit off my head, but then again I was waving around bleeding an open wound.” A great lyricist and, more importantly, a wonderful composer. This song, Regret, is the emotional peak of the album. It’s so visceral. Brilliant. Further evidence of the beauty, unguarded honesty and poignancy she projects can be found in the letter explaining to fans the cancellation of her tour of South America due to her dying dog. And why is she so thin? “I’m having trouble digesting food because your guts are connected to your brain and I have a lot of stress in my brain” but “don’t call me frail. I’ll beat the hell out of you.”