10. nick cave and the bad seeds – jubilee street
After the raucous and dense sound of the Grinderman albums and Dig! Lazarus, Dig!, I welcomed the dark, quiet, sparse sound of Push The Sky Away. I find Saint Nick’s move to take a break from railing against his age a good thing. I wouldn’t rank his new album up there with the strong songwriting of The Boatman’s Call or the first half of No More Shall We Part – unfortunately the songs on Push The Sky Away are too focussed on lyrics and atmospheric groove (created by Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis) rather than firm structure – but the epic 6-and-a-half-minute slow build of “Jubilee Street”, with shades of Leonard Cohen, Robert Forster and Iggy Pop, is a winner.
9. she & him – never wanted your love
I initially didn’t really like this song. I thought, “Oh, they’re getting too soft. Soon their fairy floss retro pop will be drifting away through the AM radio frequency waves into the ether.” But after a few more listens to Vol. 3 (it’s a grower) I couldn’t get this tune out of my head.
One of the reasons why I like how Zooey Deschanel is a brilliant songwriter is it throws out common pre-conceived notions of authenticity out the window. I mean, beautiful actresses like Zooey shouldn’t be this good at writing songs, right? Writing songs appears to be an afterthought to her career as a whole. And having that background can work against you. I don’t think it’s possible to place a value on something completely uninfluenced by context, but I get the feeling that those who despise her and her music (and there are many who do, calling She & Him a ‘vanity project’) tend to not like the idea of her being a great musician. They prefer to like the idea of a grubby band of plain men spending decades writing, recording and touring. I’m sure she works really hard on her music but when it comes to how great work is created and who can create it, there are no rules.
What’s that you say? I just like her music because she’s pretty? Sure. Anything’s possible.
8. ron sexsmith – sneak out the back door
Usually the worst and most awkward moment in social group interactions for me are the goodbyes. You can’t just say, “Seeya!” and leave. You have to stand around trying to think of small talk. They’re always sooooo draaawwwn ooouuuut. It’s painful.
Ron Sexsmith knows what I’m talking about.
7. thao and the get down stay down (featuring joanna newsom) – kindness be conceived
Joanna Newsom was too busy getting married to some cool, charming pretty-boy comedian guy this year to release a new album (sense any jealousy there?) but she sings gorgeously on this track and the song, by Thao and her terribly named band, is just splendid.
6. Chelsea Light Moving – Burroughs
I love the way Thurston Moore plays guitar, in that space between melody and noise, consonance and dissonance, open-tuned rhythm and lead, the devil and the deep blue sea (??)
The new album from Thurston’s new post-Sonic Youth band Chelsea Light Moving is similar to his solo album Psychic Hearts except quite a few of the riffs have a heavy metal chug to them. The songs, like this ode to William Burroughs, are goofy and the lyrics are dumb but the guitar jams are (to quote from his liner notes on Nirvana’s With The Lights Out) “totally boss”.
5. mazzy star – california
It’s been a long time between drinks for Mazzy Star. Their previous album, Among My Swan (my favourite of theirs), was released in 1996. But the new album Seasons of Your Day sounds like a 1998 follow-up. Nothing has changed here, which is good really. You have to be careful, though, with how you judge an album like this. Some bands sound really good e.g. because of great production or an amazing vocalist, but after you’ve finished listening to their album you can’t remember any of the songs because the songs aren’t particularly strong. Hope Sandoval’s voice is beautiful and captivating and the band (namely guitarist David Roback) creates a dark and desolate (but calm) atmosphere throughout. They really do sound sublime. But are the songs any good? Oh, I think they’re up to snuff.
4. THE PHOSPHENES – MY ELOISE
I play lead guitar in a band called The Phosphenes and this year we released our debut album, Halflight. This is a song I wrote and sing. I don’t have much to say about it. I don’t think it’s really the job of the artist to provide commentary on their art and an artist telling you what their work means gives the impression that that meaning is set in stone. That said, I’m not entirely going along with Roland Barthes ‘Death Of The Author’ here. I still want my royalties! It wasn’t cheap to make and I would still like you to buy our album so if you like what you hear you can buy it here. I hope you enjoy it.
3. yeah yeah yeahs – subway
The first three albums from one of my favourite bands of the noughties (along with other bands shelved towards the end of my CD rack: The White Stripes and Wilco) are tremendous and essential and each has their own distinct identity. Their latest, Mosquito, which borrows elements from Fever To Tell, Show Your Bones and It’s Blitz! is, to be honest, not so essential. But it certainly has its moments. An obvious choice for this list would be the first single, Sacrilege, which is great, but my favourite song on the album is Subway. It’s slow, dark and brooding and an interesting, bold choice for the second track to an album. It’s one of the few songs from Mosquito that doesn’t clearly sound like anything they’ve done before.
Funny, no matter how high I turn up the volume on this album, I can’t make it as loud as the album cover (warning: once you look, you can’t unlook).
2. dick diver – alice
Calendar Days isn’t the absolute classic album I was hoping for from our great white hope of smart Australian songwriting but I was only anticipating this possibility because in my mind they’d already achieved this with their great-from-start-to-finish debut, New Start Again. Having numerous songwriters in a band can sometimes result in a too eclectic, jarring lack-of-flow to an album (and unlike their debut some of the tracks here are really short – like snippets of songs) and perhaps Calendar Days suffers from this. But there are some brilliant songs here like the Go-Betweens-esque “Water Damage”, “Two-year lease” which brings me back to my sharehouse days in Brunswick East and this great piece of jangle pop. It’s the best second track on an album about waking up early since You Am I’s “Good Mornin’”. I read in an interview that “Alice” is actually about a trip to Alice Springs but you can also listen to this with the visual of waking up to a woman of radiant beauty. Either way, the song makes early morning starts just that little bit more bearable.
1. my bloody valentine – only tomorrow
2013: The return of My Bloody Valentine. A new album after a 22 year gap and I saw them live. I’ve always seen My Bloody Valentine as a vehicle for the genius sonic wizardry of Kevin Shields but in concert it was the still, sad, fragile beauty of Bilinda Butcher that had me enthralled (and best of all, her Mustang guitars are sparkly!) When you see a band live you see the dynamic between the members and I remember thinking, “You are such a great band. Where have you been for the last 20 years!?” Perhaps it was simply the relationship break-up between Shields and Butcher, but the greatness of the m b v album makes the weight of following up Loveless which perfected the shoegaze genre (and I think in some ways this was detrimental to the genre and the band) seem not so heavy. I mean, m b v is great, but not, like, 5 stars great, and I think I speak for most fans when I say that that’s totally fine. But I’m speaking from hindsight.
A lot of critics have placed importance on the last couple of tracks of m b v because they’re experimental and sort of cover new ground for the band. But, like Sonic Youth or Deerhoof, My Bloody Valentine are a band where the more they go into a conventional direction (namely simple pop songs, their overlooked secret weapon) the more unconventional and interesting they sound. I mean, they’re weird enough to begin with. No other guitarist can make a guitar sound like Kevin Shields can but it’s the way My Bloody Valentine bend, warp and texture simple, great songs like this one that makes their music so unique. Without a great song, all you’ve got is noise from an effects rack. Anyway, I can’t wait for their next album in 2035.
HONOURABLE MENTION: COURTNEY BARNETT – AVANT GARDENER
I was a bit late discovering this one as I was compiling this list but this song by Melbourne girl Courtney Barnett is a corker. Her story of the day she had an anaphylactic panic attack is full of humour, wit and personality. “The paramedic thinks I’m clever ’cause I play guitar/ I think she’s clever ’cause she stops people dying.”
I hope she takes over the world.