Tag Archives: Courtney Barnett

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.

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10 Good Songs From 2013

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.