Tag Archives: pj harvey

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.

 

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11 Good Songs From 2011

I’m an album-minded man, so most of these are picked from my top albums of 2011 and it’s albums that I mainly talk about here. I’m in my mid-30s, hence the lack of new bands and the inclusion of numerous relics from the 90s. 

11. “benediction” – thurston moore

The announcement of the break-up of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon this year adds new meaning to this mournful song, doesn’t it.  The rest of the Beck-produced album, Demolished Thoughts, doesn’t quite live up to this beautiful opener but if it’s the end of Sonic Youth there’s likely to be a lot more solo stuff coming from Thurston, and I’ll be thirstin’ for it.

10. “IS IT DONE” – J MASCIS

Speaking of guitar noise merchants quietening down with their acoustics, the reformed Dinosaur Jr album from 2009, Farm, blew me away so I was enthused for a J Mascis solo album. Seeing J as a guest on Aussie music quiz show Spicks & Specks before it bowed out this year was fantastic. He was comedy gold and I don’t think I’d ever seen him smile before then.  Several Shades Of Why has 4 or 5 really good songs on it and this is one of them.

9. “masters of war” – bob dylan

Ok, I know this is cheating to pick a song from the early 60s for an end of 2011 list but this recording, released on this year’s Bob Dylan In Concert:Brandeis University, 1963 may well be the best version. I can only imagine what it would be like hearing this for the first time. Songs like this weren’t written before. When I first heard this version it had an effect on me that I had not experienced with this song before; the venom spitting from Dylan’s mouth is ominous and chilling.

8. “friday” – rebecca black

Akin to Nirvana’s video for Smells Like Teen Spirit 20 years ago, this viral hit is one of those wonderfully freaky moments in popular culture that a record executive could never predict happening. Some patronising people used the word ‘manufactured’ to describe this uber-catchy song but they couldn’t be further off the mark.  There’s nothing parodic or self-conscious about it. It’s a rare moment, in this day and age, of sincerity. With Friday costing $2,000 to make, Rebecca Black makes most obscure hipster bands with their ‘indie cred’ look like corporate rock whores.

Rebecca Black is the new black.

7. “Perfection” – adalita

With the first solo album from Magic Dirt’s Adalita Srsen (following the death of bass player Dean Turner) she could have gone down the direction her band had previously gone down in the band’s later years: Triple J Weezer-esque pop (not that there’s anything wrong with that, necessarily. In fact, I’d rate What Are Rock Stars Doing Today which was a move towards a poppier, glossier sound as their best album.) But there’s nowhere near a hit single in sight here. Let’s just say it’s closer to Cat Power or PJ Harvey than Veruca Salt. Like Gareth Liddiard’s Strange Tourist from last year, it’s almost literally a solo album – it’s mainly just her and a guitar. I’ve also really enjoyed her video clips like this one and Fool Around. Adalita being as stylish and sexy as ever (at 40) helps with the visuals.

6. “TIGERS” – STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS

“I caught you streaking in your Birkenstocks / A scary thought…”

There may be a good reason for one to be cynical about bands reforming (I saw one of Pavement’s reunion shows last year and enjoyed it well enough as a piece of 90s nostalgia, though the gradual accumulation of new Pavement fans over time meant the show was way crowded. I usually like concerts better when they’re not sold out) but one of the not-so-obvious benefits of bands getting back together is that it can inspire the principle songwriter(s) to go back to what made them such luminaries in the first place. Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation shows inspired The Eternal and Dinosaur Jr got back together and performed their 80s album You’re Living All Over Me before making Beyond and the even better Farm album.  Stephen Malkmus’ Mirror Traffic sounds more like a Pavement album than any other of his solo albums and I found it surprisingly addictive. You could maybe cut a few songs from the second side (15 songs is a tad too many) but other than that the album contains equally solid songs throughout.  And Beck adds some nice touches with the production (I think he should continue producing alt-rock icons. He does a good job and I can’t see him making any more exceptional albums himself). Mirror Traffic is my melodic indie guitar rock (my cup of tea) album of the year.

5. “THE LAST LIVING ROSE” – PJ HARVEY

PJ Harvey makes all other women musicians sound inauthentic. Ok, maybe that’s not a true or fair statement (and probably sexist) but you get my drift.  She’s the yardstick. Let England Shake has got plenty of praise already including winning The Mercury Prize for a second time and I don’t really need to add to it. Actually, to be honest, I didn’t think the album was that good – my heart lies with her 90s work – but I would agree that it’s her best album in about a decade and for that I’m going to let her give me a little kiss on the cheek.

4. “riding for the feeling” – bill callahan

“Leaving is easy / when you’ve got some place you need to be”

Each album of late from Smog/Bill Callahan has been recorded differently. While the A River Ain’t Too Much To Love album was produced sparsely (great), the follow-up Woke on a Whaleheart sounded too thick and busy for me. Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle had nice lush string-laden production and Bill’s new one, Avalanche (finally, a short title!) is the more raw sound of a band in a room (though when I say raw, I don’t mean angsty. It could be his most mellow, breezy album yet).  With only 7 songs it could have done with a couple more but it’s still over 40 minutes long and, as is usually the case with this guy, highly recommended.

3. “powa” – tune-yards


Best album of 2011: W H O K I L L. Artist of the year: tUnE-yArDs. Best live act: tUnE-yArDs, Best discovery of 2011 etc. etc.  You get the picture. The songwriting, the vocals, the production (the detail!), the instrumentation, the lyrics; all fresh, unique and invigorating.

This is a song about needing sex to get to sleep (“Your power inside / it rocks me like a lullaby”), though I could’ve chosen any track from this album. They’re all great.

2. “hard times” – gillian welch


This is just exquisite. It’s been 8 years since her last album but I admire Gillian for waiting until the top-quality stuff arrived at her creative doorstep rather than just releasing a bunch of half-baked songs because her record company required her to do so. Time (The Revelator) is great but The Harrow & The Harvest is certainly up there with her best albums.

1. “helplessness blues” – fleet foxes


Song of the year. The album Helplessness Blues may not have quite matched their debut, but it sure had some highpoints and this song, beginning side 2, is the centrepiece. Okay, so maybe the crusty rich hippy Robin Pecknold wouldn’t really give up his fame and fortune to pick fruit in my hometown of Tatura, but a song is not a rational exercise. A song is supposed to lift your spirit up close to the heavens. And this does.

10 Good Songs From 2009

As a sign of me getting old, I didn’t really get into any new bands this year, but some old bands made some good new music.

10. “Wilco (The Song)” Wilco

This song sounds like Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”, doesn’t it.

“Are you under the impression / this isn’t your life? / Do you dabble in depression? / Is someone twisting a knife in your back? /Are you being attacked? / Oh, this is a fact / that you need to know / Wilco, Wilco will love you, Baby.”

Yes, Wilco will love me. Baby. All I need to do is buy the album, the t-shirt and the overpriced concert tickets.  Bankcard, MasterCard, Visa, Cash, Cheque, Electronic Funds Transfer or Direct Debit. 

9. “Pig Will Not”  PJ Harvey & John Parish

Erotic Fantasy #1: Claudia Karvan, dressed as a milk maid, milking a cow – check (thanks, Micallef). Erotic Fantasy #2: PJ Harvey barking like a dog – check. This is hilarious and crazy except for those who are already hilarious and crazy in which case it is totally normal.

8. “Must Be Santa” Bob Dylan

If you look up WTF? in the dictionary the entry will lead to this song (with this video), but it’s the moment towards the end when he shouts a list of U.S. presidents that the incomprehensible insanity really goes up to that next genius level.

Merry Christmas!

7. “I Am Lost” Jason Lytle

The ballads of Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle are always heavy in sadness and melancholy. But it’s the knack they have of lifting you off the ground closer towards the place where the song is dreaming of that makes them special. 

Is being lost good or bad?

6. “Antenna” Sonic Youth

The awesomeness of Sonic Youth’s 16th album, The Eternal, is unusual and surprising and this kind of longevity and consistency puts them up there as one of the greatest American bands of all time. Up there with R.E.M.

Sorry, Kim. You know I love you. But having the guy from Pavement on board i.e. someone who can play bass well, makes a world of difference.

5. “Sea” Grand Salvo

This is a graceful and ethereal song by a Melbourne artist that is destined to be criminally underrated and underexposed.  

“Paddy Mann seems to be staring out a window, half-awake, singing to himself…I imagine a wheel, tumbling down a hill; a spool of cotton, trailing off out of sight…as if the song goes on forever. How long is a piece of string? How long can one person strum?” the indistinct judgement.

4. “I Don’t Wanna Go There” Dinosaur Jr.

When it comes to bands reuniting after years apart I’m usually cynical about it doing any good, particularly when they try to record new stuff. Call me a purist, but it can often ruin a band’s history – “Oh, they were great for a period, quit while they were ahead and then…the reunion.” But Farm is their best album since Where You Been and that was released in 1993. J and Lou still seem to hate each other as much as ever but, musically speaking, being in the same band brings out the best of them.

There’s a great live version of this on PitchforkTV and the video clip to Over It  is brilliant. But for the greatest guitar solo of the year and maybe the decade you’ve got to go to the outro of this recorded version (you shouldn’t mind gazing at the best album cover of the year). There are times when the solo almost goes over the edge and off the rails but he pulls it back just enough to get to it’s destination. What a ride.  

3. “Eid Ma Clack Shaw” Bill Callahan  

In the first half of this song, Bill is having trouble sleeping. He is tossing and turning with heartache (“You left me for Andy Samberg?!”). In the second half he gets back to sleep and dreams the perfect song. He scribbles it down in the middle of the night, discovering in his notebook the next morning the nonsense words of the song’s title. Every line of this song is gold but I particularly like “Love is the king of the beasts / and when it gets hungry it must kill to eat / yeah, love is the king of the beasts / a lion walking down city streets.”

2. “Romeo & Juliet” Lisa Mitchell

Yes, that’s right. I’m including an Australian Idol contestant in my top songs of the year. Most contestants on this show ruin songs (that are usually crap to begin with) by over-singing with distracting and self-indulgent vocal gymnastics. Lisa’s vocals are understated which, in this case anyway, increases the emotional punch. This version sheds new light on the original Dire Straits tune, which is something all good covers should do. More rewarding than being able to do a nice cover is that some of her original songs are very impressive too (having a beautiful voice has no value if the songs you’re singing aren’t good). Here’s three great songs (and three great videos) by Lisa Mitchell:

Neopolitan Dreams

Coin Laundry

Clean White Love

1. “Hysteric (Acoustic)” Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Despite my praise, I’m actually not overly in favour of the direction the YYYs have taken with the It’s Blitz! Album i.e. 80s disco beats and poppy synths. I don’t really understand why anyone would want to return to the 80s (I’m looking at you, Ladyhawke, Passion Pit, Julian Casablancas and La Roux). I still think it’s a great album, however, because the songs are good and at the end of the day that’s what counts. The acoustic versions, however, (4 appear on the bonus disc) wonderfully bare the songs down to their core.

I like how Karen sings “steps”.