Sunday, September 21, 2008

Emiliana Torrini - Me and Armini

Right from the bluesy opening of "Fireheads", you know this is going to be a harder edged album than Fisherman's Woman, but this is Emiliana Torrini, not Bad Brains, so that's a relative term. It's also more diverse, but its home base is the acoustic folk of its predecessor, and Torrini returns to it every few tracks. "Gun" is the highlight, all reverb and sparse guitar riffery, recasting Torrini's voice as something a bit more menacing than what we're used to. Me and Armini feels a bit less complete than Fisherman's Woman, but if you like one, you'll probably like the other.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Neil Young again

You didn't hear it anywhere near here first: Neil Young is headlining the 2009 Big Day Out! WOOHOO!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

my 50 favourite albums part 3

10. Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica (2000)

"Grand" and "epic" are not adjectives often associated with indie rock, but they can be without referring to overdone prog shit like The Mars Volta, and this is exhibit fucking A.

3rd Planet (live in 2000):

9. Mercury Rev - Deserter’s Songs (1998)

Is this really the same band that was kicked off the stage at Lollapolooza for excessive noise? The same band that was banned from British Airways because the lead singer tried to gouge out one of the lead guitarist's eyes with a fork? See You on the Other Side (1995) was a transition between Mercury Rev's arts-studenty Pink Floyd/Sonic Youth influenced first two albums, which featured additional singer/anarchist David Baker, but what was to be found on the other side? As it turned out, it was the best soundtrack for a non-existent Disney-produced epic Western ever recorded.

Goddess on a Hiway (official video):

8. Mercury Rev - All Is Dream (2001)

Maybe these two Mercury Rev albums belong in the reverse order; I really don't know. All Is Dream is Deserter's Songs through the looking glass, its dreamy quality turned to a nightmare.

The Dark is Rising (official video):

7. Augie March - Strange Bird (2002)

Augie March follows in the tradition of Australian pop bands such as The Church, The Go-Betweens and The Triffids. You know, the good Australian bands, as opposed to Cold Chisel and AC/DC. Here, they outdid their antecedents for the second time with a diverse album covering harder territory than before ("This Train Will Be Taking No Passengers", "Song in the Key of Chance") as well as bouyant pop ("Addle Brains") and fucking hypnotic shit ("The Drowning Dream").

Interview/Sunstroke House (live at WOMBadelaide):

6. The Clash - London Calling (1979)

19 songs and practically half of them are certified classics, plus this is where The Clash expanded its palette and hinted at the behemoth triple album Sandinista! Paul Simmonen distinguished himself as a bass player, as well as a songwriter on "The Guns of Brixton", the band's best reggae song, while Strummer, as the principle writer of the title track, proved he could keep up with Mick Jones.

Clampdown (live in London 18-02-80):

5. Mansun - Six (1998)

Longer and weirder than Attack of the Grey Lantern, and by far the best album ever to feature Tom Baker.

Legacy (official video):

4. Lou Reed - Berlin (1973)

Just once, Reed outdid The Velvet Underground and recorded possibly the most depressing album ever, telling the fictitious story of a couple in Berlin, promiscuous, speed-addicted Caroline and violent Jim, and the inevitable deterioration of their relationship. The genuinely angry "How Do You Think It Feels" and "Oh Jim" are highlights of the first half, but it's the quieter and unrelentingly bleak second half that really makes the album. The kids screaming "mommy!" in "The Kids" is harrowing enough even if you don't know that their emotion is genuine; their dad, Berlin producer Bob Ezrin, told them their mother had just died and recorded their spontaneous reaction.

How Do You Think It Feels (live in Italy 2007):

3. Augie March - Sunset Studies (2000)

"Ambitious" was probably the word thrown around the most about Sunset Studies at the time of its release, obviously shorthand for "78 minutes long, yet somehow none of it sucks". Of course, lauding a band for being ambitious is sort of like naming a musical genre for its quality of being emotional: shouldn't we take it as a given? These days, possibly not.

There is No Such Place (live in Melbourne 8-11-07):

2. Television - Marquee Moon (1977)

Tom Verlaine and Richard Llloyd are, like, my favourite guitarists ever on the strength of this album alone. They actually credited their solos, but I can't separate them based on that (Verlaine played the one on "Torn Curtain", but Lloyd played the one on "Elevation", etc). I've never heard anyone other than Richard Thompson replicate that raw, cat-like guitar tone.

Torn Curtain (fan video):

1. Radiohead - OK Computer (1997)

Thom Yorke became a more worldly lyricist, actually ceasing to be purely Mr. Doom-and-Gloom, only to be slapped with that title for his troubles, while Jonny Greenwood is equally expressive on lead guitar (occasionally coming close to that Television guitar tone I mentioned) and rhythm section Colin Greenwood and Phil Selway cleverly underpin the whole thing with insidious bass lines and clever beats. OK Computer has topped or ranked highly in best album of the decade/all time polls, the latter of which only kids of the 90s can understand. And no, it really doesn't sound all that much like Dark Side of the Moon.

Paranoid Android (official video):

Exit Music [For a Film] (live at Glastonbury 1997):

The Tourist (live in Berkeley, California 24-06-06):

Monday, September 1, 2008

my 50 favourite albums part 2

Here continues the nailbiting countdown of my 50 favourite albums ever. Will some album claim the coveted number 11 spot, or will some other album find its way there instead? Read on to find out...

30. Pavement – Wowee Zowee (1995)

The red-headed stepchild of the Pavement catalogue, truly appreciated only by 10% of Pavement fans who have access to higher brain functions. I swear I can hear the kitchen sink in there somewhere.

29. Depeche Mode - Violator (1990)

Violator secured Depeche Mode an even bigger audience than they already had, which makes you wonder why they didn't capitalise on this by, say, releasing more than four albums since then. It loses steam towards the end, but everything before that is good enough to compensate,
especially the singles "Personal Jesus" and "Policy of Truth" and my favourite Depeche Mode song "Halo".

28. The Cure – Faith (1981)

The first two Cure albums are not without their charms, but you know right from the flanged bass at the start of "The Holy Hour" that this is the album that launched a thousand suicides.

27. Sparklehorse - Good Morning Spider (1999)

He may not be the most prolific guy around, but the dishevelled beauty of Mark Linkous' songwriting is always worth the wait. The way he gets a nice alt-country vibe happening for a few songs in a row and then intentionally fucks it up with a thrashy punk song or a noise experiment has greatly informed the way I make albums.

26. Wire - 154 (1979)

There aren't many bands that progressed so far with their first three albums. Pink Flag (1977) made The Ramones seem arty by comparison, Chairs Missing (1978) saw their songwriting take a collossal leap, with more complex song structures and instrumentation and darker context, and 154 took them even further, to a post-punk sound that greatly informed The Cure.

25. The The – Soul Mining (1983)

OK, so Matt Johnson is pretentious. What gave the Englishman the idea that he could possibly pull off a Hank Williams covers album? Never mind that; ten years earlier, he stuck to what he did best: heartfelt synth pop.

24. Can - Ege Bamyasi (1972)

The second of Can's three full length efforts with Damo Suzuki is a more streamlined effort than Tago Mago (1971); they'd learnt to express in ten minutes what took them twenty before and three and a half what took them seven. That doesn't mean they'd gone commercial, though;
"Pinch", for example, is arguably the best combined effort of Suzuki, guitarist Michael Karoli, bassist Holger Czukay, keyboardist Irmin Schmidt and drummer Jaki Leibeziet, but the whole thing is a shifting, trance-like piece that somehow manages to be funky without having an identifiable riff or lyric to latch onto. "Sing Swan Song" was hilariously sampled by Kanye West in 2007 for his song "Drunk and Hot Girls".

23. The The - Infected (1986)

Infected is darker than its predecessor, and while it continues to tackle personal subject matter, for example "Out of the Blue (Into the Fire), about a numbing encounter with a prostitute, Johnson also delivered a frank indictment of the United Kingdom in "Heartland", while a couple of other tracks deal with war and capitalism.

22. Talking Heads – Remain in Light (1980)

Wire, The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan...they're all on this list, and they're all from a time when bands released an album a year and still had considerable musical growth to show for it. More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978) introduced the funk that Talking Heads became
known for, Fear of Music (1979) introduced the African polyrhythms, and Remain in Light honed these elements to perfection to create what many people think of as the band's definitive album.

21. Blur - Parklife (1994)

Britpop might be a punch line now if Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon hadn't stopped beating each other up long enough to make one of the best pop albums of the 90s from any part of the world. Albarn confirms himself as a social commentator, setting up all those Ray Davies comparisons, while musically Blur proves itself to be extremely versatile, shifting effortlessly from disco to music hall to punk and further, thanks in no small part to the greatly underrated rhythm section of Alex James and Dave Rowntree.

20. Blur - 13 (1999)

Blur had dispensed with Britpop entirely by 1997, releasing a self-titled album which appeared in a draft version of this list, forcing an 18 year-old me to take them seriously for the first time as well as moving Mogwai from indifference to hatred. 13 revels in the "run everything through a shitload of pedals" spirit that had a profound influence on me, but when Coxon had his pop moment ("Coffee and TV"), it turned out to be his best.

19. Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home (1965)

The electric opening half of this album hinted at what was come to later the same year with Highway 61 Revisited, pissed a lot of people off and led one man to believe that Dylan was present at the last supper. However, it's the acoustic second half that propels it to its esteemed position here, especially "Mr. Tambourine Man", which has one of my favourite sets of lyrics from anyone ever.

18. The Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)

Good Canadian things come in large packages.

17. Pavement - Brighten The Corners (1997)

I'm pretty much alone on this one. Brighten the Corners doesn't even have Wowee Zowie's underdog factor on its side, let alone the certified classic status of the first two albums. What it does have are pop songs that fucking kill me every listen. Tell me "Shady Lane", "Starlings of the Slipstream" and "Fin" aren't brilliant songs. Go on, I dare ya.

16. Depeche Mode - Music for the Masses (1987)

Black Celebration set 'em up, Music for the Masses knocked 'em down; the songwriting was both better and more commercially appealing this time around. The best song is the most organic - "Little 15", which revisits Martin Gore's obsession with jailbait that established with Black Celebration's "A Question of Time". If there's grass on the wicket...

15. Radiohead - Kid A (2000)

Such was the hype surrounding Kid A that the guy at the counter said "we ran out of copies" before I could even open my mouth. Hundreds of thousands of people still buy it every year, and to their new ears, it doesn't sound nearly as bizarre as it did to us older fans when it came out. New Radiohead fans (as happens with new fans of any band) cop a raft of shit for not having discovered the band earlier or simply having the temerity to have been 9 years old when Kid A came out, but they're often more open-minded, as they lack any of the notions that some people who've followed them from an earlier point have about what they should sound like. Take the opening track "Everything in Its Right Place": technically it's a completely organic song, and there's nothing objectively cold or distant about that keyboard - quite the opposite, in fact.

14. Mansun - Attack of the Grey Lantern (1996)

Apparently two things I hate - glam and prog - when combined, equal something completely awesome. This should be one of the most influential albums of all time, but too many people dismiss Mansun as smartasses just because they sing about vicars who like to strip on the side. Either that or they confuse them with that American fellow who thinks he's Alice Cooper.

13. The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)

The three divergent forces of Lou Reed the popsmith, John Cale the anarchist and non-member and Nico advocate Andy Warhol the pretentious artist should have fucked this album up beyond salvation. Instead, the juxtaposition makes it better than any other Velvet Underground album. Lou Reed wrote all the songs, but they all primarily bear one of those three influences. Take for example the trifecta of "All Tomorrow's Parties", written for Nico, "Heroin", which swims in the noise Cale so loved, and "There She Goes Again", on which Reed indulges his own pop instincts. This album was literally unrepeatable, and they didn't try; next they shook off Warhol's guidance (and Nico with it) and Cale got his way for White Light/White Heat (1968), before Reed fired him and set himself up as commander in chief for The Velvet Underground (1969) and Loaded (1970), hinted at what was to come when he went solo.

12. Can – Tago Mago (1971)

Yeah, I said that Ege Bamyasi is tighter than Tago Mago, but is that really the point with Can, or is it that they made twenty minute songs because they could? The first five tracks really make the album; songs that range from long to very long and all feature abrupt shifts in tempo and mood, except the four minute "Mushroom", which is unconventional and amazing in its own inexplicable way; the beat is steady and the bass consists of two notes, over which the guitar squeals like a violin and Suzuki goes from mumble to scream and back again. After these five incredible songs, the awful "Peking O" brings ten minutes of chaos (not the good kind) before the merely good "Bring Me Coffee or Tea" steers the album back on track. If one of these two songs were on par with any of the first five, Tago Mago would be top 5 material. If they both were, it'd probably be number 1.

11. Tom Waits - Rain Dogs (1985)

The so called "trilogy" that started with Swordfishtrombones (1983) and concluded with Franks Wild Years (1987) is bullshit dreamt up by people who assumed (or hoped) that the direction Waits took on those first three albums for Island was a phase and he'd eventually return to his piano bluesman-balladeer roots. Those albums were really just his first three forays into the sound that would characterise the rest of his career, and Rain Dogs is the best of them. It became his best selling album until Mule Variations (1999), despite being his least commercial at that point; it's a 19 song, almost hour long set, full of marimba and found percussion, spiky lead guitar and that growl we've all come to associate with Waits' voice. "Downtrain Train" towards the end helped the album commercially, and was murdered five years later by Rod Stewart for a number one hit.

Coming up: part 3, featuring Jonas Brothers, William Shatner, The Baha Men and more.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Radiohead does Neil Young

Radiohead covering Neil Young's Tell Me Why in at the Hollywood Bowl 25-08-08:

My 50 favourite albums part 1

A few months ago, after 13 years of buying CDs, I finally reached 1000. I decided to commemorate this milestone by making a top 50 list. Now I'm putting here as the first real post to my blog, because having over 1000 CDs makes me completely awesome and millions of people will care about what I think.

Some omissions will surprise people who know me, and they surprised me, too: no albums by Sonic Youth, The Beatles, Elliott Smith or Britney Spears, and only one by The Clash and Guided By Voices. Other artists had up to four entries, which made me realise that 1000 isn't really all that many from some perspectives. I have to make it clear just how arbitrary this list is; I'm not about to carve on my arm that Temple of the Dog is exactly my 37th favourite album of all time, nor that I love Vitalogy slightly more than Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain or that Attack of the Grey Lantern is the only album I love more than Kid A, but not as much as The Velvet Underground and Nico. And hell, next time I listen to Sandinista!, I might wonder why the hell I thought there were at least 50 albums that are better than it.


50. Helium - The Dirt of Luck (1995)

Helium is the most underrated band of the 90s, and I can't figure out why they weren't more popular. Maybe people weren't ready for the sound of Sonic Youth's guitars falling down Tom Waits' well. It sounds very 90s to me, yet it hasn't aged a day.

49. Black Sabbath - Paranoid (1970)

Black Sabbath's second album is less jammy and song-oriented than its debut, but is still the sound of the band refining the sound necessitated by the loss of Tony Iommi's fingertips. Now we know that sound as metal itself. I mean the sound of the music, not the sound of Tony's fingers being sliced off, which was probably more like "AAAAAAAARGH, MY FUCKING FINGERS! SOMEBODY GET A DOCTOR!"

48. Guided By Voices - Alien Lanes (1995)

Conceived as an eclectic radio station playing late at night, Alien Lanes runs through a whopping 28 songs in under 45 mintes - impressive even by GBV standards. Rock songs, Pollard solo efforts, choatic 18 second interludes and a couple of Tobin Sprout gems play off each other in a way that makes sense in a nonsensical way.

47. Pavement - Slanted & Enchanted (1992)

I don't know how auspicious this would have sounded to me if I'd heard it when it came out, but I doubt I would have thought Pavement could have bettered it three times out of four attempts by my reckoning.

46. Helium - The Magic City (1997)

If this list were "Most Underrated Albums of the 90s", this one might be number 1. Whereas Helium's virtually as good debut The Dirt of Luck (1995) is a sludgy and almost grungy guitar album, The Magic City cleaned everything up and turned up the vocals, revealing Mary Timony as a strong singer in addition to her obvious guitar skills. I just don't know what's up with the line "I want to make love to a unicorn". Timony would later go solo and lose the plot for a while after huffing one too many kittens while reading Chaucer, before getting it back for an excellent duo of recent albums.

45. Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is a similar progression from its predecessor as The Magic City;
specifically in this case, it's where Pavement stepped out of the shadow of The Fall and Sonic Youth to reveal Stephen Malkmus as one of the best pop songwriters of his generation. The band meshed together better than at any point on Slanted - especially singles "Gold Soundz" and "Range Life" and the grandios closer "Fillmore Jive" despite the absence of original drummer Gary Young.

44. Pearl Jam - Vitalogy (1994)

Wherein Pearl Jam eschews the angst and soft-loud dichotomy of grunge and delivers a more mature, sombre and philosophical album. OK, so the angst is really still there, but it's more focused and less perfunctory than before. Some of the left field experiments are a bit on the nose ("Bugs" in particular), but the Vitalogy doesn't lack for stick-in-your head riffs and sing-along choruses, and subtle Eastern and African influences permeate the whole thing. Vitalogy didn't sell as many copies as Vs, but it launched what I believe is still the band's most succesful tour to date; I still kick myself for not having seen them when they came to Canberra.

43. Smog – A River Ain't Too Much to Love (2005)

The most recently released album on this list is also one of the most timeless, consisting mostly of Bill Callahan and an acoustic guitar. It's hard to believe this is the same guy on those early Smog albums; he sounds like David Berman should, except he probably wouldn't get along with Berman, because Berman hates Joanna Newsom and Callahan is fucking her. Oh well.

42. Built To Spill - There’s Nothing Wrong With Love (1994)

As if being the perfect marriage of guitar hysterionics and pop hooks wasn't enough, this album just had to go and have the funniest hidden track ever.

41. Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children (1998)

These guys use a combination of cutting edge technology and old analog equipment to get their sound, and boy is it a sound you won't hear anywhere else. Music may have the right to children, but this music doesn't have any close progeny that I'm aware of.

40. Nick Drake - Pink Moon (1972)

Break out the superlatives, it's a Pink Moon review! This is my friend Steve's least favourite Nick Drake album. He can suck my balls.

39. The Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat (1968)

Apparently the engineers hated this racket so much that they weren't present while the band were actually recording. That seems strange in a post-Stooges world, but you'll notice two Velvet Underground albums in this list and no Stooges albums. Some reasons for this are: Lou Reed's solo on "I Heard Her Call My Name"; John Cale's pleasant Welsh lilt on the blackly comic spoken piece "The Gift"; all 1056 seconds of "Sister Ray".

38. Tom Waits - Alice (2002)

The concurrently released Blood Money proved Waits still had the goods, but Alice, his best album since Bone Machine (1992) was recorded in demo form only just after that one. Waits released The Black Rider, his soundtrack to a play written by his wife/collaborator
Kathleen Brennan and directed by Robert Wilson. Why he chose to release that one when he had the workings of a vastly superior album of similar origin is beyond me. Alice is also a soundtrack to a Wilson play, this one about Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carrol to you) and his obsession with 12 year-old Alice Liddell. You know what that led to: Liam Neeson tracked him to Paris and kicked his ass.

37. Temple of the Dog - Temple of the Dog (1991)

Man, this is morbid even for a Chris Cornell project, but that's what you'd expect of an album inspired by one guy and his drug-related death. We wouldn't have this one-off project or Pearl Jam if Andrew Wood hadn't died, but that pales in comparison to the fact that we wouldn't have rock music at all if it wasn't for slavery. You know what they say: you can't make an omlette without breaking a few eggs and enslaving an entire race.

36. Neil Young - On the Beach (1974)

After the Goldrush (1972), Harvest (1973), Tonight's the Night (1975) and Rust Never Sleeps (1979) all get more love than On the Beach, but the reason On the Beach is on my list and those others aren't is simple: I prefer On the Beach and albums I've listed 50-37, so it wouldn't make much sense to include them. Kind of like how much sense it made to to issue this album on CD until 2003.

35. Tom Waits - Bone Machine (1992)

Bone Machine shows that anyone who thought Waits' 80s albums were too dark really didn't know from dark. Incredibly, it won a Grammy for best Alternative Rock Album.

34. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

People who consider themselves part of a scene often become possessive of it and very narrow-minded. It happened with punk and it happens sometimes when an indie band makes the jump to a major label. You all know about the fallout from Dylan going electric, but if this had been his first album, Lyndon Johnson would have instituted a "no child left without an electric guitar" program.

33. Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones (1983)

This is where Waits started to get really interesting to me: less piano, more marimba and more growling.

32. Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994)

How can I call this my 32nd favourite album of all time when it sounds so incomplete? Because that's just the sort of pers

31. Depeche Mode - Black Celebration (1986)

This album ushered in a darker Depeche Mode, preceeded the most talked about tour of the band's career and earned them the love of homosexual men all throughout the land. Actually, they probably had that already.

Coming up: part 2, featuring Boney M, REO Speedwagon, The Veronicas and more.

My 200 Favourite Albums of All Time

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sex, War & Robots