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.

Sex, War & Robots