Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Music Wrap 2007

This is my 2007 in music, Albums, Tracks and Live shows.

Ah, 2007, the year that will surely be tragically remembered as the end of New Order and, worse, the reformation of Ace of Base. I stole this listmaking idea off what is probably the best indie music blog on the internet, You Ain’t No Picasso, which has supplied me with hundreds of great bands and bootlegs that are unavailable or just plain unknown all the way down here in Australia. These three categories, effectively the Best Picture, Best Actors and Best Director Oscars of my iRiver, have been carefully compiled and updated over the course of 2007 to show what I most loved and what drove me through the year.

My Vaguely ordered top 10 Tracks:
Note: One track per band. Otherwise the top 10 would read like a Hold Steady album.

10)“Chelsea Hotel No. 2” – Rufus Wainwright (Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man Soundtrack).

This album technically came out in 2006 but the movie it soundtracks didn’t make it to Australia until 2007 so I’m counting it. I didn’t think this song could be any more haunting or emotional, but Wainwright’s version is.

9) “My Body is a Cage” – Arcade Fire (Neon Bible).

I can’t actually write those five words without getting the song stuck in my head all over again and imagining Joy Division doing it.

8) “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do What You’re Told)” – White Stripes (Icky Thump).

When the intro to this song started playing as I sat listening to this album for the first time on my girlfriend’s couch I just wanted to yell THANK GOD. It had been a long and weird experimental wilderness through Get Behind Me Satan but this song should almost be titled “The White Stripes are Back”.

7) “Light to Follow” – The Polyphonic Spree (The Fragile Army).

The Fragile Army was exactly the album this completely insanely odd band needed to bring them more commercial success and the recognition they deserve. Sure, none of the songs quite stand out like “Section 12 (Hold Me Now)” did a few years back, but this one comes closest, along with the fantastic “Running Away”.

6) “Live the Life You’re Dreaming Of” – Sloan (Never Hear the End of it).

Screw the fact that you’ve never heard of this band or will never hear of them again. Just get this song. It’s as inspiring and one-hit wonderful as “Trains to Brazil” was for the guillemots. Perfect pop.

5) “Headmaster Ritual” – Radiohead (Live, November 9th, 2007, Youtube.)

It was hard to pick a favourite Radiohead song for 2007 because everyone was having orgasms over the In Rainbows surprise and I refer not only to its release but also how good it actually was. But a Radiohead cover of the Smiths? How could you go past that? It’s the strangest experience hearing two of the most distinctive vocal twinges of late 20th century British music mix into one.

4) “Phantom Limb” – The Shins (Wincing the Night Away).

Is this the best Shins song since “New Slang”? Probably not, but it sure got played the most by me this year. Emphasized on my list because of their knockout live show at the Melbourne Metro.

3) “Helter Skelter” – The Killers, The Vines, Louis XIV, Howling Belles. (Live, November 11th, 2007).

From the same slog of me surfing the live shows on Youtube around early November comes the third cover song in my 2007 list, but it’s just amazing. I found this right after I saw Across the Universe too, so I was already loving the song, then to see the most amazing line up of talent all on stage together ripping through a song that takes so much energy, it was one of the high points of the year. My only dislike of this song is that I wasn’t there to see it – it was performed on the Killers’ latest Australian tour.

2) “First Night” – The Hold Steady (Boys and Girls in America).

The leading contender for almost half of 2007, this standout from their latest album got punched back to second late in the year by an unexpected sing-along champion. An album that was, like Separation Sunday before it, made of almost nothing but good songs, special mentions go to “Party Pit” and “Arms and Hearts”, one of the Aussie bonus tracks.

1) “Ol’ Black and Blue Eyes” – The Fratellis (Costello Music).

How could this album be so good? This band came out of nowhere for me to be the most played artist of the last two months in my car and apartment. Like Razorlight’s eponymous second album I remain in saluting awe of how every single track manages to be different, yet as catchy and completely appealing as the track I bought the album for. The hardest pick of the year, but it just edged out “Henrietta” and “Whistle for the Choir” as the one I belted out the chorus loudest whenever it came on.

Top 10 Albums:

10) The Fragile Army – The Polyphonic Spree.

9) Favourite Worst Nightmare – Arctic Monkeys

8) Sky Blue Sky – Wilco

7) Wincing the Night Away – The Shins

6) In Rainbows – Radiohead

5) Neon BibleArcade Fire

4) Icky Thump – White Stripes

3) Costello Music – The Fratellis

2) Canon – Ani DiFranco

1) Boys and Girls in America – The Hold Steady

Top 5 live shows.

5) Children Collide @ University of Melbourne.

What an underrated gig! There were about 20-30 of us, mostly there for the free beer and food (Yes, that’s right, free beer and food) and one of the most energetic, tight, and catchy performances of a local band you’re ever likely to see. Well worth it.

4) The Walkmen @ The Corner Hotel

This was the show that made me a Walkmen fan. Supported by the Archie Bronson Outfit, who filled us with enough bass to last a lifetime, this was a packed intimate gig in a great venue. Incidentally, the worst gig I saw in 2007 was also the Walkmen, two weeks later in the Perth Concert Hall after their outdoor show was rained out and everyone was sitting down bored and drinkless not giving a damn, so Hamilton Leithauser threw a sarcasm tantrum and played the most loaded version of “I’m Never Bored” to round out the set.

3) Treetops @ Click Click/ Brown Alley.

I was only there to see my friend’s band, Streetlight, support but Treetops (a band I’d never heard before and haven’t since) blew me away. Poppy and catchy yet strangely political and very, very multi-instrumental. A great, interactive and unexpected live show.

2) The Shins @ Metro

Marred slightly by the fact my friend who was with me and got me the ticket was sick, this show was still intense and amazing. A great use of lighting and a brilliant sound mix convinced me to go back and listen to songs off their albums I hadn’t paid much attention to before, like “Saint Simon”. Their live version of that track was so powerful and so haunting, with much more instrumental and vocal depth than the recording.

1) Nick Cave/Grinderman @ The Forum.

First of all, this is the most beautiful venue anyone could ever hope to have a concert in. Old style sculptures line the rims of the huge domed front pit area with the over-tall roof made out to Harry-Potter-esque resemble the night sky with inky blue spotted with tiny lights. Then, big booths with comfy leather seats over two or three levels and a huge ornate proscenium arch. And in the middle of this were four very hairy, very Australian, suited musical geniuses. Warren Ellis (of Dirty Three fame) plays violin for Grinderman, and never will you see such insane violin technique outside of that Leslie Nielson flick Wrongfully Accused. The real gem though was the almost two hours of Nick Cave at his huge black grand piano, sometimes backed by the band, performing his solo canon largely taking requests from the audience. “Red Right Hand” was naturally amazing and the audience belting it out was probably the loudest crowd sing-along I’ve ever heard. “Sail Your Ships Around Me” was a perennial favourite, but his aching and hardhitting performance of “People Ain’t No Good” made this show unforgettable.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Take Morphine and Die.

Bill Westerberg’s House.

It is Tuesday.

The bees and the hot tarmac roads hum with heat and life as the city squeals in delight. There is more in the air today than global warming and asbestosis. Today is fresh.

Outside of the house two men are talking in mock raised voices. Sniff, sniff, a tiny dog made of grey and white fluff investigates one of the man’s ankles. Some children watch from the front window as the sun first strives upwards away from them then, then sprints downwards and further afar.

The puppy blinks as one man laughs and slaps a woodworker’s hand on the other’s flannel shirt back. Then it lazily coughs and pisses on some daisies.

This was Tuesday and it was squandered, because it was a nice day and nice days aren’t made for the kind of progress that bad days are likewise used as an excuse to not make. All of these two men’s good intentions couldn’t make up for all their bad ones. But the dog doesn’t mind. Nor the kids.

Another dogged neighbour walks up the street by Bill’s house. Old and just a little bit whistling, her puckered lips blow an unrecognizable version of “Goodnight Irene”. Will she stop and talk to these men? She does. It is nice. It is Tuesday.

Spilt on the first man’s shirt is a dried stain of bourbon and cola from a 375ml can, and the others don’t see it. On the second man’s fingernails are the marks of a life too dull to be filled with anything but the duel cultivation of roses and stamps. On the lady is nothing except the vestments prescribed to women, by men such as these, and none of them see these either.

Inside the window, the children have stopped watching the sun and are watching effigies of themselves on afternoon television.

A man breaks away from the conversational dogs and checks the mailbox, where he finds mail. He has never found mail anywhere else. He doesn’t see the miracle of this. Of mail at all.

He sees catalogs and fallen leaves, which he must clean. And yet he doesn’t, instead returning to the others who are now debating why it is so often cloudy and rainy immediately after extremely hot days.

It was not an extremely hot day.

What have we become to see this as normal? Who could be watching the men and children of Bill’s house on Tuesday? No one except for people just like them.

No one is looking.

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