1 · Riot on an Empty Street
And so we approach the end of this marathon. In the words of Bill Shatner, “Why did I bother?” I guess because I like being able to look back at what I’ve enjoyed, and why; and because I’m aware of how much my own tastes have been shaped by the recommendations of others, and am hoping to repay them, in a karmic sense at least, by passing on a few of my own. Appropriately, my favourite album of 2004 was itself the result of a recommendation.
2 · Final Straw
Rock. Dad Rock. One is cool; one is sad. What was once Rock can become Dad Rock—the Who, for example, or U2—while some Dad Rock springs whole from the earth, ejected from the volcano of fashion by the seismic shifts of youth culture. The age of the performers has nothing to do with it: if you appeal to thirty-something men, you’re Dad Rock. Bad luck, kid.
If you are a thirty-something man, you might bristle at this label, especially if you’ve been known to pick Dad Rock classics as your albums of the year. Well, screw it. I like Coldplay, and Travis. I know they’re derivative; so what. Who isn’t?
3 · Five Leaves Left
This was the year I discovered Nick Drake, after a comment in a post by Kaf inspired me to borrow the Fruit Tree boxed set from the library. My “discovery” isn’t really worthy of the name, I know: it’s not like Columbus discovering America, or even Columbus “discovering” America—more like discovering what everyone’s been talking about behind your back.
4 · A Secret History
The lead-up to Christmas is when the Best Ofs reign supreme at all the big music stores, but Most Of ’em are pretty ordinary albums as such. The only best-of I remember with real fondness is Queen’s Greatest Hits—the Oz version—and probably for reasons unrelated to its musical content. (Not that I’ll hear a word against “Killer Queen”.)
5 · Bebel Gilberto
When I was a kid, my musical landscape wasn’t vast: an Abba tape; Peter and the Wolf; a synthesized cover of Star Wars (Patrick Gleeson, where are you now?). Most of the surrounding geography was mapped out by my parents: continents of classical music dotted with oases of easy listening—Glen Campbell, Anne Murray, Roger Whittaker, Cleo Laine. Cleo was one of my Dad’s favourites—Britain’s first lady of jazz, in those days.
When I drew up my own musical maps I left the jazz hemisphere blank: not quite “Here Be Monsters”, just a territory I had no interest in exploring. Rock and classical and everything in-between, sure, but anything involving “stylings” wasn’t my style.
6 · Talkie Walkie
“We are electronic performers” went the opening track of Air’s 10,000 Hz Legend—a perfect performance for testing consumer electronics, as I found when trying out new stereo components. They followed their own instructions (“Don’t Be Light”) on the heavy second album, but on Talkie Walkie the lightness is back. It’s a sunny melange of French accents, acoustic guitar sounds, synthesized flutes and the usual electronic noises, taking the best features of Moon Safari and its sequel and running with them. The result was my soundtrack for January, and “Mike Mills” one of my favourite tracks of the year.
7 · Lifeblood
Pomp rock: you know you love it. There’s nothing more satisfying than a big puffed-up rock band belting out anthems with a right-on message. Unless, of course, you prefer anthems with a right-wing message, in which case I can’t help you. But if you’re right into right-on, you’ve come to the right place.
8 · Everyone is Here
I’ve already written about the Finn Brothers’ live show, so I’ll keep my powder dry for other instalments of this countdown by just noting that Everyone is Here was every bit as wonderful.
9 · Luxembourg
Who says Britpop is dead? Pretty much everybody, I guess, although nobody seems to have told the bands: Oasis are gearing up for another monster tour; Graham Coxon is reliving mid-’90s Blur on Happiness in Magazines; and a host of others are still making music, even if we’ve lost some of the best along the way (RIP Pulp and Suede). A few are even making better albums today than they were ten years ago—like these guys.
10 · Has Been
If I were to list my top ten albums of the year there would be only three or four artists on the list. So to make things more interesting, I’m going to clump similar works together (for books and movies, too) and choose the best or most representative in each group—which is how William Shatner’s extraordinary second album squeaks into the list ahead of almost everything by, say, the Divine Comedy.
Anything Can Happen
By way of reviewing their concert of last Saturday, I was going to write about how I discovered Tim and Neil Finn, until I realised there’s hardly been a time when they haven’t been on my musical radar—from an early infatuation with “Message to My Girl” to a full-blown obsession a few years after Split Enz split up, when I’d listen to See Ya Round on a continuous-looping walkman while mowing the front paddock. (You had to crank it loud to beat the sound of a Briggs & Stratton. Sorry, eardrums.)
Feel the Power
Last night we went along to a showcase of Dunfermline bands, including Indafusion, Calcium, Martin Myles, and our friend Gareth’s own Holy Ghost Power (which isn’t some kind of born-again thing, but a wall-of-sound indie band with two drummers, two guitars, and one bass; download their mp3 for a taster). It was a stoatin’ night, as the Daily Record would say; different styles of music across the bands, but all good. I took a few pics of the guys in action, just in case they go and get famous on us, so here you go, Mr soon-to-be-Dr Reid. (And Shauna, the headline’s for you.)
Over time I’ve noticed two types of bloggers: those who riff off other people’s entries to add their own experience, and those who avoid any subject riding high in Blogdex or raised by a big name. Actually, most of us do a bit of both, although individual styles can shift over time.
I used to do more riffing, but now I tend to wander the lonely path of the anti-zeitgeist. It has something to do with the phenomenon observed by Jill Walker of shutting up because someone else will say it anyway, or already has. It’s certainly affected my participation at MeFi, which was never enormous to start with; and over the past year or so it’s done the same here. Whenever one of my favourite bloggers writes about anything, I find myself unconsciously crossing the subject off my list—even though most of my favourite bloggers (and writers full-stop) aren’t “big names”. Perhaps it’s the academic training to seek the mythical “original contribution to knowledge”, or the cartoonist’s instinct to throw out a drawing when you learn the joke’s already been done. The trouble is, as I get to know more and more, the bar of originality gets higher and higher, and I find myself contributing less and less. It’s a habit I really should break, because my confidence is getting shot to hell.
Nowadays it seems that no subject is safe, not even the most private and obscure, as two links going around the traps demonstrated last week: Staggerin’ Dave Eggers wrote at Spin about his private obsession with a forgotten band; and the author of The War Against Silence, long identified with that same band, announced his retirement. That band happened to mean a lot to me, too, and now I’m faced with either shelving the memories Eggers and McDonald evoked, or breaking out of the ever-diminishing circle of originality and writing about them. For once, I’m going to escape from new yack.
Staring at my CD shelves the other night, trying to choose something to listen to (a hopeless task, because every time I settle on one I fast-forward through it in my head, meaning I’ve effectively listened to it already and have to find another), I realised that my approach to new music has taken on an alarming dimension. Where once I would have heard a new song and, if I liked it, perhaps bought the album, now I hear a song and, if I like it, ruthlessly hunt down everything recorded by that band ever. Like a junkie upping his dose to get the same hit, it now takes the complete recorded works of James to scratch the itch of “Just Like Fred Astaire” (and four years down the track I’m bloody close, with only Strip-Mine and two live albums to go). I’ve gone from one listen of the Manic Street Preachers’ Everything Must Go to having only one more to go until everything; from hearing about the end of Elliott Smith’s life to hearing almost everything he ever released in it. From the collected works of Nick Drake in January, to collecting the latest from the Bluetones and Space in February (both excellent, by the way).
And then, last month, something on the web reminded me of the Eurovision episode of Father Ted, and the song “My Lovely Horse”. Seeing and hearing that clip for the first time was one of my favourite TV moments of the ’90s; damn funny, and damn fine music too, all ninety seconds of it. Now I knew the band behind the song, and had another name to pursue in the relentless quest for Everything: The Divine Comedy.
You know how travel is all about seeing things you’d never see back home? Well, if you’re from Britain, Australia or the U.S., I can guarantee this is something you’ll never see back home.
Ubeda, Spain, 14 February 2004.