Top 10 albums of 2013

Much like the toy in your Christmas bonbon, this blog has gone painfully unloved for too long. I figure that since it is a new year I would make it a resolution to actually make an effort updating this waste of space. I feel horribly out of practice with my writing and so this is just a big slab or ramblings which I hope to hone over the next year and develop my writing a little more through using this blog again. So with 2013 in the history books I figured it might be a good time to look back on my favourite albums of the year.

10. Arctic Monkeys – AM (September)

 

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For a long time I considered the Arctic Monkeys the ugly little brother of Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs; nipping at their heels and always showing promise but never quite delivering. I’m not sure whether things have changed or if I was wrong all along because AM really took me by surprise. I must go back and listen to their older stuff again and see if my view on that has changed; but for now, to me at least, this is the Arctic Monkeys finally delivering on said promises. I feel like the band has matured; no longer just writing catchy tunes that stick with you for a week and then run their course (I’m looking at you, “I bet that you look good on the dance floor”, 2005); but instead this feels like a coming of age album from maturing artists. It is dirty rock, sleazy and somewhat dark; the songs feel like they pace themselves and aren’t trying to just be the catchiest single of the week, but have a little more depth to them and Alex Turner delivers a confident vocal performance; and it’s hard not to find that Sheffield accent charming. It feels as if the Arctic Monkeys are shaking off their youthful naivety and really ventured into another place entirely. Josh Homme (Queens of the Stoneage and Them Crooked Vultures) features on a couple of tracks and his influence is definitely felt throughout the album as inspiration. “Arabella” is the stand out track to me; killer bass and guitar with brilliant lyrical turn of phrase – “It’s an exploration she’s made of outer space, and her lips are like the galaxy’s edge, and her kiss the colour of a constellation falling into place.” No. 1 Party Anthem is almost this new era Arctic Monkey’s take on their first hit “I bet that you look good on the dance floor”, but where that track and much of their older work is made for nights out on the dance floor, this album is made for nights in being bitter at those who are spending nights out on the dance floor. It is made for after parties in seedy hotel rooms rather than charming nightclub antics. Opening track “Do I wanna know you?” has a touch of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man to it with the way is plods along; tempting the listener to foot stomp with it. It’s not all doom and gloom though, both “Snap out of it” and “Knee Socks” have that disco-rock feel with more of an up-tempo beat that is just infectious. All in all, while this is by far the best Arctic Monkeys album I have heard, it feels like it isn’t yet their peak; it’s a new era for the band and I’m really excited about where they can go next. It is their 5th studio album and the band are only in their late 20’s, the best is yet to come!

 

9. Motörhead – Aftershock (October)

 

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After 38 years as a band there are no real surprises with Motörhead, they know who they are and what they do; but at the same time they are as tight as a duck’s arse. They know their music, their style and each other so well that they just do it effortlessly at this point. While Mikkey Dee and Phil Campbell are in their mid 50s, Lemmy is now 68 but showing absolutely no signs of slowing down. He’ll still come to your town and punch you in the face and sleep with your wife and you’ll shut up and like it. Still by far the loudest band I have ever heard live for a 3 piece; they are like the school bully – they have you cowering in the corner with your hands over your head while they pummel you. Aftershock is no exception; while it is “just another Motörhead  album”, it also feels like it has stuck with me a little more than the last few. It feels like it is a real back to basics album, as snarling and nasty as you like with absolutely no backwards step by the band. It captures Lemmy’s love of 50’s rock and rockabilly like a lot of their old stuff does. That may sound silly, but when it comes down to it, Motörhead aren’t strictly a metal or thrash metal band, they’re a rock’n’roll band and songs like “Do you believe?” and “Coup de grace” demonstrate that perfectly; just dirty foot stomping rock’n’roll in it’s purest form (albeit with the volume turned up to 11). Lemmy’s relentless thundering bass is still in just as fine form as it was with “Ace of Spades” on bass driven tracks like “Going to Mexico” and “Queen of the damned”, while “Silence when you speak to me” scratches that itch for a mix with metal. “Dust and glass” is about as close to a ballad as you’ll get from Motörhead and is quite touching in it’s own little way as a slower track. “Lost woman blues” is, well, a pretty great blues track. In the end, there really is nothing new you can write about a Motörhead album at this stage, you either love them or you hate them, but this was such a great album to just put on, turn up loud have your face melted off by this group of wily veterans.

 

8. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the sky away (February)

 

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The last 3 albums which Nick Cave was involved with (2008’s Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, and 2 Grinderman albums) have all been pretty hard rock albums for the most part; so it didn’t come as much of a surprise that we were due for a more laid back affair. I’ll admit at first I was a little underwhelmed by Push the sky away; the album is definitely a grower. Inspired by Nick Cave googling things he was curious about and using wikipedia especially; it shows how song writing is definitely changing. Once upon a time there was the old image of the song writer who carries his notepad around everywhere he goes and when he sees or hears something interesting it gets jotted down for later use. Now, Cave has joined the digital age, and like the rest of us, he is sitting on his fat skinny arse googling shit and then noting down things he finds interesting. But true to his genius this hasn’t made Cave’s writing on Push the sky away any less incredible. Mermaids was the first song to really grab me; the opening line showing Cave’s crude and sick humour is still ever present: “She was a catch, we were a match, I was the match that would fire up her snatch”. The chorus of Mermaids is catchy and feels like it could take you away on a dream in it’s delicacy, delivering a beautiful melody. Jubilee Street is a 6 and a half minute builder; from what I can tell,  it tells the story of a prostitute who had her brothel or livelihood taken away from her and who then begins to blackmail the protagonist of the song who is both in love with her and hates her for what she is doing. The song builds and builds; starting with a repetitive guitar riff that makes the song feel as if it is going nowhere, it is trapped, mirroring the situation of the protagonist. Yet when we get to the final stanza of the song where the protagonist is now “transforming, vibrating and glowing”, that is exactly what the music does. You feel it break free. The image it gives me; completely unrelated to the subject matter, is of someone trapped underground, trying to dig their way out, and as the final stanza begins it’s like they finally see some daylight through the dirt; and so they keep digging and digging and finally they’re out and standing basking in the sun with arms stretched wide open; it’s a powerful song for sure. The Higgs Boson Blues is an example of a song that you really can imagine coming straight from wikipedia with Cave looking up the Higgs Boson (or ‘God particle’) and being totally fascinated by it; which isn’t surprising since it is pretty damn incredible. We no who U R  is classic Cave, it seems to comment on the fact that now days there is nowhere to run and hide, everything is online, all of our information is readily available, there is no more anonymity as Cave sings “We know who you are, we know where you live, and there is no need to forgive”. But of course with what sounds like a children’s choir singing backing vocals on that line gives it a much creepier and more sinister feel. The spelling of the title itself in text-speak is another nod to the digital age in the song, it is very “un-Nick Cave”, being the poet that he is, but at the same time like the great Stephen Fry says, the language we speak now would also be considered butchering the way we speak by those who came before us. We real cool is just eerie, only consisting of menacing bass, strings and keys and Cave’s threatening vocals. While this album doesn’t soar to the heights of 2004’s Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus, it grows on you to have some incredible depth and earn its place among the many of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds‘ fantastic albums.

 

7. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt (October)

 

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I absolutely never thought I’d be including a Pear Jam album on any kind of ‘best of’ list; I can’t deny that Ten was a brilliant album, but after that I can’t really call myself even a fan of Pearl Jam. Besides the odd song here and there, I just never really got into them, but at the same time never really disliked them. They, like Nirvana, always felt like they were the sort of band I probably should like, but never really did. Then I happened to hear the track Getaway from this new album and it had me hooked straight away. I’m sure huge Pearl Jam fans will probably tell me that this album isn’t as good as the old stuff, or that it is mediocre by their standards and ranks somewhere in the middle, but for whatever reason I went and listened to the rest of the album and I really enjoyed it from start to finish. Unlike earlier with The Arctic Monkeys, where I just didn’t really pay much attention to anything they did after their first album, besides the odd listen here and there; Pearl Jam I always gave somewhat of a chance when a new album came out, because, as I say, they are the sort of band I normally would like. So I’m quite confident in saying it isn’t that I have been missing out on anything they have done in recent years, it’s just that this album has grabbed me for some reason. It is a lot more pop-rock than what I usually like, it’s clean, slick, a little over produced and pretty commercial; it goes against pretty much everything I like in rock music. Getaway was the first track to grab me, and is the album opener; first thing I noticed is that Eddie Vedder’s vocals are really quite good. That bleating sheep sound which can really get on your nerves is really toned quite down here; still present, but much more subtle. His voice is strong on the opening track and it is a catchy mid-tempo song which builds into a bit of a rock-out climax where Vedder sings about the importance of individuality.  The album is more anthem rock than what brought them to the dance with Ten back in 1991; and that’s a good thing because it shows they have grown and aren’t trying to constantly recreate that same sound over and over. Sleeping by myself was previously a Vedder solo song which has been reworked into something appropriate for the whole band; it’s slower paced mostly acoustic number featuring a little ukulele; totally charming and very catchy, again with Vedder’s voice sounding really strong. Pendulum is a strange track; not out of place in the overall catalog of Pearl Jam, as it would fit quite well somewhere in that 96-02 period of theirs; but out of place on this album at least, but that’s not a bad thing. It sounds like Pearl Jam covering a song written by a collaboration between Radiohead and Muse – a song about not knowing where to go, the up’s and down’s of depression or bipolar disorder perhaps. It definitely goes against the commercial pop-rockery of the rest of the album but really helps to break it up when it becomes a bit too much, with a slightly otherworldly sound. Infallible is catchy as an STD; but one you might actually want to get, kinda, – it is almost the bridge between Getaway and Pendulum; it wants to be both; slightly different and against the grain of the album, but at the same time have that radio friendly sensibility. Let the records play is Pearl Jam’s stab at a rockabilly track; it doesn’t quite work but I like that they tried something different. The music to it is actually quite good with that rockabilly guitar but the vocals and lyrics don’t quite work; an instrumental version here would sound much better. Sirens is the song that most people seem to be talking about, a Floyd/Who-esque type power ballad, but I think it’s probably the weakest song on the album; it feels like it doesn’t quite go anywhere. Mind Your Manners is one of the most aggressive punk-like tracks the band has attempted in years; it would fit in with 2006’s World Wide Suicide or Comatose. All in all, this is the most I have enjoyed a Pearl Jam album in a very long time, the good songs outweigh the bad and I find myself listening to them over and over, really pleasantly surprised with this one.

 

6. Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady (September)

 

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Time to inject a little bit of vibrant energy into the list with Janelle Monáe’s second album. It had a lot of work to do to live up to the brilliance of 2010’s ArchAndroid, and unfortunately it doesn’t quite meet those lofty standards; however, it is a damn good album. It isn’t quite as varied and eclectic as ArchAndroid was but it certainly does genre-hop. Monáe continues the Metropolis concept series (partly based on the 1927 movie of the same name). It is a prequel of sorts to ArchAndroid, still following the story of Cindi Mayweather – an android who falls in love with a human, which is highly forbidden by The Great Divide, who are a secret society which controls Metropolis. So really what it boils down to is that Monáe is a complete nerd; and that’s what makes her so awesome! She is hip-hop and RnB for those who don’t normally find themselves enjoying hip-hop and RnB. Her lyrics continue to shine on this album, probably even better than her previous album and EP. Monáe is like Gaga in many ways, only she isn’t as overtly in your face with the message of “be who you want to be”. Gaga holds rallies and is the poster girl for the LGBT, whereas Monáe prefers to let her music subtly do the talking. She is a unique individual, there is no doubt about that, and she is a champion for nerds, misfits and outcasts. The album itself features a cast of cameos, the best of which is definitely Prince on the track Givin’ em what they love; where he lends both his voice and a blistering guitar solo. His voice blends perfectly with Monáe’s and together they just bring such a funky sound which explodes with a big bombastic finish. The album’s first single, Q.U.E.E.N is one of her most radio friendly, and is instantly catchy. It has a thick chunky bassline and catchy chorus in which she explores vogue culture, femininity, identity and loving yourself; the song has a fantastic segue into soul jazz with Erykah’s cameo, and ends with a jackhammer-speed rap by Monáe. Dorothy Danridge Eyes evokes smooth late 70s lounge-jazz-funk which you instantly don’t feel cool enough to be listening to; while Sally Ride features Monáe’s most impressive vocals on the album , almost enough to rival ArchAndroid’s BaBopByeYa. The stand out track to me is Dance Apocalyptic; full of energy, it flirts with a 60s doo-wop sound such as The Supremes. It is playground chanting and ukulele and is utterly infectious; personally it would be up there for me as one of the track’s of the year. Ghetto Woman is a masterful tribute to Monáe’s Mother; a track with a massive message and again, is a real ear worm; if Stevie Wonder was a woman in 2013 he would have probably written this track. I absolutely can’t wait to see her live some time and to hear more from her in the future, she is a dead set genius.

 

5. Moistboyz – V (November)

 

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In a number of songs during the course of the Moistboyz career, we are reminded that the Moistboyz will never retire; and true to their word, we now have the fifth album. Dickie Moist (Guy Hellar) and Mickey Moist (Mickey Melchiondo, aka Dean Ween) have changed things up a little on this latest album. This is the first Moistboyz album to be made as the priority musical project for Melchiondo; all the other albums have been made alongside his commitments to Ween, but now, with Ween disbanded, a lot more time and energy was able to be devoted to the new Moistboyz album. This is the most varied album they have done to date; while it still does contain the key Moistboyz ingredients of fast paced angry metal/punk; this time we get a little southern rock, some alternative balladry, some stoner rock and a touch of country. Hellar is not exactly known as the world’s greatest singer, but his vocals have improved on this album and the variance in the styles of music has allowed him to explore his range and melody a little more; all the while keeping his southern sneer. Either way, his voice fits in perfectly with the music that is being created; it is very much stream of consciousness/speaking your mind stuff – often verging on stereotypical far right red neck views, but with tongue planted far enough in cheek to find the humour in it. Melchiondo is really still the master here though; the man is a musical jack of all trades/master of all trades; besides being a world class guitarist, he lends his talents to bass, drums and production again for this album. The Moistboyz are a little less angry on this album than on previous records; the lead single Paperboy is just straight up hilarious; especially when combined with it’s amazing video clip which takes off the 1984 video game of the same name. It tells the story of a deadbeat paperboy who works for very little pay, wastes it all on drugs, and the horrible people on his paper round; simple but brilliant with the most drug inspired guitar solo from Melchiondo in years. Medusa is probably the most vintage Moistboyz track on the album, it is straight up in your face rock. The beginning of the music video sums up the Moistboyz/Medusa when it shows a sign on the studio door which reads “Recording session in process! Fuck off!” Chickendick is the band at their juvenile best, the track sounds like something Primus, or Ween themselves would make; an upbeat country number where you can just tell the immense fun Melchiondo is having on backing vocals where he gets to yell out “Chickendick!” Another southern rock/country inspired track, albeit at a slower pace, is Down on the farm; which features some really impressive southern guitar work and Hellar really finding some nice melody in his voice. My time to shine is a mostly acoustic alt ballad, which is actually quite a touching track and really unlike anything the band has done before and shows the song writing maturity the band has found now that it has had room to breathe out from under the Ween shadow. Crisis and vices is another track which really shows how the band has grown; it has some real music depth to it, a genuinely interesting song rooted in the stoner-rock genre. It sounds at times like it could be a Queens of the Stoneage track, which isn’t surprising given that Melchiondo has played guitar with QOTSA in the past. They won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but they just hit a spot for me somewhere between giving me a chuckle and giving me something to rock out to; what I love about the Moistboyz is that you can tell they are just doing whatever makes them happy, much like Ween really. They have absolutely no desire whatsoever for commercial success, they’re just a couple of guys who love making music and still do it the old school way, recording in a studio at home. Moistboyz are definitely here again and they never retire.

 

 

 

4. The National – Trouble Will Find Me (May)

 

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I’m sensing a bit of a trend this year; as with the Arctic Monkeys and Pearl Jam;The National never previously really did much for me. That’s not to say I hadn’t given them a shot; I’ve listened to a lot of their previous work before but I just didn’t find it something I wanted to listen to much. In fact, I’ve had that happen quite a bit recently – only about a year ago I heard a song from The Decemberists which I fell in love with, and this was after absolutely hating Colin Meloy’s voice for years, but suddenly I just found myself loving their entire back catalog and would probably put them in my top 10 bands of all time now. So I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me anymore that a band I had previously written off in The National should suddenly grab me so much. As with most of those other bands too it all started with one song, and that song for this album is probably my song of the year – Pink Rabbits. This song just kills me, I love it so much; it is piano-lead, and beautifully so in such a somber way and the lyrics are divine (as are most on this album, really). “You didn’t see me, I was falling apart, I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park/You didn’t see me, I was falling apart, I was television version of a person with a broken heart” – just gorgeous. The little nod to Morrissey’s “Bona Drag” album always scores points as well; but I have listened to this song over and over and over this year with absolutely no signs of slowing down. I need my girl is probably a close second, this song just has the most beautifully delicate guitar work which grabs you from the moment the song begins. What I am glad for with this album is that the drums have been pushed back in the mix. I know that is sacrilege to some hardcore National fans, but for tracks like I need my girl, I just don’t think it would work as well with the usual sound-defining drums the band is known for. But it’s the lyrics on this album I am just besotted with. The National’s lyrics are at their best when they near the “burnt tongue” technique used by author Amy Hempel and popularised by Chuck Palahniuk. What that means is twisting words in an awkward, unexpected, or otherwise wrong direction in a way that forces the reader or listener to pay attention and catch up. Some examples from Hempel: “I moved through the days like a severed head that finishes a sentence”, or “In my neighborhood there is a fellow who was a chemistry teacher until an explosion took his face and left what was left behind.” From The National this would translate into songs such as Demons: “Get the sudden sinking feeling, of a man about to fly”, or Humiliation: “I was teething on roses, I was in guns and noses”. Perhaps one of my favourite lyrics; a very Morrisseyesque lyric, also comes from Humiliation: “All the L.A women, fall asleep while swimmin; I got paid to fish em out, then one day I lost the job.”  A couple of the songs are a little generic though and remind me a little of what I remember the previous albums to be like; particularly the track Sea of love.  However, as with some of the previous bands, I really should go back and re-listen to their back catalog because I could be dead wrong about those albums too.

 

3. The DC3 – May Contain Traces of Nut (February)

 

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The man formerly known as TISM’s Humphrey B. Flaubert – Damian Cowell, once described the DC3’s sound prior to this album as the sound of “an Oakleigh Districts footy mum throwing a stubbie at a Clayton player in the Under 16s Grand Final” If that is how the man himself describes the DC3 prior to this, it will be almost impossible to review this album in any way which would be accurate according to Cowell. The DC3 funded this album entirely through a kickstarter with help from their fan base. They raised enough money to be able to really improve on the recording process compared with their previous 2 albums. The kickstarter itself had some wonderful incentives to get fans to donate; not just the usual “donate $10 and receive a copy of the album when it is released”, but some of the higher end donations saw offers for the DC3 to personally come around and mow your lawn or cook you a dinner (however, they specified it would be a set menu of their choosing). The end result really does show, as the production quality on this album is top notch and they could afford to branch out a little and hire an actual drummer and some female backing singers. As far back as the early TISM albums, Cowell has always had the ability to make me laugh like no other person in music has; his wit is genius and this album is no different. What is different about this album is that Cowell has cleverly used humour to mask some real gripes he has about the music industry and life in general; yes he is a grumpy old man, and now you’re going to hear all about it. While their previous album, The Future Sound of Nostalgia, contained ridiculous tracks like Jesus Penis; this album tends to be a little more “serious”. Case in point, the track Stop, while it is pretty much about shutting the fuck up, it is presented in quite a beautiful way, all things considered With lyrics such as: “Whatever happened to subtlety, the complex beauty of things unsaid/ Whatever happened to thinking before you say the first thing that comes in your head/Of course I’m not talking about a lifetime Trappist vow, Just pause for some elegant resonant silence right now”; which all leads to the point that if we just shut the fuck up sometimes, that one day someone will say something, and it’ll mean something. But what really was a winning move on this album was the female backing vocalists who sing on a number of tracks. Sometimes even providing the choruses such as on Stop. It provides a fantastic way to let the listener hear some people who are trained singers. Which is a little unfair to Cowell; it isn’t that he can’t sing or has a bad voice, but it does afford him the perfect foil for his grumpy old half spoken-half sung whinges. The female backing vocalists appear again on Market Forces, where they allow Cowell to rant away while they sing the anthems of market forces in choruses, such as: “Come with us, empowering the oppressed with instant communication, and bringing down governments with freedom of information, we’re smashing the boundaries of darkness and subjugation”. Indistinguishable is the lead single from the album and is a hilarious stab at the current generation of indie hipster bands where “indie” is actually short for “indistinguishable”. It contains more really sharp writing: “Me and my free thinkin’ friends deep in Melbourne’s Paris end, composing rebellion’s libretto over an astringent ristretto/Me and my free thinkin’ friends, see us in the izakaya den/we watch you queue as we push through, cos we eschew what’s on the menu”. One of the cleverest songs I have heard in recent times is A Gathering, in which Cowell describes a party which is confined solely to the inside of his own head: “My demons are at the window lobbing cans, guilt is fussing round with a brush and pan, ambition is in the bathroom washing her hands, anxiety is spewing up in the pot plants, obsession is manning the turntable decks, indecision keeps making song requests, there’s a conga line of my failed conquests, playing drinkin’ games with my self respect” all concluding with the fact that he may indeed contain traces of nut. My favourite line comes towards the end of the song: “There goes my id sculling vodka martinis, there goes my conscience confiscating his car keys, there goes my future in fancy dress, it’s a sickle and a skull mask, let me guess” – genius. There is plenty of typical DC3 humour laced throughout the album, such as If only I was A, which documents all the things Cowell could get done if only he were a-sexual. But the album also contains some genuinely positive songs such as Something Good, which really has no jokes or twists to it at all; it’s purely a song about wishing good things to happen to people. The DC3 really nailed it with this album, catchy as hell, the music is superb and the writing is phenomenal.

 

 

2. Johnny Marr – The Messenger (February)

 

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Johnny Fuckin‘ Marr is back; not much more needs to be said really! After The Smiths split in 1987, Johnny seemed to drift aimlessly from band to band; finding himself in The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse, The Cribs and Johnny Marr + The Healers among others. It was sad to see a guy with so much musical talent for song writing drift so far from what he did best. With The Smiths he wrote some of the greatest indie pop songs of all time with some of the most memorable, jangly, delicate and gorgeous guitar work ever created by a human being. Johnny’s strength wasn’t really in playing guitar, it was in song writing; once written, others could recreate his work, but they couldn’t come close to writing a song like he could. Unfortunately for over 20 years, neither could Johnny Marr. He seemed so desperate to distance himself from his natural style, almost in some kind of effort to prove he could do other stuff; like an actor not wanting to be type cast. When he was writing for other people there was nothing magical about it, he was a session musician for hire basically; although I did really enjoy his stint with Modest Mouse, but then again I liked Modest Mouse before Johnny joined, too. Even his true first solo album with The Healers was depressingly dull, it carried no trademark Marr stamp on it. I like to think that The Messenger is what The Smiths would sound like if they were still going in 2013. Johnny is finally back writing in that frame of mind and I can only hope that somewhere Morrissey sat listening to this album and thought “I should get this guy to play guitar for me…”. The great thing is though, that Johnny doesn’t need Morrissey, his vocals have improved ten fold from his days with The Healers, and his live renditions of Smiths tracks are fantastic. Lead single Upstarts is an anthem for youth, where Johnny’s guitar is as jangly as ever; a really upbeat, energetic track. Much of the album is about early life in Manchester, mostly before The Smiths; but it’s not hard to imagine the upstarts in this track being those 4 Mancunian lads who went on to change music history. New Town Velocity again feels like it could easily be about the beginnings of The Smiths as Johnny sings: “Left home a mystery, leave school for poetry, say goodbye to them and me, mission velocity”. The intro to this track is just fucking fantastic; as a long time Smiths fan who has gotten their fill of the vocal and lyrical side of The Smiths with Morrissey’s solo work; this is the first time in over 20 years we have had our fill of the musical side of The Smiths. New Town Velocity’s guitar intro could easily be something on The Queen is Dead; the first acoustic 30 seconds before the delicate electric licks are layered over the top are sublime. European Me is a slight disappointment, only because it was the track I was most looking forward to; it’s early live recordings and studio clips promised one of Johnny’s greatest riffs ever, let alone just in his solo career; and it is there, however, it is frustratingly buried quite deep in the mix and thus the song feels like such a missed opportunity. Generate! Generate! and The Crack Up are total ear worms that will play in your head for days after hearing them; both very upbeat – The Crack Up in particular feels like an amalgamation of different eras of British music, somehow a mixture of The Beatles, The Smiths and Oasis all at once. Generate! Generate! is just pure catchy indie pop-rock at it’s finest. I want the heartbeat is a fast paced rocker with Johnny showing off a little touch of falsetto when he sings the chorus. What blows my mind as I listen to that track is that somehow this is the same guy who sang on the plodding, boring, bereft of energy album that was Boomslang, with The Healers. It is so utterly different. A slightly odd move for me was consigning one of the best songs to a B-Side (but then again, that never stopped The Smiths). The it switch is easily good enough to be part of the album with a riff that gets stuck in your head for days; it is so simple, there is nothing complex about the song at all, yet that is the beauty of it; Johnny takes the simple and makes it sound incredible; much like Morrissey took the mundane and made it heroic with his words…if only they could form a band or something. I couldn’t be much more impressed with this album and am so glad that Johnny Marr finally “came home”, so to speak.

 

 

1. Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions (August)

 

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Franz Ferdinand fired up the old “Franz Ferdinand catchy as fuck song making machine” and produced another album of tracks that burrow their way into your head and take up residence there for years. It isn’t any great departure from what they have done in the past, but it is a little more reminiscent of their first album than others. It is disco-rock, it is a funkier playful new wave, it’s early Talking Heads meets Sparks meets The Strokes. To me it feels like this album is their first album with with a further decade of experience to hone their style. Front man Alex Kapranos’ charming wit is in fine form right from the first track, Right Action, where he sings “sometimes I wish you were here, weather permitting”Right Action is a fine lead single for the album, but probably is the weakest track; it’s opening line is superb though: “come home, practically all is nearly forgiven”, which sounds like something one might find on a tongue in cheek post card to a run away. Evil Eye is a real contender for me for song of the year; from the first time you hear it you feel like you’ve heard it a million times yet it is still sounding fresh. It draws inspiration from The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe, and the accompanying video is done in D-grade horror film style and is hilariously lame. Bullet is a fast paced uptempo rocker that is one of the catchiest tracks this band has ever produced; and they know it. Which is saying something; the lyrics themselves hint that the band knows this: “I’ll never get your bullet out of my head now, baby”. The band experiment a little with the tracks too; The Universe Expanded features a brilliant extended intro in which the guitars have been reversed and play backwards which cleverly fits a song about a relationship being explored in reverse where Kapranos sings about taking the dog back to the RSPCA, posing before photographs are taken and laughing before jokes are told. Brief Encounters is a brilliant quirky little songs about swinging couples: “We are brief encounters, we all lose our keys, we all choose our partners, we all choose our keys, car keys, choose your keys”. The song reminds me of something the late period Beatles would write along with Sparks. The guitar-synth riff from glam rocker Love Illumination will get your foot tapping from the opening seconds; it just hooks you and once again feels instantly recognisable while remaining fresh. Franz Ferdinand have perfected the art of never having to make a song or album a grower; but at the same time remaining incredibly hard to get sick of the songs. Usually it is one or the other with this type of music, but they are in a league of their own here; I can’t skip a track on this album. The closing track Goodbye Lovers and Friends has the protagonist singing from beyond the grave reminding his funeral attendees not to make him into something in death which he wasn’t in life: “Don’t get inventory, don’t fake your memory, don’t give me virtues that I never had, don’t get sychophantal, we never were sentimental, I know that I took more than I ever gave”. The final lines of the album, “but this really is the end” is hopefully not a foreshadowing of future things for Franz Ferdinand. I believe that if the well were to run dry with this format then it would by now with their 4th album. Instead, we have probably their finest work to date in my opinion, and so here’s hoping to many more.

 

 

 

 

2013 was again an awesome year for music; unfortunately I didn’t see anywhere near as many live shows as I would have liked to or have done in previous years – being on a student budget doesn’t allow for that.

A few albums stiff to miss and a few that I thought may have made it but failed to live up to expectations. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard released 2 albums in 2013; the better of the two being Eyes Like The Sky, which is an awesome concept album which works as a spaghetti western audio-book. The band provide the music and a story is narrated by Broderick Smith (The Dingoes) which progresses with each track.
Regurgitator released Dirty Pop Fantasy which was quite hit and miss, the highlights being some of the best stuff I think they have done, but the lows being some of the most forgettable; I think this makes sense considering the fractured nature of the band with Quan living in Hong Kong and the rest of the band in Australia; that makes the writing and even the recording process pretty difficult to find fluidity. Simon Berkelman from Philadelphia Grand Jury released his first solo album under the name Feelings which may have made the list had I had more time to listen to it. The Philly Jays are a great band who have only just recently reformed; when they split a few years back and Berkelman released a few tracks as Feelings, I really wasn’t impressed. However, after seeing the reformed Philly Jay’s about a month ago in which they played some of the new Feelings songs, I thought they sounded quite good and so I checked the new album out and it’s actually a really pleasant surprise. Nothing like the original few tracks released under that name. Lorde seems to be the name on everyone’s lips this year; the girl who knocked Miley Cyrus off the top of the charts. I thought the single she did it with, Royals, was a really impressive track, unfortunately upon listening to the rest of her album it seemed like every song was pretty much the same. Not that they were bad, just no variation. Still, an impressive debut from the 17yr old Kiwi girl who offered the charts something just a little bit different. Lady Gaga’s third album was a big disappointment to me. I admit, I’m a Gaga fan, I think she is extremely talented (although often I think the talent is a bit misused), and her live show is still one of the most spectacular things I’ve seen; but this was the album I was hoping was just a little …different; but it felt like it was the poor outtakes from the previous albums. Besides a couple of songs, nothing really stuck with me as it did with the previous releases; I feel that while this was the album I hoped was a little different, her next album needs to be a little bit different in order for her to stay sounding fresh. Pixies released a new EP which I thought was mixed; 2 good songs, 2 not so good. What Goes Boom I absolutely love, just a fun rocker. Likewise, Colin Meloy released a new EP, which is the next installment in his “Colin Meloy sings…” series. After having covered Morrissey, Sam Cooke and Shirley Collins, this time he was tackling The Kinks; and I think it is his best EP yet, however I much prefer him with The Decemberists. 

2014 should be another awesome year for music, I’m hoping for it to be a year packed with some personal favourites and big returns. Live are putting the finishing touches on their new album as we speak which is due out sometime between March and June this year. I’m psyched about this, it is their first album with new singer Chris Shinn, their first album since the abysmal Songs From Black Mountain (2006); but more importantly, the first time the entire band has collaborated on songs on an album since 1999’s The Distance To Here; due to the departure of former lead singer Ed Kowalczyk who controlled all writing for the band from 2000 on-wards.  Morrissey is also rumored to be going into the studio soon to record the follow-up to 2009’s Years Of Refusal; And The Bombay Royale are currently recording their second album which should be out in the coming months also. Also hoping for a bigger year of gig-going once again; Bluesfest is not far away and if it is anything like the last 2 that I have been to then it should be a week of insane performances.

So, over 2014 I will be more disciplined with trying to get my thoughts down as releases and gigs actually happen; and hopefully also develop my writing a little more rather than just throwing rambling unstructured words at a page which it has been thus far. I figure the more I get writing again, the more I’ll continue to develop some kind of style which hopefully would be somewhat interesting to read. Until then, enjoy music!

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