Sunday, 17 October 2004

Top 10 Years For Album Releases - #7

Well here we are again...time for another post. And most importantly, time to continue the countdown to #1 on my top 10 favourite years for album releases.

Without further ado, allow me to proceed to the discussion of my 7th favourite year of all time.

#7: 1999

Ahhh...1999. This was my 3rd (and final) year of university. It's pretty common to look back on the past through rose coloured glasses, and uni is no exception. I'll always say to myself how I miss the old times at uni, and there's definitely a lot of nostalgia there, but I don't think it was quite as "fun" as I remember it.

Now what about the music? Well in tradition of the previous posts, let's first talk about some of the classic albums released in 1999.

Travis released their brilliant 2nd album The man who this year. Recently they have completely lost the plot (simply by refusing to change and re-releasing the same album a few times), but there is no denying that The man who was, and still is, a superb album. Now before you start shouting Travis?!?! Brilliant album!?!?! What are you thinking?!?!?! I'd like you to think back to 1999. Coldplay weren't even on the scene yet. Their debut album Parachutes was still a year away. Jeff Buckley had drowned a few years earlier in 1997. OK computer was still being hailed as one of the greatest albums ever released, and that had been released in 1997 as well. Travis were definitely influenced by Jeff Buckley and Radiohead, but this was long before the market had been saturated with soundalike bands. Travis were quite unique at the time, and The man who was a breath of fresh air, a true melodic gem of an album with beautiful falsetto vocals by Fran Healy and practically no filler. Unfortunately, Why does it always rain on me? got overplayed on the radio and it has lost a lot of its appeal now, but I'd like to say that I enjoyed this song long before it was even played on the radio. What really makes this album is the power of songs such as the opener Writing to reach you, As you are and Driftwood. The hidden track, The blue flashing light, is a brilliant closer -- lyrically and musically.

Another superb album of 1999, which I only got into this year, is a little known album called I see a darkness by Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Who? I hear you say. Yeah, I hadn't heard of him either, until I saw this album in at the #9 position in Pitchfork's Top 100 Albums of the 90's list. I had (or had heard of) most of the other albums in the top 10, but I hadn't even heard of this album, let alone this singer. It was enough to intrigue me to purchase the album, and it's a true masterpiece. Very dark (lyrically and musically), it's a stunning lo-fi folk/country album with unique vocals and minimalistic instrumentation. Granted, it's an acquired taste, and it did take me about 5-6 listens to start appreciating it, but I'm glad I gave it a chance. Definitely a risk which paid off.

Some other great albums from 1999:

  • Dream Theater - Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a memory (what can I say? This album is superb. Their music is best classified as "progressive metal". This is a concept album which must be listened to from start to finish to properly understand the story. Its the story of a woman's murder, told to some of the most stunning music you will ever hear. The guitar and piano work on this album is simply amazing. Sure, it's a prentious album, and the lyrics sometimes get a bit daft -- but it's all part of the appeal)
  • Ben Harper - Burn to shine (I know a certain young man who may be reading this who will be cheering right now - he's looking at you Brett. Yes this is one of Brett's Top 5 Albums Of All Time. It's a very diverse, often brilliant album by one of the most talented performers of the moment. Beloved one is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.)
  • Flaming Lips - The soft bulletin (my brother is a big Flaming Lips fan. He actually bought this at one stage but returned it, because he prefers their earlier lo-fi stuff and wasn't able to make the transition to their most elaborately produced albums like this one. However, after reading glowing reviews of this album, I had to get it -- and I'm glad I did. Superb songwriting, superb production, great stuff. A true masterwork.)
  • Something for Kate - Beautiful sharks (Pete got me into this one. I bought it purely on his recommendation. First few months I had this album, it did very little for me. Then, one day, it suddenly hit me -- it was a great album! Subtle melodies, great lyrics, and the infamous "vibe" shone through, making it another favourite of mine from 1999)
  • Supergrass - Supergrass (their eponymous 3rd album wasn't received very well by critics. But it's probably my favourite Supergrass album to date. This album includes their brilliant singles Moving, Mary and Pumping on your stereo. But it also includes some excellent lesser known tracks such as Jesus came from outta space, What went wrong (in your head) and the haunting Mama & Papa.)
  • Augie March - Waltz (this was their 2nd EP after the mediocre Thanks for the memes in 1998, and it included the brilliant Asleep in perfection which was also on their stunning debut album Sunset studies. Many live favourites are included on this EP including Rich girl and The mothball)
Some other notable albums from 1999:
  • Suede released their 4th album, and their 2nd "pop" album Head music. I remember loving this album when I bought it -- it was actually the catalyst to one of my major Suede phases in 1999 -- but this album definitely hasn't aged as well as their self-titled debut or Dog man star.
  • Ben Folds Five released their swan song, their concept album The unauthorised biography of Reinhold Messner. Wow, that's certainly a mouthful. This album didn't do a heap for me in 1999, but its has grown on me heaps on the last few listens and I probably consider it to be their best album now.
  • Gomez released their 2nd album Liquid skin. There are some superb cuts on this album (in fact the highs such as We haven't turned around and Devil will ride outshine anything on their debut Bring it on) -- however the songwriting consistency isn't as solid as their debut.
  • James released their solid album Millionaires. Unfortunately that isn't what they became.
  • Super Furry Animals released their 3rd album, Guerrilla. I think you'd be hard pressed to find an SFA fan who considers this their best album, but it's certainly not a bad album by any accounts. This album amazingly has a hidden track before track 1 on this disc. Yes, that's right, you have to rewind to before track 1 to hear it. And it's a choice cut as well. Amazing, hey?
  • Alex Lloyd released his debut album Black the sun. I have definitely gone off this guy now (in fact I can't believe there was a time where I actually bought one of his albums). I do remember really enjoying this album when I got it, but it doesn't do a lot for me anymore.
  • Jebediah released their 2nd album Of someday shambles. While not up to the stature of their classic debut Slightly odway, there's some notable choice cuts on this album, including one of my personal favourites Run of the company.
  • Wilco released their 3rd album Summerteeth. This was their first album where they finally strayed away from their country roots, and it's continually growing on me with each listen.
  • Gorky's Zygotic Mynci released their album Spanish dance troupe. The best way to describe these guys would be a cross between Belle & Sebastian and Super Furry Animals. So why weren't they called Super Belle & The Furry Sebastians? This is a very enjoyable album anyway.
  • Tom Waits (one of the true geniuses still releasing music) released his great album Mule variations. This was actually the first Tom Waits album I purchased. It took me a long time to appreciate it. But now I have all of his albums. It's a bit like that with Tom Waits.
  • Tim Rogers & The Twin Set released their debut album What rhymes with cars and girls. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-ha!
  • The Charlatans released their album Us and us only. Yeah it's okay. Can't remember when I listened to it last though.
  • Bernie Hayes (brother of late Whitlam Stevie Plunder) released his debut album, Every Tuesday Sometimes Sunday. Some nice country-folk ditties on this album, including You made me hard (*snicker*) which the Whitlams recorded on their Love this city album (see below).
  • Blur released their experimental album 13 this year. While their last album (the self-titled one from 1997) was a transition album, by this album they definitely made the full transition into art-rockers. There's not many accessible moments on this album (Coffee and TV being the most) and I'd like to say the whole album works, but it doesn't all work for me. That's not saying there aren't some amazing cuts on here, including No distance left to run.
  • Silverchair released their 3rd album Neon ballroom to a set of glowing reviews. They youngens really started growing up on this album. Their evolution would continue on their next album, the brilliant Diorama.
  • Electronic, who were made up of the singer from New Order and the guitarist from The Smiths, released their 3rd album, Twisted tenderness. Definitely influenced by New Order more than The Smiths, this is nevertheless a solid collection of dance/rock tunes.
And finally some of the disappointments of the year:
  • Ahhh the Whitlams. They released their masterpiece Eternal nightcap a few years earlier, after Stevie Plunder died. In 1999 they released Love this city. Now picture this for a moment, if you will. The Whitlams had released 2 albums of underground aussie garage pop followed by a sombre (but stunningly beautiful) album. The expectations were high for Love this city. A fan has just returned from the CD shop and put the shiny metal disc in their player while their quivering hand pushes play in antipation. Then the opening lyrics hit them like a stab in the heart: I know they all want you with your Desdemona's eyes. I'll keep you from danger. Save you from prying eyes. I can make the world safe for you. As a certain character said many times in A mighty wind - What HAppened?!?!
  • Longpigs released their sophomore slump, Mobile home. Their first album was a slice of Suede-influenced Britpop brilliance. Their second album rambles off in streams of consciousness with no sense of melody. Unfortunately I have to agree with the AMG review of this album.
  • Echo & The Bunnymen released their 2nd album after reuniting, What are you going to do with your life? With the exception of a few choice cuts, like Rust, this album just bores me. Yawwwwwwwwwwwwn.
  • Aimee Mann and David Mead released their respective albums, Bachelor no. 2 and The luxury of time. Decent albums, but way too polished for me to truly enjoy. Both write in similar styles to Elvis Costello, but Elvis has the rougher and unique voice to add a bit of character. They guys are just lacking character.
And that's 1999 for you. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Friday, 8 October 2004

Whoa Mamma

J-Man says I need to spruce up my blog a bit and put more pictures of women on it (he comments on it and he's not even a member or contributor, how's that for chutzpah). So here's Michelle Phillips from the Mammas and the Pappas who I mentioned in my last posting. That's her on the right in case you didn't notice. She definitely has the Marcia Brady / sexy hippie chick 60's thing happening. She gets the 'Brush tick of approval as well.

Michelle Phillips

Thursday, 7 October 2004

Top 10 Years For Album Releases - #8

And here we are at position number 8 in the top 10 best years for album releases.

So far we have had a year from the noughties, and a year from the sixties. Quite a range of years there. So now it's time to choose a year where I spent most of my teen years, the nineties.

#8: 1995

Ahh...1995. It was Year 11 at school, the year of the work requirement. A stepping stone to the big one, Year 12. This was probably around the time when I started buying more CDs. Not religiously, but my CD purchasing certainly started increasing. So a lot of the albums I will discuss here have a lot of nostalgic value (because I have fond memories of first hearing them), but many still get heavy rotation to this date.

In tradition of the previous posts, I will start with the masterpieces of the year. Firstly, a little known band called Radiohead released their 2nd album, the brilliant The bends this year. Now I didn't actually buy this album in 1995, so I won't pretend that I have a really cool story about how I felt when it first came out, because I don't. I don't think I actually bought it until OK Computer had already come out in 1997. My brother had purchased it before me (possibly in 1996 when I was in Year 12), and I remember borrowing it off him and listening to it in my room, marvelling at the brilliance of tracks like Street spirit. In fact, I remember falling asleep on the floor of my room one afternoon (after school) to that particular song. Such a masterpiece of a song, and what a brilliant way to end a superb album. I also remember thinking that Black star was a really underrated song, and I still do to this date. Nobody seems to mention that song when discussing the merits of The bends.

Another superb album that was released in 1995 was Different class by Sheffield band Pulp. Now I distinctly remember when and where I purchased this album - it was in first year uni (1997) at the CD shop in the Monash University Union Building. I remember getting it for about $16 (at the same time as Portishead's self-titled album which had just been released if I remember correctly). I also remember what prompted me to buy this album - Pulp had included a song of theirs called Mile end on the Trainspotting soundtrack, and it was a really cool song with a great vibe. I had to know more about this band. This was before the days of easy Internet access and the All Music Guide (well at least before I knew about it) so often the best you could do is see an album by a band you've heard of in the shop, assume it's their definitive album and take a risk. Which is what I did with Different class (not that $16 was much of a risk).

Anyway, I'm rambling now. I'd also heard Common people on the 1995 Triple J Hottest 100 which I'd previously purchased during the year, and enjoyed it. I'd also heard of a song called Disco 2000 but hadn't actually heard it. Different class was a first listen album for me, I absolutely loved it on the first listen. And while most albums that sound pretty amazing on the first listen don't have the same shelf life as "growers", I still love Different class to this day. It has the perfect combination of fantastic melodies and sleazy lyrics. It's the epitome of the Britpop movement (1995 was already deep into this movement), and it's still in my top 50 albums of all time.

Now on to some other great albums from 1995:
  • Alanis Morisette - Jagged little pill (I remember being absolutely blown about by the quality of this album when it came out. Then it was killed by overplay on the radio. Which is sad, because it's still a pretty great album, even if she doesn't know the meaning of Ironic)
  • The Whitlams - Undeniably the Whitlams (the last Whitlams album with the late Stevie Plunder on it, and it's a brilliant, ramshackle, fun album. Sounds like a completely different band to what they have become now. Although Eternal nightcap is probably their masterpiece, this one comes pretty bloody close, and it's certainly a lot more fun)
  • Elliott Smith - Elliott Smith (this list is starting to get pretty sombre. This was the 2nd album from the late singer/songwriter. Very low-fi, but who cares? The quality of the songwriting shines through on these brilliant tracks. Production would have only killed them. This contains one of my absolute favourite Elliott Smith tracks, Good to go)
  • You Am I - Hi fi way (many consider this to be their best album. It's up there, but Hourly daily still takes the cake for me. Still, many absolutely brilliant cuts on this album, including Purple sneakers which was also on the aforementioned Triple J Hottest 100 compilation)
  • Ben Harper - Fight for your mind (I didn't get into Ben Harper until a lot later, and this was actually the first album of his that I bought. A very diverse, excellent album including the classic stoner anthem Burn one down)
  • Blur - The great escape (very similar in style to its predecessor Parklife, but less consistent in my opinion. With their smash hit Country house included on it, this would be their last album in the Britpop style. They would start to reinvent themselves on their eponymous 1997 album)
  • Ben Folds Five - Ben Folds Five (includes the classic mid-90's alternative hit Underground)
  • Teenage Fanclub - Grand prix (13 nuggets of melodic beauty from these legendary Glaswegians. I'll glass ya if you don't listen to this album, laddy!)
  • Wilco - Being there (their most ambitious album, this double album still hints at their country past but also points the way towards their more experimental future)
  • Tricky - Maxinquaye (did I also mention that trip-hop was pretty big this year? have grown up in the mid-90's. Oh wait...I did)
Some other notable moments of 1995:
  • Presidents of the United States of America released their self-titled album of novelty songs like Lump. It was a big hit, but who honestly listens to this album still? They still (barely) had another album in them before they broke up.
  • Bjork released her second album Post this year, which had one of her biggest hits on it, It's all so quiet. Of course is was a completely unrepresentative song in her discography, nothing like anything else she has ever released.
  • Michael Jackson, who was still recovering from the child abuse allegations (phase #1), released his album HIStory. It was a double disc set encompassing one disc of greatest hits (to remind people how good he once was), and another disc of fairly decent tracks that were nevertheless in a completely different ballpark to the songs on the first disc.
  • Supergrass released their immature debut album I should coco. This contained their breakthrough hit Alright, as well as Caught by the fuzz. They would mature heaps by their second album In it for the money, but their debut album epitomised the sound of Britpop in the mid-90's.
  • The Verve released their 2nd album A northern soul. They broke up after this album, and reunited for their swansong, the brilliant Urban hymns, before breaking up again.
And that's 1995 for you. Quite an interesting range of music, lots of the music from that era brings back lots of memories for me, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. sweet.