Tuesday, 25 January 2005

Top 10 Years For Album Releases - #3

It's been well over a month since my last post on this subject. I'd like to say that I have a really cool excuse why it's been so long since my last post, but it really just comes down to laziness. I started this list and I keep saying to myself that I need to finish it. Of course, if more people replied to my posts, I'd have more reason to keep posting *hint* *hint*.

So here goes, let's continue the list.

#3: 1996

1996 was Year 12, a pretty stressful year overall, but personally one of the better years I experienced in high school. Most of the dickheads had been weeded out, dropping out before the VCE started, or moving to other schools. I started hanging out with different people, many of whom I still keep in touch with today. So year 12 wasn't so bad, even if there was a lot of work and immense pressure to get great results so you could get into the university course you wanted.

And musically, it's number three in my list of all time favourite years. As I have mentioned many times in the past, enjoying music has almost as much to do with memories as it does to the quality of the music. For some reason, I just remembered sitting in the Year 12 house in my high school (McKinnon) playing a mix tape on the portable stereo during lunchtime. This was before the days where CD burners were available, or at least before they were cheap enough for consumers. So mix tapes were the way of life back then. I remember one of my mixtapes -- it had Rolling Stones' "Mothers little helper" on it, as well as Cat Stevens' "Father and son". There may have even been a bit of Neil Young's "Heart of gold" on it. These were all songs I had copied from my brother's CD collection. And I remember listening to a lot of this stuff on mix tapes during this time of my life. I hadn't even fully gotten into the Beatles yet -- this was a year before the infamous Beatles night at Brett's house where some of us silly boys consumed a slab of Melbourne Bitter, and then decided to raid his sister's liquor stash. If anyone ever tells you that beer, Kahlua and Southern Comfort are a good mix, slap them from me. Let's just say that we were halfway through the White Album (if I remember correctly) when a certain young man with the initials BM fertilized the vegetable garden. But what a great way to introduce yourself to the joy of the Beatles! They sounded absolutely amazing under the influence of so much alcohol.

Anyway, none of this has anything to do with the year in question, 1996. So let's start with some of the classic releases of the year:
  • Oasis released their masterpiece, (What's the story) morning glory? Easily one of my favourite albums of all time, most bands can't even release a greatest hits compilation as consistently brilliant as this. It was all downhill for Oasis after this, but every time I give this album a spin I am blown away by how brilliant it is. This album brings back so many memories -- I still remember seeing the clip for Wonderwall on TV. I remember the advertisement for the album on TV, where they played a clip from Don't look back in anger. I remember the first time I heard Champagne supernova and thinking to myself that it was a classic closing cut. So many memories.
  • You Am I released their masterpiece, Hourly, daily. This is Australia's answer to Blur's Parklife album of 1994, but it's so much better! Each song is a classic Australian suburban tale, and as a whole you can't help but smile while you are listening to this. In my opinion You Am I have never bettered this, even Tim Rogers' voice (never the best instrument in their band) is at its peak here.
  • Manic Street Preachers released one of their masterpieces, Everything must go. Are you sensing a pattern here? Yes, lots of masterpieces were released in 1996. Many great bands who had been around for a few years really started to get brilliant in this time frame. This was the Manics' first album since the disappearance of founding member Richey Edwards. It's certainly much mellower than the previous album (the brilliant The holy bible), but the quality of the songwriting is superb and amazingly consistent. This also had one of their biggest hits on it, A design for life.
  • Belle and Sebastian released their masterpiece, If you're feeling sinister. A fantastic album of melodic joys, they have never topped this, their 2nd album. The run of songs from Seeing other people to Get me away from here I'm dying -- does music get any better than this? So uplifting, joyful and probably the best melodies you will ever hear.
  • Weezer released their masterpiece, Pinkerton. Most probably think of Weezer as a bit of a novelty band, and while many songs of theirs certainly fit into that category, this album as a whole is so much more. It's an incredibly dark album, the production is rough, sometimes the singer sounds like he is singing out of key, but it's also a tortured masterpiece and one of my favourite albums of all time. The song Across the sea is breathtaking in its honesty.
Well that's the masterpieces of the year covered. Now for some other great albums released in 1996:
  • Elvis Costello released the brilliant All this useless beauty. This is one of my favourite Elvis albums, and it includes a heap of songs that he had originally written for other singers. A very diverse album which is easily the most consistent album he released in the 90's.
  • Wilco released their 2nd album Being there. This is where Wilco started moving away from their country roots. It's a very eclectic double album covering a broad range of styles. Sure there's some filler as well, but isn't that part of the charm of double albums?
  • Suede released their 3rd album (and first after the departure of guitarist Bernard Butler), entitled Coming up. This is where Suede Mk II began, for they truly became a different band after Bernard left. Much more pop, much less shelf life. But this album still has enough classic tunes to make it a good album, even if it wouldn't be my first choice of Suede album to put on.
There were many debuts by big bands released in 1996 (some good, some bad):
  • Super Furry Animals released their debut album Fuzzy logic. They would reach their peak in 1997's Radiator, but Fuzzy Logic was still a great album by one of the most interesting and unique bands of our generation. The song If you don't want me to destroy you is one of my favourite SFA cuts.
  • Belle and Sebastian released their debut album Tigermilk this year. Yes, they released 2 albums in the same year! Amazingly, their debut album was originally written and recorded as part of a college project. While it is definitely overshadowed by its successor, this is nevertheless a great introduction to these very talented Glaswegians.
  • Placebo released their self-titled debut album. They were (and I guess still are) a pretty unique band -- there aren't many bands nowadays who have succesfully fused 70's glam with alternative music but Placebo managed to pull it off. There are lots of great songs on this one, including Nancy boy. Unfortunately, it seems like most of the albums they release nowadays are simply rehashes of the style they created on their first two albums.
  • Ash released their debut album 1977. Here's a band who managed to fuse heavy riffs with great tunes. I wouldn't call this album one of my favourites, but there are certainly some great tracks on it, including Goldfinger (nothing to do with the James Bond movie or men's club) and Girl from Mars (nothing to do with the confectionary company).
  • Longpigs released their debut album The sun is often out. Who? I hear you ask. Yeah, I hadn't heard of them either until someone mentioned them on the Suede J-Files, comparing them to Suede. I ordered their debut album off sanity.com.au when they were amazingly good value (!) and it's a great album, a nice slice of melodic Britpop with a lot of diversity among the cuts. Pity they had a major sophomore slump for their 2nd album Mobile home.
  • Bluetones released their debut album Expecting to fly. The singer from this band is kind've like a cross between Ian Brown from The Stone Roses and Tim Freedman from The Whitlams. The music is kinda catchy Britpop. I only have 2 of their albums (the other is Science & Nature) and this is definitely the better of the two -- there are some really great cuts on this one including Bluetonic and Slight return.
Some other great albums which were released in '96:
  • As I described in a previous post, I generally don't count soundtracks in this list, but I do make some exceptions (like I did for the Pulp Fiction soundtrack). A great soundtrack that was released this year was the Trainspotting soundtrack. While the movie has never been one of my absolute favourites (but I've only actually seen it once), the soundtrack is spectacular. There's a great mix of the old and the new. From the old we have Iggy Pop's Lust for life (great opener), Brian Eno's Deep blue day and Lou Reed's classic cut Perfect day. We have some cuts from the mid-90's including Sleeper's cover of the Blondie song Atomic, Pulp's Mile end and Elastica's 2:1. And of course this was the soundtrack which introduced Born slippy to the public consciousness. Classic song, classic soundtrack. There's something incredibly timeless about this collection of songs, which is very ironic as the soundtrack covers about 20 years amongst its songs.
  • REM released their highly underrated album New adventures in hi-fi. This is a hidden gem in REM's catalogue -- there are so many brilliant cuts on this album, and it even holds together well as an album. Some notables: How the west was won and where it got us is a superb opener (and unlike anything REM had recorded before), E-Bow the letter is one of the best REM songs ever (together with backing vocals from Patti Smith), Leave is one of my personal favourite REM songs of all time (together with a siren sample throughout which surprisingly never gets annoying), Bittersweet me is a great catchy song and Electrolite is a poignant closer. There is a bit of filler on this album (after all it is the longest album in their catalogue at 65 minutes) but that doesn't stop it from easily being in my top 5 REM albums of all time.
  • Pearl Jam released their highly unerrated album No code. I remember hearing this being played in full on JJJ just before it was released, and thought it sounded really mellow and quite different to anything Pearl Jam had released before. While many people dismiss this album as over-indulgent, of their albums that I have heard, this is probably my favourite.
And finally the others which I haven't mentioned:
  • Guided By Voices released their album Under the bushes under the stars. This was their first "mid-fi" album, they had started to abandon their lo-fi roots (the production was definitely getting better) but they hadn't yet reached the full hi-fi production of their later albums like Isolation drills. It's certainly got a lot of great tracks on it (To remake the young flyer is one of my favourite GBV songs) but there's also quite a bit of filler on it in my opinion. I think they could have made a much better album with about 5 less tracks. But I still don't think they'll ever top their masterpiece Bee thousand from 1994.
  • The Charlatans released their first album since the death of keyboardist Rob Collins, Tellin' stories. Yeah it's okay, but doesn't excite me that much. I don't think The Charlatans have aged very well compared to their fellow Britpop colleagues.
  • Paul Weller released his solo album Stanley Road. Some good tracks on this album, some average. Haven't listened to it for ages.
  • The Cure released their album Wild mood swings. Like Manic Street Preachers' Know your enemy, this is an album which both critics and fans love to hate. Personally, I think it doesn't deserve the negative press it gets. Purist fans dismissed it because they were straying further away from their gothic roots, critics simply dismissed it because it was such a schizophrenic album that couldn't stick to a style for longer than a song. But people, that's the name of the album -- Wild mood swings. What were you expecting?!?! Granted, it's not one of their best albums, but it's nowhere near as bad as people make it out to be.
  • Jamiroquai released their album Travelling without moving. To me owning one Jamiroquai album is enough, I really don't need to own more than one. I'm not sure if this was the best one to get, but it does have some great hits on it including Virtual insanity, Cosmic girl and Alright. There's some weird experiments near the end of the album but overall this one doesn't excite me that much.
  • Presidents of the United States of America released their 2nd album II. They were a novelty band to start with, why they felt the need to release a second album I don't know. Luckily they soon realised they were a novelty band and split up soon after this.
  • Beck released his critically praised album Odelay. Critics cream their pants over this album. Fans seem to love it. I'm sorry, but I just can't figure out what's so good about it. There are some pretty good tracks (Devil's haircut, Lord only knows, Jackass, Where's it at) but there are so many songs on this album that I would classify as annoying: Derelict, Novacane, Minus, Readymade and High 5 (Rock the catskills). Can anyway say they honestly like those tracks? This is one of the few albums in my collection where I just can't understand what the fuss is all about.
  • Sting released his 5th album Mercury falling. Yes, I have Sting in my collection. Very daggy. It's very cool to have a Police CD in one's collection, but Sting solo is a definite no-no. Well the main reason I bought this album was because I was going to his concert, and it was the Mercury falling tour and I wanted to know the songs he would be singing. The night of the concert has a lot of memories, because after the concert was the infamous Year 12 end of year rooftop party. I got very drunk. It's bad mmmkay. I remember wearing my Sting T-Shirt which I purchased at the gig while getting drunk at the party. It was a wild night.
And a last minute addition to this blog entry: I very recently picked up the 3rd album from US band Heatmiser entitled Mic city sons, which was released in 1996. This was the band that the late Elliott Smith was in. While I haven't given it enough listens to determine where it fits in the list of albums from 1996, the initial few spins are promising. Kind've a rockier version of Elliott Smith's solo albums, with a few songs from the other singer in the band thrown in for good measure. I'll have to keep you posted.

That's 1996 all wrapped up!

Thursday, 6 January 2005

JJJ now has a podcast

Podcasting. Probably the next big thing. [1]

Triple JJJ, one of the few Melbourne radio stations worth listening to [2], has begun experimenting with this newish technology. Beat that drum, love ya work JJJ.

Incidently, we should all get on Jiggy's back about recording a podcast. With his music knowledge he's made for the format!

[1] What the hell is it? I started explaining but someone else has done so with more clarity than I could muster.

[2] Not that I have time to listen to radio these days - I'm too busy listening to podcasts!