Friday, 30 December 2005

2005: A Year in Music [Part 5: Musical discoveries]

This is the post where I cover some of the artists or albums that I discovered this year, but weren't actually released in 2005. What I write about here was an integral part of my listening experience for the year, so any discussion of the year that was will be incomplete without it.

Album Discoveries

The Go-Betweens - 16 Lovers Lane

This was the holy grail for me in 2005. Before this year, I already had five albums by this legendary Brisbane band. But none of those albums even hinted at the greatness they achieved on this 1988 effort, the last before their 12-year hiatus.

This has been referred to as the indie Rumours, and it's actually quite an apt description. Analyse the dark undercurrent of the lyrics all you like, but musically there is not a single note out of place on this album. It's an absolutely perfect pop album without a less than brilliant song in the bunch, and it has aged perfectly unlike many other albums from the 80's.

The Go-Betweens would still be a decent band if they had never released this album, but this album cemented their legendary reputation. Even though I've had it for less than a year, it's already entered my top 10 albums of all time. I can't offer a much higher accolade than that.

Blueline Medic - The Apology Wars

This album was one of the lucky discoveries of 2005. While in a newsagent earlier this year, I caught a glimpse of the rock magazine Blunt, with the front-page headline Top 50 Australian albums of all time. Anyone who knows me is aware that I'm a sucker for a great list, so I forked out the $6 for the magazine and spent many hours reading the reviews of all the albums in the list.

Throughout the magazine, they asked lots of Australian bands and artists what they thought were the best Australian albums of all time. This one seemed to be a recurring entry. It's one thing being a critic's band, but it's another thing being a musician's band. The multiple mentions of this album intrigued me enough to pick it up, and it was a risk which definitely paid off.

On the surface, this is a fairly straight-forward rock album. But like the best albums, it's one which reveals new details and layers with each listen. They are an incredibly tight outfit and the vocals let the Australian accent shine through, although not in an off-putting way. However, it's the vibe which elevates this album to "not just another rock album", that intangible quality that makes songs such as At least we had the war and Up against the fault some of the most awe-inspiring moments of my musical year.

Yo La Tengo - I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One

Yo La Tengo were always one of those bands I had read about, but I had never gotten around to purchasing any albums by them. I decided that this 1997 album was a great starting point, as it was generally the one which received the most critical acclaim.

It's a long album (at 68 minutes), but for most of its running time it is remarkably solid. The only dud in the bunch is Spec bebop, a 10 minute drone which outstays its welcome by, erm...10 minutes. Luckily, the rest of the album makes up for it.

It's a pretty diverse offering, covering Sonic Youth style distortion (Damage, Deeper into movies, We're an American band), chillout (Shadows, Autumn sweater, Green arrow), R&B girl bands from the 60's (Center of gravity, My little corner of the world), power-pop (Sugarcube, Stockholm syndrome) and even country (One PM again).

The Finn Brothers - Everyone is Here

I feel wrong calling this a musical discovery, because I know that everything that the Finn brothers touch (Neil especially) turns to gold. It was released in 2004 as a copy-controlled "CD" in Australia, so I had to wait until I went to Vancouver in May for work before I could purchased a proper CD of it.

After listening to it, my suspicions about the quality of their output was confirmed. This is another great collection of Beatles-esque classics, including Won't give in, Nothing wrong with you and the poignant Edible flowers.

The Sleepy Jackson - Lovers

Another album purchase that had to wait until I went to Vancouver, once again due to EMI's Crappy Control (TM) technology. And it's kind've cheating saying that this was a musical discovery of 2005, because I have already experienced the joy of this indie pop classic in MP3 format since its release. The only difference is that it's all legitimate now.

Needless to say, if you haven't heard this album then make sure you get it. Just don't buy the Australian version. Copy Control sux.

Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire de Melody Nelson

This was another album which I purchased overseas, this time in the fantastic-gigantic Amoeba Records store in San Francisco (in the heart of the hippie Haight-Ashbury district). I didn't purchase it over there because it's copy controlled here, but because it's almost impossible to find.

Anyway, this is dirty-old-man-french-electro-pop at its finest. You can hear Serge's influence on a variety of bands (including Beck and Belle & Sebastian) within this album's 28-minute running time. I'm sure if I understood French it would take on a whole new meaning, but at the moment I can appreciate the music for what it is.

Felt - Forever Breathes The Lonely Word

This is only a fairly recent purchase and it is still growing on me, but the initial spins are pretty impressive. If you crossed the jangly-guitar brilliance of the Smiths with the vocals of Tom Verlaine and added some keyboard on top of it all, you'll have a pretty good idea what this band sounds like. The only thing I can't quite work out if I like is the keyboard work, which can get a little cheesy. But this does have the potential to become another of those classic "undiscovered" albums from the 80's. Watch this space.

David Crosby - If I Could Only Remember My Name

I have this book at home with the fairly unoriginal title of Top 1000 albums of all time. It's been my bible for the last five or six years, and the editor writes a fairly long foreword at the start where he mentions that this is his favourite album of all time. It was enough for me to add it to my "keep an eye out for it" list, and recently I saw it for the first time for the fairly reasonable price of $18.99 and decided to take a risk.

I have the debut album by Crosby, Stills and Nash and while it has some nice tracks on it, it's an incredibly dated album. This is a different beast altogether -- it actually sounds like an extended mood piece in parts and there are some stunning a cappella compositions on this album which really show off Crosby's remarkable voice. I have to admit that the jury is still out on this one, but the signs are promising.

Artist Discoveries

2005 was the year I discovered The Replacements. I'd read a lot about this band, but had never gotten around to purchasing anything by them (mainly because their most critically acclaimed albums are so damned expensive here!).

While I was in Vancouver, I picked up this little album by them called Tim:

My initial impression wasn't great, but that could be because my first listen was on the plane. Not a great way to experience music, unless you have a pair of those high-tech noise-cancelling earphones. Subsequent listens revealed some hidden gems, including the teenage anthem Bastards of young and heartbreaking closer Here comes a regular.

I have since purchased more albums by them: Let it be; Stink; Sorry ma, forgot to take out the trash; All shook down and Don't tell a soul. Next on my list is Pleased to meet me, which will complete the Let it be / Tim / Pleased to meet me trilogy which is considered their finest recorded output.

My impressions with their catalogue so far? A bit hit and miss, in all honesty. Tim is probably their best album, but even that is patchy. Some of their albums (Sorry ma especially) are downright average. But when they hit the highs, it's fairly easy to see where they got their "legendary garage rockers" reputation.

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