Thursday, 13 January 2011

2010: A Year In Music [Part 2 of 5]

We now continue my list of musical discoveries of 2010. Enjoy!

Lloyd Cole & The Commotions - Rattlesnakes

I mentioned in the first post that this list wasn't in any sort of order, but if I was to order this list, this would most definitely be my album of the year. I haven't gotten as excited about an album since I first heard Cold fact by Rodriguez.

I first heard about this album when I read in a review that the Camera Obscura song Lloyd, I'm ready to be heartbroken was an answer song to Are you ready to be heartbroken? from this album. I started reading reviews about Rattlesnakes and the acclaim that I read quickly let me to add it to my list of albums to pick up (check out the reviews on Amazon where there isn't a single rating of less than 5 stars).

Released in 1984, this is a definitive "lost classic" album which deserves to be heard by anyone with even a passing interest in good music. I would compare the sound of this album most to 2 bands - The Smiths and The Go-Betweens. The melodies are gorgeous (get a let of that guitar riff on Charlotte street, or the chorus of Down on mission street) and the vocal performances are spot on (Patience, Rattlesnakes).

The lyrics are literary in the same vein as Robert Forster, injected with lots of pop-culture references (She looks like Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront / She reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance) and wit (She's got cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin / And she's sexually enlightened by Cosmopolitan). It looks pretentious on paper, but like some of Jarvis Cocker's best material, Lloyd Cole has the talents to pull it off to perfection.

A shamelessly flawless album which is recommended to anyone with ears.

Died Pretty - Doughboy Hollow

Australian alternative rock band Died Pretty formed in 1983 in Sydney. Led by the charismatic vocalist Ron Peno, this album from 1991 (the year that grunge broke) is often considered to be their finest effort. I first read about this album in a magazine where various Australian musicians were asked to name their favourite Australian albums, and this album was mentioned a few times.

Equal parts atmospheric ballads (Doused, Turn your head, The love song), anthemic rockers (Sweetheart, Godbless) and melodic pop numbers (D.C., Stop myself) -- this is an eclectic yet cohesive album which isn't too far removed from the music that R.E.M. were making in the late 80s and early 90s (when they transitioned to the Warner Brothers label).

The core of their sound is a combination of the chiming guitar of Brett Myers and powerful vocals of Ron Peno. It's a filler-free and well-sequenced album which deserves a place in the great Australian albums hall of fame.

The Dukes of Stratosphear - Chips From The Chocolate Fireball

Chips from the chocolate fireball is a compilation of the 1985 EP 25 O'clock (pictured above) and 1987 album Psonic psunspot released by The Dukes of Stratosphear in 1987. The Dukes of Stratosphere was a pseudonym for the British post-punk/pastoral-pop band XTC, who were probably best known for their hit singles Senses working overtime and Making plans for Nigel.

When this album was released, it was never revealed who the Dukes of Stratosphear were, and only those with keen detective skills (and a good ear) figured out that it a cheeky little side project of XTC. It was a clever piece of musical marketing; just like the Beatles had done 20 years earlier with Sgt Peppers, XTC had re-invented themselves by pretending to be a completely different band. What was the most pleasant surprise was the exceptional quality of all of the material on this compilation, with many of the songs being better than some of the "real" XTC songs.

It was a detour sonically, allowing Andy Partridge and co. to experiment with the sounds of late 60s psychedelia. Most of the songs wear their influences proudly, from Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd (Bike ride to the moon), Nuggets-esque rockers (25 O'clock), cockney Small Faces-esque pop (Have you seen Jackie?, Albert Brown) and of course post-Revolver Beatles (almost everything).

The absolute highlight is saved until last with the gorgeous Pale and precious, one of their many tributes to the music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys circa Pet sounds. It's a stunning piece of work and possibly their finest 5 minutes.

Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (1961-1991)

This classic compilation has been on my list of box sets to buy for a long time, and it took the Australian dollar reaching a long-term peak for me to finally decide to pick it up on eBay. I'm not sure what I can say about this compilation that hasn't already been said many times ad nauseum, but I'll say it again. If you consider yourself a Bob Dylan fan, and only have his studio albums, you ain't heard nothing yet. There are songs on here which are not only some of Mr Zimmerman's finest, but some of the finest songs released in the past 50 years.

The 58 songs on this 3 CD set include material from a span of just under 30 years, from his youthful folkie days of the early 60s, through to his classic mid-60s Highway 61 revisited and Blonde on blonde era, his mid-70s Blood on the tracks era, and his "born again Christian" era of the late-70s and early 80s. It's a fascinating collection, documenting his growth as a musician and a songwriter, and his unwillingness to sit still or confine himself to a particular genre of music

There are outstanding folk songs (He was a friend of mine, No more auction block, Let me die in my footsteps, Who killed Davey Moore?, Moonshiner), most of which are better than some of the material released on his first 4 albums.

There are interesting experiments like the surreal spoken word poem Last thoughts on Woody Guthrie and funny instrumental Suze (The cough song) where Bob breaks down in a coughing fit at the end of the song.

There are also the original versions of some of the Blood on the tracks songs, before Dylan decided to re-record them with new musicians. And there are some delightfully catchy outtakes like the Blonde on blonde era She's your lover now and live Seven days which will probably edge their way into your top 20 Dylan songs.

I haven't even mentioned Blind Willie McTell, an absolute highlight of this set: a haunting ballad which for some bizarre reason Dylan didn't include on the Infidels album, an album which was not devoid of filler. This compilation is a dusty collection of hidden gems that you find locked away in the attic; I look forward to discovering and re-discovering these songs for many years to come.

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

Critics raved about this album when it came out in 2008. I'm getting much more cynical of hype as I get older, and I figured that it would be one of those "flavour of the month" albums that would get old pretty quickly. I finally picked it up when I was in London in late 2009, and it has been an album which has stood the test of time well for me.

Sure, they are not the most original or inventive band around, and in fairness they should probably be donating half of their royalties to Brian Wilson. But what their music lacks in originality it makes up for in passion and talent, and they pull off the baroque pop sound better than most other bands in recent memory.

Highlights include the gloriously epic White winter hymnal, the beautifully understated ballad Tiger mountain peasant song and the gorgeously addictive He doesn't know why. There are little magic moments throughout, like the change halfway through Ragged wood which turns it into a completely different song. A highly recommend album.


  1. Hi Jiggy

    Great post again.

    Having heard your raving about Cole, I will have to look into that one at some stage.

    I saw Died Pretty live one time, as support for Hoodoo Gurus, I didn't really think much of them, although live and recorded is often different, and I find you enjoy gigs more when you know the songs.

    I have heard the hype about Fleet Foxes too, and I am intruiged as to what it would be like, so thanks for the review.

    take care.


  2. Thanks Deano - I think you'd dig that "Died Pretty" album. It's got some great tunes on it, and is pretty accessible.


Sing some harmonies here: