Friday, December 31, 2004

The hidden gem of 2004 - Pinback

OK, so I'd heard the odd track at work and was intrigued, but hearing Pinback played regularly on WOXY.COM was the clincher. I've just bought their new album Summer in Abaddon and it's even better than I imagined. Fans of melodic indie rock such as Death Cab For Cutie and Elliott Smith (well, Pinback are on Touch & Go....figures) should beg, borrow and steal to get their mitts on this gem. Super-fantastique.

Since this'll be the last post for 2004, I hope you all have a Rock'N'Roll New Year's Eve...I'm out like Jerry Orbach (RIP)

More blog gems for y'all

Two music related blogs that I stumbled upon this week while under the influence of whiskey and leftover Christmas cake...

Brooklyn Vegan is mostly music related, but includes links on media, vegan resources, and pets (my favourite!). Definitely worth a click.

Petals Plucked has a neat Top Ten list for 2004 containing all kinds of Major Leaguer approved artists, plus, in an original twist, chunks of relevant indie lyrics at the end of each post. Also worth a click or two.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Major Leaguer Top 10 Albums of 2004

Right. So after 363 days, these are the LPs that have been stuck in my hi-fi the longest. Any notable omissions? If so, have your say below....OK, let's count 'em down....

10. No Cities Left – The Dears
Yes, this year’s finest Britpop album came from a bunch of Canadians led by vocalist, writer, multi-instrumentalist, and, ahem, ‘director’ Murray A. Lightburn. Once you get past the sound-a-like qualities of Lightburn’s voice (is he Albarn or Morrissey? You decide!), and the Stephen Street style production, what you’re left with is an album of lush melancholia fit for a rainy Sunday afternoon. Although there’s no denying The Second Part, with ‘smoke/broke/smokes’ rhyming is truly, utterly, awful. Now, hand me my Gitanes…

9. The Futureheads – The Futureheads‘Hey guys, lets pay homage to Kate Bush by covering her in a Jam-styleee!’, ‘Yeah!’ Well, it probably didn’t pan out like that, but with Hounds Of Love, Sunderland’s The Futureheads had the cover version of the year by a long, long way (and if you like that, you’d be mad not to track down their remix of The Streets Fit But You Know It). Like Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads debut was a joy from start to finish, and another reason why British rock music in 2004 was near-unstoppable.

8. Happiness In Magazines – Graham Coxon
Right, so while Damon Albarn’s still stuck in his bongos and marimba phase, we can get back to why Blur were so exciting: Graham Coxon. Happiness In Magazines is Coxon’s strongest solo set to date, packed full of memorable tunes, stellar riffage and two of the best singles of the year, if not any year (Freakin’ Out, Bittersweet Bundle Of Misery). Oh, and has anyone noticed Graham’s vocals have gotten better?

7. Now Here Is Nowhere – Secret Machines
Like Led Zeppelin and Rush in a head colliding in a head on car crash, with Neil Young first to the scene, Texas trio Secret Machines were the discovery of 2004. Brothers Benjamin and Brandon Curtis and Josh Garza proved that power-prog was definitely not just for the likes of The Mars Volta, as Now Here Is Nowhere’s krautrock stylings and blistering psychedelic wigouts made the Machines a must-see live show. Your move Messer’s Bixler and Rodriguez.

6. Destroy Rock & Roll – Mylo
In a year where the ‘death’ of dance music was widely reported by broadsheets across the UK, it seemed that no-one had told Myles MacInnes about the funeral. With a magpie like approach to melody (‘Bette Davis Eyes’ anyone?), MacInnes set his phasers to ‘fun’, his tongue firmly in cheek on In My Arms, and the title track. His trump-card though was Drop The Pressure, a beast which was in the box of every self-respecting DJ, and thanks to its filtered vocal got everyone in the land dancing to the word ‘motherfucker’ whether they knew it or not. Sheer class.

5. From A Basement On A Hill – Elliott Smith
It’s no use looking for clues and answers on Smith’s posthumous release because that would be missing the point. Try this: here’s a fitting farewell to an artist who wasn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, his bittersweet songs capable of connecting to troubled souls the world over. From A Basement captures Smith at his rawest, and despite being littered with references to drugs (Kings Crossing, A Distorted Reality…), death (Last Hour, Let’s Get Lost) and depression (Pretty (Ugly Before)), it again shows Smith was an extremely under-rated lyricist. He’ll be missed.

4. Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand
Scooping every music prize under the sun (except the always odd American Shortlist gong), Franz Ferdinand were everywhere in 2004. By the end of it, they were understandably in fisticuffs having spent the previous twelve months in each others pockets, whether on a mammoth world tour promoting their stellar debut, or trying to take home their mountain of trophies from every award show. Intelligent, danceable rock and roll the likes of which haven't been heard in a decade, Franz Ferdinand were pretty darn special.

3. Antics – Interpol
Just like 2002’s Turn On The Bright Lights, Antics was again a slow-burner. However, once it got through to you, the New York groups’ second album was a thing of dark beauty. Take You On A Cruise’s majesty grows with repeated listening, Not Even Jail hits the headphones like a sledgehammer, while in Slow Hands the band had a song indie kids the land over could pogo to. So, ‘difficult’ second album sorted then.

2. Madvillainy - Madvillain
In a pairing to wet the pants of every underground hip-hop head, producer Madlib teamed up with rapper MF Doom for a blunted beat-fest. Slick rhymes about sneakers, rhinestone cowboys, groupie love, and of course rollin’ a few proved that Doom was truly an MC’s MC, while Madlib continued to show why he’s the king of the boards (check Shopping Bags on De La Soul’s Grind Date for further proof). A stone-cold classic.

1. A Ghost Is Born – Wilco
If this is the music Jeff Tweedy makes on painkillers, Ryan Adams might want to consider changing doctors. Following on from 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, A Ghost Is Born showed Tweedy was finally making music on his own terms, with Jim O’Rourke again at the helm. Earlier Wilco fans welcomed tracks such as Hummingbird and Theologians as glimpses into the bands past. More importantly though, it was the Can-inspired Spiders (Kidsmoke), and the buzzing Less Than You Think that provided a view of Wilco’s future. Stunning.

Friday, December 24, 2004

As indie as they come - Pitchfork's 50 Albums of 2004

OK, this is the list that geeks like me wait for each year....uber-rock site Pitchfork are usually spot on with their picks, although I think the absence of Wilco in their top 50 is a criminal offence in some states...

On a non-musical note, I'm going to take a break for a few days to wind down and have far too much whiskey and good cheer (whatever that is). So, thanks to the peeps that keep reading my musings and clicking on the links provided. Have a fine Chrismukkah and I'll catch you in a few days....oh, and make sure the Low Christmas EP is on heavy rotation on your stereo (failing that, the Phil Spector X-Mas album)....

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The first 5 LPs I ever heard...Number 2...

2. Cream - Disraeli Gears

Another record which had a confusing trippy cover, Disraeli Gears was the first album which I would leave on the stereo for weeks on end. There was a giddy thrill from hearing the initial crackle when the needle hit Side A, and a fevered anticipation whilst waiting for it to begin. Then - BANG! - Strange Brew hits the speakers, one of best opening tracks of an album that I've ever heard, with Clapton's blues vocals only marginally behind his raging guitar solo halfway through.

Indded, apart from Cockney album closer Mother's Lament, the rest of the album is flawless. Sunshine Of Your Love, the band's biggest hit, still sounds as fresh today as when I first heard it aged 13, and I'm sure people who were that age in 1967 would probably agree. My favourite track of Disraeli Gears, and of Cream's short career, comes at the start of Side B with the psychedelic Tales Of Brave Ulysses. Ginger Baker's driving drum work sets the scene as Clapton sings of fallen Greek heroes, while at the same time setting the template for every wah-wah porn soundtrack to follow.

The band's blues heritage was not forgotten either even though they were touted as being an 'electric super-group'. Both Jack Bruce and Clapton were avid bluesmen, with Clapton learning his trade under John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and prior to that The Yardbirds (who were later, after several lineup changes, to evolve into Led Zeppelin only three years after Clapton's departure), and throughout the album show their debt to the delta musicians of the 20s and 30s. The band though were constantly progressing, merging free-jazz, rock and blues to create a style all of their own. It's little wonder then that due to each group member's quest for musical inspiration from fields a far, they were to only last for four albums before splitting.

Only a few weeks ago, I purchased Universal's 'deluxe' reissue of the album, and although the extra tracks and studio sessions are of interest to the casual listener, it's the 11 tracks that make up Disraeli Gears that's all you need to hear. Psychedelic bliss in under 35 minutes.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The first 5 LPs I ever heard...Number 1...

NB: Those who know me will know that although I don't necessarily listen to these records all day, every day, hearing them for the first time did have a major effect on who I am, and what I do today. Also, these albums weren't the first 5 I ever heard, as I'd heard quite a few prior to the ones I'm about to recall (John Farnham, you have quite a few crimes against music to answer for). In a sense, they were a springboard to discovering as much music as I possibly could. Sure, other people have come along and played records too me that have also had a similar effect, and for that I'm grateful. However, it's when I got handed down the family turntable and a large stack of LPs that it really all began. If it's anyone's fault, it's my father's..... so, let's begin...

1. The Beatles - Revolver
It was the sleeve that grabbed me at first, although I wasn't particularly excited about it at first. No, Klaus Voorman's design for this 1966 LP puzzled me initially with his cut-and-paste school collage feel. Later on though, after learning more about the band and watching countless hours of documentary footage of them, it finally made sense. The bizarre drawings coupled together with the early photos of 'Beatles Go Wild In Paradise' were an odd match, but this was the sign of a band who were leaving their past behind, and speeding off into the future whether the rest of the world were ready or not.

Musically, the album still manages to grab me each time I hear it. The rough and ready beginning, with George Harrison's '1, 2, 3' intro, is the least polished part of the what is otherwise a brilliantly produced album. George Martin had already shown flashes of inspiration on previous Beatles work, most notably the double speed solo on Rubber Soul's 'In My Life'. Revolver though was where John, Paul, George and Ringo started to take control.

John - The psychedelic delight that is Tomorrow Never Knows, a song which The Chemical Brothers have built an entire career trying to emulate.

Paul - Eleanor Rigby, a song that paints a beautiful, mournful, picture that is arguably McCartney's songwriting peak.

George - The Indian fascination continues with Love You To, and Harrison's contempt throughout Taxman shows that Lennon wasn't the only Beatle with disdain for authority.

Ringo - Despite the fact that Yellow Submarine is my least favourite track on the album, it's the one I'll no doubt play to my future children first.

One day, when recounting how he lost a great deal of his vinyl collection at a party in the 70s, my father said that Revolver was the only Beatles album the theiving masses left behind. Fools.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Onion AV Club picks 2004's tasty musical treats

The Onion AV Club, the informative and factual offshoot of satirical site The Onion, always sums up the best albums of the calendar year in style, choosing to side-step a big old chunky list and instead let the site's writers speak for themselves. If either site isn't on your browser's Favourites list (or Favorites if you live in the States....I've seen Spellbound too y'know...), better add them now.

Meanwhile, the inaugural Major Leaguer Top Ten Album list of the year will be on this lil' old site next week..... is your breath baited? Yeah, thought not.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Finally - a decent, nay brilliant, Internet radio station...

After years of searching for a decent Internet radio station that not only plays decent rock music, but also is streamed at a quick, clear speed (100k FYI), my quest might be over. Step forward 97X WOXY.COM, formerly 97.7 WOXY FM, broadcasting live around the globe from Oxford, Ohio in the US of A. Check this out for a quality one hour sample of their playlist from the wee hours of an American Sunday morning. Go on, buy a t-shirt here and support this gem.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Stylus Magazine - Top 5 Labels of 2004

Sorting the wheat from the chaff, here's Stylus Magazine's view of the year's top labels. WARNING - this list may contain indie and folk stlyings....

Friday, December 17, 2004

More shameless plugging - Milkbar Nick

OK....twice in 24 hours...I've really got to stop plugging mates, but this nice electro-house mix from the king, Milkbar Nick, really is super-fantastique. Check it out here....Ray Parker Jr - he should be resurrected from obscurity and be placed on the judging panel for Pop Idol, if only to increase the 'super cool' factor of such a lame show. Don't you agree?

Best of 2004 - Drowned In Sound style

So, continuing with the rundown of 2004, here's some shameless plugging for the site that occasionally publishes my ramblings in the form of 'reviews'. Oh, and the DIS kids know how to throw a mean party too...

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Most slept on album of 2004?

Well, I don't know how this happened, but everyone seemed to miss Annie's excellent album Anniemal. Sheer classy pop, with Richard X and Royksopp behind the boards. So, what happened? Poor promotion? Pushed back release dates? Soft launch? Strange, as 679 recordings hyped her in the first six months of 2004, then probably decided to spend all their budget on pushing The Streets for a Mercury prize he was never going to get (I say probably as it's just my guess). Shame....f**king shame....

There's another single from the Anniemal coming out in December, perhaps in preparation for a 'hard' launch in January (this is what happened to Phoenix's Alphabetical earlier in the year. Didn't work though as it just wasn't as good as previous album United). I'm hoping this is the case, as quality pop like this is needed to put overhyped shit like Girls Aloud in perspective.

Oh, 679? Your site's pants too.

It's December, so bring on the 'Best of Lists' already!

And we start with the ever enjoyable Pop Matters and their Best of 2004 album list. The usual supects are there of course, but the number two selection was certainly a surprise. More listage in the coming days....

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Say sorry to a cow today...or they'll come and milk ya!

On a non-music tip, say sorry to our moo cow friends. Tipping cows...shame on you!

And I know I can't live without my radio...

After being back home in Australia for a week now, I'm beginning to see the differences between the musical landscapes in Britain and Oz. Sure, the tunes heard during Saturday night's outing in Wagga Wagga (where country is king) were to be expected. When you a working farmer or land owner out in the country then songs about 'utes and sheilas' are to be expected. Although I'm sure they don't listen to as much Dolly Parton since she decided to go bluegrass years ago.
However, what I was pleased to hear was the amount of hip-hop played on the country's 'youff' radio station, Triple J. When I left Australia three years ago, the J's (as the station's affectionately known as) was starting to lessen it's American output and concentrate on increasing the amount of airtime given to Australian artists. A noble move indeed, especially in a time of downloading, label mergers and store closures. In the last week I've heard some good music by the likes of Missy Higgins, Youth Group, Dallas Crane and Clare Bowditch. Also, I've heard new songs from great bands such as Eskimo Joe, Art Of Fighting and Machine Translations that don't get any exposure whatsoever in the UK, and unfortunately, apart from Art Of Fighting, probably never will.

But the thing that's impressed me most is the amount of Australian hip-hop being played. Now, being a Canberra lad and all, I was quite pleased to see the Koolism lads pick up an ARIA recently as they fully deserve the praise given to them. Hearing artist such as Downsyde, Hilltop Hoods, The Herd (you didn't think I'd forget them did you Calico?) and Scribe (well, it's NZ hip-hop, but in the grand tradition of claiming Kiwi artists as our own...kidding!) shows that there's a flourishing scene down here.

UK hip-hop and Aussie hip-hop are certainly differnt beasties though, with the Oz scene more light-hearted and less street inclined. Now, that's not to be seen as a bad thing, or a good thing, just simply, as Mr Don Henley once laid down, the way it is. You can easily compare artists like Klashnekoff to Downsyde, but that would be missing the point. Different backgrounds, different experiences, different vibe. Both artists though are making top-class music and rhymes that shouldn't be slept on.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

All the Rock that's fit to print

No Rock & Roll Fun, my second new favourite website! Rock bitchiness in full effect. Say no more really...

All the Pop that's fit to print

Pop Justice, my new favourite website! Pop bitchiness...don'tcha just luv it?

Painting the town red in....Wagga Wagga?

So instead of going to the coast with the rest of Canberra, Saturday night was spent in the go-getting, bustling, always buzzing town of....Wagga Wagga. Crazy! A pub crawl with old compadres Nick, Don and Tim was just the tonic and after finding our pub accomodation for the night (25 dollars/10 quid a head), we headed down to the bar to get a schooner of quality beer and find ourself some honeys. Or something like that. The night continued at a heady pace, with pub after pub full of Wagga's finest ('Hey Shazza, get me a middy will ya? Cheers luv. Yeah, so where was I? Oh, yeah, anyway, we were havin' a root when all of a sudden...' You get the picture) and a soundtrack we could really get our freak on too (INXS, Barnesy, Cold Chisel, Powderfinger...sweet as mate!).

Highlight of the night was when a barman collecting glasses in one of Wagga's finest pub beer gardens slipped off a table he was leaning on, falling straight onto the concrete paving. Ow! The look on the poor guy's face wasn't pretty, and I imagine he possibly fractured his leg or hip immediately on impact. Suddenly out of nowhere a quick thinking punter, who had seen the odd episode of ER and fancied himself a bit of a George Clooney type, decided not to just attend to the bloke's needs, but drag the barman up off the ground and carry him to bar inside as quick as possible. Hang on, now I know I'm not a doctor, but aren't you supposed to leave the injured person where they are (keeping them as still as possible) and get someone to call an ambulance? Oh dear.

After facing the horrors of a burnt kebab, we headed back to our Motel 6 style accomodation and crashed for the night on our stained maitresses. Classy.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Yee ha! Country Mike's back!

I 'heart' Sandbox Automatic because they've got Country Mike back in on vinyl. Double score!

Well, if it isn't a crazed Pantera fan....great...

Getting back in to the swing of things back home. Ace meal at Debacle last night, with pancetta and potato pizzas! V scrummy indeed. Wild strawberry cheesecake at Della Piazza afterwards (wild strawberry = good, blueberry = bad) to top things off. The best result though was finally getting ten hours sleep to kill off the last remaining traces of jetlag. Score!

Since i've gotten back to Australia I've missed out on this calamity from the states. We'll miss ya Dimebag...

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Oh, and I'm another year older.....dammit...but then so's Larry Bird!

Apparently it all goes downhill from 25. Say it ain't so! But hey, guess who I share my b'day with? Go Celtics....

Support your local Indie record store today!

So.....finally got back to Australia for two months R'N"R (either Rock'N'Roll or Rest'N'Relaxation...still undecided!). Jetlag is still in full affect, and I've felt as if I've slept for four nights in the space of two days. Walking around hometown today was certainly weird too. My old favourite record store bit the dust a few months ago, so unlike Empire Records, it is now no more. Where it once stood is now a 'chain-discount music retailer', and it's certainly another sign that independent records stores are fighting an uphill battle to stay alive.

So, if anyone's reading this, I have a small favour to ask. This weekend, or weekday, bypass your chain record store/mega-outlet and visit your local indie. Listen to some records, pick up some flyers, chat to the staff (or not) and most importantly buy something. Keep local music stores alive, so smaller bands get the chance to be heard. Do it now! OK...getting off my! Oh, and although I work for one of the 'corporate' record stores, I spent more of my cash at indies then I do at my workplace. How else am I gonna pick up second-hand records and rare Stones Throw singles? How? Yup....

In fact it reminds me of the famous piece The Onion had a few years ago entitled 37 Record Store Clerks Feared Dead In Yo La Tengo COncert Disaster - "We're trying our best to rescue these clerks, but, realistically, there's not a lot of hope," said emergency worker Len Guzman, standing outside the 40 Watt Club, where the tragedy occurred. "These people are simply not in the physical condition to survive this sort of trauma. It's just a twisted mass of black-frame glasses and ironic Girl Scouts T-shirts in there." Funny 'cause it's true. If you want the full story, it's in The Onion annual from 2003, otherwise you can subscribe to the archives here.