it's like christmas letter to the internet made love to best new music
The longer I got without posting anything the more I feel like I should post something long or epic or insightful to make up for the gap.
Part of me knows that's stupid, and that it's regularity not quality that is the heartbeat of a blog. Part of me thought, "screw it, why write a dozen words comeback about buying some Milo cereal this week when I can really get all personal with the internet."
So here's some music, some life and nothing about Milo cereal.
The music of January was broken into 3 distinct phases. The first week of the month was mainly spent in and returning from the Falls Festival. When I did get back I set about listening to and finishing my Top Tracks of 2007 feature in my time off work, although somehow I did find the time to listen through the whole Spoon discography at least once.
Spoon – Believing is Art [Girls Can Tell, 2001]
With that done I immediately set about listening to anything marked "2008" I could lay my hands on, with optimistic plans for the "Best New Music" feature I planned to write once a month. So while there was a fair injection of Big Day Out artists injected into January's playlists in preparation for my week off, the rest was made up of the Postal Service-Pop of Cassettes Won't Listen, experimental low-fi pop-rock from Magnetic Fields, British Sea Power's stadium anthems, Hot Chips nerdy dance and the verbose indie-rock rap-overs of Yoni Wolf's Why?
Why? – The Vowels Pt. 2 [Alopecia, 2008]
Major events of February included taking a shit-beard to work for the first time, playing my first game of district basketball and making a sweet-as DJ Bradism Valentines mixtape. At one stage this month I received my twenty dollar, 2gig mp3 player I got online for use for gymming. Aside from the regular assortment of ego-inflating hip-hop I put on there to help me get the extra reps out (assuming I could hear it over the gym's radio blaring Fresh FMs chatroom) was the reggae influenced riddims and rhymes of French-Canada via Brooklyn Ghislain Poirier whose Ninja Tune released album No Ground Under was racing to top place on my admittedly fetal best albums of 2008 list.
Ghislain Poirier feat Face-T – No More Blood [No Ground Under, 2008]
Other events in February included listening to the Vampire Weekend album for the first time - because the more I try and pretend to have my finger on the pulse of music the more I feel the urge to ignore hyped bands. But in the end I liked it. I also spent most of one weekend drifting around the city attending the Fringe Opening Party and then later the Laneway Festival where I saw Okkervil River play one of the best live sets I saw all year. They represented a fair chunk of my February 2008 listenings after I decided that The Stage Names wouldn't be enough material to go see them by. So I obtained all of, and fell in love with half of Black Sheep Boy, particularly the overdramatic For Real. Interesting fact about this song, as it progresses through each stanza it's supposed to get more pained and unruly and the recording of it took a few hours of drinking. Basically they took different stages of Will Sheff's inebriation over hours to create the whole thing.
Okkervil River – For Real [Black Sheep Boy, 2005]
In the first week of March I saw Interpol at the Thebarton Theatre and they put on a very polished show, so their albums dominated my first few days of March listening. Immediately following that the new Tapes 'n Tapes album leaked and it was full of contemporary, grungy indie rock which I was quick to try and relate to. Also at this time there was a massive heatwave. Despite the warmth, or perhaps avoiding work at the office one casual Friday, I headed to David Jones to try and create a Tapes 'n Tapes outfit for myself after listening to Walk it Off several times that morning. So I bought a red, flannel shirt with buttons that I was going to leave undone over like a navy blue t-shirt. And sort of jeany-jeans. It was a good plan, the outfit cost $200 and I hardly wore it, but it was a nice day.
Tapes 'n Tapes – Hang Em All [Walk It Off, 2008]
There wasn't that much captivating new music this month that I noticed. The Futureheads had a massive hit with The Beginning of the Twist which still sounds good but the rest of the album couldn't match. There were a few other good tracks from Son Lux, Hercules and Love Affair and Gnarls Barkley. Elbow and M83 released solid LPs, Adam Green released a terrible one. I listened to it about 10 times trying to find something to love – it was the first album I reviewed for Rip It Up. Midway through the heatwave I went to Future Music Festival to sweat and listen to Aesop Rock, Evil Nine and The Chemical Brothers. Most of last summer I dug the metropolis-rhymes of Aesop's Labor Days, because nothing makes you feel bummed about office life more than 15 days straight of blinding sunlight in the window over your shoulder. Not much of Adelaide shared my enthusiasm for the New York rhyme-master; when he played in the gazebo in the Garden of Unearthly Delights it was only me and one other guy who were pressed at the front of the barrier looking excited. Aesop Rock said he loved me when I cheered him on stage, I felt special. I was kinda drunk at the time not to mention the heat exhaustion.
Aesop Rock – 9-5ers Anthem [Labor Days, 2001]
April brought with it cooler weather and seemed probably the right time for labels to start releasing the "good" music without worrying they'd be forgotten by the holiday season spending/end-of-year lists. But, first the month kicked off with an epic Queens of the Stone Age/Smashing Pumpkins double header. A decade earlier I'd have been gagging for a Smashing Pumpkins live show, but I found on the night that Queens of the Stone Age have to be the more rocking and far more reliable band of the two. Watching Josh Homme strut about on stage with his priorities mainly lying in rocking out, getting drunk and touching as many girls as possible, well, it was inspiring on a primitive level. The show forced me to revisit the Queens back catalogue and discover most of it was painfully rocking.
Queens of the Stone Age – Battery Acid [Era Vulgaris, 2007]
Back to the quality new releases and Portishead, Black Francis, Frightened Rabbit, Yah Mos Def, Wolf Parade and Cut Copy were getting high rotation, mostly based on quality but some because I had to review them for street press – something I was very proud of. The Midnight Organ Flight by Frightened Rabbit was a particularly inspiring album, revealing that despite falling in love with and then despising the emotive, Scottish Snow Patrol in 2006 I was still a sucker for relationship woes set to engaging riffs and a Scottish accent. I remember thinking at the time that I needed a rocky relationship to help me appreciate the music even more. Probably didn't need to set myself up like that.
Frightened Rabbit – The Modern Leper [The Midnight Organ Fight, 2008]
May, as a month, doesn't really add much to the year besides spacing. When people talk about how fast the year has gone it's because everything from June onwards is fresh in their memory and everything from January to April seems like a distant memory. But things that happen in May it's like, eh, who cares. Things that happened to me in May: … fuck knows. The Bulldogs did play spectacularly awesome in a few matches, Adelaide got four millimetres of rain above the monthly average and there were good albums from Ratatat, Cazals, Black Hollies and Death Cab for Cutie.
Death Cab for Cutie – No Sunlight [Narrow Stairs, 2008]
But then there was June. It's probably one of the most dramatic months I've lived and it started with listening to albums from the Nordic, ambient beauties Tape, more Ninja Tune beat heavy tracks from Daedelus and the electro-hip-hop mashup frenzy that was Ludacris' gratuitous mixtape from 2007 - Bangfest. That mixtape in particular made it almost all the way through as I drove to Port Adelaide in peak-hour to play (at the time) the best district game I'd ever played, nailing 10 points in the first quarter and leading our team to victory. Days later I listened to it again as I drove to Tanunda for my first annual Tanunda basketball carnival and it was perhaps the overt sexual confidence of fifty assorted rappers, the electro beats, or both that helped me carry confidence from that mix into every game I played plus every pub I went to those nights. Despite losing my favourite tracksuit pants somehow over the weekend and being knocked out in the semis I was on a high. Even the throwaway pop lusciousness of Mystery Jets' Young Love and Estelle's American Boy were so easily digestible that I'm not sure if I like them still because I was so self-confident at the time or if they're good pop songs (Kanye does drop an awesome verse).
Estelle feat. Kanye West - American Boy (Remix) [American Boy white label, 2008]
Within a week of my return I woke one morning to find my car doused in house paint sans provocation and I was doubtlessly dark. Fortunately I had good friends at the time to help me clean it and distract me, and it worked a little. Then, as if fate decided I needed cheering up the new Girl Talk album was released and it could not have come at a better time. It, and Mario Kart Wii created this fantastic bubble where any superfluous angst I was feeling could be doused with hectic kart racing and the best party album ever.
Girl Talk – Here's the Thing [Feed the Animals, 2008]
My car got wrecked Friday the 13th. Feed the Animals was available for download a week later. It was amazing how quickly that album filled any gaps in my life. It's the kind of album that sends you searching for samples, and when one track pointed me to an 80s Scottish outfit Big Country I somehow managed to shed my contemporary obsession and obtain a copy of 1983's The Crossing. Even today Girl Talk's album is my number 1 for the year not just for its encapsulated quality but because it somehow thrust me into the 80s in a year where I was supposed to be obsessed with the now. Only eight days after a vandalism that affected me more than I realised at the time I went out for a night on the town where I blindly asked every dance floor DJ I met to play Big Country or Girl Talk, instead met a girl who I'm still in love with today, and then went home and listened to more Big Country. A band where they engineered their guitars to sounds like bagpipes. Brilliant!
Big Country – In a Big Country [The Crossing, 1983]
There were other good albums in June as well, The Bug, Studio 1, Shearwater, Clinic, Dr. Dog and Dan Friel all had an influence on my feelings. I also went to Canberra to visit Steve. It was a very busy month.
July was slightly less busy and dramatic and a bit more fidgety, a feeling probably best summed up by Ratatat's Falcon Jab, an instrumental, mathematics driven song where I think they digitally sliced off the start of the notes. I don't know what it is but the tar-bubbling opening 30 seconds of this track still make me do an upper body jostle.
Ratatat – Falcon Jab [LP3, 2008]
July was a lot like May in its drollness, but unfortunately recent enough to remember. I struggled at not being an introvert and even the Bulldogs started their slide at entirely the wrong time. Albums by Beck, Albert Hammond Jr., What Made Milwaukee Famous and Santogold/Diplo made the peripheral.
Then, completely unexpectedly, was August which I don't think went to pattern at all. At the start of this year I'd set such a lofty list of goals and expectations that not even a stat-load of Girl Talk and Big Country plays could overcome not meeting. But, it seemed like procrastination was hard to put out of form and slowly through the month everything I'd wanted to achieve in January but hadn't really found focus since gained sharpness. There was other music of course, Bomb the Bass released a new classic record, Stereolab seemed to conjure psychedelics where they didn't deserve to exist (and in one visit to an organic cafe in Stirling, where they did). Plus The Tallest Man on Earth, The Grates, The Hold Steady and Buffalo Killers released great albums a few of which I reviewed in my opinion superbly.
The Tallest Man on Earth – Pistol Dreams [Shallow Graves, 2008]
But it was remarkable how things seemed to come together by my birthday. I was loving basketball, writing good reviews, getting promoted, kissing excellent lips, forging housemates, breaking bench press records all while feeling that swell of pleasure that your body gives you when you wake up and realise you haven't had any alcohol for a month. The sunlight and flowers were natures' way of saying Spring was crowning. With little effort it seemed that things were simple and good.
Spacehog – In The Meantime [Resident Alien, 1995]
If my life was simple enough to never involve third stanzas it would be welcome. The fact is after whale bellies things are just as likely to take a turn for a worse as they are to happily-ever-after. Immediately after my birthday/bench-press-record I received an illness, drank through it in Melbourne as I fuzzily watched the Bulldogs be destroyed by Buddy, ruptured the Distal Radioulnar Joint in my left wrist and then destroyed the passenger door of my car trying to park next to a pole the next morning. Unperturbed I still progressed to move out, discover things about relationships a normal person learns in high school, run out of money the day before I find out my responsibilities are increasing but my pay is not, and 29 degrees and sunny. And so I fell asleep on the grass beside the river Torrens one lunchtime, not sharing a single percent of my crap as TV on the Radio portrayed to me that complication need not mean a lack of beauty.
TV on the Radio – Stork and Owl [Dear Science, 2008]
Things were complicated but balanced. Sure, the Bulldogs could have beaten Geelong if they kicked straight, but I had a pretty garden. Sure, I could get paid more but I was still invaluable to multiple project managers. Sure, my wrist hurt unbelievably when I tried to do a chin up but... well, a beautiful girl kept coming to my house to see me... As if relationships are ever simple; I watched too many sitcoms growing up.
The Strokes – Hard to Explain [Is This it, 2001]
It is very kinda funny the way I introduce myself to artists. Exposed to a lot of press releases where obscure, shit band A is compared to awesome band B and epic band C it's sometimes required to listen to an influential new-wave band from the 80s in order to write 300 words about a British new-new-wave band of 2008. It's a pretty big stretch comparing the unknown Jupiter One with the tentatively Scottish connected Talking Heads, but it only took a single listen of a Talking Heads Best Of to ask where David Byrne had been all my life. It was appropriate that I was supplied that best of by a work colleague for my office PC; Once in a Lifetime has barely escaped a replay during any of the tasks I've completed since October.
Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime [Remain in Light, 1980]
That's not to say I've had my head in the sand since then. I've played good games of basketball one handed, I was still upright rowing 90kg until an orthopaedic surgeon told me it wasn't helping, I was immensely proud to be made a groomsman. Amidst the blur of October I still went to parties, sadly lost kilograms and listened to notable albums by Evil Nine, Parts & Labor and T.I. But upon reflection it does appear I was pretty detached during this whole month.
Ratatat – Breaking Away [Ratatat, 2004]
November essentially revealed how little I'd actually changed no matter how much I thought I had. Once again I smuggled a shit beard to work with little awareness it was no better than the first time. I believed my passion for The Hold Steady's One for the Cutters came from some arcane passion for the harpsichord but in reality I was just as easily surfeit by well produced pop music as always. I started getting up early to chase passions and get writing done, but I still couldn't get a best new music article out by the end of the month.
The Hold Steady – One for the Cutters [Stay Positive, 2008]
Half of the month I spent idling, waiting for Houseboat 2008 to berth but ended up wasting half my relaxing weekend worrying if I was relaxing enough. That was pretty counter-productive, although one Sunday afternoon when I wasn't at all concerned about work the next day I did listen to the new Cure album for the first time and at least on one level of my neurological skyscraper it turned the lights off and declared annual targets were met, so I was content at least for a day.
The Cure – The Only One [4:13 Dream, 2008]
It's hard to succinctly sum up December with less than half of it passed, but it's a time for reflection (obviously) both autobiographically and musically. I learned that if there's anything to learn from this year it's the fact that things get complicated and busy but that's no excuse to not meet goals or match expectations. And that there's great albums by The Rosebuds, Puppetmastaz, Enya, The Notwist and Oxford Collapse that I missed. And that you understand that noise is a part of life and beating noise makes things even more worthwhile even if it's also harder. Well, you can romanticise it however you want. Everyones' life story is different, but at least for me music does an awesome job of keeping things compartmentalised and traceable.
Oxford Collapse – Young Love Delivers [Bits, 2008]
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The woman with the fake tan stepped into my office, sat across from my desk and lit a cigarette.
At least, she would, sometime in the next 20 minutes. Smelling the future has advantages, but precision isn’t one of them.