Justification: Look, I know I barely update this ever now, but I still love this thing. Honest.
A lot of this era was covered in the entry for ‘Dance Floor’, but: this was sorta-kinda meant to be the breakthrough for the legendary US indie band in 2007: Robert Schneider (AiS singer/songwriter, not the anti-vaccination idiot) was in the process of splitting from his wife Hilary Sidney, the band’s co-founder and drummer (who plays on this album), and so was ready to make some big changes.
That’s pretty much what the album sounds like too: a lot of colours colliding.
And it got attention – it’s the hold music at AGL, as I learned to my surprise last I rang to complain – but it didn’t exactly herald a renaissance. Despite being done on American Idol once, which was WEIRD.
After this they were signed by Elijah Wood, newly flush with his Lord of the Rings money, formed a record company and signed them for two albums.
The band are kinda on hold at the moment: keyboardist Bill Doss (also of Olivia Tremor Control) tragically died a couple of years ago, and Schneider is currently doing his PhD in pure mathematics.
Schneider solo was also the very last show I saw at the much-missed legendary Sydney venue the Hopetoun Hotel in Surry Hills, a couple of weeks before it abruptly and permanently closed. He was amazing.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: Dave Edmunds gives the definitive version of Elvis Costello’s glorious ‘Girls Talk’.
Justification: I said this in the piece on the Weakerthans’ ‘Our Retired Explorer’ back in March 2011 – oh, how time flies! – but it’s worth repeating: no-one writes male guilt more perfectly than John K Samson.
Yes, Weakerthans: you’re from Canada, we get it.
Many songwriters tackle male lust, male anger, male love, male sorrow and male artsy depression in their songs, but the experience of knowing you’ve fucked up, that you fumbled the recovery and that maybe things are never going to be repaired has never been better expressed than the bridge of this song: “I wonder if the landlord has fixed the crack/That I stared at/Instead of staring back at you”. That’s a whole short story right there.
There’s a very familiar spirit to much of Samson’s writing, of male narrators explaining their romantic regrets or mistakes, but the thing that I love about them is that those stories feel small, everyday and personal. These are not epoch-ending catastrophes and the characters in these songs don’t have their lives torn apart by heartbreak, or losing a friendship, or their cat abandoning them. The stories are familiar, but the stakes are never artificially high.
In fact, rather than make the personal seem more meaningful and dramatic Samson focuses on the mundane details. The bus driver in ‘Civil Twilight’ fills his head with minutia in the wake of the end of a relationship, which he never gets to forget as every couple of hours takes him past “that house/Where you told me that you had to go”, but even then he admits that “For the most part I think about golfing… Or recite the names of provinces and Hollywood actors/Oh Ontario, oh Jennifer Jason Leigh”.
But it’s not a miserable or self-pitying song and it’s matched to some of the band’s most downright jubilant music, from the heavily treated guitars that ape the Who‘s ‘Baba O’Riley’ keys to huge Weezer power chords that underpin that last chorus: “My chance to say something/Seemed so brief but it wasn’t/Now I know I had plenty of time.”
And the thing that I’m reminded of when I hear these tiny tales is that this is what we do: ultimately, we get on with things. Sometimes those wounds never completely heal: new skin just grows over the top and there’s still a little bit of poison trapped in there that never goes away. And you know what? We can live with that. Nobody gets closure for everything. You make amends, you dust yourself down, and you pull out into the traffic again. Oh Ontario, oh Jennifer Jason Leigh.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Can a song be destroyed by a fresh context? That’s the question posed by ‘Rock the Casbah’ by the Clash.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011:No 18th, but the brief promise of Pete Yorn was celebrated by ‘For Nancy’.
Justification: I really wasn’t sold on Vampire Weekend until I saw them live in a packed out show in a tiny, tiny Sydney venue when suddenly songs like ‘I Stand Corrected’ were transformed from “eh, OK” to “greatest song I’d ever heard”. The fact that this one-shot clip was directed by Richard Ayoade, comedian, actor and Moss in The IT Crowd, certainly helped.
It also made me feel briefly better about my own ambivalence to the Oxford comma – the convention in which a comma is put before the final “and” when one is listing a number of things separated by commas. Maybe it was because of seeing band names like “Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mitch and Titch” that put me off using it – and hell, no-one ever wrote “John, Paul, George, and Ringo”. I think it looks ugly and gives a weird, stumbling pause at the end of a sentence. However, I’ve conceded that it generally does add clarity (as in the internet’s “We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin” example) – and I accept that is precisely what grammar is for.
I’m pretty sure that’s not what the song’s about though. At least, not unless the Li’l Jon has some position on conventions of contemporary punctuation on which I’m unaware. Incidentally, Mr Jon was so pleased with being namechecked in this song that he agreed to cameo in the clip for ‘Giving Up The Gun’. And apparently sent the band a case of crunk juice. Awww.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: Have a look through the 2008 archive. Soon we’ll have been up two years and there will be fewer of these non-days in the system – won’t that be fun?
Justification: At first, as far as I was concerned Bluejuice were just some Sydney band who had hilarious promo pix. I’d heard ‘Vitriol’, of course, because it was 2007 and I had ears, but the band hadn’t exactly blown me away. And then I saw them open for We Are Scientists a year or so later and, using the sort of critical evaluation that only comes from years as a professional music journalist, went “holy FUCK!”
Bluejuice make good records, sure, but they are absolutely something else live. Jake and Stav are freakin’ amazing frontmen, and it’s downright remarkable that I still consider them a blinding live act considering they were on a bill with one of the best bands I’ve ever seen. What a gig, friends. What a gig.
This song is my favourite of theirs too, not least because of the video. Gotta say though, even as someone who plans to get to the end of his life not having ever jumped out of a plane, this does suggest that having to mime a song on the way down would be a pretty sweet distraction. Their videos are generally pretty ace, actually.
Oh, and their version of Lana Del Ray’s ‘Video Games’ is extraordinarily good.
Justification: This was just one of the many Feist songs I didn’t see her play yesterday at Laneway Festival. It might seen unfair to single this particular song out from all of the songs I didn’t see her play, which I presume included a whole lot of Metals and, for all I know, side one of Megadeth’s Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?, but Laneway is not designed for any one act to get 8000 people crammed in to see them, which is why I elbowed my way into the crowd, got about three metres in as many minutes, could barely hear Leslie wittering away up on stage and thought “sod this, I’m going to go see Anna Calvi.”
In any case, this single has never really sounded like a Feist song to me. Yes, it’s her biggest worldwide hit, she’s done it on Sesame Street and offered it as Stephen Colbert’s campaign song, but when I hear it I mainly think of this video, how much I love Broken Social Scene, and that it probably bought a house for Sally Seltmann, the Melbourne singer/songwriter who co-wrote it (or, more accurately, wrote it and gave it to Feist who changed some lyrics). And that’s probably the most important thing: pre-‘1234′ Seltmann was making nice-but-timid little records as New Buffalo, but after it she was making sweeping, glorious ones like 2010’s Heart That’s Pounding (her first album under her own name) and being one-third of the harmony-drenched supergroup Seeker Lover Keeper, whose ‘Even Though I’m A Woman’ (written by Seltmann) will be a SYSRTBIIA the second anyone forgets it. Which, going by its recent top 20 placement in the Hottest 100, is probably about two years off.
Anyway: this is still a magnificent song, and the one-shot video is inspired. And would have been a nightmare to rehearse.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: You know, we’re not far from passing the two year mark, which should mean that this “weekend, so here’s the 2007 archive” thing won’t be an issue quite so much.
Justification: Dear god, I got so sick of this song so quickly. First listen I was infatuated – it was at a party, dancing ensued – and I wasn’t surprised when it became a massive hit. The album I thought was OK, but then it got played everywhere. Every club, every shop, every radio station – and before too long I couldn’t stand the damn thing. I did rather like the second album, although it would appear I was the only person on the planet who thought so.
Anyway: then I heard it again just the other day, having avoided it for the best part of 18 months, and went “wow, this is a great song. It’s going back on the walking around playlist.” So just in case you’ve dismissed it after overkill, here it is again.
And I’m not the only person who likes the song a lot having come back to it a year or so on – the band released it on their ‘We (Don’t) Care’ and ‘Time to Pretend’ EPs in 2004 and 2005, respectively.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Weekend, so here’s the 2007 archive. Battles, LCD Soundsystem, Modest Mouse – heck, it’s was a grand year.
Justification: Well, they got announced on the Big Day Out line up for 2012, so maybe mentioning them here will see my hits increase dramatically! Pay attention to me! Me!
Oh, alright. This song is amazing, this band is amazing, and their gig at the Opera House for the Brian Eno-curated Luminous festival was unbelievable. It must have been one of the last-ish gigs they played with Tyondi Braxton, but to be honest I was just pretty much staring at John Stanier the whole time – partially because the drum kit was front and centre, partially because he’s an amazing drummer to watch, and partially because he was wearing shorts and had his socks pulled all the way up which made him look like some sort of super-muscular youth group leader.
You should definitely get yourself this album, and also Gloss Drop which is superb (especially the track with Gary Numan).
Most of the kids at the Big Day Out are going to hate ’em, but those who don’t will HAVE THEIR MINDS BLOWN. Also, I pity the poor techs doomed to have the job of getting all their equipment out on stage and sounding great in a ten-minute festival changeover time environment. Australia’s sound engineers: I salute you, and the strokes you are going to have.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: A little bit of Britpop goodness in the form of Sleeper’s ‘Sale of the Century’.
Justification:Forget Kanye or Coldplay or anyone else who played at Splendour 2011: the winners were the Hives. Anyone who’s ever seen them live will shrug, of course, and say “yes, obviously” since there are few bands on the planet that do a better live show (Les Savy Fav, maybe?). And I’d only ever seen bits of the Hives live, but this time I saw an entire set from start to finish and was reminded that a) they’re one of the best-drilled bands on the planet (a fact pulled into sharp focus watching them after a charmingly sloppy set by Modest Mouse) and b) Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist is one of the planet’s greatest frontmen, understanding that most bands can write decent songs and play them competently – you’re hardly going to get a festival berth if not, surely? – and that what you need in order to stand out is the stuff OUTSIDE the songs: the stage, the look, and the banter.
It breaks my heart that their sideshows flopped all over, but that’s because the promoter made the silly decision to have them BEFORE the festival rather than, as any sane person would do, have them after every review and breathless Tweet from the site had made clear that those not at the Hives’ performance had fucked up royally.
Justification: Every so often I’m faced with the uncomfortable realisation that a solid percentage of the contemporary hip hop that I enjoy is by, well, whiteys. Every so often I’ll hear someone and think “wow, that’s amazing – and here was me, not being terribly into hip hop, but this guy really speaks to me!” and then discover that Sage Francis is as pale as I am. A similar thing happened with Aesop Rock, to which my friend Jon Valenzuela introduced me on the basis of its amazing cameo from Mountain Goats mainman John Darnielle, who delivers one of the best verses of his amazing-verse-filled career. And a quick look at my play count reveals that Aesop has had a lot more spins than Busdriver, who I got into at the same time (though that statistic is mainly because of the influence of this one song, to be fair). However, Public Enemy has been played more often than both combined, so clearly I can’t possibly have any racially-motivated listening habits, right? Except that now I’m looking at my Beastie Boys playcount and… ah…
Hip hop: making educated, left-wing white people feel guilty since 1977.
Anyway: the fact remains that this track is freakin’ amazing (and oh, what a video!). And it’s going through my head by about 8.30am most weekdays for obvious caffeine-related reasons. This is what they make you take the medication for, you know.
THIS TIME IN 2010: Pop Will Eat Itself were dropping ‘Wise Up! Sucker’.
Album: We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, 2007
Justification: Modest Mouse’s time in the mainstream was brief, somewhat unexpected, and awesome. It was pretty much bookended by ‘Float On’ and this single, the lead off from We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, and was the first release to feature new guitarist Johnny Marr, showing that Morrissey’s not the only member of the Smiths to get a second act (although now that he’s with the Cribs fulltime, his place appears to have been permanently taken by Jim Fairchild, late of Grandaddy). But this is possibly the greatest piece of work that the band ever did, capturing Isaac Brock’s spastic vocals and lyrical non sequiters over a muscular groove at odd with the band’s more frequent jerky indie rock.
For some reason I’ve always through Bryan Ferry would do a killer version of this.
Incidentally, the crusty old bartender who does the big reveal at the end of the video is the blues guitarist Seasick Steve.