Almost every year since 2006 I have sat down with my beloved and drawn up a list of our favourite albums and songs for the year. We discuss and wrangle – his taste is more angular and obscure, mine is more poppy, and we both love alt country — but between us we have a lot of favourite tracks in common. From about August onwards we start saying, “This could be one for the list,” when we hear something we like.
This year we called the list ‘Tracks’ for the references to tracks, paths and travels in the song titles and some of the lyrics.
Here is our list for 2011:
- Galaxie 500. “Fourth of July” from This is Our Music. (1990).
An oldie, but undoubtedly a goodie. We went to see Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips play Galaxie back-catalogue and a new number at the Corner Hotel in October. It was a great gig.Warehamis an economical songwriter and a disciplined performer – he uses space at least as much as he uses noise, creating a crystalline clarity without sacrificing emotion. Their renditions of two Galaxie covers – Yoko Ono’s ‘Listen the Snow is Falling’ and New Order’s ‘Ceremony’ were highlights.
I kept hearing about Cloud Control but it took me ages to actually track down their 2010 album and give it a listen. Again, with this band we liked the economy of the song structures – how each instrument’s part is so tightly jigsawed with the others while still allowing the song to breathe and have some space in it. You don’t get the feeling with this band that they fill up every aural crevice just for the sake of it. As an added bonus, our son, who has just turned four, was also a huge fan of this album, so it got played in the car a lot.
- Gravenhurst. “Saints” from The Western Lands (2007).
Gravenhurst, the recording identity of Nick Talbot, has captured our imaginations this year. His lyrics are evocative and, in this song, menacing beneath a veneer of devotion. Sure-footed guitar laid over a spare but strong percussive thread gives this song its appeal.
4. Mountain Man.“Animal Tracks” Made the Harbour (2010)
Three women’s voices and a guitar is pretty much the set-up with this group – but what range they achieve with these simple tools. Our son loved the line about the ‘bright baby eyes of the chickadees’. Don’t be fooled, however: like Shaker furniture, this album’s complexity lies in its apparent simplicity.
5. Wintercoats. “Spend This Day” (online release 2010.) See site: http://wintercoats.bandcamp.com/
James Wallace, performing as Wintercoats, wowed me and my friends when he played support to Beach House at the Hi-Fi Bar early in 2011. He creates loops and leaps between electric violin, vocals, keyboard, chimes and sundry other equipment. Just goes to show that doing your own thing and doing it well works if you have something specific to offer.
6. The Jesus & Mary Chain. “Just Like Honey” 1985 – reappearing in the Lost in Translation soundtrack 2003.
For some reason, we got stuck on the soundtrack to the 2003 Sofia Coppola film as part of our home listening in 2011. More than just nostalgia, we hope!
7. Jonathan Wilson. “Valley of the Silver Moon” from Gentle Spirit (2011).
For a catchy guitar riff, it was hard to go past this one. I enjoyed the combination of guitar virtuosity and a smokyCaliforniavibe.
8. The Bats. “In the Subway” from Release All the Monsters (2011).
It is hard not to be bats about The Bats. They just keep churning out sharp songs while holding down day jobs, year after year. On our last year’s ‘mixed tape’ we put “The Orchard” from The Guilty Office, which captured that sense of stoic and cautious optimism that is so much a part of life once you get past your dewy-eyed twenties. This year we opted for the driving beats and chords of this track.
9. Chaweewan Dumnern. “Lam tung wai” from The Sounds of Siam (late 1960s – early 70s.)
This is one from the beloved, who has been busily mining East Asian pop music from the late sixties and early seventies for listening inspiration. He explains to me that music like this is a result of Laos musicians who played traditional folk music getting a hold of Fender guitars and electric keyboards. They transposed a traditional Laos aesthetic into a modern idiom. The result is surprisingly psychedelic. Apparently, a lot of Laos pop songs from the era were about incidents in village life – the traditional topic for folk tunes.
10. Danger Beach. “Apache” from The Sounds of Young Canberra (2010).
Great music video for this: http://vimeo.com/22679618
Danger Beach popped up on our radar as a result of the ‘Breaking and Entering’ show on 3RRR which has been responsible for my exposure to lots of acts in this sub-genre of loops and wordless songs. The intriguing thing about this track is the oddness of its timing; the repetitions are unnervingly stuttered which gives this track an off-centre feel. It’s what the human mind craves – order and surprise.
11. The Go! Team. “Back Like 8 Track” from Rolling Blackouts (2011).
It took me a while to get into this album, which felt like a cacophonous wall of noise when it was first played to me. In the end, this track persuaded me with its sheer inventive energy, sort of like an audio ambush.
12. Mogwai. “Friend of the Night” from Special Moves – (Live Album) (2010)
Mogwai’s sound just transports you. In this track it often sounds like the guitars are being played by a cello bow to get the vibrato, but apparently they use effects and VERY fast and precise plucking. We were both swept away by this live album.
13. Gillian Welch. “Tennessee” from The Harrow & the Harvest (2011).
This has to be a contender for a Grammy. Welch and husband Irving record songs of aching authenticity. “Tennessee” is like good short story — you feel as if the essentials of a person’s life have been caught in moments.
14. Explosions in the Sky. “Let Me Back In” from Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011).
This Texas act have been on our household listening stack near the CD player for years. We were so sad to have missed theirMelbourneshow – we were rehearsing for a recital – especially when friends helpfully told us that it was the best gig they had seen in years. Gah!
Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders. “Cold Feet” from Hurtsville (2011)
I listened to this track at every opportunity in the car. Whoever this Jack Ladder is, he sure has a sense of Australian gothic about him. Somehow it seems not a surprise at all that the album was recorded on a farm in Yass …