100 for 2000 – #49. Dallas Crane – Dallas Crane

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2004 – #9. Dallas Crane – Dallas Crane
(Alberts)

It seems like every batch of ten, there is at least one album that makes this list in retrospect. Most of the albums either were, or just missed out on being in my top tens of that year. Then there are albums like the self titled second record by Dallas Crane, that years later I have decided is brilliant. How the hell did I miss it?

My own prejudice really. It’s because Dallas Crane were one of the greatest live bands in Australia at the time. And like a lot of live bands I enjoyed, especially in classic Australian rock mode, I don’t care for their records. The first Dallas Crane record summed it up quite nicely – great live, but not great on record.

So it’s the beauty of modern listening that I had these songs on a harddrive, and three of my favourites on my iPod. Over the years, on shuffle or whatever, those three tracks would come on. They were Dirty Hearts, Iodine and Can’t Work You Out.

And they are three blisteringly great rock songs.

The guitar interplay (the band used to do a note prefect, 11 minute cover of Television’s Marquee Moon) and Dave Larkin’s awesome vocal chops made for fun live, and sounded pretty great on record too. One would come on, and I would have to listen to the others. On repeated listens, I decided to finally dig out the tracks on my hard drive and complete my album.

Those first three songs (also the first three songs on the album’s running order) still rule, but the rest of the album is great. I finally noticed it was produced by Wayne Connolly, one of Australia’s finest ‘straight’ producers. He really captures performances and lets natural sounds shine.

And the rest of this album gave me another handful of great Dallas Crane rockers, the best of which is Wrong Party, that I remember from seeing these guys live. But it also gave me some ballads, such as the touching Open To Close.

More interesting is the lyrics. Above and beyond the standard rock fare. Iodine opens with the stunning image – I dreamt a poet fall out of the sky – and goes into some weird Leonard Cohen fantasy land. I mean, yeah, there are plenty albums with better lyrics, but at least the songs don’t have interchangeable lyrics, as so many records on the Alberts label tends to do.

The other thing to be said for this record is that I still kind of don’t like these kind of albums. Not to listen to, and I prefer records over live shows. I like listening on headphones, sitting or lying down. But now there is a new place for me to listen to music, which is walking. And this kind of rock record is great for that. I don’t really listen to this record at home. Even sitting here, typing this, and putting this record on – feels jarring somehow.

So, Apple’s Ipod. For all it’s revolutionary elements, it also revolutionised my music tastes. I now have a time and place for music without introspection. And Dallas Crane are the first beneficiaries. Pity that, from what I can tell online, this band is actually no more.

100 for 2000 – #48. The Finn Brothers – Everyone Is Here

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2004 – #8. The Finn Brothers – Everyone Is Here
(Capitol)

I am a big fan of everything Tim and/or Neil Finn. I’ve loved their work together on Woodface, Split Enz and the one other Finn Brothers album, titled Finn. But Finn was a low key stop gap release, whereas Everyone Is Here was a big deal, a potential hit record.

It had really been years since either Finn brother had a big chart hit, or even tried. Tim had made some great but decidedly quirky, challenging albums in the 00s, and Neil surely could not expect the electro-tinged Rest Of the Day Off to be a hit.

And so it was with much fanfare (in fan circles) that the Finn brothers were writing together, and were working with old Crowded House producer Mitchell Froom and Bowie producer Tony Visconti (also in there at some places was my hero Jon Brion).

It was their most commercial venture in years. The album was so great, and in such a commercial way, I really don’t understand why this didn’t sell a bazillion copies. This should have been the album that people who didn’t buy albums went out and bought.

Won’t Give In was the first single, and it was as graceful and magical as anything Neil Finn has ever put his name to. As was the album itself. Luckiest Man Alive, with it’s hallelujah chorus (and about a genuine new love in his life), was Tim Finn’s best song since the Say It Is So album.

But it was a true collaboration. An unused bit of verse by Tim, dating back to Split Enz days, was finally finished when Neil added his fantastic chorus to Edible Flowers. Even a true stalwart fan like me has trouble trying to work out who wrote the touching Disembodied Voices, a song about the conversations in the dark that the two had as children.

There is a reason that the Finn Brothers work, and it’s because they flatten out eachothers eccentricities, and allows them to focus on their might songwriting skills. Tim powers down his frenetic art school energies. Neil Finn leaves his melancholy in check. And what we are left with is great adult pop such as Nothing Wrong With You.

But why the brothers work so great apart is also on here, on the last track. Essentailly a solo Neil Finn performance, Gentle Hum is strange, startling and ultimately lovely piano piece.

There was a great tour to support this album, when anything was up for grabs – Split Enz, Crowded House, solo hits and more. And when Paul Hester died, they did a show at the Enmore Theatre that was emotional, but also shambolic and uncharacteristically terrible – they had been shaken. But months later, they did a two night stand at the Sydney Opera House where they came back even stronger.

This is a great record, and I hope it’s not the last. Even if it’s ten years in between each one, I hope these two guys get together every so often and gives us some more songs, and do that great back catalogue tour again.

100 for 2000 – #47. The Bees – Free The Bees

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2004 – #7. The Bees – Free The Bees
(Virgin)

Trying to figure out who you are is the aim of the 20s. When you’re playing in a band, finding that identity is doubly difficult. For me, the Bees came into my life. They took the elements of music I loved, mainly 60s garage rock and 70s soul, and made something that didn’t sound like power pop. With Free the Bees, they made a perfect record – up there with Lovers and United as crazy pop masterpieces of schizophrenic intent.

I am always drawn to these little perfect pop albums. I spent a lot of time hunting down these minor masterpieces, the pop nerd favourites. Free the Bees is one of those albums. The kind of record we will tell people about and they will hunt it down and it will be great.

Not that this record is overly obscure, thanks to the unlikely hit single of Chicken Payback. Which is odd, because it’s the song that sounds most like Nuggets cast-off. You’d imagine it’s slightly insane teens in the 60s with a couple of big keyboards and some sort of matching outfit (maybe with capes). That 40 years after the Nuggets, these british guys can tap into that spirit so clearly, it’s great. It’s like they took the British Invasion back.

(I had first heard of these guys as there was some buzz in old man rock circles about their first album, where they covered an Os Mutantes track. Mojo magazine readers world wide began to salivate.)

The keyboards are a big part of this record – those buzzing organ sounds like in Wash In the Rain, the keyboard riff in No Atmosphere – makes them not sound like any other band at the time (although they sound like several from another time). Absolutely nothing here sounds like 2005. It barely sounds like anything past 1972. They even recorded the thing at Abbey Road.

If there is one down side to this record, is that’s it has no heart. It’s a fun, fun ride, but there is nothing going on lyrically or thematically. My favourite track on here is about Go Karts. The gorgeously out of time ballad I Love You is more about aping some Dusty Springfield production than any expression of affection.

I loved this album, and it made me realise, fuck it, I can sound as dorky and retro as I liked. There was no need to try to emulate all the Lou Reed/Joy Division wannabe bands in Sydney. Fuck em in the ass. The number of support slots we got plummeted, but every show was better than when were trying to support the latest cool band. Who are all dead now.

In a recent conversation with my friend Tom, the Bees and the Coral both came up as bands that we just kind of love what they do. And how jealous we were at their artistic freedom. I also like the anonymity – it’s not a lead singer show, it’s a band show. Maybe one day I can be in a band like that myself.

100 for 2000 – #46. Wilco – A Ghost Is Born

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2004 – #6. Wilco – A Ghost Is Born
(Nonesuch)

With some years passed, it’s easier to see the faults on A Ghost Is Born. At the time, coming off the brilliant Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco could do no wrong.

It is here that the guitar noodling really starts for Wilco. And in many ways, the next two albums have been variations on this one. On this very long album, they pushed the boundaries of what Wilco could be. Sadly, they have stayed well within that boundary ever since.

That aside – there are many Wilco classics on here. Handshake Drugs, Theologians, Late Greats, At Least That’s What You Said… to name a few. It’s an album that still looms large in a current Wilco setlist.

Oddly, for one of my favourite bands, I am personally quite unconnected with this album. I used YHF like an old pair of jeans – I wore them often, they lived my life with me. This one didn’t have that for me.

So why is this record on the list? Well, because it’s still a very great record. And I have odd relationships with favourite artists, and their not-so-favourite albums. I still love them, I still know them inside out, but they are not everything I know they can be.

100 for 2000 – #45. Darren Hanlon – Little Chills

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2004 – #5. Darren Hanlon- Little Chills
(Candle)

Our story of Darren Hanlon continues. After the minor success of Hello Stranger, Darren did a lot of touring, both in Australia and abroad. When he returned to us, he made an album that was far less upbeat than his previous offerings. Little Chills stripped away the humour for something sweeter and more touching.

It was painful going to Darren Hanlon gigs at this point. It seemed most people came to laugh – which is fine, Hanlon definitely set himself up for that. But when the funny songs about bicycles and beta tapes dried up, it seemed like people would laugh at any clever pun. “Oh”, they would think “That was the joke. I better laugh here.”

Little Chills has Darren’s best song – I Wish I Was Beautiful For You. One of those once-in-a-career songs, I can imagine people reinterpreting and covering this song for years to come. A pretty little piece on the place of good looks in the story of true love.

The travel was sneaking into his songs. Brooklyn Bridge, Ends If the City and even the short, sharp opener Wrong Turn… there is a journey on this album (highlighted by the cover). And it’s a transient album for Hanlon too. His first bid as a serious songwriter – in say, the Magnetic Fields mold – it didn’t really connect with the public as much as Hello Stranger.

To be honest – it is my least favourite of his albums, yet I still love every song. even the only ‘joke’ song – (There’s Not Enough Songs About) Squash – is fun, and makes more sense when you find out it was written for a friend’s band.

I still went to every Darren Hanlon show, but enjoyed them a little less each time. And maybe it was me as well – I was outgrowing the jingle jangle Candle Records stuff, as well as cutesy power pop.

100 for 2000 – #44. Paul Kelly – Ways & Means

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2004 – #4. Paul Kelly – Ways & Means
(Capitol)

Eleven albums (kinda) and over 20 years since he first started, Paul Kelly made my favourite Paul Kelly albums. And I loved a lot of Paul Kelly albums before that. And this isn’t some sort of revisionist Time Out Of Mind thing. It is simply the most Paul Kelly of Paul Kelly albums, with a dash of fun, and big dollop of love and sans 80s production. It was also one of his best backing bands ever. Finally, Ways & Means was a generous, 21 track double album. It seemed like Kelly’s big statement and about little things.

Two things informed Kelly’s approach to this record. One was the desire to make a country/soul/rock album. I mean, that’s a big friggin tick from me right there. The second, stated in many interviews at the time, he wanted to write a love-gone-right album. This record, released when Kelly was 49, sizzles with sexual energy and loving abandon.

Ways & Means opens and closes with instrumentals, the only two on the album. Gunnamatta welcomes us to the record. It’s a surf music inspired piece that’s warm and inviting. It feels like we are being washed up on Australia’s shore, but that Australia is Kelly’s young and fanciful Australia. When the journey is all over, what feels like a ballroom waltz called Let’s Fall Again eases you out the door, a little more eager for adventure than you were before.

But even love gone right has parts that go wrong. That album cover sums it up – the lovers, and those who look on and hope for the same. The Oldest Story In the Book covers such a love triangle – two life long friends, and the pretty girl that comes into their lives. Two falls in love, the other leaves to write songs about the girl he never had. Classic Kelly.

Disc one is heavy loaded with potential hit singles – Heavy Thing is a Stonsey/soulful anthem about coming on strong. Wont You Come Around covers similar ground, impatience for love, and of asking and getting. Beautiful Feeling is such a great love song that friends of mine used it as their wedding song. Finally, Sure Got Me is a song I had the pleasure of living out. When I met someone, and they liked me too, and it all clicked, and it all worked, and this song kept playing on the stereo in my own head.

The backing band for this album are the Boon Companions, who feature Kelly’s nephew Dan,  the well loved and respected Luscombe brothers and Bill McDonald on bass. With so many songs, there is a loose, fun, first-idea-best-idea feel. They are having a blast, and it comes across. You can hear this best on To Be Good Takes A Long Time.

It’s not all light and good times. But even the sad songs come from a good place. Can’t Help You Now is a goodbye to someone, and being happy now that you are over them. Similarly, the person in You Broke A Beautiful Thing is not wallowing – he even says he’s not mad in the song. He’s just moving on, and making a positive step.

But it’s all about love (and sex). Your Lovin’ Is On My Mind, from disc 2, pretty much sums up the album. Young Lovers, Big Fine Girl…the celebration doesn’t end.

I’m not sure if there is a parallel, but my love of this record coincided with a new strength in my own personal life. Listening back to this album, and the memories these songs conjure up – they are good times. Maybe if I listened to more socially stable records, I would be happier?

A few years later, I got to work with the CEO of EMI, who was a big Paul Kelly fan. He loved some of these old stalwarts that I loved, but more importantly he treated them with respect, in a way no other major label in Australia does. Paul Kelly doesn’t sell a super amount of records, yet his label allowed him to release a double album. Even Red Hot Chili Peppers gets grief from their label about doing something like that. Anyway, when I left that job, I wrote that CEO a letter saying, in brief, thanks for the work and thanks for releasing Paul Kelly’s Ways & Means.

100 for 2000 – #43. Youth Group – Skeleton Jar

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2004 – #3. Youth Group – Skeleton Jar.
(Ivy League)

I am claiming this one: I was chatting to Toby from Youth Group about the album, and he said he didn’t know what to name it. I suggested Skeleton Jar, the name of one of the songs on the album. Now, I’m sure it had occurred to him. I’m sure it also occurred to others. Still, he said he thought it was a good name and a few months later, there it was – Skeleton Jar. And it was fucking unbelievably good.

Some people hate Youth Group. They have this air of being a Sydney scenester band – which is so weird because the Sydney scenesters hate Youth Group too. None of them look like Lou Reed. None of them have expensive haircuts, or wore black. They probably got a few too many of the good support slots because of their label, but they didn’t manage to ever sell that many records. Anyway, I bring this up because I can’t actually think of many people I know who love this album who are still my friends. For such a big album for me, it was a small album for the world.

There is a sadness on this album, and it wasn’t always going to be that. There had been some line up changes. And with that, some of the fun, Pavement-y, Weezer-y things got lost, in favour of something darker. I was lucky to hear various demos sessions and was surprised as Toby Martin wrote more and more songs, each better than the last. It also meant that some songs I loved a few months ago were bound to get lost.

There was also personal tragedy in Martin’s life, with the recent death of his father inspiring a few songs (only one of which made the record). From this, his songwriting took to a new level. I remember Andy Cassell, from Ivy League, with no sales pitch angle involved, telling me once he just thought Toby Martin was a genius. That was before this album came out, and I was a big fan. I took that comment at face value at the time – but when this album came out I realised what Andy saw.

The collection of strange stories, images and ideas on this album are uniquely Youth Group. And it’s so surprising that these guys I could talk to at the pub about various things, could be so – there’s no other word for it – poetic. My friends bands could be clever, they could be witty – but none were brave enough to be poetic.

The album opens with Shadowland, and great pop thumper. And a great image, of some lost no man’s land, and someone trying to survive it. Later, Toby would tell me it’s about those years when you are just out of high school and you don’t know what to do. I mean, what the fuck. Most people would be literal, clever or funny. Martin came up with a term I still use, and wrapped it in a beautiful painting of chimney stacks, force fields, life coaches and watchful skies.

I don’t know what most of these songs are actually about. One I know least is Skeleton Jar, the title track that was written very late in the game. I do remember a friend of a friend’s mother died. And that first friend taking the second friend out. My friend felt like hell, but her friend felt like dancing. And she told me how, watching her friend in grief but dancing, made sense of some of the words in Skeleton Jar.

There are hundreds of these moments on this record.

I searched through your house for my skin.

She puts on a face. Makes it a brave one.

His lungs are machines, his hands are a fridge.

And it changed the way I saw my world. In the way Dylan changed the way people saw their own words. Trains, buildings, buses, trees, planes – all mentioned in these songs in such wonderful ways. And we shared the same world – this leafy, rustic Inner West.

This album is wrapped up in Sydney. It’s wrapped up in my early 20s. They recorded one more track after the album came out, and they re-released the whole thing with the new song (Someone Else’s Dream). With that, Youth Group managed to make my year-end best of compilation 3 years running (Shadowland was released as a single in 2003). It only hints at how much this band was part of my life in those times.

One last story.

That song Toby wrote about his father is Why Don’t the Buildings Cry. A gorgeous song, where the title comes from being buckled under by such sadness, that you think that, well, the buildings really should be crying as well.

When a really, really big death hit my life, I ran to my music collection for solace. Of the thousands and thousands of useless discs, vinyl, mp3s, whatever – I remember thinking that there was nothing to help me. I put on song after song about death or life or whatever, and turned each one off after a few seconds. My drug had let me down. Although the silence was even worse. No song in the world could take this confusing pain in my head and heart, wrap it into a melody and release it as a song.

Except Why Don’t the Buildings Cry.

I listened to that song over and over again and it got me through that night.