100 for 2000 – #30. Machine Translations – Happy

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.

2002 – #10. Machine Translations – Happy
(Spunk)

Machine Translations is the name of the project fronted by J. Walker. A reluctant performer and a fantastic producer, he made indie pop albums on a friends label when it took his fancy, and gigged very occasionally. I’d heard them and they were always too indie, navel gazing for me. Until Happy, an album full of great pop ideas that brought them into the heart of the Aussie alternative world for a brief minute, before they went back again.

I’m not sure what can be said about this album other than its the perfect mix of weird and pretty. All the chords seem to be wrong, but all the melodies seem to be spot on. Opener Acres sums it up nicely – a clanging, almost out of tune piano, and J Walker’s brittle voice singing one of his best melodies made for something quite exciting.

Released in the same year as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, these two albums made me think a little bit more about how songs could be dressed, above and beyond two guitars bass and drums. There are all sorts of subtle feedback, backwards tape, samples and things that add colour but don’t get in the way of the songs. In fact, Walker even played some solo acoustic gigs around this album, proving the songs stood up on their own.

And the songs are great. Two radio hits – She Wears A Mask and Amnesia, both inventive pop that had no right being on youth radio. Even better are Simple Shores, a bittersweet ballad, and Found, one of this band’s most blissful, summery pop songs.

It all ends with the 8 and 1/2 minute Be My Pillow. A gentle goodbye/lullaby of amazing tenderness. Walker performed this live once and it was the first time I saw someone use that neat trick of looping their own performance and building up to a mighty crescendo.

There’s not much more to say about this record other than it’s really good. Years later, I got to work with Walker on a record. This was the record I was hoping that record would sound like. It didn’t but that’s a story for later…