100 for 2000 – #78. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

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.

2007 – #8. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Spoon had been in my life a long time. Since The Way We Get By ruled the radio a few years earlier, they always seemed like the kind of band I should like. With Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, I finally got there.

Part of the reason is Jon Brion, who, I guess, is my producer considering how many albums he’s been involved in that are listed here. I heard about this collaboration and was eager to hear the results. The song that came out of those sessions was The Underdog. Mariachi-ish trumpets and a variation on the Spoon beat, it caugh everyone’s ears.

In retrospect, this was Spoon‘s shot at (indie) success. These expensive, polished recordings pushed them to the next level (as of this writing, the follow-up debuted at number 4 in the Billboard charts). And they pulled back on the minimalism, and embraced widescreen concerns. Their catchiest songs, and sounding like a million bucks.

IT’s a nice mix of the electronica stuff I was getting into, and indie rock. The Ghost Of You Lingers sounds like LCD Soundsystem. That driving beat made this the most danceable guitar album I heard in a long while. Just try and keep still to Rhythm & Soul, or Finer Feelings.

As usual, I have no idea what the songs are about. There is a general, mysterious cool around Spoon’s lyrics. They are usually quite accusatory – which is much like the jagged guitar work. But none of that matters. Britt Daniels has a one of a kind rock ‘n’ roll voice that makes everything sound compelling anyway.

So kind of odd then that my favourite track on the record is a cover. Don’t You Evah was originally written by an obscure NY indie band the Natural History. But it brings everything on the record together. That driving rhythm, that great voice, those nonsense lyrics, that Jackson Pollack guitar work. It’s fun to dance to too.

So it was a long courtship, but I’m finally there with Spoon.

I might like Don’t You Evah more, but that film clip is awful. The one for the Underdog rul

100 for 2000 – #77. Crowded House – Time On Earth

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.

2007 – #7. Crowded House – Time On Earth

I’ve loved Crowded House all my life. Certainly since I got to Australia, and since I started using English as my primary language. I woke up every Saturday morning early to see where Better Be Home Soon was charting when I was 7. I danced in my bedroom to Locked Out (a minor hit thanks to Reality Bites). I bought Recurring Dream when it came out, and watched the news over and over when they announced they would split. I was there with them when they did, steps of the Sydney Opera House, that magical night. I followed Neil Finn, felt my heart break when Paul Hester died, and after all that, I had no idea what the hell to expect from a new Crowded House album.

Maybe it should have been the third Neil Finn solo album. But with Hester‘s death, I guess Crowded House was on the brain. Having worn out every note of those 4 original albums, I was surprised and relieved that this album is great as well.

For the man who wrote Something So Strong, and co-wrote Weather With You and It’s Only Natural, I forget sometimes that Neil Finn‘s default setting is melancholy. And this is mainly a sad, winter record. I don’t think it really confronts Hester‘s death directly, but it does skirt around with mortality.

It’s not as strongly melodic as some of Finn‘s previous work, but neither was Together Alone or Temple Of Low Men. It’s subtler, but the songs are, without a doubt, still there. The gentle, floating, sad-faced opener of Nobody Wants To leads us into the first single, the urgent and anxious Don’t Stop Now. She Called Up, by far the poppiest thing on the album, hits you in the face, before settling into a series of masterfully crafted ballads. Amongst these is the ‘noble’ Pour Le Monde.

The electronica experiments have faded away. And following on from the great Everyone Is Here, it’s a pretty straight and honest recording, with a bit of strings here and there. At 14 tracks, it’s one of the longest albums Finn‘s ever out his name on, and maybe it could have lost a couple of tracks.

My favourite track though, is You Are The Only One To Make Me Cry. It’s just so well written it drives you nuts. For a songwriter, this is showing off. It is just so great. Just like I think Message To My Girl is a superior re-write of his brother Tim‘s Stuff And Nonsense (very similar, chord wise, structure wise), YATOOTMMC sounds like an update of Tim‘s All I Ask from Woodface. String-heavy, reflective and gorgeous, and one of Finn‘s best lyrics.

At the time of this writing, there is a new album due in a few short months and Australian tour dates. I’m excited for what can come next.

Crowded House – Don’t Stop Now. Their first new song in 10 years.

100 for 2000 – #76. LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver

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.

2007 – #6. LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver

All My Friends. That spectacular, breakout song from LCD Soundsystem‘s excellent second record Sound Of Silver. That’s how I came to this record and this band (band? Can I call them a band?).

This is pretty far removed from the kind of stuff I normally listen to. I don’t mind the odd electro single, but a full album? And so few of them have made me seek out the album. But the thing about electronica is that it’s sounds great and paints great imagery. Whereas James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem uses electronica sounds and textures, but wields them with the craft of a master songwriter. His spot-on concerns match the accuracy of Elvis Costello.

So, lets start with All My Friends. Could the song be more acclaimed? Such differently snobby music worlds as Pitchfork and Mojo both voted it their songs of the year. And it’s amazing – 7 and a half minutes of jagged piano rushing by, as Murphy contemplates getting older, the value of friends, not understanding the pop charts and how we live our lives. People started covering this song immediately, and by the time it was a single, the b-sides were covers by Franz Ferdinard and John Cale. The Franz version is actually pretty great as well.

History and criticism aside, this song is one of my favourites as well. There’s been a running thought in my head in the last 4 years (and perhaps even longer) – I will never have all my friends in one room together. And when I heard this song, that idea got wrapped up in it. As the years go by, it’s all about friends. And being away, and maybe for the rest of my life, wherever I go, part of me will always be missing someone. And often, tipsy, in a bar, having a moment to myself, Murphy’s voice runs through my head.

If I could see all my friends tonight

All My Friends is a big song and it overshadows the rest of the album. But it’s all great. North American Scum, the first single, has Murphy declaring he knows all the anti-American cliches already, so you can save them. Since when has irony, sarcasm, unreliable narrators and subtext been used so fully on an electronica album? The other song that no review can go by without mentioning is Someone Great. It sounds like a death song, but maybe to an ex-lover? Or a friend that our hero fell out with? I’m not sure, but whatever that line about being smaller than my wife imagined – for some reason that image sticks.

I picked up the first two LCD Soundsystem records around the same time. Although this is the better one (by a mile), I do have to quickly mention Losin My Edge. One of the greatest debut singles of all time. With an iPod, you just put the whole artist on shuffle. Which is really how I got to know this band.

This is a radio edit or something. You really need to hear all 7 or so minutes of All My Friends. One of the key texts of the 00s. I hear it being ripped off everywhere already.

100 for 2000 – #75. Josh Pyke – Memories & Dust

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.

2007 – #5. Josh Pyke – Memories & Dust
(Ivy League)

This album, Memories & Dust, is an odd one to talk about because Josh is a friend. And saying that I really like this album would end in an ass kicking.

So, we’ll resort to point form, once again.

– I really do love this album.

– I really liked Josh’s music before, and wasn’t sure what he would do when he finally made an album. It was great to see how he stepped up.

– Favourite track is Lines On Palms. I really love the lines

Sometimes I know who I am
What I’m doing
And what things might become

It’s such a wonderfully healing song. Although it occurs to me that if a friend gave you this sort of advice or wisdom over a beer, you’d probably punch him.

– I understand on many levels why it made sense to put Middle Of the Hill on here – but it was still wrong. It actually detracts from the album. Same thing goes for Vibrations In Air.

– Lets not even talk about the UK version of the album.

Let’s leave it there. Maybe in a few years, I can write a bit more about this.

Josh Pyke’s Lines On Palms. A great song.

100 for 2000 – #74. The Hold Steady – Boys And Girls In America

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.

2007 – #4. The Hold Steady – Boys And Girls In America

Just this weekend I was listening to an interview with the band Spoon, taking questions from NPR listeners, when there was a slightly dorky question. ‘Do you still believe in rock ‘n’ roll?’ But you have to ask yourself this when one approaches the Hold Steady. On Boys And Girls In America, they served up meat and potatos rock ‘n’ roll, with all the classic moves, classic sounds and amazingly, some new classic songs.

I’d heard about this band for a while but never investigated further. People compared them to the Replacements, and as much as I love the Mats, bands who love the Mats are usually emo dross. But this album, which was so American, won over the UK press. So, not a note heard, I took a punt and bought the album at the now non-existent Fopp in Westbourne Park.

And woo! What a rush. Anthems. Guitar solos. Springsteen piano. KISS riffs. And this spastic, gruff voiced beat poet in Craig Finn up front. What the hell was this? There wasn’t anything truly new on here, but it had been so long since a band sounded like this. And these guys hit it with such fury it’s tough to deny.

The more I listen to Craig Finn, whether in interviews or songs, the more I like the guy. We have some life beats in common – a teenage love of hardcore and the hardcore scene, loving beautiful but wrecked women, a romantic attachment to rock music that is all out of proportion to reality, that troubling but constant relationship with God. If you believe that rock is something that can save you, then I’m looking at Craig Finn more than anyone else these days to save me.

So the songs. Stuck Between Stations was the first one I heard, and still one of my favourites. A drunken, blurred dream of the poet John Berryman and the devil, talking on Washington Avenue Bridge in 1972, moments before Berryman threw himself off, ending his life. It’s got it all in one song. Boys, girls, life, death, poetry, the city, alcohol, loneliness and music. That’s pretty much all the essential elements of rock and roll right there.

And those themes recur and recur and Finn takes stock of his time and place in history. It goes from celebratory (Massive Nights – why was this not a radio anthem?) to intense and pitiful character studies (You Can Make Him Like You). Through it all, the energy never waivers, the intensity never drops.

This record broke the band out of the indie scene. I really think they could make it into the mainstream. A couple of the songs on here could have been big hits. More than anything though, they are now a big band for me. It’s amazing to think how long I waited for this band to come along.

100 for 2000 – #73. Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worse Nightmare

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.

2007 – #3. Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worse Nightmare

One year after they broke all records and changed the face of British music, blah blah blah, Arctic Monkeys released Favourite Worse Nightmare in no time. It’s faster, it’s tougher, more cynical and even more brilliant than their debut.

I came late to their first record (by a few months but that’s a lifetime for this band!) so by the time I was catching up, a new song hit the radio – Brainstorm. (Oh yeah there was the non album single Leave Before the Lights Come On was the best thing they did up to that point). Brianstorm was something new – heavy, but groovy. Kind of a surf guitar influence. And lyrically a bit more oblique. The kitchen sink poet from Sheffield was moving on. It was like Dylan abandoning protest music.

It’s not about teenagers anymore. As Alex Turner said in an interview, he had now seen the world thanks to touring, and that informed his writing. His stories were coming from all over. Brianstorm is about a Japanese scenester (in a t-shirt and tie combination). Cheating husbands (The Bad Thing), TV celebrities (Teddy Picker), aging princesses (Fluorescent Adolescent) and street thugs (Balaclava) all play arole in this world, where people have it hard and are acting crazy.

Musically, these guys are on fire. The stop/starts, the arrangements, the riffs – it all harkens back to 80s hardcore and underground stuff. I wonder if these guys have heard the jagged songs of bands like Minutemen? There is honestly very few bands I can think of that can play this hard and fast and accurately. And the few that do – they aren’t blessed with a songwriter that has the power of Alex Turner.

As we can see in hindsight that the band abandoned this sound as soon as the record was done, this could be their masterpiece. Turning away from teenaged (and somewhat naive) concerns of their first album, they throw everything they’ve learnt into this. Teddy Picker is a great example. Named after those arcade parlour crane machines, it compares TV celebrity to that random selection device. Throw in riff that reversed back on itself a few time, and huge sing-along bit, a scattered and impossible to sing outro and fuck it, why  not, a Duran Duran lift as well. At 2:43, it’s everything great about this band.

Even the over familiar has things to hide. The big hit – Fluorescent Adolescent – is full of details. Notice how the arrangement of the chorus changed every time (the second time is, essentially, backwards). And the great line – is that a mecca dobber or a betting pencil? Took me ages to discover a mecca dobber is that stamping thing used at bingo, and the whole thing is a penis comment.

All the tight, taut, frustrated songs are once again, balanced out by a couple of lighter moments. The Only Ones Who Know hinted at Turner’s next move. But here, it remains a gorgeous, lonely ballad about two young strangers having nothing but eachother. Finally, 505, still a set ender, and for these cynical, mechanical misfits, it’s surprisingly direct and tender.

I’ve said it before, but Arctic Monkeys take the place in my heart once held by Uncle Tupelo. The shut-up-and-play-better attitude. The social commentary of young, broken, hero-less men. Both bands have such dedicated fanbases and can never hope to live up to the hype. But there is always a kind of kid (mostly boy) that needs this music. Not like. Needs. And as the years go on, the music will speak for itself.

100 for 2000 – #72. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

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.

2007 – #2. Wilco – Nonesuch

Wilco were one of my favourite bands of the 90s. Those high school and just after years. My beaten up copies of Summerteeth and Being There went with me just about everywhere. Through them I discovered a world of American music. In 2001, with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, they became a different band. They had the same emotional intensity, but a very different sound. So it was with extreme pleasure that Sky Blue Sky came along. It doesn’t sound like their 90s stuff exactly, but it harkens back to that simplicity – and takes it somewhere new.

I played this album to death. It’s so warm and engaging. This is exactly the kind of stuff I like, and that most of my friends can’t stand. Dudes singing in tight harmonies, guitars strummed and not riffing, someone in the band might have a beard. I remember that first listen, walking home through Notting Hill, hearing those excellent songs, and how easily that meal went down.

Which is slightly odd because Wilco has always been a band that challenged me. And they didn’t do it with this record.

(Have you heard my You Am I/Wilco, best friend/lover theorem? Well, I have two favourite bands. Australian band You Am I and Wilco, and for very different reasons.

You Am I strike me close to the bone, as if they sing with my voice and about my thoughts. I can go years between albums and pick straight up where we left of. There’s no new language to learn, we speak the same one. In short, You Am I are like a best friend.

Wilco however, challenge me. I had never heard such drones and noise til I heard Misunderstood. Or an album as sprawling and wonderous as Being There. The thick sunshine pop of Summerteeth. A man named Woody Guthrie. Those amazing lyrics. So Wilco is like a lover, someone you are scarmbling to keep up with, that you want to impress, and improve yourself for. Someone who makes you want to be better than yourself.

I spend a lot of time thinking about music.)

Lead Wilcan Jeff Tweedy said, about this record, that he wanted to write songs that his wife would actually like. And in that, it reminds me of something Beck said about Bob Dylan‘s Nashville Skyline. What’s happening here is a a bunch of guys who can do almost anything they want sonically, just kicking out a couple of tunes.

The tunes are some of Tweedy‘s best. Either Way, You Are My Face, Please Be Patient With Me (later used so well in the movie Ghost Town), What Light – the acoustic guitar was back in Wilco‘s arsenal. But there’s plenty of fireworks too. The guitar theatrics of Impossible Germany and Walken make them live staples for years and years to come. I know Tara’s favourite is On And On And On, a song for Tweedy’s father after the death of his mother.

For me though, my favourite is Sky Blue Sky. It has that lazy Grateful Dead-ish shuffle, and an amazing lyric. So happy to leave what was my home. I line that resonated, of course. But later that year after I had a nasty car accident – I survived/that’s good enough for now. Thirteen years and how ever many songs later, they still pull one out that goes straight into the top 5 Wilco songs.

I didn’t love Wilco (the album) as much as this one. And the last time I saw them live, they drifted into indulgence. I shouldn’t doubt. They’ve proven me wrong before. But this love affair that started in 1995…can it survive into the next decade?