Continuous Hit Music: The Damnwells – No One Listens To the Band Anymore

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ‘em all here

Artist: The Damnwells
Title: No One Listens to the Band Anymore
Original Release: 2011
Label: Clifton Motel
Store: Clifton Motel Website
Price: $11.99 US
(Original US pressing)

Sometimes the only way to get an album on vinyl is from the band directly. The Damnwells made my favourite album of last year, and it’s not even available on iTunes in Australia. So I coughed up the dough, and bought the last two albums by the Damnwells on vinyl for a bargain $12 Us each, plus postage. Bargain!

Even better, the vinyl is coloured. Sure, it doesn’t really mean anything in terms of sound, but it is occasionally pretty. On the other hand, the cheap cost meant that the package as a whole seems a bit filmsy. The artwork is pretty bare. But hey, the record still sounds pretty good, an the songs are fantastic.

It’s a silly thing, but it’s fun to take an album you’ve known and loved on CD or mp3, and discover where the side 1/side 2 gap. And to own the big artwork. And to get it in the mail or at a shop and just be filled with excitement. Because you love the music on here, but now you have it in your hands, and you’re about to enjoy it all over again.

For the last few years, I’ve always tried my best to at least get my top 10 albums of the year on vinyl. It’s not always easy, but seems to be getting easier with the internet. Just order them. It’s only ever the Australian bands who don’t make vinyl.

I know many won’t care about this band. If you’re eager to have a listen, I suggest Werewolves, the title track, the Great Unknown and … well any of them really.

It’s a few months into 2012 and I still happily spin this record every so often. The songs get better with repeated listens. New snippets of lyrics wash over. New guitar lines stick out. This is such a perfect record, and perfect records live on repeat listens. I’m looking forward to repeat listens for many years to come.

Best Albums of 2011 part 3: 2 & 1

1. The Damnwells – No One Listens To the Band Anymore
(Pledge Music)

An incredible, incredible record. One that hits immediately, and never lets up. The best songs I’ve heard, roaring impassionately from my mp3 player, breaking your heart, making you dance, stealing your breath and opening your mind – sometimes all in one song.

And what an origin. Three albums in with no deal, the band went onto crowd sourcing site PledgeMusic, and put a call out to their fans directly. The fans funded the album, and gave the band the freedom to do what they wanted. What they wanted was to make a straight, thrilling, rock ‘n’ roll record.

The way I feel about this record is the same way I feel about some of my favourite albums ever. I’ve been walking around the streets of Sydney with these songs swirling in my head. I’ve been listening to tales of sad eyed girls and big scary cities. And how it’s us against them, and we have the music and the smarts. We are talking rock ‘n’ roll fundamentals here.

For a self funded recording, it sounds like a million bucks. It never gets too clever, but it’s never dumb and easy. Contemporary trickery is thrown out for the timelss wonder of a great chrous, a sweet lyric, and a killer singer in main Damnwell Alex Dezen.

At this point, I can just list songs, because there’s no better way to describe this feeling. If you want a place to start, I recommend “Werewolves”, “The Great Unknown”, “Feast Of Hearts” and, well, all of them.

Look, I know no one knows this band. I was afraid of putting this number one for fear of looking-like-a-cock reasons. But it’s pretty undeniable that I kept returning to this album all year. And when I saw the bloggers at Popdose pour their love into this album, it made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

What else can be said. There’s no way that a number one album of the year is not just tied in with personal feelings and events in the year that no amount of explaining can make sense of. That’s what’s this album does, so I’ll leave it there.

Except! That being self funded, all the film clips are shit. Here are two, both terrible, for great songs.

She Goes Around

The Great Unknown

Werewolves acoustic

 

2. Fountains of Wayne – Sky Full Of Holes
(Yep Roc)

Two little snippets before I start.

One. Around the “Born To Run” era, Springsteen said he put behind childish notions of love behind for something more rounded and sophisticated. It set him onto a path to write 10 or so albums filled with character studies.

The other. In Barney Hoskin’s authorative biography on the Band, he makes a strange case in the beginning that goes something like this – pop music and all that is fine when you’re young. But it’s natural to grow out of it, like growing out of junk food, and lean towards a musical diet of more timeless nutrition. Meals like the Band, Hoskyns would claim.

I’ve known a lot of older music fans/snobs. For them, it had to be a little country, or a little soul, to be a little timeless. Pop music has always been throwaway – a snack. They don’t write about adult things. And when you look at bands who are stuck in their youth (hello Smithereens), they still cover the same old grils, cars, blah and blah.

It’s very slow, but pop music is finally growing up. I point to people like Aimee Mann, the production work of Jon Brion, and people who are making excellent pop music, without being simplistic. And that’s a very, very long trip to get to this Fountains Of Wayne record, their 6th since 1996.

Sky Full Of Holes is number 2 on this list (in fact, last week it was number 1). I have been living in this album and wearing it out. It’s a perfect pop record – finely recorded, but not pro-tooled to death. The choruses, the sounds, the feel – all top notch.

But it’s the songs – they unwrap over each listen. I guess any chance of commercial radio play at this point, so the guys are just writing what they want. Stories of amazing characters – the scamsters in “Richie And Ruben”, the poor middle age woman in “The Summer Place” – mix with some straight ahead sentiment done right – the holiday freedom feeling of “A Dip In the Ocean”, the lonely tour ballad “A Road Song”.

Importantly, the wit is still there, but no huge jokes. No “Stacy’s Mum”. No note perfect country pastiches. Just perfect, refined songwriting.

It probably isn’t for everyone. Not everyone loves lyrics, or story-telling, in their music (especially, say, Australian radio). But at some point you have to put away childish notions, and eat a decent meal.

Here’s “A Road Song”, a wry smile on the lonely highway.

..and The Summer Place.

The Best Albums of 2011 (so far): 1-5

So part two of our two part round up of the year’s best albums so far.

Some other things to note about the year. I am sticking to the album format for these lists, even though my favourite song this year is by far (BY FAR) Think You Can Wait by the National, from the soundtrack to Win, Win. Also the EP by the UK band the Mummers, Mink Hollow Road, which found the strange meeting place of Todd Rundgren and Judy Garland.

But this list is about album, and a couple have really let me down. Voluntary Butler Scheme followed up their charming debut with an album that sounds like a tape player getting stuck. Nonsense, sampled drivel. The Danger Mouse led project ROME was similar. When did albums become about space to meander nowhere? The glow of a new REM album evaporates faster than ever. Bell X1 and Beady Eye both made average albums. Panic At the Disco is right back to being shit.

But lots didn’t make this list. Wagons. Those Darlins. Miles Kane. The Del McCoury Band. Elbow. Yuck.

Anyway – here’s five more that did.

1. Noah And the Whale – Last Night On Earth

This came out of nowhere. I own both previous N&TW records, and spent some time with them. The last one was a bit boring, and I figured that would be it for me and this band. Then I saw that brilliant album cover. It’s the best album cover of the year. Cool, urban, hip, stylish, modern and classic.

And the record is something special. It’s like a dancier version of the Velvets. Every track is fun and goes somewhere. Huge hooks and sounds great. And that thing I love most – that sense that music can save us, our lives can be better, that life is to be lived. The Clash had it, You Am I have it, the Replacements have it, etc. And they’ve tapped into it here.

It is a real step up from their last one, which was a depressing drag. This album is about stepping up and enjoying every moment.

 

2. Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones

(Epitaph)

I have loved Frank Turner’s music for the last few years. It’s right up my alley – Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg, Springsteen. But he is also my age and around now. Singing about hipsters and Thatcher and not knowing anyone who plays slide guitar – made it mean a lot more to me than ghosts of protest singers past.

His new album is as good as anything he’s ever done. Hugely anthemic and all about believing in music and us. There is absolutely no irony here. Take the single “I Still Believe”, which under lesser hands would seems cringeworthy.

Frank Turner is fucking awesome. Punk rock for now people. It seems I keep going back to this stuff, and when it comes to this stuff, Frank Turner is pretty much the best there is.

 

3. Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See

(Domino)

Another band I already loved. The press have been calling this album a mix between their last two Humbug and Favourite Worse Nightmare. It’s kind of true. There is the stoner rock riffing of their last album, with a bit more of the pop hooks that made them chart toppers in the first place.

But it’s a RAGGED record. It’s loose. Some of the tight, sudden arrangements from the last two records are gone. It’s their most throwaway pop album. Maybe it’s because Alex Turner has turned into a more conventional songwriter. Maybe they are just having fun (I mean, with that title and cover…)

So, I miss some of those jagged corners. But what is there is brilliant. And once again, there is a lot of sex on this record. And Turner has not lost his way with words.

And in the end, the slow songs are best. Love Is A Laserquest, Reckless Serenade and the re-recorded Piledriver Waltz (originally on the Submarine Soundtrack) shine brightest. Some really pop moments. It’s what pot will do to you. I wish they would try and piss people off again, but they are allowed some fun.

 

4. Eddie Vedder – Ukulele Songs

(Universal)

It’s no small feat to make a 16 track album with barely anything but a ukulele and Eddie Vedder’s singular voice and not make it sound samey. Instead it sounds really lovely. Who knew you could do this with just a ukulele?

In the right hands the ukulele is a very pretty instrument. Seems like Vedder has the right hands. Songs like You’re True, Without You and Satellite a touching ballads. His songs tend towards the torch song tradition, using interesting and dramatic chords to break things up.

Then there are a couple of belters. How do those strings not break? Can’t Keep never lets up. Some well chosen covers – Sleepless Nights, Dream A Little Dream – add to the casual air. And though it’s 16 tracks, it’s less than 35 minutes all up.

It’s a dreamy, nostalgic record. I imagine festival campfire singalongs will go mad for this stuff (unfortunately). But I’ve just kept going back to it over and over again this year. And I give him credit for doing something low key and left field rather than a shit, chart topping solo album.

 

5. The Damnwells – No One Listens To the Band

(Pledge Music)

If this was 1999, the Damnwells would be friggin huge. OK, not huge, but they would have a couple of huge singles and probably fall away like the Gin Blossoms, Buffalo Tom or Semisonic. It’s the space they fill – earnest, straight and slightly needy college American rock.

It’s almost retro their sound. But it’s great – if you loved that stuff. And I did. Something very sad sack about it, inevitably about or directed at pretty women with broken hearts, dashed off with that Springsteen escapism I love so much.

So much rock fun to be had (with a lilting sadness, or course). The single Werewolves. I can’t even type the title She Goes Around without that wonderful chorus echoing through my brain. Most beautiful of all is the Great Unknown with the obligatory ballad side getting a go. Another most excellent, solid record adding to a solid discography.