The Best Albums of 2010: 4. Darren Hanlon – I Will Love You At All

4. Darren Hanlon – I Will Love You At All
Flippin’ Yeah Industries

We weren’t together forever
But anyway what does that mean
One person’s lifetime, the history of mankind
Or the years since I turned seventeen?

– Scenes From A Separation

12 years into his career, Darren Hanlon still manages to pack more ideas and great lyrics into one song than most artists fill in a career. As a fan, there’s always a little worry the well will run dry. If anything, the fountain flows at full strength.

Hanlon seems to have been on tour for ten years, and that sadness of leaving and things ending has become an enduring theme in his work. And while singing about love, life and loss, he never loses sight of the details. He’s a master lyricist, on the level of Elvis Costello. Heck, he’s better.

He’s moving further and further from his early, Jonathan Richman-y joke songs into something more thoughtful. Scenes From A Separation, the best song on here, is a series of vignettes about a divorce and hints at Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blue. It’s a rush of images, and a overall mood of resigned regret. Powerful, smart and lets not forget tuneful.

There’s a couple of very big songs on his album. House – the story of walking by place once shared with a lover – unfolds over about 100 verses. Folk Insomnia is shorer but it’s a million words a second – a lyrical hurricane of mad images.

Those show pieces aside, some of Hanlon’s sweetest songs are on here. Opening track Butterfly Bones and the first single All These Things should be busker classics.

Production wise, it sounds a bit like everything else he’s done. Very functional arrangements, recorded in a fine manner. With his pop smarts, I wonder what he would sound like if he went for the same sound as say, Bob Evans. It’s probably not in his vision, being the simple travelling balladeer that he is. Although this is his first album on big US indie Yep Roc, so maybe that will lead to other things.

If you’ve not heard Hanlon, this place is as good a place as any to start. It really is a tremendous album, full of the charm, with and heart that fill all his albums. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll marvel at his rhymes.

I thought this album would be my number 1 album this year. The only thing keeping it at four is that this album exceeded my expectations – the next 3 smashed them to bits.

Best songs: Scenes From A Separation, Butterfly Bones, House

Official site – Darren Hanlon

The clip for the one and only single thus far All These Things

But here’s a lovely version of Scenes From A Separation made by the fine folks at Shoot the Player

 

Darren Hanlon: Scenes from A Separation from shoottheplayer.com on Vimeo.

100 for 2000 – #65. Darren Hanlon – Fingertips and Mountaintops

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.

2006 – #5. Darren Hanlon – Fingertips and Mountaintops
(Candle)

I left Australia, with one bag, one iPod, and started again, in many ways. When I got to London, this great city of music, a whole new batch of records entered my life. Those records make up the rest of the 2006 list. But there is one album in the middle, one that I listened to when I was wondering around Europe, with no one I knew knowing where I was. It was one of the very last albums I bought in Australia – Darren Hanlon‘s Fingertips And Mountaintops.

I had heard some of these songs live, but I barely had time with the album. On planes, trains, buses and just walking, I listened to this album. Wandering around Madrid, or Vienna, or Copenhagen, listening to Darren Hanlon. It became my little bible.

The jokey-est song is Couch Surfing – an acoustic surf rock song about ‘dossing’ (a word I only learnt when I got to London). It’s clever and witty, but the lines about the weightlessness the philosopher’s teach – just a back pack and the open road – captured the romance.

It helps that this record is so soothing. Hold On, this non-descript expression of support, guided me through many strange streets. The low level bitterness of the mindless People Who Wave At Trains was amplified at every platform I travelled on. My encounter with Mischa Barton in a Spanish bar was captured quite well by the song Elbows.

There was one other song recorded in these sessions that never made the record (it came out on a Candle compilation) – My Life A Blur. For me, it lives well with this album, and it’s all about travel. The carriages that rocked me into slumber. Of all of Hanlon’s songs that I love, it’s this one that hits home for me the most.

I clung onto the lyrical advice on this record for dear life. I drank up it’s stories. There is something quite zen about this record. The title track is named after a brilliant image;

If you put one finger in front of your face
And close one eye
You can block out a mountain

It doesn’t mean anything, and yet everything.

Hanlon has come such a long way from that guy I saw at the Lansdowne Hotel, playing two songs between a mate’s set. He’s been with me this entire decade. It’s now been four years since his last proper album. When that next album comes out, I’m sure it will help me deal with what life brings me.

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 – #26. Darren Hanlon – Hello Stranger

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 – #6. Darren Hanlon – Hello Stranger
(Candle)

Last time on the Darren Hanlon story…. our hero had just released his first EP, and got his first national radio exposure with Falling Aeroplanes. The story continues with Hello Stranger.

I don’t think I missed a single Darren Hanlon Sydney show in the first five years of this decade. And every time, the shows would get a little bit bigger. And more and more new songs crept into the set. So we got to know these songs live – meet them, great them, work out what they were about, pick out our favourite bits – all before it made the eventual record.

Hanlon was on fire at this point – inspiration coming from all angles. A tour of Europe provided three amazing, and amazingly different songs.

The Kickstand Song – Hanlon met a girl on a train who claimed her father invented the kickstand. So from that he wrote a song from the view of that man – and why not?

Operator, Get Me Sweden – a long distance declaration of love, with an obscure reference to the Vasa, a Swedish war ship.

The Last Night Of Not Knowing You – a hint of things to come, and one of the last songs written for the album. A genuinely touching ballad without a hint of novelty, about the happenstances that lead to a perfect meeting.

And the rest of the album is just as good. The most upbeat song was naturally the single – Punk’s Not Dead. Sweeter still is He Misses You Too, You Know and the hospital break-up story of Cast Of Thousands.

In retrospect, it’s a showy album. It’s too reliant on cheap songwriting gags – it’sthe lyrical version of a special effects movie. Hanlon would get better as he got subtler with future albums.

To be continued…

100 for 2000 – #4. Darren Hanlon – Early Days

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.

2000 – #4. Darren Hanlon – Early Days
(Candle)

It was at a Sounds Like Sunset gig at the Lansdowne Hotel, Sydney. It was an early one, and in between the bands, a friend of the band got up and did a song. Just two songs – one between each of the three bands. Just two songs and they were both brilliant. The young singer songwriter was Darren Hanlon. He year or two later he would release his first CD, a 7 track EP called Early Days.

I’ve followed Darren ever since. He will pop up a lot over the writing. But this musical relationship begins here.

After that show, I asked him if he had a tape or anything to sell (a tape! So 90s). But I remember what those songs were. Beta Losers – which appeared earlier on a compilation – and She Cuts Hair. Both tracks are on here.

Darren comes from Lismore, and later I would find out he was a member of the Simpletons, a great band that I missed out on completely. He’s mainly acoustic, but had that Jonathan Richman/Belle and Sebastian vibe. Witty, clever – maybe a bit too cutesy. But these ‘early days’ of Darren were legendary. He was a storyteller in song, and became a story teller on stage.

His crowds got bigger with every show. Soon he was the biggest act on Candle Records. I went to every gig hoping to hear some wonderful new song. I lived out these 7 tracks.

Early Days opens with the title track, a short quick ditty about the stomach butterflies you get at the start of a relationship. Its a pretty good indicator of what Darren does – sweet songs, with wit and randomness. Beta Losers is about a guy who gets dumped, and feels like the superceded format of the Beta tape.

The big song was the only one I hadn’t heard before the EP was released – Falling Aeroplanes. By then his stock was so high that Triple J even played a song that was essentially a guy and a banjo. It was the only Hottest 100 song in that radio station’s poll not to have a film clip – some live footage was hastily cut together for the show.

It’s such a rush when you love an artist early – and every new song seems to be better than the last. Falling Aeroplanes was just that – the best song he had written up to that point. Based on a fairytale Darren had written, it tells of a boy who wants to give up writing songs because they are of no use. And a girl telling the boy how songs can be just as useful as a “box or a bad or cupboards or shelves”.

It’s very cutesy, but I have thought about that song a lot. I think of my Dad. He’s never written a song – but he can change a car tyre. What good are the songs I’ve written if we are stuck with a flat? I think of this song, even now, when I think of why any song should ever be written again.

I’m not sure how easy it is to find this EP. Maybe in Australia it’s easier. But Darren surpassed it all with his next record. But I still remember asking a stranger if he had a tape, and how I followed him for months, just because I was hoping to hear his two songs.

Top 10 of 2006: 2. Darren Hanlon – Fingertips And Mountaintops

2. Darren Hanlon – Fingertips And Mountaintops

I only barely got this record before I left Australia. And it only just missed out on being number one. It’s got everything, beautiful songs, insightful lyrics and also one of the last Australian musicians who to write about Australia.

The towering highlight is Elbows, a simple story that unfolds so carefully unfolds about dancing at a club next to a movie star and touching elbows. From it’s man-walks-into-a-bar type introduction (“On a warm night in March, on a dark disco floor/I danced up a storm like I never before), through to the punchline (See we only touched elbows, it’s the plain naked truth/And I can’t even back up my story with proof), all the way to how we all bump and knock eachother all the time, then back to the dance floor, then the wonderful conclusion – “Some take others home, waking up to regret it/We only touched elbows and I’ll never forget it.”

It’s Hanlon’s way with words, and he’s getting more expressionist by the minute. He’s turning into a great song writer, and his jokes are turning into charm. The album even opens on the sad note of Hold On, followed by an almost angry People Who Wave At Trains (They way they pass through every moment/with nothing on their brains/Like the people who wave at trains). Manilla NSW features school hall piano, the title track sounds like the Modern Lovers and Fire Engine doesn’t have Darren singing on it at all.

Two things hold this record back. One is Couch Surfing, an amazing song by all accounts, but it’s so jokey that it’s going to do nothing to save Darren Hanlon crowds. Last few times I’ve seen him, when Hanlon sings one of his new ballads, the crowd stares like they are waiting for a magic trick. And the slightest whiff of a pun or wit is greatted by a loud cheer. Anyway, I find his shows almost unbearable these days, and a song like this doesn’t help. It’s like the squash song on his last record. Some dumb fuck will yell out “squash” all through a gig.

The other is the production. It’s fine but not great. Imagine the production of a Youth Group album on these songs! If only. And what’s with the cover?

Still, I’m completely in love with this record. It’s completely subjective, but I can’t stop listening to it. So many great lyrics, great musical moments, and so varied and never boring.

Danny Yau
London