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.

100 for 2000 – #33. Fountains Of Wayne – Welcome Interstate Managers

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.

2003 – #3. Fountains Of Wayne – Welcome Interstate Managers
(S-Curve)

It’s so great when you think you couldn’t love a band’s albums any more than you already do, and they go and drop an album that just knocks you out. It’s even better when you have written that band off completely. In fact, we all kind of thought Fountains of Wayne had broken up. But they got back together and created a killer album – Welcome Interstate Managers.

There is a loose thread running through the record about office work. There’s only really three songs about that, but they loom large of the record. The best two are Bright Future In Sales – showing FOW had not mellowed out, and were still as witty as always. And then there’s Hey Julie – a gorgeous, touching love song sung by someone stuck in a crap job.

Of course, yes, this is the album with Stacy’s Mom on it. And hey, if it weren’t so over exposed, it would still be a great Cars pastiche. As the years pass, I find myself being able to enjoy this song more.

Perhaps it was the extended break. It seemed like every song was a winner – potential single. Mexican Wine, the album opener and second single, is a brilliant bit of nonsense. All Kinds Of Time, a surprisingly sweet song about a quarterback, has been used in ads and TV shows. No Better Place seems like it could have been a smash hit.

(Katy Perry herself covers the heartbreaking Hackensack on her new live record. I wonder why she chose that song. Sure it’s great, but I wonder if she sees herself in the song – the displaced small town girl turned super star.)

As they recorded it in their own studio, on their own dime, they throw in some fun throwaway things. Hung Up On You is honky tonk country, whereas Halley’s Waitress sounds like a perfect 70s power ballad.

Yeah the record is a bit long and could probably lose a couple of songs at the end. But at the time, before Stacy’s Mom became a hit, we didn’t know if was going to be their last record. And even the last four tracks, the weakest on the record, are still pretty great.

This record turned them into career artists – not a one hit wonder anymore (I’m talking Radiation Vibe). And set the pace – 4 or so years between albums. They are all busy with side projects, but at least they have money and rumours are they have started to play new songs…