From opinions

Best albums of 2017

Except any of my own, of course!

Alternate title for this post: Albums by old dudes that didn’t completely suck in 2017. Just a generalisation. Not all of them are dudes.

10. Ryan Adams – Prisoner 

Took me a bit to get into this one. It didn’t help that it dropped the same week my family and I were forced into a hotel after a massive water leak/flood… I know, Prisoner sounds appropriate for six weeks in a sterile room unable to go home… but it just didn’t fit.

It lacks the spontaneity and zest of past Adams efforts, but over time it’s revealed itself to be something of a world unto its own. One of those records that seems impenetrable until you find yourself inside it.

9. Roger Waters – Is This the Life We Really Want?

Speaking of worlds unto their own… On the surface, this is a somewhat lacklustre meshing of Animals,The Wall and Amused to Death – but considering the strength of the source material, even a retread – done tastefully as it mostly is here – can be worth the time.

8. Liam Gallagher – As You Were

The lesser Gallagher’s first proper solo debut wasn’t bad. Had a killer song in ‘Bold’ that was just as good as anything off his brother’s record, the rest sounded pretty much like Beady Eye with a pop sheen. I liked Beady Eye, so no complaints.

7. Grandaddy – Last Place

Jason Lytle is one of the most consistent songwriters/recording artists of the past 20 years – in terms of quality and style. Any song from Last Place could have been on Fambly Cat, or with a slightly looser production, on Sumday or Sophtware. And even after all this time, that’s a good thing. No one does the fuzz+ELO+melancholy thing like he does.

6. Noel Gallagher – Who Built the Moon?

Funnily enough, I know exactly where Noel Gallagher got this album title from. A few years ago, I picked up the book Who Built the Moon? from my local library. Only slightly embarrassed, I took it to the counter – only for the librarian to tell me it was a good read.

I read it on my lunch breaks at work sitting in a park full of mysterious stone circles. I’m not kidding. It has just shy of four stars on Goodreads.

The album won’t quite blow your mind the same way, and I must be the only person who doesn’t really dig the opening track ‘Fort Knox’, but it’s worth it for ‘Holy Mountain’ alone. Who knew a cross between ‘She Bangs’ and ‘Let’s Stick Together’ would even work, let alone be this good?

5. St Vincent – Masseduction

A bit more pop than before, and now some are comparing her to Prince… in terms of being surface-level pop-appealing yet with unrivalled musical talent and depth to spare… sure. Could have done with a bit more of her freaky guitar work, but even without it, St Vincent is killing it.

4. Paul Draper – Spooky Action

I was doing one my occasional ‘has Paul Draper from Mansun done a solo album yet?’ searches when, for the first time in a decade of googling, a positive result! He had! And it was pretty damn good, too.

I know it might seem weird to check if a guy from a B-level fame Britpop band that collapsed in the early ’00s was still in the game… but anyone who was into Mansun back then knows why. There were no other bands like them, particularly on Six.

3. Arcade Fire – Everything Now

Still wondering if I’m the only person in the world to think this was a return to form after the lacklustre mess that was Reflektor… Even the parts I hated at first – the barely-in-tune Regine vocals, largely – have grown on me. Sure, the double-barrelled title track could have been dropped, and I can understand how some would find many of the lyrics hard to stomach (personally, I’m a fan of the bordering-on-parody style). But from Reflektor, Arcade Fire rebounded nicely.

2. Morrissey – Low in High Places

You could hardly pick a better record title for the former Smiths frontman in 2017. I expected Low in High Places to suck just as hard, if not harder than his awful previous album, which came after a pretty good run stretching back to the early 2000s.

Morrissey is not an easy artist to like, nowadays… but damn, he hits it out of the park here. ‘I Wish You Lonely’, ‘Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage’, ‘I Bury the Living’ are all great. Even when he gets lyrically dubious – on the awfully titled ‘When You Open Your Legs’ or any of the multiple tracks about Israel – it’s musically fantastic.

I’ve kind of given up trying to figure out what Morrissey actually thinks about… anything. And I was ready to hate this record. But it’s great.

1. Wolf Alice – Visions of a Life

I didn’t do a top 10 last year. But in 2015, declared Wolf Alice’s debut album My Love Is Cool the best of the year – and they’ve done it again.

Visions of a Life is, I guess, a variation on that record – they’re not reinventing the wheel – but rather cementing their position as the best rock/alt band on the planet right now.

Tracks like ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ and ‘Sky Musings’ are what Sonic Youth would sound like if they were surviving on streaming rations, while ‘Yuk Foo’ and ‘Sadboy’ take the grunge template and shower it in shoegaze.

MENTIONS

Some honourable, others not so…

Weezer. For a band who recently apologised for forgetting ‘disco sucks’, they sure lost their memories fast again. For all the hate their mid-2000s stuff gets, Pacific Daydream is a turd beyond any lingering fans could have expected.

Queens of the Stone Age. Villains was good… just not good enough. Mark Ronson might have been the right guy to fix Duran Duran, but he’s the wrong guy for QOTSA, who didn’t really need fixing after …Like Clockwork.

The Killers. See Weezer.

The Foo Fighters, Royal Blood, Blondie, LCD Soundsystem and Goldfrapp all released listenable records this year. I guess. Haven’t listened to a couple that have got my attention yet, like Drunk by Thundercat. And Lorde I guess is great, but just not my thing.

 

 

Flag it

This might seem a little off-topic, but I want to make that kind of opening statement a more regular feature of this part of the site. The blog. In addition to boring announcements of new songs I’ve done, how about some opinions and reckons that don’t rhyme?

They won’t even come with fuzzed guitars, drum machines or bad vocals either, so maybe someone will even pay attention. *shrug*

Anyway. This whole flag debate we’re having at the moment. It’s absurd, isn’t it? Not just the ‘why’, but the ‘how’, the ‘what’ and the ‘who’. The ‘where’… well, it would be difficult – and even stranger – to have it somewhere else, so everyone’s pretty much agreed we’re doing that in New Zealand. That’s not so controversial – I’m not following anyone on Twitter that insane, anyway. They’re bound to be out there. Maybe on Tumblr?

Let’s start with the ‘who’. You better you bet there’s not a single person on the panel that’s choosing an alternative design who’s an expert in flag design. And yes, they exist – they’re called vexillologists. The idea that someone could make a living being an expert in flags makes me llol too. It’s not as if countries are changing their flags every day – maybe if it didn’t cost $26 million…

On the panel of 12, we have a guy famous for tackling people and kicking balls, a woman good at throwing disc-shaped lumps of rubber and another who got rich by making (IMHO) rubbish TV. And people thought the idea of letting kids vote on the flag was dumb… not taking anything away from their achievements, I just wonder how it makes them qualified to make this decision. How about a graphic designer? Or a crappy indie musician? (Are there any countries out there with GUITARS on their flags? You want it to be unique, right?)

The ‘what’ – welll, there will be four alternative suggestions, three of which I guarantee you will be a koru, a silver fern, and the Southern Cross. The fourth is the wildcard – though I doubt my suggestion will make the quarter-finals.

The ones are always cold

Can’t we just cut to the chase and vote on those three already? We all know people will gravitate to whichever looks the closest to the All Blacks’ fern, the Air NZ koru and the Southern Cross design on our current flag. Familiarity.

The ‘how’ I think is where I differ from most of my friends/internet people. Much criticism has been levelled at the two-step process, in which we’re first asked which alternate design we like, before choosing between that and the current flag. Why not vote on whether we want to change first? Because it would be stupid beyond belief to vote to change the flag without knowing what you might be changing it to. Pretty simple, really.

The motivations of those who want that vote to come first aren’t really about saving the money – they just don’t want to change the flag. That’s a valid opinion to have, but it’s a bit cynical to couch it in budgetary concerns. Under that scenario, a lot of people in favour of changing the flag will vote not to, just in case the alternative flag chosen is I dunno, a rugby ball wrapped in a ponytail. Maybe an oil painting of a three-way handshake, or Thingee’s eyeball. At least the chosen two-step system is largely definitive.

Now, the ‘why’. I don’t particularly like the current flag, but you know what? I don’t really care to bother with changing it. It really is a gigantic waste of money. Sure, if we get a better flag that’ll be nice. But you know what will be nicer? Feeding hungry kids. Funding mental health. Getting parliament’s cleaners off zero-hour contracts. Fixing the housing crisis. Funding education properly. Paying back the debt the Govt’s run up in the last few years. I dunno. Buying everyone in the country one of them Burger King combos with the ice creams.

I know this isn’t the most intellectual or eloquent takedowns of the stupid flag referendum, and it’s about 2000 words longer than I planned it to be, but them’s my reckons. It’s late by my standards now though, and I have some Stargate: Atlantis to watch, so that’ll be all…

Now go buy my album, or something? (Is that what other songwriters do after they’ve had a big off-topic rant? I need more practise at this.)

Best albums of 2014!

Time for the best albums of the year list! Aside from Paradox on Earth, of course… here’s my favourite records of 2014. That I’ve heard. With some thoughts.

St_Vincent_artwork10. St Vincent, St Vincent

St Vincent’s one of those artists I’d heard about, but no one had ever said to me, ‘Hey, you should listen to this.’ All I’d heard was her album with David Byrne, and as strange as this sounds, I didn’t dig it. Nor did I like his albums with Brian Eno. Basically, what I’m saying is, reform the Talking Heads already…

But one morning I gave this St Vincent record and her previous one a listen, and wow. Sometimes a bit too clever for each song’s good, but when it clicks, there’s nothing else quite like it. Though I think I prefer the previous one on the whole, I just wish I’d heard it three years ago!

PFFull

9. Pink Floyd, The Endless River

All they had to do was toughen up the production a bit and chuck in some Roger Waters screams, and The Endless River could have been a contender for #1. But as it is – essentially an instrumental Gilmour/Wright record, with Nick Mason’s signature plod – it’s pretty damn fine. I tempered my expectations, not being the biggest fan of post-Waters Floyd – or as I like to call them, Mullet Floyd – and didn’t really get it on the first or second listen. One night though I put it on as some background sound, and it clicked – I know Roger Waters would have hated that, but sometimes you’ve just got stuff to do and The Wall would just get in the way (oh yes, pun intended).

Ryanadamsselftitled8. Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams

2014 was one of those years when Ryan Adams went a bit nuts and released a whole bunch of stuff, but unlike last time he did that – a decade or so ago – this time I just stuck with the big album. I don’t think at 34 I have enough room in my musical interests for thrashy 80s-inspired American-style punk. Anyway, this self-titled record fell in a bit of a no-man’s land stylistically in Adams’ oeuvre. It’s largely a subdued affair like his acoustic albums, but he spends most of it wielding an electric guitar – but not in any attempt to ‘rock’;  it eschews obvious singles, without being impenetrable; and it’s mostly just a nice, warm-sounding soft-rock album without being cheesy. The way I’m describing it sounds boring as shit, but trust me, it’s not! I mean, it’s no masterpiece like Love Is Hell, though that’s probably the Adams record it’s closest in sound to. But it’s good.

Lana-Del-Rey-Ultraviolence-2014-1500x15007. Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence

By playing down the obviously poppier elements of her first album – the weaker songs, mostly, and the one or two horrific dance remixes I had the misfortune of hearing – Lana Del Rey made an album even more languid and hazy, and Ultraviolence was the better for it. My opinion was almost completely changed one afternoon when I listened to it while out for a walk that was supposed to be invigorating, but I quickly realised that was my own stupidity for trying to exercise to an album that makes Pink Floyd sound like Dragonforce.

homepage_large.351037356. Interpol, El Pintor

I’ve always been out of step with Interpol. When I first heard them, I dug the Joy Division-style sound before liking Joy Division became a hipster thing and Antics blew up huge. I didn’t really dig much of Antics, instead preferring the third album – you know, the one everyone else thought was shit. The fourth, well I think everyone was a bit meh on that one, and that seems to have been the general reaction to El Pintor too – but after the first listen, on which I actually laughed out loud at how precisely ‘Interpol’ it sounded, it burrowed in… and now I think it’s probably the best thing they’ve done since their debut. Maybe. At the very least, losing their bassist seems to have done them a world of good.

5weez. Weezer, Everything Will Be Alright in the End

Debates might range on Interpol’s trajectory, but there’s not a person on Earth who’ll deny this was Weezer’s return to form. Though lyrically there’s still much to cringe at, if you’re that way inclined (I’m not! ‘Back to the Shack’ is hilarious), musically it’s all fuzzed guitars, big drums and power chords. Classic Weezer. No ill-advised forays into techno-pop, faux-hippy crap, polished pop designed for radio stations that still play that kind of stuff (I’m not even sure they exist anymore, to be honest). And the songs are good, tight and catchy. Soundwise it’s probably closest to Maladroit,  with a hint of modern sheen. Ignore the reviews comparing it to Pinkerton – it’s not, and I’m not sure such a detour would work for Weezer at this stage anyway. If you’ve avoided it because of Hurley, Raditude and Make Believe, give it a go (I actually like a lot of the Red Album… I’m sorry!)

Manic_Street_Preachers_Futurology4. Manic Street Preachers, Futurology

It’s pretty much a given when the Manics put an album out, it’ll be somewhere in my top 10. Last year’s Rewind the Film had its moments, but was a sub-par Manics album; this one’s not. It’s not the guitar-flinging Manics of Journal or Bible, the version us diehard fans always hope for – but nor is this the chart-loving pop Manics we secretly adore but have to put at arm’s length ’cause you know, it’s not what Richey would have wanted. Or something. Instead, on Futurology we got the weird side of the Manics which has until now largely been consigned to b-sides and deep cut album tracks. About time too – the Manics take a lot of flack for being ‘meat-and-potatoes rock’, and unfairly so, considering their range. As underrated as it is, Lifeblood was a restrained, neutered version of this particular Manics; Futurology is the Manics throwing caution to the wind and belting out krautrock with an actual German, rewriting the Clash’s dub side and layering on the ’80s synths, for better or worse. It’s a real mixed bag stylistically and about as far from the polished pop-rock of Postcards as you can expect from a band their vintage. Amazing stuff from a band 25 years in.

Hesitant_Alien3. Gerard Way, Hesitant Alien

I’m old enough to remember mocking the kids listening to My Chemical Romance. But I’m also open-minded enough to admit I joined them when they put out The Black Parade. I bought it for my little sister, but intrigued by some of the reviews gave it a listen before handing it over, and was converted. The follow-up was so terrible however I would never have picked Gerard Way as forging a solo career that would kick off as strongly as it does with Hesitant Alien. Much has been made of the overt Bowie influence, but it really doesn’t extend past the title, cover and opening track, which is Way’s best go at aping ‘Five Years’. The rest is beefed-up power pop mostly, so not too dissimilar to what MCR was doing at the end, but much, much better.

Coldplay_-_Ghost_Stories2. Coldplay, Ghost Stories

Another unexpected comeback, this time from a band who’ve been on a downhill trajectory for more than a decade. Parachutes is great, Rush of Blood a masterpiece, X&Y a mixed bag, ditto Viva, but the fifth record was so atrocious I can’t even bring myself to remember WTF it was called. So when Ghost Stories appeared with the media narrative it was Chris Martin’s ode to breaking up with Gwyneth Paltrow, I understandably expected the worst. Instead what we got was a lightly electronic-tinged throwback to their debut, with some of the simplest and most touching melodies of their career. Would be a contender for #1 if it weren’t for the god-awful execrable ‘Sky Full of Stars’, which sticks out like a sore thumb. Imagine listening to Parachutes, then halfway through someone cranks up Crazy Frog. Absolutely horrible. Talented band, but little sense of taste – which explains so much of that unnamed previous album, whatever the fuck it was called. Ghost Stories though, excellent.

Shihad_-_FVEY1. Shihad, FVEY

I might be the first person ever to compare Coldplay to Shihad, but hear me out (there’s also a bit of a Manics analogy here too). Like Coldplay, Shihad have a ‘sound’ that’s theirs, which they’ve abandoned at times to chase where the audience is. I can only assume this is the case, ’cause there’s no other explanation for how you go from making records like Killjoy and The General Electric to ‘One Will Hear the Other’.  Okay, I like that song, but can’t listen to a whole album of it. Not when I want classic Shihad riffage – which is what we got with FVEY. It’s not coincidence FVEY saw the return of Jaz Coleman as producer, which I guess places it in the same category as Weezer’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End, which was handled by Ric Ocasek – mastermind behind the Blue Album. Anyway. This record kicks arse. Not really sure how they’ll follow it up – more of the same with diminishing returns, or a swing back to the commercial radio rock? It wouldn’t surprise me if Shihad decide to call it quits here. What a way to go out if they do, though.

——-

So that’s my top 10 this year. Of course, I’m bound to discover others I haven’t heard yet, which kinda sucks when someone in 2034 says, “Damn, I can’t believe you put St Vincent in your 2014 list.” Well no… if I had known about Radio Over Moscow then, they would have been #1!

Albums that just missed out… Damon Albarn’s Everyday Robots, Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways, Smashing Pumpkins’ Monuments to an Elegy, Morrissey’s World Peace is None of Your Business, The Flaming Lips’ With a Little Help From My Fwends and La Roux’s Trouble in Paradise.

And whatever I didn’t hear yet, or will learn to love later.

He makes it so easy

This is a real-life, honest-to-God tweet…

 

… from the subject of this song.

Think it was a one-off, a temporary lapse in judgment from Bishop Brian? Think again.

That’s why lyrics like those to ‘Church’ are justified.