Oh Lord. The shortlist for the AMP 2010 has just been announced.
And here it is. Cue familiar back-slapping noises and cries of “haven’t we done well, chaps?”
Cloud Control – Bliss Release
Dan Kelly – Dan Kelly’s Dream
Eddy Current Suppression Ring – Rush To Relax
Gareth Liddard – Strange Tourist
Pikelet – Stem
Richard In Your Mind – My Volcano
Sally Seltmann – Heart That’s Pounding
Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
The Holidays – Post Paradise
OK. Clearly we can discount a couple of those immediately. Cloud Control, Tame Impala and The Holidays have already picked up awards for their 2010 albums, and – has been proven already through simple use of statistics regarding previous years AMP winners (plus a little base psychology applied to the judges’ criteria for choosing the winner), they will NOT win the AMP. Plus, Tame Impala are way too Richard Kingsmill for some of the more venerable critics who go to make up the panel of judges for the AMP. Be grateful you were nominated, now go away chaps.
To that list we can add kyü. Oh wait. They’re not even on the shortlist. Ah well, that saves any red faces on the judges’ part from having to explain why they weren’t given the award. (HINT: they’re female – and a female won last year. Can’t be seen to be partaking in anything that could be construed as positive discrimination now, can we chaps? This is Australia.)
OK. To that list we can obviously add Eddy Current Suppression Ring – there have only been five winners of the AMP to date, and Eddy Current have already snaffled one, and it would be absurd to give them a second one so soon. Right? Right???? Right.
Sally Seltmann stands no chance. Not indie enough. Not male enough. (Astonishing how similar the taste of the 29 or 49 or whatever number it is of the Australian alternative music establishment is, when it comes down to it, don’t you think? Makes you wonder why they bother having so many judges.) A solo female performer, too – and we can’t have a reminder of last year’s M People moment, Lisa Mitchell. I’d also discount Pikelet, sadly. Can’t see Evelyn going down too well with the Red Bulls of this world. Plus… oh, you got it.
Dan Kelly? Well, there’s the fact he’s clearly only really on the list on a sort of overdue “services to the Australian music industry” remit. The album isn’t (whisper it) very good. Certainly not as good as previous.
Incidentally, while we’re here, it’s nice to note that Brisbane – Australia’s third-largest city – isn’t considered thrusting or cultural enough to be allowed to contribute a critic or music journalist as a judge, in contrast to the self-congratulatory journalist/radio cliques in Melbourne and Sydney (who each contribute half-a-dozen). What about esteemed local critics Noel Mengel or Steve Bell, I hear you ask!? Surely they can be included if Dom Alessio is? Guess they don’t drink in the right pubs, eh Chris?
Also, I got the impression the AMP was supposed to cover ALL forms of music, not just indie. Isn’t Australia known for its hip-hop? Its hardcore? (Sighs.) Maybe it’s just me.
So that leaves the left-field pop/dance sub-Beta Band nuggets of Richard In Your Mind, or Gareth Liddiard.
I’d say the smart money is on Gaz. One kinda feels the one of the reasons the AMP was set up in the first place was to acknowledge the skewed genius that is The Drones and that the judges (i.e. the Melbourne and Sydney alternative rock establishment) would be giving them the award every year if they thought they could get away with it… so this is a great way of giving them another AMP without actually being seen to do so. Never mind the fact Gareth’s album isn’t (whisper it) that good.
Fascinating to see Washington wasn’t even nominated. Too pop, too female, too venerated by Triple K, too similar to Lisa Mitchell – hey chaps? Weird how the AMP judges appear to be sensitive to concerns like that, but couldn’t give a crap about the fact that the exact same sort of loud guitar/male indie rock band gets nominated for the AMP several times, year in year out. One can’t imagine why Washington (and kyü, and Super Wild Horses, etc)’s album was omitted otherwise – it’s certainly superior to that Mitchell mishmash. Or perhaps men just really are more talented at making music than women?
You’ve got to love awards given by committee.
This is just more Red Bullshit.
P.S. Someone has just asked why I didn’t complain about My Disco‘s absence from the list. Well, of course. But I’m trying to make a series of points here, not champion my own taste. I don’t give awards or albums of the year. For good reason. MUSIC IS NOT A FUCKING COMPETITION!
Here’s my review of Gareth Liddiard’s Strange Tourist, written for Mess And Noise
This would have made a great book. It might still.
I feel like I should be throwing a bunch of disclaimers your way.
1. Bob Dylan is often stunning, often not.
2. Traditionally, “serious” music critics love it when singers with otherwise noted raucous rock bands strip their sound back and “go naked”, armed only with an acoustic or perhaps acerbic electric for company. This signifies that they’ve grown up or something: that the bare bones of their songs can stand alone without the noise and bombast. It signifies intimacy (always good) and insight (always good) and an ability to tell stories (of course good) – stories often being what folk are looking from their rock music. In the ’70s, folk treated rock with immense respect, often unmerited. Musicians and critics miss those days. No one’s liked the constant blurring of the boundaries that has gone on since then.
This is not a pop record. You can rest easy in that knowledge. So: isn’t it great that Gareth Liddiard, singer with Australia’s greatest fucking rock band living The Drones, has made a solo album armed with only a guitar, nine days, a few back issues of The Monthly and Soldier Of Fortune and the occasional bottle of whiskey? His voice: malevolent, hectoring, caustic, heritage-sodden, plaintive: seems ideally suited to such an arrangement. He can write the fuck out of a song. He can tell the fuck out of a story. He’s fascinated by Australian folklore, and can turn that fascination into further fascination for those not so inclined. Right? I thought so as well.
3. I don’t like rock bands that don’t rock.
Every song on this album goes on about five minutes too long. Except, oddly, the epic 16-minute closer ‘The Radicalisation Of D’ – a tale partway inspired by the incarceration of David Hicks in Guantanamo Bay detention camp in 2001 – which has dynamics, and power, and the odd scream, and pretty much everything else you’d expect from The Drones’ frontman. Still, that’s 16 minutes of genius that gradually sucks you in until you’re tightly bound to what’s unfolding in front of your ears, and we should not discount that for one second. Sweet lyrics, too: “The young boy … kills a magpie in the backyard/Steals chlorine from the neighbour’s swimming pool/Puts it in a coffee jar and pours brake fluid in/Makes a pipe bomb using matches and it fizzles when he runs.”
But, for example, the album’s opener ‘Blondin Makes An Omelette’, the story of the famous tightrope-walker as told by his understudy, reads great on paper with its lines, “No one cared for him at all until he crossed Niagra Falls/So you’d all feel a little lower down the scale … but I ain’t here because he’s tall, I’m only here to see him fall/And if I get on the wagon now it’ll only be to run him down.” Great lyrics, right? The trouble is, that’s it. In the studio Liddiard semi-murmurs them to himself like he’s reminding himself of the story over a rambling guitar line that might just as well not be there, for all it adds to the tale: he doesn’t bother with niceties as a melody or chorus or dynamics, figuring that it’s way better to focus on the words. He might be right. But not in this house, not now.
4. It’s not my fault he’s set the bar so high.
5. I have immense respect for this man, trust his judgment, love his voice. I may yet change my mind about this: I’ve held off writing this review for way longer than I would because of this. Mostly, however, this solo album sounds rambling, unfocused, the guitar all plucked arpeggios and breaks for reflection, but not in a meaningful way. In this, Strange Tourist reminds me a little of Bahamian singer Joseph Spence’s killer early Folkway Recordings and some of John Fahey’s more muted work: but it sadly doesn’t ring with the same resonance. (It comes as no surprise either to discover Liddiard has been listening to the work of Toumani Diabaté, a Malian kora player.) Tom Waits tells great stories, but not to the detriment of the music. And Johnny Cash always remembered to write a melody.
6. I’m not a particular fan of concentrating too hard when it comes to music. It either grabs you, or it doesn’t.
Every song of this album sounds like every other song on this album. The title track ‘Strange Tourist’ might be (relatively) a little more upbeat; ‘Did She Scare All Your Friends Away’ a little more plaintive and questioning in its saddened skewering of private obsessions; ‘You Sure Ain’t Mine Now’ sung in a spooked semi-falsetto over even sparser guitar – but really, if you started listening at any point during Strange Tourist you’d be hard placed to name the song, unless you were utterly familiar with the lyrics. Maybe that’s the point?
7. Strange Tourist was “recorded in an isolated mansion thirty minutes outside Yass, in country New South Wales” (press release). Well of course it was. I like the pretension here, just not the execution. Some folk would call this sculptured. Can sound be sculptured?
8. These songs are not Drones songs. These songs would not work as Drones song, I’m sure on that. These songs are Gareth Liddiard songs.
9. Good on him for stepping up to the plate. Fucking good on him.
Here’s my review of Dan Kelly’s Dan Kelly’s Dream, written for The Vine.
This is like a well-done underdog.
It’s too cluttered. There’s too much going on. That Dan Kelly is a wordsmith should be quite apparent to even the most unfamiliar with his muse: his lyrics sprawl all over this album, spilling out of its insert – clever, intricate, tongue-in-cheek wee beasties that flutter about all round Australia and wider abroad as well, often quite perturbed at the effect humankind’s folly seems to be having upon the world, and always ready with a zeitgeist-referencing quip. “I write adventure short stories, then I have to get down to colouring them in,” Kelly explains on the accompanying, very wordy, press release. By his own account, Kelly is inspired by coal power, solar power, Spiritualised, the apocalypse, Ray Davies, Ian M Banks, dust storms, hot yoga, fishing trips, bushfires, mining companies, ice freaks, record freaks, Queensland, Africa, Fleetwood Mac… and if this list is starting to read like a 2010 version of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ then that’s probably to the good.
Dan Kelly’s Dream is the third part of a triumvirate, that began with 2004’s Sing The Tabloid Blues, which had an array of very able Melbourne-ites providing the music, and continued with Drowning In The Fountain Of Youth: words this confused and psychedelic and ecologically aware have to be a part of an ongoing something, and I’m not knocking Dan Kelly for that. Dan Kelly’s Dream begins with the memorable, if somewhat nonsense, lyric “American Apparel had a special on khaki/With a matching balaclava stitched in Northern Italy…” and if you’re intrigued by that then Dan Kelly’s third full-length might well be for you.
The slightly self-deprecating, slightly swaggering, manner of singing reminds me of the original Jesus Of Cool, Nick Lowe, the man behind so much of the early Stiff Records output. Dan seemingly reckons himself to be some distant relation – maybe the Cleric Of Cool? That’s fine. So Dan Kelly and his words have it going on. Fine. He’s a wordsmith, and if the wordsmith wants to create music that makes the wordsmith think he’s all grown up like the wordsmiths of the Seventies then you can’t blame him for that can you, after all Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson must have had some great drinking sessions in their day. First track ‘The Decommissioner’ attests to Kelly’s fervent belief that that must have been the case: to the sound of an overhead helicopter and breathless vocals, the guitars ooze a love for the debauched post-Beatles years that just can’t be tamed.
But Jesus! There’s so much going on. If Kelly is a wordsmith you expect that the focus of this third album to be the smart asides, and the skewering of religion and corporations. It’s not. Far from it. The focus is the music, and the music is woefully overdone. ‘Hold On, I’m Coming On’ throws in everything including the kitchen sink in its determination to be as upbeat and ironic as possible, and the overall effect is to leave you gasping for air. Everything is polished to a shimmering, simmering sheen. Take the otherwise supple ‘A Classical DJ At Dandenong Station’, a song way too self-congratulatory to work. Every last word is enunciated, because you know it matters, and the manner is very mannered. It quite gets in the way. Doubtless the songs were all written spontaneously and without artifice the way every last wordsmith likes to think they are, but you wouldn’t know it. This is no vintage Dylan or Neil Young. Dan Kelly’s Dream is so mannered; there’s no abrasion here at all. ‘The Catholic Leader’ starts off promising enough with its cascade of old-school vintage radio guitar lines, like M. Ward without the voice or instinctive grasp of when to let go, but it soon falls into line with a thumping great wodge of sound, and – man – I never knew kitchen sinks sounded so tuneful.
There’s one detour in this otherwise linear journey: the 10-minute long ‘Poisoned Estuary Jam’, featuring The Drones’ Dan Luscombe on piano, wherein Dan Kelly shows himself just as in love with the same damn My Bloody Valentine record as the rest of Australia, with the added bonus of a guest appearance from the drums from Galaxie 500’s cover of ‘Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste’. It’s way odd, because for several minutes there’s no vocals at all.
Too much effort, not enough understanding.
Here’s my review of Pikelet’s Stem, written for The Vine
I know I’m supposed to like this.
I know this is a test.
I know that this is music I like, looped and gently warped and treated with warm, good humour – melodies counter-pointing melodies, and rhythms chugging satisfied along to themselves in the background like the street organ from Camberwick Green. I know this is music I like: it’s full of escaping awkward bunnies and Technicolor lighting, and keyboards that travel on circular paths, each oscillation bumping into the next. I took acid once while listening to Galaxie 500, time starting moving backwards and the hairs on my arm lit up like Christmas on Sunderland Bridge. For some unaccountable reason, that’s what the final two minutes of the disorientating friendly opening song here ‘Toby Light’ reminds me of.
I know I’m supposed to like this.
Fast forward by a few moments, and we’re lost in a pastoral reverie: all childish incantations and strummed acoustics, pointed exhortations to (as Chet Baker once put it) get lost. Pikelet – aka Evelyn Morris – doesn’t write songs as such, but soundscapes: clever (not smart ass) meandering and focused little beasts that are all about shadow and light and texture and sound, and the infinite amount of possibilities that synthesizers offer when tapped correctly and blown down with élan. ‘Introducing’ is a vague Gypsy fire-glow: ‘Swooping Buzzards’ could have been influenced by one of those gracious American folk like Joanna Newsom or Bill Callahan, there again it might not: ‘Red Pleather’ taps and tosses in a slightly worried way before deciding that yes, it’s worth it. And ‘Endurance Hunter’ is bird-song and wood-life given new textures, new ways of hearing.
I know this is a test.
Loop loop loop. Flutter flutter flutter. Lilt lilt lilt. Loop loop loop.
Loop loop loop. Flutter flutter flutter. Lilt lilt lilt. Lift lift lift.
Loop loop loop. Flutter. Flutter. Flutter. Sigh. Sigh. Squeak.
Loop loop loop.
The second album from Melbourne’s Pikelet lives up to its city’s expectations – and frankly, from where I’m seated here in the wilds of the centre of Brisbane, that’s quite some recommendation.
Here’s my one-minute review of Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s Rush To Relax, written for Collapse Board
Remember how to punk rock? Eddy Current SR do. Keep it bare. Keep it sparse. Keep it expansive. Don’t blink, don’t blink. Remember the lessons of 1980! Remember the lessons of 1981! The best Australian rock album since Kitchen’s Floor. As dry as sun-bleached tinder. There’s so much left out it makes me giddy.
Here’s my 10-second dismissal of Tame Impala, written as part of a review of The Silents’ Sun A Buzz for Mess And Noise
Ah, Tame Impala. So much to answer for. So little to be proud of.