So, after a three month break I thought I'd post my second entry in my series (?) of album journals. This one is about an album that could well be my favourite album ever, Neutral Milk Hotel's 'In The Aeroplane Over The Sea'. If there's anyone who is reading this who doesn't know much about Neutral Milk Hotel (?!?), here's a quick rundown of the band and this album: Neutral Milk Hotel is predominantly the project of one Jeff Mangum, though on this album the project was expanded to a 4-man band. It's predominantly 'folk', but a sort of fuzzed out, punked up, psychedelic version of folk, filled out with brass sections, keyboards, synths, banjos (sometimes bowed), zanzithophones, fuzz bass, a huge sounding drumkit played but some crazy kid, and a handful of other weird and wonderful instruments. Over the top of all this is Jeff Mangum's slightly nasal, slightly out-of-tune, but always amazingly emotional voice. He sings about love and life and death and Anne Frank and freaks and religion, and he never EVER makes it sound corny or overwrought or anything other than the most beautiful thing ever.
This is an album that Conan put me onto. I purchased it on his recommendation, and after my first couple of listens I loved about half of the songs on the album (mostly the more up-tempo ones), but found the rest too samey. I put it away for a while, and probably 9months later came back to it. All of a sudden the rest of the album sounded really good too. The lyrics started to seep in. I could appreciate the differences between the two parts of Two Headed Boy.
Ever since then (probably 4-5 years ago? maybe even more?) the album has steadily grown in importance to me, to the point where sometime in the last year it became my favourite album ever. Someone once wrote that if everyone in the world owned this album the world might somehow become a slightly better place. It's a naive thought, but if one album could do it then it would be this one. No other album makes me feel so despairing of humanity and yet so filled with hope and joy of life (except for perhaps Godspeed You! Black Emperor's 'Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven', one of my previous 'favourite albums ever', and surely a future entry in one of these album journals).
Seriously, it's amazing. Every one of the closing 5 songs (from 'Communist Daughter' through to 'Two Headed Boy Part 2') has brought me to tears at least once. You know when people talk about what songs they want played at their funeral? For me it would be 'Ghost' and 'Untitled' played back to back. I wouldnt want everyone to sit down and listen to the meaning of the words (especially during 'Untitled', since it's instrumental) - I'd want people to jump around and let out some energy. They're the sort of songs that fill you with emotion, that make the hairs on your body stand on end and your voice rise in your throat and your limbs flail with abandon.Here's a video of Neutral Milk Hotel playing 'Ghost' and 'Untitled' live
Of course, part of the mystique of this album is that after its release the band just disappeared. Jeff Mangum became some mythical figure. This means that once you've made your way through this album there's not a lot of other NMH to listen to. There's On Avery Island, the 'official' NMH debut album, which is quite underrated and nearly equal to ITAOTS in many ways (and is worth owning simply for 'Song Against Sex', 'Naomi', 'Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone' and 'Three Peaches'). There's the live recording of 'Little Birds', the only song written after ITAOTS to have surfaced, featuring Mangum's most disturbing lyrics yet (it will make you wish he'd just release some more damn music already!). There's the various demos floating around ('Hype City Soundtrack' being the best, along with 'Beauty', 'Invent Yourself A Shortcake' and the unnamed demos). There's a pre-On Avery Island EP, 'Everything Is'. There's the final NMH release, a live recording of Jeff Mangum playing solo at a place called 'Jittery Joes', which is therefore titled 'Jeff Mangum Live At Jittery Joes' strangely enough.
There's also the other bands that have been influenced by NMH in some way. Firstly, there are the other Elephant 6 bands: The Apples In Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, Circulatory System, Beulah, Elf Power, The Music Tapes, etc. Most of them are well worth checking out. Then there are all of the bands who have a strong NMH influence or perhaps just a coincedental similarity: Okkervil River, Beirut, Mountain Goats, The Decemberists, Rock Plaza Central, and heaps more. Hell, one of my own bands (Mt Augustus) quite mercilessly rips off NMH from time to time, and I have no qualms with admitting that.
I also wanted to briefly talk about another NMH-related band, A Hawk And A Hacksaw. AHAAH is the band of Jeremy Barnes, that 'crazy kid' drummer from NMH that I mentioned before. Mr Barnes has also played with bands such as Broadcast and Beirut, and AHAAH has a lot of similarities with the latter. It's heavily influenced by Eastern European folk music, and as such is full of accordion and violin and various brass and wind instruments. It's really really good stuff. As is always the case, in their 2006 release 'A Wind Blows' I've found an album that should have been included in my Top 10 (it probably would have landed right in the middle, around #5
). I highly recommend picking it up (or downloading it if you're an unscrupulous sort).Here's a video of A Hawk And Hacksaw playing live
. Note the way that Jeremy plays accordion and percussion simultaneously. It's both hilarious and very impressive.
Ok, general update:
I have a job. I work for a company called Intec Billing in the city, on the corner of Adelaide and Edward Streets. They do billing software for telecommunications companies, mostly. I've been there a week. It seems ok, the work I'm doing right now (configuring the software for clients - or at least thats what I'll do once I'm done with my training stuff) isn't the most exciting but I get the feeling they're only putting me there for a relatively short time, so that I can gain some experience with the product before moving me into a more development-focussed role. At least that's what I'm hoping for. I can't see myself sticking around for too long if that's not the case... Anyway, it's good to have some money coming in.
I'm in Perth right now. My mum had her 50th birthday so I came back for that. It was held yesterday, and it was quite good fun. I return to Brisbane on Tuesday.
Last Thursday I went to see Joanna Newsom. It was pretty amazing, although she didnt play with her live band, so that was slightly disappointing. Still, she's such an amazing musician and the harp is such a full sounding and expressive instrument that in the end it didn't really adversely affect the show too any great extent. Joanna seemed really nice and very comfortable on stage - she joked around and talked with members of the audience. And really, you couldn't ask for a much better setlist. She played my two favourite songs from Ys ('Emily', my song of last year, and 'Only Skin'), as well as most of my favourites from The Milk Eyed Mender ('Peach, Plum, Pear', 'The Book of Right On', 'Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie', 'Inflammatory Writ', 'Sadie', 'Bridges and Ballons'). 'Monkey and 'Bear' and 'The Sprout and the Bean' would have been nice, but I feel bad asking for more. Oh, and she received the biggest ovation I think I've ever heard - it pretty much didn't let up between her finishing the main set and her coming back out for an encore.
- Mt Augustus show at the Columbian Bar on February 15th with The Narcotics. I'm not organising this one in any way (which is a nice change), so I don't know too much about it.
- Fickle Beasts show at Fat Louies on March 9th. We are organising this one, so we should probably get around to asking some other bands to play.
- Pat Elliott and I are joining up with our old friend Adrian Marsh (from ye olde days of Forevergreen) to help him translate his Buildings Melt
project into a live entity. I'm really looking forward to this.
- I've been filling in on drums for people lately. I played drums for an A Man Called Son show recently, and might be helping out some other bands in the near future.
That's heaps to talk about for now. Stay well, people.
ok, i think my top 10 albums for the year are now relatively stable. therefore, its time to post them on my lj! (*faint 'woo'*)
10. Mogwai - Mr Beast
Probably the best Mogwai album since Come On Die Young. Although there aren't any of their trademark epics on this album ('We're No Here' comes close though), there are a higher percentage of songs that contain those big dynamic changes that they do so well. Plus, to me they're more successful at writing the short songs than they have been in the past.
9. Ambitious Lovers - Stranger, Can I Touch You?
A really good album from a really good local band. Pretty lo-fi (though probably less so than their previous EPs), but in the best way. One of the most emotionally affecting albums I've ever heard anyone from Brisbane produce (or anywhere else, for that matter).
8. Lily Allen - Alright, Still
A lot of people are really surprised when I say that I like Lily Allen. I guess that I'm a bit surprised myself. Mostly I love the really colourful production and songs. It's just really catchy, fun stuff.
7. The Drones - Gala Mill
I saw The Drones at The Zoo earlier this year. It was one of the most aggressive and raw shows I've seen. On record The Drones are still aggressive and raw. This album is no different. Songs like 'Jezebel' and 'Sixteen Straws' show how good this band is, and also the range their capable of.
6. Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
A 19 year old American kid travels around Europe for a while, decides that he loves Balkan traditional music, goes back to America and records this album in his bedroom. The drummer from Neutral Milk Hotel joins his band. Bloggers go crazy over the album. The thing is, it IS really good. I don't know if the band will have much longevity (they seem like something of a one-trick pony), but this album is really great. Debates over authenticity be damned (and really, arguing over whether or not the kid is being 'authentic' to the music he's emulating is kind of beside the point).
5. Islands - Return to the Sea
I never got into The Unicorns. I heard that one song that JJJ used to play a lot, and it never really interested me so I never pursued it any further. Maybe I should, because this album is really really good. Just for something different, it's an interesting and somewhat 'quirky' indie pop album by some Canadians who feel the need to fill the album with a plethora of instruments. And just like with all of those other similarly minded Canadian bands (Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Broken Social Scene, Stars, etc etc) it's a pretty successful strategy.
4. Shearwater - Palo Santo
Shearwater have long been the poor cousin of Okkervil River. The fact that Will Sheff (the main guy from Okkervil) sang on half of Shearwater's songs always made the two bands difficult to differentiate, despite the differences in mood and focus (Shearwater always being much more understated than the more 'rock' Okkervil). On this album Jonathan Meiburg took over all singing and songwriting duties (although Sheff still helped out to a large extent), and the improvement is huge. All of a sudden this is a unique band with an identifiable sound. That sound is sparse, dry and subtle, but at times also menacing. It reminds me of Talk Talk's last two albums, but with a much folkier, 'rootsier' bent. Meiburg has a superb voice, and for the first time he really shows it off. When raises his voice to a yell after the quiet intro to 'Le Dame Et La Licorne', well, it's pretty spine-tingling stuff.
3. Turnpike - Humans Find Patterns
Most of the albums in my list this year are somewhat 'folky'. Turnpike are NOT folky. Turnpike rock. They FUCKING rock. Turnpike are pretty much the best band in Brisbane. This past year they finally released their first album. It's really really good. I guess their sound isn't for everyone, but it's certainly for me. It's such a shame that these guys play to such small crowds every month. It seems like its somewhat obligatory to pay lip-service to Turnpike, but it also seems like half of the people who profess to love them are only saying so because they're such a local institution. It pains me to see them play to an audience who seem to be waiting for the latest 'hot' noisey guitar band to play next (who often seem to forget that Turnpike have awesome SONGS behind their noise).
ps: I couldn't find a copy of their actual album cover, so that pic will have to do.
2. Joanna Newsom - Ys
I liked the Milk Eyed Mender, but I didn't *love* it. I loved many of the songs from it, but as an album I was never totally smitten with it. I'm pretty smitten with Ys. It takes elements of the previous album and expands them beyond measure - whether or not that's a good thing is up to personal opinion. Personally, I love what Newsom has done on Ys. Her voice is far more expressive than on MEM, and she's reduced some of her more grating vocal quirks without losing what made her so unique. The orchestral backing is, to my ears, perfectly complimentary to her harp-playing and songwriting, never overtaking the songs. Her lyrics are equally as good as they were on MEM (and really, let's stop worrying about the fact that she uses the word 'thee' *once* on the entire album... hell, it's only used because it rhymes).
Also, 'Emily' is the song of the year.
1. Danielson - Ships
I feel weird saying that this is my #1
for the year. Really, any of the albums in my top 5 could be placed at #1
, they're so close. 2007 didn't seem to be a year for real 'standout' albums (or at least not for me). But, as the saying goes, there can only be one. And on this particular day its Ships.
The album famously features contributions from Deerhoof and Sufjan Stevens, and I guess that's as accurate a description of Danielson's sound that you'll find: mix Deerhoof's crazy noise-pop with the folk tendencies and huge instrumentation of Sufjan and you get Danielson (or at least this incarnation of Danielson). There are some amazing pop songs here: 'Did I Step On Your Trumpet?', 'Two Sitting Ducks', 'Kids Pushing Kids', 'Bloodbook On The Halfshelf'. Personally my pick from the album is the opener, 'Ship, The Majestic Suffix' - it just builds and builds and builds, yet it's all over in about two minutes. Awesome stuff.
So that's my top 10. Also worthy of mention are these albums, some of which I simply didn't listen to enough to fully appreciate:
Sunset Rubdown 'Shut Up, I Am Dreaming', Marissa Nadler 'The Saga of Mayflower May', Bluebottle Kiss 'Doubt Seeds', Sonic Youth 'Rather Ripped', Casiotone For The Painfully Alone 'Etiquette', and a bunch of others.
Um... general update?
I went back to Perth to visit my parents for Christmas and New Years. It was nice. I did stuff like going to the beach, playing tennis, eating LOTS, going to the New Years Day races (we won money!), watching the cricket. It was nice.
I'm on the dole. I've been applying for lots of jobs - I'm currently in the middle of the interview process for software engineering jobs in Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra. I guess that I'd prefer to stay in Brisbane, but if a really good job comes along elsewhere then I suppose I'd be a fool to turn it down. And really, there's not much keeping me here. I talk to most of my friends over the internet (I rarely see them face-to-face), and most of my spare time is spent writing and recording music. I can do that stuff anywhere. And maybe moving will get me out of this general malaise I've been in for the last year or so.
Ok, last thing: Mt Augustus are playing on Monday at Rics. It will be the first Mt Augustus show since August, and potentially the last one for a fair while. Half the band quit in December, and although I don't hold anything against them for that AT ALL, I'm now starting to remember why my other bands broke up after people quit - teaching new people a whole set's worth of music is a real pain. Mt Augustus won't die though, at long as there's Pat Elliott and myself (or even just myself) then it will continue.
So anyway, we're playing on Monday at Rics. A Man Called Son is opening, and I'll be playing drums for them on a few songs. After that will be Mt Augustus, and it will probably be a mix of solo songs from me and two-piece songs with Pat. There might also be a few full band songs, but we're not sure about that as yet.
Tue, Dec. 5th, 2006, 09:14 am
'fickle beasts' (another bad band name).
first gig on this saturday (9th) @ fat louies (in the city, above gilhooleys on albert st).
other bands = TURNPIKE
and DEL TORO
, so even if we suck the other bands are awesome.
im fairly sure it's free.
you should come.
this is something i wrote today that i wanted to put here so i dont forget it. i was talking about the myth of the 'indie hipster' and people who seem to think that anything they dont like that others do is only popular (even when that 'popularity' is in such a small circle of people) because of the influence of the 'indie hipsters':
seriously people, these 'hipsters' that you so hate dont exist. theyre not real. people dont really pretend to love certain music because it 'makes them cool'. it doesnt happen. the opposite happens, where people profess to hate certain music because doing so 'makes them cool'. but pretending to love something? thats too hard. theres too many ways to get caught out. someone could ask you your favourite song from the album, and then you have to quickly do a google search and hope that the song youve just stated as your favourite isnt actually an 8second long A chord played on an organ. because then youre fucked. its much easier to vehemently deny that certain musicians have any talent or relevancy. you dont need a compelling argument then, you just need to say 'she cant sing!' or 'its all so pretentious' or 'what, does she think shes too good for a chorus?'.
addendum: and when i say 'they dont exist', well, obviously they do, but certainly not in the numbers that people seem to think. honestly, that sort of person is so rare, and generally so easy to see through. i dont think they hold any real sway over the opinions of anyone with half a brain.
note: the discussion was originally about the new joanna newsom album, where i was arguing that theres no such thing as a band thats popular solely because of the influence of 'the hipsters'. additionally, im talking more about international bands than local ones.
ps: today i bought the 33 1/3 book about the making of neutral milk hotel's 'in the aeroplane over the sea'. ive finished it already (its only very small). i think ill probably re-read it in the next few days.
pps: the new deerhoof album leaked. its really good.
Mon, Nov. 6th, 2006, 12:22 pm
so, i was just browsing through myspace and randomly thought "i wonder if laura veirs' page has anything interesting on it?". and wouldnt you know it, she's touring here in january! she's playing the zoo on january 19!!!
im totally going to try to get mt augustus the support. i dont even know how to go about applying yet, but im going to do it! there's probably around a 5% chance we'll get it (if that), but thats still 5% more than 0%.
so, i thought that id start writing up something of a journal where i talk about my favourite albums, seeing as this lj thing is getting a bit dusty (and i have nothing better to do at the moment). to start things off, i thought id talk about...The For Carnation - The For Carnation
the for carnation is the solo project of brian mcmahon (lead singer from slint). although on each of his releases he has been backed by some form of band (featuring members of slint, tortoise, etc) he is the only permanent member.
the for carnation continues on from slint's 'spiderland' album, offering twisted stories delivered through half sung / half spoken vocals, backed by skeletal guitar lines. however, where slint often kept the volume low in order to make their loud distorted parts even more jarring, the for carnation keep the volume down pretty much permanently. as much as you might long for that sudden burst of noise, this band is never going to give it to you.
their self titled album is their 3rd release (after the 'fight songs' EP and debut full-length, 'marshmallows'). i guess that its sound can best be described as the mellower parts of slint (eg: washer, don aman) mixed with elements of trip-hop and tortoise-esque post rock. the music usually consists of repetitive guitar parts underscored by a throbbing, hypnotic bassline and jazzy drums. all around are effects laden keyboards, organs and assorted noises. and through it all comes mcmahon's low, creepy vocals (and one guest vocal appearance from kim deal, sounding completely unlike her usual energetic self).
this album sounds like 3am in the morning. it's dark. it's scary. it's deeply unsettling. it's the sort of thing that you put on when you've just gotten back from a night out and want to listen to something for an hour before going to sleep, but 'kid a' seems like too cheery a prospect.
and then, you get to the last song, 'moonbeams'. while it contains the same musical elements as the rest of the album, it changes moods from 'this is creeping me out' to 'this is moving me to tears'. it's 9 minutes of a repeated 3 chord progression. there's some sort of bubbling synth underneath it all, there are violins, there's the usual rumbling bass. it travel through peaks and valleys for 7minutes, before rising up and making you think that finally, finally
the music will erupt in some sort of crescendo. but it doesn't, it falls back down and slowly fades out, instrument by instrument, over the last two-and-a-half minutes.
recommend this album if you're into this sort of stuff. its not the sort of thing you reach for every day, but sometimes it's the only album that can satisfy a certain craving. i've uploaded the song 'moonbeams' from the album. i'm not sure whether or not im doing the song (and album) a disservice by separating it; somehow i think that the effect of the song will probably be lessened if its not preceded by the other 5 songs on the disc. on the other hand, its an amazing song any way you look at it. so my advice is, if you think that this album sounds like it could be for you, go and buy (or download) it. if you're not sure, download the song.The For Carnation - Moonbeams
ps: this song recently made it into my 'top 10 gut-wrenchingly sad songs', as requested by charlie.
Sun, Nov. 5th, 2006, 12:04 am
last night i went to a party. ive had a cold and a sore throat lately, so this morning i woke up and my voice was all croaky and awesome. i sound like robert from 'everybody loves raymond'. i think im going to go and record some vocals for some songs now, in the hope that i'll sound like johnny cash or something.
Wed, Sep. 13th, 2006, 09:27 am
places ive been to since the last post:
pompei - old, dusty, petrified bodies, drawings of prostitutes, large appendages
venice - gondolas, canals, etc
oh, i forgot to mention in my previous post that when we were walking around rome we stopped off at this old church (actually, we stopped off at a lot of old churches, but this one was particularly interesyting). the monks from this particular church had made a shrine underneath the main hall where they had all of these ornaments and statues made out of the skeletons of dead monks. a few years ago (ie: early last century) the monks' previous church had to be demolished, so they dug up all of the bones of the monks that were burried on the churchgrounds and transported them to the site of the new church. instead of just throwing them back in the ground, though, they decided to turn them into lamps and pillars and statues and stuff. theres even a grim reaper thats made out of bones, holding a scythe and scales. beneath him is a plaque that says 'what you are now, we once were. what we are now, you will one day be.'
and st peters church in the vatican is the most beautiful and amazing building ive ever seen.
ps: im currently in st johanns (austria)