The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Short Cuts

07

It was the summer of 1987. I'd just turned 13 and I was working for my father as a labourer, mixing cement and carrying blocks on a building site on an orchard farm in County Armagh. I was earning 10 quid a week. I was working with grown men for the first time, trying to appear worldly and mature. That didn't last long once my uncle found out that I fancied the orchard owner's daughter and that I was too scared to do anything about it. (I found out that she fancied me too. That scared me even more.) I remember being glued to the Wimbledon tennis championships as a I was a rabid Stefan Edberg fan (so was the orchard owner's daughter...). But mostly I remember attending my piano lessons on a Thursday evening when Victor, my piano teacher, would spend most of the lesson playing records - The Alex Harvey Band, Led Zep, The Pet Shop Boys (!)... The summer of 87 was great, I was growing up and I was growing to love music.

That summer was also all about the Michaels - Jackson's Bad and George's Faith. Surely two classic of the finest pop albums of the 80s, I agree... but, for me, Midnight Oil's Diesel and Dust was the album of the year, if not my childhood. It was sensational. Beds are Burning was an incendiary single (pardon the pun). A song that evoked the outback and heat and was as uncompromising as Peter Garrett's haircut. I bought the tape from Gene Stuart's Record Shop on Irish St and, quite literally, played it until it died. I'm sure I had at least three copies of that album in a short period of time (do you remember when your tape player used to chew up only your favourite cassettes?). 

Colombia are re-releasing the album complete with a DVD documentary of their outback Blackfella/Whitefella Tour, an experience which inspired the album and its focus on Aboriginal rights. Alongside Beds Are Burning, Dead Heart is the emotional hart of the album and the classic Sometimes ("Sometimes you're beaten to the core/Sometimes you're taken to the wall/But you don't give in") was a clarion call to the original inhabitants of Australia - don't give up. Just a few months ago, the newly elected Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, apologised to all Aboriginal people for past wrongs. No doubt Peter Garrett, his Minister of the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, was a proud bystander.

For me, Diesel and Dust is the classic Australian album. This re-release is a great excuse to get acquainted with one of the best rock bands of the past three decades. Unfortunately I never got the experience an Oil live show - did any of you?

 


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28

 The Eels Setlist - 27th April 2008 Sydney

Are the Eels a power pop band? Or a string-laden chamber pop band? Or are they an acoustic duo? Or a three piece punk band? The reason I ask is that I’ve seen this band play 4 times in the past 5 years and, on every occasion, they’ve been a completely different live proposition. They are, without doubt, the most schizophrenic of live bands. And that’s one of the many reasons why I love them to pieces. It seems as if Mark Oliver Everett (or Mr E or just plain E to everyone bar his bank manager) hears many voices in his head and listens to the loudest when he’s planning his world tours. It must be a kind of madness. Which, with is family history, kinda makes sense…

Last night’s show in the Enmore theatre in Sydney began with a screening of a BBC funded documentary that traced E’s efforts to find out more about his father, Hugh Everett III, a quantum mechanics physicist who is credited with coming up with the theory of Parallel Universes. This theory has been embraced in popular culture through shows like Doctor Who and cult movies like Donnie Darko. E’s investigation took him on a tour of all things Quantum – from Princeton where his dad developed the theory, to Copenhagen where the film detailed the meeting that his father had with eminent scientist, Nils Bohr. The documentary, whilst highly amusing in parts, touched on some desperately sad events – the suicide of E’s sister, the depression of his parents, the sudden death of his dad just as his theory was becoming more accepted. Many of these events have been detailed in the Eel’s albums over the years but the onscreen revelations added an extra layer of feeling to the band’s intimate performances later in the evening.

Maybe “band” is too strong a word. The Eels, on this world tour, consists of E himself and “the Chet”, a multi-instrumentalist who accompanied E on piano, harpsichord, the saw, guitar and, most thrillingly, the drums. It’s a Motherfucker, performed solo at the piano, was as amusingly poignant as ever but the evening really kicked off when the duo warped into some kind of White Stripes version of the Eels and thrashed their way through Flyswatter, Bus Stop Boxer, Novocaine for the Soul and Led Zep’s Good Time Bad Times. Without this manic period, the gig may have slipped into anonymity.

In any case, the Eels clearly buck the trend. How many bands tread the boards each tour, trotting out a few numbers for the new record and a smattering of old faves to a ripple of applause (and yawns). I salute the Eels, and in particular Mr E, for their (his?) contrariness and the fact that they wish to challenge me as a fan on each and every tour. I can’t think of many other acts that compare?


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06

Firstly, Short Cuts apologises for the length of time between this and the last entry - a situation which will hopefully be remedied by a New Year's Resolution (!).

As is now customary in the 00s (the decade of lists?), Short Cuts has, at last, decided to reveal its releases of 2007 in descending order. But first, let's discuss the disappointments of the past 12 months. There were two that hung over the year like stale smoke.

After a blistering gig in the Enmore theatre as documented by Short Cuts back in April here, Wilco released the MOR Sky Blue Sky. Moving from alt to schmaltz, the record was lazy and confined. Impossible Germany, the only classic song to be added to the Wilco canon, shone like a beacon. What that record could have been... In addition, Short Cuts noted the enmity between 50 Cent and Kanye West prior to their simultaneous album launches. West's Graduation turned out to be the lesser of his "School Triumverate" - it was bloated, lacking in melody and class.

Now onto the list. Bubbling under were The Shepherd's Dog by Iron and Wine, Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and Radiohead's In Rainbows. As always, Short Cuts welcomes comments, insults and the rest!

10 - Under the Blacklight by Rilo Kiley.

A pure pop confection of the highest quality. As has been noted in the reviews, there is more than a whiff of Fleetwood Mac here but don't let that put you off. The production quality is high, the guitars preen and Jenny Lewis' lovely voice wraps itself deliciously around songs about losing one's virginity (15), sex for cash (Moneymaker) and threesomes (Dejalo). Spot the theme?

  

9 - Raising Sands by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

Plant (whose one night stand with the surviving members of Led Zep was the only serious rival to Radiohead's In Rainbows as Musical Event of the Year) and Krauss cover a collection of folk, country and blues standards under the watchful gaze of T Bone Burnett. The result was, for me, the loveliest record of the year. It just swoons out of the speakers.  

 

8 - Baby 81 by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Every self-respecting Best Of list needs a turned-up-to-11, air guitar fest and Black Rebel provided it in Black Spades this year. From the off (Took Out a Loan), the record is compulsive rock'n'roll. Snarling lyrics and thumping drums ensure that the Jesus and Mary Chain comparisons still hold water. But... when the tunes are this good, who cares?

  

7 - Overpowered by Roisin Murphy

The title track was the Single of the Year - a brash, confident pop song that Kylie, Madonna, Gwen and others of that ilk would give up some serious botox time for. I've always had a soft spot for this kind of sugar rush electro pop. Until the next Goldfrapp release, Overpowered will be on rotation when I need my music to put a smile on my face. Roisin Murphy remains undervalued. A shame. 

  

6 - Moby Grape by Moby Grape

Blending 5 voices and 2 lead guitars, the rerelease of Moby Grape's eponymous 1967 release introduced me to  my new favourite 60s band. Mixing pop, blues, country and whatever the hell else they fancied, Moby Grape is pure West Coast US heaven. There isn't a bad song on here but Omaha and Fall On You are particularly special.

  

 5 - Cruel Guards by The Panics

Undoubtedly the Australian album of the year, Perth's The Panics made a record that referenced the 80s, hip hop and pure old-fashioned songwriting. This young foursome have a knack for writing uplifting tunes that are completely moreish. A useful skill. Check out the video for their excellent single - Don't Fight It - here.

 

4 - Time Machine (A Best Of) by Shack

 

What a band! Shack have released 3 classic albums in my lifetime (Waterpistol, HMS Fable and The Corner of Miles and Gil) yet they are virtually unknown to all you music lovers out there. This timely (geddit?) compilation will convince you all how right I am - their brilliance is taking the humdrum (Cup of Tea) and making it magical. As good as the Stone Roses and Oasis, these Scousers make perfect psychedelic pop. 

 

 3 - Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem

Are LCD Soundsystem too cool for school? Short Cuts used to think so but this new record proves how utterly wrong that perception is. It is a cool record. But in a good way. Referencing Bowie, disco, Krautrock and dance, James Murphy seems to be able to mesh all this together into something that is addictive, fun yet strangely moving too. North American Scum was a great single too. 

 

 2 - 23 by Blonde Redhead

This record came out of left field for me. With a male and female lead vocal mix, lush production and gorgeous haunting tunes, 23 has been the record Short Cuts has played most on his MP3 player this year. Ergo it is the new release of the year. Imagine a less obtuse and wilful My Bloody Valentine and you might get close. Dreamy stuff.

 

 1 - The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark

Now I know that a 28 year old bluegrass rerelease of 2 albums on a single disk (that was not even released in 2007!) may strike you all as an unusual choice for Release of the Year. But but but... it's just bloody fantastic. So warm, mellow, tuneful. Gene Clark, of course, went on to great fame with the Byrds but he never bettered these two records he made with guitarist/banjoist Doug Dillard in the late 60s. The highlight is the first record (what a moniker!). Why Not Your Baby was covered by Velvet Crush on their seminal Teenage Symphonies to God. Mournful and joyous mix on this simply brilliant compilation.


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04

The ARIAs are the Australian equivalent of the BRITs - when all the great and good in the Australian music industry indulge in a night of backslapping and self-aggrandising. I watched the show principally because the legend that is Nick Cave got inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame. But, unexpectedly, the highlight of the evening didn't involve the long-haired Grinderman. The organisers of the BRITs tend to throw a strange collaboration into the mix - remember Tom Jones and Robbie Williams, or Bjork and PJ Harvey, surely one of the more bizarre and well worth another look. Well the ARIAs chucked hippy John Butler and country singer Keith Urban together for a "jam". And it was surprisingly wonderful.

 I reviewed the John Butler Trio's latest record, Grand National, a few months ago and it really is a bit of a stinker. He lived down to his reputation when he accepted the award of Best Independent Release and launched into the kind of left-wing agenda driven speech that even Michael Moore might have baulked at. Keith Urban, a bona fide country superstar here in Oz (as well as being the hubby of one Nicole Kidman), also received an award for Best Country Album. I refuse to listen to the record because of its name - Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy Thing. Jeez...

So when they came together, I really didn't expect much. How was I to know that Urban was an incendiary guitar player and that Butler could put aside the politics and thrash out a great tune? It really is well worth a listen - make sure to hang around for the last couple of minutes.

 

 


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01

 

Isn't it quite outstanding news? A new Radiohead album, called In Rainbows, due out in 10 days in digital format... and it's free! Or extremely expensive. It's up to you, faithful music lover.  If a digital download doesn't float your boat, you can fork out 40 quid for a hardbook package with 2 CDs and a Vinyl album too and wait until early December for delivery.

Just bizarre! The Guardian have, conveniently, listed the known tunes with some quite dubious YouTube links.

1. 15 Step

2. Bodysnatchers

3. Nude

4. Weird Fishes/Arpegii

5. All I Need

6. Faust Arp

7. Reckoner

8. House of Cards

9. Jigsaw Falling Into Place

10. Videotape

So how much will you lot all fork out for the digital release?

I won't pay full price on the general principle that MP3s are an inferior product. But for the sheer audacity of this idea (and the fact that it might influence some of the more far-sighted record companies), I'm willing to stump up a few euros. Check out the site - it's lovely.

Isn't it great to be just bloody excited about music again?!


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30

I came across Angus and Julia Stone when I was chatting a record store guy in Bondi Junction and I asked him to put a CD in my hand that he thought I would love. That CD was a compilation of the 2 EPs they had recorded to date - Heart Full of Wine and the charming Chocolates and Cigarettes.

I was completely hooked. One of the key characteristics of this Sydney North Shore sibling band is that each one writes songs that are instantly identifiable - Angus is more a strum-a-long Elliott Smith type whilst Julia veers from acoustic Bjork to a kind of breathy Joanna Newsom folk sound.

They recently recorded their debut album in the UK (where they fell under the wing of Fran Healy of Travis fame). The album is called A Book LIke This and this is the lead off single, The Beast. I find it uttlerly beguiling and it's a lovely video too.

 

 

The Beast is very much an Angus song. Julia's music is a little more challenging, but it's part of the drama of this band. Have a listen to I'm Yours.

 

I can't wait to see these guys live. By all accounts, it's like seeing two acts... the other melds into the background during each song. But... I'm waiting until a certain someone who's currently in the UK beats a path to my door here in Sydney before I book some tickets. I have a feeling it will be a night that I want to share.

 


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27

Those of you who've been with CLUAS for a while may remember that I was an Adams evangeliser. I reviewed his first two solo records for these hallowed pages - Heartbreaker and Gold. These records, alongside the final Whiskeytown album Pneumonia, represented Adams at his most vibrant and vital. Acclaim was immediate and fulsome. Over time, Gold has tarnished but the other two represent an early 21st Centuty zenith in singer songwriting. The stage seemed set for Adams to achieve superstardom. 

Except things have not gone quite according to plan. Adams has dated famous actresses, developed a proper drug habit, fallen off stage. All the while, he’s been churning out album after album. Five official album releases later (13 unofficial releases streamed from his website) and Adams’ latest, the rather excellent Easy Tiger, has been met with a collective shoulder shrug from most music critics. Another Adams record stuffed with plaintive melodies, country-rock leanings, sad songs about sad girls…

Yet Adams has remained a big live draw. Playing two Enmore Theatre shows in a row has demonstrated his marketability here in Sydney. Having seen him play three times before, each one being a dramatic and memorable night, I was excited. The band trotted onstage in almost darkness and played in the blue hue of a few Chinese lanterns over the centre of the stage. Calls of "Turn the lights up!" started almost immediately. The crowd murmured as Adams kicked into Goodnight Rose, the lovely opener from Easy Tiger. I could not pick where Adams was standing onstage. The gloom was distracting but the band’s sound was clear, chunky and strong. Adams was in fine voice. Over the years, his voice has definitely improved. Dear John was an obvious early highlight as was Wild Flower from Gold. Intricate melodies delicately played and sung.

It’s hard to pinpoint where it all went horribly wrong. I could point at the band which seemed to play at the same intensity all evening. That’s not to say that weren’t competent. Just that without light or a focal point on stage, the music was found lacking. And there were too many samey guitar licks. It could have been that Adams let Neal Casal, his lead guitarist, interact with the audience. Adams’ only outburst was to admonish us for "not knowing how to act" as the band took an early intermission. That legendary stroppiness was there in spades. Maybe it was because he played lots of new or obscure songs and the lack of familiarity grated on those of us who know that he has many classics in his back catalogue.

Maybe the effort that Adams clearly demands of his audience is not repaid with interest by him and his band. It was obvious that the calls from the crowd resulted in a set change – did we deserve to be punished? Does this sound familiar?

Even faced with what was clearly a below par gig, the Adams apologists were immediately out en masse. Under the byline ‘Seems Like the Greater They Are, the More You Have to Like It or Lump It’, the Sydney Morning Herald’s chief music critic Bernard Zuel reckoned the show had been Dylanesque in its wilful awkwardness but that it had moments of brilliance. Whilst the article is mostly piffle, does he have the nugget of a good point there?

 

The debate on this Adams Blog sheds further light on what was an infuriating night. Is an artist being disrespectful to the paying public by being difficult and awkward? Can these recent awful Adams and Rice gigs be attributed to Dylan’s behaviour on his Never Ending tour?

 


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18

For those of you 'down with the kids', this will be old news. 50 Cent and Kanye West are releasing their new albums (Curtis and Graduation respectively) on on the same day in the US - September 11th. A rather entertaining war of words has now escalated to the following sensible conclusion: they'll be debating who has the best album live on television. As you do.50 Cent

Fiddy's somewhat baffling response to West's TV debate request closed with "Just don't be asking me if I am a conscious rapper. I know exactly what I am saying - so I am conscious". I read this imagining Fiddy in baby oil placing his finger on his chin and pursing his lips a la Dr Evil.

Kanye's somewhat more reasonable reply ("What am I going to debate about?") has led to even more drama! Fiddy has declared that he will never make another 50 Cent album should West outsell him. This is an empty threat as Cent is regularly amongst the highest selling artists in the world. Still, we can but hope.

At least this level of juvenile engagement probably won't result in multiple gun-related rapper casualties.

Still, this is all rather reminiscent of other music battles. I thought I'd start a list of my own personal favourites, NOT in the order of their cultural significance of course!

  • The Stones vs The Beatles

Still a healthy debate a full 35 years plus since the bands were at their peak, this argument will probably never be definitely settled. For me, Beggar's Banquet to Goat Heads Soup wins the day.

  • Oasis 'Roll With It' vs Blur 'Country House'

Conventional wisdom ran that Blur won the battle (Country House debuted at no 1, beating Roll With It to top spot) but that Oasis won the war. Morning Glory went on the sell squillions and the Gallagher brothers became OK and Hello fodder. But... Blur scored bigger hits in the US (Song 2?) and have arguably released better and more challenging albums than their Mancunian foes. For me, Blur by a street.

  • One True Voice vs Girls Aloud

Heh! 2 "bands" created on 2002's Popstars - The Rivals. One managed by Pete Waterhouse, the other by Louis Walsh. "Sound of the Underground" announced the arrival of a sassy young group that wiped the floor with their male rivals. One True Voice fell apart after just two singles and Pete Waterman has never been heard of since. Yey!

  • The Music Industry vs Downloaders

Still raging. And dealt with elsewhere on the CLUAS blogs.

  • The Dark Wars - Norwegian Death Metal vs Finnish Black Metal 1992 - 1994

It's not just the rap genre where musical conflict has escalated to murder. Varg Vicenne of Barzum stabbed Øystein Aarseth of Mayhem 23 times and is currently serving a 21 year jail sentence for his trouble.

  • The Killers vs The Bravery

The Killers currently ahead on points in the Lightweight Dead-eyed Careerist Championship of the World.

Any others I've missed?


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04
As I've been in Australia for a while now, I've been assimilating the local Aussie music scene. One band has stood head and shoulders above the rest and I feel it's now the time to introduce Ireland (and the world) to the genius that is Augie March.

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16

Astral Weeks - cosmically over-rated?Earlier this week, the Guardian asked a number of credible musos du jour (Mark Ronson,  Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips et al) to talk about a "classic" album that failed to light their fire. The article here delivers a masterclass in Sacred Cow slaying. Everything from Nevermind to Pet Sounds to The Stone Roses gets it in the neck.

Whilst I disagree wholeheartedly with Alex Kapranos slagging off Marquee Moon (how could he?!), I must admit that I found myself nodding vigorously to myself with descriptions of the Arcade Fire's  Neon Bible ("..an agglomeration of mannerisms, cliches and devices...") and Is This It (..the Strokes are the new Duran Duran; the new decadence for the new millennium...).

Of course, it got my thinking. Time to invite my fellow CLUASers to slay some sacred cows of their own. To start with, I'd like to nominate the two albums that adorn the top of the CLUAS Best Irish albums - Van the Man's Astral Weeks, and Loveless by that famous "Irish" beat combo, My Bloody Valentine. The directionless dirge that is Astral Weeks is knocked into a tin hat by  the delightful Moondance, whilst Loveless sounds like some recorded a bad album for their iPOD underwater. Now I know that the guitar layers and swoony indecipherable vocals are supposed to transport me to a nether world.... but there ARE NO TUNES!

Patti Smith, Horses. Neigh I say. Poetry recited over a sloppy bar band?

There isn't a single Dylan album that I can listen to the whole way through. Now call me a philistine (and I know some of you already think I am) but there are just too many words. Blonde on Blonde? I find myself skipping tracks. Visions of Johanna's genius is drained by is length.

Why are the Clash worshipped?! So many of their songs sound under-rehearsed and rehashed. And, the worst crime of all, they inspired the truly awful Libertines. Surely the most over-rated band of recent times, Up The Bracket is off-key, gravelly and ridiculously derivative.

 And so, my friends, I ask you this. What is the most over-rated album of all time? Do you agree with my choices or would you prefer to add some new and familiar names to the list? OK Computer anyone?

 


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Nuggets from our archive

2006 - Review of Neosupervital's debut album, written by Doctor Binokular. The famously compelling review, complete with pie charts that compare the angst of Neosupervital with the angst of the reviewer. As you do.