Top Australian Albums of 2011

 

by Andrew Fithall

Last year I wrote about my top ten albums for the year, but there were no geographical boundaries. For some reason (probably the influences of my radio station of choice) this year my music perspective has become a bit narrower. This list is following that trend. My top twelve (couldn’t settle on ten) Australian albums of the year, in no particular order…

Husky – Forever So

If you like Bon Iver you will probably like Husky. If you like Wilco, you also will probably like Husky. While they have been around for a number of years, the Melbourne quartet came to the notice of the greater public through Triple J earlier this year, and recorded their debut album, Forever So, in a bungalow at the back of lead vocalist Husky Gawenda’s North Melbourne rental home. The single off the album History’s Door, was a late addition when the band members felt the album needed a bit more, but should rate highly on the Triple J top 100 in January

Big Scary – Vacation

A good indicator for me about my attitude to an album is how excited when a particular song comes on. My favourite from Big Scary’s debut album is Mix Tape and is a great example of what is a strong sound through the album. Big Scary are a Melbourne duo comprising Tom Lansek and Jo Syme Their overall sound is much bigger than a two-piece with Tom’s vocals sounding at times like Jeff Buckley and at times like Robert Plant. This album has had a lot of play over the last few months and is a particular favourite on country road trips with the volume control adjusted according to whoever else is in the car. My preference is loud.

Twerps – Twerps

I am usually intolerant of band lead singers who shouldn’t really sing, because they are not very good at it. Martin Frawley seems to have inherited the singing ability of his late father Maurice (great songwriter but singing best left to others), which is unfortunate. However, I still like this album by Twerps. It is a garage band sound with lots of guitar. The first song of the album is Dreamin and provides a good lead into what is to follow. The album doesn’t suit every mood, but is a great sound for an afternoon backyard barbecue where beer is the beverage of choice.

Teeth and Tongue – Tambourine

I have been following the work of Teeth and Tongue for a number of years but was a little underwhelmed when I saw them live early at Laneway in 2010. Saw them again as a support for Wagons earlier this year and was very impressed. Jess Cornelius, who qualifies for this list under the Split Enz/Phar Lap rule, lists some of her influences as David Bowie, Lou Reed and Catcall. The vocals on this, the second album for Teeth and Tongue are the absolute highlight. The single Sad Sun supports that view but there are even better songs on the album.

Kimbra – Vows

For most people, their first exposure to Kimbra would have been as the duettist with Gotye on the brilliant single and filmclip for Somebody That I Used to Know. However, during this year she sold out a Forum show in her own right and her solo album is brilliant. Judging by the number of available CDs in stock at my local JB Hi Fi on release date in September, the expectations for this album were high. The first song, Settle Down, could well be by French performer Camille – and that is a compliment. Kimbra is another New Zealander who has made Melbourne her home (when not touring the world to sing two verses of someone else’s song every couple of days).

Dick Diver – New Start Again

Recorded by Mikey Young of Eddy Current Suppression Ring and released through Chapter Music, New Start Again is one of several debut albums in this 2011 list. Out of the same stable as Twerps there are some similarities. My favourite song is Head Back, which is almost a spoken word piece, but you gotta love a song which references both Gumbuya Park and Wobbies World. A quick promo for Chapter Music: I am of the old school and still like to have the hard copy of CDs, but do like the convenience of on-line shopping. Ordered two CDs (DD and Twerps) on-line direct from the record company  one day and received both in the post the very next day – that is almost quicker than my download speeds – with free postage.

Jack Ladder and The Dreamlanders – Hurtsville

When your name is Tim Rogers and you are a musician, but not the lead singer of You Am I, then you probably need to change your name. Okay, you do that, and you put out a couple of albums, but then all people seem to be able to do is make style comparisons with Nick Cave. It all just makes it a bit hard to define your own identity. This is Jack Ladder’s third album, (the title is a play on the Sydney suburb of Hurstville) and was recorded at the same remote location as Gareth Liddiard’s Strange Tourist. The single Cold Feet epitomises the guitar reverb and swooning vocal sounds of the rest of album. I wasn’t immediately taken but enjoyed the album more with familiarity.

Eagle and The Worm – Good Times

This is a party album. The band seem to be enjoying themselves performing, so how can you avoid the enjoyment listening in? A very appropriate album title. The first song, Summer Song, would probably have been better at the end, but there is a poppy vibe throughout. They are a bit like Little Red, but with a fuller sound – eight band members including a significant horn contingent can do that. I haven’t seen them live, but if this version of Future Man performed live in the studio is an indication of their work, I will be doing so as soon as I can.

Mike Noga – The Balladeer Hunter

When Drones lead singer Gareth Liddiard hid himself away to write and record his hour-long (not really – they just seem like it) songs for his solo album, drummer Mike Noga was at a bit of a loose end. The solution was to go and do his own album. Of the two, I prefer Mike Noga’s work. With nine songs and running to a little longer than thirty minutes, this is a very palatable second album – the opening track M’Belle has lots of acoustic guitar and harmonica with Noga’s slightly raspy vocals filling out the folk sound. Saw him live at The Toff in Town earlier this year – the ideal venue for this sort of performance.

Lanie Lane – To The Horses

This sounds of Lanie (pronounced Lannee) Lane could have come from fifty years ago. A mixture of originals and covers, including this Janice Martin cover Bang Bang which opens the album, the sound is stripped back with the vocals to the fore. Lanie sings with a smile in her voice and the overall mood is upbeat. At Queenscliff recently she explained the origins of That’s What You Get (Falling in Love With A Cowboy) as something she was overheard saying in her sleep. Having previously recorded a couple of singles with Jack White, the Sydney-based Lane apparently adopted his strategy for this album by recording and mixing the entire album over four days.

The Sand Pebbles – Dark Magic

The Sand Pebbles, variously described as “flower punk” and “psychedelic”, have been performing for more than ten years and have released five albums over that time. Not knowing much about their work, I was immediately taken by this 2011 release. The opening number Springtime is almost shoe-gaze and sets the rest of the album up nicely. The title song Dark Magic is a bit stronger on the vocals and lighter on the psych rock but has the characteristic instrumental interlude. Enjoy with your substance of choice.

Laura Jean – A Fool Who’ll

Laura Jean Englert is another from the Chapter Music stable (and no, I am not on the payroll). Having won an electric guitar as a music prize, Laura Jean, a Sydney-born now Melbourne-based singer-songwriter,  decided to introduce it for this her third album. The result is a folk rock album of varying intensity. A partner of Jen Shelakis, with whom she and Biddy O’Connor perform as Sailor Days, Laura Jean’s vocals carry the sound with an album highlight being Missing You.

 

 

Other albums

Ron S Peno and The Superstitions – Future Universe

Adalita – Adalita

Jordie Lane – Blood Thinner

Seeker Lover Keeper – Seeker Lover Keeper

Rat Vs Possum – Let Music & Bodies Unite

Architecture in Helsinki – Moment Bends

The Little Stevies – Attention Shoppers

Wagons – Rumble, Shake & Tumble

Favourite Single of The Year

 

Yes I do like the Gotye single, but my favourite single is Alabama by Melbourne band Pony Face. Great to sing along to in the car, but you have to get your breathing right if you are going to last the chorus. Suits we wannabees who don’t have much vocal range. I don’t expect it to make the Triple J Top 100. In fact, I think I left it off my own voting list…

About Andrew Fithall

Probably the most rational, level-headed Collingwood supporter in existence. Not a lot of competition mind you.

Comments

  1. But what if you hear something better between now and New Year’s Day?

  2. There is still such a thing as an Australian album? Knock me down with a feather.

  3. John Butler says:

    AF, reading your lists reminds me of how much I didn’t catch up with this year.

    I reckon the Ronnie S album is a real grower.

    Love the Sand Pebbles ‘flower punk’ description. Suits them beautifully

    I highly recommend Ceduna and Atlantis Regrets Nothing also. Hell, all of ’em are good.

  4. Dave Nadel says:

    I think I had better broaden my choice of radio stations. I had only heard of three of the musicians on your top ten and Lanie Lane is the only one I have actually heard live (at Queenscliff).

  5. Andrew Fithall says:

    Gigs – I didn’t think anyone would be putting out new albums at this time of year, so felt safe. Just read that “power-pop trio” Even (with Collingwood supporting Ash Naylor on lead guitar and vocals) have a new album out. May have to include it in next year’s list. You can read about it here http://www.messandnoise.com/releases/2000984.

    Tony – despite your scepticism, there is a lot of good music still released in hard-copy album form. And not being one for the “shuffle” option, I like to listen to albums in their entirety. My favourite listening time (other than solo country car trips) is on a Friday evening after work, in the kitchen, drinking a beer while preparing dinner (usually a curry).

    Dave – I thought Lanie Lane was very good at Queenscliff. Other than the torrential rain over that weekend, it was a good festival.

    JB – Thanks for the tips. Will look them up.

  6. Anyone going to see the Roger Waters Wall on Feb 8th?

    Santa was very kind to me.

  7. AF – very solid list. Can’t say I’m across all of them. You’ve given me some home work.

    Panto – saw the original and don’t want to ruin it.

  8. Ken Gilmore says:

    Good work my friend you put me on to some of these and I am a much better person for it. I have played Dick Diver to death and it just gets better as does Big Scary but I agree with John Butler (great to run into you at Queenscliff) Ronnie’s album just keeps growing. I heard the ghost play a track from it as I drove into Melbourne last Friday and it sounded so brilliant on the radio. Looking forward to many great moments in 2012.

  9. Andrew Fithall says:

    The Sandpebbles are breaking up. Last Melbourne show is The Old Bar in Fitzroy tomorrow evening (doors 7.00pm – $12 entry). Anyone interested?

  10. John Butler says:

    Bugger.

    I’ll be in touch AF.

  11. Peter Baulderstone says:

    As usual, the ‘old media’ is lagging the Almanac in music as much as footy. The Dick Diver album got a rave review in the Weekend Australian yesterday. Their spies are everywhere.
    When I first read Andrew’s list – the combination of name and surf in Dick Diver, made me think of Dick Dale and that awesome surf guitar music of the 60’s. But the Oz review draws Go Betweens parallels. Think I should go out and do myself a favour, as that well known Saints tragic often advised.

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