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I was discussing it with a friend late the other night – my delay in publishing my ‘top albums of 2011’ list, that obligatory list that every blogger (or avid music connoisseur) needs to tackle in some shape or form as the end of the year draws nigh.

“A battle of head versus heart” I had phrased, somewhat dramatically, in explaining why I was struggling to order my top two records of the year. Dramatic it may be, but ultimately, a nugget of truth lay at its core. One album up for consideration was an impeccable journey in songcraft and production – wry, insightful, with enough left of centre melodic twists to keep your ears at slight unrest. The other was a journey of the emotional – raw, potent and an album that I carried with me through a dark winter, both season and metaphorical.

Am I head or am I heart? There is a big question there, with the obvious answer that answer music lovers around the continents know – the two are never mutually exclusive. Ultimately, you have to go with your gut, and think about the album that most changed your life. For that’s what music is; life-changing, gutteral expressions of humanity, soul and everything else that makes up this slightly dramatic cocktail of life. So lets get drunk.

 

#1. Adalita – Adalita

And so it was. I was never really a Magic Dirt fan. I didn’t even know much about the Australian rock royalty that was Adalita. Yet somehow this album ended up in my hands, almost by impulse – and it slowly started working its way into my life. It’s an incredibly powerful album, that much is easy to say; Adalita’s voice is a weapon against any happiness you had felt – ever. With sparse, stark instrumentation, the music is dark but never too dense that you feel trapped on the outside. From the chilly yearning of ‘Perfection’, the emotional turmoil of ‘The Repairer’ and the sexy-but-sad ‘Invite Me’, it is a timeless piece of work, up there with the best of PJ Harvey or any other obvious comparisons one could throw around. Ultimately, it was not just the best Australian album of the year, but the best album, period.

#2. Jessica Lea Mayfield – Tell Me

In a year where some of alt-country’s biggest names put out outstanding albums, the album by this young songstress was too easily overlooked – for shame, world. Offbeat, at times lyrically brilliant and just darn razor-sharp (not to mention impeccably and tastefully produced by Dan from the Black Keys), this is the best album you probably didn’t hear this year. Mayfield writes and sings with offbeat swagger, about love and lust and all the mistakes of youth – never taking the easy cliché or obvious emotional route – and ultimately, it is just a brilliant example of songcraft. The new generation’s best storyteller, all others be damned.

#3. Over The Rhine – The Long Surrender

Over The Rhine have put our numerous superb albums of the years, including their (until now) defining opus Ohio. Yet, with this independently released collection, free from expectation and pressure, they’ve remarkably produced a body of work that somehow encapsulates everything fans have loved about them, and didn’t quite realise they loved. Always soulful and thoughtful, Over The Rhine capture something new here – that tiny little spark that starts a wildfire. From the tense craving of ‘Rave On’ through to the (wait for it) sexy swagger of ‘The King Knows How’ (Over The Rhine get sexy! Indeed!), there is a new confidence that only comes from making music entirely on your own terms. And has it been mentioned that Karen still has one of the best voices on the planet?

Other Mentionables:

 

Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest

I had no desire to be a child of sin, but then you went and pressed your whiskers to my cheek…” sings Gillian, on the albums defining track ‘Tennessee’, before recounting “of all the little ways I’ve found to hurt myself, you might be my favourite one of all”. And so it is, as she reveals more of herself than ever before, that the queen of alt-bluegrass (is that a genre?) puts out the album of her career.

 

Lucinda Williams – Blessed (The Kitchen Tapes)

The second disc of Lucinda Williams Blessed’ is the moment Lucinda fans (and the world, if only they knew it) had been waiting for. Ripping the heart of her songs out and laying it bare on the kitchen table, these stark, acoustic renditions show Lucinda in all her remarkable glory.

 

Joan As Police Woman – The Deep Field

“I’m looking for the magic… I’m looking for the alchemy to release me” Joan coos, in the sultry, vinegary voice that can only be hers. An album largely about the search for relief and release, it is the work of a songwriter totally on form.

 

 

Live Performance of the Year

Portishead – Harvest Festival, November 2011

One voice holds an entire festival hostage. And we loved it.

 

Best Cover Song

Birdy – Shelter (the xx cover)

One word: brilliant.

 

Best Video

Tune-Yards – Bizness

 

Ready for…

A new album from Kathleen Edwards.

 

Until next year, folks…

 

 

Having already reflected on Triple J’s ‘Next Crop’ it is time to add the stamp o’ Daze, and look at the Dark Cafe Daze picks for the Aussie artists to watch in the coming year. Some we’ve mentioned previously; others we had the best of intentions to. Regardless, they’ve each made enough of an impression on our aural palate to rate a mention, a kudos and some loving vibes from afar.

1. CATCALL: With her latest release “Satellites” moving her from atmos-fearic pop to just plain pop of deliciousness, Catcall is Ladyhawke if she found some good mood pills and a cheeky wink.

2. ROSIE CATALANO: At first glance, Rosie Catalano might seem your typical, gently strumming folky – yet one listen to her self titled EP reveals an artist not shy of clever turns of phrase and occasionally wry flashes of humour. Combine that with an affecting voice and some lovely melodies, and you’ve got yourself a new afternoon favourite.

3. KIRA PIRU AND THE BRUISE: I’ll be careful when choosing my words to describe Kira Puru – you definitely wouldn’t want to meet her voice in a dark alley. Bold, brassy and seductive, she has one of those firecracker voices that’d hurt you a little just so it could take you home and wrap you up.

4. THE PAPER KITES: Favourites around these parts for a while, 2012 is surely the year this kite (…wait for it) takes flight. They’re better than Boy & Bear, put it that way.

5. NGAIIRE: Much like the gay marriage debate, the plight of Ngaiire can be summed up in two words: it’s time.

(If you like what you hear, all of the lovely chaps above are on Facebook, so do as we do and stalk them silently…) 

Triple J announced their ‘Next Crop’ artists this morning, and it’s a fantastic list that really highlights an aural smorgasbord of local talent. Here’s our picks for the standouts – all of whom are already crafting beautiful tunes.

 

1. Owl Eyes

 

2.Emma Louise

 

3. Husky

 

4. Alpine

 

5. The Medics

 

Honourable pop mention: Elizabeth Rose

 

“Life is sweet” Natalie Merchant assures me, as I sit here. Her warm voice comes out of my speakers, like a friendly pat on the back or a soothing shoulder rub (from someone you actually know).

Natalie doesn’t know I got some sad news tonight. A text message. From my ex. Rather than being some deep reflection on our oft-dysfunctional relationship, it was simply: “So Music is closing down?!?!?!”. It hit me like a strange jolt to the chest. Surely this was some kind of pre-mediated revenge text, a jostling little jibe that couldn’t actually be true. I probed further. He answered back. And seemingly, before I knew it, I was tossing my gym gear aside to get out the front door.

It’s was 8 years ago I moved to Sydney. Wide-eyed. Bushy, highly unfashionable hair – Jimi Hendrix gone wrong. I came from a town called Mullumbimby, via a stint in the “cosmopolitan” outer suburbs of Byron. I was perhaps luckier than some – Byron actually had a number of record stores at the time, which occasionally produced some little gems over the years that would come bedazzle my soul. On the whole though, they were filled with pop, and rock and that strange beast that hadn’t developed fully yet – “indie”. None of which I was averse to. But none of which were “me”.

I walked into So Music the morning after I moved to Newtown. It was my first impulse. Where others would go looking for pubs or cafes or useful things like supermarkets, I went look for the record store. And I found it. Narrow; cluttered; it looked like any record store I had come to know. But what was that playing on the speakers? Lucinda Williams? Surely not. As I walked in, and my eyes adjusted to the light, I saw them. They were all standing there, shy but proud, on the shelves. Patty Griffin. Kathleen Edwards. Mary Gauthier. Dar flamin’ Williams. Natalie Merchant. The ladies that I had hounded my local stores to order in, whom I waited 8-weeks backorder for, had all found a place they belonged. And so had I.

What I’d always loved most about the owners of So Music was they weren’t just retailers. They put music on the shelves that they loved, music that they thought people shouldn’t just buy but needed to hear. They were curators. I trusted their recommendations implicitly. If something was going to change my life, I could count on it being on a shelf, or not too far away. I could never walk past the store without going in. Even if just for 5 minutes, to see what was on the shelves. I’d at times spend near hours in there, just browsing and flicking, making mental notes. On pay days I’d get off a train station early, just for an excuse to walk past and saunter in, apologising to my bank balance in advance. If a partner ever had to go looking for me on King St, they’d know where to find me.

Tonight, I walked into the store for what was undoubtedly the last time. I spotted a copy of Natalie Merchant’s ‘Ophelia’ left remaining amongst the sparse selection of reduced price items that were left. I took it to the counter. We discussed the album as I paid for it, flicking through the booklet, discussing mutual desires for a tour. As my credit card transaction wound up with it’s alien printing sound, I muttered a few clumsy lines, that tried to express why the store was so important to me. How it had helped shape me. I did a terrible job with those lines, thinking there was so much more that could have been said, but hoping they understood anyway. And then I walked out, like those many times before, brown paper bag in hand.

The music industry had changed a lot in the last 8 years. Smaller retailers struggle to survive, consumer consumption and demand has changed, technology has brought with it a new breadth of scope and possibility. We all move with the times. We have to. We change, we adapt. We love the diversity new technology affords us – the exposure to new sounds, new genres, new ways of thinking and constructing ideas around music and the role it plays in our lives. But importantly, we all have a responsibility now. We have a responsibility to blog. We have a responsibility to share. We have a responsibility to annoy the crap out of our friends by posting Youtube clips on Facebook. We have the responsibility to Tweet, and Tumbl, and make playlists.

We have a responsibility to be curators, and share with others the music that will change their lives.

We’ll be writing more about The Jezabels, as we soon begin to wrap up the year that was… but in the meantime, they have just dropped a brand new video for Trycolour. Combine this with their signing to Mom+Pop records… and it is interesting times in camp Jezabels. Onwards and upwards.

Aside from the already-confirmed excitement of her Majesty, PJ Harvey, coming to our shores, tonight’s Sydney Festival lineup has produced two gems: Beth Orton and tUnE-yArDs. Consider me delighted.  For the full lineup: http://www.sydneyfestival.org.au/2012/

 

It’s no secret around these parts that Adalita has put out of of the finest – and our favourite – Australian albums of the year.

Roll on the new video for Perfection – a stark, slow, wintery crawl through the mountains that matches the mood perfectly. It’s beautiful, and sad, and everything that the album has come to represent.

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