Tag Archives: Jonathan Richman

461. Ben Lee – “Grandpaw Would”

I’m currently on a worktrip to Thailand.  Looking ahead at the CDs on my agenda, I can see 3 more Led Zeps plus 3 from Ben Lee, so I’ve made the executive decision to alternate them (lest I got over Zepped)…It also means I’ll have reviewed 5 debut albums in a row!

Ben Lee is a character who divides the Aussie music fan community, as he’s always been unusually brash, and no one really looks a prodigy.

Lee was still only 16 when this debut hit the shelves, bursting with 21 tracks of (mainly) acoustic artistry and smarty-pants teenage angst.

Little Benny had already won some hearts with his Dando-tribute Wish I Was Him (which unfortunately isn’t on this album – you’ll have to seek out a Noise Addict EP):

That track exemplifies both the attraction and frustrations with this collection.  Lee has a good pop ear, and patches together some cute sets of lyrics. He was mightily confident, strumming his guitar at increasingly high-speed and belting out odes to various girls, bands and actresses (chronicling and presaging the weird celeb-infused life he was entering).

The frustration is the lack of editing. There are too few actual gems on here, and a lot that would benefit from some polish, taking them beyond a nice couplet or two. He struggled to find a means of overcoming his weak voice (J.Richman should have been a guide)

Perhaps his youthful exuberance and rush should have been tempered. He also should have been encouraged to embrace the fuller-band sound on more tracks.  The single Pop Queen hinted at what he could have achieved here:

File under: Can your Grandpa do this?


206. Kimya Dawson – “Hidden Vagenda”

I may be stating the obvious here, but the world of popular music is pretty sexist. In particular, there is enormous differences in the expectation around vocal ability. 

Album Cover Hidden Vagenda Kimya DawsonWhile Dylan, Richman and many other dudes can get away with close-to-atonal stylings, we expect a female vocalist to sing like an angel (with this simile premised on (i) angels existing and (ii) said angels being perfect in diction and pitch).

Kimya Dawson thus sticks out like an ailing thumb, with a voice that breaks, crackles and splutters throughout.  Many of you will be familiar with it as the defacto “voice” of Ellen Page from the Juno soundtrack.

Here we hear Dawson in full swing, delivering fourteen lyrics-heavy numbers. Many of them thrill me, overburdened as they are with oddball imagery, memorable phrases and insane couplets. 

Dawson occupies a parallel universe to most folk and melds the cynicism of Rob Clarkson, the naivety of Jonathan Richman and the perversity of The Magnetic Fields.

This album contains enough gems (the first 3 tracks are fantastic, Parade pure summer joy) to overcome the slide in quality in the back half.

One final notes, this album benefits considerably from headphone listening…

File under : Surrender to her Vagenda

198. Custard – “Wahooti Fandango”

Back around the time this album came out, I caught these guys playing a show at the Evelyn Hotel in Fitzroy. It remains one of the most memorable and enjoyable gigs in my memory banks.

Album Cover Custard Wahooti FandangoI distinctly recall Dave McCormack (vocals) announcing they’d be playing their tunes in alphabetical order. They threw in a couple of great covers (including (perhaps) I Still Call Australia Home). The vibe that night, and on this album, was that music must be FUN.

These guys always seemed to be having a ball, but in a laidback, whacky uncle sort of way. The songs either rush at you smiling gleefully, or just sit around spinning slightly confusing tales that make you giggle (or shake your head in embarrassment). Imagine Pavement channeling Jonathan Richman.

Indeed the band even give a nod to Jonathon (along with Jim Henson and fellow Brisbanites The Melniks) on the outstanding (and cleverly titled) Singlette.

This album is chockfull of tracks that still sound fresh and still make me happy. I defy you to listen to Alone or If Yr Famous and You Know It, Sack Yr Band and not be enamoured. Here are two different versions of the equally impressive Pack Yr Suitcases (with and without theremin/bandmates):

File under: Guaranteed to get your patootie jigging

108. The Brunettes – “Mars Loves Venus”

Bubblegum pop carries that name for several reasons (I presume).

brunettes-mars-loves-venus-the-album-coverIt is music targeted at slack jawed teens (okay maybe not that reason). It is sugary sweet, light as air, frivolous. It is transient, but it is also sticky.

Listening to such music should leave one a little dizzy (think sugar rush), and also with melodies and lyrics stuck in one’s head like barnacles (now there’s an ugly piece of imagery).

This second effort from NZ’s poppiest looped in my office all day yesterday. Yet when running home I was not haunted by any of the twelve tracks herein, but rather a chorus from their debut.

Me thinks the band has lost some of their mojo. The music has become over-orchestrated, with the vocals less breathy and up front in the mix. The pace has slowed somewhat. It doesn’t help that the guy in the band has started singing more. Despite his Jonathan Richman-like stylings (e.g.Record Store), it doesn’t quite gel with the layered sounds.

There are glimmers of gold. These Things Take Time is cute, as is the title track. But it could all be some much more…

File under: The bubble bursts (or at least deflates)