Favourite Songs of 2011

So many people are starting to base their listening on songs these days, such is the reduction in attention spans, the proliferation of YouTube browsing and the ease of compiling ones own playlists featuring the best stuff you want to hear. Separate to my Top 50 LPs of 2011 I’ve also put together a list of songs that caught my ears and became hard to shake. There were of course dozens of others that could be included here but this is a lucky dip of sorts into some of my favourite tunes of 2011 that might lead you further into the artist’s work if you havent checked them out yet…

In no particular order as they are all great…

Dick Diver – On The Bank

Those Darlins – Screw Get Loose

J. Mascis – Not Enough

Total Control – One More Tonight

Light Asylum – Dark Allies

The Strokes – Under Cover of Darkness

Iron & Wine – Tree By a River

Timber Timbre – Bad Ritual

Little Dragon – Ritual Union

Wilco – I Might

Two Tears – Eat People

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Belong

Iowa – Complete Control

The Laurels – Black Cathedral

The Adults – Nothing To Lose

Austra – Lose It

Atlas Sound – Te Amo

Twerps – Dreamin

Royal Headache – Really In Love

Melodie Nelson – Waiting

Black Lips – Spidey’s Curse

Crystal Stilts – Shake The Shackles

Jamie XX – Far Nearer

The Felice Brothers – Ponzi

The Paper Scissors – Lung Sum

Robag Wruhme – Thora Vukk

Wavves – I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl

Wild Flag – Romance

Leader Cheetah – Crawling Up A Landslide

ALBUM REVIEW: Leader Cheetah | Lotus Skies

written by Chris Familton

After the success of their 2009 debut The Sunspot Letters, Leader Cheetah ran the risk of ‘going big’ by building up their recordings with excess guitars and grand themes. Similarly they could have gone down the Powderfinger avenue chasing mass appeal and in the process losing some of the subtle and special musical traits that they displayed on that first LP.

The good news is that they avoided temptation to pursue either option. Instead they have remained pretty much true to their template of strong, simple songs built on eminently hummable melodies, warmth of tone and that strain of aching melancholy. To many Leader Cheetah stray too close to the middle of the road but as you get inside the songs on Lotus Skies there is a special something that marks this as a majestic album with traditional structures that are fresh, confident and full of life.

Pastoral rock (you heard it here first) sums up the overall sound of this record. It isn’t country rock per se – it doesn’t contain enough roots or southern american influence to qualify for that, yet it does take from the genre when it needs to take the sharpness off the rock edges and pull the songs back down to Earth. Our Love (featuring Holly Throsby) incorporates violin and slide and acoustic guitar to amp up the rural quota and combined with the wonderful CSN styled vocal harmonies it sounds like a lost gem from 70s west coast America.

Leader Cheetah know that to be a one trick pony would spell boredom over a whole album and so they venture into harder rock territory on songs like the winding album closer and minor epic None Shall Pass and the REM sounding Dark Stands Over. Elsewhere they head south of the US border on the title track which has the gall to take on a mariachi mood with latin horns and spanish guitar. The first thirty seconds will have you thinking “what the..?” but they make it work. They use those horns again on one of the best tracks Heart Skipped Town. With a seductive guitar line courtesy of Dan Pash that snakes around Dan Crannitch’s voice it has a magnificent chorus that lodges in your brain on repeat.

Crannitch’s voice is the most distinctive element of Leader Cheetah’s sound. He comes across like nasal hybrid of Brian Molko and Suede’s Brett Anderson with dashes of Bowie added to the mix. Emotive, dramatic and for many an acquired taste it stamps a personality on the songs that can’t be denied. He possesses that melancholic strain that bleeds emotion into the music and more importantly he knows how to use his voice, dropping to a seductive tone or soaring up to his glorious falsetto. Words sound more poetic and the dynamics of the songs are enriched when he is singing.

The first single Crawling Up A Landslide is one of the best singles to come out of Australia this year yet it is matched by a number of other tracks on Lotus Skies. Midnight Headlights opens the album with a full range of dynamics, space and even pomp in the string arrangements. Dead In A Dream is bruised romanticism wrapped around themes of day and night, dreams and reality and life and death while So Save Me gently tugs and pulls the guitars and those vocal harmonies into moving and graceful shapes.

Lotus Skies posits Leader Cheetah as one of this country’s more mature bands. There doesn’t appear to be any fear about mixing styles – popular or traditional – or any pressure to pander to current musical trends. Any tendency toward blandness is outweighed by simply superb songs that rise above the template from which they were created, making it an album that is damn hard to ignore and a pleasure in which to indulge.

this review first appeared on FasterLouder

NEWS: 2009 SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS lineup…

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SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS 2009 – 1ST LINEUP
Bloc Party (in their ONLY Australian show), The Flaming Lips, Jane’s Addiction, MGMT (also in their ONLY Australian show), Hilltop Hoods, Grinspoon, Midnight Juggernauts, The Specials, Sarah Blasko, Augie March, Josh Pyke, Friendly Fires, Little Birdy, Birds Of Tokyo, The Gutter Twins, Manchester Orchestra, Yuksek, Bob Evans, White Lies, Kram, Yves Klein Blue, Decoder Ring, Lost Valentinos, Leader Cheetah, Jack Ladder, The Middle East, Polaroid Fame and Glass Towers

SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS 2009 TICKET PRICES
Event ticket:  $240.00 (inc gst) + bf
Carbon Offset Ticket: $245.95  (inc gst) + bf
Camping ticket: $132.00  (inc gst) + bf

TICKETS ON SALE
9.00am sharp on Thursday May 14th – Internet sales only – http://www.qjump.com.au

SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS 2009
Sat July 25th and Sunday July 26th
Belongil Fields,
Byron Bay

REVIEW: LEADER CHEETAH – The Sunspot Letters

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REVIEWED FOR WIRELESS BOLLINGER – please visit them for all things indie…

Leader Cheetah’s The Sunspot Letters is an album that creeps up on you. There are no grand gestures, no great peaks of brilliance, just a certain sound and mood that washes over the record and leaves an impression.

Hailing from Adelaide and rising from the ashes of his former band Pharaohs, Dan Crannitch formed Leader Cheetah a couple of years back as a vehicle for the darker and more melodic songs he was writing. After only a few gigs in 2007 they found themselves supporting the likes of Blonde Redhead and Dinosaur Jr and once the songs for the album had been road tested they brought in US producer Kramer (Galaxie 500, Low, Robert Wyatt) to pull the whole thing together. Some would say the band has had a dream run, maybe too perfect, but listening to The Sunspot Letters it is clear they have an album of songs to justify the plaudits they are starting to receive.

One of the reasons this album works so well is that it slips ever so gently through the musical cracks. In a nutshell they straddle indie, pop, Americana and post punk, weaving elements of each into the music as needed. The music isn’t aggressive nor overly passive in its Aussie folkisms. Credit for this must be given to Crannitch’s vocals which blend UK singers of the 90’s like Brett Anderson and Brian Molko with Interpol’s Paul Banks as well as west coast USA country rock flavours. His voice is possessed of a richly restrained grain that gives the music a certain gravity.

The lead single ‘Bloodlines’ is the first standout track with its sad overtones and gothic flourishes. The guitar and vocal melodies allow the song to shift its weight with ease between verse and chorus. ‘The Explorer’ does as the title suggests, venturing more into Americana stylings replete with twanging guitars and shuffling steam train drums. The subject matter of Crannitch’s songs lean toward the melancholy side of human emotion. ‘Wasted Life & Times’ touches on the unfulfilled potential of a person’s life as they drift towards death, while ‘Fly Golden Arrow Pt 1’ paints a picture of a relationship that changes with the seasons – “We said hello in late December/We parted ways that very spring/Too much of love is like the weather/Without the rain the sun won’t sing”.

The spirit of Ryan Adams appears on ‘Rosewater Wine’ with Crannitch hitting the higher notes on the slow soul torch song with its lovely female harmonies and aching plea “We’re fading now/What have I done”. The song sets itself aside from the tempo of the rest of the album but it works well in not descending into false dramatics. It constantly reins itself back in to a core musical theme and delivers a touching piano coda to wind the song down.

‘Fly Golden Arrow Pt 2’ is a good example of where Leader Cheetah stretch themselves too thin. Adding little to the album, it is an attempt at a Crazy Horse-style slow jam that only serves to exacerbate the criticism that the band does at times take itself a little too seriously. The combination of Crannitch’s voice and the less dynamic songs add a claustrophobic feel to parts of the album that could be more easily accepted without the seven minute closing track leaving a final reminder of those moments. Live I’m sure the song would work much better.

Though not a complete album The Sunspot Letters is certainly a very strong calling card for Leader Cheetah. It potentially sets them up to make waves in the way that Augie March and The Drones have done in recent years, but only if they refine the balance between the light and shade in their music and avoid their sound becoming too polished and radio friendly. Theirs is the type of music that requires a certain rawness and vulnerability to really connect with people. As a debut record this has without doubt seen them take their first steps toward achieving that.