Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Mint Custard's Australian Top 40 Countdown: 3

And so into the teens with the Mint Custard Australian Music Top 40, and the point where Silverchair fans might start twitching angrily. Sorry about that. It's also where my heart starts to rule my head even more which is always dangerous during list-making activities such as these. Anyway, onwards and upwards...

20. Dream it Down – Underground Lovers (1994) - Although they have plenty of stand out singles, Melbourne's Underground Lovers are a band I've only ever listened to through their albums, so choosing one track is like asking someone to pick out their favourite colour in a painting. Dream it Down is in my head today, but it could just as easily have been 20 others. Underground Lovers sound like a broadcast from a dream where My Bloody Valentine, the Smashing Pumpkins, the Chemical Brothers, Doves and New Order have come together and agreed not to play anything that might wake the neighbours. And yet their sound is recognisably and uniquely theirs. Founder members Vince Giarrusso and Glenn Bennie are two more invisible icons of Australian alternative music and if I'd realised when I saw them in 2000 that I wouldn't see them again I'd have cheered harder for an encore. It's just been announced that the orginal line up will play the 2009 Homebake Festival, so here's hoping for some smaller shows really soon. Believe the hype.

19. Just a Song About Ping PongOperator Please (2007) teenage pop genius from a bunch of Gold Coast school kids which probably resulted in as many people hating them as loving them. This insanely catchy song about, well, ping pong, catapulted them cartoon-style around the world as the UK music press embraced their unashamed day-glow approach to pop. Singer Amandah Wilkinson has a delivery which belies her tender years, whilst their album Yes Yes Vindictive has depths that show they can be more than one-hit wonders. Just a Song about Ping Pong makes me feel simultaneously old and young again, which is all you can ask of any pop song.

18. The Heavy Metal Temptress – the Crustaceans (2004) history likes to deride the Monkees as the joke Beatles, but this denies the pleasures to be had listening to Peter, Michael, Davey and Mickey do their thing. Similarly, the Crustaceans may sound like the Lucksmiths' cheeky little brothers but their talents and charms are to be ignored at your peril. They guested on a community radio show that I used to be involved in and were very excited to be there, which is rather sweet considering that singer Vijay Khurana is now a JJJ radio presenter. The Heavy Metal Temptress itself is a lo-fi tale of trying to secure love despite musical differences featuring jangly guitars, vocal harmonies, a saxophone and an apocryphal lyrical hook ('it never rains in Sydney'). It echoes the Go-Betweens' Too Much of One Thing whilst proudly displaying their love of the Candle Records sound. Speaking of which...

17. Smokers in Love – the Lucksmiths (1999) like Michael Stipe and his lost religion it's possible that I've said too much, or I haven't said enough about the Lucksmiths of late, so I'll just pick out three lines from Smokers in Love as examples of what I'll miss them for most:

  • You spent Thursday on your backside whistling 'Friday On My Mind'
  • Happy and hungover on the first day of October
    Struggling to remember the last night of September
  • Amidst a sea of empty bottles, crockery and coffee cups
    Using anything for ashtrays, drinking drinks you can’t afford
    And you’re still bored
Let me know if you think you can do better. But I bet you can't.

16. The Management Hates Us – Gaslight Radio (2002) - 2 mins and 4 seconds of eery lo-fi delight excavated from the middle of 2002 EP called Chapter 6: The Hard Luck Knights. Distant police sirens and a lone acoustic guitar accompany a voice which sounds like it's being broadcast from downtown New York in 1920. His message isn't clear but there great pleasures in lines like 'christian surfers are meaner than snakes' and 'if you want someone to please, go and please yourself.' The whole EP is wonderful, with echoes of the Flaming Lips, but it's never more touching than this song.

15. Unguarded Moment – the Church (1981) it's not often that karaoke makes you say 'ooh, I like that song' but so it was with Unguarded Moment, which first came to my attention when being hollered out by Mrs Custard and her sister one New Year. Unguarded Moment (occasionally prefixed with 'The') was the Church's second single, their first hit, and - for many - the only Church song that people know, which is a shame because none of their other singles sound like this. As you might guess from the karaoke intro, Unguarded Moment is a singalong classic, replete der der der guitar and keyboards and a middle eight that slows to a trot before building to a resounding finale. For some reason it also gets me a bit teary, but then I'm always a bit soppy at New Year...

14. Strung Along and DumpedGrand Salvo (2000) It might be because I've just moved to his hometown, but it does seem that Melbourne's Paddy Mann is starting to get the acclaim he rightly deserves. He's just put out his fifth album of real quality, and in many ways he reminds me of the Daniel Kitson, such is his aversion to interviews and press and his preference to let his craft do the talking. This was his first song that really spoke to me, and I love it from its no-nonsense title to the broken but gentle way he sings about it. It's taken from his first album 1642-1727 and is available as a free download from the Grand Salvo page of the Pharmacy Records site. You can go now if you like, I don't mind.

13. Hard BiscuitPnau (1999) - a hypnotic, slowly escalating sexy monster of a song built around a muffled bass loop and someone repeating (what sounds like) 'you'll probably find you don't love me' which, even when it peaks only clobbers you gently over the head - with a silk pillow. Hard Biscuit's parent album, Sambanova is full of similarly relaxed, loungey and slightly saucy tunes and was released four times such was the feeling that it deserved a wider audience than the cafes and bars of Sydney where it was unavoidable around the millennium. It was nice to see the Pnau boys finally getting some acclaim with 2007's PNAU, especially because it resulted in a stage show featuring people dressed as dancing fruit.

= 11. Anatomically Correct – Custard (1997) and Purple Sneakers – You Am I (1995) - two Australian indie monsters inextricably linked together in my head so it's fitting that Brisbane's Custard and Sydney's You Am I jointly occupy the last spot outside the top ten. The other reason is that Anatomically Correct rules my feet but Purple Sneakers rules my heart, and I don't want one to prevail over the other so they'll just have to share. Key to the success of both groups were their respective frontmen. Dave McCormack (Custard) and Tim Rogers (You Am I) represented a new form of Aussie rock larrikin; roguishly charming, talented, intelligent and very real.

McCormack once sportingly appeared on our radio show to play a silly game we did late at night. He was already amiably drunk and sporting fresh cuts on his arm after falling off a sea wall and landing on barnacles. Willing but confused, he marked out his progress in the game on his good arm using permanent black marker, before staggering off a winner into the night. I sometimes wonder what the hell he thought he'd been up to when he woke up the next morning. Anyway, Anatomically Correct is one of my favourite driving-with-the-windows-down-singing-loudly songs and we all need one of those.

Purple Sneakers meanwhile is probably destined for greater things. Much beloved of Sydney dwellers for its references to the Glebe Point Bridge, Purple Sneakers already has a popular indie night named after it and dance floors still go off with a mixture of air guitar and lighters in the air when it comes on. The song's big question - do you need somebody to feel somebody? - is as important in the indie disco as Stephen Patrick Morrissey's observation about going to clubs (and leaving them etc) on your own. One for the best of all time lists... which is why it's here too.

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