M+N Mid-Year Report: 2012
We asked our critics to list their top five local things of 2012 so far – from gigs to albums, singles to video clips.
The Peep Tempel
The Peep Tempel
Debut album of the year so far. I described it in another publication as a “dark, invigorating set of songs that demand to be played front to back, repeatedly".
The most remarkable piece of music I've heard so far this year. It's hard to put into words how it makes me feel. The first time I heard it was late at night with headphones, turned up loud. That incredible wash of delayed guitar took me completely by surprise. I turned it up louder and listened to it on repeat for another hour.
Kirin J. Callinan
Way To War
Video of the year so far. Creepy and awesome. Delivers live, too.
Naive Bravado feat. Daniel Merriweather
Yet another superlative cut from Australia's best MC. I love the contrast of light and shade here; the pop hook and brass against the dark lyrical theme. Good video.
Toward The Low Sun
An excellent album which easily slots into their existing collection of excellent albums. Long may these three continue to make music together.
Sunset People/Radiant/Adam Lewis
Adam Lewis, one of the most plugged-in and dedicated Aussie music fans I know, has been kicking goals all over the place this year. Not only does he have one of the best specialty shows on FBi Radio in Sydney, but I finally made it to one of the Sunset People gigs he co-runs with Popfrenzy recently and that was some fun, weird, low-key, drunken Sunday evening good times. No cover charge, a soundtrack of great Australian bands, and the drummer from Beef Jerk was wearing an eye patch. Why isn’t there one every night of the year?
Scott Walker’s ghost alone in the desert of the real, buried in ashes. The enemy is everywhere. Makes me wish I was alone more, and sadder.
All Gotye err’thang
A guy from Melbourne making , classification-defying, self-produced pop music, long beloved in Australia, wrote a smart breakup song with an indelible earworm of chorus and a clever clip. THEN HE KICKED THE SHIT OUT OF THE BILLBOARD CHARTS – ALL OF THEM EXCEPT THE CHRISTIAN TECHNO ONE OR SOME SHIT – AND THE INTERNET LOST ITS SHIT AND HE WAS ON SNL AND YOU CAN. NOT. MAKE. THIS. SHIT. UP. It was better than that time An Horse were on Letterman. Yeah, we’re beyond sick of the song and all its works now, but it couldn’t have happened to a nicer dude. Also, look at this list for God’s sake. If the pattern holds, Mere Women will headline Bonnaroo next year.
This luminous lucky dip of rich, reverent, rollicking weirdness, old world noise and one devastating Roy Orbison cover is absolutely wonderful. Oliver Perry is going to get pretty sick of having his voice compared to Jeff Buckley’s, but there’s so, so much more going on here than that.
D.D DUMBO - Tropical Oceans by Mess+Noise
Is he legal yet?
If Dick Diver’s New Start Again was the Australian classic of 2011, and Para Vista Social Club by Scott & Charlene’s Wedding held the crown for 2010, then Lower Plenty’s *Hard Rubbish is pretty close to taking their place for 2012. Shivering with an arresting sense of emotional tension, it’s one of the most devastating records released in recent memory. If triple j had a heart to break, ‘Nullabor’ would top the Hottest 100.
The rise and rise of Royal Headache
How many people in Sydney are going to be telling their kids about Royal Headache? The slow-burn international success of the Sydney punks seems to be worn as a badge of honour by those who’ve been tracking their progress since they were playing backyards and warehouses; one of the few cases in Australian music that hasn’t seen the tall poppy cut off at the stem. They brought in 2012 at the GoodGod Small Club with one of the most ferocious New Year’s Eve sets in recent memory, and will finish the year having played a national arena tour with The Black Keys. Possibly the best success story your work-mates don’t know about.
It was already a contender for album of the year on its release in January, and with six months on its back, the debut from the Melbourne garage kings continues to hold up pretty damn well. Brimming with a gleeful sense of optimistic charm, you get the feeling that there’s no face Woollen Kits couldn’t paint a smile on.
Black Wire Records
Black Wire continues to be one of the most exciting places to discover and gush over new bands in Sydney - and probably anywhere in Australia. Operating without profit and on a knife’s edge of closure, it is one of the few venues holding Sydney’s live music scene upright, while the others resort to selling their bricks.
Dominic Death (The Fighting League)
The frontman of Canberra’s Fighting League has been a revelation every time the band make their way up the Hume to Sydney. In one set, he would’ve slicked his hair with his own spit, spent half his time with his hand in his pants and dropped a line like, “When I’m not up here, I’m back home in Canberra fucking my girlfriend and practicing my kickboxing moves.” Seeing Dominic Death front Fighting League feels like watching folklore in the making.
Audience of One
How’s this for an elevator pitch: Sunn O))) member and high-brow experimentalist branches out beautifully and covers 'Fractured Mirror' by Ace Frehley, all on one album. And yeah that Frehley track is his the solo album, the one the Melvins ripped off for their solo efforts. Stuff like this makes me want to high five the world.
The Rational Academy
Enjoying a bit of a renaissance of late, The Rational Academy seemed to have shrugged off a dozen band members, line-ups and sounds to reveal the true (black) snake within. An alt-tuned guitar rock band at heart, they're like fucking bowerbirds here collecting all my favourite ideas: there's the black-metal pop of Mt Eerie, the serrated skonk of Boris and constant reminders of the fact that Sonic Youth occasionally recall Black Sabbath if you know anything about either band. Also recommend the band's free “odds and sods” collection Pacific Rope released back in January.
Live At The Old Bar
A superior recording of the band than last year's THUNDAAAAAH! but nowhere near as well titled. This was part of a Kickstarter bonus for something I gave the band money for. Whatever it was, I hope they send it to me, if they haven't already. The fact that I don't really care should tell you everything about how I feel about this band. Anyway: Big Business meets something much weirder and much more Australian.
Geordie Stafford (of Teargas and Dick Nasty) may work at the greatest guitar store in the world but it's still trying I imagine. There are still a lot of “classic” riffs stumbled through at high volume in there. This solo sludge metal project of his is a response of sorts. Brutal and heavy but still pretty rocking. Very 'Eye Hate Godflesh'. And if you understand that pun, you will LOVE this.
When I was a teenager (pre-internet), Spiderbait were on an indie-label not much fancier than Bedroom Suck or R.I.P. Society and they did shows occasionally with Christbait. This is what I think about when I hear this jumpy two-piece from Brisbane. Tiny Spiders have made a happy marriage of DIY vibes (sans back patches) and melodic indie-pop and while this might put them a little out of step with these rigorously categorised times, you probably won't care when the record plays or after the live show starts. Big in Adelaide.
(NB: Yeah, that IS a hat shaped like a strawberry that someone left at The Waiting Room one night, well spotted.)
The Dirty Three
Toward the Low Sun/National tour
The trio’s first album of new material in seven years was eclectic but focused and took an immediate place alongside their best work. Making it seemed to also re-energise the band, with a national tour proving them to be in inspired form.
Eerie, weary songs of stasis and escape; there’s an absence to them, an emptiness that remains oddly comfortable, like a deserted public bar on a sweltering afternoon.
The Aberrant Years
Essential four CD/LP collection from one of the country's greatest bands of the ’80s, an earthy hybrid of droning, slide-driven blues and minimalist, avant-punk. If there’s a band in the country playing anything even close to the power and intensity of 30-year old tracks like ‘Shovel’ and ‘I Wanna Ride’, then I want to know who they are and when their next show is.
Up and Left
Snappy guitar pop with wit, bite and a touch of country twang, Bambino Koresh is led by husband-and-wife duo Leticia Nischang and Tom Morgan, whose enviable track record for melodic invention (Givegoods, Sneeze, Smudge, Lemonheads, Godstar) continues to show no bounds.
Sleeping Dogs Lie
Dig It Up! Invitational
The most fun festival of the year so far has been the Dig It Up! Invitational, curated by the Hoodoo Gurus to celebrate 30 years in the business, with guests like The Sonics, Royal Headache, Died Pretty, Steve Wynn and loads more. The Sydney date deserves special mention for two reasons: a poignant appearance from “Kids in Dust”, the original line-up of the much-missed Sunnyboys; and the Gurus adding ‘Television Addict’ to their setlist. The latter was a staple of Dave Faulkner’s earlier Perth outfit, The Victims, whose *Sleeping Dogs Lie anthology of recordings from 1977 and 1978 is a formidable collection, proving them to be as comfortable with sneering punk-pop as they were proto-hardcore (‘Perth is a Culture Shock’) and motorik-rock (‘Disco Junkies’ sounds like Eddy Current 30 years early).
2.50-minute mark of Woollen Kits’ ‘Out of Whack’ video
When Tom's cymbal falls off the stand it captures all that’s great about this Melbourne three-piece. Loose/fun/don't give a shit. Just like throwing rocks into a dam, which the guys actually do in this video.
Jake from Geelong (as tall as he is enthusiastic about punk and garage) drops a killer synth-punk cassette in the vein of Jay Reatard's Lost Sounds project. Catchy, spooky and awesome.
Rule of Thirds
Dark and brooding pop from Adelaide. Chilling female and male vocals. Looking forward to seeing them in a live context.
Insanely melodic pop. Songs of love. Requited and not. It has a Housemartins vibe in parts and 'I Look Back' is probably song of the year so far.
I Got Fired
This is the only video I've seen that makes me wish I lived in Adelaide.
Beard Wives Denim
Over the course of 12 absorbing tracks, psych-funksters Pond pummel with the poise of a late-night funk infomercial—journeying through Motown soul and trippy texture in equal portions. Treating every track as an invitation to swing from the chandeliers, the motley crew play effortlessly, at times laying it down all mellow and sexy (‘Elegant Design’) and in others funking it up with acidity (‘Fantastic Explosions Of Time’). Weird, wild, wonderful stuff.
We Keep The Beat, Found The Sound, See The Need, Start The Heart
The same dark energy that set Boulet’s self-titled debut LP in motion can be heard here in varying forms, whether in the enormous chorus of ‘You’re A Animal’ (a head-bangers delight), the wheelie-popping solo that slices through ‘FM AM CB TV’, or the sweaty, shivering verses of ‘Keep Away You Feral Son Of A Bitch’. Though We Keep The Beat… rarely takes a direct route, the thrill becomes much more about the ride from start to finish, than the speed or force of impact.
Following the melting of Snowman, Joe McKee has traded in a lot of his theatricality for a calmer, less unbridled melancholy, but Burning Boy is still packed with rich compositions. It’s good to listen to a record like Burning Boy, if for no other reason, just to appreciate a songwriter who knew exactly what he wanted to do and executed it perfectly.
Thinking In Textures
Chet Faker (the moniker of Melbourne-based crooner Nick Murphy) has emerged as one of 2012’s breakout stars by giving a bleak, arty spin to soul. A confident, tight batch of tracks that beautifully encompass a prosaic kind of ache, Thinking In Textures is more about mood and texture than lyrics or melody, drawing from mainstream pop and R&B while transforming some of the formal qualities of those genres via a lo-fi, “feel”-oriented setting.
Rabbit & Fox
Many have already been drawn into the melancholy whirlpools of Sydney-based quirk-pop chanteuse Rainbow Chan, and she’s sure to garner more followers from the warmer embrace of her latest statement. It’s a stronger, more rhythmic definition offering a hand through the ether, beckoning the listener into her fluid tapestry. Leaps and bounds over earlier material, ‘Rabbit & Fox’ allows Chan to truly come into her own while leaving the listener aching for more.
Live @ The Hi-Fi, Brisbane
The Bamboos recently released Medicine Man, the band’s best album yet, and followed it up with an exceptional live show in Brisbane last week. This was always going to be a fun night, but it’s nonetheless rare to look around and see an entire venue dancing. Even Megan Washington was losing her shit. As for the record itself, it’s the way a Bamboos record should be: less soul and funk revue and more a cogent slice of artistry. Bandleader Lance Ferguson has honed his songwriting and sharpened the production to deliver one of the strongest albums of the year so far.
DZ’s rambunctious, angular take on punk rock is really something to be witnessed, rather than merely listened to, but the Brisbane-based two-piece went a long way to silencing the doubters with this mighty fine debut record. Maybe more a shot across the bows than the direct hit you feel the band are capable of, but a cracking listen nonetheless.
No. 1 Against the Rush
Putting aside the debate about Liars’ Aussie-ness, the LA-based three-piece’s vid for single ‘No. 1 Against the Rush’ is probably the most frightening thing I’ve seen since the end of festival season.
Keep On Dancin’s
The End of Everything
One of the most remarkable releases of 2011 is re-delivered on vinyl. With its west coast rock via shoegaze sound, the analogue format feels like a natural home for this brilliant debut record.
I was going to single out ‘Nullarbor’, but why stop there? This is the rare kind of album that scrambles your heart and brain by the simplest of means: shrugged-off confessions, unravelled melodies, scary intimacy, everyday suburban gloom and a reverence for plainspoken romance that doubles as folk wisdom.
Summer is Done With Us
It starts off sounding like something The Drums would do. But by the end it’s ecstatically garage-y and thoroughly roughed up, all without losing that guitar-pop tickle. The newer single ‘Love’ is more happily primitive, a taste off the post-Red Riders duo-turned-quartet’s upcoming debut LP produced by Straight Arrows’ Owen Penglis.
Live @ Theatre Royal, Castlemaine
At once unhinged and serene, as only Dirty Three can pull off. From a spontaneous guest dancer to Warren Ellis’s Gina Rinehart-riffing banter to the sheer marathon running time of their set, here’s a gig not easily forgotten. Driving there on country roads at sundown while taking in the new album was a nice touch too. Full review here.
Elliptical meditations seeping with colour and commentary. There’s a classical pop dreaminess to Joe McKee’s first album post-Snowman, even as he goes to dark places. It’s a floating, spacious record that feels like a sphere unto itself.
Of all the shouty anthems on Deep Heat’s debut EP, ‘Clean Break’ is the one that sticks with me most. It can be hard to keep up with everything that’s happening – from the punk-wrought vocal trade-offs to that runaway jangle – even before the almost surf verve of its bonus instrumental run. This is rough-and-tumble brashness with a sneaky sophistication to it.
First and only time I have seen Total Control. Just a 30-minute festival set but I was floored. It was 1pm, blistering hot, no shade, surrounded by white sandstone buildings. Everything seemed to be pulsing with white hot light compelling us towards some undetermined act of violence like in Camus' 'The Stranger' when he kills the Arab. Devastatingly good live band. Hard to make small talk afterwards. Full review here.
Goodgod Small Club, Sydney
Saw this duo at Kirin J Callinan's single launch at Goodgod Small Club a couple of weeks ago. I still know next to nothing about them but I know how much it reminded me of early Front 242. Couldn't be more excited about this band. Industrial is back!
Saw the incredible Frank Yamma play in January. Just him and a guitar - made me realise that's all you really need. If you ever get the opportunity: see him. It's impossible to explain the power of it. This video might help.
I said it all here.
Ned Collette & Wirewalker
Record of the year-so-far. Simple surface, complicated depths and the most beautiful Spanish guitar. Lyrics have wonderful phrasings, more like poetry. You can tell these songs will endure, too. It's a record to be treasured for a long time.
Related: The best tracks of 2012 … so far