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Tracks Of The Year 2012

As the year winds to a close, DOUG WALLEN counts down the top local 20 tracks of 2012.

20. Mining Boom
(From the EP Dining Room)

Where the hell did Mining Boom come from? Suddenly they were just there, periodically dropping ace tunes like ‘PDA’ and ‘Telecom’ with what felt like a shrug. The best and quietest of their meagre discography to date is ‘Craigie’, the lyrics of which could double as a particularly motivational roll of New Year’s resolutions if not for this refrain: “One day I will bash that cunt.” An 87-second tune with that lyric has no right to be so indelible and, somehow, so affecting.

19. Bloods

In a year downright flooded with pesteringly catchy garage rock, ‘Goodnight’ still stood out. It doesn’t do anything new, but it does everything right: from slashing hooks and universal lyrics to vintage production and strong yet vulnerable vocals. With as much as girl-group in their DNA as riot grrrl, this Sydney trio come off like a scuzzier answer to The Spazzys. It’s power-pop with actual power.

18. ScotDrakula

It takes time to really pick up steam, but be patient: once those sweet harmonies come in and Matthew Neumann’s voice really starts to splinter, ScotDrakula’s ‘Burner’ becomes something pretty special. It all comes together at the end, ramping up and falling apart at the same time, with slacker charm to spare. For this kind of thing, Atolls’ ‘Mumble’ is a close second.

ScotDrakula - Burner by Mess+Noise

17. Teeth & Tongue
‘The Party is You’

Jess Cornelius pulls off another simmering character study, echoing the moody ups and downs of the lyrics with thrilling shades of light and dark in her naturally smoky voice – which here feels more playful than ever. Add Marc Regueiro-McKelvie bristling, searching guitar and those synthetic rhythms, and it could only be Teeth & Tongue. Now when exactly is that third album coming?

16. Milk Teddy
(From the album Zingers)

Albeit a record full of tousled tangents and a distancing near-psych bleariness, Zingers finds traction nonetheless. Its opening title track announces the vibe: prickly, jittery pop spun off into several directions at once, as if each key element wants to go its own way. It feels defiantly loose and rambling but still winds up in one’s head, nagging us to play it again and decipher every blotted feature.

Milk Teddy — Zingers by Lost And Lonesome

15. The Presets
(From the album Pacifica)

Not exactly a feel-good hit, is it? ‘Ghosts’ typifies the historic preoccupations of The Presets’ third album, dredging up the harrowing past that lurks beneath Sydney’s glittering, urban present. More brain food than ear candy, this single makes better sense in close company with ‘A.O.’ and ‘Youth in Trouble’ than it does stranded on its own. Still, though, it’s an interesting single, using military motifs and terse lead vocals to lend gravity to its pared-back dance impulses.

14. Bitch Prefect
‘Bad Decisions’
(From the album Big Time)

“Bad decisions/Bad life decisions, every time.” Not the most natural choice for a chorus, but it comes off perfectly in Bitch Prefect’s cosy sphere of shambling, self-deprecating guitar-pop. It’s a total singalong – or really, chant-along – and the band return to it again and again, until it’s become a cathartic little mantra.

13. Catcall
‘The World is Ours’
(From the album The Warmest Place)

It’s not the glacial synth romance that ‘Swimming Pool’ was, but it’s nice to hear Catcall roughen up her pristine world with some anthemic rock signals. As a song this is simple enough, yet its lush, familiar layers redouble the glowing ’80s nostalgia that Catherine Kelleher translates into a sort of communal group hug. Finding acceptance in the world is a key theme to The Warmest Place, and if ‘The World is Ours’ can seem less profound than the other tracks on its surface, it still sneaks in this telling line: “I wanna find a place and just be be be.” Who doesn’t?

12. Twerps
‘He’s in Stock’
(From the 7” ‘Work It Out’)

Call it revenge of the B-side. We heard ‘He’s in Stock’ before ‘Work It Out’, and we still like it just a bit better. It’s got a great verve to it, loping along to castoff lyrics about nagging mums and pesky drugs. This is the jangle thing done right, laced with melody and bustling along with nervous momentum. ‘Work It Out’ may be slower and wiser, but this one yields more bratty fun.

11. Boomgates
‘Whispering or Singing’
(From the album Double Natural)

If you simply described Boomgates to someone as having members of Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Dick Diver and Twerps, this song might be exactly what they’d expect. It’s all there: splashy melodies, lyrics rife with poetic detail and of course Brendan Huntley’s droning talk-singing. Beyond that, it’s just a driving, almost reckless pop song, powered by the friendly interplay between players and, with Steph Hughes stepping up to the mic, two very different voices.

10. Collarbones
(From the album Die Young)

It’s a tie. Here are two sides of Collarbones: the almost gospel-worthy devotion and purity of the steadfast ‘Missing’, and the seasick and addled unreliability of ‘Hypothermia’. If the first is an R&B love hymn, the second is adrift and delirious on the dancefloor, lurching through emotions with none of the other’s single-minded purpose. It’s a peace-deprived flailing in the dark, beautiful and erratic.

9. Step-Panther
(From the 7” ‘Paranoia’)

Like the Twerps tune above, here’s a B-side that takes on a life on its own. Brittle and jerky, it’s an odd gem marked by such halting, exasperated vocals that they nearly distract from all else. This sounds like some grubby garage kids trying to write a pop song, only to give partway through and just mess around from there. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what seeing Step-Panther live is like.

D-Minus by Step-Panther

8. Matthew Brown
(From the compilation Gloss & Moss)

Melbourne producer Matthew Brown’s periodic airing of new tracks on his Soundcloud has become something to increasingly look forward to. ‘Kanaplila’, however, showed up elsewhere: on a free-download New Weird Australia/Fallopian Tunes joint comp. What makes it stand out from the rest of Brown’s work? Mostly the way it constantly shape-shifts into new melodic and rhythmic phrases while remaining so eerily focused and disciplined throughout. It’s minimal techno that surrounds and invades, slipping into one’s pores from all sides. It may be an instrumental compilation track, but it’s one of the year’s best songs and an infinitely detailed wormhole to explore until there’s an album.

Matthew Brown - Kanaplila by Mess+Noise

7. Joe McKee
‘Lunar Sea’
(From the album Burning Boy)

Swaying grandeur and a series of questions: “Am I losing touch with reality?”; “Have I broken free from religion and TV?”; “Am I drifting further out into obscurity?” In the wake of Snowman’s demise, Joe McKee made the bewitching Burning Boy and returned to Australia from his spell in London. This song is the opener, laying out McKee’s tender disconnection as well as the sumptuous, unreliable settings he’s using to convey that. “Making music is such an internal trip, you can get lost in that inner space if you’re not careful. This song explores that idea,” admitted McKee.

Lunar Sea by Joe McKee

6. Tame Impala
(From the album Lonerism)

It’s a stew, this one. We know all the ingredients, but put them together just so and it sure hits the spot. This is probably the straightest entry on Lonerism, a single picked more to turn the heads of baby boomers than the rest of us. It’s a not-so-secret handshake: “You like classic rock? The Beatles? Then dig this.” But everything that came before it doesn’t make this any less gripping or fun.

5. The Bamboos feat. Tim Rogers
‘I Got Burned’
(From the album Medicine Man)

The very same year Tim Rogers told us “I can’t sing”, out comes this counterintuitive stunner. On it Lance Ferguson steers The Bamboos away from well-curated soul revival – at which they’ve long excelled – and into an after-hours rock/blues/R&B simmer worthy of Fleetwood Mac. Coupled with Rogers’ show-stopping Curtis Mayfield falsetto and the evergreen theme of someone done wrong in the game of love, it might just be an instant classic.

4. Courtney Barnett
‘History Eraser’

Courtney Barnett’s I’ve Got A Friend Called Emily Ferris EP this year was one of the best introductions a rising musician could hope for. It wasn’t a fluke: she followed it up with this surreal, rollicking ramble of a single, which takes her by taxi and by train, floating through Triffids and Stones songs, even as the clip transfers the action to bikes. It’s bravura songwriting, ambitious yet totally at ease. “And in my dreams I wrote the best song that I’ve ever written/I can’t remember how it goes.” This could be it.

3. Scott & Charlene’s Wedding
‘Two Weeks’
(From the split 12” with Peak Twins)

Craig Dermody has written plenty of songs like this: ‘Footscray Station’, ‘Rejected’, ‘Gammy Leg’. Stream-of-consciousness autobiography both raw and romantic. But ‘Two Weeks’ is prettier than them all, while still calling out personal defects most people would keep under wraps, from inherited awkwardness to bummed-out day drinking. Those confessions come entwined with a pining love song that laments being stranded on a different continent from your sweetheart. Like so much of Dermody’s work, it’s preoccupied by landmarks, from Northcote Plaza to the Williamsburg Bridge. But it never feels like name-dropping just for the sake of it. It’s as if he’s singling out every fraught emotion (and location) so that he might find some way to heal, move on and sing and play his way through it. Who needs a therapist when there’s a guitar?

2. Tame Impala
‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’
(From the album Lonerism)

Earworm of the year? This right here is what defines Tame Impala: rich sonic fantasy paired with all too real meditations on feeling alienated and alone. So much of this is universal, from the sloshing chorus to every uncertain lyric. It may be a wowing feat of production and mixing, especially that water-logged insularity and those crumbling drums, but take all that away and this song still towers above the competition. (Just ask the kids from the PS22 Chorus.) It also, in that Tame Impala way, feels positively epic and quaint at the same time. It’s something beautiful and precious sitting naked in the palm of your hand, and it’s a whole unfathomable universe to marvel at too. It’s psychedelic, in the truest, most transporting of ways.

1. Lower Plenty
(From the album Hard Rubbish)

Has this entered our oral history yet? Are scouts singing it around campfires, while their elders nod knowingly at the casual wisdom of it? Maybe not, but they should be. When so many young bands today strive for the biggest, slickest and most detached sound possible, Lower Plenty unravel like a beloved old jumper they’ve been absently picking at. ‘Nullarbor’ is nothing less than pure poetry for anyone weaned on Modest Mouse’s portraits of road-trip desolation, and there’s some of that here, both in the themes and the guitar. Also, in its tarnished purity. Lower Plenty have come a long way, from just another low-key Melbourne band made up of people from other bands to a shared secret that even Matador Records noticed. If you haven’t heard this in a few months, weeks, days, play it again now. Sigh over the way it ambles along, hitting every heartstring before limping across a finish line it didn’t even know was there.


Related: Tracks of the Year 2011

  -   Published on Tuesday, December 4 2012 by Doug Wallen.
Related Artists

Your Comments

seahunt  said about 2 years ago:

Some great stuff there, particularly Nullarbor

electricsound  said about 2 years ago:

i was happy enough with #s 19 and 20, didn't need to go further

black wasp!  said about 2 years ago:

Apocalypse Dreams, though too long, is far better than those other two Tame Impala songs in my opinion. Looks like a pretty rockist top twenty. I suppose I'm defying the general trend in saying that I find that Matthew Brown song pretty boring. Still in love with both of those Collarbones tunes. I surprised myself by kind of totally loving the Courtney Barnett song, which I think is the most brilliantly honed summation of everything that was ever great about some particular strand of 90s indie/alternative rock that I've heard in ages. I wanted to like the Catcall song, but I can't stand it - sorry, Catcall.

seahunt  said about 2 years ago:

I'd add in

Kitchen's Floor - Bitter Defeat
Terrible Truths - Don Juan
Blank Realm - Cleaning Up My Mess
Per Purpose - Warburton

IronMic  said about 2 years ago:

this is new 2012 tracks?
all i'm hearing are old sounds and nostalgia.

ASaltySalute  said about 2 years ago:
  1. Meat Thump - Box of Wine

Temet  said about 2 years ago:

I feel like lo-fi garage rock is just a touch over-represented in this list.

mule  said about 2 years ago:

Scene from a wedding - Total Control
Overcast - Pop Singles

There's more but those two should be in any top 20

ghoti-max  said about 2 years ago:

Greeeeeat list. Agreeing with you on those tracks seahunt, Bitter Defeat and Cleaning Up My Mess would probably be in my Top 5.

Maybe not in the top 20, but would find room in an extended 50 for

Nikko - Smoke Alarms
Sarah Mary Chadwick - Fools Like Me
Hoodlum Shouts - For a Family (Young Man / Old Man if you treat them as one track)
Charge Group - Broken Sunlight

Probably other shit too. Good fuckin year!

anonymous  said about 2 years ago:

Dunno, there's been a lot of releases in that vein this year.

anonymous  said about 2 years ago:


unvisible  said about 2 years ago:

List needs more Melbourne jangle and fewer Queensland bands..

seahunt  said about 2 years ago:

Scene from a wedding - Total Control

I forgot about that song - it rules.

black wasp!  said about 2 years ago:

doug wallen doesn't care about black people

seahunt  said about 2 years ago:

List needs more Melbourne jangle and fewer Queensland bands..

It does say 'local' bands unvisible.

Temet  said about 2 years ago:

Dunno, there's been a lot of releases in that vein this year.

Enough to constitute more than half of this list, though? Doug Wallen is an excellent music critic and writer, but it feels like the scope here is pretty narrow.

ImBored  said about 2 years ago:

If that Bloods song is the 19th best Australian song released in 2012 then I fucking quit life.

black wasp!  said about 2 years ago:

loosen up guys these are gonna be the next generation's triffids

steveholt  said about 2 years ago:

Pretty weak year this year. They're not bad songs but not a lot re-inventing the wheel.

steveholt  said about 2 years ago:

And no Dirty Three, Bushwalking or Fabulous Diamonds on that list is a piss take.

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mule  said about 2 years ago:

Yeah cleaning up my mess has really grown on me, i thought it was bollocks when i first heard it but there's some nice guitar going on there.

doubtfulsounds  said about 2 years ago:

Big ups to Mining Boom, Courtney Barnett and Lower Plenty's inclusion. I'd add in Iowa's Panic Attack, Charlie Horse's Dead Roses, Bad//Dreems' Chills and Regular John's Slume.

doubtfulsounds  said about 2 years ago:

Oh and yeah, Cleaning Up My Mess is eating at my brain at the moment... in a good way.

revgreen  said about 2 years ago:

Good year for big hits finally coming out in recorded form - ''Bad Decisions'' and at least three Blank Realm songs spring to mind.

Mess+Noise  said about 2 years ago:

Yeah, our Critics Poll and of course Readers Poll will be much more representative and less narrow than this, which was more a roll call of personal favourites (i.e. other writers weren't polled). Didn't try to include everything from every sphere, but just stuff that personally sparked a passionate response.

hyperfuzz  said about 2 years ago:

k2 said 19 hours ago:
I love electronic music, but that Matthew Brown track is so boring. Sounds like it was made using Rebirth (not that that really matters), but 303 / 808 / 909? 1995 called, they want their boring detroit-esque track back.

I would be really surprised if the wasnt made with the Rebirth iPad app. If it isn't, that guy payed a lot of money for gear that sounds like a 5 dollar app.

black wasp!  said about 2 years ago:

I think you're being facetious and know as well as anyone else does that he is all about the authentic analogue thingies.

anonymous  said about 2 years ago:

first time i've heard that step panther track, I like it!

anok  said about 2 years ago:

that m brown track is well below the quality he had on soundcloud this year, but his mere presence is... pleasing. his high points were as exciting as anything electronic this year to me.

good work on the collarbones double too.

anok  said about 2 years ago:

ps mb uses a laptop to control his analogs.

GOD  said about 2 years ago:

I was listening to the Lower Plenty clip and thought ''ooh this is interesting'' until I realised it was the youtube clip and the intermittent stuttering of one of the soundcloud players. Hopefully 2013 will be a better year.

watermelon  said about 2 years ago:

bloods = riot grrrl, you have got to be kidding...

watermelon  said about 2 years ago:

peak twins should have been on here

Michaelll  said about 2 years ago:

Gosh omg, as usual Ausfailure is way ahead of the curve@!@!@!c3

illywhacker  said about 2 years ago:

1/ Henry Wagons feat. Robert Forster - 'I Still Can't Find Her'
2/ Henry Wagons feat. Alison Mosshart - 'Unwelcome Company'
3/ Pony Face - 'Silver Tongue'
4/ Teeth & Tongue - 'The Party is You'
5/ New War - 'Game of Love'

stevereich  said about 2 years ago:


stevereich  said about 2 years ago:

Nice list. How good would it be if there was a second national youth broadcaster where these were the top 20 most played tracks, with associated festivals etc?

black wasp!  said about 2 years ago:

zombo  said about 2 years ago:

now i remember why i usually don't watch local bands' video clips. ''let's just film us being cool and having fun in Fitzroy so everyone can see how cool and fun and Fitzroy we are''

anok  said about 2 years ago:


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