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.
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.
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.
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
(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.
‘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?
‘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.
‘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.
(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.
(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.
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
(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.
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
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
(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