Thanks for your patience! I hope the final run is worth it. Thanks so much for putting up with me through list season. Same time next year, huh?
The name Lauren Denitzio may not mean anything to you – but if you give her just 20 or so minutes of your time, she could change your life. After years of slugging it out with the perenially underrated punks The Measure [SA], Denitzio formed Worriers in 2011 – a revolving door collective of friends and musos that were up for something short, fast, loud and purposeful. On her debut LP under the Worriers moniker, she presents a set of songs that provoke and ponder as much as they exhilarate and astound. It’s not an easy task to allow the two factors to cooperate without one spilling into the other’s territory, but here it is made to look completely effortless. Cruel Optimist is the year’s shining example of quality over quantity.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Never Were, Cruel Optimist, Best Case Scenario.
In the movie Chicken Run, Mel Gibson’s character of Rocky returns just in time to (spoiler alert) save the day. Julia Sawalha’s Ginger slaps him in the face angrily when he arrives. “That’s for leaving!” she shouts. She then goes in for the kiss, adding “…and this is for coming back.” Pop fans were essentially Ginger when The 20/20 Experience dropped back in 2013’s first quarter. As angry as we got for the seven-year wait between FutureSex/LoveSounds and this, the frustration subsided as soon as the orchestra swelled and introduced “Pusher Love Girl.” The slick, sharp and surprisingly progressive album that followed certified that there is room for only one Justin at the top of the pop stratosphere – not even a disappointing sequel later in the year could knock this record down a notch. Dressed to the nines, scoring a perfect ten and turning it up to eleven – that’s The 20/20 Experience.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Mirrors, Blue Ocean Floor, Tunnel Vision.
He may have started at the bottom, but it’s lonely at the top. That was the message received on 2011’s game-changing Take Care LP – loud and clear, too. The song remains somewhat the same for its follow-up, although when you are following an album as important as Take Care, it’s somewhat forgivable to side-step in a way to take a moment and enjoy the view. Drake is just as despondent and disconnected from his supposed friends and increasingly-distant family, and he still talks us through each detail atop of cloudy, reverberating beats. He still keeps his ego in check, even when he knows it has the ability to get the very best of him. This may sound like Drake is stalled or running out of ideas. Au contraire – Nothing Was the Same is his moment of reflection, a balcony monologue recited while no-one else is around. It’s everything it can be… for now, at least.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Too Much, Hold On, We’re Going Home, Furthest Thing.
Dave Hause swears to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He did it back in the day with his heartland-punk vehicle The Loved Ones (not to be confused with the legendary Australian band), and it continues here into his second solo LP. The stories are still vividly told, the characters constantly desperate yet laced with hope… and you’d better believe that’s Hause’s heart, pounding away on his sleeve. Musically, he begs and borrows (not quite stealing) from your Springsteens, your Pettys and both your Segers and your Seegers. Devour isn’t defined by these influences, though – they merely guide Hause on his path to creating something plainspoken yet powerful. This is as close as he as ever come to achieving true musical greatness. For those that feel honesty truly is the best policy.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Autism Vaccine Blues, The Shine, The Great Depression.
Who is Wil Wagner when we’re not looking? On-stage, he’s the boisterous and charging frontman of the Smith Street Band; delivering some of the most consistently excellent rock music this country has to offer. If you’re interested in perhaps scratching below the surface, however, then Laika is the album for you. Matching bedroom intimacy with the production finesse of Lincoln Le Fevre, Wagner delves into confessionals ranging from his shitty neighbours to his life on the road. The album takes its title from a tender recount of the namesake dog from its perspective; but perhaps a more fitting title track could have been found in “I’m Not Gonna Lie to You.” It reflects what a genuine product Wagner is – his warmth, his familiarity and his ability to tell both strikingly personal and worldly relatable stories. An exercise in the importance of being earnest.
THREE TOP TRACKS: How They Made Us, More Like Signals Midbest, Laika.
Even with the ultimate dismissal of charges, the arrest of Surfer Blood’s John Paul Pitts in March 2012 threatened to destroy the band entirely. Their reputation in tatters, Pythons was released with next to no fanfare and minimal promotion. It slipped under the radar for most and garnered only a brief glimpse of attention – notably via a Stereogum piece, a revealing Pitchfork interview and a furious comment section over at (where else?) Brooklyn Vegan. And so it was: Surfer Blood – of all bands – released the single most underrated album of 2013. Those that actually stopped to listen to Pythons were rewarded with a smart and sprightly album that carried darker undertones and an air of unease – and it was this yin-and-yang that kept it so interesting. With Gil Norton behind the decks, the band dipped into both his production discography (Pixies, Ed Harcourt, K’s Choice) and key elements from their 2010 debut, Astro Coast, to create something that could not be pinned down definitively to either. An essential extraction from the “maybe” pile of 2013.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Gravity, Demon Dance, Weird Shapes.
Safe Hands released an album. For people that have followed the band from its mid-2000s beginnings, the previous sentence felt as though it would never be uttered – at times, at least. Still, here we are: Montenegro is the end result after roughly a dozen line-up changes and eight years under their collective belt. It was more than worth the wait – it may be the finest example of what is achievable within Australian music’s heavier field released this decade. It brushes off the normal nerves and jitters that come with the weight of a debut LP and storms through a set of blistering, rampageous metalcore that takes no prisoners and suffers no fools. It attacks with brute force, yet revels in enough subtlety to not be overcome by it. It is an intelligent, unrepentent and decisively bold album. Most bands wish their debut sounded as half as good as this. Montenegro is a case study in never giving up. This is the light at the end of the tunnel. At last, Safe Hands have arrived.
THREE TOP TRACKS: My Very Own Vesuvius, Alma Martyr, Montenegro.
The best album to come out of Australia in 2013 was also its most damning portrayer. On his second album, James Alberts is merciless and unapologetic in his representation of alcoholism, drug dependency, broken families and media manipulation. He is disgusted with the way indigenous communities are torn apart and neglected. Phoenix is not a pleasant, reassuring listen. It’s tough to get through at times. This is what makes it so worthwhile – others within Australian hip-hop may speak more broadly and to a wider audience, but Jimblah is down to brass tacks the second he steps up to the mic. It’s certainly not always what one wants to hear, but Alberts sees a way out. He seeks clarity and closure, both a resolution and a revolution. The march starts here. The most important new voice in Australian music is speaking. It’s high time you paid attention.
THREE TOP TRACKS: TV, Fireproof, March.
Four hands, four feet, twenty fingers, twenty toes and two voices. That is what’s solely responsible for General Dome. Let that sink in once you’ve heard the layered, mathematical and intrinsic arrangements that are prevalent throughout the entire LP. Something doesn’t quite add up – and it’s perhaps this very sentiment that make Buke & Gase such an intriguing project. Performing on custom-made hybrid instruments and churning out a mechanical blend of avant-garde experimentalism and twists on rock tropes, the duo make music that doesn’t so much think outside of the square as much as it throws entirely new shapes at it, leaving dents all over the outside. The tiniest of earworms will pull you in and there is a very strong chance you won’t be able to get back out again. General Dome is an engrossing album, one with everything in its right place and yet one that projects that everything could fall apart at any given second. The best album of 2036 to be released in 2013.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Cyclopean, Hiccup, Houdini Crush.
In 2013, Donald Glover turned thirty years old. He also killed off Troy Barnes in Community, posted a series of Instagram photos detailing his inner anguish and defiantly released an album at Christmastime even though he was fully aware that his album was about as empty of the holiday spirit as something could possibly be. It was a particularly interesting year for a man adored for his character acting and writing, respected enough for his stand-up and incredibly divisive when it came to his hip-hop alter-ego, Childish Gambino. That he has given up the first two to focus on the latter is an incredibly bold move, and one that is firmly cemented on because the internet.
With the album’s release, he also attached a screenplay and a series of silent short films to accompany listening. A peculiar prospect, to say the least. So, has he made the right choice in putting all of his eggs in one basket? All signs are pointing to yes: On his most ambitious project to date, Glover pushes himself in every musical direction he can muster. The album features his most sweetly melodic and sentimental moments, as well as his most brash and blunt. It flash-cuts from one idea to the next, not pausing to let others catch up. Incredibly, in spite of nearly filling its disc space, it barely feels as long as it actually is.
In what was a mammoth year for hip-hop releases – Drake, Kanye, Jay-Z et al – nothing was as shocking as Gambino’s last minute victory over their (and everyone else’s) albums. because the internet is the sound of the clown crying. As the make-up chips away and falls off, the man behind it is finally revealed. Hold me close, my darling.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Telegraph Ave, 3005, Sweatpants.