Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part Five: 10 – 1

Hey y’all! Well, how about this, huh? Here be the ten best rekkids of the year done gone past. Huge thanks for seeing through list season with me. Catch y’all next time around!

50 – 41
40 – 31
30 – 21
20 – 11

10. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt
Spotify || Rdio

Life isn’t all blue jeans and white t-shirts. The Gaslight Anthem have finally escaped the small town that almost killed them and have wound up strangers in a strange land on their fifth album. Get Hurt is an exploration through unchartered waters and foreign territory, a much-needed break from the comfort zone that, regardless of the quality of outcome, could well have killed this band had they remained within its confines.

Certainly, it wasn’t as if there was some drastic detour into acid jazz or anything of the sort – after all, as Brian Fallon himself sings at one juncture, “I still love rock & roll/I still call somebody ‘baby.’” There is a stretching of boundaries here, however, that is indicative of a prosperous future beyond nights with the radio and Maryanne. Get Hurt is the sound of Gaslight beginning again.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Stay Vicious, Get Hurt, Break Your Heart.

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9. Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear
Spotify || Rdio

Sia Furler, for a time, was the ghost of pop charts past. Her writing credits and, if listening closely, her unmistakable voice, infiltrated dozen of singles from some of the biggest names in the industry. It’s a life that could well have made a sustainable living for the rest of her days. The call of work under her own name, however – on hold for several years at this point – eventually grew too strong.

There were stipulations: No touring, no media campaign, no public appearances. It was a fair compromise, however, when in return we received her greatest LP since 2004’s spotless Colour the Small One. Marrying her intrinsic, introspective songwriting with the sensibilities gained from her double-life in mainstream pop, Fear allowed us to see behind the blonde bob wig. We may not have seen her face all year, but this allowed for something greater – we saw her heart.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Elastic Heart, Big Girls Cry, Chandelier.

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8. Die! Die! Die! – S W I M
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

An exercise in irony: The definitive album from a veteran band has its title based on an online acronym for “someone who isn’t me.” Truth be told, this is an album could not have come from any other band – after over a decade sharpening and refining their throttled, scorched-earth take on noise-heavy post-punk, all roads that Die! Die! Die! have travelled have ultimately lead to S W I M’s creation.

It snarls, scratches and seethes through envy, paranoia and disconnect – in other words, it’s a decidedly ugly, ruthlessly aggressive listen. It’s not user-friendly or accessible, of course. Die! Die! Die! have never been as such before. The difference is that they have never sounded so vital and purposeful in the execution of their ideas as they do here and now.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Angel, Get Hit, Out of Mind.

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7. La Dispute – Rooms of the House
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

A house is not a home. That doesn’t mean that it never has been, of course. Finding the house that was once a home – your home – can trigger so many memories, stories, truths and once-faded thoughts. This is conceptually explored – with considerable depth, it must be added – on La Dispute’s third studio album.

The hyper-literacy and Jordan Dreyer’s foreboding poetry that weaved its way through previous releases not only recurs on the album, but arguably latches onto its strongest subject matter to date. Each room sparks something different, allowing the protagonist to reflect on how much has changed since the transition from home to house. It’s often not for the better, but it’s perhaps this that keeps one hanging on every single word. Rooms of the House is a creative work in every sense.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Woman (In Mirror), For Mayor in Splitsville, Stay Happy There.

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6. Pinch Hitter – When Friends Die in Accidents
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

A chance encounter. A dead-end job. A fear of flying. An untimely demise. A sudden realisation. A friend in need. These things, while separate entities from a contextual standpoint, are tangled together in the half-hour-and-change that comprises the debut album from this unexpected team-up.

While many came to know the project from Nick van Breda and Dave Drayton from their live shows – simply two men, two voices and, yes, two banjos – Accidents allows the two to flourish in a wider spectrum. Their musings and noodlings are guided by xylophone (“Nine-to-Fine”), flutes (“All of a Sudden”) and even typewriters (“They Said This Would Stop” – no shit). It’s all tied up with the four-part title track that weaves in and out of the tracklisting – and its final blow is still as devastating long after the first time you hear it.

A folk album without guitar? It’s possible. Anything’s possible. Everything’s matter. Everything matters.

THREE TOP TRACKS: All of a Sudden, Part IV, Nine-to-Fine.

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5. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World
Spotify || Rdio

Back in a time when the American president was public enemy number one, Kanye West was a debut-album rookie and dance-punk was as legitimate as any rock subgenre, one guitar-less duo ruled over their six-stringed contemporaries with a half-hour of power known as You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. It was cemented by ear-splitting live shows, instant cult status and an unforgettable performance on Conan with none other than Max Weinberg sitting in.

It would take two short years for everything to fall apart for Death From Above 1979, and that – so we thought – was that. Several contributing factors lead to the band’s eventual reunion, but the most prevalent ended up being unfinished business. Despite becoming quote-unquote “adults” in the time they were apart, there was still an agenda to make loud, visceral and ripsnorting rock & roll.

That’s where The Physcial World comes in – a rarity insofar as being a sequel that not only matches up to its predecessor, but threatens to rival it so often it may well swallow the thing whole. Long live Death.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Right On, Frankenstein!, White is Red, Cheap Talk.

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4. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
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Were you told about Benji on paper, one would rightly distance themselves from it as soon as humanly possible. Just think – a late-forties dude mumbling about his parents, his dead uncle, various sexual encounters, James Gandolfini and his home state of Ohio. What could possibly be appealing about that?

It could well be argued that Benji, as an album, succeeds on account of these traits and not in spite of them. Mark Kozelek has been known in the past to allow his simple, sombre style of songwriting and storytelling to uplift ordinary things, places and people into the extraordinary. Jim Wise sounds like an odd, weird dude. On “Jim Wise,” however, he somehow turns into an endlessly-fascinating character. The same can be said of Kozelek’s second cousin, his drummer and even his dear mother (“My mother is 75/She’s the closest friend I have ever had.”) They are – or were, in some cases – just regular people until Sun Kil Moon reels them into his world.

Whether you find him driving to a Postal Service show or tripping out on Led Zeppelin in his younger days, Mark Kozelek somehow makes the cold all the more inviting. Benji is a journey – a long, exhausting and depressing one; but one any self-respecting music fan should take at some point in their lives.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes, I Love My Dad, Carissa.

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3. Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were
Spotify || Rdio

“Has the world gone mad?” opines Ben Howard mere minutes into the first track on his second album, before adding a further line of questioning: “Or is it me?” By the end of I Forget Where We Were, you won’t have an answer. Hell, you won’t even have one after a dozen spins. As it progresses, the album poses far more questions than it provides answers or traces of resolve.

Perhaps it’s this that makes it such an intriguing prospect – from a songwriting perspective, it allows Howard to less scratch below the surface and more dig down as far as humanly possible. Besides bearing his name, precious little else lies on the common ground between Forget and its predecessor – here, we work through varying degrees of light and shade; love and loss; truth and lies. It takes you to points where you fear you may never return – points you feel, as a listener, you may well not be entirely prepared to go.

Herein lies the rich reward of I Forget where We Were. Ben Howard has evolved from being a mere singer-songwriter – here, he has become a journeyman.

THREE TOP TRACKS: End of the Affair, I Forget Where We Were, Conrad.

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2. Pianos Become the Teeth – Keep You
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Ray Charles, an r&b star, once made a country album. Kanye West, a rap phenomenon, once made an album where he sang for its entirety. Radiohead, at one point the most promising prospect in guitar music, once made an album where they barely touched the things. More than once, now you mention it. What is this all leading to? It’s simple, really: The notion that risks should not only be taken, but actively encouraged. Who knows what awaits on the other side? Perhaps true greatness.That’s what happened on Keep You.

Pianos Become the Teeth – an emo band in the true sense, bypassing the mall to arrive at Orchid’s discography – made an album where their harsh screams and dissonant guitars were traded in for what are known in hardcore circles as “clean” vocals and a collective dip into the waters of the indie and post-rock spectrums. It was an all-or-nothing movie – make or break, sink or swim. The Baltimore natives risked everything and won it back tenfold.

Not only is it the finest of their three long-players, it also serves as a shining beacon from their immediate scene – a message to the outer reaches detailing the adventurous versatility at work within it. For an album whose final line is a cry of “Let’s say nothing some more,” Keep You says more in its actions than words ever could.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Repine, April, Old Jaw.

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1. Sleaford Mods – Divide and Exit
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Around ten years ago, in an interview with NME, Carl Barât was asked his favourite album of the year as part of a generic series of questions asked of several musicians. Barât chose A Grand Don’t Come for Free by The Streets, reasoning that the album was a reflection of England that many may not necessarily want to see or hear about.

This is being brought up a decade on for two core reasons. The first of which is to sound the trumpets to signal the arrival of a new outfit less holding up a mirror to contemporary British society and more smashing said mirror and holding up a jagged shard, just to feel the pain that the pricks of blood bring. The second is admittedly a little more petulant – it’s because the reference and the people and publication which it contains would be immediately be despised by James Williamson, the spoken-word half of Sleaford Mods who barks, grunts, prophesises and spits through every last thing that displeases him.

It’s a cruel, frustrating world in which he lives; one that constantly brands him a fool and a ne’er-do-well when it should be acknowledging him as the smartest guy in the room. “I can’t believe the rich still exist,” he laments within the album’s opening minutes. “Let alone run the fucking country.” It’s said through fuzz and distortion, and yet it lands with all the clarity of being yelled directly into your ear. He may soapbox his way through several tracks (“Liveable Shit,” “Tweet Tweet Tweet”), but certain things slash through a raw nerve. He may seethe at an upper-class acquaintance he’s attempting to manipulate (“I’m a connoisseur!/I’ve conned you, sir!/I just wanked in your toilet!”) but his envy is quick to undo him entirely (“I want a house like this, how do I get it?/It’s beautiful! It’s fucking ridiculous!”).

There are layers of complications, deep-running waters of disarray and the throbbing pain of a hangover following another bottomless night in the sewerage of another disgusting city. Divide and Exit was the sound of the everyman’s demise, the death of the common people and the experiment starting over. Sleaford Mods might not want to change the world, nor is it looking specifically for a new England – and, yet, both are achieved and found, respectively, on Divide and Exit. A voice raised to its heights for years on end has finally shifted to the forefront and being paid the attention it deserves.

THREE TOP TRACKS: You’re Brave, Tied Up in Nottz, Liveable Shit.

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Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part Three: 30 – 21

Crossing over the halfway point! Livin’ on some sort of prayer. Parts one and two are to be read/caught up on here and here.

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30. sleepmakeswaves – Love of Cartography
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

The sooner that Australia wakes up and smells the vibrancy of its extensive post-rock community at hand, the bloody better. Sydney’s sleepmakeswaves have become the vanguard act of it in short time, less pushing the envelope and more reading the letter it contained from atop a mountain. With the airtight production guidance of rock expert Nick DiDia, Cartography became a full realisation of everything that the band could be; exploring new depths as well as searing highs – often within the same song. This is the sound of actions speaking far, far louder than words ever could. Consider the game changed.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Great Northern, Something Like Avalanches, Perfect Detonator.

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29. Fucked Up – Glass Boys
Spotify || Rdio

They may be the least hardcore and the least punk band in hardcore punk, but by some bizarre law of double negatives it’s made Toronto sextet Fucked Up far more hardcore and far more punk than a significant amount of their peers. Each of their albums feels momentous, grand in both scope and execution. Glass Boys proves to be no exception, in spite of a leaner runtime – in fact, it allows you to focus further in on the remarkable crafting that goes into each track. An alternate version of the LP with half-speed drums proves to be strangely-alluring additional listening.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Led by Hand, Glass Boys, Sun Glass.

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28. Manchester Orchestra – Cope
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

Manchester Orchestra have the heart of a lion and their collective eyes on a grander universal bigger picture. It’s now taken them through four albums of life, death, acceptance, honesty, sin and confession; and though one’s take on which is the superior of them may vary from listener to listener, it’s nigh-on impossible to leave a Manchester Orchestra record empty-handed. Although often shrouded in deep-cut metaphor and surrealist lyrical imagery, Cope has its own means of cutting directly to an emotional core at its most crucial points. It’s yet another excellent release from a band that works in mysterious ways.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Girl Harbor, Top Notch, Cope.

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27. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Spotify || Rdio || Download

We’re not in side-project territory anymore, Toto. The once-unlikely pairing of Killer Mike and El-P, now onto their third release together, has begun to make more sense in the greater spectrum of hip-hop perhaps more than practically anything else this decade. Such a bold statement can be backed by noting the remarkable impact of their second album. Swarming, visceral beats, simultaneous lyrical assaults and a completely-unexpected cameo from a fiery Zach de la Rocha all assisted in allowing Run the Jewels to forcefully smash through the underground and lead riots through the city streets. All hell can’t stop them now.


THREE TOP TRACKS: Early, Oh My Darling Don’t Cry, Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck).

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26. Future Islands – Singles
Spotify || Rdio

Some longer-term fans of dramatically-flaired electro-pop explorers Future Islands may feel somewhat disgruntled that it’s taken until their fourth studio album for a wider audience to be paying them the attention that they so rightly deserve. Think of it, instead, as a blessing in disguise: With the world now watching, we see the trio at the very best of their collective abilities; presenting a refined and distinctive take on their genre that revels in its kitsch and unfashionability so much that it comes full circle, leading to the arguably being the coolest damn record of the year. Who’d have thought?

THREE TOP TRACKS: Doves, Seasons (Waiting on You), Sun in the Morning.

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25. James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

For a timid Irish lad, James Vincent McMorrow certainly proved to have balls of steel when he made his launch forth into the great unknown at the start of the year. His second album was described by many as a 180 of sorts, doing away entirely with the folksy instrumentation of its predecessor. Perhaps a more fitting angle, however, would have been a 270. Post Tropical incorporated hindsight in regards to McMorrow’s raw-nerve emotional songwriting and his delicately-placed falsetto, but it also gave view to a brave new world. Who knows who he may yet become? It’s all blissfully uncertain.

THREE TOP TRACKS: All Points, Outside, Digging, Cavalier.

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24. Luca Brasi – By a Thread
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Two-fifths of Luca Brasi left the fold not a year before the release of their second studio album, a blow which may well have spelled the end for a lesser band. The Tasmanian natives were quick to mend, however – it wasn’t long before their triple-guitar interplay was woven into a tighter twin assault; while replacing the towering Saxon Hall on drums with the impeccably-bicepped Danny Flood was like switching out an unstoppable force for an immovable object. The craftsmanship of the songs, too, proved to be their greatest collective achievement to date. They – and we – live to fight another day.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Western Junction, Borders and Statelines, Here’s Looking at You, Kid Rock.

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23. Kishi Bashi – Lighght
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Kaoru Ishibashi finds himself in the realm of indie-pop with the violin as his weapon of choice over keyboards or guitar. This left-of-centre take on the genre allows for KB’s amazing technicolour dream-music to roam as freely as it pleases. On Ishibashi’s second LP under the moniker, he layers both his instrument and his voice to the point of assembling a chamber orchestra and a choir respectively. By means of beautifully striking contrast, there are also moments of quiet that reel in focus to the man behind it all. Much like its cover, Lighght is a stunning work of art.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Q & A, Philosophize in It! Chemicalize with It!, Carry On Phenomenon.

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22. Ted Danson with Wolves – WWTDWWD?
Bandcamp

From their culture-jamming band name to their sax-wielding take on DIY math rock, there’s nary a band runnin’ ‘round these parts that’s quite like Sydney’s Ted Danson with Wolves. It may well not have been their intentions when they initially formed out in humble old Tamworth several moons ago, but it’s where they’ve ended up on their outstanding debut effort. Its hyper-literate lyrics delve into the seriously strange and the strangely serious on a tandem basis, shrieked above a mesmerising cacophony of bass rumble, drum splatter and guitar squiggle. The outsiders found a way in, at long last. WWTDWWD? This.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Tim Has a Really Good Idea (Again!), Bohemian (I Don’t) Like You, In the Throes of Golf Woes: “It Was a Coarse Course, of Course.”

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21. The Smith Street Band – Throw Me in the River
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Wil Wagner has said several times that there have been moments where he’s considered quitting music entirely. Throw Me in the River makes one ever so grateful he made the right call and kept his band alive. Were it to be summed up in three words? Let’s try “location, location, location.” Its songs take place all over the globe, from late nights in Calgary to a boiling day at Meredith Music Festival; not to mention its recording taking place in the small town of Forrest. No matter where you’re from, River shows that it’s where you’re at that’s most important.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Calgary Girls, Surrender, Throw Me in the River.

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The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part Four: 40 – 21

We’re so close! Parts one, two and three… missed ’em? Not to worry? You can revisit them here, here and here. Let’s get down to some top 40 pop hits. Starting now.

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40. Fucked Up feat. J Mascis – Led By Hand

Here’s a strange proposition: The best Dinosaur Jr. song of the year did have J Mascis in it, but it wasn’t by Dinosaur Jr. In a standout moment from their exceptional Glass Boys LP, Pink Eyes and co. paid homage to proto-grunge wigouts while still maintaining their hardcore punk roots. There was perhaps no greater yin-and-yang in the year than when Mascis mumbled the song’s chorus as Pink Eyes let out a Roger Daltrey-worthy “YEAH!” atop of it. An unlikely pairing on paper, “Led by Hand” had everything making a whole lotta sense quite quickly. Follow it around.

39. St. Vincent – Digital Witness

What did Annie Clark learn from her time making music with David Byrne? Two major things. The first: Horns. They’re a weapon. Use them wisely. The second: Is something categorically weird in your song? Make it weirder. Taking this on board, “Digital Witness” is one of her finest tracks to date. Whether it was the spiralling pre-chorus melody, the stinging guitar wail or that all-encompassing hook, it was nigh-on impossible to deny the resonance of this rebirth. During one of the song’s many earworms, Clark boldly states “I want all of your mind.” You got it. Anything else?

38. The Kite String Tangle – Words

We’re still learning a lot about Danny Harley, the prodigious figurehead behind Brisbane bedroom phenomena The Kite String Tangle. Tracks like “Words” allowed us as listeners to edge slightly closer in this regard, and it was something to be extremely thankful for. A restrained exploration of post-dubstep balladry, Harley shrouds himself in light-and-shade contrasts, gently coaxing out confessional lyrics as distant lights flicker and glow on the outskirts. It shouldn’t add up that such depth and maturity has been achieved at such an early stage, but one would suppose The Kite String Tangle has always been against the odds.

37. Jane Tyrrell – The Rush

Lovers can fall hard and fast for one another, but where does one find oneself when fire turns to ice? It’s a complicated subject, and one that Tyrrell details with an outsider’s eye and an insider’s mind. She may have set up two characters in the song, but it’s safe to say that she sees more than just herself within them. Driven masterfully by the unmistakable drumming of PVT’s Laurence Pike, there are soaring highs and crushing lows that weave through the song’s relatively-short runtime. Tyrrell sees us through to the bitter end. It’s not like it’s her first time.

36. Ken Stringfellow – Kids Don’t Follow

If any song is stretching the friendship for its inclusion in a 2014 list, it’s surely this: A cover of a Replacements song from the 80s that was recorded in 2004 for a tribute album to the aforementioned college-rock legends that ultimately never came to be. This hazy barroom take on the anti-authoritative punk number came from acclaimed Posies and R.E.M. alum Ken Stringfellow; and collected dust until the release of a rarities compilation at the beginning of 2014. So, here we are. You best believe this sucker was worth uncovering. A smart, somewhat-sombre reworking from a truly underrated craftsman.

35. Babaganouj – Too Late for Love

Go Violets didn’t fade away, they burnt out. Their embers remain flickering within Brisbane’s still-thriving indie-pop village, as two of its members have resumed full-time positions in this little jangly garage outfit that could. “Too Late for Love” may have been born in the sunshine state, but it’s more European in flavour – there’s a strong dose of Camera Obscura, a hint of The Wannadies and sprinklings of Belle and Sebastian’s early work. None of this is said to deride the song, of course. It’s a reflection on how it immediately feels like home. May this band burn longer and brighter.

34. Kelis – Breakfast

Her milkshake brought all the boys to the yard, but what happens when one of those boys sticks around? Now in her thirties, Kelis is exploring the concept of finding love in wake of divorce. It’s quite an adult prospect, recurring on perhaps her most mature LP to date, Food. Many went with a helping of “Jerk Ribs” when asked to name the album’s standout, but it would be foolhardy to dismiss this triumphantly horn-laden take on neo-soul, complete with stunning chorus and adorable children’s backing vocals. Much like in life, “Breakfast” is the most important meal of the day.

33. Ben Howard – Conrad

A lot of pitch-black darkness took up Ben Howard’s second album – hell, it even took up most of the cover art. Positioned towards its latter half, “Conrad” allowed the LP to let a glimmer of light into the spectrum. It continues to look at where a past love went awry; and yet the song plays to the pop sensibilities that rewarded Howard such attention to begin with. Its shipmates are his exceptional guitar work, layered to the point of being a battalion front; as well as a hummed refrain that would even garner due respect from the Crash Test Dummies.

32. Luca Brasi – Borders and Statelines

Luca Brasi’s dues have been paid in full and with interest; and many within Australia’s punk community have spent the last few years in particular wondering as to when it would be their time. It was answered not with words, but an extremely loud action. The forceful, crashing drums, the stellar twin-guitar attack and the rousing, spirited chorus they always had in them… “Borders and Statelines,” contrary to its lyrics, will come to define this band in the very best way imaginable. There is a wolf in the throne room, and its name is Luca Brasi. There will be blood.

31. Swans – Oxygen

2014 saw Michael Gira turn 60 years old. He continues to haunt the realm of alternative/avant-garde music after thirty-plus years in the game with unfinished business. Amid an exhausting two-hour-plus release – the double-LP To Be Kind – came this truly terrifying beast. “Oxygen,” already a live favourite, can now officially stand as one of the biggest, boldest compositions to ever come out under the Swans moniker upon its long-awaited recording. Its opening moments are spent picking out one of the year’s most distinctive basslines; its dying moments forcefully hurls everything it has built up into the inferno. The in-between is unforgettable.

30. Death From Above 1979 – Right On, Frankenstein!

Yes, the most hyped new rock band of the year may well have been a bass-and-drums duo; but a vengeful return from the very band that made it cool in the first place made sure we all knew whose yard we were stepping into. “Frankenstein” fires off on all cylinders from its opening seconds, pounding through a barnstorming, breakneck dose of rock & roll that exists purely on Keeler and Grainger’s terms. Plus, it’s gotta be the best false ending to a song from this year: The dust settles, the bass rings out… then, POW! Right in the kisser!

29. Bertie Blackman – Run for Your Life

Another new Bertie Blackman album means another new Bertie Blackman. From the days of her favourite jeans to her flirtations with electronica on later releases, the chameleonic Blackman has rarely allowed herself to get too comfortable within a particular style in her decade-and-change of songwriting. “Run for Your Life” is no exception to this, although it would be wise to suggest she spend a little more time in this specific corner. She sounds right at home with the gated snare, thickly-layered synthesizers and the whoah-oh’d call and response. She may well have just stumbled across her own pop paradise.

28. Kiesza – Hideaway

Fred Armisen may have sung that the dream of the 90s was alive in Portland, but his radar was a little off. The dream of the 90s, friends, is alive in Kiesza, a twenty-something Canadian up-and-comer who dominated dancefloors throughout the entire year with this certified banger in her arsenal. From a crafting perspective, “Hideaway” is retro in the sense that it can appreciate that there was a “What is Love” and a “Rhythm of the Night” for every “Teen Spirit” and “Black Hole Sun.” Its spirit is alive and shuffling once again. Mash it.

27. Coldplay – Magic

In the year that the phrase “consciously uncoupling” entered the cultural lexicon, you could well have been forgiven for forgetting that Chris Martin actually made music this year. Sure, some people would like to forget it altogether, but that’s another story for another time. We’re here to talk about “Magic,” a single that allowed Martin and co. to recall the pop simplicity of their early days while connecting it to the fresh pain of a then-recent separation. If “Magic” proves anything, it’s that we can begin again. That, and Chris Martin can still write a bloody tune.

26. Tkay Maidza – U-Huh

Don’t let Tkay Maidza’s age fool you, nor the simplicity of her big-business single. MCs twice her age would kill for a flow so tightly syncopated, hooks this high in both quality and quantity and a beat as bright and boisterous as the one that fills the spaces of “U-Huh.” There are constant surprises around every corner in the current Australian musical climate; and Maidza is the latest to make a substantial impact. One hopes the fire spat here leads to a phenomenal debut LP next year. After all, as she puts it, “We don’t tolerate broke behaviour.”

25. Yoke – Jabiluka

A phrase as simple as “I never told her” is what centres itself thematically at the core of “Jabiluka,” so named after a mine in the Northern Territory of Australia. Each time it is uttered, there are further layers peeled back to reveal the pain, the regret and the loss that comes with delivering such a line. It’s conveyed emphatically, almost taking on new meaning with every repetition. Similarly, the song itself may externally feel like a Dev Hynes-flavoured slice of downtempo indie-pop, but further listening will see those very same layers revealing. A smart yet complicated song.

24. DZ Deathrays – Reflective Skull

Who gives a fuck about how many notes you can play? If you can play the right ones, in the right succession, you needn’t worry about a single thing more. The riff that “Reflective Skull” lives and dies by was not designed for any greater intellectual pursuit. It’s a primitive headbanger, locked into an undeniable stomping groove and launched forth with reckless abandon. Ironically enough, with its less-than-more approach, this could be one of the biggest sounding tracks that the Deathrays duo have ever put their collective name to. Altogether, now: DUN, DUN-DUN, DUN DUN DUN-DUN, DEWWWW DEWWWW DEWWWW.

23. Sia – Chandelier

Ten years removed from her previous signature song, the inimitable “Breath Me,” Sia Furler has penned herself a new standard; an anthem which will forever define her as one of not only Australia’s greatest singer-songwriter exports, but as a true mastermind behind pop music in the 21st century. Hyperbole? For Christ’s sake, go listen to that chorus again. Seriously. It feels like that Maxell ad campaign where the guy is being blown away by the sound in his chair. Maddie Ziegler may have given the song a second life, but it was all a part of Sia’s grander plan.

22. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt

Don’t call it a comeback. Don’t even call it a reinvention. What we are seeing here is Brian Fallon and co. going out on a proverbial limb, gazing forlornly at what lies beyond. In leaving their comfort zone and exploring the possibilities of slower, more refined songwriting, Gaslight have undertaken a greater journey all with a single step. The title track from their latest record also served as one of their most striking, honest songs ever put to wax. It’s murmurs and whispers from a band defined by their shouts and screams, and it makes for a remarkable listening experience.

21. Tiny Ruins – Me at the Museum, You in the Wintergardens

The single greatest ode to love in 2014 came from the humble, warm abode of Auckland; where you’ll find the quaint, gorgeously understated sounds of one Hollie Fullbrook on the wind. The story is simply told, beautifully painted and pristinely arranged, as we follow the scent of young love through two uniquely different workplaces that somehow not only complement on another, but serve as a reflection on the resolute power that can come through finding love. Its greatest achievement, however, is its ability to accomplish all of this majesty in a decidedly slim 155 seconds. It just comes and goes.

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20 – 1

The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part Three: 60 – 41

Crossing over to the halfway point. Let’s press on: Heartbreakers, headbangers and happy happy happy awaits you, dear reader! If you missed out, parts one and two are available to catch up on here and here. On with the show…

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60. Death From Above 1979 – Cheap Talk

So, you haven’t been around for ten years. There’s a whole bunch of kids who weren’t paying attention or were simply too young the first time around. You got a lot of people waiting for you to kick down that door. What’s your game plan for returning to the party? Does it involve pummelling drums, enough bass to satisfy Meghan Trainor’s entire family and just enough cowbell to keep Bruce “Cock of the Walk” Dickinson away from a fever? If so, congratulations: You’re Death From Above 1979! Furthermore: Congratulations! You’re responsible for one of the flat-out best opening tracks of 2014.

59. Coldplay – Midnight

For a band so oft-derided for being complacent and predictable, perhaps not even the band’s fiercest detractors could have seen a track like this coming. Chris Martin is barely recognisable as he shrouds his voice in both rarely-touched-upon falsetto and layers of deep-set vocoder. The rest of the band delve into perhaps their most electronic foray to date, keeping the song moving along like clockwork – or, given the circumstances, like Kraftwerk. Although it didn’t blow up radio like “Stars” or “Magic” did, the fact it was never intended to proves that these giants can still see a bigger picture.

58. Sam Smith – Stay with Me

You know how we all wondered how Adele’s ex-boyfriend felt after hearing 21? We pretty much just did the exact same thing for this fellow twenty-something Brit with a broken heart and a chart-smashing album. This served as his “Someone Like You,” a torch ballad with enough fire within it to burn down a nearby village. His desperate pleas that filled out the song provoked some to smear him as a warbling miserablist, but the second Smith takes it to church with that chorus, there’s clearly something greater going on here. A broken heart mends, and a star is born.

57. Georgia Maq – What Do You Mean (The Bank’s Out of Money)

What do Tony Abbott, Heisenberg, Evan Dando and Bart Simpson have in common? Absolutely nothing – and it’s precisely this that makes their collective inclusion in this sensationally-scatterbrained number so entertaining. Maq is, to put it lightly, not a fan of a singular idea guiding one song – she bounds through enough ideas to last most singer-songwriters a double album in the course of just under four minutes, from comedic misunderstandings to deeply-personal family matters. It’s executed with aplomb, of course, and it’s refreshing to come across anyone bandying about an acoustic to have an askew take on songwriting structure.

56. Hockey Dad – Seaweed

Most of Hockey Dad’s songs sound as though they’re intended for a picturesque light blue sky, green grass and the suburban pavement. By means of contrast, the sun has seemingly set on “Seaweed,” which is the band’s most restrained and, for lack of a better term, tender moment. It’s the soundtrack to an endless summer coming to an end, the waves dropping back and the night taking its place. Rather than lower the collective morale, the song is a success on the terms that it showcases the band’s unexpected versatility. Besides, the sun’ll come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar.

55. “Weird Al” Yankovic – Lame Claim to Fame

Were you to name all of Weird Al’s biggest hits, you’d simply have to change the titles of other massive pop songs and go from there. How peculiar, then, that the best moment on his chart-topping comeback LP was an original. Taking cues from Southern Culture on the Skids, this cowbell-laden rocker lets Yankovic loose on the A-listers that he’s kinda-sorta interacted with over the years. Rather than get relegated to the deep-cuts, “Lame Claim” is what one should lead with in order to prove the perennial parodist can still get a laugh out of you some thirty-odd years in.

54. Sun Kil Moon – Carissa

Spoiler alert: A lot of people die on Benji, the latest album from Sun Kil Moon. Like, a lot. Carissa is the first of them, a ne’er-do-well teen rebel turned suburban mother who loses her life in a shocking, unexpected way. It’s all detailed by the low drawl of Mark Kozalek, whose uncle was her grandfather. With little more than a classical acoustic guitar, he takes us through his own grieving process; mostly involving the circumstances surrounding her death. It may not have been a pretty sight nor sound, but it made for some of the year’s most compelling listening.

53. Brendan Maclean – Holy Shit

Population, Maclean’s third EP, was essentially a whole lotta Jekyll-and-Hyde action. One minute, he’s the parading electro-pop superstar of “Winner,” the next he’s the uncertain and visibly-struggling end of a frayed relationship on “Holy Shit.” Maclean’s return to the piano allowed him to take off the cape to reveal the mild-mannered reporter beneath, adding in warm harmonies and a tightly-percussive backbone to his rock-and-hard-place confusion. It’s smart, honest and ranks among the finest songs he’s ever written. Yes, he’s the life of the party – but sometimes he’s the girl crying in the “Stupid” video, and that’s okay too.

52. Megan Washington – Limitless

Was there a more right-in-the-feels opening line this year than “There’s a certain kind of lonely where you sleep in your jeans”? In a year full of revealing moments for the Brisbane-born singer-songwriter – a touching Australian Story, reverting to her real name to release music – “Limitless” proved to be one of the most resonant. Perhaps it was the icy synths or the tightly-wound drums guiding its pained lyrics, or perhaps the the echoing detour into the bridge. Whatever the case, Washington managed to find a method within her madness. Us jeans-sleepers are all the more grateful for it.

51. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Kira Kira Killer

It’s growing increasingly difficult for us Westerners to get an idea as to what the hell is going on in the realm of Asian pop music. The only thing that we know is that we want more of it and we want more of it now. At once sounding like the final level of an adventure game and the theme song to the cutest show in the known universe, it’s a task unto itself to properly describe what Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has got going for her. Her amazing technicolour dream-pop needs to be experienced first hand. Happy! Happy! Happy!

50. DZ Deathrays – Gina Works at Hearts

Sometimes, you’ll hear a riff that’s indicative of a band ready to take it to the next level, from “Buy Me a Pony” to “Covered in Chrome.” The opening seconds of “Gina Works at Hearts” locked it in instantly – hell, even if the rest of the song was said riff, they’d have made it. Of course, there’s a lot going on here – as much a sugar-rush of power-pop as it is a rip-snorting rock-radio champion, DZ get the best out of both worlds and stake out their territory intently and defiantly. Shit’s very much about to get real.

49. Conor Oberst – Hundreds of Ways

A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, as well as prick you just as sharply with its thorns. Whether he’s a Monster of Folk, a Desaparecido or wandering through the Mystic Valley, Conor Oberst is still finding avenues in which to deliver his acutely-detailed world-watching. He’s evolved substantially from LiveJournal-worthy angst into the man that stands before you, leading a parade of ironically-triumphant horns, cooing backing vocals and chirpy lead guitar through such damning lyrics as “I hope I am forgotten when I die.” He may ramble on and on, but we’re still in the procession.

48. Interpol – All the Rage Back Home

Perhaps we’ve been looking at Interpol wrong this entire time. While their albums have often been met with indecision, indifference and derision – particularly within the past ten years – there’s something about the band’s singles that have remained entirely agreeable as a sole constant. El Pintor was bound to set people up for disappointment, given the high expectations with which it was anticipated; but its lead off proved to be one of the finest moments the NYC natives have ever put to their names. At once a slow-motion swell and an urgent rush, “Rage” is a straightforward, singular beast.

47. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Hot Wax

It’s pretty safe to say that King Gizzard are the kind of band that are working on no-one’s terms but theirs. Dropping two albums a year on average, the wonderfully-weird septet have kept audiences both simultaneously guessing their next move and standing back in awe of the miniature empire they have created. Then, of course, they’d drop “Hot Wax” and you’d be too busy shaking your hips to care about anything else. That beat! That harmonica howl! That bass! As you read this in the future, where they’ve presumably just released their twelfth album, remember this as a turning point.

46. Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea – Problem

There’s a new diva in town, and the mainstream press has not let anyone go without hearing the news – Grande was the centre of several “investigative” pieces surrounding her behaviour at photo-shoots. Still, the pint-sized popster had bigger fish to fry, and that came in the form of a dynamic kiss-off taking place in a cold war between sax hooks and sub-bass booms. “Problem” was all business from its opening moments and refused to let up. You may well have tried to deny its place at the table, but this was never about you-ou-ouuuuu. Not good. Not great. Grande.

45. Ty Segall – The Singer

For a guy who’s known for his bounding-off-the-walls energy (see his performances on Conan and that Chicago morning talk show), it’s been strange to watch Ty Segall mellow out a little more as he edges closer to 30. Following on from an entirely-acoustic affair in 2013, Segall kept people guessing on his Manipulator LP, where a song presumably included as a breather between rockier numbers ended up being one a true career highlight. “The Singer” tripped the light fantastic and put particular emphasis on the latter. Rarely has “Sing/Sing louder” sounded less like a refrain and more like a mantra.

44. Ryan Adams – Gimme Something Good

Sometimes, you gotta go back. Back when the uniform of the nation was blue jeans and a white t-shirt, your hometown was either your best friend or your worst enemy and the perfect Saturday night was out with your best girl. It’s a time that Ryan Adams has ostensibly wound up in, and on paper it may well not make sense for a noted balladeer to draw such substantial influence from this style. Once the organ calls out beneath Adams’ reverb-heavy guitar swagger, however, it’s the equivalent of the puzzle pieces setting themselves into place. Consider that something good given.

43. Jon LaJoie – Please Use This Song

Taco may have wound up with the Sacko (last place) in this year’s season of The League, but in most other respects, his portrayer took out the Shiva. Not only did he have a memorable casting in the guilty-pleasure hit Let’s Be Cops, Sir LaJoie also took his brand of provocative parody work into the realm of what’s commonly being referred to as “corporate indie” (Hi, Sheppard!). Even when taking the complete mickey out of the genre, he’s done such a dead-on impression that he’s inadvertently wound up as the king of it all. This is the right song, indeed.

42. Brody Dalle – Don’t Mess with Me

We may be ten years removed from the demise of The Distillers, but their ghost is rattling around somewhere here. Of course, it helps that their fearless frontwoman is the mastermind behind it, but there’s more to it: The first lady of rock hasn’t sounded this menacing, guttural and flat-out tough since the days of Coral Fang all that time ago. Put it this way: Most bands would get laughed out of the room if they were to try out a refrain like this song’s title. In Dalle’s hands, you’ll need a quick exit and a clean pair of pants.

41. Pinch Hitter – All of a Sudden

There aren’t many worse places to start having a panic-induced existential crisis than on the strict confines of a plane. Still, Pinch Hitter managed to take the lemons given to them and make some of the sweetest lemonade possible. Part math-rock shuffle, part fluttering baroque pop explosion, “All of a Sudden” explored the greater possibilities of this unique double-banjo project and took its listeners along for the ride. A cameo from Jen Buxton and Jai “the new Terminator” Courtney reciting the brilliant refrain of “Everything’s matter/Everything matters” take this song to a higher (pardon the pun) plane of existence. Incredible.

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40 – 21

INTERVIEW: Owen Pallett (CAN), December 2010

I interviewed Owen once before via email back in 2008. It… well, it didn’t go so well. Thankfully, over the phone, Owen was absolutely delightful. He was a really sweet, chirpy kind of guy that provided me with a very easy job of interviewing him. Definitely helped that I was head over heels in love with Heartland, his debut solo album; which has stood the test of time as one of the best albums of the decade thus far. His latest album is pretty exceptional, too. He’s just a fantastic dude. Can’t say enough good things about him. See for yourself!

– DJY, October 2014

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It’s a cold, blustery day in Toronto, Canada as Owen Pallett takes our interview call, but he’s not about to let it dampen his spirits – especially with his plans over the next couple of months. “I’m really excited about the way that we’ve planned our tour,” says the 31-year-old. We’ve got a week of skiing over in Japan and then we fly down for a little summer vacation in Australia. It’s what I like to do – which is skiing – and what my boyfriend [his manager, Patrick Borjal] likes to do – which is lie on a beach!”

Pallett’s third album, and first under his own name after dropping the Final Fantasy moniker, Heartland, threatened to be the album of the year upon its release – and that was all the way back in January. With nearly twelve months since its release, Pallett still speaks of Heartland with great fondness – although he was initially reluctant to do so.

“At first, when it came out, I was kind of glad to be rid of it,” he admit. “It was a tricky record to make. But now that I have a year-on perspective, I’m feeling really good about it – I feel very proud.” The album, meticulously crafted and several years in the making, revolves around a character by the name of Lewis – a family man and farmer who abandons his life in pursuit of the love of Owen, a character that, by the sounds of things, is the equivalent of a god or deity in Heartland. It’s quite the album to get one’s head around from a conceptual point of view, with many lyrical sections requiring double takes. Interestingly, however, it was never Pallett’s intention to create such a dense, complex work – if anything, he wanted a pop album this time around.

“After I’d made [last album, 2006’s] He Poos Clouds, which was a string quartet, I knew I wanted the next one to be primarily orchestral,” he explains. “I wanted it to really pick on the characteristics of a pop record – specifically, a late seventies/early eighties synth-pop record. I didn’t listen to classical music when I was writing and working on the record – I was absorbing a lot of the pre-digital era synthpop. I really tried to make this record have the feeling of both falling apart and yet also the feeling of mechanism within that genre.”

He rattles off influences such as Can and Depeche Mode (“Particularly Speak and Spell,” he adds) as primary inspiration, as conversation steers back to the album’s characters. Despite song titles such as Lewis Takes Action and the slightly more provocative Lewis Takes Off His Shirt, Pallet himself is quick to downplay the album’s intricate conceptuality. “Conceptually, it’s not really meant to be all that highfalutin or pretentious,” he claims. “I’ve just always wanted to sing from the perspective of ‘the other,’ y’know? From ‘the beloved.’”

His explanation continues: “I simply wanted to make a record where I was singing from the perspective of the object of my desire, rather than specifically singing in my own voice. Even though I felt kind of obliged to be very specific about portraying Lewis and talking about his physical attributes – even from his own perspective – he is simply meant to be what is represented in other people’s songs by…” – he searches for the right word, before coming up with “…baby” – then laughing, adding “…or “shawty.””

Whatever the case, Owen has not only taken notice of readings into the lyrics and concept of Heartland by fans and critics alike, but fully encourages an open interpretation of the entire thing. “When I was making it, I was really trying to make a record that was not maybe necessarily accessible, but one that was going to be appealing – one that wasn’t going to scare people off,” says Pallett. “I’m really flattered when people engage with these songs.”

No doubt many within Australia have been engaging with Heartland since its release, and will be joining Pallett in celebrating its one-year anniversary when the man himself takes to stages across the country next month, including appearances as a part of the Sydney Festival. After taking his time to completely work out a highly technical multi-phonic loop station, which involves sending signals from his instruments across to speakers. Artists as diverse as Jamie Lidell and Autechre also use similar technology in their live performances, yet nothing is quite like the experience of Pallett’s music coming to life.

“I’m in peak condition!” says Pallett with a hearty laugh when asked about his current live set-up. “I’m really excited that my looping is all working now – even though it’s just piano and keyboard, there are actually a lot of channels of sound that I’m creating. When I first started working on it, I hadn’t worked out how to streamline the process and I played the worst show I’ve ever played in Dublin. People thought I was typing with my feet! It’s a pretty intense thing, but at least now I can think about talking to the audience – and maybe even smiling!”

Our conversation wraps with some good-natured humour and some back-and-forth on Australian music (“Tame Impala are Australian, right?”), but perhaps one promise resonates the most: “You guys in Australia are gonna get a good show.” He may have been around for the better part of the last decade, but Owen Pallett is clearly just getting warmed up.

INTERVIEW: Final Fantasy (CAN), December 2008

This one’s a bit odd. I interviewed Owen Pallett twice – once via email and once over the phone. This is the first of the two, and one that I begrudgingly put together. I felt like he was really rude in his responses and didn’t give me a great deal to work with. By great contrast, by the time I interviewed him in 2010 he was really sweet and kind and thoughtful. Maybe it was just a matter of losing tone over the medium of text? I don’t know, but I felt I did alright here, given the circumstances. I still love this man like it’s going out of fashion. Apparently, he’s going to have a new record out soon. Make it so.

– DJY, July 2013

***

The name Owen Pallett on its own may not mean anything to your ears. It may, however, be a case of famous-by-association for many music fans: the Arcade FireThe Last Shadow PuppetsGrizzly Bear,Fucked Up and the Hidden Cameras are just some of the acts Pallett has worked with. He is very much the background player, rarely taking to any kind of limelight.

When he does get the time to create his own music, however, it is under the moniker of Final Fantasy (yes, after the video game). Back in 2005, as a self-described “nobody”, he quietly released his debut record, Has a Good Home. Then, in 2006, Pallett wowed critics with a baroque pop masterpiece follow-up, with possibly the most inelegant, antithetic possible title for such a work – He Poos Clouds. Just because it’s been such a long time since that record, however, don’t think for a second Pallett hasn’t kept himself occupied.

“Since He Poos Clouds came out, I’ve done [we can assume, at this point, he has taken a deep breath before continuing] a film score, three classical pieces, two Final Fantasy EPs and a 7”, and orchestral/string arrangements on 15 different albums,” he recalls of the past few years in an email response to FL’s questions. “I’ve also learned how to cook Thai food, which caused me to gain 5-10 pounds.”

Even amidst so many projects, Pallett still finds the time to tour Final Fantasy, which is making its way to Australia this December. The live Final Fantasy experience is that of a unique loop pedal system centralised around Pallett’s predominant instrument of choice – the violin. Owen claims that a former bandmate was responsible for introducing him to this distinctive layering technique.

“Matt Smith, of the band Nifty and my former band, Les Mouches, is pretty much 100% responsible for introducing me to looping,” Pallett explains. “He guided me through expanding my set-up, and his own looping shows with Nifty are a blessing and an inspiration.” He also notes that he no longer uses loop pedals. “I’m doing multi-phonic looping now,” he notes. “Lots of fun foot-tapping and amplifiers.”

Not just Pallett’s own work appears in his sets, either. Final Fantasy has also paid homage to several other acts, notably recent visitors to our shores, Bloc Party. A video of Pallett using his looping system to coverSilent Alarm cut This Modern Love has been viewed over 100,000 times on YouTube, and came about through mutual appreciation of one another’s work.

“Kele [Okereke, BP frontman] cited my first album as one of his favourites of 2005, which was a major compliment, considering I was a real nobody. I really liked Silent Alarm, so I started covering This Modern Love.” He also notes that when he finally met Okereke for the first time, the two were so nervous that they “had a stutter festival.” “Stuttering begets stuttering,” he states. “Did you know that?”

Don’t be expecting any further covers from Pallett if you happen along to any of the upcoming Australian shows, however. “There aren’t any new songs I’m that excited about,” he confesses. “I like [The Dream’s single] Shawty is a 10, but that was last summer. Besides, everybody is doing the novelty covers these days. The novelty has worn off.”

Another thing you probably won’t see Pallett do anytime soon is discuss his sexuality in depth. In an interview with Toronto music magazine NOW back in 2005, he stated in passing that being a homosexual, and even identifying as a queer artist, did not necessarily equate to “gay” music and/or themes. “As far as whether the music I make is gay or queer? Yeah, it comes from the fact that I’m gay, but that doesn’t mean I’m making music about it,” he ruminated to writer Sarah Liss. A request for him to reflect on this mindset at this stage in his career, a few years down the track, surprisingly, leads to a dead end. “No answer for this,” he says, before dubiously adding: “I’m not interested in  ‘gay.’”

Regardless of what the man may be currently interested in, one can safely assume that his upcoming shows (which includes an appearance at the Meredith Music Festival) will be some of the most talked-about of the festival season. Don’t miss your chance to see one of the great young minds of modern music at work.