The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part Two: 80 – 61

In case you missed out on part one, you can check out the previous 20 songs here. If not, then let’s get right back into it…

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80. Manchester Orchestra – Top Notch

Four albums in and Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull is still searching. Not just for himself, or some kind of greater truth; but for what can be found and what can be learned in the ways other people. He remains one of the poignant and powerful voices within contemporary indie rock, and this is cemented with the resolute, belligerent opener to April’s Cope. An occasionally-cacophonous affair, Hull remains centred at its core. “I know there’s no way to fix it” isn’t a line delivered with despair – it’s a line delivered with acceptance. The search continues.

79. sleepmakeswaves – Something Like Avalanches

The last twelve months have seen sleepmakeswaves translate their cult status among fans of local music into something far greater than any of them could have anticipated: top 40 chart positions, ARIA and Triple J award nominations and a reputation as our single greatest post-rock export. At the centre of this has been “Something Like Avalanches,” which lead us into their exceptional Love of Cartography while also serving as quite possibly their single finest moment. Its whisper-to-shout progressions, seemingly-endless array of left-hooks and bursts of energy tidily summarise why we’re dealing with one of Australia’s most important bands right now.

78. Run the Jewels feat. Zach de la Rocha – Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)

A hip-hop behemoth, an effortlessly-cool underground king and one of the true rock revolutionaries of the 90s – what could possibly go wrong? On what was one of the year’s most badass numbers, Mike and Jaime bark with authoritative force over malfunctioning, bass-gurgling beats; dropping references to everything from Al Pacino to The Anarchist Cookbook. This all happens before leading in the former Rage Against the Machine frontman on a verse that is potentially his most vital since The Battle of Los Angeles a whole fifteen years ago. Old dogs, new tricks and a certified banger to show for it.

77. Mere Women – Our Street

The idea of impermanence within the confines of a relationship isn’t something that’s often brought up in songwriting – we’re either at blossoming, tender beginnings or the hateful, bitter end. “Our Street” is a song that looks at that moment where you see the end in sight – the hook of “I’ve walked down this street so many times” is one of both familiarity and frustration through boredom. It’s backed by some of the best guitar sound on any record in 2014; as well as a minimal but noticeable shade of accessibility shining through the band’s art-rock exterior. Misery loves company.

76. The Decemberists – Make You Better

Colin Meloy’s days of drowning children, barrow boys and giant whales are behind him. That’s not to suggest that he’s lost any of his imagination in his hyper-literate songwriting, but more that he’s focused back in on reality. On his band’s first single in four years, he guides his acclaimed wordplay through a romance that seeks co-dependence and relit flames while maintaining an honesty about what it all means. It’s unpretentious in its delivery, and yet it still leaves an impact just as strong as any of their more melodramatic numbers. A great mind of modern music has rebooted.

75. The New Pornographers – Champions of Red Wine

Less than a year after dropping an exceptional solo LP, Neko Case was at it again; this time with the Canadian collective she made her name with all those years ago. Years have passed since the last Pornos offering, and yet it immediately falls back into place; albeit with slightly different surroundings. An earth-orbiting synthesizer leads the fray; which weaves in and out of a washed-out acoustic guitar, a sturdy kick-kick-snare backbeat and some truly beautiful vocal interplay between Case and A.C. Newman over a wordless Irish-folk-flavoured refrain. No time for losers – The New Pornographers are still the champions.

74. Modern Baseball – Two Good Things

Detached, disillusioned, dissatisfied, dissociative… this, people, is how youth of today are feeling. Modern Baseball did a better job than most (if not all) of reflecting this on You’re Gonna Miss It All, providing a song that’s both endlessly quotable (“Mathematically, that can’t be more than one end of a candle/Bottom of the night, can’t find my socks”) and meticulously crafted. As one of the more subdued moments of the album, it recalls The Weakerthans in structure, while also alluding to doo-wop (see the “da-da-da” rounds following the first verse) and late-2000s pop-punk. Here they are now – entertain them.

73. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – Divorce and the American South

Last year, Dan Campbell was asking himself “Did I fuck up?” on The Wonder Years’ “Passing Through a Screen Door.” Here, he flat-out confesses “I’m a fuck-up.” Well, sort of: He’s saying it as Aaron West, the titular character of his solo project. West pleads with his estranged wife on an answering machine, revealing more of his inner turmoil than he’d care to do in person. Little else touches Campbell’s solo performance, but they’re justified inclusions – pedal steel adds guiding lights to this sad country song; while a lone trumpet sounds out the finale with a trace of hope.

72. Hilltop Hoods – Cosby Sweater

Without getting into too much detail, it wasn’t a great year for Bill Cosby. His choice of clothing from the 80s, however, was doing just fine. Alluding to a famous photo of Biggie Smalls wearing the titular jumper, the Hoods returned to the limelight with one of their most fun singles yet from a thoroughly-consistent new album (a rarity if said album is your seventh). If the rollicking beat wasn’t enough, the energy and tongue-in-cheek cultural references (Oprah, Pat Benatar, chess legend Bobby Fischer) from MCs Suffa and Pressure ensured that it went over the line. And it’s all good.

71. Taylor Swift – Shake It Off

70. Death From Above 1979 – White is Red

A teenage romance ending in tragedy is as old as the hills – and even they’re sick of hearing “Last Kiss” over and over. It’s an intriguing concept, though, when it comes from a band normally inclined to skip the foreplay – their last album was called You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, for shit’s sake. “White is Red” recalls love turned sour on a late-night runaway drive going anywhere. It’s sprinkled with clear influence of heartland-rock storytelling, yet delivered in a manner best paralleled with the band’s “Black History Month.” A colourful song that also revels in its darkness.

69. Future Islands – Doves

Releasing the doves has always been a grandiose gesture going well over the borderline of the flat-out ridiculous. This kind of theatricality is brought to mind by the title alone of this cut from Future Islands’ fourth studio album, so imagine what happens when it actually kicks in with its arena-sized snare flams and John Oates synth-chimes. It’s yet another example of the band potentially coming off as too out-there, too cheesy, too goofy… and then just nailing it entirely. A pop smash best served with that slithery dance move Samuel T. Herring does that recalls SNL‘s “sloppy swish” sketch.

68. Royal Blood – Little Monster

The backlash for rock’s next big thing arrived just as quickly as the cover stories and Dave Grohl soundbites proclaiming them to be saviours of the genre. Wherever you ended up on the spectrum, it was hard to ignore a track like “Little Monster” – if for no other reason that it was a loud motherfuckin’ song. A hybrid of QOTSA at their most stoner-metal meeting Muse at their ballsiest, the track simultaneously kicks up dust and kicks out the jams. “You say you got nothing/So come out and get some,” offers bassist/vocalist Mike Kerr. Don’t mind if we do.

67. Slipknot – Custer

Dun-dun-da, dun-dun-da, dun-dun-da-da-da. It might look like a slap-dash use of onomatopoeia, but it served as a dog whistle to metal fans returning to the world of Iowa’s premier nu-metal survivors. Genre politics aside, the fact that the band is still standing at all after all they have been through is a miracle unto itself. To deliver a song like this, however – an all-guns-blazing sensory assault that makes a song like “People = Shit” sound like Jack Johnson – surely cements them as a band that have paid their dues in full and one that deserves far more credit.

66. Collarbones – Turning

It’s always important to note the creativity in each single from Collarbones: What can initially seem like something that’s going to collapse into itself steadily and surely turns itself into a pop-and-locking wonderland. It’s as if they’ve rearranged puzzle pieces where they were clearly not originally intended to go and created a different picture entirely. In this instance, it’s a choppy, jolting slice of electro-pop that’s as much rnb come-ons as it is Macbook-hunched techno. “You make me feel like someone new,” sings out Marcus Whale – and it’s enough to get you excited for who they may be next.

65. Jenny Lewis – Just One of the Guys

We’re past the casual sex and the pained relationships of Jenny Lewis’ days in Rilo Kiley. As she approaches 40, she finds herself considering her own position in relation to her friends, her public perception and the supposed ticking clock following her around. Of course, we all know that Lewis is far more than “just another lady without a baby,” as she puts it; but it’s hearing her come to that conclusion on her own accord that makes this dreamy pop number all the more worthwhile. Now, about that tour with Kristen Stewart and Anne Hathaway as her backing band…

64. Weezer – Back to the Shack

The first words out of Rivers Cuomo’s mouth on Weezer’s first single in four years are “Sorry, guys.” No shit. Who’d have thought the man responsible for Make Believe and Raditude would be rushing to make amends with the die-hards? Perhaps it was their extensive touring of The Blue Album that made him reconsider what makes a great Weezer song, but the mojo is very much swinging in this two-chord rocker. “Maybe I should play the lead guitar,” he considers, “and Pat should play the drums.” They do just that, and we’re rocking out like it’s ’94 all over again.

63. Oslow – Cliffy

Cliff Young – aka Cliffy – was an Australian power-walker who won a marathon with a simple but clearly-effective shuffling method. Whether this was an influence on the third single from Oslow’s exceptional second EP is anyone’s guess, but a) It’s fun to speculate; and b) It’s reflected in the band’s focus on the groove and the spaces that go between each note as opposed to filling every gap. Oslow are clearly winning the race when it comes to the field of forward-thinking indie-rock emerging from Australia, so you’d best catch up – at your own pace, of course.

62. TV on the Radio – Careful You

One of the more understated romantics in alternative music singing in French? That’s how you do it. TV on the Radio have rarely shied away from romance in the past, ranging from the yearning (“Will Do”) to the R-rated (“Wear You Out”). It’s a little more subdued here, with Tunde Adebimpe sending his heart-on-sleeve lyricism into the ether with cooing keys, buzzing bass and some truly old-school drum machine loops. This is how TV on the Radio enters their forties – not with a whimper, nor with a bang, but with a kiss. Stop the world and melt with them.

61. La Dispute – For Mayor in Splitsville

Each room in the house that was conceptually centred around the band’s third album – titled, er, Rooms of the House – allowed vocalist Jordan Dreyer to explore memories, lost lives and a seemingly-forgotten past that’s slowly pieced together. At this point, he’s come across a particularly-ruined space, triggering memories of his childhood, as well as both the proverbial and literal tonne of bricks that came crashing down in the demise of his adult life. It’s clear that when he screams “I guess, in the end, we just move furniture around,” he’s not just talking a couch and a chair.

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60 – 41

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2012 – A Year in the Front Row. Part Two: April/May/June

Jan // Feb // Mar
Jul // Aug // Sep

APRIL

It’s somewhat fitting that I saw Hands Like Houses play a show on April Fool’s Day. Despite international acclaim and touring, they proved to be one of the most lifeless and uninspired bands I’ve seen live this year. What a joke. Still, at least I got to see Sound of Seasons tear it up at that show. Great live act, those kids. Onto the gorgeous surrounds of the Enmore, where I was fortunate enough to see ska legends The Specials tear the joint a new one. This was honestly one of the most energetic shows I went to in all of 2012 – I had no idea things would get this wild! For nearly two hours a solid crowd of roughly 1500, the band tore through their classics with all the energy and vitality that came with their release some thirty years ago. What a treat, what an honour. Definitely a major year highlight.

Milhouse launched their debut seven-inch in style, with a show at the venue they’re practically the house band of now: Black Wire Records. A very fun night indeed. The very next day, I had the chance of doubling up on a tour yet again – this time, twice in one day. Brisbane brats Bleeding Knees Club were playing in the afternoon in Sydney before playing that night in Wollongong. While it was fun to watch some kids going completely mental at what was quite possibly their first gig, the Gong show was something else entirely. Shit got decidedly loose, especially when local legend Jack Reilly got on stage with the boys to tear through a blink-182 cover. Oh, what a night!

With the Dig It Up! Festival in town, I had the chance to see the legendary Redd Kross play their cracking debut album, Born Innocent, in its entirety. While the Oxford Art Factory isn’t usually a great rock venue, this was the perfect room for these guys to thrash through the album and bring to life their wild younger years. Getting to press the flesh with the legendary Steve McDonald was also a total honour. A few days later, I was back at the same venue to see Brissie ex-pats An Horse play a rare Sydney show. A great audience and some top-shelf songs – wish these guys came back more often. Finally, I wrapped up the month with a show at Yours & Owls, which you’ll be hearing plenty more of later in the year. Here, I got to check out the frighteningly good Adelaide crew Night Hag grind to their heart’s content, with ample support from The Reverend Jesse Custer and Endeavours. Good times.

TOP 5:

  1. The Specials
  2. Redd Kross
  3. An Horse
  4. Bleeding Knees Club
  5. Night Hag

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Hands Like Houses. For all the hype, potentially the blandest band in all the land.

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MAY

Holy fuck. What a heavyweight month this was! Aside from maybe November, I can’t think of another period where I saw such incredible music being performed at such a consistent rate. An exhausting, exhilarating and life-affirming time in 2012. I kicked things off by farewelling The Butterfly Effect‘s vocalist, Clint Boge, with their final Sydney show with him at the UNSW Roundhouse. I’ll be the first to admit how daggy this lot can be, but I decided early on that I’d get there early, get the barrier and party like it was 2006. What a fun show this was, a complete nostalgia trip and a great send-off to a band that genuinely meant the world to me back in my mid-teens. Excellent fun, probably more than I should be admitting.

The next night saw me regain some of my “cred” by attending a packed-out show from the wonderful Frank Turner. In support was folk-punk’s first lady Jen Buxton, your new favourite punks The Smith Street Band and the jolly travelling bluesman William Elliott Whitmore. All four acts put on sets that superlatives simply cannot do justice to. It was a night to celebrate the arrival, if you will, of Frank. After selling out Wembley, he came to Australia with high spirits and an arsenal of anthems spanning all four of his albums. This man is honestly one of the reasons why I make music, so it truly was an honour to watch him bring his fervent folk-punk energy to the Manning Bar. You had to be there to get it.

Groovin’ the Moo – bit of a rubbish festival, but they bring the goods every now and then. Case in point: City and Colour & Wavves, who both put on great shows in Sydney. Having never seen C&C as a live band, it was quite fulfilling to hear so many tracks that I’ve loved over the years come to life so classily. Dallas is a great performer, understated and charming. I really appreciated the fact he asked everyone to put away their camera phones – one of my biggest vices at shows, so it was nice to get a break from it, however momentary. Although a totally different style of performer, Nathan Williams (aka Wavves) put on a cracking hour set at the Oxford Art Factory. All the best tracks from his own arsenal, plus a Sonic Youth cover (100%) and some gut-bustingly funny inside jokes made this a super-fun show.

Nearing the end of the month meant shit got increasingly more real. And it doesn’t get more freakin’ real than Prince. Holy shit, this was a spectacle and a half. To walk in and see the Allphones turned into a house of purple – complete with a stage shaped like Prince’s symbol – was breathtaking enough. Then, he decides to make things even more insane by OPENING with a fifteen-minute version of Purple Rain. Read again: OPENING with that. Where do you go from there, exactly? Pretty simple: Hit after hit after hit. This was a joyous, funky thing to be a part of; and I’m so glad I got that chance. Truly memorable stuff right there.

Following on from that, I got to see two long-time live favourites across two consecutive nights at the Patch – Dead Letter Circus and Tonight Alive. The former brought a meaty, volatile crowd with them; which was to be expected, really. Thankfully, I had myself a nice spot on the corner of the front row, tucked away and just enjoying their groovy tunes. Great live act, only getting better. As for Tonight Alive, this was the start of a pretty special run of shows with those guys – one show in Wollongong and two shows in Sydney, as a part of their final Australian tour for the year.

I always love these shows, if anything just for the company that comes with them and the incredible circle of people I’ve met through the band and its fans. It gets better, however: My boys in Totally Unicorn were the opening act, which meant that they got to terrorise a bunch of unsuspecting pop-punk kids and blow their freakin’ minds. All three shows had their good points, but the highlight of the bunch was easily the all-ages show at the Factory Theatre. There’s just something about AA Tonight Alive shows that have such an unshakable energy to them. The crowd is always mental, the kids up the front know the score and we can all go mental in unison. I usually have a pretty low tolerance level of AA crowds, but this was totally fine. In fact, it enhanced the experience.

May ended with not so much a bang as an absolute freak explosion. Two words: Janelle. Monae. Friends from across the country came out for this one, as the petite dynamo turned the Opera House concert hall into a next-level party. I can’t begin to tell you how much I needed this fucking show. After admiring Janelle for over two years, it was a complete thrill to finally get the chance to see her and her electric band do their thing, playing songs that still meant the absolute world to me like they did when they first came out. All roads truly felt like they lead to this very show. I can’t really give you much more detail than that. It was out of this world. Amazing. Life-changing. Pretty damn sure this was the one. As awesome as the rest of the year was, nothing quite compared to this night, these songs and this moment in time.

TOP 5:

  1. Janelle Monae
  2. Prince
  3. Frank Turner
  4. The Butterfly Effect
  5. Tonight Alive

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Young Guns, the main support for Tonight Alive. Sorry, lads; you seemed lovely but you were trying to do an arena show to an audience of about 50 people and it really didn’t work in your favour.

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JUNE

By contast, June was actually one of my quietest gig months. Not that it was a barren wasteland or anything, but I felt like a senior citizen compared to my frequent travels of the month prior. Even so, I probably needed the break more than I was willing to admit. I eased back into gigging post-Janelle (or PJ, as I so measure my life these days) with a small gig at Goodgod, one of my favourite new Sydney venues. My chums in Mrs. Bishop were launching a new single, and it was great to catch up with them and bask in their cooing harmonies. The week after, I bid farewell to an old mate in Trial Kennedy, who decided to notch up the nostalgia factor a little extra by adding After the Fall to the line-up. Getting in one last sing-along to Damage on Parade was a year highlight, as was the chance to FINALLY hear Mississippi Burn live; which is my all-time favourite TK song.

After having a ball (pardon the pun) at her last show in 2010, there was no way I was going to miss Lady Gaga on her Born This Way Ball tour. Although I wasn’t as big a fan of BTW as I was of her previous efforts, this was still an absolutely awesome show, full of wonder and big pop sing-alongs – which, if you know me well enough, are pretty much my bread and butter. The thing I love about big-arse pop shows like this one are that, even if it’s only for just a couple of hours, you can escape from whatever’s going on in your life and dive headfirst into a whole new world, Aladdin style. Gaga is a great entertainer and someone who can keep up energy levels like few others can. It’s truly a sight to see. Put aside your doubts and try it out sometime.

The end of the month came quickly, with two more shows before it was done. First was a trip all the way out to Epping, where I ended up at a cafe called Pablo’s in order to see my dear buddies in Collarbones and Fishing; as well as Dappled Cities side-project Swimwear. This was put on by The Gate, aka Joe Hardy, who puts in great efforts to bring great original live music to unconventional places. The show was an absolute treat for the senses, squishing in with a stack of other music lovers to soak up some glitchy goodness. You KNOW a show’s gone well when it ends with an en-masse sing-along to Jenny From the Block. Finally, there was my dear old buddy Jonathan Boulet, hitting the big time with his largest hometown show ever at the Metro Theatre. Having followed his work for years across all of his projects, to see this show go so well was a big thing for me. Jono continues to amaze and inspire with his work, and his live shows (starring his remarkably handsome band) are no exception. Good times!

TOP 5:

  1. Lady Gaga
  2. Trial Kennedy
  3. Jonathan Boulet
  4. Fishing
  5. Mrs Bishop

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: None! Everyone ruled! How good is that?