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
Spotify || Rdio

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
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

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
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

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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2012 – A Year in the Front Row. Part One: Jan/Feb/March

So, here’s an idea I had. I go to so many damn shows, why not do a retrospective? Especially considering 2012 was easily my busiest year of gigs ever. So, here is part one of four. It’s a very brief recount of the year that was, but one I was compelled to share. Enjoy! – DJY

JANUARY

With a slew of bands still staying over from the New Year’s festivals, as well as some perfectly timed tours, my first few weeks of January 2012 were insanely busy. Within the first week alone, I’d seen old favourites Bluejuice, Italian skramz band Raein, U.S. hip-hopper Jean Grae, U.K. movers-and-shakers The Jim Jones Revue, pop-punk heroes Tonight Alive (the first of four times I’d see them this year) and mid-teen heroes The Dresden Dolls. An exhausting highlight reel of great, diverse and interesting music hanging around Sydney and Wollongong at the time.

Unfortunately, the only sour note among the lot was Jean – arriving forty minutes late on stage and proceeding to treat her fans like idiots while barely putting any effort into her rapping still ranks highly among my year’s sorest disappointments. Still, you’ve got to take the good with the bad – and, there was so much good to take.

In particular, I point to the Dresden Dolls show at the Enmore Theatre as still one of the best shows I went to this year. For two-and-a-half hours, I partied like it was 2006 and celebrated the reunion of one of my biggest high-school obsessions. Having seen Amanda solo twice before, I already had an idea of what to expect – but bringing drummer Brian Viglione into the mix sent the entire affair to strange new levels. A great one to tick off the bucket list.

Not long after that, I was headed to Melbourne for the first time ever. I had the honour of playing with former A Death in the Family vocalist/guitarist Jamie Hay – eerily enough, on Friday the 13th, the day that AditF had announced their split. He didn’t let the news get in the way of a phenomenal performance, thankfully. The weekend immediately following this show lead to my main purpose of visiting Melbourne – Sugar Mountain.

An awesome initiative from Two Bright Lakes, this night was the first of three times I would see percussive adventurers tUnE-yArDs in this month. Getting to see the delightful Deerhoof and the blistering Thee Oh Sees was the icing on an already delicious cake. The next night at the Corner Hotel, I got to see tUnE-yArDs doing her thing once again. I appreciated a total switch-up of her live set – she even started on the same song that she had closed with the day before, and vice versa! My final time seeing her was a day after returning home, at the Famous Spiegeltent as a part of the 2012 Sydney Festival. I also managed to sneak in a breathtaking set from U.K. chanteuse Beth Orton at City Recital Hall for the Festival, too. Gotta be happy with that.

Onto a far-less cultured festival, the one and only Big Day Out. I only managed to get in a single sideshow this time, but it was more than worth it. Battles shook the foundations of the Metro Theatre like nobody’s business. Having now seen these guys 4 times, I can affirm their status as mind-melting musos that you could watch individually for a set’s entirety and not get bored. That said, their MVP is unquestonably Mr. John Stanier. ‘Tis no man! ‘Tis a drumming machine! Onto the BDO itself: Highlights included the bombastic Kanye headlining set, the world-class rock & roll of Soundgarden, Cage the Elephant and My Chemical Romance and the insane celebratory dance party of Girl Talk. Despite relatively poor ticket sales, BDO was a tonne of fun.

The month finished with a quick visit to Wollongong for day 2 of the Stacked Music Festival. Although I attended almost exclusively for Sydney legends Gay Paris, there were also a few treats thrown in for good measure – local champions The Conspiracy Plan, brattish post-punks Chicks Who Love Guns and the always-delightful folk-rockers The Pennys.

TOP 5:

  1. The Dresden Dolls
  2. tUnE-yArDs
  3. Kanye West
  4. Battles
  5. Jamie Hay

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Jean Grae, plus the shitty local band that opened for Tonight Alive whose name escapes me.

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FEBRUARY

I was eased into February quite nicely by one of my favourite events in Blood, Sweat and Beers. This show would mark the first of many times I would see positive-thinking pop-rockers Milhouse, as well as sets from Canberran bong-ripping favourites I Exist, Tassie boys Luca Brasi, country bumpkins Wagons and the brilliant Harmony. With Laneway in town, I caught a sideshow for Canadian sensation Leslie Feist, although admittedly I was going almost exclusively for her support in the delightful Mountain Man. These sweet-singing ladies subsequently wiped the floor with Feist herself, who was half-an-hour late on stage and caught up in her own self indulgences too much to make this show worthwhile.

I then returned to my second home of the Annandale Hotel for three shows headlined by Michigan post-hardcore cult heroes La Dispute. These shows were just as inspiring and engaging as the very first time I saw them back in 2009, but for very different reasons. The 2009 shows were inspiring on account of an American band doing a completely D.I.Y. Australian tour that was done out a pure love for what they do as a band.

These shows were inspiring on account of seeing a relatively little-known band playing a very unfriendly style of music managing to pack out the Annandale for three shows with a huge, hungry and wildly boisterous audience. In other words, they’ve more or less arrived in Australia. We also got some fantastic local supports at these shows: Let Me Down Jungleman, Hira Hira (shout out to Jack Wotton for doing double duty!), Perspectives, Between the Devil and the Deep, Making and the late, great Animal Shapes.

Nearing the end of the month, I got to spend some quality time with some of my songwriting heroes – namely, Dan Mangan and Ben Gibbard. The former played a wondrously joyful set at Notes in Newtown, while the latter lead his band (and one of my all-time favourites), Death Cab for Cutie, into a second headlining show at the Enmore Theatre just up the road. Despite an annoying, iPhone-ready audience, I still had a great time at my third Death Cab show.

Sandwiched in-between Dan and DcfC was SoundDave, a DIY all-day festival held at another one of my Sydney “homes,” Black Wire Records, curated by Milhouse/Between the Devil and the Deep bassist/FBi radio personality/all-round heartthrob Dave Drayton. I was a volunteer for the entire day, and was so happy to be involved. Highlights including decidedly bitchin’ sets from Epics, Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt and Surprise Wasp, fronted by Gay Paris bassist Dean “Slim Pickin’s” Podmore. Top stuff.

Although I gave Soundwave a miss, I still managed to wrap up the month with two great “Sidewaves” at the Metro Theatre. The first was the final Sydney show from Thursday, a band that I will gladly admit meant a hell of a lot more to most people in that room than me. I was a late bloomer for Thursday, only really getting into them later in high school. And I was a War All the Time guy, as opposed to a Full Collapse guy, which was the album they were playing in its entirety. Even so, I came out of that show with a mountain of respect for what they accomplished in their time, and it was an honour to be a part of it. Finally getting to see Circa Survive live was also a treat.

A few days later, on a rare February 29th, I got a triple-horned hardcore treat with Enter Shikari, letlive. and Your Demise. Each put on a great set with their own style and energy, but I’d be kidding myself if I wasn’t there to get properly mental to letlive. After discovering them in mid-2011, I vowed that I’d be front row centre as soon as they toured. And so it was – I screamed, I jumped, I climbed on things and I essentially acted all of the ways a 21-year-old really, really shouldn’t. And it was GLORIOUS.

TOP 5:

  1. La Dispute
  2. Dan Mangan
  3. letlive.
  4. Death Cab for Cutie
  5. I Exist

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Feist. Sorry, babe. Maybe next time.

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MARCH

A pinch, a punch and some motherfucking MASTODON for the first of the month! Don’t mind if I do, thanks. With French destroyers Gojira and Norwegian warriors Kvelertak in tow, my brother Chris and I were treated to one of the most brutal shows I’ve seen all year. This was also the first of three shows at new Sydney venue The Hi-Fi I would attend this month, and all within a few days of one another. The very next day, I saw the delightful Ben Kweller doing his thing, while on the Sunday I’d finally get to see Manchester Orchestra live. Along with my ridiculously similar appearance to Andy Hull, I love all of their albums, especially Mean Everything to Nothing. Watching the band play “Everything to Nothing” live is one of the few gig moments from 2012 where I’ve actually teared up. Truly incredible stuff.

With Future Music Festival in town, I had yet another chance to see Die Antwoord after catching them at both the 2011 Big Day Out and at their show with M.I.A. the very next day, at which they completely blew her off the stage. Here, I found them in the illustrious surrounds of the Enmore, which was decidedly packed full of people from the Zef Side of Sydney. Despite going on late, they put on a truly fantastic show – bounding energy and a seemingly endless supply of bangers.

Next up was a return to Black Wire, to see the hilarious Battle Pope get rowdy along with Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt, The Reverend Jesse Custer and Jesus Christ Posse. Right there is four of my favourite heavy bands in the country, so that was more or less a dream come true. Another festival in March was Golden Plains, and from the cool streets of Portland came the femme-fatale quartet of Wild Flag. Lots of dancing to be had at their show at the Manning Bar with Love of Diagrams and impressive upstarts Unity Floors.

I’ve had the chance to do multiple shows on tours a few times this year, as evidenced back in February with La Dispute. These next two shows would be the first of two times I’d double up on some Children Collide action this year, bringing my grand total to nine times of seeing them live. For what it’s worth, they never let me down. Although the turnout for their Metro Theatre show was abysmal, they packed out the Patch in Wollongong and put on a truly hectic show for all involved.

During the final song, I decided to flip myself off the foldback and into the crowd. Half-expecting to fall to the ground, I ended up being carried all the way to the back of the venue, eventually toppling downward in-front of my bug-eyed sister, who could not believe her baby brother had just crowdsurfed like an absolute champion. Good times. Shout out to the killer supports, Deep Sea Arcade and Palms.

Nearing the end of the month, I was back at Black Wire to see two of my favourite Australian musicians, and people that I’m honoured to count as friends – Jamie Hay and Jen Buxton. I also had the pleasure of meeting Jen’s little dude, Eli. He has the biggest cheeks I’ve ever seen. I showed a world of restraint for not just sinking my teeth directly into them. Don’t tell her I said that, of course.

Oh yeah, I also saw Evanescence. The less said about that, the better. At least Blaqk Audio were pretty good.

TOP 5:

  1. Manchester Orchestra
  2. Mastodon
  3. Die Antwoord
  4. Children Collide
  5. Jamie Hay and Jen Buxton

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Evanescence. Childhood memories tainted forever by this soulless display of mediocrity.