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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The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part One: 100 – 81

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We’re back once again with a retrospective on the year that was. Here are the 100 songs that made my year – not only the building blocks for my musical experiences, but my personal ones too. It’s been a pretty amazing time to be a music fan, as all of these songs will attest to.

Before you go any further, I compiled a supplementary playlist of 50 songs I really enjoyed in 2014 that just missed out on the top 100. You can stream it over at Spotify by either clicking here or streaming directly below:

Once again, I have to preface that you are completely allowed to not enjoy all of the songs on offer here. Or even any of them, for that matter. I do put it to you, however, that nothing here is “wrong” just because you’re not a fan of it personally or if something you do like doesn’t appear. If you feel so strongly, why not make a list of your own? I double dare you.

It begins…

– David James Young, December 2014

***

100. Corpus – Awash with Monotone

Feeling everything and nothing all at the same time. It’s truly one of the more difficult feelings to describe; leaving Sydney duo Corpus to enter the colour scheme and add a little synaesthesia to the mix of their cathartic, tense blend of third-wave post-hardcore and millennium-turn alt-rock. It projects a sense of distance and immediate proximity; of immeasurable loss and momentous gain. Not telling you all – and yet, in doing so, telling more than one might have ever suspected. “Awash with Monotone” is stuck in a moment – and, thanks to some masterful songcraft, it comes out alive.

99. Childish Gambino – Sober

Donald Glover is gonna just keep on doing Donald Glover. You get the feeling that he was going to be doing that anyway, regardless of whether anyone was listening or not. After ending out 2013 with because the internet, which folks either destroyed or called album of the year, the artist formerly known as Troy dropped both a mixtape and a new EP within immediate succession of one another. This end-of-summer rnb bliss release proved to be the pick of the litter, particularly when the pitch-shifted outro throws a smart, avant-garde curveball. Now we’re so high.

98. The Felice Brothers – Cherry Licorice

“I don’t care if it sounds ridic’lous!” sneers Ian Felice after announcing that the song’s title is all he’s interested in chewing on. Nor should he – as a matter of fact, “Cherry Licorice” could well be one of the most carefree songs of the year. Landing somewhere in the middle between Bob Dylan and Bright Eyes, there’s a simple joy to be had here: With its warm accordion and jangly guitar, the brothers offered up some particularly pleasant confectionery. Bonus points for rhyming ‘ladies and gents’ with ‘excrement,’ while we’re at it.

97. Die! Die! Die! – Get Hit

Two words. Six letters. An endless cycle of repetition. After awhile, “Get Hit” becomes more than a song title and a chorus – it’s a mantra; a cathartic cry out at those that are holding you back or holding you down. It exists on a vicious cycle, and there’s no getting off. Each snare roll sounds like a haymaker to the jaw, while Andrew Wilson laments over the ultra-violence with radiating guitar noise. The Dunedin natives have rarely sounded this dark, this brooding or this flat-out furious on record before. Furthermore, they’ve rarely sounded this good.

96. Chet Faker – Cigarettes and Loneliness

We all know what a love song sounds like. You’ve heard them on the radio, you’ve sung along to them… hell, you might have even written a couple yourself. This, conversely, is what a “love without love” song sounds like. Faker revels in his thinly-veiled non-chalance during the track’s verses before letting a bit of that heartbreak out as the song progresses – a little bit here and there, until he’s basically on his knees and openly mourning his failed, unrequited love without love. “Cigarettes and Loneliness” is the sound of a man falling apart.

95. Jacob feat. Luke Hughes – Floors

Much like Nicholas Cage, “Floors” is gone in 60 seconds. It does a lot more in that time, however, than Cage ever managed with that lousy remake of his. Odes to a life on the road are nothing new (what’s up, Willie Nelson?), but the vantage point of knowing that there’s always a show to be playing somewhere adds hope and a new perspective into the mix. Luke Hughes, frontman for the late, great Thesis, subsequently bowls the track over entirely with a roared refrain that is delivered with both love and hate. That’s touring for you.

94. Pixies – Snakes

If you asked “How many people thought the new Pixies album was terrible?” you’d get a raised hand from more or less everyone in the room. Were you to follow that up with “How many people actually heard the new Pixies album?,” however, the majority of those hands would be gone from the air. Yes, the proto-grunge legends somehow ended up as underdogs in 2014; but amid the backlash came this left-of-centre gem. Boasting some outstanding guitar work from Joey Santiago and some classic Black Francis weirdness, there was more to the Pixies 2.0 than met the eye.

93. Angus & Julia Stone – Heart Beats Slow

In their time away from the shared spotlight, both Angus and Julia released solo albums. While both had their merits, they also proved that there’s something truly special about their work together. The songwriting is stronger, the vocals tessellate brilliantly and the left knows exactly what the right is doing at all times. It’s as if they exist in a hive mind. It would certainly explain how a track like “Heart Beats Slow” comes so naturally to the siblings – with its drawn-out groove and reggae-tinged rhythm, it brought in the gentle breeze of familiarity and sent us sailing once again.

92. Broken Bells – After the Disco

10 years removed from The Grey Album, Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton is still finding new ways to push the proverbial envelope and challenge his listeners in his approach to both songwriting and production. Indeed, “After the Disco” almost sounds like one of his famed mash-ups – a dash of the Shins, a Chic beat, some prog-rock keys and a Queen bass-line. A potential mess, the song instead lets its colours run into something truly beautiful. What was initially thought to be a one-off between Burton and James Mercer back in 2010 has found life again – and what a life.

91. Passenger – Heart’s on Fire

It may be clear to all and sundry that a certain song stands as what pushed humble busker Mike Rosenberg into international superstar Passenger. The cracks certainly began to show, however, with this live favourite – often performed alongside Ed Sheeran and inevitably one of the more tender, beautiful moments of any Passenger set. Its premise is one that’s so simple, it could have come from anywhere – Cut Copy even attempted it several years prior with the apostrophe removed. That is, of course, until Rosenberg begins to sing. It’s clear, then, that it came from the heart. Directly.

90. Angus & Julia Stone – A Heartbreak

The Stones are often classified under the banner of folk rock, but it’s rare that a song of theirs is able to be considered as more of the latter than the former. That’s where “A Heartbreak” emerges, here serving as both the opening number to their self-titled third LP and a potential mission statement. The song is simply resplendent in its aphotic corners, muted guitars and stomping drums. The blunt yet understated lyrical content further indulges the two in their collective darkside – at the very least, they indicate that we’re not on that big jet plane anymore.

89. La Roux – Kiss and Not Tell

Elly Jackson arrived late in the game of the 2000s – figuratively within its final months – but was there just in time to drop in classics of the decade such as “In For the Kill” and “Bulletproof.” There weren’t any new classics to be found on La Roux’s second album, but there didn’t need to be. Honestly, Jackson simply sounded happy to be back making music under the moniker again. Here, she further immerses herself in synth-pop with flourishes of early Depeche Mode, a pinch of ABC and some classic La Roux ambiguity. It feels like home once again.

88. Ed Sheeran – Don’t

The second single from Sheeran’s chart-smashing x (say it “multiply”) raised a lot of questions to a lot of different people. “Is it about Taylor?” openly pondered the screaming teenage girls that make up a fair slice of the pie chart detailing his demographic. “Is it about Ellie?” tweeted the twenty-somethings supposedly above teen fandom and yet unable to help themselves in a little gossip. The most important question came, though, from true pop afficionados: “Exactly what more will it take to prove that this kid isn’t fucking around?” A career-best single from a career that is still yet blooming.

87. Hockey Dad – Beach House

The term “sports-montage rock” is often used as derogatory slang for lifeless, paint-by-numbers music that blends into the background of tackling, goal-scoring and cheering footage. This is only being brought up to preface something that must be said without any intent to insult: “Beach House” needs to be incorporated into a skate video and it needs to be done post-haste. This scorcher is a blend of Vampire Weekend hooks (“Ay! Ay! Ay!”), Wavves guitar tone and bounding, youthful exuberance. Oh, and it would be totes wicked rad if there were some kickflips to go with it.

86. Postblue – Pig

Kids have seemingly always been in bands that ape the musical stylings of a movement they either weren’t alive for or are far too young to remember directly. This, of course, doesn’t mean that those acts should be directly dismissed – it’s not the influences, per se, but what a band does with them. In regards to Melbourne-via-Byron’s Postblue, it means taking the definitive traits of the grunge era – snarling vocals, Big Muff pedal stomps and smart loud-quiet-loud dynamics – and wheezing some fresh air into them. It’s been done, sure, but right now no-one’s doing it better.

85. Latham’s Grip – Anyone Else

Anyone who’s been in a rock band can attest to that unbeatable moment where an instrumental break is being jammed upon, the eyes connect around the room and, without a word being said, it just keeps on going. That’s a huge part of “Anyone Else,” and it makes the song all that much stronger. Where many bands would cut off, Latham’s Grip push until they get through to the other side. It works wonders on what’s already an exceptional cut of garage-dwelling alt-rock. “All I’ve got is who I am,” laments vocalist Jesse Hepplewhite at one point. Sometimes, that’s more than enough.

84. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah feat. Matt Berninger – Coming Down

Where did we lose Alec Ounsworth? The foundations of the little Brooklyn band that could came crumbling sometime after 2007’s Some Loud Thunder, but its leader never gave up hope – even when figuratively the entire band left. The road to redemption begins here, with what is easily the project’s strongest single since “Satan Said Dance.” A buzzing rhythm section matches up with churning post-punk guitar as Ounsworth pours his peculiar brand of paranoia over the top. Later, The National’s Matt Berninger turns up to offer an even gloomier viewpoint; and the class of 2005 lives on somehow.

83. Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk

Mark Ronson rocking up all non-chalantly with a single in November is basically like that Bill Murray cameo in Space Jam – you didn’t see it coming and it took most of the run-time to actually happen, but it’s what you’re going to remember it for. Along for the ride is your boy Bruno Mars – once a fedora-tipping lovesick puppy, now a swagged-out smooth operator calling the shots. “Uptown Funk” is Prince, it’s Sly and the Family Stone and it’s James Brown, but there’s something more important about it. It’s the trumpets sounding the return of the king.

82. FKA twigs – Two Weeks

This ain’t no Grizzly Bear cover. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around. Over a dizzying, clattered trap beat, twigs approaches her lover in the song’s lyrics with all the subtlety and nuance of a Prince record – the mix makes it feel as though she’s practically singing directly into his ear and we’re eavesdroppers. Who’d have guessed that an ode to stoned, bestial sex would wind up as one of the sexiest-sounding songs of the year? FKA twigs has rightfully emerged atop the throne after some promising leadups to her debut. Your move, motherfuckers.

81. Röyksopp & Robyn – Sayit

Scandinavians having sex with robots? Sure, why not. An adults-only sequel to the pairing’s original collaboration, 2007’s “Girl and the Robot,” things get decidedly hot and heavy this time around – even with a strictly limited amount of words actually being spoken. It’s all in the beat – hammering, propulsive and incessant; mercilessly pounding away on the bass drum to ensure there’s not a single second across the five-minute runtime when you’re not a sweaty, dancing mess. If ever you needed proof that these three are a match made in Heaven, here it is. Let’s get freaky.

***

80 – 61

2012: A Year in the Front Row. Part Three: July/August/September

Jan // Feb // Mar
Apr // May // Jun

JULY

With the first half of the year behind me, the remaining six months had a lot to live up to. For what it’s worth, I’d like to think it did; even though nothing quite compared to Janelle. We began proceedings with a two-night stand at Yours and Owls. The two nights couldn’t have had a greater contrast. On the first night, it was a tiny mixed bill of heavy acts, featuring a crowd of just around 30 people – Hira Hira, Rev Jesse, Machina Genova (still one of the loudest bands I’ve seen this year) and Brisbane stalwarts Idylls. The next night, I had to arrive at Owls over an hour before hand just in order to secure my place. The headlining set from U.K. alt-rock lads Basement was still, to date, the most packed I have ever seen Owls. The show was memorable for this alone, but all of the acts of the night – also featuring Harbourer, Cold Youth and Endless Heights – put on solid, enjoyable sets. I’ll admit I wasn’t the biggest Basement fan – I was more going to the show for the experience, as well as to support the venue. That said, they really put a respectable effort into their set, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Later that week, I had an incredible four day run that started off with light-hearted whimsy and ended with a punishing crush. It begins with an act I had waited for eight years to see live – and, not to sound like a hipster, but before they even had their own TV series. That’s right: New Zealand’s fourth most-popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk comedy folk duo, Flight of the Conchords! They packed the Sydney Entertainment Centre out within an inch of its life, and even though it was a massive show they still managed to make it feel intimate and warm. Not to mention hilarious. Holy shit, it was hilarious. Even when you knew the punchline was coming, it was still a total gut-buster. What a wonderful thing to tick off the list.

The first weekend of the month began with a mostly-forgettable matinee show, starring Heroes for Hire and their slightly-dwindling base of tween psychopaths. I was only really in attendance to check out The Sweet Apes, who mightily impressed; and the boys from Luca Brasi. As great as they were, their set was spoilt by a group of girls who sat in the front row with their backs turned to the band, chatting away and playing with their phones. I actually had to go and apologise to the Luca boys for their horrendous actions. This would later turn into a 180-comment-long thread on Heroes’ Facebook page some months later. So I guess some good came of it. Sort of.

Moving on to the main course of the weekend: Hardcore 2012! Featuring a slab of local and international punk, metal, grind, hardcore, metalcore etc. to work through, I ventured in as a casual observer, cherry-picking the best of the bunch and appreciating the ferocity and energy of the crowd, who lunged at the stage at any given opportunity. Amazingly, there were no major fights and the weekend was surprisingly dickhead-free. The Hi-Fi staff were attentive, the sound was solid, the security knew when to step in and when to let things play out; and there were easily some of the best “heavy” sets I’ve seen all year on display. Top of the lot was Ceremony, the Californian punks who gave less than zero fucks about how much they “fitted in” with the rest of the bill. Ferchrissake, the guitarist was walking around wearing a leather Prince vest. They just got up there and tore the venue apart. Rather than alienating them, the crowd totally went for it, from their intense early songs like “Pressure’s On” and “Kersed” to newer stompers like “Hysteria” and “Repeating the Circle.” What a ripper – love this band something chronic.

Of course, the big talking point was the two farewell sets from Perth’s Break Even. While Ceremony was the big one for me, I still had nothing but love and respect for the BE boys – and their spots were fantastic. I don’t think I’ve heard a bigger sing-along this year than when they opened the Sunday night with “October 27.” Truly explosive, almost bone-chillingly good stuff. Other highlights included the madness of Extortion, the unholy riffage of I Exist and the OTT fun of headliners Terror; who I’ve never given much of a chance in regards to their recorded material but have still enjoyed thoroughly across the three times I’ve seen them. Overall, a very solid weekend – “hardcore lives,” as Scott Vogel might say.

As a bookend to all of this, I headed back up to Sydney in the afternoon following to grab a spot at Black Wire for Ceremony‘s only headlining Sydney set. With support from the gnashing Dark Horse and the tuneful Life and Limb, this was a high-energy show that sticks out as easily the best of the three times I saw Ceremony this month. It took all the no-bullshit reckless punk abandon of the Hardcore shows and shoved it directly into your face – I’m genuinely surprised that no major damage was done to the venue given the sure of boisterous shouting, screaming, diving, climbing etc. that was taking place throughout the band’s hour-long set. Great fun and highly memorable in the grand scheme of 2012.

For what was supposed to be their only show of 2012, I headed along to the Annandale that Friday to see The Mess Hall kick out the jams for the first time in seven years. I have no bloody idea why it took so long between drinks, but I’ll make a point for it to never happen again. What a ripper set from these guys, turning the Annandale into a sweaty mess just like only they can do. By means of contrast, the next day I saw an old friend, Annaliese Szota – who literally used to live up the road from me – play a headlining show at a theatre where I spent years in after-school drama classes. Oh, and Monica “Play School” Trapaga was there, too, as both the MC and as a cabaret performer. Needless to say, it was a pretty full-on night of nostalgia for me from a degree of levels. Needless to say, it was also lovely.

Around the middle of the month came somewhat of a bum note thanks to a disappointing set from Ladyhawke. I’m quite the fan, and do enjoy her music. Live, however, she’s quite uncomfortable and it lacks the punch that it needs to work in this element. Ahh, nevermind. Maybe next time. At least I got to catch the legends of Franzal Rhomb a few days later, who packed in a sweaty and fun crowd to the Manning Bar along with the crew from I Exist. Fuck yeah.

Festival season yet again! This time, I packed in three Splendour in the Grass sideshows into three days. Not a bad effort, if I do say so myself. Of course, I would have loved to head along to Splendour – the only shows of the year for Explosions in the Sky and Gossip, major live highlights of years previous; not to mention acts like Azealia Banks and Bloc Party. Not bad, I say! Still, getting to see just a handful of the line-up’s best acts was sufficient enough. First up was fun., a band I had wanted to tour for years – especially considering I never got to see The Format, the first band of fun.’s vocalist Nate Ruess. I took my sister along and we had an absolute blast at their show at the Metro, which was absolutely squashed in like nothing I’d seen at the Metro in yonks.

The very next day saw Mr. Jack White decide that he would play that night’s show with his all-male band, Los Buzzardos. Said show took place at the Hordern Pavilion – and, after roughly a decade of enjoying his various projects, I FINALLY got to see the great man at work in the live environment. What can you say? Absolutely sensational stuff, especially if you’re a big fan from any period of his career. It spanned all of it – when you open with a Stooges-esque reworking of Black Math, from the iconic Stripes LP Elephant, you just know you’re in for a good night. Blister-inducing guitar work, insane drumming, a great spread of sounds and plenty of hits; as well as some lesser-known stuff. Pretty much perfect, really.

Finally, I checked out British blues-rockers Band of Skulls at the Factory. Of the three, this was probably my least favourite – not a discredit to the show, per se; but moreso a credit to both fun. and Jack, which were absolutely mammoth and top-of-the-heap. This was still a solid, entertaining rock show – particularly with a band as great as The Laurels in support. Not life-changing or anything, really; but still a very, very fun set.

For something completely different, the month ended with a return to Yours and Owls for one of the biggest surprise gigs of the year. I went along after hearing some great things about U.S. post-metal acts Rosetta and City of Ships, but had never really given either one much of a listen. Really, I was headed along to their Wollongong date almost exclusively to see my boys in Totally Unicorn; plus the excellent Brisvegan openers in Nuclear Summer. I had no idea what to expect – perhaps why this show blew me away so much. It was an intense experience, never more so than during Rosetta’s performance. Post-metal is quite the thing to pull off live, it takes quite the energy and the precision as a band. That said, I have never seen anyone quite like Rosetta – before or since. Emotionally draining, resoundingly powerful and truly rewarding. I am so, so glad I went to this show.

TOP 5:

  1. Jack White
  2. Rosetta
  3. fun.
  4. Ceremony
  5. Flight of the Conchords

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Ladyhawke. I really want to support my fellow Aspies in the live environment, but bland shows make it quite difficult.

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AUGUST

Another month, another Milhouse show. Guess where? Always a pleasure to watch these guys do their thing – not the first time in 2012, and sure as shit not the last! Next up was a great exercise in contrast involving Melbourne wunderkinds Snakadaktal. The year prior, I had seen the band at Goodgod Small Club, performing to a sold-out room where the only people under 18 were in the band. Now, I had a chance to see them again in very different circumstances, albeit just up the road at the Metro Theatre. With an adoring all-ages audience looking on, they showed just how far they’ve come in such a remarkably short period of time. Pretty special to be a part of, really.

It never rains with Children Collide – it pours. After doing two nights of their national tour in March, I followed it up with a two-night stand at their Sydney shows. They took place at The Standard, a relatively intimate and interesting venue up the other end of Oxford Street. I quite like the venue, and definitely enjoyed my time at these two shows; which featured irrepressible stoners Dune Rats and Adelaide weirdos Bad Dreems in support. The crowd was energetic and receptive, and I even managed to sneak a stage-dive in during Jellylegs, the closing number of the set. The security, however, left a lot to be desired on the second night, getting quite aggressive with some harmless punters. I informed the Standard about this, and they were thankfully very responsive and determined to make the venue a friendlier environment. I haven’t been back since, but I hope they’ve stuck to it.

It’s weird just how long I had waited for the next gig. Something for Kate had been a part of my life for over a decade, thanks to hits ranging from 1999’s Electricity to 2006’s Cigarettes & Suitcases and everything in-between. My sister Eloise and I grew up with their music, so to find ourselves in the front row of a returning SfK show in the glorious, glorious surrounds of the Annandale was more or less a dream come true. This was the night I fell in love with some of my most beloved songs of 2012, namely Miracle Cure and Eureka; both from the at-the-time unreleased Leave Your Soul to Science. Of course, it also meant I finally got to hear my aforementioned loves, plus Monsters, Deja Vu et al. Easily one of the best Annandale shows of the year.

Later that week, I’d kick off a three-day run celebrating a considerably wide stretch of Australasian music. It began with Kate Miller-Heidke and The Beards joining together in a peculiar bill that somehow managed to work quite well. The grandiose humour of The Beards allowed the audience to relax themselves into Kate’s set, which was equal parts delightful and sweet as it was intense and emotively striking. She truly is a spectacular performer; and it was so great to hear tracks from Nightflight live, which was easily one of my favourite records of the year. The following night, New Zealand post-punks Die! Die! Die! took over Yours & Owls for a ferocious evening of high-octane noise. Although the crowd was relatively small, they were fucking rabid from the get go.

There was diving into drumkits, smashing of foreheads into microphones and dog-piles onto lead singer Andrew Wilson. And yes, I was the catalyst for each. In fact, I’m pretty sure ending up with an imprint of Andrew’s mic that stuck for the entire weekend was my favourite gig injury of the year – apart from maybe the shiner I got at Refused, but that’s another story for another time. Finally, I got to support my dear little friends in Highways as they played their first-ever headlining show at the Annandale Hotel. Apart from their set, I spent the day hanging out with some new friends, teasing the Forever Ends Here boys and selling merchandise for Way with Words while hanging at Highways’ merch table. I love those little matinee shows; they’re always good fun and the vibe is always sweet. Support them!

My last two shows of the month saw me once again celebrating some local talent, as well as making a pretty major tick on the bucket list. First up was Alpine, who I saw for the eighth time in Wollongong. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever missed an Alpine show in Wollongong; supporting or otherwise. I’m pretty happy about that, now that I think about it. I adore these guys so much, and to see how much their audience has grown in the time that I’ve known them as both musicians and people really inspires me. Then, a big one: The original line-up – well, what’s left of them – of The Beach Boys. Yep, including Brian Wilson. That was the selling point for me. It ensured that I would have to be in attendance. And I am so very, very glad that I was. Yes, it was a very daggy show. Yes, there were probably too many ballads (“Disney Girls,” guys? Really?). Yes, Mike Love is a businessman first and a musician second these days. But come on. I got to hear I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times. I got to hear Wouldn’t It Be Nice. I got to hear God Only fucking Knows. The band – mostly made up of Brian Wilson’s guys – were incredible. This was a truly delightful and heart-warming show. I enjoyed it worlds more than I expected to, as well as more than I probably should have.

TOP 5:

  1. The Beach Boys
  2. Something for Kate
  3. Kate Miller-Heidke
  4. Die! Die! Die!
  5. Snakdaktal

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Far Away Stables and We Saved the Party opened for Highways. I awarded them no points. May God have mercy on their souls.

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SEPTEMBER

What a big month I had here! A few choice internationals, some brilliant locals and my second of four interstate trips in the name of live music. It all started with Seekae, the little Sydney electronic adventurers that could. In a smokey and very-sold-out Basement, they put on an intense and engaging show that sees them in the finest form of their career. Hope we hear from them again soon with album number three! The next night was spent with three great Aussie bands in Little Scout, Bearhug and Light Giant; the latter of which were playing their first-ever gig at this show. Speaking of firsts, this was also my first time at FBi Social and I had a blast checking out the friendly, intimate surrounds. I sadly haven’t had the chance to return since, but hoping to in 2013. What a surprisingly pleasant Friday night in the midst of Kings Cross.

Saturday was spent with a tonne of mates from the FasterLouder forum, who all joined together to celebrate the release of The Smith Street Band‘s excellent second album, Sunshine and Technology. With mates Hoodlum Shouts, Restorations and Milhouse in support, the Smithies took to a heaving Annandale for beer-y sing-alongs, stage-dives and a loud and lively crowd. Took all of Sunday to shake the comedown, I can tell you that much. Well, most of Sunday, at least. On Sunday night, I snuck up to Cronulla to watch my dear-friend-slash-hot-patootie Lanie Lane at the Brass Monkey. It was intimate, charming and a very relaxing way to end what was a very busy week.

What happened next… ahh, what happened next. If only I could fully describe just how incredible, exciting and life-affirming what happened next truly was. This, friends was the Poison City Weekender. Or just The Weekender. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a magical place to find yourself. Whether it was whoah-oh’ing along to the Restorations boys, stage-diving with the Smithies and Luca Brasi, discovering the genius that is Lincoln Le Fevre or falling in love with Lucy Wilson‘s voice, there was so much to do, see and get involved with. I’m not ashamed to say that after TSSB’s set – the last set of the last day – I cried. I cried for about 10 minutes straight. I can’t begin to tell you what being a part of that entire thing meant to me. I made so many great friends, I saw so many great bands, I immersed myself in the beauty of Melbourne and its live music scene. What a time.

Upon returning home, complete with an accursed Melbourne flu, I sneezed my way through a show at Wollongong’s Uni Bar, technically headlined by The Rubens but show-stolen by Bertie Blackman. I got in just as her set started and she was worth every cent. The next night, I got to see the Enter Shikari boys tear it up once again, this time at the UNSW Roundhouse. Interesting time for uni students in NSW, that’s for sure. ES were as entertaining as always, even busting out their own title track for the first time in ages much to my delight. Pity the support act, In Heart’s Wake, were such garbage. We went from letlive. to this?

Some well-deserved time off lead to a solid run of internationals for the last three days of the month. First up was the guitar-god badass, Gary Clark, Jr. I was the very first person to buy a ticket to this show, but I sure as hell wasn’t the last – that was one of the most packed audiences that I’ve ever seen at the Annandale. People were hanging from the rafters to welcome GCJ at his first-ever Sydney show, and he gave them exactly what they came for – lick after lick of the electric blues. Not to mention a voice that’s pure honey. Oh, and a killer live band. Tick, tick, tick.

Roughly 12 hours later, I returned to the Annandale to check out Defeater and Blacklisted from the States. Bit different to Gary, of course, but y’all know about the spice of life and shit. This was a really entertaining show, with both bands showing off different kinds of hardcore that were matched in intensity and conviction in delivery. Always good fun to hang out at the Annandale as often as possible. Also a shout-out to Latham’s Grip, who I hung out with and watched at the Lansdowne that evening. Good times.

At last, Sunday rolled around. The last day of the month. Admittedly, not normally a time to party. But hell, I had two reasons to celebrate: a) It was a public holiday; and b) MC Lars was in town! For those of you unfamiliar, MC Lars is a geek/comedy rapper who got really popular around 2006 on the back of his debut album, The Graduate. Despite it being so many years on since then, I’d never gotten a chance to see him live up until now, so I was pretty damn stoked to catch him. I got to be in the front row, play the part of Marty’s boss in “Signing Emo” (have a listen to the song and you’ll understand) and hug the man after him being somewhat of a mid-teens hero to me. Oh, did I mention fucking Horsell Common played, too? Are you flippin’ kidding me, bro? Sure, they’re essentially the John Farnham of mid-2000s rock, but that was a major trip to see those guys again – especially after seeing Trial Kennedy‘s final show a few months back. The only detraction from the whole thing was that it took place at Spectrum – or, as I like to call it, Satan’s armpit. What a destitute and loathsome place. Don’t expect me back at that venue anytime soon.

TOP FIVE:

  1. The Smith Street Band
  2. Restorations
  3. MC Lars
  4. A Death in the Family
  5. Gary Clark, Jr.

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: In Heart’s Wake. Suck a fuck, you hacks.