Our Next Guests Are A Wonderful Rock & Roll Band: 20 Performances on Latter-Day Letterman Picked By a Later-Day Letterman Fan

635676571678420060-XXX-DAVIDLETTERMAN03-D01-dcb-001[1] So, it’s come to this. Pop culture as a collective is saying goodbye to a legendary talk-show host in the form of David Letterman. I’ve seen countless tributes pouring in on my timeline – celebrities and regular folk alike all have a Letterman story. I suppose I should share mine, although it doesn’t have the same weight to it as ones from my friends in their thirties and forties that quite literally grew up with the show.

I come into the picture in the 2000s. By this point, Letterman is an establishment. Appearing on that show means that you’re someone – if only for that moment. This much is especially true of the show’s musical guests, which were often the only reason I would tune in. One YouTube came into the picture, I’d often spend hours at a time down a rabbit hole with only the search term “live on letterman” to guide me. There was always such an interesting mix of artists – some well-established, some just coming through the ranks. To me, if you’d been on Letterman, you’d made it. That was your stage, your chance, your moment.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to share some of my personal favourite Letterman musical-guest moments. Please note that this is by no means a definitive best-of – I’ve picked exclusively from the last 15 years; and there is no Future Islands on account of there having been everything that one could possibly say about that performance already out there in the ether. These are just some performances that I’ve been enthralled with over the years for very different reasons. So, let’s take it away.

TV on the Radio – Wolf Like Me (2006)

I still get the exact same electricity running through me nearly ten years after this performance first happened. I shared this with EVERYONE – even people I knew that didn’t like music. There was something monumental about this rendition – it took what was already bound to be one of the greatest songs of the decade and somehow made it even greater. Can’t you just hear how David Andrew Sitek makes his guitar squeal. How Jaleel Bunton punches through those drum parts. Kyp Malone practically jumps out of his suit at one point. This made me want to be in a rock band – my rock band at the time made this cover a staple of our set. It all started – my Letterman obsession, my TVotR obsession, the whole shebang – here.

An Horse – Camp Out (2009)

We cut to the end of the decade, and it’s one of the more obscure Australian acts to have appeared on the show – a Brisbane indie band who were championed by acts like Death Cab and Tegan & Sara. It didn’t turn them into arena filling sensations, but performances like this proved that achieving something on that side of the world was still a possibility. The vibe that you got from watching Courtney Barnett on Fallon or Ellen? That’s what we were feeling when An Horse pressed the flesh with Dave.

Beastie Boys – Ch-Check It Out (2004)

I’ve tried to shy away from the obvious performances in this list, but you just can’t go past the creativity and the energy of this one. It felt like a music video brought to life, and the mile-wide grin on Dave’s face at its conclusion makes it all worth it. This dropped right in a revival of Beastie obsession for me, so it was perfect timing. Fuck, I miss MCA.

Arcade Fire – Rebellion (Lies) (2005)

There’s such an urgency to this era of Arcade Fire that Dave almost doesn’t get their name out before the begin an all-instrument avalanche. This is a kitchen-sink type of Arcade Fire – one of them is even running around the place whacking a floor tom for the fuck of it. Centred in its universe is Win, who is far from the unleashed rockstar he would become in the Reflektor era. Here, he barely moves. He’s the last to arrive at this party and the first to leave – which somehow makes him more of an intriguing prospect.

Grinderman – Honey Bee (Let’s Fly to Mars) (2007)

After years of concert halls and opera houses, Nick Cave wanted to fuck some shit up again like in the old days. Grinderman let him reclaim the mania of The Birthday Party yet keep the suit. It worked – and it resulted in one of the wildest performances on the show. Warren Ellis is playing some kind of electric mandolin while randomly smashing a hi-hat with a hammer. Cave is on the prowl, laying down organ parts and quite literally buzzing away. It’s impossible to look away.

Sparta – Breaking the Broken (2004)

At a time where fear-mongering was at a high and the American political climate was one of uncertainty for any that considered themselves creative, Sparta appeared on Letterman. Sprayed onto their shirts was the word VOTE – and, after putting everything into a performance of what I consider to be their best-ever song, it was quite clear which way they wanted you to do as such. Spoiler alert: They were not successful. At that point in time, though, it didn’t matter. It felt like anything was possible.

Beck – Nausesa (2006)

Nevermind that this is a thoroughly jamming version of one of Beck’s most underrated singles – Borat turns up! MY WIFE! Also worth pointing out that, by a complete luck of the draw, this performance shares a drummer with the very next one in the form of one Matt Sherrod.

R.E.M. – Imitation of Life (2001)

R.E.M. were legacy guests on Letterman. In 1983, they appeared for the first time and performed two songs; both of which have become seminal singles of the era. They went on to appear four more times on the show, with this being their last before they split up a decade later. The contrasts between 1983 R.E.M. and 2001 R.E.M. are centred around Michael Stipe – once an enigmatic, mumbling long-haired twenty-something; now an extrovert and a true frontman in every sense. It was the band coming full circle.

Tom Waits – Make it Rain (2004)

You must understand that I hated Tom Waits when I first discovered him. Hated him. Thought his voice was fucked and that he looked like he’d been run over. Of course, that’s exactly the same reason that I love him now. I look back on this performance that once made me squirm and see one that is all class. The addition of two-thirds of the Blues Explosion laying it down certainly helps matters.

Feist – 1234 (2007)

She may hate this song now, and may well never play it again. There was a time, though, where we all fell in love with it. For many, that came with this performance, which enlisted an all-star choir of people from The National, Grizzly Bear, The New Pornographers, Mates of State and Broken Social Scene. It’s all horns, ba-da-bas and pure unadulterated joy. You can’t help but smile when you see this one. Plus, how on-point are those handclaps?

Liam Finn – Second Chance (2007)

Two offspring of Australasian rock legends combine forces here, Liam being the stock of Neil Finn and his counterpart being one of Jimmy Barnes’ daughters. The similarities, of course, stop there – this is a psychedelically-tinged slice of indie-rock that goes into overdrive once Finn sets up his loop station and goes fucking WILD on the drums. Even a slight fuck-up makes this imperfectly perfect.

Red Fang – Blood Like Cream (2014)

I don’t know – are Red Fang considered a “metal” band? Like, are they metally enough for the Metal Club? Whatever the case, it’s always a surprise and a joy when stuff like this makes it onto network television. They hit this one out of the park, and even Paul Shaffer himself gets in on the fun by adding in some spooky organ drones. Bonus points for Dave’s sick burn at the end: “I’ll talk to your drummer about growing a beard.”

Neko Case – This Tornado Loves You (2009)

There’s this idea that if a song can still sound good through AM speakers, it’s bound to be a good song. This performance of the opening track from Case’s Middle Cyclone sounds like a masterpiece in 480p, so make of that what you will. The triple-guitar layering works beautifully alongside the four backing vocalists, which include Kelly Hogan and Lucy Wainwright Roche. Stunning, understated and a true credit to Case as a performer and bandleader.

Mastodon – Curl of the Burl (2011)

When Mastodon first came on Letterman in 2009, Dave introduced them by saying “I’m not gonna lie to you… I’m frightened” before cutting to a close-up of Brent Hinds’ face tattoo. It was a funny bit, but it was also reflective of a wider preconception about metal and the people involved in it. Seemingly, Dave got over his initial fright once he saw how awesome they were – the band were invited back two more times. This is my favourite of the three, if only for Bill having the words “HI MOM” taped onto his guitar.

LE1F – Wut (2014)

Potentially the first gay rapper to ever perform live on network television? Potentially the only? This fantastic performance from the bold and brassy LE1F was a huge moment for both LGBT and POC visibility, not to mention a massive step up in a live setting. While the MC and DJ set-up certainly works for LE1F, a full band (featuring Dev Hynes on bass) and two back-up dancers works even better.

Morningwood – Jetsetter (2006)

In 2006, I was obsessed with a band called Morningwood. I believe I was one of two whole people in all of Australia that even knew who they were. They may have been a blip on the radar to many, or simply cool by association (lead singer Chantal Claret is married to Little Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence). On this night, though, they were the talk of the town – particularly after Claret did her now-famous Matrix dance during the guitar break. Power-pop for life.

The Orwells – Who Needs You (2014)

The performance that divided the internet right down the middle. Was it a mess? Was it staged? Were they high? Was it rock & roll? Was it all premeditated? The answer, naturally, is that it’s exactly what you see. It’s what you make of it. It’s like the Vines’ infamous performance in 2002. Whatever the case, Paul Shaffer lost his fucking mind over it. You can see why.

Tokyo Police Club – Nature of the Experiment (2007)

22 didn’t seem all that far away at 17. When I realised how old Tokyo Police Club were, and I saw them on Letterman, I felt that maybe I’d know where I was going at that age. Naturally, I didn’t; and neither did they – they’ve scarcely been heard from since this peak point of exposure. It’s worth revisiting, though, both for the drummer going hard on just a bass/snare/hi-hat set-up and the entire CBS Orchestra joining in on a tambourine flash-mob. The kids were alright, weren’t they?

The National – Afraid of Everyone (2010)

The National make everything special in their own understated way, including their TV appearances. Here, they played a non-single (not to mention one of my favourite National songs) and brought out a horns section, a pump organ and a casual cameo from Sufjan Stevens. It builds up into something unbelievable – this, to me, is the definitive version of this song.

U2 – Beautiful Day (2009)

Here’s something you should know: From the ages of 8 to 24 (the age I currently) am, I was a huge U2 fan. I still am. Yep, even through some average albums and the whole debacle last year. There’s something about this band that always puts me in the exact right mood. I can’t imagine my life without a song like “Beautiful Day,” as pathetic as that seems. It’s a light in the dark for me; a crack of sunshine let into the shadows. It’s impossible for me to be unhappy when it’s on. So when U2 performed it as a part of U2 Week on the show, in which they did a song every night, I fell in love with it all over again.

On this night, Bono is determined to get the crowd up on their feet. You think it’ll happen in the first chorus. They’re still down. Second chorus. The clapping along is louder, but they’re still down. It takes until the second bridge for them to finally lift – but it’s worth the pay off. I smile like an idiot everytime I see that bit. It’s so daggy, but it reminds me exactly of what “Beautiful Day” does for me.

Thanks, Dave.

Goodnight, everybody.

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INTERVIEW: Keith Buckley (USA), September 2011

Got to have a cheeky double-dip in this interview, as I was speaking with the devilishly handsome Keith Buckley about both the impending Every Time I Die record as well as his side-project at the time, The Damned Things. It was a good time to be a fan of Keith in Australia, as he toured both at the same time as a part of that whole Counter-Revolution clusterfuck. He’s a great interviewee and a lovely guy. ETID just came through town last month and they crushed, as per usual. I also got to speak to Keith again when Ex-Lives came out, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

– DJY, February 2015

***

In the last eighteen months or so, Keith Buckley has been leading a double life – for the first time in his career, he’s lent his voice-box to two different bands. On one side of the coin, he’s been hard at work with Every Time I Die, the southern-fried hardcore rockers of which he is a founding member, working on a follow-up to their highly-acclaimed fifth album New Junk Aesthetic. “We are in the studio at this very moment,” Buckley himself confirms over the line from California. “This is my last interview, and then I have to go and record the vocals.” The as-yet-untitled record is projected for a late 2011/early 2012 release, and Buckley is already considerably enthusiastic about the sound of it.

“This is our first record with our new drummer,” he comments. Founding member Mike Novak left the group in 2009, and has since been replaced by new skin-pounder Ryan Leger. Buckley goes on about the energy of the new material – “It’s got so much more energy than our previous records – we’re really excited about it!” Interestingly enough, however, he’s reluctant to give the usual spiel about how it’s “the best record I’ve ever worked on.” It’s nothing personal – it’s just how many musicians like to drum up interest about the new material. So where does Buckley stand? Does he honestly feel the new record is going to be their best?

“The thing is,” he replies, “is that it’s not just another Every Time I Die record. Our old drummer was with us from day one. Everything you’ve ever heard of us being recorded, that’s been the rhythm section. So this is a completely new drumming style – it’s a new sound; it’s a new energy. So, when we’re looking at everything that we’ve ever done and then comparing it to the way we sound now? This is definitely some of the best stuff we’ve written. And it’s all thanks to our new drummer – he’s made us see it all in such a new way.”

Of course, let’s not forget about what else Buckley has been up to in this aforementioned double life. Teaming up with some unlikely pals from thrash metallers Anthrax and pop-punk stadium-fillers Fall Out Boy, Buckley spent most of 2010 and a part of 2011 fronting The Damned Things. The supergroup was a passion project for the five members to make some good-time rock & roll with a hair-metal and hard-rock edge to it. After three or four years in the pipeline – “You know what it’s like with our schedules,” says Buckley – the band finally released their debut album, Ironiclast, in December of last year. Although Keith maintains that he’s “not the type to get too finnicky in the studio,” it was notably different when it came to recording Ironiclast.

“I was singing,” explains Buckley, who had never previously done “clean” vocals on a record before, “and I wasn’t fully aware of what I was capable of with my voice. I was finding out things that I could and couldn’t do, just experimenting with them. It was a challenge, because I wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t like I had to invent a willingness to do it – I didn’t have to pretend that I like rock music. It was just something that I’ve always liked but have never had a chance to do. I was pushing myself physically with what I was doing with my voice, but it was never like I didn’t like the musical style – I just had to take a different approach to it.”

It should be pointed out at this stage that it was never going to be a case of Buckley leaving his band in favour of The Damned Things – although that didn’t stop a myriad of worried fans approaching Keith while he toured Ironiclast. “Everyone worries about it,” he says, “because nobody every thinks to ask outright. I have never, ever said that I wanted to tone down Every Time I Die. I never said I wanted to leave or anything like that, y’know? It was just another opportunity to write and make music, which is what I like doing. So I did it!”

A simple enough reason, certainly. But here comes the challenge – for the first time ever, Buckley will be bringing both aspects of his double life on tour at the same time. “Yep,” says Keith with a laugh, “I’m gonna be workin’ two shifts in Australia.” While both bands were scheduled to be a part of the doomed Soundwave Revolution, both The Damned Things and Every Time I Die will still get their chance to perform in the country; the former as a part f the Counter-Revolution festivals and the latter doing their own set of headlining club shows. “It’s gonna be quite different to what I’m used to,” Keith says of performing with both bands. “Normally, I just get set into the one style and run with it – but this time I’ll be going between the two. I’m not sure how it’s all going to turn out, but I sure can’t wait to find out!” Likewise, buddy.

The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part Five: 20 – 1

201420

This, friends, is my first post for 2015 and it’s also where I leave you with yet another list – the ninth overall that I’ve made documenting my top 100 songs of the year. Before I send you off, make sure you’ve caught up on parts one through four:

100 – 81
80 – 61
60 – 41
40 – 21

You all sorted there? Awesome. Hey, thank you so much for reading through and checking this all out. Thanks to my friends, fellow writers and all the bands and artists that feature here. Quite figuratively couldn’t have done it without you all. Same time next year, yeah?

***

20. Bleachers – I Wanna Get Better

Jack Antonoff is the kind of guy that could easily be seen as cool by association – he’s one-third of indie darlings cum chart-crushers fun., as well as longtime partner of Gen Y superstar Lena Dunham. Don’t let this context misconstrue him at all, however: He has absolutely no issue with holding his own. Look at this breakout smash, which sees Antonoff take the reins of a stuttered piano sample, arena-rock guitar and a chock-a-block chorus that almost threatens to cave in on itself before reinforcing its foundations. An anthem for overcoming odds and being the damn best you can be.

19. Ted Danson with Wolves – Bohemian (I Don’t) Like You

Maybe vocalist/saxophonist Nick Levy paid way too much attention in his high-school science classes. Maybe it was the result of a parental sex talk gone wrong. Hell, the guy could just well have a remarkable imagination matched with a witty sense of humour. It really is anyone’s guess when it comes to uncovering exactly how “Bohemian” came to be created. Whatever the case, the world is certainly a better place for its existence; as is a particular season that also serves as the song’s triumphantly-screamed opening word. Sex, nature and The Dandy Warhols. What more could you ask for, really?

18. The Smith Street Band – Surrender

For someone like Wil Wagner, singing a line like “I’m not from around here” is a shockingly confessional change from a guy who has centred entire songs – nay, entire releases – around singular and familiar surroundings. “Surrender” comes somewhere between Show A and Show B, off the proverbial beaten track and directly into the fire. It brims with the brightness of the band’s sun-kissed guitars and the energy of Chris Cowburn’s impeccably-syncopated drum fills; and feels like home even though it’s approximately 1062 kilometres away. That’s the magic of The Smith Street Band for you, of course. Long may they run.

17. Slipknot – The Devil in I

“Where is your will, my friend?” As the words escape Corey Taylor’s mouth, atop shimmering guitar noise and gentle cymbal rushes, the line has conviction in its execution that very explicitly points toward its questioning being directed inward more than anything else. Indeed, introspect and open-wound pain are what guide “Devil,” which sports all the definitive traits of a classic within the band’s extensive repertoire. It marches along dutifully, playing to both the band’s knack for creating space and their knack for tearing it apart. Much like those bogan car stickers, “The Devil in I” justifies Slipknot’s existence. Step inside.

16. Pianos Become the Teeth – Repine

There is a true weariness in “Repine,” which ostensibly serves as the centrepiece of the script-flipping Keep You record. It’s the clearest in the pained, aching vocals, but it weaves its way through the bristling guitar patterns and the emphatic thud of the verses’ half-speed drum flams. A beacon of light peers through in the song’s refrain, in a manner befitting a crack in the roofing allowing for a ray of sunlight to emerge from the darkness. “Your wick won’t burn away,” it chants. It’s a hope against hope, and one prays that it resonates with the truth. Somehow. Someway. 

15. Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is confusing, distracting, disorienting. Love is winter, spring, summer and fall. Love is an artist’s entire body of work; and it’s a single word from a single line in a single song, poem or story. Love is everywhere and nowhere. Love is in every tear shed – out of happiness, out of sadness, out of anger. Love never runs on time. Love leads through the quietest places on earth through to the most crowded streets. Love is what you make it. With this in mind, “I Forget Where We Were” is a love song.

14. Babaganouj – Bluff

For a song with roughly a dozen lines of lyrics in it, as well as falling just shy of the three-minute mark, “Bluff” manages to achieve a remarkable amount. It’s practically equivalent to that biblical miracle of feeding five thousand people with merely a loaf of bread and some fish. So what gets it over the line? It appears to stem from bassist Hariette Pilbeam, venting over a once-hopeful relationship transmogrified into cyclical torture. The ultimate release that comes with her final vocal delivery indicates the song is just as much for her as it is the rest of us.

13. Georgia Maq – Footscray Station

There’s no filter to Georgia Macdonald. You simply cannot take what she does and switch it on and off. It’s a major discredit to one of this country’s most promising songwriters to suggest otherwise. This song is what one should point towards to validate the aforementioned claim of excellence: A ragged, honest waltz through lower-middle class life that also detours through mental health woes and fearless political shaming. Just know that some people will spend their entire lives waiting to write a song that amounts to even half the quality of “Footscray Station.” They will try and they will fail.

12. Young Fathers – Get Up

A lot has gone into the genetic makeup of this song. Its titular phrase has been reconceptualised by everyone from Bob Marley to R.E.M., while it also incorporates a very specific handclap pattern best known for its use in The Routers’ single “Let’s Go.” Lyrically, it drops into heaven and earth, Orwellian dystopia, revolution and debaucherous lifestyles. When it collectively shifts into its final form, however, “Get Up” belongs to Young Fathers and Young Fathers only. When the line of “You lose/I win” drops from out of nowhere, it may as well be a message – a warning – to their peers.

11. The Kite String Tangle – Arcadia

Björk once famously sang that “If you complain once more, you’ll meet an army of me.” On “Arcadia,” Danny Harley actualises it, although his admittedly feels somewhat less threatening than that of the Icelandic nymph’s. The song comes at a breaking point, where both parties have found no way out and past the point of return. It is guided by Harley’s private strikeforce of close harmony, wordless refrain and warm, lushly-painted arrangements. Rarely has the light at the end of the tunnel shone so brightly than within the confines of “Arcadia.” Here begins the true ascension to complete pop magnificence. 

10. Ben Howard – End of the Affair

Perhaps subtle is an odd term to transfix upon a song that quite figuratively lays out its explicit subject matter within its title. Yet, the grace of Ben Howard as both an understated vocalist and a truly prodigious guitar player allows for a quiet, focused stare into the demise. At least, it remains so for the song’s first half. When jazz brushes slip their way into the arrangement, the hunt is on.

Howard himself goes from keeping his cool to throwing it out the window with sharp, pained howls that emerge from the darkest corners of his being. “Affair” is an exhausting, treacherous journey. One must come prepared, certainly, but one must come along for it. There’s not an option otherwise.

9. Yoke – Burden

My yoke is easy and my burden is light.

– Matthew 11:28

Opening an uplifting, higher-plane post-pop number with the line “I’m miserable” is a beguiling paradox to begin with. Let’s push that out further from a contextual standpoint by pointing out that some of the smartest, most textured and accomplished pop music to emerge from Australia within the calendar year came from a former marketed teen star in Kyle Linahan; some ten years and change removed from his only charting single.

If that wasn’t enough, perhaps the most hated band of the year in U2 serves as a template-setter for the steely guitar work, reappropriating their influential stature. “Burden” may feel baffling in a way, but it’s an indelibly-marked foray into bright contrasts and big-city dreaming. Against all odds, it works. Take a look at it now.

8. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

There was no gentle breaking of the news that The New Pornographers were to return after a four-year absence, nor was there any mistaking exactly who it was busting down 2014’s doors with its major-chord slams, sprightly drums and wholly-triumphant “baa-baa-baa”s. They may be fifteen years into the game and trudging through their collective mid-forties, but there is no rust in the wheels for the Pornos.

It’s worth noting that “Brill Bruisers” served as their sixth album’s lead single, opening number and title track. It’s a pretty big deal to throw a triple-threat like that out into the world, something that needs to have a steady amount of confidence in its DNA in order to survive. Not only did “Bruisers” do just that, it flourished. Life’s only certainties are death, taxes and The New Pornographers making everything okay again.

7. Oslow – Blue on Blue

Oslow are the sound of Sydney. Not the Sydney that you may be accustomed to, of course, but theirs is the in sound from way out. Theirs are the friendly faces that both sift through the racks and plug in their amps at Black Wire and Beatdisc Records. They soundtrack carelessly-wasted days and long nights in both the inner and outer western suburbia.

They reflect a dissonance and greater dissatisfaction, but approach it with honesty and resolve rather than melodrama or superfluous subversion. “Blue on Blue,” much like “Desert Dog Rd.” before it, is a proud product of its environment. Oslow are the sound. Raise up your hands and sing along.

6. Cloud Nothings – I’m Not Part of Me

It’s easy to forget how young Dylan Baldi is. In spite of the very markedly clear leaps and bounds his project has taken in the last few years, the project’s origins stem from when he was barely out of high school. In turn, lyrics such as “I’m learning how to be here and nowhere else/How to focus on what I can do myself” begin to paint a clearer picture when one is reminded of the immediate fact. We’re still witnessing a work in progress when it comes to the young man behind the music.

It’s also easy to forget that Cloud Nothings officially became a trio in 2014, losing their lead guitarist and not seeking a replacement. There is enough activity within “I’m Not Part of Me”’s musical structure that there is easily enough work cut out for two guitars. The fact it’s all achieved by Baldi in the one go simply adds to the seemingly-endless fascination that he inspires as a creative force in the indie rock realm. The enigma develops and work continues.

5. TV on the Radio – Happy Idiot

As lyricists, TV on the Radio have been known to draw from the abstract to convey their point. Perhaps their best-known song contains a metaphor for sex using the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Earlier in their career, they spoke a loving relationship using the shocking imagery that came with the unforgettable line “I will be your ambulance/If you will be my accident.” Fast forward to present day, however, and they’re done beating around the bush.

“Since you left me, babe/It’s been a long way down” is a line seemingly straight out of the earliest development of blues; “I’m gonna bang my head through the wall/’Til I feel like nothing at all” is about as bluntly forthright as a lyric can possibly be. These, as well as a wall’s worth of quotable phrases and lyrics, are painted over churning bass, warped vocal samples and an incessant hi-hat and snare pattern. It’s more or less a new perspective to take the band’s ideas and symbolism from. It’s a different kind of different. It’s waving at cars. It’s numbed pain and new beginnings.

4. tUnE-yArDs – Water Fountain

You can argue all you wish, but as far as 2011 was concerned, its defining musical moment came from a wide-eyed, floor-tom-wielding woman covered in bizarre make-up and neon flare, screaming the big rhetorical question of “WHAT’S THE BIZNESS, YEAHHHHHHHH?” It was here that the project of Merrill Garbus properly shed its lo-fi, relatively-quiet skin and rebirthed into a widescreen procession of avant-garde indie-pop.

We pick up more or less where that single left off with “Water Fountain,” where we’ve been lead through a pathway of school-girl handclapping games, tinkling percussion and the wandering basslines of Nate Brenner, the project’s secret weapon.

Garbus finds the most obtuse angles in her surroundings and seeks them out for both her melodic and lyrical approach, exploring to depths that a lesser performer would outright fear. Every song feels like an adventure when you’re with tUnE-yArDs, and it’s always worth your while to let it get you off the damn couch and dancing with reckless abandon. “Water Fountain” has got you all in check. Woo-hah!

3. Hockey Dad – I Need a Woman

Make all the jokes you please about the collective ages of Hockey Dad contrasted with singing about women instead of girls. Let us not forget the teachings of our saviour Prince: “Women, not girls, they rule my world.”

Besides, who has time to deal with semantics when we’re dealing with the single most delectable slice of indie rock to emerge from Australia in the entire year? Guided by the production finesse of Big Scary’s Tom Iansek, “Woman” was the first time most were properly acquainted with the Windang natives (make your own Computer Town Australia references in your own time, locals).

It left a thoroughly lasting impression, spreading far beyond the initial reaches of the so-called leisure coast – and why not? You’ve seen, you’ve heard and you know by now, surely. It’s all bright blues and hazy greens, with an Instagram filter for a millennial twist and that extra tang. It’s a joy to listen to, every single time.

2. Sleaford Mods – Tied Up in Nottz

It’s more than that.

It’s more than the single best opening line on any song to be released at all in 2014 – and perhaps this entire decade. It’s more than the z (“zed, you cunt”) in the song title.

It’s more than the vitriolic poetry tagged all over its pulsing post-punk rhythm section, equal parts “Chickentown” and Original Pirate Material. It’s more than underclass war, seedy city underbellies and breakfast-cereal analogies for the collective unconscious (“Fucking shredded-wheat Kellogg’s cunts!”).

It’s more than a repulsive, kneejerk response to a tepid, predictable popscene. It’s not even the debate over whether miscrediting “The Final Countdown” to fucking Journey instead of fucking Europe was an intentional move or not.

This? This is what you need to hear.

It’s not what you want to hear, oh no.

If Sleaford Mods have anything in greater doubt about you, it’s your truth-handling abilities. They’ll make Jack Nicholson look like Mother fucking Teresa once they’re done with you. This is simply the home truths that have to be hit.

There could be endless fuck-about picking out more of the laureate lyricism of “Nottz,” but the only one that has to stick is this: “We are REAL.”

1. Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting on You)

By now, you have arrived to this part of the list, seen the above song title and video and immediately had this reaction.

It’s understandable and forgivable. But a copout? Absolutely no way.

There was never any question as to where this song would end up – not just here, but on countless similar lists looking back at both individual and collective preferences. “Seasons” transcended that. Our lists may as well have been referred to as “The Best 99 Songs of The Year That Weren’t Seasons.”

Those that heard it knew immediately. Those that saw it on that performance during what was to be David Letterman’s last full year on air knew immediately. Christ, Letterman himself knew immediately. It was more than just a shaken hand and a throw to Craig Ferguson when it ended – he grabbed Samuel T. Herring, still an unruly mess of sweat and passion, and offered up one of the year’s best quotes: “I’ll take all of that you got!”

He wasn’t just speaking on behalf of himself that night. He saw something greater in what was offered up that night. A band four albums into their career became the best newcomers of the year. A star was born. A song already full of life was somehow reaffirmed.Perhaps most importantly however, the broken heart that dangles on the song’s lyrical precipice was sewn back together.

The love grew bigger and bigger until it encapsulated radio, the blogosphere, endless parties and every last essential playlist. This was a song to centre one’s entire universe around.

This song wasn’t just the finest to be released in this year – this song was this year.

This was dancing in the face of fear.

Dancing to the end.

Dancing like no-one was watching.

Except everybody was – for they were doing just the same.

***

Tracks by female artists (artist/featured artist/vocalist is female): 26.

Tracks by Australian artists: 38.

Oldest person on the list: “Weird Al” Yankovic, 54 at the time of recording.

Youngest person on the list: Hockey Dad’s Billy Fleming, 17 at the time of recording.

Multiple entries:

Angus & Julia Stone (94, 90), Hockey Dad (87, 56, 3), The New Pornographers (77, 8), Death From Above 1979 (71, 60, 30), Future Islands (70, 1), Slipknot (68, 18), Oslow (63, 7), TV on the Radio (62, 5), Coldplay (59, 27), Georgia Maq (57, 13), DZ Deathrays (50, 24), The Kite String Tangle (38, 11), Babaganouj (35, 14), Ben Howard (33, 15, 10), Yoke (25, 9).

And, once again, feel free to download the podcast version of this final part. You can do that by clicking here. It’s free, y’know!

Thanks so much.

INTERVIEW: Cannibal Corpse (USA), April 2012

I love the contradictions, paradoxes and contrasts that are omnipresent in the world of music. Here’s one: one of the nicest bands you’ll ever interview is Cannibal Corpse. Yeah, the “Hammer Smashed Face” band. Those guys. Yeah, they’re the most chill fucking dudes out. No kidding! I get into that a bit with the opening paragraph, but you’ll totally see what I mean. I really like this feature; I think there’s some good insight into the band and the semantics behind what it means to be a horror-oriented death metal band. 2012, for me, was a time where I was starting to really come into my own as a writer – looking back on it, anyway. See what you think.

– DJY, October 2014

***

Degrees of contrast often come in rapid succession between what an artist portrays through their work and what they are actually like in real life. That folk singer calling to an end to the war? He probably only heard about it yesterday and couldn’t care less. That rapper claiming that your arse will have caps busted into it? Never used a gun in their life. Conversely, that guy in the death metal band, jamming out numbers about necrophilia, chopped up bodies, zombies and horrific murder? Laid back, charming, funny and intelligent.

At the very least, such is the case with Cannibal Corpse. It’s a band that means so many different things to so many different people, ranging from the pioneers of a bullshit-free, enraged death metal sound to the scourge of society. It’s something that Pat O’Brien – the lead guitarist of the band from 1996 onwards – is more than aware of. Hell, it’s probably something that he embraces. Speaking to the AU Review on the line from Tampa, Florida in-between European and North American tours, he vents a frustration at the band’s misrepresented public image and the double standards within mainstream society that turn them into the villains.

“I think only a few people really want to bring that up with us anymore,” he says. “I think Alex [Webster, bass] would be the first to say that, as far as politics go, we’re not a political band. It’s just metal. The shit that I see happening on TV every day, and the shit I read about? We’re nowhere near as creative as some of the fucked-up shit that happens in real life. Take September 11 – if someone made a movie about that, everybody would walk out thinking that it was a crock of shit, that it would never happen. And then it did. It blows you away, the stuff that happens in real life. You can go and buy German porn – scat videos or whatever the fuck – but you don’t want to stock and sell Cannibal Corpse CDs?”

Our discussion turns to the hypocrisy of individuals that read Stephen King novels or listen to murder ballads that attempt to portray the band as vile, inhumane or demented. “We write fictional stories in our songs,” O’Brien explains. “If anything, they should censor the news. Nobody ever brings up movies, either – you make a movie about zombies, it’s totally fine. But if you’re writing a song, it’s like you’re raising a flag to it; singing a national anthem about violence or something. We’re not preaching anything. We’re just writing lyrics about basically nothing.”

These songs have been seen through the cracks of mainstream culture, from the band’s cameo appearance in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to a lounge version of their song being played by Andrew Hansen on The Chaser’s War on Everything. For the most part, however, the band have stuck to making music for their extensive cult fan-base, who flock to see them across the world in the thousands. Their latest effort, Torture, is their 12th studio album, and their first since 2009’s Evisceration Plague. Ever the critic, O’Brien looks back on the record with mixed feelings.

“I thought it was a good album,” he says. “I think it was something that we needed to do in order to get to the point that we are now with Torture. It was the first time that Paul [Mazurkiewicz, drums] had played to a click track. I dunno, I still think it’s a really good album; but it seems like it was maybe a little stiff at times. This one feels a lot better to me.”

So, where does the difference lie between the band that made Evisceration Plague and the band that made Torture? As Pat reveals, it was a matter of a freshly democratic songwriting process and a clearer, more focused mind going into the album’s creation. “I wrote more songs on this record, and so did Rob [Fischer, vocals],” he says. “With Evisceration, it was Alex – he just had an abundance of material written. He’s like a writing machine. That was a weird time for me – I was moving, and I had a lot of personal shit going on; so I was having trouble writing riffs. This album, though? I was the first person to write for this record. I wrote ‘Followed Home, Then Killed’ and ‘Torn Through’ before we’d even started the writing process collectively.”

O’Brien explains that this new hunger to write would often stem from extensive time on tour which was not spent on the stage. “When we tour, the only thing for me to do, really, is play guitar,” he says. “It’s either that, or drink all night and feel like shit the next day. Even though it’s fun to be out on tour, and see and do all these things, you still have a lot of downtime. It’s a game of “hurry up and wait” – like, wait around for hours, all day, just to play. I can’t do that, man. Give me a guitar. Let’s get some songs in the bag.”

Of course, letting things unfurl naturally lead to some obstacles in the creation process of Torture. O’Brien received the opportunity of a lifetime when one of the band’s biggest influences called upon Pat’s guitar work. As he explains: “I got the call from Slayer to fill in for Gary Holm. That kind of threw things off in the writing process, but it’s not every day you get called up to do that. I’m not sure, exactly, how it came about. I think there were just some recommendations from different people, and I guess I must have been the only one available to do it at the time. It was about a week-and-a-half to learn all of the songs – a lot to learn in a short period of time. With the whole metal community watching these massive shows… it was just intense.”

He goes on to explain the difficulty of learning another band’s entire setlist in such a short period of time. “I knew a lot of the Reign in Blood stuff, but I hadn’t sat down and tried to play those songs for years,” he says. “The only time when I would have really been trying to play them was when I was giving guitar lessons back in the day. I don’t really play other people’s stuff, y’know? I just kinda do my own thing. It was definitely a challenge, for sure.”

This year marks the sixteenth year that O’Brien has been a part of the band. While many older artists feel as though their youthful days best reflected their love and passion for music, O’Brien feels that moving into his forties has allowed him to grow even more engaged with the band and their music. “I think it’s actually gotten better now,” he says on the motivation to create new material. “Like, back in the day, I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything – I’d pick everything apart so damn much that it would kill the idea that I had initially come up with. I’m at a period right now where I don’t totally do that. I’m able to kind of write what I feel and not be so uptight about it.”

He concludes with a positive appraisal of where Cannibal Corpse are currently at – even with nothing to prove, they still strive for excellence within their work. “We always want to make the best album that we can make,” he affirms. “If there’s one thing that I can honestly say, it’s that we are a band that constantly improves in one form or another from our past albums. I really believe that. Some bands, they come out with one or two great albums and then it gets to the point where nothing they do compares to their older albums. I think we’re the opposite. I think our albums keep getting better and better.”