Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part One: 50 – 41

It’s the most magical time of year — list season! A couple of days ago, I kicked into my top 100 songs of the year, which you can catch up on over here. Over the next month, I’ll be sharing that as well as my top 50 albums of the year. While there was a lot of controversy over the fact that no album went platinum this year, I feel it’s more a sign of the times than an indication of the quality of the music released in 2014. Across the 300-plus albums I experienced throughout the year, I completely ran the entire spectrum; from the uplifting and inspiring to the menacing and terrifying and back again. Let’s take a look now at the records that defined the year for me and see what you think. Love them? Hate them? Haven’t heard them? Let me know!

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HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Hilltop Hoods, Lanie Lane, Indian, Colossvs, Panopticon, Fishing, Swans, Xerxes, Sturgill Simpson, Collarbones, Mary Lambert, Cynic, OFF!, Shellac, Mastodon, The Roots, Woods of Desolation, The Magic Numbers, Spoon and Pharrell Williams…

50. La Roux – Trouble in Paradise
Spotify || Rdio

Did you honestly ever expect to see or hear from Elly Jackson again? After her universe of hype imploded in her early twenties, she’s made sure that if La Roux was to ever return, it was going to be precisely calculated and on her own terms. The hooks are just as sharp, the production just as crystallised and pristine – but it’s delivered with a smarter and more restrained look at broken hearts and ambiguous relationships. Think of Trouble in Paradise as less of a sequel to the project’s exceptional 2009 debut and more of a reboot of the franchise.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Silent Partner, Kiss and Not Tell, Tropical Chancer.

WATCH:

49. IDYLLS – Prayer for Terrene
Bandcamp

From the depths of Brisbane, a firebrand of heavy Australian music re-emerged with a new lineup and a new approach to their tactical, cacophonous grindcore. The introduction of squealing, churning saxophone mixed in a touch of the avant-garde, while the album’s longer songs allowed the band to explore their own musical surroundings with arresting, impressive results. Prayer for Terrene was more than just some sort of post-apocalyptic soundtrack – it was the sound of a band realising its full potential and making the most out of it. An essential step forward from a band leading the pack in their field.

THREE TOP TRACKS: PCP Crazy, Crashing Boar, Lied To.

LISTEN:

48. Behemoth – The Satanist
Spotify || Rdio

Everything about The Satanist is defiant. A band venturing into its tenth album should have none of the vitality and maintained-rage that is omnipotent and omnipresent within the tracklisting here. Furthermore, The Satanist is defiant in respects to to Behemoth itself still being here – frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski was struggling with leukaemia for a couple of years, a devastating blow in any context. Perhaps it’s this that has given the band the rush of adrenalin it needs – a scream to the heavens, a clear and open statement of unfinished business. The devil rides on.

THREE TOP TRACKS: The Satanist, O Father O Satan O Sun!, Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel.

WATCH:

47. Loudon Wainwright III – Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet)
Spotify || Rdio

At 68 years young, the senior Wainwright has a lot of grief with you people. His dog’s misbehaving, there’s nowhere to get a beer, the news is always awful and – to top it all off – he might have depression. Maybe. If he doesn’t, he will soon. At least, so we think. It doesn’t matter what subject he tackles – it’s always given a unique spin and approached with Wainwright’s distinct kind of wry, often black, humour. With The Blues, the Third remains one of the more underrated songwriters around. He just hasn’t had his respect paid – yet.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Harlan County, Harmless, Man & Dog.

WATCH:

46. Chumped – Teenage Retirement
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

The cover art of Teenage Retirement is a photo of a dude on his lonesome, chilling out in his pool and watching the world go by. It’s reflective of perhaps the best way to enjoy the debut album from this exceptional Brookyln outfit who, in a way, are picking up where albums like the Speedy Ortiz and Waxahatchee records from 2013 left off. It all ties into forward-thinking alternative rock with an all-important and oft-ignored central female voice – and as far as that realm was concerned, few dominated with such aplomb the way Chumped did. We’ll all float on.

LISTEN:

THREE TOP TRACKS: Hot 97 Summer Jam, Old and Tired, December is the Longest Month.

45. Miranda Lambert – Platinum
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

Country’s crazy ex-girlfriend next door doesn’t do things by thirds. Her albums are always packed to the brim, with an A-team of producers, co-writers and instrumentalists filling each song. It’s this that has allowed her to rise to the top of the food-chain on her own terms – while her bro-down peers want any random girl up in their truck, she’s telling the same dudes that they “can’t ride in her little red wagon.” She may as well be saying that they couldn’t lace up her boots – and she has the songs to back it up. Giddy up.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Priscilla, Platinum, Old Shit.

LISTEN:

44. Vales – Wilt & Rise
Bandcamp

Sometimes, what you need is a record of furious, unforgiving post-hardcore. Not that fringe-flicking shit with the superfluous keyboardist and the neck tatts – we’re talking about the purest definition of the term, insofar as that it’s a progression from the standards and moulds set. Wilt & Rise goes beyond your average tough-guy shit and is completely devastating on its own terms, delivered with pure conviction and a seething, unshakable rage. The band are not only the most important new voice being heard above the drone in their native UK, they’re threatening to do the same on a global scale.

THREE TOP TRACKS: White Horse, Dead Wood, Wildfire.

LISTEN:

43. Copeland – Ixora
Spotify || Rdio

Immediately, there was a sense that Aaron Marsh and co. were headed far beyond any cash-in reunion territory when they announced their reformation – there was a new album on the way, six years removed from their finest hour, You Are My Sunshine. If Ixora did anything as an album, it validated their return to the fold. Copeland remains Aaron Marsh’s most important vehicle, with each new song delivering on stirring indie rock and heartstring-plucked balladry that stand up with any of their prior works. Ixora blossoms and blooms, reminding listeners to never take bands such as these for granted.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Ordinary, Erase, I Can Make You Feel Young Again.

LISTEN:

42. Neil Cicierega – Mouth Silence
Soundcloud

User:neilcic has been responsible for more internet sensations than you’d ever begin to think. Put it this way: If the phrase “Snape, Snape, Severus Snape” means anything to you, then there’s plenty more where that came from. Here, Cicierega delivers a sequel to his Smash Mouth-obssessed debut, and no-one is safe. He continues to terrorise the world of pop culture and 90s nostalgia with some truly nightmarish pairings – Soundgarden and The Carpenters, System of a Down and Elton John, Oasis and Oasis. It’s jarring, it’s bizarre and it’s hypnotising in its brilliance. Keep the internet weird, son. BEST!

THREE TOP TRACKS: What Is It, Wndrwll, Crocodile Chop.

LISTEN:

41. Mariachi El Bronx – Mariachi El Bronx
Spotify || Rdio

Barely a year after yet another exceptional record from The Bronx, their alter-egos have emerged in a fanfare of trumpets, percussion and enough sing-alongs to last until The Bronx V. Despite an all-too-simple game plan and a very specific stylistic palette to draw from, MEB have substantially matured their sound across three albums; adding in a much-needed personal touch to the traditional folk music. There’s a lot of introspection going on in regards to the album’s lyricism, which serves as a beautiful contrast to the outward and extroverted music. Their greatest achievement yet – it’s high-time you joined the procession.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Everything Twice, Sticks and Stones, Right Between the Eyes.

LISTEN:

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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.