The Top 100 Songs of 2015, Part Two: 80 — 61

Here we are for part two. Response was unreal last week, thanks for checking it out and sharing it around. Here we go again! Part one here.

80. The Sidekicks – Everything in Twos

“Everything in Twos” turned up less than a month into 2015; dropped its bags and set up shop. It wasn’t going anywhere – nor should it have. Ducking and weaving through shimmering guitars and bouncing drums, it’s the type of power-pop that packs lyrical density to complement the bright, bursting tone; straight from the John K. Samson and John Roderick school of songwriting. Once you’ve surrendered to its wide-eyed charm and heartfelt, harmony-laden chorus, there’s no going back. It clocks in at 2:47, but you’ll be under its spell within the first 30 seconds – or your money back, guarantee.

79. FIDLAR – 40oz. On Repeat

The cheap beer has run dry, there’s no cocaine left and FIDLAR are not as stoked on the whole ‘stoked and broke’ thing that they were a couple of summers back. They’re still making belligerent, snotty garage pop-punk at its core, but the opening number on August’s Too saw them get a little more up-close and personal with their feelings – anger, depression, confusion et al. A dash of wurtilizer and toy piano is just enough to note growth and maturation on their part. Not a complete reinvention – because, duh, FIDLAR – but it keeps you guessing. Listening, too.

78. Bad//Dreems – Bogan Pride

Sure, these Adelaide natives enjoy a torn flanny and a smashed tinnie as much as the next bloke. Even with this in mind, Bad//Dreems are acutely aware of their native land’s major issue with hyper-masculinity. As the guitar scratches urgently against a pounding punk beat, “Bogan Pride” tears down beer-swilling muscle junkies with bitter, unrepentant fury. The irony of more of these types attending Bad//Dreems shows as their profile continues to (deservedly) rise probably won’t be lost on the band. At least they’ll always have this. Bonus points: The only song in the list to feature an exasperated “FUCK’S SAKE!”

77. Brendan Maclean – Tectonic

With synth arpeggios that orbit the planet and gated snare that could knock out Phil Collins in a single hit, “Tectonic” is the furthest that Mr. Maclean has ever ventured from the piano. Much like when Tim Freedman whipped out a keytar in the second verse of “Thank You,” the crowd was confused. But then, they cheered! And oh, how they danced! “Tectonic” is a pulsing, twirling piece of interplanetary pop – a shot in the dark that resonates in high definition. You could say the song was how Brendan got his groove back if only he’d never lost it.

76. Philadelphia Grand Jury – Crashing and Burning, Pt. II

Five years ago, the Philly Jays premiered a new song on tour entitled “A New Package for You,” another archetypal rush of knockabout indie-pop with a wild side and a spring in its step. For the band’s comeback album, the song was resurrected – a new hook, a slightly-slower tempo, a new hair-metal guitar break into the bridge and a bit of sprucing up here and there; hence the “Pt. II” suffix. Its origin story alone is indicative of how the track encapsulates their past, present and the future – it’s “A New Package” in a new package. Get excited.

75. EL VY – Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo)

The National’s Matt Berninger hasn’t always written zingers (lest we forget “Sometimes, you get up/And bake a cake or something” or “Standing at the punch table/Swallowing punch”), but initial listens to his side project’s first single will have you scratching your noggin over whatever mumbo-jumbo he’s spouting off. ‘Triple Jesus’? ‘A saltwater fish from a colourblind witch’? Who knows? Moreover, who cares? The thing about “Return to the Moon” is that it makes perfect sense in clear spite of itself. It’s a pop oddity; a guitar swagger, an off-beat handclap.If Berninger’s enigmatic charisma can’t win you over, perhaps nothing can.

74. Best Coast – Feeing OK

Five years ago was the summer that Best Coast’s debut, Crazy for You, was the ultimate girl guide – an album full of lyrics to quote endlessly on Tumblr while others would reblog and add the phrase “figuratively me!” Not to discredit that album whatsoever, but the best parts of the band’s third, California Nights, are when they’re tackling some of the bigger issues than boy problems and weed. On the album’s opener, Bethany Cosentino laments being there for everyone except herself; learning slowly but surely how to start putting her well-being first once again. It’s figuratively a great start.

73. Sweater Season – Charley

For a band quite figuratively less than a year old to be delivering a song as confident in nature as “Charley” is the equivalent of your infant child skipping the ‘goo-goo’s and ‘ga-ga’s entirely and skipping ahead to reciting a Shakespearian sonnet. In one swiftly-paced and smartly-written piece of proto-grunge indie, the band establishes a dual guitar tone to kill for – all sunshine and radiation – while simultaneously tossing killer one-liners like “I forget what I regret” – later transmogrifying into “what I have left,” for full effect – on top, almost as an afterthought. Damn baby geniuses.

72. The Sidekicks – The Kid Who Broke His Wrist

Steve Ciolak has never shied away from deeply-personal writing – it’s where he embraces it the most that his songs shine. That being said, there’s something about the way he reminisces on childhood spent and a youth now lost to a man on the verge of his thirties that, for whatever reason, feels somehow – importantly – different. It resonates in a way one might not initially expect – perhaps to do with how he still sees so much of himself in the boy that he once was; still finding himself unable to make a proverbial fist. Heartbreaking – and bone-breaking.

71. Citizen – Heaviside

For a band that used to recall acts like Sunny Day Real Estate and Jimmy Eat World, it’s strange that Mogwai and post-Deja Brand New are immediate comparison points when discussing the quietest moment from Citizen’s fascinating second LP. Yes, it’s a departure – and a major one at that – but the faded, distant shimmer of the guitar and the immediate, raw-nerve vocals that feel as though we have cut to the core of what this band is – and, more importantly, what it can be. For a song about purgatory, Citizen sure know where they’re headed on “Heaviside.”

70. Rihanna feat. Kanye West and Paul McCartney – FourFiveSeconds

A Barbadian, a black skinhead and a Beatle walk into a bar… yes, the year’s most unlikely combo were also behind the year’s most unlikely pop smash. Not that these three haven’t seen a hit or two in their lifetime – least of all Macca – but it was the manner in which “FourFiveSeconds” presented itself that made for such an intriguing prospect: Quiet. Unassuming. Raw. Soulful. No braggadocios raps, no “na-na-na”s, no nostalgia. Just an unplugged, intimate moment with true music royalty. A true career highlight for each – and given their combined history, that says a remarkable deal.

69. The Smith Street Band – Wipe That Shit-Eating Grin Off Your Punchable Face

The night Tony Abbott was elected, The Smith Street Band played a sold-out Corner Hotel, telling their captive audience that this was not a man to be trusted or one that spoke for them. In the year of Abbott’s demise in the public eye, it began with this furious, damning five-minute suite detailing his evil, hateful ways in explicit detail. It’s the angriest song the band has ever recorded – and, as it stands now, their most important. “A change is gonna come,” Wil Wagner warned, echoing sentiments of the late Sam Cooke. Less than a year later, it did.

68. Seth Sentry – Violin

No-one likes to see the clown crying. When Seth Marton isn’t goofing off, flirting with waitresses or talking about hoverboards, he’s capable of eloquent and passionate introspect. An open letter to an absent, arrogant father, “Violin” is Seth’s most private and painfully-personal song. As Marton’s cathartic furor rains down, so too does his discontent and malaise over how things have panned out. The song’s lynchpin comes in the form of its first and last line – which are one and the same. It brings the song full circle, leading one to hope against hope the bastard hears every last word.

67. White Dog – No Good

From the warehouses, garages and four-track recorders of Sydney, White Dog emerge with fists swinging and teeth sharpened. “No Good” seethes. It radiates from the back of cracked, split-open radio speakers. It prowls the streets of the inner-west wielding a switchblade. It’s the loudest, rawest and most primal sound to erupt from the DIY punk scene this year – and most other years, too, if complete honesty is allowed. If you’re not getting the message already – or maybe you just weren’t paying attention – remember this: “No Good” is the antithesis of its own name. That’s punk as fuck.

66. Major Lazer feat. DJ Snake and MØ – Lean On

Diplo is King Midas – everything he touches becomes gold. DJ Snake is King Henry VIII – he’s a wild motherfucker that’ll chop people’s heads off for the thrill of it. MØ is the lady of the lake – she holds the sword with all the power. By some bizarre head-on collision, the three have been pitted against one another in a three-way dance – and everybody wins. “Lean On” was, for many, the highly sought-after ‘song of the summer.’ More importantly, it was an assertion of pure dominance for both the charts and the dancefloor. Just go with it.

65. The Story So Far – Nerve

The best pop-punk right now is made by kids raised on Through Being Cool that are through being cool. Beyond empty slogans and Tumblr drama lies music that can be artistic, cathartic and genuinely engaging. The Story So Far have evolved into such an act, having grown up before their audience’s eyes and winding up on the wrong side of their 20s with a bad attitude and some killer riffs. Subsequently, “Nerve” stands as one of the most righteously-angry songs of both TSSF’s canon and the calendar year. Any self-respecting rock fan needs to hear them out on this one.

64. Endless Heights – Haunt Me

When Joel Martorana gave up screaming and turned his attention to singing two years ago, it was a confusing and suspicious move to some genre stiffs. As his voice rings out on “Haunt Me,” however, one struggles to recall Endless Heights without it being there. It suits the hypnotic drone of the guitars and the brisk drumming to absolute perfection, and presents itself as further evidence that the change in direction for the band was undoubtedly the right decision to make. Succinctly, “Haunt Me” gets a lot of work done in a considerably-short time. The power of Heights compels you.

63. Justin Bieber – Sorry

It takes a lot for a man to own up to his mistakes – especially if that man was, up until quite recently, a boy despised on a global scale. With an A-team of producers spreading the good word on his behalf – in this particular instance, Sonny “Skrillex” Moore – Bieber’s path to redemption is a gruelling, arduous one for us to undertake. As long as songs like “Sorry” keep turning up, however, the path shall be paved with gold. Anyone not left dancing in the spirit of the song’s phenomenal video just isn’t Beliebing hard enough in themselves.

62. Josh Pyke – Be Your Boy

Sure, he’s a bit more Smooth FM than Triple J these days, but there’s a lot to be said for the fact Josh Pyke has never changed his stripes for anyone. He’s always been a hopeless romantic, a dreamer and an old soul – and all of this entwines beautifully on what is unquestionably his best song in years. Layered percussion and cooed backing vocals prove to be a warm bed for Pyke’s rekindled-youth flame to rest upon; and its sweetly-sincere chorus will do the rest of the job in worming its way into your heart. Ahh, Pykey. You’re alright.

61. Silversun Pickups – Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)

When photos of Silversun Pickups first surfaced, many thought that the voice they were hearing belonged to bassist Nikki Moninger. Naturally, they were in for a world of shock when they inevitably saw Brian Aubert step up to the mic, but “Circadian Rhythm” is a Sliding Doors moment of sorts that shows what life would be like if it was actually Moninger that took the lead. As luck would have it, it’s a total delight – a more subdued and intimate moment from a band that normally go to 11. This, indeed, is a dance well worth immersing yourself in.

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Part three up next Monday! 

Don’t forget you can download the podcast version of Part Two here.

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Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part Four: 20 – 11

Quick catch up over this-a-way: Part one, then two, then three.

Let’s finish this!

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20. Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love
Spotify || Rdio


Cut the crap. That’s all Perfect Pussy want. Say Yes to Love cuts deep, fast and often. As far as the grand scheme of guitar-oriented music was concerned, it felt as if it was one of the more dangerous releases to make itself known within the calendar year – it fumed, it radiated and it sent the levels into a constant bubble of blood red. Beneath its thorny exterior, a further layer was revealed – Meredith Graves shrieks and screams out mantras, rhetoric and personal essays that added to her already-stellar reputation as one of contemporary music’s more important voices. It’s love.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Interference Fits, Driver, VII.

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19. TV on the Radio – Seeds
Spotify ||Rdio

“This time, I’ve got seeds on ground.” TV on the Radio sewed new life roughly three years removed from throwing dirt on the late, great Gerard Smith. Seeds allowed them to explore a more straightforward, streamlined approach to songwriting; allowing for their open-book honesty to shine through new love, old friends and healing wounds. It also allowed the band to let itself exist as an entity far greater than the sum of its parts – a chance to completely realise what they have created, what they have so wisely kept alive. Seeds is life after death – it’s not easy, but achievable.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Lazzeray, Careful You, Happy Idiot.

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18. Willis Earl Beal – Experiments in Time

Sometimes, it’s suggested that an artist has “done a 180” as a hyperbolic expression to indicate a change in style. It’s rarely the case that the saying is justified in its use, however. This, along with several other contributing factors, is what makes Experiments in Time such a unique experience. Beal, formerly of the lo-fi blues and proto-folk category, turned his attention to music that is ambient, delicate and cautiously quiet. So radical is the departure, one may even be found double-checking that it is indeed the same man. A completely-unexpected sensation and a welcomed reinvention.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Slow Bus, Waste It Away, Same Auld Tears.

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17. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
Spotify || Rdio

They may wander off for years at a time, but the Pornos are never really gone. You couldn’t kill those mothercanuckers with all of the weapons in Liam Neeson’s arsenal. Theirs is an undying spirit, which resurfaces on arguably be their best LP since Twin Cinema. The bombast of the title track, the defiant stride of “Marching Orders” and the Superchunk wig-out of “War on the East Coast” are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Perhaps the best thing about Brill Bruisers is that everyone will walk away with their own highlight – and there’s absolutely no wrong answers here.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Champions of Red Wine, Brill Bruisers, Marching Orders.

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16. Harmony – Carpetbombing
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Australian children’s entertainer Don Spencer once sang that “The greater part of every state is off the beaten track.” It’s certainly not what he meant, but this much is true of Carpetbombing – while most local releases concerned themselves with the inner workings of city streets or behind the closed doors of suburbia, Harmony’s second LP was covered in the grit, blood and petrol of outhouses, country yards and battered shacks. It’s a grim, confronting and occasionally terrifying record. It’s more Australian than most albums have a right to be. Carpetbombing is the sounds of then and the sounds of now.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Big Ivan, Do Me a Favour, Carpetbomb.

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15. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Spotify || Rdio

Against Me! began in the bedroom of a teenager named Tom Gabel. It began again on the global stage, lead with aplomb by a thirty-something named Laura Jane Grace. The never-say-die punk spirit that was aflame with its origins continued to flicker defiantly, albeit guiding the path of significantly different subject matter – street-walking, identity crises and parenthood, to name a few. Transgender is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It’s what they – and we – needed more than anything. This, friends, is the first day of the rest of Against Me!’s life. God bless its transsexual heart.

THREE TOP TRACKS: True Trans Soul Rebel, Two Coffins, Transender Dysphoria Blues.

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14. You Beauty – Jersey Flegg
Spotify || Rdio

It doesn’t matter if you win or lose – it’s how you play the game. This has been drilled into the heads of countless children, and it sticks for a reason – it reflects on more than just its immediate point of reference. Case in point: Few played a better game in the year passed than You Beauty, the supergroup-of-sorts that brought to life a nameless NRL star of a bygone era. It didn’t even matter if you didn’t know your Joey Johns from your Freddie Fitler – the storytelling was just that enticing. Jersey Flegg was a shoe-in for best and fairest.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Now Her Skirt, Rabbits, Ann-Maree.

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13. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
Spotify || Rdio

There were a lot of notable lines scattered throughout the eight tracks that made up Cloud Nothings’ third studio album, but perhaps the most telling comes in its closing number: “I’m not telling you all that I’m going through.” It’s rung true throughout the collected works of the Dylan Baldi vehicle; perhaps never moreso here – revealing a sliver of introspect and innermost struggle, but always pulling back before a complete reveal unfurls. Nowhere Else also takes the band further into the sprawling, incessant drive of noisy alt-rock, making it a true crowning achievement with the promise of continued future greatness.

THREE TOP TRACKS: I’m Not Part of Me, Now Here In, Pattern Walks.

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12. Young Fathers – Dead
Spotify || Rdio || Soundcloud

Regardless of what you perceived to be its benefits or its drawbacks, the referendum to decide on its independence is generally perceived to be the biggest thing to emerge from Scotland within 2014… at least, it would have been for those that didn’t hear or discover Young Fathers. The collective’s debut LP was one conceived under cover of darkness, revelling in pitch blackness while also taking the initiative to lead the procession toward distant lights. This is hip-hop that wants to be a part of the revolution – and when it comes, those not with them will be first to go.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Am I Not Your Boy, Get Up, Low.

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11. Moon Hooch – This is Cave Music
Soundcloud

The title of Moon Hooch’s second LP stems from what they refer to their music as from a categorical standpoint. You’ll certainly be thankful they did the groundwork for you, as what they do cannot exactly fit directly into any given spectrum. It’s a niche carved on the outside of alternative music – if such a thing is even possible – that digs deep. The trio implement thunderous horns and pitting them in a duel atop ricocheting drum patterns; locking the gates until a victor emerges. This is love. This is war. This is jazz. This is rock. This is cave music.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Bari 3, No. 6, Contra Dubstep.

LISTEN:

Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part Three: 30 – 21

Crossing over the halfway point! Livin’ on some sort of prayer. Parts one and two are to be read/caught up on here and here.

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30. sleepmakeswaves – Love of Cartography
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

The sooner that Australia wakes up and smells the vibrancy of its extensive post-rock community at hand, the bloody better. Sydney’s sleepmakeswaves have become the vanguard act of it in short time, less pushing the envelope and more reading the letter it contained from atop a mountain. With the airtight production guidance of rock expert Nick DiDia, Cartography became a full realisation of everything that the band could be; exploring new depths as well as searing highs – often within the same song. This is the sound of actions speaking far, far louder than words ever could. Consider the game changed.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Great Northern, Something Like Avalanches, Perfect Detonator.

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29. Fucked Up – Glass Boys
Spotify || Rdio

They may be the least hardcore and the least punk band in hardcore punk, but by some bizarre law of double negatives it’s made Toronto sextet Fucked Up far more hardcore and far more punk than a significant amount of their peers. Each of their albums feels momentous, grand in both scope and execution. Glass Boys proves to be no exception, in spite of a leaner runtime – in fact, it allows you to focus further in on the remarkable crafting that goes into each track. An alternate version of the LP with half-speed drums proves to be strangely-alluring additional listening.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Led by Hand, Glass Boys, Sun Glass.

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28. Manchester Orchestra – Cope
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

Manchester Orchestra have the heart of a lion and their collective eyes on a grander universal bigger picture. It’s now taken them through four albums of life, death, acceptance, honesty, sin and confession; and though one’s take on which is the superior of them may vary from listener to listener, it’s nigh-on impossible to leave a Manchester Orchestra record empty-handed. Although often shrouded in deep-cut metaphor and surrealist lyrical imagery, Cope has its own means of cutting directly to an emotional core at its most crucial points. It’s yet another excellent release from a band that works in mysterious ways.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Girl Harbor, Top Notch, Cope.

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27. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Spotify || Rdio || Download

We’re not in side-project territory anymore, Toto. The once-unlikely pairing of Killer Mike and El-P, now onto their third release together, has begun to make more sense in the greater spectrum of hip-hop perhaps more than practically anything else this decade. Such a bold statement can be backed by noting the remarkable impact of their second album. Swarming, visceral beats, simultaneous lyrical assaults and a completely-unexpected cameo from a fiery Zach de la Rocha all assisted in allowing Run the Jewels to forcefully smash through the underground and lead riots through the city streets. All hell can’t stop them now.


THREE TOP TRACKS: Early, Oh My Darling Don’t Cry, Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck).

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26. Future Islands – Singles
Spotify || Rdio

Some longer-term fans of dramatically-flaired electro-pop explorers Future Islands may feel somewhat disgruntled that it’s taken until their fourth studio album for a wider audience to be paying them the attention that they so rightly deserve. Think of it, instead, as a blessing in disguise: With the world now watching, we see the trio at the very best of their collective abilities; presenting a refined and distinctive take on their genre that revels in its kitsch and unfashionability so much that it comes full circle, leading to the arguably being the coolest damn record of the year. Who’d have thought?

THREE TOP TRACKS: Doves, Seasons (Waiting on You), Sun in the Morning.

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25. James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

For a timid Irish lad, James Vincent McMorrow certainly proved to have balls of steel when he made his launch forth into the great unknown at the start of the year. His second album was described by many as a 180 of sorts, doing away entirely with the folksy instrumentation of its predecessor. Perhaps a more fitting angle, however, would have been a 270. Post Tropical incorporated hindsight in regards to McMorrow’s raw-nerve emotional songwriting and his delicately-placed falsetto, but it also gave view to a brave new world. Who knows who he may yet become? It’s all blissfully uncertain.

THREE TOP TRACKS: All Points, Outside, Digging, Cavalier.

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24. Luca Brasi – By a Thread
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Two-fifths of Luca Brasi left the fold not a year before the release of their second studio album, a blow which may well have spelled the end for a lesser band. The Tasmanian natives were quick to mend, however – it wasn’t long before their triple-guitar interplay was woven into a tighter twin assault; while replacing the towering Saxon Hall on drums with the impeccably-bicepped Danny Flood was like switching out an unstoppable force for an immovable object. The craftsmanship of the songs, too, proved to be their greatest collective achievement to date. They – and we – live to fight another day.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Western Junction, Borders and Statelines, Here’s Looking at You, Kid Rock.

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23. Kishi Bashi – Lighght
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Kaoru Ishibashi finds himself in the realm of indie-pop with the violin as his weapon of choice over keyboards or guitar. This left-of-centre take on the genre allows for KB’s amazing technicolour dream-music to roam as freely as it pleases. On Ishibashi’s second LP under the moniker, he layers both his instrument and his voice to the point of assembling a chamber orchestra and a choir respectively. By means of beautifully striking contrast, there are also moments of quiet that reel in focus to the man behind it all. Much like its cover, Lighght is a stunning work of art.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Q & A, Philosophize in It! Chemicalize with It!, Carry On Phenomenon.

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22. Ted Danson with Wolves – WWTDWWD?
Bandcamp

From their culture-jamming band name to their sax-wielding take on DIY math rock, there’s nary a band runnin’ ‘round these parts that’s quite like Sydney’s Ted Danson with Wolves. It may well not have been their intentions when they initially formed out in humble old Tamworth several moons ago, but it’s where they’ve ended up on their outstanding debut effort. Its hyper-literate lyrics delve into the seriously strange and the strangely serious on a tandem basis, shrieked above a mesmerising cacophony of bass rumble, drum splatter and guitar squiggle. The outsiders found a way in, at long last. WWTDWWD? This.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Tim Has a Really Good Idea (Again!), Bohemian (I Don’t) Like You, In the Throes of Golf Woes: “It Was a Coarse Course, of Course.”

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21. The Smith Street Band – Throw Me in the River
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Wil Wagner has said several times that there have been moments where he’s considered quitting music entirely. Throw Me in the River makes one ever so grateful he made the right call and kept his band alive. Were it to be summed up in three words? Let’s try “location, location, location.” Its songs take place all over the globe, from late nights in Calgary to a boiling day at Meredith Music Festival; not to mention its recording taking place in the small town of Forrest. No matter where you’re from, River shows that it’s where you’re at that’s most important.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Calgary Girls, Surrender, Throw Me in the River.

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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?

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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.

The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part Four: 40 – 21

We’re so close! Parts one, two and three… missed ’em? Not to worry? You can revisit them here, here and here. Let’s get down to some top 40 pop hits. Starting now.

***

40. Fucked Up feat. J Mascis – Led By Hand

Here’s a strange proposition: The best Dinosaur Jr. song of the year did have J Mascis in it, but it wasn’t by Dinosaur Jr. In a standout moment from their exceptional Glass Boys LP, Pink Eyes and co. paid homage to proto-grunge wigouts while still maintaining their hardcore punk roots. There was perhaps no greater yin-and-yang in the year than when Mascis mumbled the song’s chorus as Pink Eyes let out a Roger Daltrey-worthy “YEAH!” atop of it. An unlikely pairing on paper, “Led by Hand” had everything making a whole lotta sense quite quickly. Follow it around.

39. St. Vincent – Digital Witness

What did Annie Clark learn from her time making music with David Byrne? Two major things. The first: Horns. They’re a weapon. Use them wisely. The second: Is something categorically weird in your song? Make it weirder. Taking this on board, “Digital Witness” is one of her finest tracks to date. Whether it was the spiralling pre-chorus melody, the stinging guitar wail or that all-encompassing hook, it was nigh-on impossible to deny the resonance of this rebirth. During one of the song’s many earworms, Clark boldly states “I want all of your mind.” You got it. Anything else?

38. The Kite String Tangle – Words

We’re still learning a lot about Danny Harley, the prodigious figurehead behind Brisbane bedroom phenomena The Kite String Tangle. Tracks like “Words” allowed us as listeners to edge slightly closer in this regard, and it was something to be extremely thankful for. A restrained exploration of post-dubstep balladry, Harley shrouds himself in light-and-shade contrasts, gently coaxing out confessional lyrics as distant lights flicker and glow on the outskirts. It shouldn’t add up that such depth and maturity has been achieved at such an early stage, but one would suppose The Kite String Tangle has always been against the odds.

37. Jane Tyrrell – The Rush

Lovers can fall hard and fast for one another, but where does one find oneself when fire turns to ice? It’s a complicated subject, and one that Tyrrell details with an outsider’s eye and an insider’s mind. She may have set up two characters in the song, but it’s safe to say that she sees more than just herself within them. Driven masterfully by the unmistakable drumming of PVT’s Laurence Pike, there are soaring highs and crushing lows that weave through the song’s relatively-short runtime. Tyrrell sees us through to the bitter end. It’s not like it’s her first time.

36. Ken Stringfellow – Kids Don’t Follow

If any song is stretching the friendship for its inclusion in a 2014 list, it’s surely this: A cover of a Replacements song from the 80s that was recorded in 2004 for a tribute album to the aforementioned college-rock legends that ultimately never came to be. This hazy barroom take on the anti-authoritative punk number came from acclaimed Posies and R.E.M. alum Ken Stringfellow; and collected dust until the release of a rarities compilation at the beginning of 2014. So, here we are. You best believe this sucker was worth uncovering. A smart, somewhat-sombre reworking from a truly underrated craftsman.

35. Babaganouj – Too Late for Love

Go Violets didn’t fade away, they burnt out. Their embers remain flickering within Brisbane’s still-thriving indie-pop village, as two of its members have resumed full-time positions in this little jangly garage outfit that could. “Too Late for Love” may have been born in the sunshine state, but it’s more European in flavour – there’s a strong dose of Camera Obscura, a hint of The Wannadies and sprinklings of Belle and Sebastian’s early work. None of this is said to deride the song, of course. It’s a reflection on how it immediately feels like home. May this band burn longer and brighter.

34. Kelis – Breakfast

Her milkshake brought all the boys to the yard, but what happens when one of those boys sticks around? Now in her thirties, Kelis is exploring the concept of finding love in wake of divorce. It’s quite an adult prospect, recurring on perhaps her most mature LP to date, Food. Many went with a helping of “Jerk Ribs” when asked to name the album’s standout, but it would be foolhardy to dismiss this triumphantly horn-laden take on neo-soul, complete with stunning chorus and adorable children’s backing vocals. Much like in life, “Breakfast” is the most important meal of the day.

33. Ben Howard – Conrad

A lot of pitch-black darkness took up Ben Howard’s second album – hell, it even took up most of the cover art. Positioned towards its latter half, “Conrad” allowed the LP to let a glimmer of light into the spectrum. It continues to look at where a past love went awry; and yet the song plays to the pop sensibilities that rewarded Howard such attention to begin with. Its shipmates are his exceptional guitar work, layered to the point of being a battalion front; as well as a hummed refrain that would even garner due respect from the Crash Test Dummies.

32. Luca Brasi – Borders and Statelines

Luca Brasi’s dues have been paid in full and with interest; and many within Australia’s punk community have spent the last few years in particular wondering as to when it would be their time. It was answered not with words, but an extremely loud action. The forceful, crashing drums, the stellar twin-guitar attack and the rousing, spirited chorus they always had in them… “Borders and Statelines,” contrary to its lyrics, will come to define this band in the very best way imaginable. There is a wolf in the throne room, and its name is Luca Brasi. There will be blood.

31. Swans – Oxygen

2014 saw Michael Gira turn 60 years old. He continues to haunt the realm of alternative/avant-garde music after thirty-plus years in the game with unfinished business. Amid an exhausting two-hour-plus release – the double-LP To Be Kind – came this truly terrifying beast. “Oxygen,” already a live favourite, can now officially stand as one of the biggest, boldest compositions to ever come out under the Swans moniker upon its long-awaited recording. Its opening moments are spent picking out one of the year’s most distinctive basslines; its dying moments forcefully hurls everything it has built up into the inferno. The in-between is unforgettable.

30. Death From Above 1979 – Right On, Frankenstein!

Yes, the most hyped new rock band of the year may well have been a bass-and-drums duo; but a vengeful return from the very band that made it cool in the first place made sure we all knew whose yard we were stepping into. “Frankenstein” fires off on all cylinders from its opening seconds, pounding through a barnstorming, breakneck dose of rock & roll that exists purely on Keeler and Grainger’s terms. Plus, it’s gotta be the best false ending to a song from this year: The dust settles, the bass rings out… then, POW! Right in the kisser!

29. Bertie Blackman – Run for Your Life

Another new Bertie Blackman album means another new Bertie Blackman. From the days of her favourite jeans to her flirtations with electronica on later releases, the chameleonic Blackman has rarely allowed herself to get too comfortable within a particular style in her decade-and-change of songwriting. “Run for Your Life” is no exception to this, although it would be wise to suggest she spend a little more time in this specific corner. She sounds right at home with the gated snare, thickly-layered synthesizers and the whoah-oh’d call and response. She may well have just stumbled across her own pop paradise.

28. Kiesza – Hideaway

Fred Armisen may have sung that the dream of the 90s was alive in Portland, but his radar was a little off. The dream of the 90s, friends, is alive in Kiesza, a twenty-something Canadian up-and-comer who dominated dancefloors throughout the entire year with this certified banger in her arsenal. From a crafting perspective, “Hideaway” is retro in the sense that it can appreciate that there was a “What is Love” and a “Rhythm of the Night” for every “Teen Spirit” and “Black Hole Sun.” Its spirit is alive and shuffling once again. Mash it.

27. Coldplay – Magic

In the year that the phrase “consciously uncoupling” entered the cultural lexicon, you could well have been forgiven for forgetting that Chris Martin actually made music this year. Sure, some people would like to forget it altogether, but that’s another story for another time. We’re here to talk about “Magic,” a single that allowed Martin and co. to recall the pop simplicity of their early days while connecting it to the fresh pain of a then-recent separation. If “Magic” proves anything, it’s that we can begin again. That, and Chris Martin can still write a bloody tune.

26. Tkay Maidza – U-Huh

Don’t let Tkay Maidza’s age fool you, nor the simplicity of her big-business single. MCs twice her age would kill for a flow so tightly syncopated, hooks this high in both quality and quantity and a beat as bright and boisterous as the one that fills the spaces of “U-Huh.” There are constant surprises around every corner in the current Australian musical climate; and Maidza is the latest to make a substantial impact. One hopes the fire spat here leads to a phenomenal debut LP next year. After all, as she puts it, “We don’t tolerate broke behaviour.”

25. Yoke – Jabiluka

A phrase as simple as “I never told her” is what centres itself thematically at the core of “Jabiluka,” so named after a mine in the Northern Territory of Australia. Each time it is uttered, there are further layers peeled back to reveal the pain, the regret and the loss that comes with delivering such a line. It’s conveyed emphatically, almost taking on new meaning with every repetition. Similarly, the song itself may externally feel like a Dev Hynes-flavoured slice of downtempo indie-pop, but further listening will see those very same layers revealing. A smart yet complicated song.

24. DZ Deathrays – Reflective Skull

Who gives a fuck about how many notes you can play? If you can play the right ones, in the right succession, you needn’t worry about a single thing more. The riff that “Reflective Skull” lives and dies by was not designed for any greater intellectual pursuit. It’s a primitive headbanger, locked into an undeniable stomping groove and launched forth with reckless abandon. Ironically enough, with its less-than-more approach, this could be one of the biggest sounding tracks that the Deathrays duo have ever put their collective name to. Altogether, now: DUN, DUN-DUN, DUN DUN DUN-DUN, DEWWWW DEWWWW DEWWWW.

23. Sia – Chandelier

Ten years removed from her previous signature song, the inimitable “Breath Me,” Sia Furler has penned herself a new standard; an anthem which will forever define her as one of not only Australia’s greatest singer-songwriter exports, but as a true mastermind behind pop music in the 21st century. Hyperbole? For Christ’s sake, go listen to that chorus again. Seriously. It feels like that Maxell ad campaign where the guy is being blown away by the sound in his chair. Maddie Ziegler may have given the song a second life, but it was all a part of Sia’s grander plan.

22. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt

Don’t call it a comeback. Don’t even call it a reinvention. What we are seeing here is Brian Fallon and co. going out on a proverbial limb, gazing forlornly at what lies beyond. In leaving their comfort zone and exploring the possibilities of slower, more refined songwriting, Gaslight have undertaken a greater journey all with a single step. The title track from their latest record also served as one of their most striking, honest songs ever put to wax. It’s murmurs and whispers from a band defined by their shouts and screams, and it makes for a remarkable listening experience.

21. Tiny Ruins – Me at the Museum, You in the Wintergardens

The single greatest ode to love in 2014 came from the humble, warm abode of Auckland; where you’ll find the quaint, gorgeously understated sounds of one Hollie Fullbrook on the wind. The story is simply told, beautifully painted and pristinely arranged, as we follow the scent of young love through two uniquely different workplaces that somehow not only complement on another, but serve as a reflection on the resolute power that can come through finding love. Its greatest achievement, however, is its ability to accomplish all of this majesty in a decidedly slim 155 seconds. It just comes and goes.

***

20 – 1

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!

***

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:

***

INTERVIEW: Jae Laffer (AUS), September 2013


This was the first feature that I wrote for the BRAG, and there’s many happy returns where that came from. So far, I’ve done dozens of features for them; including seven cover stories that I’m really happy with. Obviously, we’ll get to them before you know it. Let’s get back to this, as I had a chat with the perfectly charming frontman of The Panics. Seriously underrated band if you ask me – even if, for many, they live and die by that song. This was in promotion of his perfectly charming solo album. Painless interview. Good one to start with for a place I’m still very proud and happy to be writing for.

– DJY, December 2014

***

2013 not only marks the release of Jae Laffer’s debut solo album, it also marks a milestone of ten years since the release of A House on a Street in a Town I’m From, the debut album from Laffer’s day job, The Panics. Jae exudes a sense of pride at what the band achieved – particularly at such an early age.

“It reminds me of that time in your life when you’re waking up out of being a dreamer in high school,” he says. “I listen to that album and I hear myself crazily imitating all of my heroes. It’s so exciting, though – and when it starts catching on, it’s the most invigorating feeling. There’s a great energy, and that’s the great thing about the kind of music you make when you’re in your teens – it’s naïve, but it’s not afraid of anything.”

The Panics have been on an extended break following the release of their 2011 album Rain on the Humming Wire. In that time, Laffer has been hard at work on When the Iron Glows Red – an earnest slice of folk-rock full of warm harmonies, strident acoustic guitar and a new-found sense of purpose. Laffer felt that Iron was an album that he had to make.

“I just wanted to test the waters,” he explains. “I’ve gotten to the stage where the band and I want to change up what we do and start afresh. We’re still very close, but I also wanted to keep up creativity on all fronts.”

“I felt it was a good time to do this album,” he continues. “After the last Panics album took a little longer than we wanted, it certainly had its particular stresses here and there. All I really wanted to do before starting on any new Panics stuff was just to show myself that I could create an atmosphere, write a whole bunch of songs really quickly and record them. For many years of compromising, it just felt great to be freely creative for creativity’s sake and take control of a record – produce it, play most of the stuff on it. It just felt good, and it worked.”

Laffer points to two iconic figures – John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen – as being greatly influential on the sound of Iron. “I think a lot of what I was listening to was reflecting being thirty years old and having new kinds of pressures in life,” he says. “It’s that struggle of trying to keep our dreams alive and not compromising too much, not letting things stop you from being your true self. So I found myself really relating to the worker’s ballads of Springsteen and Lennon crazily talking so abruptly about his relationship. I might not be up there with those guys, but it’s just that kind of feeling that resonated with me.”

The album will be launched with a national tour, starting in mid-October in Melbourne and winding up with a Sydney date in early November. Laffer will be joined by a four-piece backing band, and promises a mix of new solo material and some Panics favourites. Don’t worry about backlash should you request ‘Don’t Fight It,’ either – against all odds, Jae is at peace with The Panics’ biggest single.

“It’s just a cool song,” he says calmly. “As far as having a track that sums you up to people, then I feel ‘Don’t Fight It’ puts our reputation in good hands. It’s got a certain something to it… I’ll always be proud of it.”

INTERVIEW: Shout Out Louds (SWE), May 2013

This ended up being the last feature article I did for the AU Review. No bad blood there at all – Larry is a genuine product, and one of the best dudes in the industry. Built up a site out of essentially nothing and gave so many great writers and photographers a leg up when few other places would – myself included. Was very happy to write for this site for the four years that I did. I also think this was a pretty decent one to go out on – Adam is very polite (he’s Swedish, of course he is) and gave a great insight into what I feel were a very underrated band in their time.

– DJY, October 2014

***

The Shout Out Louds are keeping a deep, dark secret amongst their ranks. Around the mid-2000s, the band rode a wave of European indie rock bands roaring through a renaissance of cool; with soundtrack features, hit singles and world tours for all. While many bands from that period essentially burnt out, splitting with major labels and disbanding, Shout Out Louds just kept working away. They kept the exact same line-up, they never had any major public spats, they released consistently good records (including this year’s Optica) and they never compromised for anyone or anything. The facts don’t lie, and when they’re presented to the band’s lead singer, Adam Olenius, he’s simply asked one question: What’s their secret?

“I don’t really even know if there is one,” he laughs. “We were friends before we even started making albums. That was the main thing – we came together because we were friends. It’s hard to let go of something when you have such a strong, deep connection with your bandmates. Even though we’ve always been touring and still have people coming to see us all around the world, maybe the fact we didn’t really explode in the way that some of the other bands did… maybe it helped us stay hungry and want to stay creative. We’re still good friends, y’know? We still feel as though we have records to make and things to achieve.”

Optica is the band’s fourth album, which comes three years after its predecessor, Work. It was released in the first quarter of the year, and has already received some of the most glowing reviews of the band’s career. It’s a lush, intimate and engaging pop record, which sees the group – Olenius, keyboardist/vocalist Bebban Stenborg, guitarist Carl von Arbin, drummer Eric Edman and bassist Ted Malmros – expanding their palette and bringing some new, interesting sounds to the table. Although Adam still takes the central role of lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and primary lyricist/songwriter, he definitely feels as though the collective energy and force of the group is what makes the album so worthwhile.

“We were always so stuck in our own roles,” he says. “We had our own little bubble going for awhile. I have to say, though, on this record, everyone has been so much more involved. We produced this one ourselves, and it made us… I dunno, a little more passionate about being in a band. The attitude of this record is pretty strong, I feel. A lot of the songs were written in the studio, which is a little unusual in our group. Normally, I have a pretty solid idea of what I want out of the song, but going into the studio there were a lot of little fragments of ideas. I’d show them to the others, and we’d play around with them accordingly. This was the first time we didn’t go into our rehearsal space with this ideas as – like I said – we didn’t want to get stuck in our own roles again.”

“Every album we’ve done since our debut is a reaction to the album prior to it, he continues. “The Work album, which came out three years ago, was created very traditionally. We rehearsed the songs for about six or seven months, and then we went to the studio for two months – then, it was done. This time, we more or less did it the other way around. Who knows, next time might end up being completely different!” Adam points to one of the album’s highlights, “Blue Eyes,” as a song which sparked the creative process.

“The original version of that song was a fast track – it had a bit of a Sonic Youth feel to it!” he recalls. “We felt that it couldn’t really go anywhere, but we still wanted to do something with it. When we started playing it again in the studio, we started trying it out on different instruments and taking it down a step. We found that the groove sounds like a private jet landing at an airport! When that song came together, we really knew that we could create something unique with only a few elements. Even though it sounds very different to the other tracks, it really set the scene for the creative process.”

2013 has already seen the band touring extensively in support of Optica, which leads to a line of questioning regarding their return to Australia. Olenius has fond memories of the band’s previous tour, which took in the 2010 and 2011 new year period, including a spot at the sadly now-defunct Peats Ridge festival. “That place was like in the middle of the forest!” he exclaims. “It felt like we were playing in medieval times or something, that was a truly magical little spot.” As for when we can expect the band to come and play Optica for us in Australia again? “We’re going to try for a similar timeframe as last time around, so either very late this year or very early next year is the plan. It might be part of a festival, it might not. All we know is that we’re definitely looking forward to visiting you guys as soon as possible. We’ve always had a great relationship with you guys.” Ahh, those Swedes – always so charming!

INTERVIEW: The Magic Numbers (UK), July 2010

Seriously, y’all, how fucking underrated are the Magic Numbers? Their self-titled was one of the best debuts of the decade; and they’ve made interesting and wonderful records in the years following; up to and including this year. I dunno what more I have to say. I guess I could also add in that Michele was an absolute sweetheart. I got to meet her and Romeo after the Magic Numbers show at the Metro not long after this interview and she was super-wonderful there as well. This feature’s okay. I think you can tell I’m a fan, which is surely a good thing, right?

– DJY, October 2014

***

It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from The Magic Numbers. Too long, fans will surely add. Thankfully, bassist/vocalist Michele Stodart is quick to clarify on the line from the U.K. that the group were never going to split.

“We all just went away after the tour of the second album [2006’s Those the Brokes],” she observes, “and, y’know, get a break from the band, and each other. There was also our dream of building our own studio, which we’ve always wanted to do. We bought lots of equipment and built it up over about a year and a half – it was amazing because we finally had our own area, our own rehearsal space.” It was here where the band recorded their third album, The Runaway, up until late 2009. Set for release in a matter of weeks, fans are to expect the unexpected when it comes to the band’s new explorative sound.

“When we were rehearsing these songs,” explains Stodart, “we felt like they were too easy; that we could have just gone straight in and recorded them. Let’s try and actually make an album, instead of worrying how we’re going to do it live. So we kind of played around with the set-up of the four of us – thinking ‘okay, this doesn’t need bass; you don’t have to play the drums; [brother and lead vocalist] Romeo doesn’t have to play guitar.’ We mixed it up. It’s still the band, but on the record it’s more than that.”

Another one of the variations included on the record was Michele and vocalist/keyboardist/percussionist Angela Gannon (who completes the lineup with drumming brother Sean) contributing lead vocals to individual tracks. Michele has contributed lead vocals previously, but this the first time a song with her on lead has been chosen as a single. “It’s quite funny,” she comments with a giggle, “and it’s kind of a big deal, too. I’m not too sure how it’s going to go down, but it’s gotten a pretty good reception on the live front, so that’s been a lot of fun.”

On that note, conversation switches to the band’s live shows. This is a band that have established a rock-solid reputation as a must-see live act – they once sold out a 2500-capacity venue in the U.K. even before their 2005 self-titled debut had been released. Recently, the group have gone back on the road to try out the new material as well as pull out some old favourites for patient fans who haven’t seen the group since 2007 at the latest. One of their biggest profile appearances recently has been the annual Glastonbury festival – and Michele couldn’t have been quicker to sing its praises.

“It was amazing,” she recalls fondly. “It was probably one of my favourite Glastonburys because it’s the only one that I’ve been to that wasn’t muddy! No need for wellies whatsoever [laughs]. We kickstarted the festival on the Other Stage and we were so surprised. We didn’t think there’d be many people out to support us, seeing as we’ve been away so long – I was backstage fretting that there’d only be ten people out there and they’d all be passed out. We head out, and it’s packed! That was a really pleasant surprise – an amazing experience.”

Although on somewhat of a smaller scale in comparison to Glasto, a great festival experience is surely on the cards for the band when they take to the stage at the upcoming Splendour in the Grass festival in Woodford. Michele is jolted with excitement when she realises it’s in a matter of weeks – “We’re really looking forward to it!” she enthuses. “We’re only there for a week, but it’s going to be amazing. I hope the weather’s good, obviously; and we’re hoping to explore more of the country while we’re there.” Stodart recalls the band’s enjoyment of their 2005 tour as a part of the Big Day Out, claiming it was a “great chance for us to just spend a lot of time hanging out with the other bands and really take in an overseas country properly for the first time.” There’s little doubt that there will be plenty of great experiences for the band in their whirlwind Australian visit.

As for her own personal projects, Stodart also reports on working on her debut solo album (although it “might be awhile” before we hear anything from it), and also giving birth to her first child – a girl, Maisie. “She’s perfect, really,” says Michele. “She’s really, really cute. A lot of hard work, but she’s still perfect.” Motherhood has certainly had an overwhelmingly positive effect on Michele, but she believes it would be against her nature to dedicate her life to raising Maisie alone.

“It’d kind of be easier to do that,” she says when asked if she would ever pack the whole music thing in, “but I just know that I wouldn’t be happy. Now I’m trying to fit everything in – which is hard work, but I know that what I’m doing is the best for me and for her right now. Music is too big a part of my life for it to be extracted, and I know that she wouldn’t get the best mum possible. Even now, I’m here in the studio working on one of the b-sides for the single while she’s asleep. It’s a different kind of perspective that I’ve got, but I don’t think I could ever give up music.”

INTERVIEW: The Phenomenal Handclap Band (USA), December 2009

Holy hell – I actually interviewed a one-hit wonder band! This is the equivalent of interviewing the Born to Be Alive guy; or the Disco Duck. For those that don’t remember, The Phenomenal Handclap Band were everywhere (read: everywhere) at the end of the 2000s with their roller-disco earworm 15 to 20. I won’t recite any of the lyrics here, dare I awaken the hellbeast that is the song’s catchiness.

All things considered, this was a pretty cool interview. The guy was polite and insightful enough, and I can start to see myself finding my own voice in my features. Let’s dance.

– DJY, April 2014

***

The name Phenomenal Handclap Band might not mean much to you, the name Daniel Collas even less. Break into a disco beat with continuous counting in fives, however, and you’re bound to get some kind of reaction. After all, it’s the Phenomenal Handclap Band themselves – of which Collas is a founding member – that are behind one of the year’s biggest radio hits in 15 to 20.

If you were unfamiliar with the rest of the band’s work, you might suspect that the rest of the band’s sound revolves around a similar formula – hooky, slightly derivative and cheaply catchy. You may be surprised to know, then, just how incorrect this presumption is.

“It’s an anomaly,” Collas states from his New York residency – which he claims is currently “colder than anywhere in Europe” – when quizzed on 15 to 20’s success. “So much so,” he continues, “that I kind of didn’t want to include it on the album. There was back and forth talk about its inclusion, given it was so different to all the other songs.”

Despite Collas’ weariness, he’s still satisfied with the acclaim the song itself has received. His goal is to convert passing interest via the song into something more genuine. “I think it would be really neat for someone to hear that song,” he says (never once referring to the track by its title), “and check out the rest of the record, or come to a show, and see how different it all is to that one song.”

This is a trait that Daniel himself has adhered to in the past, noting that he has a self-described “weird history” of following bands with one distinctive hit that none of their other work has topped – at least, in commercial terms.

“You can tell from that song that there’s a good chance their other songs are going to be pretty cool, too,” he notes, using the example of Swedish band The Cardigans. “Back when they had that song Lovefool, I was already familiar with them, but that song was a really big hit. You can tell by the way that song is recorded and produced and written that their other stuff must have an inkling of something ‘cool’ in there.”

So with 15 to 20 labelled an anomaly, where then does that leave the rest of the work of the Handclap Band? The unique, retro boogie found in their tracks on their self-titled debut record can be traced back to a period of Collas’ very interesting listening experiences when moving back into creating music, after having spent time working as a DJ.

“The stuff I’d been listening to at the time that was really inspiring to me was kind of proto-techno stuff… early eighties dance music that was making heavy use of synthesisers and set sequences,” Collas explains. “I don’t know what it was about it, but it really flicked my switch for me. At the same time, I was also getting into groups like Dungen, and a lot of older bands that they were obviously influenced by – that kind of pastoral, psychedelic rock element.

“I found that those were the only two styles that I wanted to listen to. I had a background in soul music that I predominantly listened to, but at this point all I was really into was either this robotic dance music or this kind of psychedelic rock.”

It’s once Daniel himself explains this bipolar listening habit that the influences behind PHCB’s music begin to make a little more sense and connectivity. “The fact I was into these two styles at either end of the spectrum was really inspiring to me. It even started influencing my DJ sets – I was playing these long, blended sets of Contra or Jo Jo Moroder and people like that, and then I’d put on some Rare Earth or Wool; that kind of thing.”

The seven-piece live band that Collas has been working with have had a huge year of touring, including several European dates and shows with names like Friendly Fires and Franz Ferdinand. Despite the fact that a multitude of New York musicians are credited as having worked on the record – including former Blues Explosion man Jon Spencer and TV on the Radio drummer Jaleel Bunton – Collas maintains that getting the band together for the live aspect of the project wasn’t nearly as difficult as it could have been.

“It didn’t end up being that difficult, as a lot of the key players involved with the record were available to being involved with the live project,” Daniel explains. “We were kind of going the auditioning route to find the singers, because obviously everyone on the record has their own careers to think of. But instead of that, we just had enough people that were willing to do it, and it kind of took shape that way.”

The Phenomenal Handclap Band will see in 2010 with a visit to Australia. Not only is Collas looking forward to experiencing his first visit to our shores – “the natural phenomenon and the wildlife we’re all really looking forward to checking out” – he’s also anticipating the tour dates with fellow New Yorkers, Chairlift. Despite being in similar scenes, the two bands are complete strangers.

“We have some friends in common, but we have never even met them before,” Daniel confesses with a laugh. “It’s funny, because we’ve never played in Australia and we’ve never played with Chairlift, even though they live like a mile away – so we’re not going to meet until we get all the way down to Australia!”

Sure, it’s an odd way of going about things, but with their powers combined, we’ll be sure to be experiencing some very enjoyable shows in the coming weeks.