Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part Five: 10 – 1

Hey y’all! Well, how about this, huh? Here be the ten best rekkids of the year done gone past. Huge thanks for seeing through list season with me. Catch y’all next time around!

50 – 41
40 – 31
30 – 21
20 – 11

10. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt
Spotify || Rdio

Life isn’t all blue jeans and white t-shirts. The Gaslight Anthem have finally escaped the small town that almost killed them and have wound up strangers in a strange land on their fifth album. Get Hurt is an exploration through unchartered waters and foreign territory, a much-needed break from the comfort zone that, regardless of the quality of outcome, could well have killed this band had they remained within its confines.

Certainly, it wasn’t as if there was some drastic detour into acid jazz or anything of the sort – after all, as Brian Fallon himself sings at one juncture, “I still love rock & roll/I still call somebody ‘baby.’” There is a stretching of boundaries here, however, that is indicative of a prosperous future beyond nights with the radio and Maryanne. Get Hurt is the sound of Gaslight beginning again.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Stay Vicious, Get Hurt, Break Your Heart.

WATCH:

9. Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear
Spotify || Rdio

Sia Furler, for a time, was the ghost of pop charts past. Her writing credits and, if listening closely, her unmistakable voice, infiltrated dozen of singles from some of the biggest names in the industry. It’s a life that could well have made a sustainable living for the rest of her days. The call of work under her own name, however – on hold for several years at this point – eventually grew too strong.

There were stipulations: No touring, no media campaign, no public appearances. It was a fair compromise, however, when in return we received her greatest LP since 2004’s spotless Colour the Small One. Marrying her intrinsic, introspective songwriting with the sensibilities gained from her double-life in mainstream pop, Fear allowed us to see behind the blonde bob wig. We may not have seen her face all year, but this allowed for something greater – we saw her heart.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Elastic Heart, Big Girls Cry, Chandelier.

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8. Die! Die! Die! – S W I M
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

An exercise in irony: The definitive album from a veteran band has its title based on an online acronym for “someone who isn’t me.” Truth be told, this is an album could not have come from any other band – after over a decade sharpening and refining their throttled, scorched-earth take on noise-heavy post-punk, all roads that Die! Die! Die! have travelled have ultimately lead to S W I M’s creation.

It snarls, scratches and seethes through envy, paranoia and disconnect – in other words, it’s a decidedly ugly, ruthlessly aggressive listen. It’s not user-friendly or accessible, of course. Die! Die! Die! have never been as such before. The difference is that they have never sounded so vital and purposeful in the execution of their ideas as they do here and now.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Angel, Get Hit, Out of Mind.

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7. La Dispute – Rooms of the House
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

A house is not a home. That doesn’t mean that it never has been, of course. Finding the house that was once a home – your home – can trigger so many memories, stories, truths and once-faded thoughts. This is conceptually explored – with considerable depth, it must be added – on La Dispute’s third studio album.

The hyper-literacy and Jordan Dreyer’s foreboding poetry that weaved its way through previous releases not only recurs on the album, but arguably latches onto its strongest subject matter to date. Each room sparks something different, allowing the protagonist to reflect on how much has changed since the transition from home to house. It’s often not for the better, but it’s perhaps this that keeps one hanging on every single word. Rooms of the House is a creative work in every sense.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Woman (In Mirror), For Mayor in Splitsville, Stay Happy There.

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6. Pinch Hitter – When Friends Die in Accidents
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

A chance encounter. A dead-end job. A fear of flying. An untimely demise. A sudden realisation. A friend in need. These things, while separate entities from a contextual standpoint, are tangled together in the half-hour-and-change that comprises the debut album from this unexpected team-up.

While many came to know the project from Nick van Breda and Dave Drayton from their live shows – simply two men, two voices and, yes, two banjos – Accidents allows the two to flourish in a wider spectrum. Their musings and noodlings are guided by xylophone (“Nine-to-Fine”), flutes (“All of a Sudden”) and even typewriters (“They Said This Would Stop” – no shit). It’s all tied up with the four-part title track that weaves in and out of the tracklisting – and its final blow is still as devastating long after the first time you hear it.

A folk album without guitar? It’s possible. Anything’s possible. Everything’s matter. Everything matters.

THREE TOP TRACKS: All of a Sudden, Part IV, Nine-to-Fine.

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5. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World
Spotify || Rdio

Back in a time when the American president was public enemy number one, Kanye West was a debut-album rookie and dance-punk was as legitimate as any rock subgenre, one guitar-less duo ruled over their six-stringed contemporaries with a half-hour of power known as You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. It was cemented by ear-splitting live shows, instant cult status and an unforgettable performance on Conan with none other than Max Weinberg sitting in.

It would take two short years for everything to fall apart for Death From Above 1979, and that – so we thought – was that. Several contributing factors lead to the band’s eventual reunion, but the most prevalent ended up being unfinished business. Despite becoming quote-unquote “adults” in the time they were apart, there was still an agenda to make loud, visceral and ripsnorting rock & roll.

That’s where The Physcial World comes in – a rarity insofar as being a sequel that not only matches up to its predecessor, but threatens to rival it so often it may well swallow the thing whole. Long live Death.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Right On, Frankenstein!, White is Red, Cheap Talk.

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4. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Spotify || Rdio

Were you told about Benji on paper, one would rightly distance themselves from it as soon as humanly possible. Just think – a late-forties dude mumbling about his parents, his dead uncle, various sexual encounters, James Gandolfini and his home state of Ohio. What could possibly be appealing about that?

It could well be argued that Benji, as an album, succeeds on account of these traits and not in spite of them. Mark Kozelek has been known in the past to allow his simple, sombre style of songwriting and storytelling to uplift ordinary things, places and people into the extraordinary. Jim Wise sounds like an odd, weird dude. On “Jim Wise,” however, he somehow turns into an endlessly-fascinating character. The same can be said of Kozelek’s second cousin, his drummer and even his dear mother (“My mother is 75/She’s the closest friend I have ever had.”) They are – or were, in some cases – just regular people until Sun Kil Moon reels them into his world.

Whether you find him driving to a Postal Service show or tripping out on Led Zeppelin in his younger days, Mark Kozelek somehow makes the cold all the more inviting. Benji is a journey – a long, exhausting and depressing one; but one any self-respecting music fan should take at some point in their lives.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes, I Love My Dad, Carissa.

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3. Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were
Spotify || Rdio

“Has the world gone mad?” opines Ben Howard mere minutes into the first track on his second album, before adding a further line of questioning: “Or is it me?” By the end of I Forget Where We Were, you won’t have an answer. Hell, you won’t even have one after a dozen spins. As it progresses, the album poses far more questions than it provides answers or traces of resolve.

Perhaps it’s this that makes it such an intriguing prospect – from a songwriting perspective, it allows Howard to less scratch below the surface and more dig down as far as humanly possible. Besides bearing his name, precious little else lies on the common ground between Forget and its predecessor – here, we work through varying degrees of light and shade; love and loss; truth and lies. It takes you to points where you fear you may never return – points you feel, as a listener, you may well not be entirely prepared to go.

Herein lies the rich reward of I Forget where We Were. Ben Howard has evolved from being a mere singer-songwriter – here, he has become a journeyman.

THREE TOP TRACKS: End of the Affair, I Forget Where We Were, Conrad.

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2. Pianos Become the Teeth – Keep You
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Ray Charles, an r&b star, once made a country album. Kanye West, a rap phenomenon, once made an album where he sang for its entirety. Radiohead, at one point the most promising prospect in guitar music, once made an album where they barely touched the things. More than once, now you mention it. What is this all leading to? It’s simple, really: The notion that risks should not only be taken, but actively encouraged. Who knows what awaits on the other side? Perhaps true greatness.That’s what happened on Keep You.

Pianos Become the Teeth – an emo band in the true sense, bypassing the mall to arrive at Orchid’s discography – made an album where their harsh screams and dissonant guitars were traded in for what are known in hardcore circles as “clean” vocals and a collective dip into the waters of the indie and post-rock spectrums. It was an all-or-nothing movie – make or break, sink or swim. The Baltimore natives risked everything and won it back tenfold.

Not only is it the finest of their three long-players, it also serves as a shining beacon from their immediate scene – a message to the outer reaches detailing the adventurous versatility at work within it. For an album whose final line is a cry of “Let’s say nothing some more,” Keep You says more in its actions than words ever could.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Repine, April, Old Jaw.

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1. Sleaford Mods – Divide and Exit
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Around ten years ago, in an interview with NME, Carl Barât was asked his favourite album of the year as part of a generic series of questions asked of several musicians. Barât chose A Grand Don’t Come for Free by The Streets, reasoning that the album was a reflection of England that many may not necessarily want to see or hear about.

This is being brought up a decade on for two core reasons. The first of which is to sound the trumpets to signal the arrival of a new outfit less holding up a mirror to contemporary British society and more smashing said mirror and holding up a jagged shard, just to feel the pain that the pricks of blood bring. The second is admittedly a little more petulant – it’s because the reference and the people and publication which it contains would be immediately be despised by James Williamson, the spoken-word half of Sleaford Mods who barks, grunts, prophesises and spits through every last thing that displeases him.

It’s a cruel, frustrating world in which he lives; one that constantly brands him a fool and a ne’er-do-well when it should be acknowledging him as the smartest guy in the room. “I can’t believe the rich still exist,” he laments within the album’s opening minutes. “Let alone run the fucking country.” It’s said through fuzz and distortion, and yet it lands with all the clarity of being yelled directly into your ear. He may soapbox his way through several tracks (“Liveable Shit,” “Tweet Tweet Tweet”), but certain things slash through a raw nerve. He may seethe at an upper-class acquaintance he’s attempting to manipulate (“I’m a connoisseur!/I’ve conned you, sir!/I just wanked in your toilet!”) but his envy is quick to undo him entirely (“I want a house like this, how do I get it?/It’s beautiful! It’s fucking ridiculous!”).

There are layers of complications, deep-running waters of disarray and the throbbing pain of a hangover following another bottomless night in the sewerage of another disgusting city. Divide and Exit was the sound of the everyman’s demise, the death of the common people and the experiment starting over. Sleaford Mods might not want to change the world, nor is it looking specifically for a new England – and, yet, both are achieved and found, respectively, on Divide and Exit. A voice raised to its heights for years on end has finally shifted to the forefront and being paid the attention it deserves.

THREE TOP TRACKS: You’re Brave, Tied Up in Nottz, Liveable Shit.

LISTEN:

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.

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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.

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20 – 1

Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part Two: 40 – 31

He’s at it again! Part one is here ICYMI.

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40. Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

There’s an endless stream of great lyrics that flow through Modern Baseball’s second album, but perhaps its most telling moments come through its asides, its mumbles and awkward fumbles. “Yeah… about that…” comes with awkward pauses on ‘Fine, Great,’ while the line “I could not muster the courage to say a single word” practically falls over itself in ‘Apartment.’ It’s an awkward and uncomfortable record, but in a way it has to be in order to convey the dissatisfaction and blank, distant gazes that come with such sighing honesty among its smart pop-punk and understated alt-rock. Whatever forever.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Two Good Things, Notes, Your Graduation.

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39. DZ Deathrays – Black Rat
Spotify || Rdio

With the wizardry of Gerling alum Burke Reid guiding them, Brisbane’s finest party-starters maintained the rage on their all-important second album. It’s worth pointing out that there was far more to the album than what was presented on surface value: While DZ kicked their boots into several slices of snarling garage rock, they also found themselves slowing to a crawl and exploring the possibilities of more than one guitar – let’s try a half-dozen. Why not? Black Rat is the sound of a band expanding their empire, refusing to be either restricted or defined by what’s previously been laid out.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Northern Lights, Reflective Skull, Gina Works at Hearts.

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38. Jane Tyrrell – Echoes in the Aviary
Spotify || Rdio

A supporting player that has had people begging for a lead, Jane Tyrrell is regarded as one of the finest vocalists to emerge out of Australia’s hip-hop community. Here, she takes those lessons learned and breathes fresh life into them. Assisted by a stellar team of producers and multi-instrumentalists, Tyrrell revels in deep, dark secrets; conveyed with the kind of sorrow that can only come from raw-nerve connections to every last lyric. At once breathily intimate and unreachably distant, Echoes is the sound of an artist taking flight for the very first – and certainly not the last – time.

THREE TOP TRACKS: The Rush, Echoes in the Aviary, Raven.

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37. Mere Women – Your Town
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

The bloodline of Mere Women runs through DIY punk, indie rock, basement electronica and warehouse post-punk. It fits in everywhere and nowhere at the exact same time; such is the nature of its genre traversing and integral versatility. Truth be told, there’s very few bands that quite match what it is that Mere Women do, and that’s never been more the case than on Your Town. Each note feels cacophonous, cold to the touch and bristling with anxiety and defeat. It all falls into place, painstakingly detailing what happens when things between people disintegrate into nothing at all. Truly jawdropping.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Our Street, Golden, Home.

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36. Outright – Avalanche
Bandcamp

There is no band in Australian hardcore right now more important than Outright. There is no band in Australian hardcore right now that will sit you down, shut you up and give you the severe reality check that you need the way Outright will. No album in Australian music this year was able to encapsulate such fury and such authoritative defiance like Avalanche did – and in such a short amount of time. How much more evidence do you need in order to see Avalanche as a milestone for its scene and its genre? Do we have everybody’s attention now?

THREE TOP TRACKS: A City Silent, Troubled, With Your Blessing.

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35. Megan Washington – There There
Spotify || Rdio

What kind of year has it been for Megan Washington? It’s all out in the open now. Everything. She’s publicly confessed to having a stutter, told all about a failed relationship that even had a wedding on the cards… hell, she’s even performing under her full name now. The details are not spared on There There, and its seemingly-cathartic release benefits both her and those that have always perceived her to be an excellent and important songwriter. This is Washington’s single best collection of songs, and those that investigate its innermost secrets are the ones that will be rewarded greatest.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Limitless, Marry Me, My Heart is a Wheel.

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34. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Spotify || Rdio

It doesn’t matter if it happened when she dropped her debut, when she teamed with David Byrne or even when she stole the show during SNL: You’ve fallen in love with Annie Clark. As St. Vincent, she has been responsible for some of the most arresting, envelope-pushing art-rock this side of the century. Not only was this reaffirmed on her self-titled LP, it showcased some of the finest examples of it. Whether she’s shredding with the flair of an 80s metal star or tiptoeing around delicate arrangements with the grace of a ballerina, the love affair remains in full swing.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Digital Witness, Bring Me Your Loves, Birth in Reverse.

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33. Tiny Ruins – Brightly Painted One
Spotify || Rdio

Hollie Fullbrook may be a particularly quiet artist, but there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about her that will stun you into silence. She’ll be recalling a specifically-detailed story from her childhood at one point, falling helplessly in love with a nearby worker at another. What ties it all together is both Fullbrook’s knack for stunning melodies and impeccable, tidy arrangements incorporating warm horns, pinches of strings and her exceptional rhythm section. Brightly Painted One deserves to be seen, heard and known.

THREE TOP TRACKS: She’ll Be Coming ‘Round, Me in the Museum, You in the Wintergardens, Ballad of the Hanging Parcel.

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32. Slipknot – .5: The Gray Chapter
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

It was always going to be driving a hard bargain in order to make people care about Slipknot again. Six years have passed since their previous record, a tragic loss almost ended the band entirely and perhaps their best-known player exited the fold permanently. It’s either on account of this or in reaction to it, but The Gray Chapter is an album that overcomes every obstacle. It’s an album that makes the impossible possible, pounding its fists through the coffin and rising up to complete unfinished business. It’s the sound of a band who won’t go down without a fight.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Custer, Sarcastrophe, The Devil in I.

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31. J Mascis – Tied to a Star
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

On paper, an acoustically-oriented record from one of the most prominent, inventive electric guitarists of the past 30 years would appear to be fruitless, confusing and counter-productive. One pities the fool, of course, who would ever think to doubt or question the motives of one Joseph Donald Mascis, Jr. Whatever style of music he lends his formidable songwriting abilities to, the Dinosaur Jr. mainstay is sure to make it a worthwhile endeavour. Star marks his strongest solo album, delving into Nick Drake-esque introspect and sweetly-soft falsetto. It betrays what you know him best for, making it all the more fascinating.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Every Morning, Me Again, Wide Awake.

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

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

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

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

It begins…

– David James Young, December 2014

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100. Corpus – Awash with Monotone

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

99. Childish Gambino – Sober

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

98. The Felice Brothers – Cherry Licorice

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

97. Die! Die! Die! – Get Hit

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

96. Chet Faker – Cigarettes and Loneliness

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

95. Jacob feat. Luke Hughes – Floors

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

94. Pixies – Snakes

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

93. Angus & Julia Stone – Heart Beats Slow

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

92. Broken Bells – After the Disco

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

91. Passenger – Heart’s on Fire

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

90. Angus & Julia Stone – A Heartbreak

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

89. La Roux – Kiss and Not Tell

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

88. Ed Sheeran – Don’t

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

87. Hockey Dad – Beach House

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

86. Postblue – Pig

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

85. Latham’s Grip – Anyone Else

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

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

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

83. Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk

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

82. FKA twigs – Two Weeks

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

81. Röyksopp & Robyn – Sayit

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

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80 – 61

INTERVIEW: Ladyhawke (NZ/UK), June 2012

I think I became a bigger Ladyhawke fan after I found out we were on the same team. This is the only time I have ever had the pleasure of interviewing another Aspie, and it felt pretty fantastic to be able to discuss the creative process with her knowing that she’d probably had a lot of the same issues as me. It really lifted the mood and brought a lot of honesty to the interview, as well. She still had a lot of issues with her live show when I saw her the following month, but I understood them a lot more this time around. Anyway, Pip’s great. No idea what she’s up to these days. I hope she’s still being creative and embracing her Asperger’s.

– DJY, October 2014

***

It’s hard to pin down Pip Brown – not just because she is constantly on the road, but also in a musical and mental sense as well. The Wellington-via-Sydney-via-London musician best known as Ladyhawke has gone nearly four years between albums, touring incessantly and plotting a follow-up to her eponymous debut. The results have been, at times, drastically different to what has become expected of Brown – and the album Anxiety benefits significantly because of it.

“It’s almost like an inevitable curse that’s placed on every musician,” says Brown, in a London hotel following the conclusion of her U.K. tour. “When success comes with the first record, people will always tell them that they’re going to have trouble with the second one. Even if the album is awesome, some people will find it shit just because it’s a second album. The whole time I was making Anxiety, I was worried about that.” She recalls a particular encounter with a fan that enforced her fears more than she had expected it to. “I had someone come up to me in a shopping mall in New Zealand,” she says, “and they were just gushing – ‘Oh, Ladyhawke! When’s your new album coming out? Is it going to be electro?’ I was wondering why they’d think that; because it isn’t, y’know. That made me think that maybe people wanted me to make an electro record – but I didn’t want to do that. It’s hard to put all that mental stuff aside and just get my own creativity going.”

While Anxiety maintains a “more hooks than a bait shop” approach, its demeanour is suitably darker and occasionally more aggressive than its predecessor. Its inspiration lies in Brown’s desire to wipe the slate clean. There was no point in making Ladyhawke again – that album already exists. “It was just a time in my life when I had toured the first record for two years,” says Pip, “and when I finished, I realised that there was no part of me that wanted to make that album again. I knew that I didn’t want to make ‘Ladyhawke Mark II’ or whatever. I wanted to do something new that would inspire me and interest me in making songs again. I had this idea of trying out some really rocky, grungy sort of tracks. They were still poppy, but the tracks ended up making for a rockier album. Anxiety really just reflects my mindset at the time. I wanted to experiment with sounds that I hadn’t tried on the first album. You’ve got to keep it interesting for yourself.”

Discussion of songwriting continues, with Pip revealing a somewhat stubborn eccentricity in her constant rejection of song ideas – no matter how much potential they show, if she doesn’t have that certain feeling about them from the very start of the songwriting process they will be cut. “You tend to know when you start the song,” she affirms. “It’s all about the gut feeling. If I don’t have that feeling about the song, I have to trash it. It has to be gone. That’s one of the ways that I work.” Of course, this is a mindset that discomforts some of the people she has worked with, particularly her co-producer on Anxiety, Pascal Gabriel. “Some producers I’ve worked with are more practical and want to push through on those kind of songs,” she says, “but I feel like if I don’t have that feeling from the start then there is no point pursuing it. Even if I did push through and take the song to a finishing point, I would still feel like it was mediocre. I’d rather trash it and work on something that gives me a buzz. If I’m getting butterflies in my stomach from a bassline, then I’ll stop working on something mediocre on guitar and go towards that.”

“It’s so important that you’re excited about what you’re doing,” she continues emphatically. “You can’t be complacent. You really have to be excited about your own music. Otherwise, what’s the point?” A few listens through Anxiety will suggest that there is plenty to be excited about – from the sour honky-tonk piano of Sunday Drive to the booming bassline of Girl Like Me, it’s a confident and engaging record that explores the wider spectrum of pop music, as heavy on synthesizer as it is on guitar. Perhaps most notable of all is that every last note that you hear is entirely Brown’s vision. “All the instruments recorded on this album was me” she says. “My live band are still just that, they’re all session musicians who come on the road with me. I prefer it that way – that’s part of my process. It’s about picking up an instrument and playing, working a song out. It doesn’t make any sense in my brain to hand that over to someone else when I could do it myself.”

This peculiar drive and heavy investment into the sound of the record, sacrificing interaction with other musicians in order to get the album exactly right, might seem out of the ordinary for a lot of musicians. What’s worth considering, however, is that Brown’s very specific interests and aforementioned need to get rid of unsatisfying songs can be traced back to her Asperger’s. A form of Autism, Brown first spoke publicly about it in an interview with The Guardian in 2008. Although not something widely discussed in relation to Ladyhawke it’s something that Brown speaks passionately about in regards to how it affects her life – as well as how it can completely disorientate a live performance.

“It’s completely unpredictable,” says Brown, explaining what being an Aspergian can mean for a touring musician. “I can be really calm on stage sometimes, but there are others where I feel like I want to vomit. Those times I’ll look down at the setlist and realise that I’m only three songs into the set. It feels like ten years. There’ll be other times when you think you’re on a roll, having a great time, too. So I really can’t predict what’s going to happen, and it’s really annoying. It hasn’t changed, either. People often assume that with all the touring I do, it would just get better over time. It’s still exactly the same.”

It’s these assumptions that continue to frustrate Brown, 33 next month, who was only diagnosed with the syndrome in 2006. “Other people say to me that it just comes with what you do,” she says as our discussion on Asperger’s continues. “’Just deal with it,’ that kind of thing. I think that’s really not fair. As a young person loving music, you simply just sit in your room and you play. All you want to do is play music and play with your friends. You actually don’t even realise what that’s going to be like. You don’t sign up to become a musician for a lot of the things that go with it. You do it because you love music; because you love playing music. All of a sudden, you have to think about doing interviews, which can be quite hard; you have to meet loads of people that you really have no idea what to say to. We’re not actors, we’re musicians. People often lump the two into the same basket. Some of us are still really scared of the limelight, and just want to play music.”

She speaks intently and with an overwhelming vindication on the subject. Outside of discussing the creation of her music, it’s a topic that brings out the most fascinating responses in Pip. “It’s kind of hard to justify myself sometimes, just because I feel like I have to with some people,” she concludes. “I love playing music. I just can’t see myself doing anything else.”

INTERVIEW: Liam Finn (NZ), June 2011

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I got into Sean Lennon way before John. Similarly, I was proper obsessed with Liam before by true appreciation for all things Neil kicked in. Not a diss at either John or Neil, but I feel their sons were too oft-maligned over the years. They’re incredibly worthwhile artists in their own right; and I still count I’ll Be Lightning as one of the best albums of the 2000s. I remember this being an interesting interview to do, as I literally had to do it on the train while it was pissing down raining. The fact that I was able to catch anything that Liam was saying is nothing short of a miracle. I put it down to my phenomenal note-taking that this article exists.

– DJY, October 2014

***

Like father, like son. Everywhere that Liam Finn goes, he always seems to take the weather with him. “It’s not seriously raining over there, is it?” he asks of Australian skies with more than a hint of disappointment. “It’s been miserable over here in London, and I was hoping for a bit of sun when I got in.” It’s an obvious gag to start us off, sure, but let the comparisons between Neil and Liam Finn end there. From his cleanshaven, youthful days in Betchadupa to his scraggly bearded solo glory that saw him touring with Pearl Jam and playing on David Letterman, Liam has come a significantly long way as an artist in his own right. After a wildly successful debut album in 2006’s I’ll Be Lightning and a follow-up EP in 2009, Champagne in Seashells (a collaboration with fellow rock offspring Eliza-Jane Barnes), Finn has spent the past twelve months or so focusing on his new album, FOMO.

“I just shackled down in a little beach house where I grew up, in Piha,” recalls Finn, “and just tried to make sense of what’s been happening in the past few years. It was a massive change of pace, after spending so long on the road. I almost completely forgot what living at home was actually like.” Interestingly, it was in this time away from extensive touring that Finn began developing the idea of FOMO – an acronym for “fear of missing out.” It’s a universal and transcendent feeling, a state of mind that can be hard to shake when friends and relatives are overseas. It’s one that particularly resonates for Finn – not only are both his parents touring the world as one half of Pajama Club, many of his closest friends are also travelling musicians that are constantly their fair share of travelling.

“When it all becomes electronic, just talking and sharing things over Facebook and Twitter and that, you kind of feel like everyone is out achieving something great with their lives, out exploring the world,” says Finn. “It’s funny, because that’s probably how some of my friends felt when I spent so much time away on tour, but as soon as I’m locked away and recording this album it starts happening to me. I guess it worked in inspiring me to continue writing, and it also made me appreciate my surroundings. I tried not to focus too much on the negative aspects, as I think we should never truly wish to be anywhere else apart from where we are.”

Finn points to two tracks on FOMO which perhaps best summarise his feelings – Neurotic World and Roll of the Eye. Of the former, he recalls it lyrically attempting to deal with “coming back down to earth,” as Finn puts it, after spending so long abroad and finally returning home. The latter is a bit more of an international affair, as Finn penned the track about his homeland while he was in New York. It documents a love/hate relationship with New Zealand, where Finn sings of how “your dreams die slow in the arms of your comfort zone,” but also how his infatuation with the country leads him to think that “in my head/I’ll be buried there.” “That’s one that came really quickly,” says Liam of the songwriting process. “I guess it was just everything that I felt about New Zealand, which made it easy to write. I think it was also having that outside perspective on it, being away from it when I was writing it. Finishing the song in the studio in Auckland felt really natural and organic, in a way.”

As with I’ll Be Lightning, Finn plays everything on the album himself aside from a few minor parts. He is quick to emphasise, however, that this was not originally his intention. “I’d been jamming with a bunch of guys that I was hoping to have on the album,” says Finn. “It just ended up being one of those things where I knew that the only way I was going to get out the exact sound that I had worked out for the songs in my head, then I would have to do the arrangements and instruments myself. Tell you what, though, it was more than a little uncomfortable to have to try and tell the other guys that!”

Thankfully, the end result of FOMO was certainly worth any awkward shooing that Liam may have had to do. It’s a layered, mysterious and engaging pop album that presents a variety of sides and styles that Finn is capable of. There’s jangly chiming guitar pop like single Cold Feet and Don’t Even Know Your Name, the swampy, breathless oddity of The Struggle, all the way up to the throwback psychedelia that encapsulates closer Jump Your Bones. Even with such a myriad of styles on display, Finn himself notes that there has been a mixed reaction to the direction taken on this album.

“It’s interesting, actually, that some people have said that this album is more downbeat than I’ll Be Lightning,” says Finn. “When I was writing this album, I couldn’t help but feel like this was much more of an upbeat album. It’s not always a positive one, sure, but there’s a great energy in these recordings that I feel hasn’t really made an appearance in my material before. I guess the only tracks I’d done before that really had that kind of energy were tracks like Second Chance or Lead Balloon – but in the grand scheme of things, those tracks were kind of anomalies.”

Finn will tour Australia this August for the first time since November of 2009, where he and Barnes opened for Pearl Jam’s stadium tour. Barnes will join the tour as a part of Liam’s new backing band, tentatively titled “the Come Agains.” “EJ was such a big part of making this new sound and helping develop my sound in-between I’ll Be Lightning and now, so I’m really excited that she is going to be involved again,” enthuses Finn. “I’m really looking forward to these shows, definitely.”

INTERVIEW: Jen Cloher (AUS), November 2008

Funny that I’m revisiting this literally a day after seeing the lady in question live once again. I’ve known Jen for years, and I count her as both a friend and a great inspiration. This interview more or less started that, although we’d briefly met once before in 2007 at a festival featuring Xavier RuddAsh Grunwald and The Audreys. Man, what a time hey? Roots takeover! This interview came prior to the release of Jen’s second studio album, Hidden Hands, which was one of my favourite LPs of 2009. She doesn’t turn out records often, but when she does… look out, son. Them’s some hot rekkids.

This was one of my favourite interviews from around this time – more for what ended up on the cutting room floor, interestingly enough. We were supposed to have a 15-minute interview and we just ended up chatting for a good 30 minutes. She’s just such a warm and interesting person, and I can never be in a bad mood when I’m listening to her music or seeing her live. We’re fortunate to have women like this around, folks. Anyway, enough from me. Let’s read on…

– DJY, July 2013

***

Over the past couple of months, a familiar face has re-entered the collective conscience of Australian music after a momentary lapse into obscurity. For a while, nobody knew where Jen Cloher or her band, the Endless Sea, had gotten to. “I know, right?” the woman herself laughs. “People have been like, – ‘What happened to Jen Cloher? First she was touring and doing shows and then… she wasn’t!’”

The truth of the matter is that there is no big rock star meltdown story, or even in-band fighting. Jen simply took some time away from the limelight to visit her parents. “My parents moved back to New Zealand about fifteen years ago when Mum got work here – they’re Kiwis originally,” she explains. “I made the decision to spend some quality time with them and help out where I could.” Whilst in New Zealand, Jen also came to write the bulk of what would become the Endless Sea’s second album, Hidden Hands. The album’s title – from Cloher’s point of view at least – “sounds a little sinister.” There’s a lot more to it than that, however. “It’s based on a quote by Joseph Campbell, this amazing mythologist. – ‘Follow your bliss, do whatever you are meant to do on this planet. Doors will open where there were no doors before, and you will be lead by a thousand unseen helping hands.’ I love the idea that there are forces beyond what we can see that will help us on our quest.”

Recorded at Woodstock Studios in St. Kilda – which was, up until recently, owned by Joe Camilleri of Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons – Hidden Hands was swiftly recorded live over a period of seven days. The band chose once again to work with engineer Paul McKercher, who has also worked with artists like Sarah Blasko and Augie March. “We worked with him again because we were really happy with his work on the first album,” says Cloher. It is also interesting to note that Cloher herself, as well as singer-songwriter/touring partner Laura Jean, undertook the album’s production duties. “She’s a really great musician,” Jen enthuses. “I’ve stolen her to play some piano and sing, as an honorary member of the Endless Sea.”

Jean’s inclusion in the Endless Sea is one of three new additions to the Endless Sea line-up, which now tallies up as a septuplet. The others are Biddy Connor, a viola/musical saw player who also performs as part of Laura Jean’s Eden Land Band, and Tom Healy, a guitarist that Cloher met during her time in New Zealand. So what’s changed this time around for Cloher’s music? “The differences between the first and second albums are worlds apart,” she says emphatically. Elaborating on this statement leads Cloher to compare and contrast her two works back to back. “Our last album (2006’s ARIA-nominated Dead Wood Falls) was kind of based around lovelorn characters, and it had a distant romantic, blurred-around-the-edges kind of thing about it. It was very much your singer-songwriter album. You could hear that these were songs that I’d written by myself in my bedroom.” And now? “This record is much more of a ‘band’ album because we really developed our own sound a lot with all the touring that we did. When I was writing these songs, I was very conscious that I was writing these songs to a band’s strength.”

Conversation moves to what Jen was writing about during her time in New Zealand. “It’s not about romantic love or lost love. It’s about…” She takes a moment to attempt a vivid description, but shrugs and jokingly comes up with, “…big stuff”. By ‘big stuff,’ of course, Cloher means “mortality, relationships, family, friends, creativity… Really, when I was writing the album, I thought that the most important thing was that these songs were true to me right now.” With this in mind, it must be asked if there is a song that means the most to Cloher out of her sophomore batch. After a moment of thinking out loud (“They all are, so much,” she sighs), she chooses a song called Watch Me Disappear. Written about her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, she says that the song deals with watching someone very close to you succumb to the illness. “It’s death itself,” Cloher states. “It’s watching someone lose their memory, their concept of time… it’s a really weird disease.”

Certainly, even with a fuller and more realised band sound, this is the sound of a singer-songwriter tacking very personal yet universal issues. If you haven’t yet already, don’t miss an opportunity to bear witness to two of contemporary Australian music’s most formidable talents and hear the beginning stages of what is certain to be a popular release of 2009, Hidden Hands.