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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INTERVIEW: Gallows (UK/CAN), September 2012

Everyone was pretty pissed that Frank was leaving Gallows, but as someone who was just as potty for Alexisonfire as I was for Gallows I just knew that Wade would absolutely crush as the band’s new frontman. I think Wade appreciated that when we had a chat just as the self-titled album dropped. He probably had a lot of interviewers being all “So, you’re not Frank. Let’s talk about that.” So I like to think this one went pretty well. Still a fucking great band after all this time.

– DJY, December 2014

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There’s a classic line from The Sound of Music where Maria says that “when the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” It’s a bit of cheesy blind faith, sure, but sometimes it can’t help but veer dangerously close to reality. Exhibit A: The closed doors. In 2011, Canadian post-hardcore band Alexisonfire announced their demises after ten years and four albums, and Gallows’ outspoken and ruthlessly aggressive frontman Frank Carter announced his departure from the band, leaving the future of the British hardcore punks in grave uncertainty. Exhibit B: The opened window. Shortly after both of these announcements, it was announced that Gallows had found a new lead singer: Former guitarist and vocalist of Alexisonfire, Wade MacNeil. A strange enough cross-over, but certainly not one that was written in the stars – at least, not from Wade’s perspective.

“I’ve always had a weird relationship with the band,” he says on the line from Toronto. “I remember the first time I met the bass player, Stu [Gili-Ross], at a bar in England, we almost had a fight!” He laughs at this memory, noting that Gili-Ross has gone on to become one of his closest friends. He continues to speak of Alexis and Gallows touring together around two years ago, where the earliest seeds of Gallows 2.0 were planted: “I remember the last time I did Soundwave,” he says, ‘I was walking through Melbourne with Frank [Carter], and he was telling me how he wanted to quit the band. His heart just wasn’t in it. There was absolutely no fucking way at the time I would have ever thought I was going to take that guy’s job!”

And yet, here we are, in 2012, with Wade doing exactly that; joining Gili-Ross, guitarist Lags Barnard, drummer Lee Barratt and Frank’s brother, guitarist Steph. The new line-up immediately set to work, quickly silencing their critics with a blistering EP, Death is Birth, and some of the band’s most chaotic live shows to date. “Everyone’s happy with the way things have panned out,” enthuses MacNeil. “I’m definitely happy that this band is still around, because they’re definitely not done writing songs.” As for the criticism that he has drawn, the 28-year-old couldn’t care less. “Gallows is the sum of its parts,” he affirms, “and we don’t care about any of the bitching that goes on. That’s always going to happen. I mean, you’re from Australia – I’m sure AC/DC still get it all the time, thirty years on or something like that!”

Of course, being with Gallows for just over a year has come with its various rough patches and tribulations. Not that it’s let Wade lose sight of what he wants out of his new career path – in fact, it’s invigorated him further. ““At the beginning stages, it was such a whirlwind, y’know?” he says as he recalls the first few months of frontman duties. “I think that’s why it’s worked, in a lot of ways. We had the studio time booked and then the tour a few weeks later – and I was pulling my hair out!” Because of this, MacNeil sees the band’s first recorded effort with their new line-up very much a result of trial and error, as well as being a product of its environment. “I very much look at the Death is Birth EP as a demo, just a scratch of what we were trying to do at the start,” he says.

By means of contrast, the band’s debut self-titled effort, released this month, has seen the new Gallows come into their own; creating an album that’s forthright, unapologetic and plate-shiftingly heavy. “I think with the new record, it’s a little more calculated,” says Wade. “At the same time, though, we didn’t over think things. If something wasn’t working, we’d just fuck it off straight away. It’s the record I’ve always wanted to make. It’s the record the boys have always wanted to make. That’s why it’s self-titled. It’s the best representation of what this band was always supposed to have been. I know that’s a bold statement, but… fuck off!”

He laughs at his last little outburst at his critics, but one can’t help but feel it comes from a place of great vitriol and frustration. Like it or not, Gallows are here to stay.

INTERVIEW: Owen Pallett (CAN), December 2010

I interviewed Owen once before via email back in 2008. It… well, it didn’t go so well. Thankfully, over the phone, Owen was absolutely delightful. He was a really sweet, chirpy kind of guy that provided me with a very easy job of interviewing him. Definitely helped that I was head over heels in love with Heartland, his debut solo album; which has stood the test of time as one of the best albums of the decade thus far. His latest album is pretty exceptional, too. He’s just a fantastic dude. Can’t say enough good things about him. See for yourself!

– DJY, October 2014

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It’s a cold, blustery day in Toronto, Canada as Owen Pallett takes our interview call, but he’s not about to let it dampen his spirits – especially with his plans over the next couple of months. “I’m really excited about the way that we’ve planned our tour,” says the 31-year-old. We’ve got a week of skiing over in Japan and then we fly down for a little summer vacation in Australia. It’s what I like to do – which is skiing – and what my boyfriend [his manager, Patrick Borjal] likes to do – which is lie on a beach!”

Pallett’s third album, and first under his own name after dropping the Final Fantasy moniker, Heartland, threatened to be the album of the year upon its release – and that was all the way back in January. With nearly twelve months since its release, Pallett still speaks of Heartland with great fondness – although he was initially reluctant to do so.

“At first, when it came out, I was kind of glad to be rid of it,” he admit. “It was a tricky record to make. But now that I have a year-on perspective, I’m feeling really good about it – I feel very proud.” The album, meticulously crafted and several years in the making, revolves around a character by the name of Lewis – a family man and farmer who abandons his life in pursuit of the love of Owen, a character that, by the sounds of things, is the equivalent of a god or deity in Heartland. It’s quite the album to get one’s head around from a conceptual point of view, with many lyrical sections requiring double takes. Interestingly, however, it was never Pallett’s intention to create such a dense, complex work – if anything, he wanted a pop album this time around.

“After I’d made [last album, 2006’s] He Poos Clouds, which was a string quartet, I knew I wanted the next one to be primarily orchestral,” he explains. “I wanted it to really pick on the characteristics of a pop record – specifically, a late seventies/early eighties synth-pop record. I didn’t listen to classical music when I was writing and working on the record – I was absorbing a lot of the pre-digital era synthpop. I really tried to make this record have the feeling of both falling apart and yet also the feeling of mechanism within that genre.”

He rattles off influences such as Can and Depeche Mode (“Particularly Speak and Spell,” he adds) as primary inspiration, as conversation steers back to the album’s characters. Despite song titles such as Lewis Takes Action and the slightly more provocative Lewis Takes Off His Shirt, Pallet himself is quick to downplay the album’s intricate conceptuality. “Conceptually, it’s not really meant to be all that highfalutin or pretentious,” he claims. “I’ve just always wanted to sing from the perspective of ‘the other,’ y’know? From ‘the beloved.’”

His explanation continues: “I simply wanted to make a record where I was singing from the perspective of the object of my desire, rather than specifically singing in my own voice. Even though I felt kind of obliged to be very specific about portraying Lewis and talking about his physical attributes – even from his own perspective – he is simply meant to be what is represented in other people’s songs by…” – he searches for the right word, before coming up with “…baby” – then laughing, adding “…or “shawty.””

Whatever the case, Owen has not only taken notice of readings into the lyrics and concept of Heartland by fans and critics alike, but fully encourages an open interpretation of the entire thing. “When I was making it, I was really trying to make a record that was not maybe necessarily accessible, but one that was going to be appealing – one that wasn’t going to scare people off,” says Pallett. “I’m really flattered when people engage with these songs.”

No doubt many within Australia have been engaging with Heartland since its release, and will be joining Pallett in celebrating its one-year anniversary when the man himself takes to stages across the country next month, including appearances as a part of the Sydney Festival. After taking his time to completely work out a highly technical multi-phonic loop station, which involves sending signals from his instruments across to speakers. Artists as diverse as Jamie Lidell and Autechre also use similar technology in their live performances, yet nothing is quite like the experience of Pallett’s music coming to life.

“I’m in peak condition!” says Pallett with a hearty laugh when asked about his current live set-up. “I’m really excited that my looping is all working now – even though it’s just piano and keyboard, there are actually a lot of channels of sound that I’m creating. When I first started working on it, I hadn’t worked out how to streamline the process and I played the worst show I’ve ever played in Dublin. People thought I was typing with my feet! It’s a pretty intense thing, but at least now I can think about talking to the audience – and maybe even smiling!”

Our conversation wraps with some good-natured humour and some back-and-forth on Australian music (“Tame Impala are Australian, right?”), but perhaps one promise resonates the most: “You guys in Australia are gonna get a good show.” He may have been around for the better part of the last decade, but Owen Pallett is clearly just getting warmed up.