The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part Three: 60 – 41

Crossing over to the halfway point. Let’s press on: Heartbreakers, headbangers and happy happy happy awaits you, dear reader! If you missed out, parts one and two are available to catch up on here and here. On with the show…

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60. Death From Above 1979 – Cheap Talk

So, you haven’t been around for ten years. There’s a whole bunch of kids who weren’t paying attention or were simply too young the first time around. You got a lot of people waiting for you to kick down that door. What’s your game plan for returning to the party? Does it involve pummelling drums, enough bass to satisfy Meghan Trainor’s entire family and just enough cowbell to keep Bruce “Cock of the Walk” Dickinson away from a fever? If so, congratulations: You’re Death From Above 1979! Furthermore: Congratulations! You’re responsible for one of the flat-out best opening tracks of 2014.

59. Coldplay – Midnight

For a band so oft-derided for being complacent and predictable, perhaps not even the band’s fiercest detractors could have seen a track like this coming. Chris Martin is barely recognisable as he shrouds his voice in both rarely-touched-upon falsetto and layers of deep-set vocoder. The rest of the band delve into perhaps their most electronic foray to date, keeping the song moving along like clockwork – or, given the circumstances, like Kraftwerk. Although it didn’t blow up radio like “Stars” or “Magic” did, the fact it was never intended to proves that these giants can still see a bigger picture.

58. Sam Smith – Stay with Me

You know how we all wondered how Adele’s ex-boyfriend felt after hearing 21? We pretty much just did the exact same thing for this fellow twenty-something Brit with a broken heart and a chart-smashing album. This served as his “Someone Like You,” a torch ballad with enough fire within it to burn down a nearby village. His desperate pleas that filled out the song provoked some to smear him as a warbling miserablist, but the second Smith takes it to church with that chorus, there’s clearly something greater going on here. A broken heart mends, and a star is born.

57. Georgia Maq – What Do You Mean (The Bank’s Out of Money)

What do Tony Abbott, Heisenberg, Evan Dando and Bart Simpson have in common? Absolutely nothing – and it’s precisely this that makes their collective inclusion in this sensationally-scatterbrained number so entertaining. Maq is, to put it lightly, not a fan of a singular idea guiding one song – she bounds through enough ideas to last most singer-songwriters a double album in the course of just under four minutes, from comedic misunderstandings to deeply-personal family matters. It’s executed with aplomb, of course, and it’s refreshing to come across anyone bandying about an acoustic to have an askew take on songwriting structure.

56. Hockey Dad – Seaweed

Most of Hockey Dad’s songs sound as though they’re intended for a picturesque light blue sky, green grass and the suburban pavement. By means of contrast, the sun has seemingly set on “Seaweed,” which is the band’s most restrained and, for lack of a better term, tender moment. It’s the soundtrack to an endless summer coming to an end, the waves dropping back and the night taking its place. Rather than lower the collective morale, the song is a success on the terms that it showcases the band’s unexpected versatility. Besides, the sun’ll come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar.

55. “Weird Al” Yankovic – Lame Claim to Fame

Were you to name all of Weird Al’s biggest hits, you’d simply have to change the titles of other massive pop songs and go from there. How peculiar, then, that the best moment on his chart-topping comeback LP was an original. Taking cues from Southern Culture on the Skids, this cowbell-laden rocker lets Yankovic loose on the A-listers that he’s kinda-sorta interacted with over the years. Rather than get relegated to the deep-cuts, “Lame Claim” is what one should lead with in order to prove the perennial parodist can still get a laugh out of you some thirty-odd years in.

54. Sun Kil Moon – Carissa

Spoiler alert: A lot of people die on Benji, the latest album from Sun Kil Moon. Like, a lot. Carissa is the first of them, a ne’er-do-well teen rebel turned suburban mother who loses her life in a shocking, unexpected way. It’s all detailed by the low drawl of Mark Kozalek, whose uncle was her grandfather. With little more than a classical acoustic guitar, he takes us through his own grieving process; mostly involving the circumstances surrounding her death. It may not have been a pretty sight nor sound, but it made for some of the year’s most compelling listening.

53. Brendan Maclean – Holy Shit

Population, Maclean’s third EP, was essentially a whole lotta Jekyll-and-Hyde action. One minute, he’s the parading electro-pop superstar of “Winner,” the next he’s the uncertain and visibly-struggling end of a frayed relationship on “Holy Shit.” Maclean’s return to the piano allowed him to take off the cape to reveal the mild-mannered reporter beneath, adding in warm harmonies and a tightly-percussive backbone to his rock-and-hard-place confusion. It’s smart, honest and ranks among the finest songs he’s ever written. Yes, he’s the life of the party – but sometimes he’s the girl crying in the “Stupid” video, and that’s okay too.

52. Megan Washington – Limitless

Was there a more right-in-the-feels opening line this year than “There’s a certain kind of lonely where you sleep in your jeans”? In a year full of revealing moments for the Brisbane-born singer-songwriter – a touching Australian Story, reverting to her real name to release music – “Limitless” proved to be one of the most resonant. Perhaps it was the icy synths or the tightly-wound drums guiding its pained lyrics, or perhaps the the echoing detour into the bridge. Whatever the case, Washington managed to find a method within her madness. Us jeans-sleepers are all the more grateful for it.

51. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Kira Kira Killer

It’s growing increasingly difficult for us Westerners to get an idea as to what the hell is going on in the realm of Asian pop music. The only thing that we know is that we want more of it and we want more of it now. At once sounding like the final level of an adventure game and the theme song to the cutest show in the known universe, it’s a task unto itself to properly describe what Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has got going for her. Her amazing technicolour dream-pop needs to be experienced first hand. Happy! Happy! Happy!

50. DZ Deathrays – Gina Works at Hearts

Sometimes, you’ll hear a riff that’s indicative of a band ready to take it to the next level, from “Buy Me a Pony” to “Covered in Chrome.” The opening seconds of “Gina Works at Hearts” locked it in instantly – hell, even if the rest of the song was said riff, they’d have made it. Of course, there’s a lot going on here – as much a sugar-rush of power-pop as it is a rip-snorting rock-radio champion, DZ get the best out of both worlds and stake out their territory intently and defiantly. Shit’s very much about to get real.

49. Conor Oberst – Hundreds of Ways

A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, as well as prick you just as sharply with its thorns. Whether he’s a Monster of Folk, a Desaparecido or wandering through the Mystic Valley, Conor Oberst is still finding avenues in which to deliver his acutely-detailed world-watching. He’s evolved substantially from LiveJournal-worthy angst into the man that stands before you, leading a parade of ironically-triumphant horns, cooing backing vocals and chirpy lead guitar through such damning lyrics as “I hope I am forgotten when I die.” He may ramble on and on, but we’re still in the procession.

48. Interpol – All the Rage Back Home

Perhaps we’ve been looking at Interpol wrong this entire time. While their albums have often been met with indecision, indifference and derision – particularly within the past ten years – there’s something about the band’s singles that have remained entirely agreeable as a sole constant. El Pintor was bound to set people up for disappointment, given the high expectations with which it was anticipated; but its lead off proved to be one of the finest moments the NYC natives have ever put to their names. At once a slow-motion swell and an urgent rush, “Rage” is a straightforward, singular beast.

47. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Hot Wax

It’s pretty safe to say that King Gizzard are the kind of band that are working on no-one’s terms but theirs. Dropping two albums a year on average, the wonderfully-weird septet have kept audiences both simultaneously guessing their next move and standing back in awe of the miniature empire they have created. Then, of course, they’d drop “Hot Wax” and you’d be too busy shaking your hips to care about anything else. That beat! That harmonica howl! That bass! As you read this in the future, where they’ve presumably just released their twelfth album, remember this as a turning point.

46. Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea – Problem

There’s a new diva in town, and the mainstream press has not let anyone go without hearing the news – Grande was the centre of several “investigative” pieces surrounding her behaviour at photo-shoots. Still, the pint-sized popster had bigger fish to fry, and that came in the form of a dynamic kiss-off taking place in a cold war between sax hooks and sub-bass booms. “Problem” was all business from its opening moments and refused to let up. You may well have tried to deny its place at the table, but this was never about you-ou-ouuuuu. Not good. Not great. Grande.

45. Ty Segall – The Singer

For a guy who’s known for his bounding-off-the-walls energy (see his performances on Conan and that Chicago morning talk show), it’s been strange to watch Ty Segall mellow out a little more as he edges closer to 30. Following on from an entirely-acoustic affair in 2013, Segall kept people guessing on his Manipulator LP, where a song presumably included as a breather between rockier numbers ended up being one a true career highlight. “The Singer” tripped the light fantastic and put particular emphasis on the latter. Rarely has “Sing/Sing louder” sounded less like a refrain and more like a mantra.

44. Ryan Adams – Gimme Something Good

Sometimes, you gotta go back. Back when the uniform of the nation was blue jeans and a white t-shirt, your hometown was either your best friend or your worst enemy and the perfect Saturday night was out with your best girl. It’s a time that Ryan Adams has ostensibly wound up in, and on paper it may well not make sense for a noted balladeer to draw such substantial influence from this style. Once the organ calls out beneath Adams’ reverb-heavy guitar swagger, however, it’s the equivalent of the puzzle pieces setting themselves into place. Consider that something good given.

43. Jon LaJoie – Please Use This Song

Taco may have wound up with the Sacko (last place) in this year’s season of The League, but in most other respects, his portrayer took out the Shiva. Not only did he have a memorable casting in the guilty-pleasure hit Let’s Be Cops, Sir LaJoie also took his brand of provocative parody work into the realm of what’s commonly being referred to as “corporate indie” (Hi, Sheppard!). Even when taking the complete mickey out of the genre, he’s done such a dead-on impression that he’s inadvertently wound up as the king of it all. This is the right song, indeed.

42. Brody Dalle – Don’t Mess with Me

We may be ten years removed from the demise of The Distillers, but their ghost is rattling around somewhere here. Of course, it helps that their fearless frontwoman is the mastermind behind it, but there’s more to it: The first lady of rock hasn’t sounded this menacing, guttural and flat-out tough since the days of Coral Fang all that time ago. Put it this way: Most bands would get laughed out of the room if they were to try out a refrain like this song’s title. In Dalle’s hands, you’ll need a quick exit and a clean pair of pants.

41. Pinch Hitter – All of a Sudden

There aren’t many worse places to start having a panic-induced existential crisis than on the strict confines of a plane. Still, Pinch Hitter managed to take the lemons given to them and make some of the sweetest lemonade possible. Part math-rock shuffle, part fluttering baroque pop explosion, “All of a Sudden” explored the greater possibilities of this unique double-banjo project and took its listeners along for the ride. A cameo from Jen Buxton and Jai “the new Terminator” Courtney reciting the brilliant refrain of “Everything’s matter/Everything matters” take this song to a higher (pardon the pun) plane of existence. Incredible.

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40 – 21

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.

LISTEN:

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.

WATCH:

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.

LISTEN:

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.

WATCH:

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 Two: 80 – 61

In case you missed out on part one, you can check out the previous 20 songs here. If not, then let’s get right back into it…

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80. Manchester Orchestra – Top Notch

Four albums in and Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull is still searching. Not just for himself, or some kind of greater truth; but for what can be found and what can be learned in the ways other people. He remains one of the poignant and powerful voices within contemporary indie rock, and this is cemented with the resolute, belligerent opener to April’s Cope. An occasionally-cacophonous affair, Hull remains centred at its core. “I know there’s no way to fix it” isn’t a line delivered with despair – it’s a line delivered with acceptance. The search continues.

79. sleepmakeswaves – Something Like Avalanches

The last twelve months have seen sleepmakeswaves translate their cult status among fans of local music into something far greater than any of them could have anticipated: top 40 chart positions, ARIA and Triple J award nominations and a reputation as our single greatest post-rock export. At the centre of this has been “Something Like Avalanches,” which lead us into their exceptional Love of Cartography while also serving as quite possibly their single finest moment. Its whisper-to-shout progressions, seemingly-endless array of left-hooks and bursts of energy tidily summarise why we’re dealing with one of Australia’s most important bands right now.

78. Run the Jewels feat. Zach de la Rocha – Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)

A hip-hop behemoth, an effortlessly-cool underground king and one of the true rock revolutionaries of the 90s – what could possibly go wrong? On what was one of the year’s most badass numbers, Mike and Jaime bark with authoritative force over malfunctioning, bass-gurgling beats; dropping references to everything from Al Pacino to The Anarchist Cookbook. This all happens before leading in the former Rage Against the Machine frontman on a verse that is potentially his most vital since The Battle of Los Angeles a whole fifteen years ago. Old dogs, new tricks and a certified banger to show for it.

77. Mere Women – Our Street

The idea of impermanence within the confines of a relationship isn’t something that’s often brought up in songwriting – we’re either at blossoming, tender beginnings or the hateful, bitter end. “Our Street” is a song that looks at that moment where you see the end in sight – the hook of “I’ve walked down this street so many times” is one of both familiarity and frustration through boredom. It’s backed by some of the best guitar sound on any record in 2014; as well as a minimal but noticeable shade of accessibility shining through the band’s art-rock exterior. Misery loves company.

76. The Decemberists – Make You Better

Colin Meloy’s days of drowning children, barrow boys and giant whales are behind him. That’s not to suggest that he’s lost any of his imagination in his hyper-literate songwriting, but more that he’s focused back in on reality. On his band’s first single in four years, he guides his acclaimed wordplay through a romance that seeks co-dependence and relit flames while maintaining an honesty about what it all means. It’s unpretentious in its delivery, and yet it still leaves an impact just as strong as any of their more melodramatic numbers. A great mind of modern music has rebooted.

75. The New Pornographers – Champions of Red Wine

Less than a year after dropping an exceptional solo LP, Neko Case was at it again; this time with the Canadian collective she made her name with all those years ago. Years have passed since the last Pornos offering, and yet it immediately falls back into place; albeit with slightly different surroundings. An earth-orbiting synthesizer leads the fray; which weaves in and out of a washed-out acoustic guitar, a sturdy kick-kick-snare backbeat and some truly beautiful vocal interplay between Case and A.C. Newman over a wordless Irish-folk-flavoured refrain. No time for losers – The New Pornographers are still the champions.

74. Modern Baseball – Two Good Things

Detached, disillusioned, dissatisfied, dissociative… this, people, is how youth of today are feeling. Modern Baseball did a better job than most (if not all) of reflecting this on You’re Gonna Miss It All, providing a song that’s both endlessly quotable (“Mathematically, that can’t be more than one end of a candle/Bottom of the night, can’t find my socks”) and meticulously crafted. As one of the more subdued moments of the album, it recalls The Weakerthans in structure, while also alluding to doo-wop (see the “da-da-da” rounds following the first verse) and late-2000s pop-punk. Here they are now – entertain them.

73. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – Divorce and the American South

Last year, Dan Campbell was asking himself “Did I fuck up?” on The Wonder Years’ “Passing Through a Screen Door.” Here, he flat-out confesses “I’m a fuck-up.” Well, sort of: He’s saying it as Aaron West, the titular character of his solo project. West pleads with his estranged wife on an answering machine, revealing more of his inner turmoil than he’d care to do in person. Little else touches Campbell’s solo performance, but they’re justified inclusions – pedal steel adds guiding lights to this sad country song; while a lone trumpet sounds out the finale with a trace of hope.

72. Hilltop Hoods – Cosby Sweater

Without getting into too much detail, it wasn’t a great year for Bill Cosby. His choice of clothing from the 80s, however, was doing just fine. Alluding to a famous photo of Biggie Smalls wearing the titular jumper, the Hoods returned to the limelight with one of their most fun singles yet from a thoroughly-consistent new album (a rarity if said album is your seventh). If the rollicking beat wasn’t enough, the energy and tongue-in-cheek cultural references (Oprah, Pat Benatar, chess legend Bobby Fischer) from MCs Suffa and Pressure ensured that it went over the line. And it’s all good.

71. Taylor Swift – Shake It Off

70. Death From Above 1979 – White is Red

A teenage romance ending in tragedy is as old as the hills – and even they’re sick of hearing “Last Kiss” over and over. It’s an intriguing concept, though, when it comes from a band normally inclined to skip the foreplay – their last album was called You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, for shit’s sake. “White is Red” recalls love turned sour on a late-night runaway drive going anywhere. It’s sprinkled with clear influence of heartland-rock storytelling, yet delivered in a manner best paralleled with the band’s “Black History Month.” A colourful song that also revels in its darkness.

69. Future Islands – Doves

Releasing the doves has always been a grandiose gesture going well over the borderline of the flat-out ridiculous. This kind of theatricality is brought to mind by the title alone of this cut from Future Islands’ fourth studio album, so imagine what happens when it actually kicks in with its arena-sized snare flams and John Oates synth-chimes. It’s yet another example of the band potentially coming off as too out-there, too cheesy, too goofy… and then just nailing it entirely. A pop smash best served with that slithery dance move Samuel T. Herring does that recalls SNL‘s “sloppy swish” sketch.

68. Royal Blood – Little Monster

The backlash for rock’s next big thing arrived just as quickly as the cover stories and Dave Grohl soundbites proclaiming them to be saviours of the genre. Wherever you ended up on the spectrum, it was hard to ignore a track like “Little Monster” – if for no other reason that it was a loud motherfuckin’ song. A hybrid of QOTSA at their most stoner-metal meeting Muse at their ballsiest, the track simultaneously kicks up dust and kicks out the jams. “You say you got nothing/So come out and get some,” offers bassist/vocalist Mike Kerr. Don’t mind if we do.

67. Slipknot – Custer

Dun-dun-da, dun-dun-da, dun-dun-da-da-da. It might look like a slap-dash use of onomatopoeia, but it served as a dog whistle to metal fans returning to the world of Iowa’s premier nu-metal survivors. Genre politics aside, the fact that the band is still standing at all after all they have been through is a miracle unto itself. To deliver a song like this, however – an all-guns-blazing sensory assault that makes a song like “People = Shit” sound like Jack Johnson – surely cements them as a band that have paid their dues in full and one that deserves far more credit.

66. Collarbones – Turning

It’s always important to note the creativity in each single from Collarbones: What can initially seem like something that’s going to collapse into itself steadily and surely turns itself into a pop-and-locking wonderland. It’s as if they’ve rearranged puzzle pieces where they were clearly not originally intended to go and created a different picture entirely. In this instance, it’s a choppy, jolting slice of electro-pop that’s as much rnb come-ons as it is Macbook-hunched techno. “You make me feel like someone new,” sings out Marcus Whale – and it’s enough to get you excited for who they may be next.

65. Jenny Lewis – Just One of the Guys

We’re past the casual sex and the pained relationships of Jenny Lewis’ days in Rilo Kiley. As she approaches 40, she finds herself considering her own position in relation to her friends, her public perception and the supposed ticking clock following her around. Of course, we all know that Lewis is far more than “just another lady without a baby,” as she puts it; but it’s hearing her come to that conclusion on her own accord that makes this dreamy pop number all the more worthwhile. Now, about that tour with Kristen Stewart and Anne Hathaway as her backing band…

64. Weezer – Back to the Shack

The first words out of Rivers Cuomo’s mouth on Weezer’s first single in four years are “Sorry, guys.” No shit. Who’d have thought the man responsible for Make Believe and Raditude would be rushing to make amends with the die-hards? Perhaps it was their extensive touring of The Blue Album that made him reconsider what makes a great Weezer song, but the mojo is very much swinging in this two-chord rocker. “Maybe I should play the lead guitar,” he considers, “and Pat should play the drums.” They do just that, and we’re rocking out like it’s ’94 all over again.

63. Oslow – Cliffy

Cliff Young – aka Cliffy – was an Australian power-walker who won a marathon with a simple but clearly-effective shuffling method. Whether this was an influence on the third single from Oslow’s exceptional second EP is anyone’s guess, but a) It’s fun to speculate; and b) It’s reflected in the band’s focus on the groove and the spaces that go between each note as opposed to filling every gap. Oslow are clearly winning the race when it comes to the field of forward-thinking indie-rock emerging from Australia, so you’d best catch up – at your own pace, of course.

62. TV on the Radio – Careful You

One of the more understated romantics in alternative music singing in French? That’s how you do it. TV on the Radio have rarely shied away from romance in the past, ranging from the yearning (“Will Do”) to the R-rated (“Wear You Out”). It’s a little more subdued here, with Tunde Adebimpe sending his heart-on-sleeve lyricism into the ether with cooing keys, buzzing bass and some truly old-school drum machine loops. This is how TV on the Radio enters their forties – not with a whimper, nor with a bang, but with a kiss. Stop the world and melt with them.

61. La Dispute – For Mayor in Splitsville

Each room in the house that was conceptually centred around the band’s third album – titled, er, Rooms of the House – allowed vocalist Jordan Dreyer to explore memories, lost lives and a seemingly-forgotten past that’s slowly pieced together. At this point, he’s come across a particularly-ruined space, triggering memories of his childhood, as well as both the proverbial and literal tonne of bricks that came crashing down in the demise of his adult life. It’s clear that when he screams “I guess, in the end, we just move furniture around,” he’s not just talking a couch and a chair.

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60 – 41

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

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

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

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

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

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

WATCH:

49. IDYLLS – Prayer for Terrene
Bandcamp

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

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

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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.

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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.

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42. Neil Cicierega – Mouth Silence
Soundcloud

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

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

LISTEN:

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

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

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

LISTEN:

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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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INTERVIEW: The Gaslight Anthem (USA), August 2012

I picked up a little work over at Pages Digital – specifically, its subset of Groupie Magazine – through an old uni connection. Although there were problems toward the end relating to overdue payments, I still got to pick up some interesting work in newswriting and the occasional feature. I was quite looking forward to this interview, as the band’s Handwritten album had been one of my favourite records of the year. I was, however, planning on speaking with Brian Fallon. When I was told that I’d be speaking to the band’s guitarist, Alex, instead; I couldn’t hide my disappointment. Didn’t help that the guy was honestly a bit of a dick, too. Maybe we caught one another on a bad day, but I’d love a second chance to do a Gaslight feature. Someday…

– DJY, December 2014

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Take small-town good nature, rock & roll radio and a new generation of twentysomethings trying to make sense of it all. Mix it together and turn the amps up to eleven and you’ll get a rough idea of what New Jersey band The Gaslight Anthem are all about. On their fourth studio album, Handwritten, the band continue to expand on their punk and heartland rock background, creating a definitive effort that cements their status as one of the most important working rock bands in the world today. It’s an album that evokes feelings of hope, love, loss, sorrow, regret and nostalgia; and certainly a record that evokes a strong response from the band’s fanbase.

In a recent interview, the band’s lead singer, Brian Fallon, compared the process of creating an album to a photograph, capturing a period of one’s life with a permanent fixture. However, this may have simply just been a throwaway comment: An attempt to engage the band’s guitarist, Alex Rosamilia, with an elaboration on this metaphor – perhaps as to what kind of photograph Handwritten is – are ultimately futile. “I dunno, man,” he says.” I’m pretty sure what Brian meant by that is that the whole record cycle can be taken as one section and then you move on to the next section. It’s just that whole bit, y’know what I mean? It’s almost like you can break parts of your life off into segments, make new chapters…” He ultimately trails off, perhaps confused by the question.

Although this attempt to pick Rosamilia’s brain proves fruitless, he comes to open up further about his connection to Handwritten as an album as the interview progresses. “I guess the biggest thing that comes to mind about the album is that I’m proud of it,” he comments at one stage, sounding focused and enthused. “I really love this record – I’ve never been happier with anything we’ve ever done before. We were kind of in the right mindset when we went in to make it, and we’re obviously better at our instruments now than when we first started.”

He continues, discussing how naturally the record came together. “Everything was in the right place at the right time – and not to sound pompous, but it all felt really effortless. Not in the sense that it was easy to do, but there was no point where anyone in the band was really fighting against what was happening.” As to what exactly it was that made the band feel so easy-going and confident during what is often a stressful time for bands? “We decided we wanted to have fun with it,” Alex affirms. “Being signed to a major label and all, we really didn’t want to put the excess pressure on ourselves. We just went in and wrote some fast, upbeat songs; and then tried to balance that out with some slower ones. I think writing a lot also helped with our attitude towards what we were doing – it felt great to have too much as opposed to not enough, to narrow it down to the eleven that made it on.”

Handwritten is a remarkable effort, one that’s bound to end up at the pointy end of countless end-of-year lists – and, naturally, the band’s return to Australia couldn’t come sooner. Alex is similarly excited to return, but tells fans not to hold their breath. “We don’t have anything planned yet. I know we’re trying to get down there as soon as possible, so we’re hoping for early next year. Australia is pretty much paradise for a guy like me from New Jersey.”

INTERVIEW: Panic! At the Disco (USA), September 2011

You know what? I interviewed a teen crush from one of my favourite bands ever. If had a freak accident the day after submitting this article that meant I could never do a feature article again for whatever reason, I would be 100% okay with that. And yeah, I mean what I said – maybe it was purely contextual, but I will always love P!ATD unconditionally. This was a thrill for me – I remember I had to use my sister’s office at uni in order to do the interview; and then dash out to the ABC Illawarra studios to record an interview with Tom Tilley from Hack on triple j. Yeah, he was interviewing me! Felt pretty damn important that day, I’ll tell you what. In-demand DJY! HA.

– DJY, October 2014

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A lot has changed for Las Vegas pop chameleons Panic! At The Disco since the last time they visited Australia – so much so, that vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Brendon Urie can scarcely remember how long it has been since they visited. “Oh man,” he says as he begins to rack his brain, “It’s got to have been at least four years – or close to four years or something like that. Too long, anyways!” In that time, the band has gone under a complete transformation – they’ve reinstated the exclamation mark (infuriating Last.FM scrobblers worldwide); lost two of their members in founding guitarist Ryan Ross & bassist Jon Walker and bounced back into the spotlight this year with their third studio album, Vices and Virtues. It’s quite a bit to take in – although Urie, speaking to FasterLouder from Los Angeles, seems to have handled the whole ordeal like a true professional.

“After the split,” he muses, “for the last to years we’ve been touring with Dallon [Weekes, bass] and Ian [Crawford, guitar]. We wanted to make sure that we had people that we genuinely got along with, and not just people that we’d hire for our live shows. We wanted to make it feel more like a band – and, more and more every day, it kind of does. They’re just such talented dudes, and we get along so well. It’s kind of all worked out – we’re really fortunate, that’s for sure.”

Although Weekes and Crawford have settled into the live fold of P!ATD, it’s worth mentioning that Vices and Virtues was recorded entirely by just Urie and drummer Spencer Smith, Urie’s childhood best friend and another founding member of the group back in 2004. Urie maintains that creating the album just as a two-piece was simply something that the pair had to do – a “reclamation” of the band after the schism created with Ross and Walker’s departure (both of whom went on to form the jangle-pop band The Young Veins). It was certainly a challenge for the band, particularly for Urie, when it came to writing the album’s lyrics; something he had never attempted prior to the departure of main writer Ross.

“It was something that I knew I had to pick up responsibility for,” says Brendon. “I spent basically all of my spare time writing lyrics, and figuring out different ways to convey a message. Musically, though, Spencer and I have been writing together for seven years. The only difference this time around was the necessity of having more ideas for songs. You couldn’t just come in with a thirty-second idea – you had to come in with a two-minute idea. There wasn’t four people to work through these ideas with anymore, it was just the two of us. We had to just show a little more initiative and find out exactly what it was that we wanted out of this record.”

In accordance with their previous releases, P!ATD took yet another dynamic shift in sound from the album prior. Vices and Virtues makes a return to some of the more electronic leanings of their 2005 debut A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, yet have not completely abandoned the more restrained mature pop that was found on 2008’s Pretty. Odd. In a way, Vices can be seen as bridging the proverbial gap between the two records – and it’s very much intentional on behalf of the group itself. Urie points out that there are songs – or, at least, ideas for songs – that stem from songwriting sessions for both Fever and Pretty. When queried as to the idea or song that has been around for the longest, he interestingly points towards the album’s opening track and lead single, The Ballad of Mona Lisa.

“One of us had written down this 45-second idea, maybe eight months after the first record came out,” recalls Urie. “A lot of what came from those sessions is really different to the way that we write now – but, in a way, that’s what made the record what it was. The mix of the old and newer stuff on there really reflected where we were at the time, and where we wanted to go with it.”

Urie, Smith, Crawford and Weekes will all be in Australia this week to headline the Counter-Revolution festivals across the nation – and Urie in particular is hugely enthusiastic about bringing the new P!ATD to Australia for the first time. “We were so bummed when the festival got cancelled,” he says, alluding to the original Soundwave Revolution. “But now we’ve been given this second chance, we’re all so excited to be coming back to Australia and playing for all of you guys.” He also gives a message to fans to expect a bit of classic rock to be thrown into the set. “Lately, on tour we’ve been covering Carry On Wayward Son by Kansas,” he notes. “It’s such a fun song to play, and it’s a great one for everyone to sing along to.” Lay your weary heads to rest, Panic! fans, and don’t you cry no more – they’re back, and hopefully better than ever for all attending the Counter-Revolution.

INTERVIEW: Lissie (USA), May 2011

Was I the only Australian that got into Lissie? I swear everyone else jumped ship not long after her Oz tour from 2011. I still think she’s lovely – her album from last year was good fun, and it featured one of my favourite songs of the year. She was very sweet to interview, as well – giggly, charming, enthusiastic. Bit like Ben Kweller, really!

– DJY, October 2014

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It’s probably hyperbole to say something like “Lissie has taken the world by storm.” With that in mind, it’s no secret by now that the clouds have certainly been gathering – following a slew of singles, tours with Lenny Kravitz and Ellie Goulding and a top 5 album in Norway of all places, the young singer born Elisabeth Maurus has certainly got a name for herself out there. This month sees the big-voiced Californian make her first-ever trip to Australia as the main support act for Megan Washington, an idea that has been coming together ever since the two first met in Paris late last year.

At the time of the interview, Lissie claims she has “literally just pulled into the driveway” of her home in Ojai (say it “oh-hi”), in California’s Ventura County. “It’s really nice to be home! I was gone since, like, early March. I did some shows and stuff like that, which was awesome, but it’s really nice to just sit down at home and have a deep breath.”

Maurus is unpretentious, sweet and engaged with everything that is going on around her – and it’s these traits that translate into the stunning songs of her debut album, Catching a Tiger. Released in June of last year, the album has garnered a strong critical reception and comparisons to everyone from Linda Rondstadt to Stevie Nicks. It’s a diverse, intelligently-crafted record that allows Lissie to stand out from a myriad of other girls with guitars. It is also an album that has been a long time coming.

“Going into making this record was really weird,” she confesses. “I started out working with some different people [in 2008] and not liking the direction it was going in, all the while thinking I was recording my first album. I had a bunch of old songs, and some songs from when that was going on. When it came to Catching a Tiger, the songs that ended up on the record were ones that I’d written for a year up to the actual recording, so they were all fairly new.”

Along with penning tracks on her own, Catching a Tiger also saw Lissie in sessions of productive co-writing with a handful of other songwriters, including former Furniture frontman Jim Irvin and his production partner Julian Emery. As she discusses her craft in depth, it becomes clearer just how much work has gone into creating the album. “Loosen the Knot was a hard one to write,” says Maurus when considering which of the songs proved the most difficult. “I knew when I was making it that my heart wasn’t too into it, because I was co-writing and I thought it was sounding a little too Avril Lavigne.” She lets out a hearty laugh when mentioning the Sk8er Boi songstress before explaining that “The ones that came the easiest were ones like Bully, Everywhere I Go, Oh Mississippi, When I’m Alone… songs like that were fairly immediate. These lyrics came very genuinely and sort of sporadically. It’s different when you’re co-writing, and it’s different when you write songs alone.”

The topic of co-writing is brought up again, and Lissie is happy to discuss it in further elaboration. It’s often quite contentious with many singer-songwriters, who feel as though they may grow more vulnerable when exposing their quite personal lyrics and music to someone else. This was, initially, a perspective shared by Lissie herself. “When I started I was worried about that,” she confesses, “This is a really private thing, and I didn’t think I wanted to do it. With Jim and Julian, who did a few songs on the album with me, I just really liked talking to them. It’s like I could talk to them about everything in my life, and when you earn that trust, you feel really safe with them. So I’ve been lucky with some of my co-writes – even though I hardly know them, I just have this instinct that it’s a safe zone that I can open up in. I think I’ve made a point of only really pursuing writing with people that I immediately connect with.”

In addition, Lissie believes that working with musicians of different heritage and style to hers is beneficial in expanding her musical palette. Describing her vocals as having “relative pitch” as opposed to perfect pitch and confessing to “honestly knowing nothing about music theory,” the humble Maurus is excited by the prospect of growing as a musician. “I come from a folk background, and I can only really play so many chords on guitar,” she says. “It’s very easy for me to rely on C to F to G when I sit down and write. So when someone else comes in the room and plays an A7 diminished chord – and I don’t know how to play that! It opens up a new possibility with melodies and stuff.”

INTERVIEW: Amanda Palmer (USA), February 2011

Another double-up – which is a surprising rarity in the history of my interviews. She was quite nice the last time; very gentle and could tell that I was a fan, even if I was a little over-excited and ham-fisted in my interviewing. This time around, I pretty much let Palmer take the driver’s seat, only occasionally guiding the conversation. I think that’s what you’ve got to do with someone like her. It’s not much of a structured interview process – she’ll take the ball and run like hell with it. I kind of love her for it.

– DJY, October 2014

***

She might have been the one to pen and sing the lyric “You don’t want to hear about my good day” all those years ago, but when you’ve had a good a day as Amanda Palmer has, you’d be mad not to want to hear about it. “Okay! So…” begins Palmer with a deep breath. “Why was my day so awesome? Well, first of all, I played an incredible fucking show in Newcastle last night. It was out-of-control fantastic, one of those sublime electric gigs where we turned that bar into some kind of crazed palace. Then, we slept in the venue because it turns out they had a bunch of Futons in the office – we were going to stay with fans, but then we figured we should just crash there.”

“We woke up, and this place – the Great Northern – it had this amazing ballroom on the second floor, which could probably fit like a thousand people. The boyfriend of one of my opening acts texted me in the morning and said “We have to do a video in that ballroom before you leave.” My train was leaving in half an hour, but I was like “Holy fuck, you’re right!” So we put off the train for two hours, he ran over and we made this spontaneous music video for In My Mind from my Australian record [ Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under ]!” Surely this day couldn’t get any better? Oh, it does: “When I got to Sydney, I was on hold to do a chat with The Doctor at Triple J. I listened to his interview with Nick Cave, and he asked about my cover of The Ship Song …and Nick Cave said it was beautiful!”

You can’t blame Palmer for being in heavens-high spirits after that kind of day, now, can you? It’s all part and parcel for whenever AFP (the F is for Fucking, naturally) visits our fair country, and it’s the way it has been since she first started touring here as a part of The Dresden Dolls. “Everytime I come to Australia, awesome things happen,” she says with a laugh. “That’s why I keep coming back!” It’s probably the reason why Palmer’s latest album – a collection of mostly-original material recorded entirely within Australia and New Zealand – doesn’t really come as too great a surprise. It’s a long lasting, passionate and very much mutual love affair.

“I’m a very spontaneous, very messy person,” confesses Palmer, “and I have made an art of improvising my way through life. That seems to be something that Australians really appreciate. There’s just something about Australia and Amanda Palmer that resonates really perfectly in this embrace of the improvisational, do-it-yourself way of life.”

As nice and as smooth-running as things can be for Amanda, it doesn’t quite always go to plan. Just a few weeks ago, Palmer played at the Sydney Opera House for the third time in three years in what was described as an “Australia Day Spectacular.” It was Palmer’s biggest Opera House show to date, starring her friends The Jane Austen Argument, Michelangelo and The Black Sea Gentlemen, Meow Meow and Palmer’s husband, author Neil Gaiman. From various reports, as well as a few unhappy reviews amidst the blogosphere, the show was a bit of a shambles. Palmer is asked to clarify exactly what happened.

“We were going to have a rehearsal the day of our show,” she begins. “It turned into this messy soundcheck with a lot of problems, so we were really under-rehearsed. Then the setlist was written at the last minute, and during the show I accidentally skipped ahead five songs. I realised it two songs in and then had to backtrack and figure out how I was going to get everyone on and off-stage when I needed them for the songs. It turned into a classic disorganised rockshow, and naturally I’m telling everyone about it as it’s happening. Shows like that happen to me all the time…but they don’t happen at the fucking Sydney Opera House!”

“I’ve been talking with so many of the fans since it happened,” she continues. “And even more importantly, I’ve been talking to people who weren’t fans who were there – who got dragged by a friend, or their kids, or because of work. Nobody hated the show, which is a relief, but it still scares the shit out of me. I wonder: why am I capable of getting away with this? I guess maybe people found it refreshing that, in a venue like that, something got completely improvised right in front of them. When you know you’re getting something completely fucked-up and special, that’s where the blanket of forgiveness falls hard.”

This craziness continues to be adored by a swelling cult fanbase upon each and every visit, and one day it may well get to the point where AFP simply doesn’t leave. Not that we’d be complaining, of course – it’d be bloody un-Australian to not make her feel at home, wouldn’t it?

INTERVIEW: Sage Francis (USA), September 2010

Up until recently, this was potentially the quickest interview I’d ever done. Your boy Sage wrapped things up about 7 minutes in and was straight on to the next interview. It was a timing mishap or something like that, but I certainly got all that I needed out of him. He’s a bizarre and often hilarious character, and one that I always have time for. In the spirit of keeping things brief, I’ll leave it here.

– DJY, October 2014

***

There’s something we have to clear up with Sage Francis before the interview begins. It’s not anything major, nor is it some long-winded and unnecessary rant about the conventions of live hip-hop. It’s simply a formality: how do you prefer to be addressed? Do you call him Francis? Sage? Mr. Francis? Paul, his real name?

The man in question pauses on the other end of the line to consider the question. “…can you call me Dirty Uncle Frank?” Gee, don’t see why not. How are you, Dirty Uncle Frank? The line cracks with Francis’ cackling laugh. “Ohh man, this is gonna be interesting.”

Francis – sorry, Dirty Uncle Frank – is on the line from his home in Rhode Island, New York. He’s in the midst of what he calls a “marathon” of phone interviews for publications all across the world. While the promotional aspect of music is a drag for some people, Francis describes the experience as “breezy.” “I feel like I’m taking a quiz where I know all the answers,” he says with a laugh. This, believe it or not, is his downtime – he’s currently getting to the tailend of a major world tour, which will end right here in Australia.

It’s all in support of his most recent album, entitled Li(f)e – and, even though he’s probably told the story countless times, he’s more than willing to explain just how those parentheses came into play. “There’s an old lyric of mine where I say ‘life is just a lie with an F in it/and death is definite,’” says Francis.

“That lyric, in particular, is something that my fanbase kinda flocked to and they just owned it. They created that spelling of life with the f in parentheses, representing that lyric, and people even started getting it tattooed on them. I kept getting sent these pictures of this tattoo, and it really made me step back and think. I was like ‘Wow, people have been really taken by this lyric and are adopting it to their own lives and what they’re going through, and the believe in it enough to the point where they get it permanently marked on them.’ So I titled the album like that as sort of a tribute to that. It’s an understanding that there is a lot of meaning behind the symbolism of that, and I elaborate a lot on that in the subject matter of the album.”

It’s an album of bleak storytelling, heartbreak, isolation and family – and appears to be simultaneously the most and least personal record Francis has done. This is in reference to the tandem of both first and third person perspectives mixed into varying degrees on Li(f)e. “I guess I find it easier to write in first person,” says Francis when questioned on which writing style works best for him; before adding: “It’s easy for people to talk about themselves, I find. I also really love to be able to adopt someone else’s story for my own voice. I think it gives both me and the listener a break from me – I’m sure most of my fans have heard enough about me by now.”

Indeed, Sage’s evidently dedicated fans have come to learn a lot about the man behind the music through a lot of dark, introspective works over the years. With Li(f)e, however, it’s interesting to note that it’s the music behind these stories is more of a change than ever before. Borrowing from contemporaries such as Canada’s Buck 65, Francis spends a lot of time on the record rapping over acoustic guitar, jazz brushes, strings and a whole world of instrumentation beyond a simple 808 beat and a sped-up soul sample. Although Sage understands it was definitely more of a risk, he also claims it was exciting to be working within this new territory.

“I was receiving music from people that don’t typically provide soundscapes for hip-hop lyrics,” he says about the challenges of thinking outside the square. “I had to adapt to their sounds, to their time signatures and their song structures- which is fine. I feel like I give rap lyrics a lot more respect than others, on account of the fact I think that it can work with this.”

He then goes on to philosophise on where hip-hop stands sonically in this day and age. “Hip-hop has a history of taking from other genres and making it its own. Now, in 2010, I feel like there’s been a similar sound in hip-hop for quite awhile – the wheel has been spinning,” he says. “It’s a typical sound, and it’s a sound that I like, but I also feel like that there are other things that can happen with hip-hop, and with rap. So for me to sit there and think about how my lyrics can work within, say, a country and western style or perhaps a bluegrass style, that’s fun for me. I know I can do it, it just takes a little bit of readjusting. It brings out other things in me, and it’s fun.”

So there’s still conventions left to break in the field of hip-hop? “There’s a million conventions to break,” Francis responds. “I’m one of a few people who will step outside the norm and piss off the core base of hip-hop…” – there’s a pause. He mumbles something to himself, before correcting himself. “Actually, that isn’t true. I’m not one of the few. I’m one of the many, but I’m one of the few that people know about. There’s a lot of people doing super out-there shit, doing things way out of the norm and breaking tonnes of conventions. But they’re not getting the exposure and they’re not getting the support, so most people won’t know about them. So I think it’s important that one tries to understand the foundations of hip-hop and know how to create traditionally before going out on a limb and being like ‘look how crazy and different this is!’ You have to prove yourself before you go too far.”