Top 10 Australian Albums of 2015

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I’ve listened to a fair bit of music this year. A decent amount, I’d say. Some of it was old, some of it was new, some of it was shit, and some of it was really fucking shit. But for the most part, it was really, really, really fucking good.

And at the pinnacle of it all was music from this country – there were plenty of things to be ashamed of Australia about this year, but music wasn’t one of ’em. After years of ignorance and cultural cringe, trying to echo the charts of the US and the UK, Australia produced three globe-conquering bands that feel like they could have only been birthed right here. Regardless of how you feel about their music, the fact that Courtney Barnett, Tame Impala and Hiatus Kaiyote wrestled the spotlight back to the land of Vegemite and lockout laws can only be a good thing. At best, it’s a chance to show how Australia can excel whilst working outside the lines of what is considered traditional pop music, and at worst, you can be a little bit patriotic when it comes to these fucking year end lists.

None of the aforementioned artists actually feature in my favourite albums of this year – the records were objectively good, but I’ve never been at the pub, heard “Let It Happen”, and turned to my best mate with a wide grin. However, I respect the fact that they’ve gotten the world’s attention to Australian music again, and now that we’ve got their eyeballs in a Clockwork Orange binge position, we suffocate them with as much of the good stuff as possible. Such as:

10. Dick Diver – Melbourne, Florida

Melbourne, Florida holds plenty of reasons as to why you should be showing Dick Diver to everyone you know. Even without mentioning their magnum opus Calendar Days, shoving songs like Waste the Alphabet” or “Tearing the Posters Down” should be high on your priority list of songs to put on when someone asks “What should we listen to?”. There’s a narrative tilt to the way that Dick Diver write songs that’s unmatched amongst their contemporaries. If anyone claims that jangle-pop is too disaffected and obsessed with the mundane, smack them sideways with your copy of this record, and showcase the emotional weight in songs like “Boomer Class” to silence them effectively.

Full Review of Dick Diver’s Melbourne, Florida

9. Bad//Dreems – Dogs At Bay

If Dogs At Bay had been released during the period that Bad//Dreems are emulating, then it would’ve been one of Au-Go-Go’s most prized possessions. As it happens, Dogs At Bay came out in 2015, and introduced a whole new generation of kids to the glory of pub rock. Beer-soaked riffs, a howl that reaches all the way to the loner coughing up their life savings at the pokies, and a wide swathe of material that nodded to folks like GOD, Coloured Balls, The Go-Betweens and The Angels, Bad//Dreems pounded the listener with an affecting album of impressive rock.

Full Review of Bad//Dreems’ Dogs At Bay

8. Palms – Crazy Rack

Outside of Sydney, it seemed like this record was a bit ignored. Which is a huge shame, because it’s full of rock gems that span from the riff hurricane of “Bad Apple”, to the Cheap Trick-spiritual successor “Thoughts of You”, to “Sleep Too Much” a face-melter that rivals the power of The Ark of the Covenant. There were also pleasantly surprising softer moments that took Palms away from being pigeon holed as a band that could only do garage-rock. When you feel a bit shit, and needed that quick fix of heartfelt headbangers that you’re not ashamed to belt out off-key and shred an air guitar to, crank Crazy Rack. 

Full Review of Palms’ Crazy Rack

7.  MAKING – High Life

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/132638620″>MAKING – COME 2 ME</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user41667982″>TRAIT RECORDS</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

MAKING were the band that took me by surprise most this year. I’d never seen their live show before, and had only really glanced through their previous singles. Which is how “Come 2 Me” hit me so hard, Thor’s hammer splicing open my skull, caving in expectations. Indeed, all of High Life has that effect of being ripped apart from the inside by a pack of raging rhinoceros. Over the course of a half-hour, MAKING pulverises minds to dust, leaving you shivering, cold and begging for more. Their approach to music – thundering drums ploughing into a swelling bruise of menace until the whole fucking thing explodes – is exceptional. Furthermore, the sheer musicality of MAKING is terrifying: HOW DO THEY MAKE THE SOUNDS THEY ARE MAKING? How do they force their record to appear like the apocalypse? It’s complexity completely removed of pretension, just bucking insanity stripped to its most batshit crazy.

Full Review of MAKING’s High Life

6. Heart Beach – Heart Beach

Hobart’s Heart Beach are an unassuming bunch; they use what they need, and nothing more. Their cover for their album is just a heart and a palm tree – nothing fancy, just enough to let the kids know what they’re getting. Musically, they’re just as sparse: mild guitar lines, feathering drums, the occasional burst of noise, and lightly duetting vocals that miser around bum-puffing, waiting, and the small pleasures you hold dear when you work in office.

And with that simple tool of simplicity, everything that Heart Beach quietly whisper is a boom. When you’re a band like Heart Beach, loaded with inherent sorrow, its the little things that count the most. This is an album focused purely on the little things, and for that, this unassuming record has become one of the most powerful of the year.

5. Gang of Youths – The Positions

The accompanying story to The Positions makes it clear that it was always an album that was going to be made. It’s a testament to the band’s ability that what they have made is so good. Pivoting between enormous waves of Springsteen arena-ready rock and intimate moments  that could easily belong on a Joni Mitchell record, the thing that holds these changes together is frontman Dave Le’aupepe bare honesty. Put in the same position, there’s no fucking way I’d be comfortable sharing  ideas like suicide, critical levels of self-doubt and watching the person you love the most slowly dying in front of you. But that’s what Gang of Youths do, and its a jaw-dropping experience of an album because of that.

The Positions isn’t just an album that’s captivating because of its story, or because of how a person is telling the story, or because of the musical accompaniment, but a sum of these amazing parts. Do yourself a favour, and sit down with this album. Don’t get distracted, don’t listen to just the singles, listen to all of it. By the end of that run-time, if you’ve done it properly, The Positions will have hit you like a fucking train has ploughed through your soul, and you’ll be thankful for it.

Full Review of Gang of Youths’ The Positions

4. Roland Tings – Roland Tings

Here’s a good reason why Year End Lists matter – without Mess + Noise’s ‘Best Songs of 2013’ article, I never would’ve found Roland Tings. Since hearing “Tomita’s Basement”, I’ve been devoted to everything he’s put out. It’s just the smoothest music in the land right now, exotic soundscapes made by a bonafide genius.

Roland Tings’ debut is one that just keeps on giving, whether it be the hyperactive, salivating “Pala”, which sounds like Tings recorded synths over the best pool party ever, the cavernous “Cultural Canal” or the tantalising squelch of “Coming Up For Air”. Roland Tings made a party record that is universal, a protege extension of Todd Terje’s thrilling music. It is so easy to get lost in this album, but when its a record this flamboyant, diverse and fun, you’ll never want to get out.

Full Review of Roland Tings’ Roland Tings

3. Power – Electric Glitter Boogie

Putting on Electric Glitter Boogie, you get hit with the same feeling that accompanied people hearing Raw Power and Teenage Hate for the first time. There’s a carnal, primitive energy that only hits rock music every now and then, a spark that sounds like someone throwing a toaster in a bathtub.

Electric Glitter Boogie is unrelenting in its mission to seek and destroy what was previously the most maddening rock to scorch this Earth. Every song wreaks complete destruction, proto-punk missiles sinking their teeth into your very being and thrashing around, until your as cold and lifeless as all the other victims. When Power scream, they flatten their surroundings to patches of dirt. Power make me want to put my hand in a blender, and laugh all the way to the emergency room. They’ve made the most maniacal, demented, absurd ode to real rock music capable, and if you have any interest in the carnivorous power of guitar, you need to indulge in this album. Power’s title doesn’t just ring true, it redefines the meaning.

Full Review of Power’s Electric Glitter Boogie

2. Blank Realm – Illegals in Heaven

A year later, and Blank Realm are still on top – their 2014 masterpiece Grassed Inn seemed like an unbeatable benchmark for the group, but here we are: Illegals in Heaven is Blank Realm’s SECOND magnum opus.

There’s not a song on this album that isn’t a total winner, even if they incite that reaction for different reasons. “No Views” cries victory for its chugging riffs and squealing keytar, whilst “Palace of Love” and “River of Longing” triumph with their stories of lost love that are so intimate, yet could also apply to millions of relationships out there. And “Gold” remains possibly the best song Blank Realm have ever written, and in following logic, that means its one of the best Australian songs ever written.

Illegals in Heaven isn’t a perfect album, it is the perfect album. There is so much here to fall in love with, a constant stream of discovering new points in the album to exclaim, “Well, fuck me, that’s got to be the best thing ever recorded!”. It’s an album to be listened to with friends, with strangers, by yourself, at the pub, at a party, at a funeral, at the fucking fish and chip shop – there is no situation to far fetched or ordinary that Illegals in Heaven wouldn’t make the perfect companion to. Buy this album, hold it close, and severe all ties with anyone who tries to “borrow” it.

Full Review of Blank Realm’s Illegals in Heaven

1. Royal Headache – High

There’s a whole list of reasons as to why High is the best and most important record of 2015. It sees one of Australia’s arguably greatest contemporary band return to form after a three year absence, it sees them extend and explore beyond what they became so well known for, it followed one of the best performances the Opera House has ever been privy to, and Iggy Pop really liked it.

But the main reason why Royal Headache top this pretty irrelevant list is because High wins from sheer listenability. And isn’t that precisely what a good record should be? I’ve listened to this album more than any other this year, so much so that I’ve worn out my first copy and had to order a second one. I love it so much that I’m terrified to write about it, because I know I won’t even get close to describing how good it is.Whatever your rating system is, 10 stars, 5 flaming guitars, A/B/C/D, whatever…High doesn’t just take out the highest possible rating, it expunges that system from existence, and sits glowering atop the rubble.

The way Royal Headache punch through song after song, bringing the house down every two minutes or so – that’s exactly what drew me to liking music in the first place. High incites a reaction in me that hits so close to the bone that I’m embarrassed to even talk about it. This sounds like raving, but it’s important, at least to me, to express how much of total fucking masterpiece this record is. If there’s anyone out there with a doubt of how good a band can possibly be, chuck on this Royal Headache album, and feel all your cynicism at modern music fade away.

Full Review of Royal Headache’s High 

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2015 In Review, State By State

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It’s December 1st, so that means its time for the inevitable yearly wrap-up that gets all the clicks. But before I head into the dreaded listicle territory, I’m going to look at Australia’s literal territories, and just what the fuck they got up to this year, from the perspective of a child in Sydney who struggles to charge a phone, let alone understand the intricacies of the music scenes available within each state.

Short answer: bloody heaps, moite. Long answer:

Sydney, NSW

Look, we dropped the ball with the lockouts, and none of our NRL teams made the final. But other than that, Sydney did real well this year, with FLOWERTRUCK, YEEVS, Low Lux, Gordi, Le Pie and Palms being just a handful of the names that kept this dying city propped up.

In very important news, Sydney punk got re-ignited this year, specifically because of two bands: Orion and White Dog. Seeing these bands is akin to setting yourself on fire, Thich Quang Duc-style. Equally terrifying and exhilarating, you’re just as likely to be hit in the jaw by a flying crowd surfer as you are commit the violence yourself. Other new punk bands like Dry Finish, Point Being and Tim & the Boys popped up as well, which makes me feel like it’s going to be only a matter of time before Maggot Fest relocates North. Oh yeah, and Royal Headache returned in order to promptly release the best album of 2015.

Brisbane, QLD

Brisbane continued its reign as kings and queens of weird, as the local labels Sonic Masala Records and Tenth Court put out some fantastically obscure and refreshing records, whilst the pop was on point, with a few new teasers from The Creases, Babaganouj, and Love Signs. Blank Realm melted all our hearts with another masterpiece that was possibly BETTER than 2014’s Grassed Inn. Synth strangeness hit its peak, as the new bands 100%, and Corporate Vibes released some incredible tapes, and shoegaze returned in a big way with DEAFCULT and FOREVR injected a couple hefty doses of mind-caving avalanches of guitar.

Melbourne, VIC

Another year, another straight flush of amazing rock and punk. Thanks to Power, Little Desert, and Dribble for being the best a pimply teenager from Sydney’s suburbia could wish for.

However, Melbourne’s usual spot on proliferation of jangle-pop stalled a bit this year – there were great records from big hitters The Ocean Party, Twerps and Dick Diver, however none of these releases rose above their preceding material. They were good, but not enough to warrant the feverish excitement that accompanied previous albums.

On the other hand, electronic music regained its foothold in the Southern State – NULL, Planete, and Sui Zhen forced heads to pop up and start salivating, whilst friendships, Total Giovanni  and NO ZU proved to be the most entertaining and fun live acts that Australia provided this year. But it was Roland Tings who takes out MVP – that record of his is a work of fucking art.

Adelaide, SA

Wireheads, Bad//Dreems and Summer Flake provided the best material from the City of Churches, although the latter has pissed off down to Melbourne, so it’ll probably only be another few months before she disappears into an alleyway and becomes swallowed by that famous coffee culture. Another Adelaide export, Lord Fascinator released a whole swag of tracks that had an approximately 50% hit rate.

Besides the big names, there were a few newish bands from Radelaide that are showing a fair bit of promise – Old Mate released another album, Rule of Thirds put out their debut, and in very recent news, The Yabbies and The High Beamers have put out a few tracks that points to them becoming the biggest things out of Adelaide since Paul Kelly became the official sponsor for Coopers [sic].

Perth, WA

Tame Impala released a pretty average record, POND released a really good one. The various side-projects between these two bands number into the millions, and they’re all varying engagements of the same incestual psych village. There’s just a bit too much, and it’s all a bit “Eh”.

Similarly to the psych boom, there was an over saturation of electro-pop and grunge. Both of these scenes started off exciting, with KUCKA, and GRRL PAL providing satisfying starts in the former category, and Tired Lion, Pat Chow, and Black Stone From the Sun churning out detuned Heimlich manoeuvres in the latter. But by the end of the year, it became a bit tiresome hearing the same old thing. These bands are still good, but with the exception of LOWER SPECTRUM and Catlips, it felt like people in Perth are either listening to too much Grimes or Nevermind.

Hobart, TAS

The most underrated and painfully ignored album of 2015 came courtesy of Tassie’s Heart Beach. We, as a collective society, should have raised this album to triple platinum status, at a bare minimum. Heart Beach is flooring, and I feel ashamed that I didn’t review it. If you’re after a record that you can curl up with, that’ll both comfort you and turn your bones to ash, turn to Heart Beach, and don’t stop listening until you’ve reached the highest point of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If there was going to be an album that guided you towards a higher consciousness , it’ll be this one. Please, do yourself the greatest of favours and jump on over to Heart Beach’s Bandcamp, where the album is still listed as a ridiculous name-your-price.

Darwin, NT

I have no idea what happened in Darwin this year. Can someone let me know?