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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Gig Review: At First Sight Festival

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What kind of world do we live in that some fucking ginger kid with the social etiquette of Todd Carney on a handful of pingas can make out with a copy of Slayer’s Show No Mercy AND boogie to NO ZU in the space of a single day> It’s a truly  barbaric thought, and it’s one that came true just a few days ago. At First Sight Festival, curated by Marty Doyle of Dusty Fingers fame, happened over the weekend, and it was a truly glorious time for all involved.

Full disclosure – I was involved in some aspects of this festival, but not anything that could be considered important. Nope, Count Doyle did it all, from booking an incredible lineup which somehow deviated from the usual Tkay Maidza/Hilltop Hoods/Sticky Fingers combination, to the promotion, scheduling, and other organisational duties that no sane person should be willing to take on. Instead, I was tasked with trapping a member of Blank Realm in a car, and chewing his ear off for hours on end. It did mean missing the early portion of the festival, but according to multiple eye-witnesses, Rolling Blackouts and Royal Sitars were best on ground.

The first moments of At First Sight that were seared into my eyeballs belong to the explosive set of Palms. Seriously, if you haven’t listened to their new album Crazy Rack, then fuck off and do so. There’s no reason to continue reading, just plug yourself into this masterpiece for the next half hour and only return when you’re finished. Done? Fucking hell, so you’ve come to the realisation that these Palms dudes would sound alright blaring out from a fuck-off, huge mountain of speakers, yeah? Because that’s what happened; Palms ploughed through all the hits from their two records to date, smashing “This Last Year”, “Love”, “Bad Apple”, and “Beatdown” with the kind of howling ferocity that forces you to lift a fist (IF NOT BOTH) in the air with mashing glee.

TEESNicholas Allbrook and Lucy Cliche all swiftly followed with impressive sets. TEES provided a dreamy set that showcases that their dreamy pop material works just as gorgeously on a stage as it does in .mp3 form, and Nicholas Allbrook brought the weirdness in leaps and bounds. Literally, the man cannot stay still – although his set suffered from such sporadicalness, shifting manically and at an unpredictable whim, the POND frontman remained enjoyable. Lucy Cliche was a bevy of intensity, her thudding, sharp dance music transforming a small bunker at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon into a thriving hive of hungry gazes and shuffling feet. Do yourself a favour, and make yourself as familiar as possible with her work.

This next passage might seem hyperbolic, but it’s not. If anything, whatever words I type next will be under-representative of the insanity that is NO ZU. An eight piece hydra indebted to raising the heat of a room by several degrees, the Melbourne collective had pulses racing at an unhealthy rate. Folks should have been having heart attacks from all the exercise that was going down, but sheer joy and anticipation for what NO ZU would pull out next forced them to party on. They remain to be one of the funnest, strangest, most exotic things on this planet, a laboratory of thrilling genres mashed into a sweaty dance-floor filling experience. Forget heroin, NO ZU are the most addictive substances on the planet.

Still reeling from NO ZU, Nun continued the legacy of Melbourne acts putting on exhilarating performances. A member was wearing a Gutter Gods t-shirt and that wasn’t even the most punk thing on stage. Front woman Jenny Branagan is fucking mental to watch. She is the greatest thing to happen to a stage since our prayers were answered and Dave Growl fell off of one. She jumps, dives, sprawls, screams, thrashes and delivers shriek after shriek, her band’s domineering wall of synth punk throwing jabs from behind her. Incredible – if you haven’t picked up their debut album then fix this gaping mistake in your life with a little bit of this.

Following Nun are Brissy’s Blank Realm, who have been awarded the very prestigious honour of “BEST FARKIN BAND IN AUSTRALIA”. They get this award because they a) wear Pere Ubu t-shirts, b) rock keytars like Duran Duran didn’t fuck it up for everyone, c) are possibly the best songwriters in the country and d) because fuck, have you heard Blank Realm before? They’re amazing! Of course they rule live, how could they not? When you’re a band that owns a cache of tunes like “River of Longing”, “Falling Down the Stairs”, “Reach You on the Phone” and “Go Easy”, it’s hard to be anything less than “BEST FARKIN BAND IN AUSTRALIA”.

Previous duties withheld experiencing My Disco, Broadway Sounds, and most of Andras’ set, but hey, we all know these acts are national treasures, so build a Spotify playlist, and get over it, y’know? Let’s move onto Oscar Key Sung: draped in cloth, the man is pure beauty constructed around eyes of steel and a voice of cotton. His beats switch from lush and textured to the occasional pummel, however, it did feel like he could have benefitted from someone else onstage to help him. It’s hard to fully enjoy a crooner like Key Sung, who is so concentrated on flipping between production, singing and entertaining. He worked best when he was joined by Amrita, who danced their way into all of our adoring hearts, and freed Key Sung up into a party mode.

Moving onward to Total Giovanni – now they’re a band that could give Blank Realm a run for their money. The tagline for this band is “Fun. Incarnate”. With enough energy to power the LargeHadron Collider,  Total Giovanni are Italo-disco superstars, bestowers of the silky sensual. This is a group with only a handful of singles to their name, but every single beating heart in the cavern of Carriageworks was thumping along meticulously to the party that Total Giovanni were delivering. What was the greatest moment? “When We Break” churning a few hundred people into  a sea of flailing bodies? The over-the-top, pelvis-shattering thrusts that took place during “Human Animal? Or the batshit crazy cover of Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s “Precious Rose”? Trying to decide the answer to that question is aneurysm-inducing.

By some miracle, the best moment of At First Sight didn’t belong to any one of the bands mentioned above, but rather, a combination of them via Uncle Donny’s Rotating Sideshow of Stellar Performance aka the Donny Benet Showband’s Tribute to Nile Rodgers. Bringing out all the day’s superstars, including Becky Sui Zhen and Daphne Camf of NO ZU, Oscar Key Sung and Vachel Spirason of Total Giovanni, Donny and co. re-introduced some of the past century’s biggest hits, resulting in an all-out dance bloodbath. The sea was angry that day, my friends. Oh, it was an angry mosh of people screaming, “OH FUCK, I LOVE THIS SONG!” as DB and his merry band played the best version of “Original Sin” since Hutcho called it quits. Special mention goes to Nicholas Allbrook for a very special performance of Mick Jagger’s “Just Another Night”, and in turn, transforming a so-bad-it’s-good song into something so-good-it’s-brilliant.

It’s worth reminding everyone that, whilst all of this amazing music was happening, people were record shopping. Two of the greatest habits, combined into one day! How can someone like me be lucky enough to get The Saint’s I’m (Stranded) and get the opportunity to witness a one-of-a-kind musical experience courtesy of Donny? It cannot be overstated how much of a miracle it is that all of this could happen under one roof: the bands of tomorrow shredding minds and expectations to tatters mere metres away from where some of the most important records are being sold. That’s the dream, ladies and gentlemen. That’s the fucking dream. See you at Carriageworks next year.

Top 10 Bands of Laneway Festival 2016

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Laneway Festival just announced their lineup for 2016, and fuck me, I’ve shit the bed…twice. Whilst I clean the sheets, old mate WordPress came calling, and now you’ve got a list, ANOTHER BLOODY LIST, telling YOU who to go and begrudgingly see after you inevitably figure out that those caps you bought off the lad in Camperdown Park are duds.

10. Violent Soho

It seems real weird that Violent Soho were booked for Laneway Festival. The festival has always prided itself on booking acts either on the cusp of popularity, or who have only recently tasted that sweet, sweet music career success. Violent Soho easily sell out some of the biggest venues in the country, and already played the festival in 2011. It’s not really a complaint, as the band always put on a hell of a show, but it begs the question as to why the festival didn’t book someone more emerging as opposed to a band so established? Still, if ya feel like showering in other people’s sweat (read: my sweat) in a mosh, your best bet is to head to wherever Soho are playing.

9. Silicon

Kody Nielsen’s got a resume worth having a gag over: The Mint Chicks, Opossum, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and now Silicon. Old mate’s been signed to Domino Records (via Weird World), home to Sebadoh, Jon Hopkins and Dan Deacon. He’s got a record coming out which features the bloody tops “Burning Sugar”, and in a few weeks he’s going to be touring with Tame Impala Only one of those achievements is boring.

8. Majical Cloudz

Jesus Christ, Majical Cloudz are pretty good at making you feel like you’ve accomplished nothing with your life. The voice of Devon Welsh is like a mixture of your parents’ telling you that they’re disappointed in you and being left at the altar. There’s a whole lot of pain there, and it’s shaping up to be that watching Majical Cloudz in the flesh is going to feel like Frosty the Snowman is reaching into our chest cavities and strangling our hearts.

7. HEALTH

These guys are fucked, in the best way possible. Think of the danceable noise of Holy Fuck, but trodden with paranoia and an addiction to unpredictability. Their ‘Get Colour’ record is an incredible experience that, if listened to correctly, should blow out your ear drums. Their new record ‘Death Magic’ is equally visceral, a dark, violent affair well-worth your time. Allegedly, HEALTH’s live shows are surreal events that warrant ear plugs and a clean smock.

6. Thundercat

Look, I’ll be honest, my heart fluttered for a second when I thought that the cult 80’s kids cartoon I watched re-runs of when my parents were asleep was going to make a live-action comeback. I would bite the dick off a gargoyle if that opportunity presented itself. Unfortunately, we’ll have to settle for the other Thundercat, a Flying Lotus collaborator, bass god and master of neo-soul who will make us all want to be better people. #realtalk though, how sick would it be to abuse a pimply kid in a Snarf costume between craft beers and Grimes?

5. The Goon Sax

Let’s be real: it was definitely my article on the best bands of BIGSOUND that got this one over the line. You can be one of the best emerging acts to put jangle-pop on its head, you can pull off an incredibly heartfelt and original set in a packed out bar in Brisbane, and you can warrant a whole lot of tongue wagging with the announcement that you’re joining Chapter Music off the back of a few demos. But you can’t underestimate the power of #localblogs.

In all seriousness, it’ll be interesting to see how The Goon Sax pull off a set at a festival like Laneway. In a pub, they’re on home turf, playing to small, packed crowds of people that adore the music they make; their charm arises from their faults and humbleness displayed on the homely  pub stage. Who knows what might go down in front of gum-chewing punters hanging for Hudson Mohawke. Fingers crossed the rest of Australia gets to see the magic that I saw at Ric’s a few weeks back.

4. METZ

Their second album was a bit of an uneven affair, lacking the succinct and determined power of their debut, but there’s little doubt that METZ have lost the strength of their live show. Their show at GoodGod two years ago remains one of my favourites, and not just because they were joined by TV Colours and Batpiss. There’s an ungodly amount of bite in METZ’s music which is hurled at anyone within a fortunate distance. The Laneway organisers should put these guys and HEALTH together and ensure that NOBODY CAN HEAR ANYTHING EVER AGAIN!

3. Vince Staples

Rap is not my strong game. Shit, it’s not even my game. I don’t know the rules, I don’t own the proper paraphernalia, and sometimes I get scared when I listen to an N.W.A song. But Vince Staples swooped in and plastered his ‘Summertime ’06’ record everywhere, and shit, I ain’t even mad. This album is thrilling, a thuggish, brutal hip-hop record that floats between expert production and terrifying lyrics. Live, his exuberance and savagery will produce gulps of fear in the squares of Australia.

2. Blank Realm

The Australian contingent is pretty solid this year, relying less on proven success stories of yore (e.g Dune Rats and Courtney Barnett last year) and more on instinct and intuition. It explains why artists like Ali Barter and High Tension found their way on the lineup. But Blank Realm!?? I assumed this band was doomed to a fate of being adored after their time, like fellow Brisbanites The Saints. But Laneway have made the right choice and picked up the best band in Australia for performance duties. Good. Fucking. Option. Mates.

Seriously, the shunning of mainstream popularity for Blank Realm is criminal. How many masterpieces have you got to release before the floodgates of mass devotion open? The answer is three. Blank Realm have three masterpieces. They just released their latest opus, and fuck me, if you still haven’t checked it out, then do yourself a favour and press repeat until your fingers bleed.

1. SPOD (TBA)

Some dickhead graphic designer completely forgot to put SPOD’s name on the lineup again! Jesus Christ! Two years in a row! That’s a stab in the back, isn’t it! Maybe the contracts still have yet to go through, but c’mon! Pull yourself together! He’s a national icon!

Album Review: Blank Realm – Illegals In Heaven

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Today was hard. Real hard. Top 5 hardest days of my life. After twenty minutes of trying to find my Mission of Burma record, I decided to go through and re-organise my record collection by genre. An honourable task, I know – truly, I am the people’s champion. But in all seriousness, we now live in a world where the The Replacements will no longer rub shoulders with Rob Zombie (it was an ill-advised present, I swear).

The only reason I mention this, besides to gloat, is that when Blank Realm’s new album ‘Illegals in Heaven’ arrives. It’s going to be tough to slot this record into one of the newly orgnaised pigeon holes. Sure, you can throw it amongst the rock stuff, but Blank Realm are too sensitive and honest to fit in with the cock rock that dominates my shelves. New Wave? There’s too much depth to throw it next to Bronski Beat and Human league records. Punk maybe? Nah, I don’t feel like burning down the government when I hear this band. Psych? Fuck no, who do you think I am? I don’t have a fucking psych section. Jesus Christ.

Blank Realm are remarkable for their ability to glide through their albums genre-less; the only thing that can be firmly planted on them is their uncanny skill to marry sorrow and incredible musicality. Since beginning eight years ago, they’ve released a constant run of albums that dabble in gnarled noise, synth-pop, lo-fi rock, and more, peaking in last year’s masterpiece, ‘Grassed Inn’. Since releasing that, and witnessing their amazing live show many, many, many times, Blank Realm have rocketed from underground favourites to Australian legends.

Not only does ‘Illegals in Heaven’ cement that ideology, but it seals it in carbonite, Han Solo-style. Soon, Blank Realm will be frozen in a horrified pose, placed as a trophy in the lair of some overweight tycoon (hey, how you going). This album is an accomplishment of variety – shifting from dazzling drama that wouldn’t feel out of place spurting from the world’s biggest stages, all the way to chugging swings of post-punk and yearning ballads that have reached the end and can’t go on any longer. There’s a wonderful smorgasbord available here for the fussy eaters – you’re welcome to pick and choose, but it’s recommended that you just sit down and gorge yourself on the sheer variety that’s available.

In saying this, Blank Realm display a logical graduation throughout ‘Illegals…’, rising and falling with the pulse of an expert mixtape, the kind that Rob Gordon from High Fidelity would fawn over. There’s a huge difference to the sporadic and random splurges of ideas that Blank Realm brought to their earlier output. The album opens with “No Views”, a frantic and frank ode to Blank Realm’s adeptness to explode from the iTunes Library and right into your very being, before manoeuvring into the herky-jerky “River of Longing”. You can bet a million and a half bucks that shit would be The OC’s theme song if that shit was still around.

Following on from the one-two punch of riveting gonzo pop that only Blank Realm are capable of delivering, they settle into a pattern of restless anti-love songs for the rest of the record – “Palace of Love” performs Waiting For Godot in a chamber of dense synths and fluttering guitars, whilst “Costume Drama” pairs a throng of careening, buzzsaw riffs with pleasant, clipping keys. The finale of”Too Late Now” shoots daggers of despair, a six and half minute anguish override. When Daniel Spencer sighs, “It’s much too late now, for you to ever come back/ It’s much too late now, they just don’t write ’em like that”, there’s a good chance you’ll throw up a little in your mouth in harmonised hopelessness.

That excerpt is just a sample of Blank Realm’s songwriting prowess which remains as focal to their music as the instrumentation itself. Often Daniel’s lyrics and delivery cry out, and persistently resonate with anyone who’s been dragged through the muck that is having your heart torn out. There’s too much to specifically haul out and quote, so just take the word that he’s damn good at putting pen to paper, and then singing about those words. However, it’s Sarah Spencer shining on “Gold” that forces the jaw to officially drop…Holy shit! What the fucking goddamn fuck on a shit stick is this!? Is your heart in your throat? BECAUSE MY HEART IS IN MY FUCKING THROAT! It’s sitting there like I’ve swallowed a boulder. I can’t breathe, you can’t breathe, we’re just sitting here in wide-eyed silence, unable to even gasp in awe. Why? Because Sarah possesses one of the most arresting voices on this planet. It’s like Chrissie Hynde’s and Stevie Nicks’s vocal chords had a kid that moved to Brisbane. Sarah Spencer is a powerhouse, and “Gold”  stands out as one of the most potent, heart-shredding songs on an album full of them.

I mentioned before that I’m not going to have anywhere to put ‘Illegals in Heaven’. Fuck that, I’ve got just the place. A big, fuck off jewel case. This album is a monument to the best band in Australia – this record proves what Blank Realm have been ploughing away at all this time: their capacity to surprise and enthral with only music. This album has completely matched the stunning nature of ‘Grassed Inn’, a two-for-two deal of dense records packed with emotionally ruining content. After their record last year, the cracks began to show in Blank Realm’s status as a purely cult band. With ‘Illegals in Heaven’, the intention should be to burst through the wall and shake the world to its roots. That’s the only way it should be.

‘Illegals in Heaven’ is available this Friday, September 4th through Bedroom Suck Records. You can pick it up from their Bandcamp here. They’ll be playing the At First Sight Festival in Sydney on November 14, alongside My Disco, Total Giovanni, NO ZU and more. You actually can’t miss this gig – it’s imperative that you are there.

Gig Review: Volumes Festival 2015

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Saturday, August 29th @ Brighton Up Bar, Oxford Art Factory, Cliff Dive

It’s rare to walk into a venue at 3 o’clock in the arvo and see anything more than a few winos having a quiet beer. Maybe a couple of #ridiculouslydressed folks on a pub crawl for someone’s birthday. There’s certainly no expectation of seeing a packed house of clamouring music fans singing along to an album that hasn’t even been released yet. But, in the first incarnation of what’s sure to be a celebrated annual occurrence, VOLUMES Festival brought Sydney’s music fans out of their share houses and into venues, catering a fantastically eclectic showcase of Australian music.

VOLUMES Festival sure seemed like a gamble – for a local nerd like myself, the lineup was a wet dream. Relatively speaking, it was like a Star Wars geek getting to have lunch with a pre-sequels Lucas at Skywalker Ranch. Just viewing the bands playing, delight was being compressed into my brain at an unhealthy rate. The lineup was stocked with incredible acts, from the bigger names Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders and Blank Realm, to sturdy up and comers such as FLOWERTRUCK, Low Lux and Gold Class. However, statistically speaking, these aren’t your typical headlining bands. In anticipated excitement over the festival, I would sputter and slobber about all these awesome names and would often be greeted with blank, occasionally hostile, stares. “Oi, can you fucking not spit in my face…and I don’t know who the fucking Laurels are, mate!” was a common response. It felt like this beautiful new thing that was taking over three of the most celebrated venues in Sydney – Oxford Art Factory, Cliff Dive and Brighton Up Bar – could be attended solely by music nerds with nothing better to do with their time (read: this ginger piece of shit with a keyboard).

Come 3pm, and bands that don’t even have full records out are busting out their jams to enthralled audiences. Big White serenaded with their off-kilter guitar pop, Death Bells shot daggers with their dark, infiltrating gaze of post-punk inflected dream pop, and The Pinheads engaged in all-out debauchery. Three bands in, and the senses have been driven into overdrive, particularly by The Pinheads, who make it their mission to risk their lives for the sake of our entertainment. Draped in thrift shop rock star outfits, shimmering with a Straight-Outta-Spotlight glamour, The Pinheads brand of overwhelming rock ‘n’ roll continually invades the audience and challenges the status quo of standing with your arms folded *nodding in solemn appreciation*. Bertolt Brecht would be proud.

It’s been said before, by folks much more eloquent/intelligible/handsome than myself, but FLOWERTRUCK are fucking sick, hey. Go-Betweens/Triffids meets Talking Heads with a dash of Factory Records pop aesthetic. Winner winner, chicken dinner. Although they’re usually a first-song-in-capture-the-whole-crowd group, the sound in the Gallery Bar seemed to irk the set towards the beginning – however, FLOWERTRUCK still commanded their half hour with the most impressive pop to come out of Sydney in a long time. Don’t get us wrong – the crowd was grooving hard, especially when cynic-evaporators “I Wanna Be With You” and “Sunshower” upended naysayers right in the pleasure gland. As their time stretched thin, the dance floor grew more heated, and sweat poured. This band is essential – don’t miss them next week, when they play the Junkyard-curated leg of King Street Crawl at the Botany View Hotel.

Holy Balm made a rare appearance, and quickly reminded why they’re one of Sydney’s favourites. They are a truly un-pigeonhole-able group, a threesome who’s influences stretch far, unveiling a sound that is equally at home in a nightclub as it is in the bedroom of a lonely soul. In the intimate Cliff Dive, Holy Balm quietly shone with dance music that’s unrivalled, beautifully delivered monologues bubbling over the top of incredible live production – whenever Holy Balm decide to next grace a stage, ensure that you are front and centre. Switch over to World Champion in the OAF main stage, where a very different kind of noise is being produced. BritPop sheen collides with skilful production, and bolstered by vivid visuals, the lean team of Julian Sudek and Will Campion make for a bustling performance reminiscent of Jagwar Ma’s live shows.

ONWARDS! A cinematic double-team of Shining Bird and Jack Ladder. Although both faced technical problems, the South Coast and Blue Mountains ensembles triumphed in their own way. Shining Bird are impossible to tear away from, and once they float into their groove of slow-burning psych pop hauled from a conk shell in Thirroul, there’s no backing away from the gems of the South Coast. Much like interrupting a sleepwalker, it’s better to just look on in bewilderment at the dream-cloaked happenings that city slickers would never be capable of pulling off. Meanwhile, Jack Ladder and co. simply pushed through the difficulty with brute force. Typically dressed to impress, Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders played admirably, but hardly at their most memorable. Whereas previous performances have left attendees in complete awe, sound issues plagued early portions, and the band didn’t seem to throw themselves in as much as they have previously. There isn’t much too complain about – any chance to witness “Cold Feet” and “Hurtsville” is always a pleasure that should be experienced by everyone, but tonight felt slightly crooked.

Segue into Brighton Up Bar, and the room is fixated on Melbourne’s Gold Class and their urgent post-punk. It’s a paradox, hearing such a confessional and committed singer, running around the stage, wrapped in his microphone, strapped to snarling, drenched music. It’s bleak stuff curdling upon sharp and searing punches of music that unwraps spectacularly. Seeing them made for a satisfying prequel to their debut album, which drops soon.

Unsurprisingly, Blank Realm were the highlight of VOLUMES. This band is easily the greatest band in Australia, firmly tied with Royal Headache. Do whatever is in your possible power to see this band, or buy their record…fuck it, do both. Their music is incredible, and just keep getting better. The festival provided an opportunity for Blank Realm to unleash a few songs from their upcoming masterpiece “Illegals in Heaven“. Not only is this album perfect in recorded form, but live, it does to the heart what a volcanic explosion would do to butter. “River of Longing”, “Palace of Love”, “No Views” – these are some goddamn hits! Sprinkle these amongst some bonafide classics from the Brisbanites back catalogue, you’ve got the best thing that’s happened to Oxford Street since the first Mardis Gras. How Blank Realm haven’t been scooped up by a multi-national corporation to be the face of contemporary music, showered in unruly decadence and a royal declaration of excellence, is beyond me. Maybe it’s because the subject matter is Schindler’s List-crossed-with-Lassie levels of heartbreak…but cut with the band’s wonky serving of pop and the group’s irrepressible live show ensure that anyone in hearing distance is cutting shapes and sweating harder than a 17 year old at their first Stereosonic. Seriously, Sarah Spencer is the coolest person in live music – her keytar moves are more inspiring than hearing Nelson Mandela and Ghandi swap stories. I’ll say it again – DO WHATEVER IT IS NECESSARY TO WITNESS THIS BAND! IT IS ESSENTIAL TO YOUR SURVIVAL AS A HUMAN BEING! YOU WILL BE BETTER OFF FOR IT! BLANK REALM ARE THE MCDONALDS SALADS OF BANDS – SURROUNDED BY FAKE BILE, THEY ARE GOOD AND GOOD FOR YOU! 🙂

Concluding the night are a couple of rock “elder” statesmen – Wollongong’s finest shredders Step-Panther and Sydney’s The Laurels. The former are criminally underrated, a South Coast three piece who drenched an adoring audience in fits of fuzz, and sporadic solos that should have splintered the fingers of frontman Steve Bourke. Although some wankstain, twat-faced ginger who probably runs a blog decided to ruin their otherwise spot on rendition of King Tuff’s “Headbanger”, the set was otherwise an encapsulation of everything there is to love about Step-Panther: unstoppable garage rock paired with a heads-down, lets-fucking-rock performance. It was enough to warrant abundant crowd surfing, which at Brighton Up Bar is a cock tease to Death, considering the giant hole in the middle of the room. People are actually willing to plunge to their execution at a Step-Panther show, what have you done lately? The Laurels finished the VOLUMES marathon with a tight set drawing from tracks off their legendary psych rock debut ‘Plains’, as well as material from their upcoming record. Paired with throbbing visuals, The Laurels went into shred territory, running the gauntlet of rock from the squealing charge of “Changing the Timeline” to the hypnotic “Tidal Wave”, and new jam “Zodiac K”.

It really can’t be overstated how important a festival like VOLUMES is – in the void of the incredible Sound Summit, it is instrumental that there is a festival that showcases everything there is to love about Sydney and Australian music. The lineup was extraordinarily well put together by music lovers for music lovers, covering far more bases than this review was capable of representing; for example, the electronic masterminds of friendships, Null and Lower Spectrum went unseen, as did the brutal Zeahorse. But the fact that it catered to more than just a guitar loving Aus music nerd, and managed to consistently serve up some of Sydney’s favourite rooms with punters itching to dance is proof that, even though it occasionally might not seem like it, people do care about Australian music. And why shouldn’t they – when the bands that played brought such great performances it’s hard not to pat Aussie music on the back, grin and say…fuck, we’re pretty alright.

VOLUMES FESTIVAL MIXTAPE

VOLUMES Festival – it’s next week mate. In approximately 10 days, this festival is gonna take over Oxford Street. Brighton Up Bar, Cliff Dive, Oxford Art Factory – combined into one sprawling pit of music. 50 metre radius. Unlimited good times.

There’s a shit tonne of bands playing this festival, but here’s the ones where you’ll see me bopping my strange-looking head at:

Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders:

Four albums in, the man is still a sensual machine. Six feet tall, and all of that brimming with sorrow. A baritone that flattens cities. Backed by Donny Benet, Laurence Pike of PVT, and Kirin J Callinan. Dream team.

Blank Realm:

Hands down, the most underrated band in Australia. Everyone that knows them loves them, but that number is nowhere near high enough. That’s gonna change – they’ve got their album ‘Illegals in Heaven’ coming out September 4th, and the first two singles are some of the saddest blasts of pop music unveiled since Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream”.

Big White: 

Pop music made by university students for university students. Actually, the songs are for anyone with a beating heart. Jangly guitars soaked in glossy keys and lovesickness. Their song “You Know I Love You” would probably cheer up even Old Gill! It’s gonna be great.

Zeahorse:

Bone-snapping music, Zeahorse play shows pretty rarely these days. When they do venture to a stage, skulls are cracked. Their debut album ‘Pool’ was a dirty adrenaline shot of sludge pushed to the edge, and they’ve been working on some new stuff for a while now, which looks like it’s going to punish eardrums even more.

Step-Panther:

South Coast shredders venturing to the city again to open up our smoke-clogged pores. Watching Step-Panther do their thing is always an enormous pleasure; big riffs collide with self-deprecation for splintered rock ‘n’ roll delirium.

Holy Balm:

There’s a fair few electronic acts gracing the VOLUMES lineup, but Holy Balm are essential. This band is so fucking cool and weird. Not only is their music a concoction of left field electronic absurdity, but it all just unfolds fantastically live. You definitely need to see them.

FLOWERTRUCK:

Best new-ish band in Sydney – every show is better than the last, and they’ve just unleashed their new single “Sunshower”, which has been getting flogged on my iTunes Library. Their live shows are bonafide mirth-inducers, wherein their guitar pop music infects even the most unsavoury of individuals.

Day Ravies:

Sydney’s own band without a genre, Day Ravies are unclassifiable, only consistent in their ability to put out mesmerising music. Their new album, ‘Liminal Zones’, is a fluid pop affair that fluidly flits between whatever style happens to tickle the band’s fancy. The only guarantee is that it’ll be good.

Low Lux: 

Low Lux are pretty new, but managed to put on an absolutely incredible debut show. It was cinematic…epic…ambitious. Definetely an act to familiarise yourself with and witness, before they’re playing rooms that are suited to their grandiose stage shows.

Death Bells:

Another fairly new band who only have one single, but have impressed a hell of a lot of folks for that small amount of material. They’ve got a brand of dream-pop that has daggers in it, swirling with flashes of derangement. Live, they turn up the snarls and bellows to lung-puncturing levels. Get down early and catch ’em.

VOLUMES goes down 29th of August, in Sydney. Catch a plane, catch a train, I don’t give a shit, just be there. You can grab tickets to VOLUMES here.

New: Blank Realm – River of Longing

It’s a dark, dark day when the news of fresh Blank Realm goes right underneath my all-encompassing gaze. I mean, fuck, these guys are incredible, and other people (OTHER. PEOPLE.) have been pumping fists to the latest from Blank Realm’s wondrous skulls.

Lawrence English of the forever intriguing Room40 label has taken over production for Blank Realm’s first album made in a studio, which seems like a really smart tradeoff. You give a little by stepping away from the DIY recording, and going into a studio, but you keep it weird by enlisting by one of the smartest guys who’s got a knack for moulding freaky sounds.

But let’s focus on the stars here – Blank Realm. All their albums have been fantastic, and “River of Longing” shows the band are looking to maintain that consistence. Sprawled out over four queasy pop minutes, Blank Realm begin with a jugular splicer of a post-punk chord, and then moves into the slanted, jangly bittersweet serenading that has marked their previous music so distinctly. After a swooning chorus that will dry out your tear ducts, Blank Realm unleash their hidden secret of jamming as much glazed noise into as crammed a pace as possible, and ramming all that colourful clammer into a dizzying finale.

Gig Review: Repressed Records Presents feat. Royal Headache

Saturday 23rd May @ Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

I’ve had a long and storied history with Newtown’s Repressed Records, but really, it’s a story that’s been replicated by individuals all over Australia and the world. You walk into the shop on South King Street, begin digging through the sizeable collection of records, and lose yourself for hours. When your fingers become dull and blunted from flicking through the best collection of obscure and underrepresented Australian albums, you can move onto the book collections, the zine selections, or the vast array of cassette tapes. There’s also some CD’s, but they’re about as cheap as a piece of plastic with a laserdisc inside should be. Repressed Records is the perfect stronghold of punk paraphernalia, a place of relentless discovery and the occasional cry of ecstasy when a rare gem is stumbled upon. This is the place where I picked up a scarce Jodie Foster’s Army record, where I first heard Blank Realm blaring out of a system, and where countless over-the-counter conversations/grillings about music and culture have taken place with Nic and Chris, aka two of the most clued-in blokes in Shitney.

As a bastion and champion of Australian music weird and wonderful, Repressed Records pulled together a lineup at the Opera House that they alone were probably capable of. Case in point was the debut performance of Snake, the solo project of Al Montfort. You may know Al Montfort as the Unrequited Australian of the Year, as well as that bloke with the mullet who plays in a couple of bands. You know, like Dick Diver, The UV Race, Straightjacket Nation, Total Control, Russell St Bombings, Lower Plenty and Eastlink. Just a coupla very diverse and very incredible bands. Anyway, Snake unveiled yet another dimension to Al Montfort’s songwriting; a loose, slightly experimental set that utilised a myriad of instruments, from flutes and mandolins to nameless tools of percussion. It was an opportunity for Montfort to unleash his usual simple demeanour to a more exotic soundscape than the rest of his bands would execute. After watching him and his cohort kill it onstage, it made the idea of more live shows from Snake a very desirable prospect.

Melbourne’s Superstar followed Snake with a set that exaggerated all the lush, poetic beauty that makes their name so applicable. With a new record out on Bedroom Suck, their quaint, refined electronic soundscapes were serene and beautiful, and in the live format, their music swelled. It was aloft, floating amongst the room, intimate, timid and personal. Like Portishead as fronted by Karen Carpenter, Superstar are a rare thing that honestly feel suspended in time, bending modern and retro stylings upon one another like benevolent gods. It was a soundtrack to a elongated, wordless drama never committed to the screen. Incredibly mesmerising. Also, they gave the greatest awkward walk off a stage that anyone has ever seen, ever. So, if you needed any more of a push to go see Superstar for yourself, well, there ya go.

I don’t believe Exhaustion haven’t played in Sydney since the 2013 Sound Summit, so it was with (my) welcome arms that they began an improvised set with acclaimed Dutch saxophonist Kris Wanders. Exhaustion can be a bit hit & miss – their recent collaboration album with KW wasn’t too rewarding, especially compared to the gruelling post-punk excellence of ‘Biker’. But live, the Melbourne trio and European legend play one of the most intoxicatingly noisy and brilliant sets I’ve ever seen. Just as Superstar had enthralled with their spacial gloss, Exhaustion lambasted the Opera House with some of the most gruelling and poisonous sounds known to man. It was thrilling, a horror film built from samples of a nightmare. Screaming, droning, a half hour on the ol’ emotional roller coaster. Kris Wanders especially punished punters with his schizophrenic saxophone outbursts. It was visceral and haywire, more frightening than letting Jehovah’s Witness into your house.

Monica Brooks’ set was unfortunately missed due to long lines for a beer, but according to everyone’s mate Ads Lewis, “…she was gorgeous”. That’s all the info you need to know, as this bloke has got a music taste more on point than the record clerks behind the counters of High Fidelity. Next time she’s got a show, make sure you get down.

Blank Realm released the bonafide best album of 2014 – a magical pop journey of heartbreak, self-detriment and depression. Whenever they get on stage, my heart floats like a blimp that’s been inflated by keytar. I can watch this band for hours – they have never failed to get this bloated ginger to crack a smile. It’s impossible not to get swept up in the majesty of Blank Realm’s performance – from the cobra-like onstage whirlings of bassist Luke Spencer, to the endless joy that is Sarah Spencer’s urge to break through the floors of every venue she plays at. She jumps up and down like she’s running across asphalt in bare feet in 40 degree heat, otherwise known as a little bit crisp in Brisbane.

Rock n roll is in full steam as Blank Realm seduce the audience with their music. From “Grassed Inn” standouts like “Falling Down the Stairs” and “Falling Down the Stairs”, to “Go Easy”, the exhilaration never escapes from underneath Blank Realm. In the confines of the Joan Sutherland Theatre, the band have never sounded better, and they bring movement and exuberance to the Repressed Records showcase that had yet to be revealed up until this point. As soon as their set finished, I wasn’t even the first person to immediately leap out of my seat in a standing ovation for this incredible group. May all the major deities of the globe bless Blank Realm and their wonderful, wonderful music.

Before the main event of Royal Headache, who would perform their first major public appearance in nearly two years, appeared, I reflected. I’m not much of  thinker, but here I was, knuckles resting in my second chin, mind buzzing. Royal Headache are one of the bands that brought me into the realm of local music, and here I was, at 19 years old, finally seeing one of my formative bands in the flesh. I’d seen them before – once with The Black Keys, and once at Big Day Out – but both performances had been shadows of the stories I had heard. The reckless endangerment, the commitment, the crowd interaction. A hazy and hyperbolic word-of-mouth mythical throwback to a time that I could never experience. As the members shuffled in the dark, preparing and whispering to each other, I grew nervous. This was the band who were only capable of recording material that resonated and excited me more than almost anything else. I had connected with their song “Surprise” on a more personal level than most, and it became painful to realise that all this could become undone if Royal Headache delivered a lacklustre affair. I’d seen some of my previously favourite bands shrivel in favour when their live show faltered, and I desperately wanted Royal Headache to uphold to the saga that they had established.

Why worry? Why fucking worry? They opened with a new song that took the air out of my lungs, as well as any other respiratory device in the vast hall. Shogun’s vocals weren’t just piercing, they were emotional terrorism – just thinking about it now, as the familiarly dishevelled frontman sang about his lows, it makes me want to weep. 20 seconds in, and there was not an eye that wasn’t zeroed in on the band, nor a jaw that wasn’t agape in shock and awe. You’ll know the song when you hear it, assuming it comes out on Royal Headache’s soon-to-be-released sophomore LP. You’ll know it because you’ll be curled up in a ball of rawness, as all your tough-guy exterior is peeled away by Shogun’s words. This man is a national fucking treasure, and any doubt I had about that was firmly battered into the furthest recesses of my mind.

I wasn’t the only one touched: Royal Headache moved folks out of their seats by the second song. With whiplash-inducing proficiency, they tore through now classic standards of Australian rock. From “Really In Love”, to “Pity”, to “Psychotic Episode” and “Stand & Stare”, the honest and gritty songwriting of the band exploded into a real-life marvel of music. Every word was shouted back to the band with intense and open passion, fists thrown in the air with the single-minded ambition of matching the unmatchable – Shogun’s onstage presence and personality.

Royal Headache were not just in fine form – they were historic, legendary. They were showcasing something that people were going to speak about for years. They were affecting people with an immediacy that really can’t be put into words. All around me, people from every background were jumping and thrusting, screaming with Beatlemania-fondness for their favourite band’s unlikely return. Royal Headache touched people – that was obvious. Throats grew sore, and eyes grew wider. Royal Headache continued to pummel and wallop the walls of the Opera House. Glee and happiness swelled to incredible heights. Disbelief became conventional. And then they launched into “Down the Lane”.

Immediately, Will Harley of treasured Sydney punks Housewives leapt onto the platform. The barrier between band and audience was broken, and whatever remained of that seal was smashed into oblivion as Harley brought onstage as many folks as he could grab with two hands. First there were three maniacs jumping around, then ten, then thirty. You’ve never seen such pure happiness like this. What was occurring in front of our very eyes was something special, and everyone knew it. It was unadulterated, a celebration of music and culture, in THE FUCKING OPERA HOUSE! A frenzy of moshing bodies dancing to some of the most celebrated punk music to be released in the last decade, taking place in perhaps the most refined establishment in the country. When “Down the Lane” wraps, a break of approximately 2.3 seconds is required, before Royal Headache launch into “Girls”, and tore our cultural landmark the new asshole it so desperately needed.

But that new asshole needed to shit, and it shat right into our open, naive mouths. Agape at the spectacle that was occurring in front of our disbelieving eyes, security, and then police, stormed the stage. It was the ultimate sucker punch – watching as friends and strangers having the time of their lives being cut so abruptly short by a parade of violent manhandling. From my seat of L11, I watched in horror as police roughly targeted these “dirty punks” with the same sort of respect that Tony Abbot gives to refugees. Afterwards, I overheard an officer bragging, “Yeah bro, I was just grabbing as many cunts as I could and throwing them off the stage”. Of course, you can understand where the Opera House is coming from – it’s a nice venue, and they don’t want anything to be trashed, fair enough. But instead of leaning into the ear of the band, and giving a “Hey mates, reckon you could just tell everyone to relax, and hop down? We’ve got a bond on this place!”, they dealt with the situation with the deft skill of Jason Voorhees trying to have a casual hang out with teenagers. It was a massacre of ideals, and soured the show faster than a BP oil rig ruins an ocean.

On a personal note, I’m thankful that Royal Headache managed to summon another song to placate the audience. If the show had cut as short as it did because of the police intrusion, it could have possibly ruined the night. But a cover of Womack & Womack’s “Teardrop” managed to produce the effect of a finale. Despite the obvious discomfort and tension onstage, the aura of there being some finality managed to give the evening some sort of wholeness to it. So, a personal and heartfelt thank you  goes out to Royal Headache for doing that – it wasn’t hard to see that the band were teeming with dissatisfaction over how the stage invasion had been handled, and battling with the decision to play anymore, but that final song did justice to the legendary performance that they had unveiled that night.

Obviously, many questions are being raised over that night – why was such a heavy security force lodged against a mild stage invasion, (something that the organisers must have at least anticipated)? Why was it handled so violently? What does this mean for punk, or even rock music  at the Opera House? How would Royal Headache’s performance have panned out had they continued to play? Would “Honey Joy” have been as stunning as I always imagined? Despite these hypotheticals and unanswered questions, it’s important to remember that this night is still historical. It was magical, not just because of Royal Headache’s incredible show, but because of all the music on show that night. Such a diverse spread of Australia’s terrific music was given the space and respect it deserved, which is as rewarding a concept as the gig that occurred.  Furthermore, it was a chance for us all to say thank you to the record store that a lot of people have to thank for the introduction and furthering of their musical education in all things. Whether you’re a punk looking for a rabid 7″ by a snarling local band, a crate-digger eager to find the most rare of all records available to mankind, or you’re just keen to go buy an album, Repressed Records is the place to go. All of that respect and adoration was bundled into a night at The Opera House that is not likely to ever be forgotten.

Gig Review: Blank Realm

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Saturday, 24th January @ The Famous Spiegeltent

Fuck, there is nothing better than bedtime. 9pm swings around, and it’s time to hit the fucking sack. None of this grinding on a stranger until the sun rises its disapproving face. But Blank Realm, well, they’ve got that pull. There’s something about a band releasing the best album of 2014that makes this old miser want to shun his principles, and watch the shit out of a band that’s better than a Kevin Spacey marathon.

Midnight steamrolls the 24th into the 25th, but all yawns are suppressed as Blank Realm hit the stage of the intimate circus tent that is the Famous Spiegeltent. There doesn’t seem to be all that many people in attendance, maybe 100, but the atmosphere is one of complete adoration. Mottled lights sway across the stage as more stage fog sweeps forth than a production from the Royal Shakespeare Company. But the opening splashes of “Bulldozer Love” are enough to choke back the smoke, and light a grin up on every face.

There’s a very good reason why Blank Realm are considered the best live band in Australia, and, simply put, it’s because they are. Only a mere hour after watching TV Colours ruin my eardrums and bring me a gag reflex away from throwing up upon an unsuspecting crowd, Blank Realm still had the ability to astonish. A perfect storm of energetic, authentic and original made looking away from the stage a crime against humanity.

Relatively speaking, Blank Realm didn’t play too many songs over their hour-plus set, only about nine or so. But they made each note count, hammering every item with purpose and poise, and added special parts that those in attendance will most likely remember as being the frenzied finales that butts wouldn’t stop shaking to.

Musically, the band is spot on, despite some technical difficulties with Sarah Spencer’s keytar, which she thoroughly made up for by jumping around more than a 12 year old trying their first pinga. Watching Blank Realm on stage, it becomes obvious how different, yet essential to the final product, the band members truly are. The aforementioned Sarah Spencer is youthful energy incarnate, irrepressible in her mission of bouncing higher than any pogostick. Daniel Spencer (somehow) manages to turn his drums into a white-hot flurry, whilst also singing that beautiful yearning voice of his, which I’ve determined as something like Elvis on Quaaludes. Bassist Luke Spencer tries to mirror the effect of a mirage, twirling and twisting indefinitely whilst laying down some of the thickest and grooviest bass lines since Barry White was a sex god. And Luke Walsh became everybody’s new favourite guitarist, diversifying from crunchy Metallica riffs on an unnamed new song, to fluorescently depressed strums on “Baby I Can’t Reach You On The Phone”.

The neon aspects of Blank Realm’s music march to the forefront during their live performance. Sure, the onslaught of mottled lights that shrouded the band in a mixture of hazy purples, greens, reds and blues (much like their excellent “Baby…” video) helped, but the brighter-than-bright pop was somehow accentuated. It’s hard to think of a specific reason, but whilst Sydney slept, Blank Realm shone.

Another fantastic aspect of the show is Blank Realm’s ability to manoeuvre your emotions like you’re a Candy Crush jelly. The audience is stretched into glorious dancing territory during “Back To The Flood”, and a bonafide congo-line is formed multiple times. And then, somehow, they can transition into eyes-closed hurt, like the singed “Cleaning Up My Mess” or swagger-centric “Go Easy”. But the one mainstay of their performance is the ability to always keep an audience elated and transfixed – no matter the subject material, lucky attendees are ecstatic.

As the howls died down, and Blank Realm humbly moved on from the stage, it’s plain to see that, even though sleep deprivation is slowly killing me inside, these Brissy heroes had clearly moved everyone present. A fantastic set from a legendary band. Long live Blank Realm!

Top 10 Australian Albums of 2014

It’s that time of year, when I sell my soul, and conform to the expectation that all blogs, no matter how small and shitty (of which Soundly Sounds is both) needs to compile an end of year list, summarising all the great things that have been accomplished by the fair artists of the year. Now, if you’ve ever been on this blog, or heard words out of my mouth, it becomes apparent that I have a habit of hyperbole, and describing everything as “my favourite” or “the best thing ever”. Well, now it’s time to pay up, and show what I, King Deadshit, reckon is the best of the best this year.

Albums are probably the most important listicle for me, personally, because they are the full form of creative expression for the artist. A single song, video clip or show can take certain things out of context, bolster aspects for the strongest appeal, and add new factors that increase the credibility. But with the album format, the artist has the range and capability to express themselves to their full extent. Sometimes, that leaves bands boring and stuggling for things to say and at other times there are plenty of gems to be found that represent the artist more fully than the ‘singles’ can convey.

If you haven’t heard any of the following albums, I beg you to go forth and purchase a copy. These artists deserve your attention.

Honourable Mentions: Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders (‘Playmates’), Ciggie Witch (‘Rock And Roll Juice’), Ernest Ellis (‘Cold Desire’), Pronto (‘When You’re Gone’) Andras & Oscar (‘Cafe Romantica’) Jonathan Boulet (‘Gubba’) Bloods (‘Work It Out’), Nun (‘Nun’), SPOD (‘Taste the Sadness’) Donny Benet (‘Weekend At Donny’s’) Collarbones (‘Return’).

10. Lowtide – Lowtide

Both heartbreaking and riveting, Lowtide unveiled a shoegaze masterpiece with their debut record. Flawless reverb was achieved, a statement that is almost never uttered. What’s more, the band interjected excitable gems like “Wedding Ring” and “Held” to prove they could do more than poignant and mouth-watering dream-pop shudders. (Review Here)

9. Straight Arrows – Rising

There’s something rising alright, and its not just the pulse of this record. A 60’s bonanza of loose Nuggets nods with the breakneck pace that we’ve come to adore from Owen Penglis. “Petrified” will never lose its cooler-than-Kim-Deal aura, “Never Enough” will never not be accompanied by headbanging, and “Make Up Your Mind’ will never make you not sweat like a guy who just popped pills in a rave in the Sahara. (Review Here)

8. Yes, I’m Leaving – Slow Release

Four albums in, and YIL have fully embraced their aggressive and blisteringly amazing potential. The way that three dudes from Sydney managed to make music that completely replicated THAT scene from Total Recall is mindblowing (pun intended, motherfucker). Strangling brutality ensues at an unbelievable rate, and the result is must-hear. Yes, I’m Leaving have made punk exciting again. (Review Here)

7. Scotdrakula – Scotdrakula

Melbourne’s Scotdrakula released an album so heart-stoppingly fun and eccentric, you would swear you’re at a theme park run by Tim & Eric. The record was a singles-fest, from the h8r-proof “O’Clock”, to “Shazon” impractically kicking more ass than a buddy cop film from the 1970’s. The yelps, riffs and good times of this album are as addicting as crack, and 10x more fun. (Review Here)

6. Bearhug – So Gone

Bearhug impressed beyond belief with their sophomore effort, lush pools of guitar gliding gently but effectively. For the duration of their second record, Bearhug never failed to impress, creating deep wells of greatness. What’s more, the songs were so packed that every listen brought on a new subtle technique or riff to bubble with joy over. (Review Here)

5. Ausmuteants – Order of Operation

Hilarious, snarky and brutally underrated, Ausmuteants released their third, and best record, this year. Attacking a variety of subjects, from porn, to unoriginality, to just being angry at fucking everything, like if Devo made ‘Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out The Trash’. Beautifully loud obnoxious, like a Geelong-ised Cartman that loves The Monks, Ausmuteants are the punk band that Australia doesn’t need, but the one it deserves. (Review Here)

4. Step-Panther – Strange, But Nice

Going from a band of shredders that liked to make songs about fat kids getting abducted and teenage romance to something that people wanted to take seriously was always going to be hard, but Step-Panther achieved that with their stupefyingly good second record. As naked as open-heart surgery, Step-Panther laid things bare for a mind-numbingly good album, in the truest sense of the word. There’s a journey here, a quest guided by back-breaking guitar solos, bloody doom riffs and stories as wholesome as The Goonies. (Review Here)

3. The Ocean Party – Soft Focus

The Ocean Party have always been consistent, but on their fourth album, they’ve wrought an album of genius. ‘Soft Focus’ is packed with songs that tug on the ol’ heart, yearning lyrics pushing through walls of sound that recall The Triffids at their best. If you’ve ever wanted to immerse yourself in a record, “Soft Focus” is the easiest, and most likeable, of your options, a straight-up pop album masked in woefully gorgeous jangle. (Review Here)

2. Weak Boys – Weekdays/Weekends

Weak Boys, a Sydney supergroup made of Internet Sensations™, Dollar Bar contributors and Craig Lyons, quietly released an Australian classic this year on par with The Castle and Tony Abbott’s budgie smugglers. A diverse smorgasbord of guitar-pop and mope-rock, “Weekdays/Weekends” is fuelled by self-deprecation, glistening humour and a catchiness that rivals Taylor Swift. It is fantastic in so many indescribable ways, an encapsulation of the Australian, or at least Sydney, lifestyle in much the same way The Go-Betweens probably did back before Y2K. From the ode to Rice Is Nice’s Julia Wilson, to the plight of the hungover, Diane Keaton-pining miser (read: everyone), “Weekdays/Weekends” was both the most underrated release of 2014, and one of the best. (Review Here)

1. Blank Realm – Grassed Inn

‘Grassed Inn’ was released in January of 2014, a time when most records are easily forgotten about by the time Year-End Lists roll around. At here we are, December, and Blank Realm still reign supreme. Topping a list on some shitty blog is nowhere near the recognition this album deserves – it is a masterpiece. Off-kilter pop that hurts and burns, burrowing into the emotional conscious with such an ease, you’d think it was a Nicholas Sparks novel. From the droning weirdness of a Spiritualized/New Order hybrid to the embracement of hurt that a Johhny Cash/Robert Smith duet would reveal, a pool of influences are on display, embraced to create something magnificently unique. Wrapped in the keytar-adoring hands of Blank Realm, music is a malleable, smudged and sincerely uplifting creature that restores faith. Superb in every word, ‘Grassed Inn’ is essential for everyone. (Review Here)