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: Fairgrounds Festival

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Saturday 5th December @ Berry Showgrounds

“Ryan, turn down that fucking death metal, I can barely think”. I’m on my way down to Berry with my Mum, for Fairgrounds Festival. Besides the obvious reasoning of using her as a diversion tactic to sneak in enough drugs to make a Mexican cartel leader feel the threat of competition, Mum had never been to a festival before in her whole life, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. A three hour drive and plenty of argument over what to play on the stereo later, and Mum had her notepad out and was ready to critique the shit out of her first festival experience.

Full disclosure: my Mum doesn’t know a lot about music – she loves Madonna, ABBA and Bruce Springsteen, and that’s about it. So, keep that in mind when reading her comments on the festival. 

The first thing you notice about Fairgrounds is how insanely beautiful the surroundings are. Maybe its because my experience with the festivals in Sydney have been reduced to whatever concrete structure the headliner can pack out, but going down to Berry was like seeing a whole new side of NSW that a lot of city dwellers like myself probably don’t get to see. Father John Misty aside, it’s definitely worth a day trip. What’s more, the audience at Fairgrounds is completely different to any other festival I’ve been to. Sure, you can argue that it ain’t too hard to beat out the three long day scream of “BROOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” that hangs over Falls and Splendour, but the air of complacency and relaxation that smothers Fairgrounds is unreal. There were more picnic blankets, sunshine and smiles than a Sunday arvo football game on the Hill at Brooky Oval when the Sea Eagles are up by 20.

Mum: It’s so beautiful down here – they’ve done a really great job with picking this site out. Do you know who picked it? I really like it here, Ryan. It’s so nice. I’m going to tell your Dad that I want to move here. 

Shining Bird, the Leisure Coast’s greatest treasure, opened up Fairgrounds with their assortment of lush, extended jams that blow apart the doors of what psychy dream pop can do. They’re the equivalent of being thrown into a bed with a thread count of infinity, over and over and over again. The addition of a saxophone to their crew has added a brand new element to the Shining Bird sound, adding a little more electricity and warmth to their hum. Watching them live has a certain mesmerising quality that puts them leagues ahead of their contemporaries.

Mum: I missed most of their set because I was parking the car, but I thought they were awesome. I really love their t-shirts [she bought one before the festival]. I think I’m in love with Dane. 

Following Shining Bird are Methyl Ethyl – the Perth trio have been getting all sorts of adulation for their debut album and their live show, but I just don’t see it. Having witnessed them a fair few times now, their set at Fairgrounds just cemented the fact that I don’t get this band, and it didn’t feel like anyone in the audience did either. They felt awkward, listless and disconnected on stage, and with the exception of “Twilight Driving”, nothing felt too memorable about Methyl Ethyl.

Mum: I think they’re boring. But I liked that one song. I really didn’t like that they didn’t say hello or goodbye, or even thank you. No one clapped, that’s how bad they were. 

Watching C.W. Stoneking is an experience that should be recommended to everyone. He’s weird, and feels like he doesn’t belong anywhere, which is great. He thumps along on his guitars and banjo charismatically, howling and groaning like he’s just come off a shift with a chain gang. Visually, the band are just as striking – Stoneking sways in an all-white suit that must cost a small-fortune to get dry cleaned before every gig, and he’s complemented with a booming double bass and a couple of astounding back up singers who sway like they’re late for their gig with The Temptations. Whilst the heat beats down, C.W. Stoneking splashes the crowd with a sound that feels cold and refreshing, a cocktail of genres, styles and accents that feels just as illegal and sought after as the Prohibition bar that it was ripped from.

Mum: Their sound is confused. It doesn’t work. The girls in the glitter dresses and the mixed moaning country sounds, its like urrrgghhh neeerrr nerrr. I don’t like it.

Time for a fun fact: excluding the five or so times we went and saw BJORN AGAIN, the world’s premier ABBA cover band, Unknown Mortal Orchestra were the first band Mum and I ever saw together. I was 17 and had a fake ID, but needed a responsible adult to complete the guise, so she came along with me. You can actually read a really poorly written review I wrote of that gig here.

Although my ability to string words together hasn’t increased, Unknown Mortal Orchestra have become one of the biggest bands on the planet. My personal opinion of them now is pretty “meh”, but their live show is still something to behold. Ruban Nielson has a voice of silky chocolate, a Valentine’s Day gift bursting forth 365 days a year. Meanwhile, the songs are transformed, shaking free of the psych-pop restraints and rolling into all sort of different musical territory, from hammering riff-rock to placid R&B-lite. Nielson is surprisingly energetic, far more of a frontman than last time we witnessed him, clamouring onto the PA stack to lounge and serenade from above. Whatever you think of the band themselves, if the opportunity arrives to catch them, seize it.

Mum: This isn’t the same band we saw ages ago, is it? Really? Well, I like the older stuff better than the new stuff, the stuff I recognised, my hips were swaying. I like the lead singers voice, it’s awesome and unusual. I thought they were really cool. 

Up until this point, the bands had mostly relied on their music to engage and entice the crowd. Not Royal Headache: Shogun is the centre of attention, a crooning, beloved and charismatic frontman who doesn’t so much capture attention as he does wrangle it like Paul Hogan and a crocodile.  Even when an amp fucks up, and a song goes by completely guitar-less, they can carry on off the back of pure charisma, and the error is completely forgiven and forgotten by the time guitarist Lawrence Hall is back to strumming. Fast forward to a sore and exhausted Ryan keeling over a barrier, trying to hold in the vomit post-“Down the Lane”, mosh pit marathon, and the memory of the band looking on frustrated has been completely replaced with joy and mild bruising.

Look, it’s hard to express what’s been said a million times over already, but I’ll just add my two cents and say that Royal Headache are the kind of band where every song makes you exclaim, “Fuck me, this is my favourite song”. Watching Royal Headache re-affirms why I like going to see live music: there’s an exhilaration, a thrill, a shot in the arm of ecstasy that’s impossible to find anywhere else but the front row of a rock show. Maybe it’s because my world-view is pretty limited to the bands that have hauled themselves through Sydney, but I still feel that Royal Headache are the best band on the planet.

Mum: He’s quite hyper! I don’t think he should have taken his shirt off though, that was maybe a bit OTT. I really loved it, the people were going crazy and I loved that he got everyone going. I really like the guitarist, he had a nice presence. 

Following the exhaustion, sweat and threat of sunburn that pervaded Royal Headache’s set, it was nice to sit down on one of the gazillion picnic rugs and soak up Mercury Rev‘s performance. Their set faded into one bombastic flood of guitars spilling over the Berry Showgrounds. It was a slow-burning avalanche, tumbling forever, mostly soft and buzzing, and then occasionally bursting at the seams like old school Marlon Brando trying to squeeze into skinny jeans.

Mum: Oh my God, Ryan, I love this band! I was having a nap, and I heard them, and had to come and check them out. They’re my favourite band so far, they were mesmerising, what a bunch of incredible sounds. What instruments do they use to get those sounds? What genre is this?

Le Pie was in full swing by the time we arrived, playing to a packed out shed of enthralled bodies. Most lay on the floor, sprawled out with grins flicking up whenever Le Pie kicked into another one of her dazzling tunes. Today, she plays with a stripped-back version of  her band, just a quiet bass, an acoustic guitar and a tambourine, which actually put a bold emphasis on that enthralling voice of hers. Things go into a much more pop direction, closer to Taylor Swift than Kim Deal, and that’s not too bad, is it?

Mum: I remember you showing me Le Pie ages ago, right? She’s awesome, I love her. She’s got a real Taylor Swift vibe, no?

One of the only teething problems Fairgrounds Festival had in its first year was a lack of food. By the time the sun wasn’t trying to actively kill us all, most food stalls either had a 45 minute waiting period, or had sold out entirely, leaving the only option available to be the wonderful Berry pub – $5.20 for schooey and the biggest goddamn slices of calamari you’ve seen in your life, no fucking dramas. Worth missing Meg Mac over, for sure.

The sun’s going down, and it’s time for Father John Misty. Similarly to Unknown Mortal Orchestra, his music is a bit hey-how-ya-goin, but his live show is essential. The man is all over it, a religious figure and a cult leader who happened to choose the guitar instead of the Kool Aid. As the sun bleeds into the sky, the bearded maestro bounds around, committing to his performance with a strange enthusiasm that defies his morose lyrics and tempered music. The crowd is in his hands, and even when the set begins to drag at the 40 minute mark, their eyes stay fixated. But credit to his abilities as a performer, Papa John sees out his hour of power with a triumphant melody, including “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” (aka The Aubrey Plaza song), joined by an equally brilliant and theatrical live show. Even though he looks like a Surry Hills barista, Father John Misty can stay.

Mum: What is it with these beards, Ryan? I don’t get it, they’re so rank! They’re disgusting! Is this a new thing? But I really, really like this guy, he’s fun and he’s got a lovely voice. 

By this time night has settled upon Berry, the show ground now more closely resembles a glen from A MidSummer Nights Dream, with trees lit up like rainbows and fairy lights adorning every spare centimetre. Finishing out the night are Ratatat, who seem like a strange choice for a festival closer. They do a decent job, aided by some severe visuals and a laser show that wouldn’t be out of place at Burning Man, but it feels slightly flat. It also looks weird to see two blokes absolutely throwing themselves into a keyboard and shredding guitars like they’re auditioning for Jeff Hanneman’s spot in Slayer, when the music that’s emerging is relatively middling. Comparatively, the visuals seemed to fuse with the music far more than their strutting figures, a psychedelic mixture of birds of prey, multi-limbed toddlers and lots of explosions.

Mum: I don’t like this doof doof stuff. They’re very talented, but this is terrible. The lasers are good, but the visuals are shit.

 

Overall, Fairgrounds provided that “something” in the festival calendar that has been missing for so long. In an environment that can be fairly predictable and void of genuine headliners, Fairgrounds found multiple acts of first-class calibre, and sought to create NSW’s very own version of Meredith. Although it did see a share of teething problems, the way these impacted the day were minimal. Furthermore, the range of small treats on hand – bands getting to the stage on time, the sack and three-legged races raging in the haystacks, the record fair, the swimming pool – didn’t go unnoticed. The dickheads were non-existent, and the general atmosphere was completely different to anything else that exists on the festival radar. Having experienced Fairgrounds and its bevy of little wonders, you come to realise how essential it is, and how much you’re looking forward to going next year. As for my Mum, well, she had the time of her goddamn life, and is now a festival junkie – she’s already booked her tickets for Psyfari and is starting a strict shredding regime for Stereo. So yeah, thanks for that Fairgrounds.

Album Review: Royal Headache – High

I’ve recounted this story about a million and one fucking times, but here goes again: I was too young when the first Royal Headache album came out. Far too young. I was 15 years old, and on a grunge kick – Foo Fighters, Silverchair, and Pearl Jam thrived on the “Rye-Rye’s 3$$entials’ Playlist. I had absolutely no clue that a whole world of actually decent music lay at my feet, broiling just a few suburbs away. Bands like Royal Headache, Circle Pit and The Nevada Strange were just a few examples of incredible acts that were re-inventing rock and roll sounds, and they existed within shouting distance. I was the luckiest man alive, and I didn’t even know it. By the time my conscience had been pricked by punk music, and the wealth of talent that existed in my backyard, the times had moved on, and these bands all appeared to have reached their critical apex, either breaking up or facing the problems of fame.

This was a double-edged sword – it made way for a whole legion of new bands, but I, along with a growing stream of 16-20 year olds that have begun to litter Blackwire and the Red Rattler, have been constantly badgered with the fact that we never got to see THE Royal Headache. They were a band from a lost time, who managed to surge past the knowing few and infect the mainstream with one of the most affecting albums of our time. It’s easy to stand by that statement and repeat it without a trace of hyperbole – their self titled debut is a masterpiece of soul, punk and rock ‘n’ roll, a pop album that sits eloquently but uneasily amongst the best. Whereas forgettable major label funded “indie” music dominated playlists for mere moments, the first time that I, and many others, heard Royal Headache, was a punch to the guts. Suicide sat alongside desperation in a romantic, hurtling fashion, and I’d never heard anything like it.

Which is why I approached the new Royal Headache record with slight trepidation. Don’t get me wrong – their Opera House show was a triumph, and similar notions have been relayed about their David Liebe Hart support. Furthermore, their singles “High” and “Another World” have been getting a thrashing on the aforementioned “Rye-Rye’s 3$$entials’ Playlist. But those are singles, and their ability to put on a show has rarely been regarded as anything less than incredible. An album is a different beast – from a personal standpoint, listening to the ‘High’ could have represented the death knell of my favourite band.

Lay your fears aside – ‘High’ is magnificent. It’s a sophomore album that solidifies everything you and I loved about this band, and rounds out Royal Headache’s distinct sound, stretching their abilities and our own expectations of what they’re capable of. Blood, guts and spunk pulse through this record with zeal, clenching and releasing, creating a tumultuous, exhausting and uplifting ride.

Just like the debut, there isn’t a song on here that feels out of place, or obligatory. There’s the ear-puncturing eye-gougers, such as the hurtling “Another World” and “Fantasy”, a reflection of a time when dreams had yet to be dashed, and “Garbage”, which allows Shogun to spew hatred over riffs of fuzzy bile and a plodding bass line, culminating in a song that slashes with the same crushed glass that it begins with. There’s the power-pop, anti-love blitz of “Love Her If I Tried” that takes a hurtfully self-examining look at unrequited romance, and the crooning stabs of “Wouldn’t You Know” provides a lump-in-your-throat respite from the surrounding cacophony of the rest of the album.

However, it’s “Carolina” that stands out on ‘High’ most – a classic rock song propelled into the modern century. Strummed guitars placated by gentle melodies, and a voice that sails over the top, retelling a story that’s got a pain in there that would turn even the most crooked, unfeeling human into a dough-eye sobber. It’s a song that reflects that rock bottom moment, when you’ve transitioned from fighting, a gnashing beast, to a crumpled rag, and the crowd’s reaction and pity to such a sight.

This is a new band with the same mission statement as the one they stamped all those years ago. Royal Headache have grown older, broken up, faced new problems. ‘High’ is the album that showcases that evolution; the songs are generally slower and tinged with more soul, as well as more outward looking. But have they lost what made them such a great band in the first place? The long answer is to listen to this record over and over again, marvelling at each track, and soaking up this band and their worth. The short answer is to look at the cover for ‘High’, a bold, grey shot of the Petersham Water Tower. After trips around the world, festival slots and all the press and media that can be feasibly thrown at a band, they’ve chosen that fucking water tower to adorn their new album….to me, that speaks volumes. To me, that means that Royal Headache are the same band I fell in love with. And in my opinion, the contents of ‘High’ proves that.

‘High’ comes out this Friday, August 26th. Pre-order through the band’s Bandcamp, or go to a record store. If you’re reading this in the US, do yourself a favour and go see this band – they’re touring the nation right now. Also, if you’d like to hear the record before it’s released, NPR is streaming it here.

New: Royal Headache – High

When I was 15, Royal Headache released their debut album. I wouldn’t hear it until I was 17, but by that point, I’d heard all the stories. The insane gigs. Their skull-hollowing intensity. The brutal and complete dedication that each member put into recording and performance. The first time I heard that album, it made me want to meet this band. It wasn’t the first, or last time, I’ve had that reaction upon hearing a band upon the first time, but it was particularly strong with Royal Headache. They put everything I wanted into a song – crunchy melody, maelstrom ferocity, simple songwriting that made you want to scream with ecstasy and stab yourself in the brain. Real, pure, unadulterated emotion.

Then Royal Headache disappeared. At least from my line of sight. It wasn’t the end of the world – there were still plenty of bands to enjoy and feast upon, especially in Sydney. There wasn’t exactly a drought. But there was always that gap that I knew I wasn’t going to get to experience, the Royal Headache pub show that seemed to have single-handedly inspired so many bands and projects that I currently adored.

A few weeks ago, Royal Headache played the Opera House. It was great, one of the best shows I’ve been to, ever. And then, they release this fucking gem. A gem it is, through and through. It’s rare, beautiful, and should be worn proudly. It’s shiny, brilliantly so. There’s too much good stuff to say about it.

But the thing that touches me most is how it carries the Royal Headache legacy. Not in the sense that “OH GOOD, YOU CAN PLAY A SONG”, but moreover in the fact that I know that the 17 year old shitbag Ryan would be thrashing his head just as much as the current shitbag Ryan is. Sure, “High” is an old song, but the fact that Royal Headache nailed every aspect of it onto record is a testament that they haven’t lost any of the magic that got me, and so many others, interested in the first place. All the elements of the band we know and love are there – the soul, the pain, the ability to make you press repeat until your fingers are bleeding – and I don’t think anyone is surprised. Just ecstatic. Welcome the fuck back, Royal Headache.

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.

Mixtape(s): Hand Games + Peking Tapes Summer Mixtape

Today, not one, but TWO brand new mixtapes. If you’re of the ‘Fuck Triple J’ mindset and are in the midst of organising a coup of the Triple J Hottest 100, then get amongst these indie gems.

Hand Games Mix #18 January

The first thing that will strike you about the new, flawless Hand Games mixtape is the cute as fuck cover. Jesus Christ, all other cute things may as well go kill themselves in an orgy of blood. Because there is fucking nothing, repeat fucking nothing, that is goddamn cuter than a pink baby elephant hoarding doughnuts. Seriously, cat videos of the internet, throw in the towel, your reign as ‘Cute Internet Thing’ is over.

But onto the music, the main attraction of this deliciously amazing playlist. Due to this playlist, Blank Realm’s ‘Falling Down the Stairs’ has become my favourite song of the month. And regular bands that appear on Soundly Sounds ScotDrakula, Royal Headache and Snowy Nasdaq are here as well with some truly orgasm-inducing tracks.

As usual, the pop and electronica contingent in Hand Games is very strong, with Elizabeth Rose, Safia, Noah Slee and Hubert Clark Jr. making solid cases as to why the electro-pop format is winning hearts and minds everywhere.

And in terms of the darker, weirder shit that makes my pants bulge there’s The Babe Rainbow (awesome name), Home Travel, Emerse, and the spectacularly strange Romi. Seriously, check out Romi’s shit, it makes a one-eyed-purple people eater look like the squarest piece of shit.

HAND GAMES IS FREE, SO GET ON THAT SHIT!

Peking Tapes-Summer Lovin’ 2013

The next glance through the porthole to majestic perfection comes courtesy of Peking Tapes, and features a shit load of artists you’ve never heard of, but will thoroughly enjoy. The reason you’ll have never heard of these artists is because they’re all more underground than a mole who’s only into Neutral Milk Hotel demo tapes.

The shit on here is wondrous in so many ways, glorifying the alternative scene in Melbourne to dizzying heights. Every song on here always makes me feel jittery inside, and the fact that I’m only hearing about these artists now makes it all the better. With the exception of Snowy Nasdaq’s subtle ‘Fucking’, Wizard Oz’s stellar cover of TV Colours’ ‘Bad Dreams’ and the chameleonic Zombie Psychologist, I had no clue of any of these bands.

So surprise, fucking surprise, when I go through a compilation from one of the best tape labels in Australia, and discover a bunch of my new favourite artists. From the wholesome Clean-jangle of Big Tobacco, to the organ-driven dream pop of Cat Cat, to the disorientating math rock of  Pioneers of Good Science and the James-Mercer-on-heroin beauty of Coloured Clocks’ ‘Brick’, there is no point in this entire mixtape where the mind isn’t completely absorbed. This sort of musical genius is usually buried under layers and layers of in-the-know, but thanks to Peking Tapes, it has been uncovered for the likes of you and I to feast our greedy ears upon.

GET ON PEKING TAPES SUMMER LOVING, COS ITS BETTER THAN A HANDJOB FROM TOUCH SENSITIVE AND IT’S FREE!

Top 10 Things That Happened in 2013

Okay, just to clarify, this isn’t a list about the best shit that happened in 2013 for music. Although most of it is about some of the really, really great shit that happened, some of it is about some of the bad shit that happened in 2013. That is to be expected, so chin up buddy, dry those tears, and think about the sunny day that Violent Soho brought out their sophomore record, and forget about the time that Miley fucked a teddy bear. 

10. Chapter Music and I Oh You Records (tied)

This has just been such a fantastic year for both these top-notch Aussie record labels. Albeit on opposite ends of the music spectrum, and drastically varying in age (Chapter celebrating their 21st Birthday this year, and I Oh You celebrating their 4th), they have both released some of the best tunes this year, and rightfully won their place in the music community. Chapter Music released a stunning 15 or so records this year alone, with records ranging from the ‘dole-wave’ world-conquerers Dick Diver and The Stevens, to the long-awaited debut album from Primitive Calculators and another new one from The Cannanes. Meanwhile, I Oh You was out there putting on tours for the likes of Earlwolf, Foals (DJ’s) and getting the one and only Neon Love together for a reunion show. If that wasn’t enough, I Oh You also put out another one of my favourite records of the year, Violent Soho’s ‘Hungry Ghost’, and Snakadaktal’s debut record. They also managed to be a bunch of cockteasers and put out tantalising singles for City Calm Down and DZ Deathrays. If these labels can keep the pressure, there’s no telling how 2014 will end up.

9. New Shit From Bands That Haven’t Released Shit In A While

Beware, I’m not talking about bands that reformed, or broke their hiatus. I’m talking about bands that have never broken up, but have been ‘illin on the fringes of musical society, just waiting to return to form with strident singles. The aforementioned DZ Deathrays, Straight Arrows, HTRK, The Avalanches, Royal Headache, Seekae-just a few of the bands that blew us away with stand alone releases that said, “Fuck you, we’ve still got it.” If you haven’t checked out any of these singles…do it, you unintelligible ape!

8. Shitty Albums That People Thought Would Be Way Better Than They Actually Were

Ooooh, the first hot topic! I’m not just talking about Daft Punk here, there were so many built up albums this year that fell flatter than an ad campaign for Vaginal Warts. Arctic Monkeys, Sebadoh, No Age…just a short list of albums I listened to that I wish I hadn’t had, so I could dedicate more time to wistfully thinking about making sweet love to Robert Pollard. But that’s not even scratching the surface of bands like Cloud Control, Cults, Weekend, Soft Metals, Obits and Franz Ferdinand. A lot of bands that I was expecting to deliver stunning results returned with meagre offerings that either cruised along on the strength of predecessors, or worse, fucking sucked.

7. Solo Projects

For me, the term ‘solo project’ is a bit of a dirty word. Most of the time, they’re warning stories for the over-eager frontmen and women. Just ask Johnny Borrell, Johnny Marr or Noel Gallagher…if your album isn’t awesome, you kind of lose all credibility,and come off looking like a wanker. But luckily, there was a whole swag of Australian artists that went out on their own and wandered out as deadset legends. Nathan Roche, Angie, Kirin J Callinan, Geoffrey O’Connor, and Alex Cameron are just a couple names that released some stellar records this year that only get better with repeat listens. No point getting too much into it, just go fucking listen to them yourself. Trust me, these records are more on the Bob Dylan side of the solo spectrum, in terms of awesomeness.

6. Boutique Festivals

In a year where shit is getting fucked up ALL over the place for major music festivals, whether it be the gargantuan amount of drug related arrests, Blur cancelling on Big Day Out, or AJ Maddah telling people that their favourite bands suck tremendous amounts of horseshit, major festivals are becoming more and more fucked. I can’t tell you how pissed I was when I missed the chance to see Massive Attack, Superchunk, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Neutral Milk Hotel all in the same place for Harvest festival, only to see it collapse before my very eyes. And lets not even touch on hip-hop festivals this year, with Rap City, Supafest, Movement all being cancelled.

However, with the absence of ya boiz 50 Cent and T.I, boutique festivals have continually outshone their counterparts. The ‘original’ boutique festival, Laneway, has gone international, and their 2013 edition was fucking awesome. Japandroids, Divine Fits and POND all left massive dents in my brain, right were the pleasure centre is located. Other festivals like OutsideIn, Strawberry Fields and the upcoming, sold-out Secret Garden festival (which frankly has the most amazing lineup I’ve ever seen) continue to dominate. Oh, and Sound Summit was one of the most pleasurable and unique experiences of my entire life, a smorgasbord of musical delights that will probably never be collected in the same period again. Fuck me, if boutique festivals become a thing, how the fuck will yadda yadda capitalism, Soundwave, Nova 969, joke, haha.

5. Reformations-the fucking shit and the not-so-shit

Firstly, let’s talk about Black Flag. Maaaaan, did they fuck that one up. One of the all time greatest punk bands became a petty squablling bitch fit of the highest order, and at the end of it all, once-stoked fans where left with an album called ‘What The…’, which compromised of a bunch of piss-take ‘punk’ songs and an album cover that looked like ClipArt threw up. They fucking fired Ron Reyes onstage! Black Flag aside, bands that also wanted money to buy that brand-new toaster and reformed included Boyzone, The Backstreet Boys and Girls vs. Boys. It reads like a list of who-gives-a-shit.

However, on the plus-side, Jurassic 5, Philadelphia Grand Jury, and Powder Monkeys all put aside differences and got stuck into some gigs. And by some miracle, the mother fucking Replacements got together again! What! That’s amazing! I nearly blew a load when I heard that!

4. Electronic Music???

Electronic music has had a confusing year in 2013. On the one hand, there has been some absolutely froth-worthy local shit that has gotten tails wagging and genitals exploding. Touch Sensitive, Wave Racer, Cosmo’s Midnight and Hayden James have had stellar years, and underrated labels like Future Classic, Silo Arts, and Yes, Please have all shot to national attention, like synth induced erections. And let’s not even bother to touch on Flume-that guy gets enough deserved praise.

But in terms of mainstream music, the result has been mixed like a cocktail served by a squirrel with Parkinsons. Of course, Disclosure released that pretty killer album. But the likes of hardstyle trap from the likes of Baauer and DJ Snake, and the legions of mindless DJ’s that trample our radio waves that release forgettable single after another dilutes a lot of the mainstream appeal of electronic music. Not even new albums from Jon Hopkins, and Boards of Canada, or the embracing of the genre from indie rock icons like Arcade Fire and David Bowie, could distract from the likes of Knife Party destroying decent music. Although it is undeniable that electronica had a killer year on the local front, its better to forget that other shit happened outside of our shores.

3. Debuts

Face it, a lot of debuts came out in 2013, and they all rock me better than a hurricane. International props to the likes of Savages, FIDLAR, Eagulls, HAIM, Jackson Scott, SQURL, HUNTERS and Atoms For Peace. But that doesn’t even come close to the amount of talent that pooped out shining nuggets of debut gold this year in Australia. TV Colours, Gooch Palms, Bad//Dreems, Food Court, Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys, Zeahorse, Bloods…the list goes on…and on….and on. Batpiss, Clowns, Amateur Drunks, Reckless Vagina! Unity Floors, Day Ravies, The Stevens, SMILE! These are just a couple of my favourites, but you get the idea. There was a fuckload of bands that popped their cherry and the collective music community lost their shit. Blood was everywhere.

2. Miley Cyrus and the Death of the Child Star

Look, I actually don’t hate Miley Cyrus. I think her music sucks, her taste is awful, she acts and sounds like a spoiled brat and is a living cumstain, but she’s actually the perfect pop star that this generation needs. She’s like The Dark Knight of shitty, over-produced music. And good for her for completely shaking off the goodie Hannah Montana image.

But therein lies my point. The Jonas Brothers broke up this year, the Biebs has conveniently spray-painted, prostituted and retired (?) his way into a ‘bad boy’ image, and we all saw Miley nearly fuck Robin Thicke onstage at the VMA’s. Right now, there isn’t really a glistening child-star to sell t-shirts. Even Lorde, the youngest pop star of the moment is more grown up than the majority of twenty year old hipsters that infect her concerts just to say they saw ‘Royals’. She hung out with fucking David Bowie and Tilda Swinton for her birthday party!

Regardless, 2013 saw the Death of the Child Star, a feat that should both cause us to all be thankful, and astonished.

1. Local Garage Rock Hit a Fucking Peak

Garage rock, my favourite genre, has well and truly hit its peak at the moment, and shows no signs of declining. Seriously, attend any bar in any capital city in Australia, and there’s a 1-in-3 chance that there’s a garage rock band giving it 100% and blowing minds.

Not only is the live scene of garage rock well and truly at a high point, but the albums these bands are making are astoundingly good. Palms and The Gooch Palms released underdog debuts that blew everything out of the fucking water like a land mine in a kiddy pool. TV Colours took the usual formula and added dashing synths and samples to create a tale of fucked-up-ness that’ll have you massacring penguins just to get your hands on some more. And Bad//Dreems single handedly resurrected the sound that was left behind where GOD put it.

Outside of debuts, garage bands that have already established themselves continued to push shit further into the realm of amazeballs. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Witch Hats, Ooga Boogas and fuckloads of others continued to do what they do best-ensure that we, the shitstains of musical society, are enjoying their output more than humanly possible.

As if that isn’t enough, there’s new garage bands springing up all over the place, and the sound still hasn’t been tired out. Bands like Doctopus, The Living Eyes, Tiny Migrants and Adults are just a very small handful of the concoction of rock n roll music that is permeating our ears on a local level. If you haven’t done so, check out all of these bands and more.

We are living in a renaissance of the greatest form of amatuer music in all its forms, and the least you can do is contribute in some small way. 2013 was one of the best years for Australian music, garage and rock n roll specifically, because finally, all the years of hard work that these bands have done has started to pay off exponentially in fantastic records and performances. Get along to a show, buy a record, and ensure that 2014 means that local music is better than the last shitstain of a year.

The Difference Between Indie & Interesting-An Essay

There is a facet of music that has annoyed me, and countless bands, for as long as popular music has existed: being pigeonholed. There is nothing worse than slaving over a piece of music, crafting a melody or a rhythm, re-imagining a sample, toiling on lyrics until you wake up in a pile of your own vomit from how amazing your poetry is (not speaking from personal experience), and proudly releasing your gift of musical beauty into the world…only to have it thrown back in your face as a categorised, labelled misconstruction, to be tossed up on a shelf with a bunch of bands that everyone will associate you with from now until when the Titans inevitably rule the Earth. Take the case of The Preset’s ‘My People’, a dance thumper about, I shit you not, boat people. However the political nature of the song was misinterpreted as a party anthem, and was shat out in all the clubs across the country. Or The Clash’s ‘Rock the Casbah’, a highly satirical song that viciously tore into the government, that has been reduced to being the song your parents awkwardly shuffle to in the living room. No, pigeonholing sucks balls. I’ll admit, that occasionally in reviews, I take a creative license and compare a band to something that might not spring to everyone’s mind when they here the song, such as when I recently compared X-Ray Charles to Beat Happening and The Modern Lovers. However, this is my website and my opinion….soooo, yeah fuck you  if you take personal offence to my comparisons between bands that I find have musical similarities for broader identification.

However, this is not simply about subtext or great bands past their heyday; this is about the highly negative effects of pigeonholing, namely throwing in bands of actual worth with the dreaded pseudonym of indie, or hipster depending on your cultural geography. It’s a brand that has a certain sting to it, one that recalls pasty kids in buttoned up floral shirts and way too tight pants, spouting how they ‘knew about this band before anyone else’, typing a post-romantic dramedy novella on a Macbook pro in a delicatessen on Broadway whilst sipping a flat-white cappuccino. Click here to visually comprehend if Lucifer was more of a douchebag. Although, for me personally, that doesn’t look like an astoundingly fun person, and they come off as rather cynical and two-dimensional, these indie scum do exist. They are the ones who scan Pitchfuck daily for bands they can worship before actually hearing anything, who single handedly keep Pabst Blue Ribbon in vogue, and made ridiculous clothing ‘cool’ (who the fuck likes fedoras?). But by far, their worst crime is the diluting of the indie genre.

Now before I continue, I would like to point out two things. Firstly, the inspiration for this essay was ‘How Did Indie Get So Safe’ on Fasterlouder by Edward Sharp-Paul; it’s a great, short essay (shorter than this one anyway) and it’s better than the majority of things you’ll read, besides Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Secondly, I’m about to insult a whole heap of indie bands that I find personally shitty. I understand that music is subjective, and this is not an argument about your personal music tastes. However, if you are one that enjoys the superfluously repulsive sounds of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Two Door Cinema Club, or Last Dinosaurs, I suggest you stop reading. Or not, you might find your new favourite band amongst those I find incestuous. Isn’t critiquing wonderful?

Anyway, there is a major problem with Indie music: it is too broad and too bland. When someone screams ‘OMG THIS BAND IS SAH INDIE’, it’s hard to know what they actually mean. Are they talking about Animal Collective, with their rich, multi-textured palettes of soundscapes, or the statistically terrible The Apples in Stereo? Did they mean Midnight Juggernauts’ pandering new album or Fugazi’s furious 1988 debut EP? It’s hard to know anymore. Then, there are so many sub-categories and niches, all with the title of indie slammed onto the front like an awkward boner sticking out of an 8th Grader’s pants: indie-rock, indie-pop, indie-electronica, indie-punk, indie-folk,indie-hip hop, indie-chill, indie-kill, indie-shank, indie-wank…the list goes on, and only about half of those are made up. Personally, you can chuck Phoenix, Passion Pit and Peter, Bjorn and John anywhere you want in there, it won’t change the fact that they’re shit. Most of these bands, despite declaring themselves indie, pander to a mainstream demographic. They play the dress up game and Domino Record Contract card, but the statistics speak for themselves. Vampire Weekend debuted their third album at no. 1 on the US Billboard Charts. Mumford and Sons won The Grammy for Album of the Year for ‘Babel’. Boy & Bear picked up 5 ARIA awards for their debut album, and will probably destroy the charts again this year, when they release their second album. Please, please do not misinterpret this as me saying that because these artists are ‘mainstream’ that they are shit. I’m merely pointing out that they have incredibly derivative music that in no way challenges the listener like independent music should. 

This brings me to my actual point, and I’m kind of sorry that it took so long to reach this statement. There are a fuckload of good bands out there that are getting thrown in with that indie tag. Just because a band is independent does not make them indie anymore. No, the cohesiveness of that identification got thrown out a long time ago, as soon as Interpol and The Strokes started getting popular. Both these bands are pretty good in their own way, however once they started and the indie ‘genre’ got picked up, about a million different bands started mimicking a sound and aesthetic similar to theirs that was in no way original, but was regardlessly hailed as being the next big thing. How many times can you open an NME or Rolling Stone and find them hailing ‘The Next Big Indie Thing’? Sure, it’s lovely for the band, but it has ruined all traction for the term indie. Initially, when the ‘indie scene’ popped up in America and Europe in the 1980’s, there was a certain amount of respect that came with the title. As Michael Azzerad’s biography of the 80’s indie scene, ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life’ describes, it was fucking hard to be indie. Bands like Black Flag and Dinosaur Jr. had to fight tooth and nail to get any exposure. Now, when the word indie pops up, all I can imagine is some Grizzly Bear sound-alike that will inspire absolutely no regard from anyone but the NME. Not that it matters too much to the band anyway, because they’re probably slathered in cocaine and bitches. Some bands, like San Cisco or Grouplove even come like pre-pacakged indie goods, ready made for the ‘indie addict’. However, it does matter to the independent bands that get slapped with the title of indie and hauled into a case of anonymity. There are now so many bands nowadays that consciously pander to the indie Triple J masses, that when a genuine band that comes around that happens to be independent and good, they are promptly blasted with ‘indie cred’, frothed over for approximately a week by hipsters, and then dropped by their ‘diehard new fans’ and left abandoned and disenchanted by their old ones.

There are a whole crop of new Australian acts that are legitimately interesting that I am fearful will get manhandled by indie-ness. Aussie Bands like Beaches, Dick Diver, Bleeding Knees Club, Royal Headache and Bored Nothing are all in close proximity to being swept in viva la indie, and promptly tossed into oblivion. Likewise, there’s international bands such as DIIV, Beach Fossils, King Tuff, and Savages who could suffer the same fate. For others, such as the cases of Flume, CHVRCHES, Tame Impala and Jagwar Ma, it’s probably too late, and it’ll only be a couple years before a ‘throwback’ reunion tour. This is fucked. Totally fucked. Firstly, because all of the bands mentioned above are bright young talents. It’s too early for them to go. It’s before their time. Secondly, these bands are not indie, and could be easily defined by other genres, if at all. Finally, it’s not fair to compare them to a band like Jinja Safari or Ball Park Music, each leaning strongly on obvious influences or mediocrity. The bands at the beginning of the paragraph are all highly interesting, highly capable acts worthy of a different attention that eschews Arcade Fire and Death Cab for Cutie Fans. Save your Augie March for when you’re bored on the bus. If you want something of captivating interest, check out Holy Balm, an electronica act that breaks all the rules of electronica. Or Ausmuteants, a band that could simply not give less of a shit. Or even Kirin J Callinan, the previous guitarist for Mercy Arms, Jack Ladder and Lost Animal, who recently tried to make a guy have a live seizure on stage at Sugar Mountain Festival earlier this year, all for the sake of art. These bands are all independent, Australian, and most importantly, interesting. They are not a bunch of acts to be randomly lumped in on an ‘indie playlist’ with the likes of Swim Deep or Father John Misty.

It’s 4 am on a Friday, and I don’t even really know what I’m saying anymore. Perhaps when I review and edit this tomorrow, it will make more sense. Perhaps it won’t. What I’m trying to say is this: I’m not going out of my way to insult the music taste of all the hipsters out there, I’m sure Snakadaktal’s debut album will be awesome. What I want to prove, like the Fasterlouder article, is that indie music has gotten quite safe and uninteresting, and I think that it has to do with the wide variety of ‘indie’ music, and the sea of music that most won’t bother to uncover. Indie isn’t indie anymore, that’s the problem. And if you try to make something not indie into indie, it will most probably get totally buried. Instead of hash tagging #indie to every band you hear on Triple J, perhaps take a listen first, and then figure out if they actually sound like The Postal Service and Modest Mouse, rather than just being new. And instead of buying the new Foster the People, spend your money on the new POND and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard albums. It’ll pay off in the long run.