Top 10 International 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, reckons is the best of the best this year.

With part one of the ‘Best of 2014’ thankfully out of the way (musings on the best music videos of 2014 this way), it’s time to turn our attention to the best international releases of 2014. As one ARIA red carpet attendee so accurately put it, Australian music sucks shit, and the only good music comes straight from our brothers n’ sisters of the USA! YEAH! ‘MURICA. And look, whilst The Clean and Cosmic Psychos didn’t release anything new this year, there have been some great releases. From Flying Lotus, to Caribou, to Sharon Van Etten, a wealth of talent was dumped on our ears in 2014. Here’s the best:

Honourable Mentions: Ty Segall (‘Manipulator’), Flying Lotus (‘You’re Dead!’), Schoolboy Q (‘Oxymoron’), Sharon Van Etten (‘Are We There’), The War on Drugs (‘Lost in the Dream’), Mogwai (‘Rave Tapes’), Ex Hex (‘Rips’), Golden Pelicans (‘S/T 12″).

10. Caribou – Our Love

A big toss-up between this record and Ty Segall’s ‘Manipulator’. Both are extensive leaps forward from established artists with near perfect track records. But it was Ty Segall’s inability to self-edit his 17-long tracklist that pushed Caribou into adoration. ‘Our Love’ is swirling, mystifying romance that is impossible to not get caught up in. Plus, “Can’t Do Without You” is a smoothie of Taylor Swift’s pop supreme, Spiritualized’s piercing gaze, and the best production this side of ‘Endtroducing…’.

Caribou is coming to Aus in February for Laneway, and a show at the Sydney Opera House, February 3.

9. The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits

2014 has been the year of The War on Drugs, and whilst ‘Lost in the Dream’ is a superb album, it seems unfairly raised above another working class band. But then again, that’s the curse of The Men. For too long, they have been serving up stone cold cult classics, from ‘Leave Home’, to ‘Open Your Heart’. On ‘Tomorrow’s Hits’, they almost completely erase their sludgy-punk/noisy past, and embrace country and the kind of rock ‘n’ roll that was deemed raunchy, but acceptable in the 1950’s. You can sing the praises of how great the lyrics and progression of “Red Eyes” and “Under the Pressure” are, but in turn, you’d have to say that about “Settle Me Down”, and “Different Days”. As far as Bruce Springsteen-love goes, The War on Drugs take the pain, but The Men preserve the joy. (Album Review)

8. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time

Speaking of joy, nothing came even close to the maniacal fun of Todd Terje’s debut album, a perfectly honed magnum opus. ‘It’s Album Fun’ seems like something Dan Aykroyd  and Bill Murray would’ve cooked up in the 80’s, but only if Barry Gibb had possessed their souls.  Deep, sultry cuts of synth-led party jams, Todd Terje never misses a beat. What’s more, he occasionally ramps things up into a sentimental overload, with the Bryan Ferry-assisted tear jerker “Johnny and Mary”. But never fear, Terje’s classic ability to spice things into a frothing paste of swooning, electronic, Cantina-band-esque lushness  is always around the corner, as “Inspector Norse”, “Delorean Dynamite” and “Strandbar” easily attest to.

7. Liars – Mess

Once again, very hard to pick between Liars’ new record and Mogwai’s brilliant ‘Rave Tapes’. Both records had a hard-edged zealot-ness to them, but Liars simply harnessed and appropriated it more. Liars showed they weren’t afraid to plunge into the obtuse, as their insanity and demented nature ramped to new heights. Their music has always bordered on paranoid, but now it became frighteningly so, a schizoid mixture of frightening, alien sounds munching on gnashing lyrics. For sheer animated terror and cartoonish slasher value, Liars’ ‘Mess’ was a helluva album. (Album Review)

6. Die! Die! Die! – SWIM

Hailing from New Zealand, it feels like this shouldn’t be an Internationally Acclaimed Album (TM), but rather one of our own. Alas, New Zealand have different accents and laws, and as such, we can’t claim an act like Die! Die! Die! as one of our own in the same way we can with Russell Crowe.

On their fifth record, Die! Die! Die! maintained the ferocity and biting cynicism that would seem appropriate for a band with their name. The friction caused between the power trio that is Andrew Wilson, Michael Logie and Michael Prain is enough to power a town to the same capacity of a nuclear reactor. As soon as someone can figure out how to harness this, the global energy crisis will be over. Until then, let’s just enjoy the beautifully pure punk explosion that is ‘SWIM’. (Album Review)

5. Shellac – Dude Incredible

The almighty Shellac returned this year, and delivered a brutal heap of music that hate-shamed most of the rock music released this year. Powered as always by Bob Weston’s inhumanly powerful bass, Steve Albini’s serrated lyrics and Todd Trainer’s consistently vile drumming, ‘Dude Incredible’ is a bile-spewing, looming work of the Gods of the music industry. You want affirmation in a world full of 5SOS and neutered indie acts that think a fuzz pedal is a nickname for an electric razor? Chuck on ‘Dude Incredible’, and allow yourself to whisper those same words over and over again, as each crushing song belies your idea of awesome. (Album Review)

4. Eagulls – Eagulls

Depressingly good, Eagulls have painted a picture of a visceral England so much more brilliantly than any Arctic Monkeys record ever could. Their debut self-titled is raw power, in the Stooges sense of the word. It pulsates and breathes, each song a punch in the guts whilst a bellowing drill sergeant insists you surge onwards. It is a sensational experience to put on this Eagulls record, a face-melting treatment of pop smudged and bludgeoned by teeth-baring, white-knuckled frenzy. (Album Review)

Eagulls are coming to Aus in February for Laneway Festival, and play a show at OAF on Friday 30th January.

3. King Tuff – Black Moon Spell

Probably the most perfect party rock record since Judas Priest’s ‘British Steel’ (“BREAKING THE LAW, BREAKING THE LAW, DUH DUH”). Coincidentally, “Headbanger” begins with a line that swoons over a girl’s record collection: “You had Sabbath, and Priest and Number of the Beast, it was heavy metal perfection”. Indeed ‘Black Moon Spell’ excels at just being a really fun record to rock out to. From the Marc Bolan-isms to the Slash-levels of gratuitous guitar solos, King Tuff revels in an  unparalleled love of classic rock with a modern flair, laying down the tastiest jams since Ozzy was in Sabbath. (Album Review)

2. Spoon – They Want My Soul

There’s a reason Spoon are the most consistently rated band of all time – they’re really fucking good at being an indie rock band. Believe it or not, being an indie band is hard. People, like me, will hate you for no other reason other than you have a trendy haircut, which means YOU’RE MUSIC SUCKS SHIT! But with Spoon, there’s nothing to hate; Britt Daniel simply aches with great songwriting. Catchy melodies snared by heartbroken lyrics on “Rent I Pay”, “Do You” and “New York Kiss” are too much. (Album Review)

1. Cloud Nothings – Here And Nowhere Else

Ahhh, Cloud Nothings. Over the course of four albums, they’ve gone from a solo project of fun, if not particularly memorable, lo-fi pop jams, to throttling, fearsome snaps of exhilaration. When the Steve Albini-produced ‘Attack on Memory’ came out a few years ago, everyone was thinking that there was no way it could be topped. Enter ‘Here and Nowhere Else’, a challenger with balls and a willingness to show them (that sounds fucked up).

The lyrics of ‘Here And Nowhere Else’ are deceptively simple, but nonetheless powerful. They’re bolstered even more so by some of the most brilliantly scathing music of the last few years. But most memorable is the way Dylan Baldi, a bearded and bespectacled fellow of an unassuming nature, belts and inflects his words with whipping fury. There is something in his throat which carries through onto record that is completely unexplainable. Pair that with vicious ability and concentrated aggression that wouldn’t be out-of-place on a  Fugazi record, and you’ve got Cloud Nothings at their jaw-dropping finest. (Album Review)

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Album Review: Shellac – Dude Incredible

The word ‘Dude’ is the pop-punk of personal nouns. Born from anti-establishment origins, with only a pure, if naive, heart, and slowly turned into a common indicator, if not trophy, of douchebags. Whereas in the 1980’s and 90’s, the words ‘Dude’ and ‘Pop Punk’ were still creative honours, being bestowed upon the greatest movie of all time (The Big Lebowski) and birthing some of the best bands (The Replacements, The Ramones, The Buzzcocks, The Descendants), they soon got franchised into these dirty beings. Sure, the purity existed, but only in the most maligned of corners. Today, if you heard the word “Dude”, 9 times out of 10, it will be followed by a phrase like, “I totally finger banged some drunk chick last night”, as opposed to, “Check out this Husker Du cassette”.

But, without even the use of punctuation, Shellac have managed to reclaim one of my favourite words to use (besides “Fuck, and “Dipshit”) and make it incredible again. If Bill & Ted’s musical talents grew, but their vocabulary stayed the same, this is how they would describe this new Shellac record. This is hands down, one of the best records to have been released from any band this year.

For those uninformed about one of the most important bands to ever exist in an underground sense, Shellac are the All Tomorrow’s Parties poster boys, right next to Swans (cool!) and Nick Cave (cool?). They’re compromised of Steve Albini, Todd Trainer, and Bob Weston. Two of them are studio/recording engineers engineers, and together, they’ve featured as members of Big Black, Rapeman, Scoutt Niblett, The Volcano Suns and Mission of Burma. Weston and Albini have also worked on records by Sebadoh, The Pixies, Nirvana, Archers of Loaf, Cloud Nothings and The Jesus Lizard.

Now that you’ve been crushed by the weight of these accomplishments, go and listen to Shellac’s other recorded works. Especially ‘1000 Hurts’. That album is a work of goddamn art, and should be placed in a museum and Wu-Tang-ified. There’s something especially brutal and unique about Shellac’s work. Maybe it’s their complete lack of interest in worrying about commercial prospects (all members being fully employed). Maybe it’s the fact that all members have heavily contributed to the collective underground conscience in more ways than anyone else could hope to. Maybe it’s because the instruments on here sound like they’re trying to recall a parade of machine’s out of Mad Max colliding into each other in a black hole made out of evil. Who knows? All that’s obvious is that Shellac are incredible, dude.

Like the album cover, this record is pretty much a steroid. It’ll help you alleviate any anger left in your soul, turning you into a complete husk of a human, exhausted just from plugging into a single song. Shellac have narrowed themselves severely, trimmed down to a bare essential grit. Only two songs exceed four minutes, one being the title track which is a six minute rock opera that makes like John Wayne fronting Fugazi with a hurtling, demonic banshee cry. The trio have badassed their way into some kind of sound that grinds people’s faces off. It’s like walking into a revolving door of the  Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies, each song propelling you into another nightmarish terror full of mutilated normality that’ll flay you alive.

On no other record have Shellac married their music and aggression more perfectly. They’ve always been one’s for creating the perfect atmosphere, but there’s always been room for improvement. Every note hits like a sledgehammer swung by a God, as cool as they have ever been. Each vocal, regardless of which member sings, is a searing rod to the ear canals. They are un-repressable, and completely without barriers. Songs like “Gary”, “All The Surveyors” and “You Came In Me” are sneering tour de forces, like a more cynical and organic Future of the Left.

For anyone that is bored shitless with the state of music, and needs something brutal and modern, look no further than ‘Dude Incredible’. This supernatural squirrel is a foreshadowing for your experience with this record – it will go all Bane-mad, lift you up and snap your back, then nurse you back to health in an environment of solitary confinement, wrapped in rich bass lines, brutal drum pounding and snarling vocals.

Top 10 Reasons Steve Albini is God

A few weeks ago Steve Albini (aka God) guest hosted Australia’s best source of underground music, rage. About a week later, I got around to watching all, of it (it’s about five hours). I already had a huge amount of adoration and respect, but in watching the rage segment, I know believe something more. I think Steve Albini might just be God. Here’s why:

10. His Waist Guitar Strap: Do you have any clue how hard it is to play guitar? Like, at all? It’s damn near impossible. The fact that guys like Jimmy Page and J Mascis are so good at it is simply a testament to their god-like prowess. Notice that the adjective is god-like, not godly. That’s because Steve Albini takes it one step further, and hoists his guitar around his waist, instead of over the shoulder like ‘normal’ people. Why? Because fuck ‘normal’ people. And also because he probably finds it comfortable.

9. He Loves Vinyl: There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been covered, other than the dude really loves vinyl. He’s also into cassettes, as shown by some of his releases, but it’s mostly a vinyl thing. Wouldn’t be surprised if the dude had tried to bang some vinyl. But haven’t we all at some point? Right? No, because that would cause scratching, it would fuck everything up, and it would probably hurt…the vinyl and you. It’s blasphemous to even consider the concept of fucking vinyl. But back to the main point, Albini loves vinyl, and that’s awesome.

8. His Humour: Although the humour didn’t really shine through on the rage segment, Steve Albini is easily one of the funniest human beings on the planet. This is mainly because no subject is sacred. No matter how taboo, how controversial, or how insanely fucked up it is, you can bet that Steve Albini will aggressively and forthrightly make comedy out of it. He has the kind of sick sense of humour that, upon seeing a guy getting mauled by a bear, he would probably say ‘He deserved it, fucking Madonna fan’ or ‘I always thought intestines were meant to be longer’. Probably, I don’t know the guy. But his humour is fucked up and glorious.

7. His Writing: Again, on the subject of his controversial humour, Steve Albini interjected this with some of the most offensively insightful observations about the music industry. He made a fuckload of enemies, like Ministry and every major label ever, but he stuck to his guns. He was a fiercely loyal independant, and with the ‘nothing sacred’ policy of his writing, he was one in a million. On a personal note, Steve Albini’s journalistic writings, along with Jim Goad, were incredibly influential on myself. So maybe there is a little bias in this list proclaiming Steve Albini to be God-what the fuck are you gonna do? (please read the former sentence in an amiable, friendly tone, an open ended suggestion to the reader in which constructive criticism is appreciated <3)

6. The Prolific Amount of Stuff He Puts Out: It is estimated, according to Wikipedia, that Albini has worked on between 1500-2000 records. That’s more records than breaths of air for a roughly week old baby. Also, the vast, vast majority of it is superb. On average, there is more soul and life in a single note of Steve Albini production than an entire Mackelmore album. Let me just shove that statistic in your face one more time: 1500-2000 estimated works. That’s like the amount of gallons of piss in an average public pool!

5. He’s Humble as Shit: Steve Albini is more humble than a badger. And badgers are the most humble creatures in the animal kingdom. That’s a fact. Look it up. Okay, I made that up. But Steve Albini just refuses o be acknowledged as the hero he is. He doesn’t list himself amongst the production credits, is incredibly generous with his Chicago studio and recording rates, and even described one of my favourite albums, The Pixies ‘Surfer Rosa’ as ‘…average college rock…’.  Although the last one comes down to a matter of taste, it still astounds me that someone who greatly influenced what is considered a seminal work would downplay their achievements so much. But such is the Albini/God way.

4. Awesome Musician: Steve Albini is one of the greatest musicians that the alternative scene has ever witnessed. I was originally going to say ‘Awesome Guitarist’, but it’s important to note that he is a proficient programmer, doing the work on Big Black’s drum machine himself. In fact, the entire ‘Lungs’ EP was all Albini’s work, and that EP is fucking masterful. Albini transcends barriers of comfort with his post-modern style, forcing his way into your collective conscience with loud, dilated and aggressive sounds that only he could create. It’s a horrifying, holy and humbling experience to listen to something Steve Albini has constructed.

3. Part of Shellac: Along with fellow record engineer Bob Weston and drummer Todd Trainer (who used to play with Scout Niblett), Steve Albini is in this little band called Shellac. Oh yeah, you might know them by the other name as the greatest post-punk group since The Fall. Shellac only have four (technically five) albums, and each of them is like a manuscript of how to entertain the earholes with the greatest music of ever. If you remember the post I made for my one year celebration, ‘Prayer to God’ is roughly my 4th favourite song of all time. Yep, Shellac beat out the likes of The Ramones, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, to name a few. Shellac are seriously one of the best things to happen to this planet, along with chocolate cereal and humping.

2. Great Taste in Music: In watching the rage hosting, and from knowledge of the bands he’s produced (more on that soon) Steve Albini just has a fucking great taste in music. Like, seriously amazing. Ranging from Sepultura, to Low, from Lubricated Goat to Cheap Trick, and Boards of Canada to The Breeders, Steve Albini’s music programming on rage was second to none awesome stuff.

1. Studio Extraordinare: Finally, the reason most people would know the name Steve Albini is because of his god-like abilities in the studio. The Cribs, The Jesus Lizard, McLusky, Cloud Nothings-these are just some of the icons of the underground that can thank Steve Albini for helping them with unmasking their potential. PJ Harvey’s best album, ‘Rid of Me’? Albini. Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’. Albini. The aforementioned Pixies’ ‘Surfer Rosa’. Alllllllllll Albini. This guy has more genius than Albert Einstein taking hits of Stephen Hawking, while munching on Isaac Newtown’s brain as a snack. Fuck, if you don’t love Steve Albini in some form or another, you must be a Motley Cru fan. And there’s nothing worse than a Motley Cru fan.