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.

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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.

Gig Review: Farmer & the Owl Festival

Saturday 14th March @ University of Wollongong

Wollongong is only an hour away from Sydney, and yet I have never been there. How Sydney is that? Staying in one’s own little bubble is as much as part of the Shitney lifestyle as overpriced coffee that you’ll insist is delicious, and getting coward punched in the Cross. Whether you live in Bondi, Newtown or the Northern Beaches, there’s an adverse reaction to leaving for anything more than a 15 minute bus ride away from your front door.

But with Farmer & the Owl Festival, now in its second iteration, the lineup was too good. A short ginger simply needed to sack up, brave the train ride and seek adventure down South, armed with only unconventional but nonetheless solid good looks and an iPod loaded with the latest Dead Farmers record.

Despite the train trip being pretty bluddy beautiful, that shit is longer than a turd after $2 taco night, and it forced a few unfortunate misses of fantastic acts. However, having bore witness to the pleasant pysch-pop sedation of Sunbeam Sound Machine and Richard in Your Mind many times before, for those who haven’t managed to catch them thusly, get off your thick backside, and buy a goddamn record. Spookyland was the first act to be ingested into the soul, and they were as good as any goddamn paleo diet that I’ve ever tried. Look past the sheer pop prowess of “The Silly Fucking Thing”, and stare on in wonder as Spookyland shred a potent mixture of The Birthday Party meeting Tom Verlaine and The Reid Brothers darkest fantasies. “Blood In the Rain” is particularly demented in the live setting, and when Marcus Gordon looses the shrill cry of “…with that gun in your hand!“, an eel of excitement involuntarily worms its way through your soul.

The Peep Tempel follow up on Spookyland’s brand of eschewed rock with a set that makes it feel like they could be the last real pub rock band in the world. It’s basic stuff, delivered with nonchalant snarls, stirling guitar veneer, and a glittering meanness that would make Scar from Lion King say, “Hey, woah fellas, chill out“. A tighter band couldn’t have been wrought from the slobbery floorboards of The Tote if they tried. A crowd slowly started to gather and build steam towards one of the standout sets of the day. But it still felt like punters didn’t deserve, or at the very least “get” the sheer greatness of a band like this. One dickhead went about his broken tape recorder routine of asking for “Carol” at the end of every single song in The Peep Tempel’s 40 minute set. Fuck, you know, this band has more than just one song, right? In fact, they have an entire catalogue of music, which they have kindly and strategically sorted into a setlist. If you shut the fuck up for a second, shit, you might even get to discover your new favourite song, like “Big Fish”, or “Vicki the Butcher”. God knows we don’t deserve The Peep Tempel already, and deadshits soured the experience.

Luckily, the deadshit factor was kept to a relative minimum, or at least, was herded into the DJ tent for the rest of the festival.  From herein, punters only lapped up the goodness that was served to them at a hurtling rate. There was Jeremy Neale (more like Jizzemy Neale, amirite), ever the showman, lashing up the love with his token mixture of 60’s pop reverie and an ability to make every audience member feel just a little bit loved. Combined with his throat-puncturing performance with Velociraptor (in its smallest form yet, a mere 5 piece), Nealemania is sure to become a hashtag of the future. Then there’s Hockey Dad, who are truly in the midst of their own lil’ Beatlemania replication. Sure, they were on hometurf, but this kind of horny reception was something that would make Ron Jeremy red with rage. Actually, it is understandable, because when you toss two good lookers up on a stage, and then allow them to blast through an EP of surf-rock nuggets that would make any self-respecting mammal with a working pair of ears wet between the knees.

At this point, old mates Big Dick and Brad had sat down with this ginger nutjob to enjoy the lush soak of Shining Bird. Y’all heard this band? Prepare to be casually buttfucked by brilliance. These guys know their way about a pop song, but what’s more, they can extend it past that radio friendly 3 minute mark, and still keep you interested. How many other bands can do that? Yo La Tengo? Stereolab? My Bloody Valentine? That’s about it right? Well, Shining Bird did their hometown proud, as “Stare Into the Sun”, “Keep Warm”, and a laced concoction of others spiralled through the lazy arvo. But that kind of melting haze can only last for so long, which is where a packed room of Los Tones fans made the difference. Do yaself a bloody favour, and go see this band. Strong fucking riffs delivered with an off-kilter craze from a couple of blokes that probably moonlight as whiskey connoisseurs between their day jobs as Lux Interior proteges. Their loud and vivacious brand of medicine bag garage took full-flight in the dingy sideline of the “Thrash Room”, a pleasure to watch, and a pleasure to boogie to. Pro Tip: bring earplugs. Step-Panther are as loud as they are awesome.

As mentioned before, the Raptors killed it. Straight up. You’d think that being stretched to a meagre, suffering 5 piece would dilute the mania that is so core to Velociraptor shows, but they remained pinnacles of party professionals, screaming and raving through keytar laden, guitar solo saturated, shout-along ready renditions of “Ramona”, “Cynthia”, “Sneakers” and more. This kind of party merely acted as a precursor for one of Wollongong’s ultimate treasures, Step-Panther. Fuck, what a band, what a treat. If you want yourself some garage-throttled goodness from a band that just happened to put out one of the best records of last year, then look no further than these guys.

Remember when it was mentioned that The Peep Tempel might be the only remaining pub rock band on the planet? Besides that being an obvious lie, Bad//Dreems ensured that any love for draught-soaked belters isn’t being abandoned in the near future. The crowd was thriving on the pounding anthems that seem to come so fluently to the Radelaide natives, jostling to get in the best position to shout “Caroliiiiiiiine, you do it to me eveeeerrrry tiiiiiiiime!” like it was a goddamn war cry. But who can blame them? Baddies slayed it, happily decapitating punters with scything riffs made from years of studying the bible of rock ‘n’ roll. Cold Chisel, AC/DC, Eddy Current Suppression Ring – any band with a riff, a beer, and a prerogative to unleash unholy rock and roll oblivion. That’s who Bad//Dreems remind you of, and there’s no one doing it quite as strongly as they are either right now either.

By this point, night has settled upon the ‘Gong, and the rambunctious are thirsty for some action. Luckily, the final four bands were in no state to dissapoint. There was Bass Drum of Death, from the USA, who combine the leather jacket cool of The Strokes with the fuzz of a Ty Segall record, and double down on the batshit insane, high velocity appeal of Evil Knievel. It’s hard to keep a single limb still during a set that includes “Bad Reputation”, “Crawling After You”, and “Get Found”. Shit, its hard to keep your limbs attached to your body – a set in the pit of a BDOD show is basically succumbing to the fact that you’re coming home minus a few fingers. That lunacy was abruptly followed by a rare performance by The Mess Hall. By this point a band that has reached “classic rock” status, it comes as a huge surprise that The Mess Hall don’t play more frequently, as they have punched through a tight set of hit rolling into hit. Their set was sufficiently stuck in the part zone, an onslaught of crowd-pleasers for a surprisingly small lawn of attendees. However, those who did make it along will be forced to admit that the rough-hewn blues rock of “Shake, Shake”, “Lock & Load”, and “Pills” were just as prime for as they were when they were served to us on a steaming platter all those years ago.

Watching DZ Deathrays, you can’t help but marvel at the fact that this has to be one of the most hard-working bands in existence, and yet they play as though they’re fucking Metallica. That’s meant as an adoring compliment, by the way. Three guys, onstage, prowling and growling with the kind of stage presence that no one has anymore. DZ have graduated beyond mere hometown heroes – they’re bonafide rock gods. They play as though they’re in Wembley Stadium, but they’re in the car park of the University of Wollongong. They treat each stage diving lunatic with a wry grin, and scuttle down their fret boards with the same enthusiasm as when they only had an EP to their name. Oh yeah, and they continue to lay down sicker riffs than an ebola quarantine camp. They’re mental, and the crowd reacts thusly. You’ve never seen kids mosh the way they do at a DZ Deathrays show, hurling themselves at each other with the kind of reckless abandon that can only be brought on from the thundering, lock jaw inducing, brain seizures of “Less Out of Sync”, or “The Mess Up”. There are plenty of bands worthy of seeing, but DZ Deathrays transcend that – they’re a band that you need to see.

Farmer & the Owl Festival feels like what Big Day Out would be like if it were held in the real bush instead of Homebush. From the stage setups that were tiny replicas of the famous Orange and Blue stages, to the rock dog-centric lineup, it was a comfortably small throwback to what I’m sure BDO felt like. This was felt most strongly with the headliner of Jebediah, a band more 90’s than a love for Marilyn Manson that isn’t somehow ironic or attached to guilt. Despite playing to a lacklustre crowd, Jebediah still served up some meaty hits that were made when I was still shitting myself. Is there really any better way to click past midnight than with the powerful punches of “Harpoon”, “Leaving Home”, and “Fall Down”?

Look, the ‘Gong might be a little while away. But the place is loaded with royalties that you can’t get in Sydney. A coastline where the Southern Cross tattoos are minimal, cheap beer, and the great bands are just a few of the reasons to make the voyage. And when there’s a festival that can make a tiny, grumpy ginger loaded with cynicism travel an hour down the coast, and bust out white moves whiter than Bill Clinton eating gluten-free brunch, then that should be enough incentive to head down. Drop the act, Sydney, Wollongong is more than dreads and tye-dye t-shirts. It’s all a lil’ bit alright. Make sure you’re there whenever the next Farmer & the Owl fest goes down.

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)

Gig Review: Step-Panther & Bearhug

Friday, 21st November @ Goodgod Small Club

For two of my favourite local bands, 2014 has been a career-affirming year. Both Step-Panther and Bearhug have released the best material of their lives, solid,  cohesive sophomore records that accentuate their past tendencies, and showcase their abilities to write fucking great songs. Step-Panther’s ‘Strange But Nice’ has to be one of the albums of the year, with it’s raw, slicing honesty, and Bearhug are most definitely in the Top Tier, with a record that never puts a foot wrong, only engaging in the best walls of guitar haze. Tonight, the two bands shared a stage, and threw down the gauntlet to show that their more than just a bunch of pretty faces.

Point Being, a band with about five gigs under their belt, opened with a set of crushing rock. What’s cooler than being cool? Not ice-cold, but rather this fucking band. Their set was a looming cache of forthright guitars set to their most primitive. On record, Point Being can come across as almost friendly, despite their dry delivery. On stage, even after their frontman had only landed down after running the fucking New York Marathon a mere few hours before, the engaged with the sort of white-knuckle, bared teeth rabid look you’d get from one of the re-born creatures of Pet Semetary. They’re a weird breed of a band that everyone knows but can’t remember, an amalgamation of all the best punk acts of the 1980’s – Mission of Burma injected with a bit more underdog aroma, the kind that’s bred out of the suburbs of Sydney.

Bearhug had their original lineup on stage, and there was a certain extra to the way they played on the night. Their music just seemed to thrive that much harder, and although it took a few songs for their warm fuzz to waft around the room, by the time “Habit Wave” crash landed, the room was effectively enraptured. There was a new energy in the way Bearhug play, whether it be the blur their hands make when thrashing over “Animal”, or the loping romantic elope of “Over the Hill”. Or maybe it was just the fact one of their guitarists, Jesse Bayley’s imitation of Joey Belladona of Anthrax-impression, heaving black hair whipping across the stage like Willow Smith was in the building. Whatever it was, their music, mostly compromised from the gorgeous ‘So Gone’ made for a sincerely gripping show, thrilling even. The guitar blanket that descended made for a calming, zen-like state, like the Dalai Llama formed a band with J Mascis. Some might be cynical as to whether Bearhug would be able to pull off their cocooning sound in a live format, but trapped in the small room of Goodgod with the five gents made for a rewarding show.

Finally, Step-Panther blasted their way onstage with “User Friendly”, “It Came From the Heart” and “Nowhere”. The trio of Zach, Steve and Dan made for one of the loudest sets seen in Goodgod since METZ. They were a flurry of lambasting guitars, shooting chords and cymbal crashes into your ears with the velocity of the Millennium Falcon at light speed. Steve’s guitar is blaring at 11, but the resulting wash of sound is less Spinal Tap and more medieval wasteland out of Evil Dead 3 – cartoonish, bloody and fucking good. One only has to headbang along to “Nowhere”s two solos to see that the band have made a rock equivalent to Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s “Get Up Morning”.

Step-Panther’s set borders on epic, but is injected with too much normal personality to be some bullshit swords ‘n’ sandals saga that Dragonforce might pull together. Almost entirely built upon their fantastic new album, besides a brief, pummelling edition of “Fight Like a Knight”, the band proves that not only have they matured in their song-writing and musical ability, but they’ve also increased their performance. Their drummer, Daniel Radburn, is particularly impressive, showcasing what has to be one of the most batshit crazy drumming skillz seen since Pantera – the man’s arms are like Doctor Octopus’ appendages, a destructive force in eight different directions.

It’s a night to fucking remember. All three bands are excellent, but what’s more, they’re even better live. In considering that these are two of the best local releases of the year, saying that going to see any of these bands is essential to your life is a bit of understatement.

Gig Review: The Blurst of Times Festival

Saturday 25th October @ The Factory Theatre

Simpsons quote. Straight from the go, you’re off to a good start mates. Add to that fact that almost every great guitar act in our country is on a Blurst of Time bill, and you’ve got every cat and their air guitar whizzing to buy a fucking ticket. I mean, people of ‘Straya, what more do you want? The government’s fucked (with the grand exception of Bill ‘Shortball’ Shorten), we’re paying through the nose for uni, and to top it all off, I’ve had a bad sinus infection all week. Really shitty stuff. So a day of DZ Deathrays and beer in Marrickville was basically the only cure, short of going on a bender with Bill Murray (a boy can dream).

Hockey Dad began the day with a short ‘n’ sweet set of feel good surf rock tunes. If you haven’t heard of these blokes, get around them, because they’ve got #nextbigthing written all over their peachy mugs. Zach’s got a voice like an angel, and Billy smashes his drums like he’s on a blitzkrieg, Lleyton Hewitt headband dripping with sweat by the end. A few muck-ups, but the smiles and lack of pretention from these blokes meant that their set was a loud, and thoroughly enjoyable, as good as watching Happy Gilmore the first time round.

Black Zeros followed, but unfortunately, sound issues fumbled their performance. The songs are tight, but performance was unsure, as lead woman Joe Jackson had trouble hearing herself. I mean, “Ride” and “That Boy” are fucking sick, but the dwindling between songs so early in the day made it hard for punters to stick around, and enjoy the usual Black Zeros carnival. Outside, Babaganouj were killing it, an amalgamation of Brissy indie-pop mixed with damn solid 90’s nerd-rock. Think of the dorky pop of Weezer, Superchunk and Kim Deal, thrown together with amazing songs like “Bluff” and “Love Loath Love You”. They had heads nodding along like the crowd were a bunch of bobble-heads. It was down-to-earth euphoric rock, something I’m not sure even existed until this point.

Sticking around on the outside stage, where a bunch of menacing clouds grumbled with menace, High-tails came and conquered with a slew of tight indie rock. High-tails seemed in more of a rock mood, as their songs boomed with a bit more bravado and oomph than usual. “Bending Over Backwards” and a cover of Cake’s “Never There” highlighted a band that knew how to marry pop sensibilities and rock with success. A divorce doesn’t seem likely in the near future, and there’s a strong hint at an LP coming out next year.

Step-Panther, (another band, another hyphen) hobbled unassumingly onto the stage. Just three blokes – a guitar, bass and a drumkit. And yet, these three guys turned an ordinary set up into one of the most impressive displays of musicianship to have been blazed into my skull in recent memory. Starting with debut LP cut “Never Again”, frontman Stephen Bourke was immediately sprawled on the floor, abusing his guitar like it was an Ike and Tina Turner situation all over again. Whiplash guitar ricocheted throughout the small domain of The Factory Theatre, and anyone within earshot perked up like a Chihuahua being mass-fed caffeine. Daniel Radburn is beating the shit out of the drum kit like he’s a 12 year old with the house to himself and a bright and sparkly National Geographic laying bare like the temptresses they are. And Zach, of Hockey Dad @fame, well, he was just looking good. Their set was a fiery ball-tearer, with a couple props to old schoolers like “Fight Like A Knight”, but mainly focusing on their new, gobsmackingly good record, ‘Strange But Nice’ (review here).

It was a party set through and through, a contorted mixture of thrash punk and pop knowledge, covered in gnatty noise and a genuine love, and ability, to rock the fuck out. For every awkward inner-teen out there, Step-Panther is the band you want to familiarise yourself with. They’re almost like a modern and local version of Bleach-era Nirvana, ruthless and primal, and Stephen Bourke makes for a picturesque Kurt Cobain, with his shoulder-connected-to-neck  solos being a sight worthy of the Bucket List. New singles “Nowhere”, “It Came From the Heart” and “User Friendly” were a shredder’s haven, and a reminder that Step-Panther are some of the last heartfelt headbangers in Sydney, possibly even Aus. Make sure you get down to their album launch (with Bearhug and Point Being!) at Goodgod on November 21st.

After exhilaration-incarnate, it felt like nothing could possibly match a Step-Panther show. Obviously, it’s been a while since I went to a SPOD show, and I’ve forgotten how one-of-a-kind this man, nay, GOD, is. Where Step-Panther are one of the ultimate rock bands, SPOD is the ultimate party band. I feel like that needs to be repeated -SPOD IS THE ULTIMATE PARTY BAND! NEVER MISS A SHOW FROM THIS GUY! EVER! EVER! EVER!

Armed with a battalion of all-black, sunnies-inside security guards (Steve’s #1 & #2, and old mate Nathan Wood) who never dropped their demeanour of seriousness and professionalism (sic), SPOD tore The Factory Theatre a new arsehole. Beginning with the song of our generation, “Deadshits”, SPOD’s set soon become something that people will talk about centuries from now, in hushed whispers, in case the legend himself blazes down from the heavens to destroy all human life with his hard-partying ways. To put it bluntly, the set was compromised entirely of legends. From young pup/legend Dom O’Connor being literally picked up and thrown around SPOD like a stripper on a pole during “Letz Dance”, to Dion Ford (Australia’s greatest guitarist/legend) coming onstage to crank out Oz’s favourite pub rock tune “Couple Of Drinks”, to old mate/legend Jules (of Rice is Nice one of the greatest labels to adorn our fair country) getting her waltz on to the finale and every pervert’s funky favourite “Electric Hips”. And I’d be lying to you if I said that getting on stage with pretty much every living legend the Australian music industry has seen for a singalong of “Boys Night” wasn’t one of the Top 5 Moments of my life. I entered the Factory a boy, and left a man, thanks to SPOD. The man is a saint.

After a sweat, party-filled few hours, it was time for Blank Realm, one of the main acts on the bill. After the release of their flawless pop record “Grassed Inn” earlier this year (review here), Blank Realm was a band that I physically could not withhold myself from seeing. Whilst the beginning of the set was marred by sound issues, primarily the bass thudding over the top of other instruments, things were abruptly fixed so that it was all Blank Realm awesomeness, all the time. Their set seemed to compromise of only a few songs, mostly of their latest album, but that’s hardly a complaint. My body was instantly entranced into twisting into an amalgamation of shapes I had no clue I was capable of. Maybe I was just trying to mimic the movements of the band themselves, in which they moved with poetic energy, jumping and grooving with artistic beauty. It was strange, and timelessly wonderful. Getting to see stuff like “Reach You On the Phone”, “Go Easy” and a sped-up “Falling Down the Stairs” (#songoftheyear) is something no ones forgetting any time soon. Summarisation: 2014 – year of the keytar. Never change, Blank Realm, never change.

Outside, a new and unruly beast was unfolding in the form of Velociraptor, fleshed out with a rare appearance from original members Shane and Simon of DZ Deathrays. Banshee cries were the first thing I really noticed from the set, followed by a ruckus on par with a football riot. Bodies flew everywhere, and it honestly felt like a tsunami of rock music had arrived. Whereas Velociraptor are garage-pop on record, the raw energy of earlier recordings was in sure-fire play during the set. As guitars reigned supreme, and the multi-limbed juggernaut of rock ‘n’ roll heaved on headbangers like “Cynthia”, “The Walk On By”,”Cool, Baby, Cool” and the anthemic “Ramona”, it was like an alternate ending from Jurassic Park, where the T-Rex doesn’t show up, and the kids aren’t so lucky. As the final chords rang out, and Jeremy Neale stood poised, with fist raised triumphantly above his lolling head, grin planted firmly on his mug, it was ultimately obvious that Velociraptor had fucking won.

After a truly sweeping performance, TV Colours graced the stage for a very different, but similarly affecting, display of amazing. TV Colours released the best album of last year, and they wilfully proved it. They had walls of sound at their disposal, tearing through songs like “The Neighbourhood” and “Lost Highway” with a virtuosity and newfound, dare I say it, professionalism. Their fury was there, but it was more controlled, funnelled into the seething audience of bobbing heads. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to believe that “Purple Skies, Toxic River” will be mentioned in the same breath as “Primary Colours”, or “Havilah” in the future. It’s a modern masterpiece, and seeing a band as talented and great as that dominate a stage is a pleasure as always. If you haven’t seen TV Colours rip through “Bad Dreams” or “Beverly” and let your jaw drop to the floor in utter amazement, you haven’t lived.

Die! Die! Die! seemed like a bit of a left-field choice for the day, the only Kiwi band on the bill. But they had a new orgasmic album to show off, and you’d have to be a total dillweed to miss out on these guys bombastically destroying expectations. Die! Die! Die! are one of the few punk bands left that can completely blow you away every single time you see them, pounding expectations to the ground as dangerously as frontman Andrew Wilson behaves on stage. Perched precariously on a stack of amps, Wilson cradles the microphone and bellows “A.T.T.I.T.U.D” with a conviction that belies belief. A song over seven years old, Wilson only needed to jump into the crowd and be assaulted by eager punters willing to scream the celebrated chorus, for the epiphany to click that Die! Die! Die! will never die. They’ll forever live on in a myth of wholesome awesome, a preservation of smart punk rock that shames anything that tries to come near it. The members are performers and musicians that have no contemporaries, lambasting temples of a bygone era.

 

To watch Die! Die! Die! in action is a sincere honour, a pinnacle of what humans can do when they really, really, really wanna tear the world a new arsehole. Although new tracks “Get Hit” and “She’s  Clear” shook The Factory to its hinges, it was old timers like “Wasted Lands” and “Ashtray! Ashtray!” that forced the crowd into a hurricane frenzy, centred on the eye-of-the-storm, Andrew Wilson. It can not be overstated how pivotal to your existence it is that you, dear reader, go and see Die! Die! Die! in action.

Cruising to a nice little backstage loft, watching DZ Deathrays side of stage was a set that will be ingrained into my memory for a fair while (Blurst of Times seems to be full of those, hey). After a lengthy UK tour, the duo added an extra guitar and a moustache to Simon’s head for their extraordinary set of euphoric rock. However, there was something a else about the performance. No, DZ were fairly perfect, they didn’t fuck up, and were rockstars to an inch. But that was the issue – these guys should be headlining stadiums, blowing out eardrums worldwide. The fact that they came back to Australia to dwindle with the mere mortals…I mean, how are you meant to react to something like that?

Watching with swollen eyes, every onlooker became enraptured with DZ’s sweaty thrusts of pummelling songs, mainly drawn from the pool of talent that is their sophomore “Black Rat”. Every song was a debilitating lesson in how to be a motherfucking rockstar, from classics like “The Mess Up”, to the slow-burning epic “Northern Lights” and a finale of epic proportions in “Gina Works At Hearts”. Watching DZ is a heart-in-mouth experience, where you want to vomit, cry and mosh all at the same time, where fist-pumping and deranged shouting is par for the course.

After a sincerely great fucking day, Hard-Ons finish the night with a heated dosage of their signature metal/punk/thrash expertise. For those who are unfamiliar, The Hard-Ons are a classic band of Australian lore, as integral to our musical landscape as Radio Birdman, The Saints and The Scientists. Getting to lose my Hard-Ons virginity was something I can only ever be thankful for. They swung through songs with riffs sent straight from another dimension, reaching into the bowels of my brain and throttling the joy factor. There weren’t as many punters there as the Hard-Ons probably required, but really that just gave the more dedicated few room to move and stand in awe of the wicked trio, and insane musicianship of Australia’s coolest band.Ray Ahn proved to those there that all you need to be in one of Australia’s most loved bands is a working pair of footy shorts, a flowing man of hair, and a certificate from Shredding School.

Fuck, so I gotta summarise this experience, right? Paragraph after paragraph of praising the shit out of all the bands I managed to cram into a day, and I gotta come up with something witty AND all-encompassing? I think I’ll stick with the words of everyone’s hero Dom O’Connor, who described Blurst as “… a house party”. And indeed it was – you had mates crammed next to each other, love pouring from every socket, and some of the best bands this country has ever seen playing enormously tight and friendly sets. Although clashes prevented sets from Bloods, Bearhug, Donny Benet and a few others from leaking into my pupils, and Low Life cancelled last minute, and a few sound issues tore away from otherwise perfect shows, The Blurst of Times made an excellent debut in Sydney. From booking the best and loudest, to having minimal deadshit attendance, and relatively cheap drinks and food, Blurst of Times has gone down as one hell of a festival.

Video: Step-Panther – It Came From the Heart

A couple weeks back Step-Panther released a bonafide masterpiece, one of the finest records to have graced the ears of us mere mortals. I could go on, but the main gist is that a couple of shredders who love to play music ended up creating an honest document of what it’s like to have your life crumble around you. It was a diverse, progressive step for one of my favourite bands, and I was genuinely blown away by how great they sound. Right now, Step-Panther are like our down-to-earth version of Parquet Courts.

They’ve gone ‘n’ done a video for their track “It Came From the Heart”, that’s half-haunted house ride, half-shlock B-Movie drive-in genius. Vegetarians rejoice, you’ve got nothing to worry about. For the rest of you, just…just don’t fucking walk into an abandoned house, practice for a bit, and then devour the greasy remains of a chook. Because a giant beast will stab you and let your disembodied head wander around space and time for eternity. Actually, that’s a pretty fucking rock and roll way to go. Turn the sound off, and Step-Panther turn from scuzz heroes to Wollongong replicas of the self-destructive likes of Motley Cru and KISS. Devil Horns!

Album Review: Step-Panther – Strange, But Nice

Hey man. I heard your girlfriend just broke up with you. That sucks, bro. Really, I can empathise. Ain’t nothing worse than getting your heart shat on. So, where do we go from now, hombre? We can either a) drink until we puke b) take acid and try to fuck some leprachauns, until we sober up and realise they’re garden gnomes, or c) play some Step-Panther. In all seriousness, Step-Panther might have just taken over Twerps in terms of providing the ultimate break-up soundtrack. Sure, the person that you used to bump uglies with may be feeding your emotions through a tree-shredder, Fargo-style, but at least there’s Step-Panther providing the bonafide album of the year.

Going into ‘Strange, But Nice’, there’s the immediate notion that Step-Panther have altered course. Whilst some unimaginative dickknobs might call this ‘maturing’, it is most definitely not. It’s the sound of a band that are stretching themselves out, exploring new territory, diversifying themselves from their original roots. About 70% of the time, this ends in disaster. But Step-Panther have completely pulled it off, and taken their sound in a new direction, propelled by a momentum that I honestly thought had been lost from music. Step-Panther have built on the direction they hinted at on tracks like “Bad Mood” and “Dreamcrusher”.They intricately mix their previous excellence at shredding with songs that blossom into incredibly personal and hurting testaments from frontman Stephen Bourke. The result is an album that is both complex and beautifully simplistic.

The album starts off incredibly strongly, chucking a bit of a Palms, and opening up with a solo acoustic number that almost tricks the listener into thinking that they might have cracked onto the next Elliot Smith. But then there’s a double-whammy of “Nowhere” and “User Friendly”, irreverent and insanely fun tracks that point to Step-Panther’s origins as a band that loves to strap on a guitar and beat the shit out of some riffs. “Nowhere” is especially potent, swelling like that chick from cult horror movie ‘Slither’. It feeds itself, ballooning into a goddamn masterpiece of headbanger heaven. This vein of excellence is continued later in the record on tracks like “Namor”, “Zombie Summer” and “Something Must Be Done”, speedy, semi-doom laden riffs skating over bass-gods and wicked drum twacks that threaten to split your head open like you’re a 12 year old with greasy hands climbing a jungle gym.

But the real beauty here comes from Step-Panther’s ability to lay it all out, baring themselves to the world with some of the best songcraft to come from this smouldering island that is Australia. “Parallel” is a complete and utter standout, something that gives me (and everyone else) shivers whenever it comes on. It’s like if Bob Dylan had grown up in the ‘Gong and was exposed to radiation. It’s quaint but weird, heartbreakingly honest, and the little quavers in Stephen’s voice when he hits the chorus causes my own mouth to shake uncontrollably. “Don’t cry,” I whisper to myself. “Don’t be a pussy. Put on some Metallica or something. C’mon. Who’s a big boy? You’re a big boy”. But, just like the protagonist, I’m going to wish that phase goodbye, and sink into the rest of ‘Strange, But Nice’.

This. This album. It’s got everything. Star Trek, swamp monster and retro-video game references, Big Scary’s frontman on production duties, and the perfect duality between decapitation-shredding and lyrical/musical prowess to tear your heart out through your chest. Fuck, it’s an underdog story about loss, repulsion and the faint hope of moving on. There’s not a whole lot more to say here, other than that you need this record in your life. Pronto, now, immediately. Andale andela! Arriba Arriba! Record of the year, right fucking here!

New: Step-Panther – It Came From the Heart

Step-Panther are renowned for being slackers with a commanding knowledge on HOW 2 SHRED. Well, it seems our boys have grown up and gone down some weird route of shrugging breakup guitar rock. A little more jangly than what we’re used to, the new Step-Panther still has their trademark bummer vibes that reach out to anyone who’s been through a shitty breakup (aka everyone). Regardless of the slower pace, Step-Panther have never sounded cooler or more confident, trapped in a place somewhere near The Ocean Party’s “Quarter Life Crisis” and Palms’ “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”. If you ask me, that’s a damn fine place to be stuck – if only we could 127 Hours this joint, and be jammed into this jam for a couple days/

New: Step-Panther-Nowhere

This day could not get any fucking better! No university on a Monday and a bran new Step-Panther single? That’s too much to ask for really. I’m sure I’ll be punished by the universe for this next week, when that Monday brings a new Wild Beasts song or something.

But for the time being, there’s ‘Nowhere’. A sincerely epic shredder, this thing is like a Guns N Roses power ballad, if that power ballad were taken to a junkyard, crushed into a cube, and then that cube imploded from the sheer force of shreddery. Also, shreddery is now a word.

The song starts off small but dangerous, drum beats snaking around each other, before some simmering guitar gets laid on top. I feel like I’m reciting a recipe for awesome rock music. From here, the song just continues to brood, until the second chorus of, ‘We’re going nowhere, we’re going nowhere’ comes on, and some Sonic Youth guitar starts up. There’s an elemental build and then FUCKING BOOM!, you’ve got this crushing epic guitar surging down on top of your head.

Jesus Christ, if that doesn’t get you excited, nothing will.