Australia is currently pumping out some of the greatest tunes from any country in the world as we speak. I’ve grown even fonder of our local artists in the last decade or so, it took me a while to discover that you don’t have to look far for incredible music and it’s generally not far from your backyard, so to speak.
Hailing from Oz myself, I try my best to keep my finger on the pulse of good stuff happening here. Call this an end of year report or mere ramblings, I’ve noted down for you some of the best records to be released this year.
Please note that I won’t waste your time with the likes of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, because (let’s be honest) they are one of the best bands going round in any country in the world right now, so let’s delve deeper into the cracks.
Blake Scott: Niscitam
Wing Sing Records
It’s not an easy thing attempting to sum up Mr Scott’s debut record. As editor in chief Simon Kirk said in Sun 13’s Top 50 albums of 2020, each year isn’t always about harping on about established artists, it’s more about the thrill of the chase, the thrill of finding something at the bottom of the rock pool that has a cheeky glisten, and leaning in and picking it up and giving it a chance.
Niscitam (a fitting and curious title coming from a misheard lyric from his wife) is lyrically and musically challenging and a bit of an enigma. Scott, most known for his Melbourne rock band, Peep Tempel, goes out on his own here and puts in front of us a wild and inventive experimental singer-songwriter record.
Only spin after spin might you get at it what Scott’s attempting to accomplish here, with his raspy drawl and anti-structural compositions filled with poetic moments, hedonistic straightforward and blissful driving guitar chords and straight up gothic dirge.
It’s not since The Drones that an Australian artist released a record that felt vital and realistic in the way that Scott is able to pull off here. Hammer is the downtrodden and raucous blues rock track we haven’t received in years. Kalashnikov is a venomous indictment that is the current social temperature in Australia. I mean, someone has to say this stuff why not be him? From leadership of the country to domestic violence that never seems to leave our new stream. Scott spits vitriol in the face of systematic failures for 2:57 seconds straight: “Catholics in politics/Racist, sexist, swinging dicks/Vile old pile of misanthropes steer our little ship” plus “Young girls best not concern themselves, climate change/Earth and the end of it/Meet a boy and settle down, who just as likely kill you first, one a week as we speak, women killed by men in this country”.
This may not be an easy listen, but why should it be? This is an incredibly dense collage of compositional prowess and really just one unique spiritual experience that will no doubt go under the radar for many years to come.
Snowy Band: Audio Commentary
Snowy Band hail from Melbourne and is the brain child of Liam “Snowy” Halliwell who has enlisted the likes of Emma Russack to flesh out his vision. A seemingly difficult band to sum up easily as their sound is quite complex. “There’s a wobbliness and looseness to it that I wanted to keep and ignore my usual inclination to iron-out any ‘imperfections,” said Halliwell in a statement that perfectly encapsulates the albums intent.
The template is Jonathan Richman, where Mac DeMarco makes sparkling little slacker tunes these guys tone it down even further and divulge successfully into the quieter moments, with occasional outbursts of instrumental bliss, like taking a sleeping pill for an immense rest, Snowy Band are that. Coast Road and the sparse grooves of Never Change are a good examples but start off with the lead single Love You to Death if you’re time poor.
The standout for me comes midway with The Rest of Your Life – a soulful and delicate exploration of optimism. Audio Commentary is one for a quiet Sunday afternoon to celebrate another week of ups and downs with these whispery little tunes.
GUM: Out in the World
Spinning Top Records
The Fremantle/Perth collective of musicians have continued to spawn so many great projects in the last decade or so. Whether it’s a band record or an offshoot of some sort Kevin Parker and Nik Allbrook have been at the centre of that. Now Jay Watson who has been in and around most of those projects, releases his fifth album under his GUM moniker and for me now can be taken just as seriously as the other two because Out in the World is a revelation of the psychedelic pop movement that currently is being excavated by many all over the world.
How is this different? Watson’s seemingly lackadaisical approach to his material is inspired. It’s unobtrusive and groovy in one, the title track is perfect harmony upon harmony a song you could really listen to over and over.
The majority of the album is an exploration of pretty, vast and playful tunes with an intent of exercising the use of as much varied instrumentation as possible, for artists to move away from the sounds of guitars must have a plan and with Watson masterminding this project excels here, he also prefers the scattershot setup, a mixture of emotions that can only be captured throughout the length of a long player – upping and downing all over the road map.
Whilst Many Tears to Try and Down the Dream are downtrodden and melancholy, the rest of the album is sprinkled with euphoric and uplifting scenery that isn’t a far cry away from Pond’s Tasmania. You can’t tell me you don’t feel anything at the conclusion of Don’t Let It Go Out probably the centre piece of the record.
The greatness of this record is that Watson clearly channels pop sensibilities of projects past, the whimsical flourishes of the oddities that The Beatles released, from Supertramp keyboard theatrics to Brian Wilson‘s prodigal pop mind. This made my 2020 better.
Our Golden Friend
Rock ‘n’ roll is dying? Rock ‘n’ roll is dead? I hear this every day, but when you got bands like RVG hanging around mining this kind of quality you’ve got absolutely nothing to worry about. RVG (Romy Vager Group) came out of the woodwork a few years ago with the raucous debut, Quality of Mercy.
The follow up is more of the same and in this case is bloody great thing. The band led by Romy Vager, a trans woman wielding some of the best set of pipes I’ve heard in sometime. This is outsider music, an album not big enough in scope to unite a nation but enough to united the weirdo’s who know where to look when looking for our Nation’s best bands currently working.
The band wear their influences on their sleeves with a DIY aesthetic – it dips in our of post-punk leanings and more poppy side of ’80s Australian pop rock.
Christian Neurosurgeon is not only musically a great entry into the band’s sound but also lyrically but it’s at midway point where Help Somebody applies the glue that holds the record together, something that evokes perhaps a healthy marriage between The Smiths and The Cure, by the second minute you’ll be in guitar heaven as we get some gorgeous interplay that sees the tune out.
The album was inspired by depression, heartbreak and neurosurgery (obviously). Another score for the young band was team with legendary producer Victor Van Vugt (Nick Cave, PJ Harvey) who seals the deal with one of the best records of the year in any country.
Eddy Current Suppression Ring: All in Good Time
Like our friends RVG, Eddy Current Suppression Ring bleed quality and exude cool, releasing four albums in just under two decades. Their fourth, All in Good Time (released 10 years after their third), is another set of cracking tracks. Technically this was actually released in mid-December of last year, but yeah, nah.
ECSR are probably the Radio Birdman of our times, their sound encapsulates how rock ‘n’ roll should sound, it’s fucking dry and sticky at the same time. It’s simplistic and edgy all in one. This band also highlights where I’m at as a fan, as a consumer I want rock ‘n’ roll with no frills, wit and anger pointed in all the right directions. I mean, holy shit, the band just released the album without any promotion or marketing, quite frankly what a move.
This band is all about the sound put in front of you, nothing more, nothing less – it’s underrated and a beautiful thing. Driving pub rock chords to polished angular guitar. They’ll probably never headline the Rod Laver Arena and equally wouldn’t give a fuck.
The music is vital, it’s an ode to the hardworking people who deserve a band this good on a Friday night at their local. Try picking out highlight tracks from this album and it’s a death sentence – just put the needle on the vinyl and go from there. I’ll leave you with one though which sums the band up to a tee, a downbeat but scorching ode to what it is to be human in the modern world.
“We’re all living in a pigeon hole, working out until you get old
Aging graceful isn’t an option put our souls up for adoption
At the cradle and into the grave
We’ve become a product place, stored away in the old world’s basement
Dug up when the time is right, Dancer jig who needs the light
But every morning, noon and night.
Can’t give up the taste, running in this human race
Can’t give up the taste, running in this human race
See me there on the factory chair, packing boxes for the bosses
Alpha betas and algorithms, echo chambers and computer rhythms
Mechanical beats and technical visions
Can’t give up the taste, running in this human race
Can’t give up the taste, running in this human race”
Cable Ties: Far Enough
Alright alright, we all know the comparisons we writers make are sometimes shithouse, but let’s be honest, it’s helpful in getting a point across. Sleater Kinney, fifteen years ago put out something that split me in two and is probably one of the greatest modern rock ‘n’ roll records.
Something even they haven’t been able to contend with in there (let’s be honest) latest incarnation. This is where the Melbourne noise-punk trio, Cable Ties, led by Jenny McKechnie, who has the most gorgeous war cry you’ve heard in a while, kind of begin where they end.
On their sophomore album, Far Enough, she exhibits the power and purpose of her voice perfectly on Sandcastles, which early on in the record lets you know entirely what this band are about – a pure statement of shouting out the cowards who spew venom from behind computer screens.
The follow-up track rips it up and starts it again with a ravaging Crazy Horse-esque blazing of guitar assaults in this seven minute tirade of Lani, it’s nothing short of g.l.o.r.i.o.u.s. The ferocity of the trio’s flavour of punk rock is never watered down, it’s spiky and full flavour, it’s a noise in which all three members, Nick Brown and Shauna Boyle, bass and drums respectively, have equal input and effect. Brown’s bass will make your spit out your morning Corn Flakes on Anger’s Not Enough and pummel you off your chair.
From here we get a highly socially conscious and memorable punk record, one that says it like it is and one that essentially speaks to the new normal in society we currently occupy. If they are good enough for Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins they are good enough for you.
A Swayze & the Ghosts: Paid Salvation
Ivy League Records
Year upon year, Britain has an influx of new lad bands trying for your attention and you really don’t need me to tell you that 90 per cent of them will be shit and nowhere near your hard earned time. Australia seems to be pumping out a lot of interesting rock bands these days and this quartet from Tasmania definitely deserve your attention.
Front man, Andrew Swayze, has swagger in droves and his band mean business musically and lyrically (ranging from abortion, tall poppy syndrome, topical events, social media and getting deep into the darker tones of religion). Paid Salvation, to be truthfully honest, is what a debut release should represent, not a set mould of a style but a mixture of slightly different sub-genres and styles.
Calling them post-punk would be a disservice, some tracks lean more towards post than punk and vice versa. Opening track, It’s Not Alright, gets the party started but Suddenly only a track later will slap you in the face with post-hardcore leanings. Connect to Consume is the anthem we all need right now a scathing attack on the state of social media, not it in itself but how we let it control our lives – it’s a highlight of the year and probably the highlight lyric of the year! (Well this is my declaration/And I’m sorry Roger Daltrey, but FUCK my generation). Beaches, apt in title, is the political statement you’ve been waiting for and it’s a brutal indictment on our country’s ideologies. This is the energetic punk record you deserved in 2020.
Nite Fields: A Voyeur Makes No Mark
Brisbane is a small town when it comes to the music scene, and these guys are a friend of a friend’s band, so I’ve tracked them for some time and was pretty surprised when this surfaced because, as you know, so many come, so many go.
I will be honest with you, I think A Voyeur Makes No Mark is a huge step up from their debut album Depersonalisation which saw light half a decade ago. The originally Brisbane (now Moscow) based band has since shed the blueprint of that album from the post-punk gloominess to the waves of synth, moving into more electronic pastures – a breath of fresh air as this is a piece of moody brilliance. If it’s one thing both incarnations share, it’s the theme of detachment.
I’m that guy who thinks Trent Reznor is one the greatest musicians currently working – his body of work is incredible– and I happen to think Danny Venzin might agree. He’s the mastermind behind this latest record – the band is no longer and is now more of a solo project. Years in the making of bits and bobs stitched together we have this eight track pool of gloom.
Not Your Time, the first track released from the record, is also its most punchiest and upbeat. Invitation is a soul squeezing marvel which turns into Voyeur which showcases the Factory Floor-esque opening before in trails into the trademark sound you’ve heard before.
The record wallows in its creative darkness however it’s the track Take My Side that takes this listener to the next level, an incredible and bluntly abrasive constant barrage of sonics that never lets up. Venzin is a true talent and deserves more folks to hear his vision come to life right here.
Now for some leftovers that are worth a bite from a pretty good year in local music.
Here’s few more things worthy of your attention.
Kicking it off with Brisbane’s Peter Milton Walsh’s The Apartments. He’s been kicking along since the late ’70s and In and Out of Light (Talitres Records) is album number seven. It’s full of richly melancholic songs which trade barbs of life in the now and has a beautiful folk feel to it all. Those who couldn’t get enough of like the likes of Bill Fay’s record will find plenty to like here.
Jonathan Boulet is mostly known for his solo work, however this Sydney based artist teams up with Kirsty Tickle for a second round of blissfully nightmare fuelled noise rock in Party Dozen’s Pray for Party Dozen (Grupo).
This drum and saxophone-based duo go for the jugular in their brand of hypnotic abrasion that I’d be oh so happy to call it instrumental jazz punk. You’ll understand what I mean when you press play. Play this one through because it’s glorious.
You’ve probably heard of Total Control and a personal favourite of mine Dick Diver, the thing they have in common is Al Montfort, an absolute chess piece in the Melbourne music scene. With countless other bands to 2020 saw the release of his collaboration with Amy Hill with Sleeper and Snake, an incredibly quirky and odd musical project that is unlike anything you would of heard inside the year. Fresco Shed (Lulu‘s Sonic Disc Club) is their sophomore release and would be described as deranged indie pop, it’s accessible and not at the same time with a stark intimacy with playful compositions and instrumentation that will have you ready to spin the disc again.
Let’s finish off this section with a few guitar driven records, first up here is Sydney based psychedelic rock band, Turtle Skull, whose sound leans heavily upon the doom/sludge sound. Monoliths (Art as Catharsis) is the band’s second album in and it’s a journey of fuzzed out blends of stoner rock sounds – solos, instrumental flourishes – they’ve been dubbed “flower doom” and take influence from Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and wait for it Crosby, Stills Nash and Young – it’s full of flavour and never gets dull, even if it’s not pushing any boundaries I know about it’s a sound that is uniquely their own in Australia.
Last cab off the rank, and it’s a band that we haven’t heard from in seven years. Wolf & Cub exploded onto the scene in 2006 with their debut record Vessels, a double drum attack with fuzzed out mega riffs that was welcome to any fan with a penchant for big riffs and percussion assaults.
NIL (Part Time Records) is album number four and the lads are back with more of the same. It’s another set of thumping rhythms and frantic energy with a dark anxious energy. Funnily enough for the second time in this list the Adelaide outfit are joined by drummer extraordinaire Jonathan Boulet to round out the edges and offers up a pounding contribution on the skins. Look no further than opener Blue State to recapture the glory from the past and send them into the future.