This was originally intended for The Guardian (hence the pull quotes) but someone else volunteered first. So… whatever. These are in no particular order.
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is a richly rewarding experience, one that increases with each listen. How couldn’t it be? It’s been a while since western rock music – let alone Melbourne’s fiercely insular and often too-precious indie scene – has thrown up a songwriter and lyricist as intriguing, compelling and down-to-earth, yet surreal and morbidly funny, as Barnett.
Troye Sivan – Blue Neighbourhood
Everyone, it seems, loves Troye Sivan. He already sends hordes of teenage girls and boys into paroxysms, hanging on his every word and beat, but especially his kissable pouty lips on YouTube. His channel has more than 3.7 million subscribers, and he came out there via a suitably heartfelt, nervy video two years ago. He followed with videos espousing safe sex, a tremendously affecting film in support of his local children’s hospital in Perth,The Fault in our Stars. And humour. Plenty of good-natured, positive humour.
Royal Headache – High
The short and bittersweet High set has become one of those go-to records for raising spirits and injecting adrenalin into the day. Clocking in at under a half hour, it is a record of marvellously mixed references. It’s Ramones meets The Faces; The Action dancing to Buffalo Tom; The Jam walking back to Woking tripping to The Eyes. (Unpopular)
Sarah Blasko – Eternal Return
Eternal Return is quite an extraordinary record. Her songwriting craft is so advanced, her grasp of pop so redolent, it is sometimes easy to forget how great a singer Blasko is. She is as great as Olivia Newton-John, the way she holds those crystalline top notes offsetting swirls of synthetic music on Beyond, the way she heralds anticipation with the precisely repetitive title clause on the claustrophobic opener I Am Ready. Military drums punctuate the emotional self-control.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Quarters
On an album of four quarters, each precisely 10 minutes 10 seconds long, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard unravel mysteries, perform magic, tease melodies out of intricately formed musical patterns and do it all with a face that would be straight except it’s taken too many mind-altering substances.
Blank Realm – Illegals in Heaven
I watched 40 minutes of Australia’s greatest band in my old local, and in places it felt like I was full-on hallucinating – images of Brisbane and kinship fleeing across my speckled gaze. Two Valiums and four Coca-Colas and sweet sweet psych rock. That is all it takes. Which Verlaine do you prefer anyway? (Collapse Board)
Pond – Man it Feels Like Space Again
It’s tempting to think of Pond as the more unruly, dorky, incestuous lovers of Tame Impala – not for them their concerns about hitting the same note twice or strait-jacketing their songs into recognisable structures. And while the main single Elvis’ Flaming Star may share much of the same, wonderfully intoxicating 70s-era glam stomp as Elephant (think Marc Bolan transported to a futuristic world populated by D’Angelo fans), elsewhere it’s not so straightforward.
Primitive Motion – Pulsating Time Fibre
The album feels like it exists in isolation, unbound by time or place or circumstance. It is music made by furtive creatures, secreted away in their basements and garages. Practising and refining in solitude, until what results is quite separate to the outside world. This is a secret garden of sound. All you need to do is find the key.
Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon
Paul Bender, the bassist with Melbourne’s “future soul” band Hiatus Kaiyote, describes his band’s second album Choose Your Weapon as a “huge, massive, complex puzzle”. He’s not far wrong. Over 18 tracks and 70 minutes, the four-piece touch upon modern jazz, polyrhythmic time structures, labyrinthine explorations of 1970s funk, scat-singing, samba, West African soul, pastoral prog rock in the style of Weather Report and Gentle Giant, sprawling electric fusion and elemental rhythms. Whether or not you want to unlock its mysteries is up to you.
Kitchen’s Floor – Battle of Brisbane
We’re going to be leaving Brisbane in a couple of months time, and there’s plenty I’ll miss. For now, I want to focus on the noise. Matt Kennedy’s been a constant, a reminder that not everyone is a smug happy pool-owner or inane stoned-out scenester collecting musicians the ways others collect grazes or a back-stabbing two-faced industry bastard. I dunno. (Shrugs.) Maybe he is. I don’t know him that well. But his music would seem to indicate otherwise. All the frayed power leads and discarded brown paper bags. The random collection of leads. The desolate binges. It doesn’t lead to anywhere. Not a safe career stuck pushing paper around and ticking boxes and teaching students to be just as middle-management as they are, in a uni. Not a pointless musical ‘career’ spent meticulously copying the sounds of 20 years ago. Not a wife or husband and kids and a weekly trip to Bunnings and an bi-annual to Europe. I dunno. (Shrugs.) Maybe it does. Like I say, I don’t know him that well. But his music would seem to indicate otherwise. (Collapse Board)
Bitchratch – I Know My Truth
There is something decidedly wrong about the music Bitchratch make. It isn’t just singer 80s-P Versace’s fascination with the male orgasm. It isn’t just the Brisbane/California/Sydney group’s fondness for the experimental music of early 1980s electronic pioneers such as Cabaret Voltaire and Teddy And The Frat Girls – as far as that goes, Bitchratch hold their own, with their glittering, sparkling array of repetitive, mutant disco and dislocated dance-floor rhythms. A clue lies in the title of a previous song (not featured on this seven-track debut album), Feelin Like A Piece Of Shit. Bitchratch – though in love with pop immediacy and punk poise – are not scared of their own self-loathing.
Totally Mild – Down Time
This is music drenched in ennui and sadness. Every song is a tear-streaked ballad, doomed teen romances filtered through Melbourne’s unrelenting gaze (former lovers threatening to burn your house down, that sort of thing). The guitars are a riot of hazy intention, vocals (courtesy of Elizabeth Mitchell) hiccupping and lilting melancholy and regret, in a fashion somewhere between Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino and She and Him’s Zooey Deschanel.
Heart Beach – Heart Beach
Like The Smiths, like Joy Division, this music is oddly and often wonderfully uplifting. Almost every song starts with a drawn-out chord poignant enough to break Rupert Murdoch’s stony heart. It takes a brave, thoughtful band to sound this vulnerable. Heart Beach are beautiful, beautiful, melancholy babies. Treasure them.
Reissue of the year
When Sharpies Ruled