Image by Bec Capp
We’re not gonna labour the point about the dog’s breakfast that was 2016. You know. We know. It knows what it’s done.
Life got hectic for all of us this year. While we think of this blog as a year-long ‘best of list’, cuz we only write about the good shit, some of the best stuff still slipped through the cracks. So here are the songs and album’s we’ve loved this year, but didn’t get a chance to write about for whatever reason. Blaming the year seems like the cool thing to do, so please excuse us for being deadshits; it wasn’t our fault.
Sydney 2000 – _
‘Don’t Do Bad Olympics’ is, at this moment, my favourite song of the year. This is all such catchy shit and Steve Rose (who does the Hanibaf mixtape stuff that I wrote up here) really knows how to make singing he’s like having a bad time sound like fun. Rose and Guitarist Tristan Murray both clearly love playing around with how they can fit a whole lot of wacky, difficult melodies in without making it hard to listen to – so you get music that’s immediate and poppy but unlike most stuff you’ve heard before. The drummer on this tape is James Elliott, but since he moved overseas earlier in the hear they’ve been playing with Bent’s Heidi Cutlack who’s replaced his athletic style with a more ragged, joyous sound, making them even more impressive live.
100% – ‘Lost Youth’
When 100% first started there was some jaded bullshit talk floating around like ‘yeah, they take good press shots, but is the music good?’ From day one they’ve been making any doubters shove their words up their arses and then eat them, with some of the sickest darkly sexy synth pop in the country. Where sometimes Melbourne bands doing a similar thing get laboured and over-concerned with sounding scary, 100% have kept a relentless euphoria central to their sound. I love how everything sounds together in the chorus of this song, drums sharp like a thousand tiny pins, shiny and dramatic. ‘Nikita’, the other song you can listen to from this album at the moment is uncompromisingly feminine and emotional – an absolute ‘80s banger that resonates with whole-hearted desire. And fuck yeah, they take good press shots.
(I got the record of this for Christmas so not ruling out writing up the whole record in the new year, but just in case. This song rules.)
Nun – ‘Can’t Chain’
I really liked this as soon as it came out but didn’t write it up then cuz the Noisey premiere mentioned some kind of architectural philosophy concept thing it was based on and I was like, shit man I’m gonna sound really stupid if I try and talk about this. I just like how it goes fast and Jenny Branagan sounds so threatening in the verses and it builds up into the kind of dance music that runs electricity through your body even when you’re sitting down completely sober.
Centre Negative – Emotion is Cringey
When New Zealand band Centre Negative were in Brisbane a while ago they played shows with some friends of mine so I ended up meeting and having a chat to Michael McClealand. By which I mean I mentioned knowing someone from New Zealand and he spoke in a ten minute uninterrupted stream about poetry, New Zealand, a lake near his house, Evangelical Christianity, Noisey, some kind of science shit, his bad feelings, bad writing, good writing, The Internet, other things. And all in a super interesting way – he just wasn’t really concerned with keeping to the accepted structure of ‘a conversation’. This is a super smart record riddled with that mixture of insecurity and self-aggrandisement that is so relatable – a lot of people talk about what it’s like to hate yourself while also thinking you’re a genius, but it’s rarely translated with this kind of skill. It’s jaunty, jarring, ironic, dry experimental guitar and tinny synth music sparsely filled out with snowy drum machines and strangled shouting. At the Brisbane shows everyone walked to the bar after going, ‘what’d you reckon?’ ‘yeah, I liked it! Something different, hey?’
Also the record starts off with a computer voice saying something like ‘If you’re thinking of mentioning the words “Flying Nun” in your review, please send your review to the centre of the sun and then set yourself on fire and die’ – and that’s great stuff!
Police Force – Formula One
When people ask me what kind of music I like my general answer is ‘I dunno man, I just like shit that gets you revved up’. Police Force’s Formula One does this from beginning to end – all riffs on riffs on riffs and repetition when you dunno where it’s going if anywhere but who gives a fuck and funky bass that does more than just fill out the low end, actually makes you wanna listen over and over again. Sound effects, good beats, echo and distortion build something cool and interesting out of the too-often tedious bones of groovy old rock and roll. Also: do you like bitchy boy vocals as much as me? Then yeah this is gonna be your thing.
Forevr – ‘Petrichor’
These guys are my very good buds, so I never really know if I like their music so much or am blinded by deep love for them as people. But this song is so impressive, so different from anything they’ve done before, and, to my mind, so beautiful that I have to mention it. The first time you hear this track it’s hard to get hold of, to make a reference for. It’s almost trendless – it seems outside of what’s happening, definitely in Brisbane and probably in Australia. This is not the sound of effortless cool, it’s the sound of work, talent, and commitment, and it absolutely goes off.
Friendships – Nullarbor 1988-1989
I love jangly guitars as much as the next Aus music loving asshole, but I’d be happy if ‘Australian music’ becomes synonymous with friendships’ terrifying electronic dystopia rather than another wave of #dolespo. It’s jarring and relentless in almost every track and I haven’t stopped listening to it yet.
Maia – lofi mixtape
Brisbane’s very own downtempo RnB Soundcloud superstar, Maia Francesca followed up a handful of smouldering covers and originals with an eight-track mixtape in March, and it caused everyone who heard it to do a double take. SZA? Baby Badu? In our own city? Surely not. But here she is, and I don’t reckon I’m on my own in hoping desperately there is more from Maia in 2017.
Habits – Ugly Cry
I honestly can’t stop talking about Habits. They can do no wrong. Their debut EP is ferocious and is some of the best music out at the moment guaranteed to whip anyone who hears it into a frenzied, angry-dance. The music is huge and the expression is total, everything I see and hear about the Melbourne duo excites me.
A.B. Original – Reclaim Australia
‘You had to be in their face,’ Archie Roach tells Briggs in the opening track of one of the most deservedly hyped releases of 2016. Everything that I want to say about this album has already been said, mostly by Trials and Briggs themselves on the actual record. Reclaim Australia is meant to smack you in the face, and being heaps white I can only speak to how white Australia might take this album which is predictably entitled so I’ll direct all I have to say in my pasty peers’ direction: it’s not about you, shut up about your feelings and listen to what A.B. Original are saying.
Spike Fuck – The Smackwave EP
Spike Fuck’s four track debut EP is heavy enough to feel like forty. This release is brilliant and distinct because of its post-punk minimalism backing country singer inflections, all working to do her stories justice. Spike Fuck’s recent experience with drug addiction and ailing mental health is the central theme (in case the EP title ‘Smackwave’ didn’t give it away), and the tracks sound like four pillars of triumph after a succession of losses. Maybe not quite triumph as in success, but the triumph of figuring important shit out and starting to move on.
Reuben Ingall – TT002
The second instalment of fledgling label Tandem Tapes’ split-release series paired Indonesian artist Logic Lost with Canberra’s Reuben Ingall. Ingall is certainly one of the most interesting and intriguing artists currently operating in the Australian underground, one who deserves far more praise and recognition. Following his 2015 album Microclimates, Ingall serves up another stunning collection of meditative, experimental pop and ambient electronic oddities, capturing the best parts of his distinct sound.
Hyde – Ox Hill
Under his former guise, Electric Sea Spider, Melbourne producer Jim Sellars came out of the fertile beat scene in the late 00s. As Hyde, Sellars’ music is much harder to classify, which is a good thing. This sound was heralded by his final release as Electric Sea Spider, the restless brain-explosion Ten Hunters. After the amazing ‘Sacrificed Greyhound’ single, Sellars offers up Ox Hill, his proper debut as Hyde. The music is furiously innovative, warping elements of world music with post-modern beat abstractions that leave you giddy and hungry for more.
Lovely Head – Always
After some great collaborative releases with Teenage Mustache and Pendant, Lovely Head aka Vivian Huynh returns with a new solo effort for Provenance Records, Always. Huynh’s smoky vocals and atmospheric guitar work lay the foundations for an intimate set of dark pop ballads that seep into your consciousness with simmering clarity. Beautiful and haunting in equal measure.
Spartak – I Fought The Style
After shifting away from the improvised sound experiments of their earlier work, ever-evolving Canberra outfit Spartak continue down the path forged on their 2014 EP, Five Points, with another venture into minimal electronic territory with I Fought The Style. Enlisting the vocals of fellow Canberran Becki Whitton (aka Aphir), the sound on IFTS jumps between skewed pop, propulsive techno and glistening ambience with effortless confidence.
I’ve heard a lot of great music this year but, for one reason or another, I’ve let most of it pass by without comment. In a lot of cases, my own contribution – in this forum, at least – felt kind of redundant. Our readers already know they should be listening to Spike Fuck’s debased heartland rock, Gregor’s deconstructed schmaltz, Gabriella Cohen’s effortless garage pop, the bubblegum menace of Loose Tooth and cathartic bellowing of Cash Savage & the Last Drinks. Sometimes the music I loved best – Emma Russack, Dag, Heart Beach – was already covered brilliantly by Maddy, our editor since May and a girl, it seems, after my own heart. Often, though, I just didn’t find the time. So I’m really pleased we settled on this theme for our end-of-year post; it gives me a chance to redeem myself. Here are some things I wish I’d written about in 2016:
Katie Dey – ‘Fear o’ the Light’
I would have liked to spend more time with Flood Network, Katie Dey’s second album, which seems to fit together like puzzle pieces. So far I’ve mostly hammered the single – a short, powerful little pop song, fitting somewhere between Shocking Pinks and Jackson Scott. Dey is reclusive, cloaking her voice with a pitch shifter, washing her images with light. She does very little press and doesn’t play live, as far as I’m aware. Sidestepping the local scene, her records have found a home all the way across the Pacific, with the eccentric sentimentalists at Orchid Tapes. I hope we get to see a bit more of her in 2017; so far, secrecy has only increased the allure.
Native Cats – ‘Soft Chambers’
The Native Cats released ‘Soft Chambers’ as a prelude to their next record, which will be out early in the new year. Vocalist/Game Boy-fiddler Chloe Alison Escott says it’s ‘the most complex thing we’ve ever recorded’, featuring samples, backing vocals and a guest percussionist. The layers soften a regimental rhythm section; the track sounds like Gang of Four by way of Stereolab. Meanwhile, Escott’s elliptical poetry is both defiant and thoughtful: ‘Anywhere I have walked armoured / I will walk again … Anywhere I have spoke cruelly / I will come to speak again’. All proceeds from the single go towards the US-based Trans Lifeline, a decision taken in the wake of the catastrophic November election. Head over to Bandcamp for a name-your-price download.
Ela Stiles – Molten Metal
On the Molten Metal LP, out via Paradise Daily Records, Ela Stiles takes a sharp turn from the delicate acapella of her self-titled debut. Built around analogue electronics, this record blends industrial, house, folk and drone – which sounds like a mess, but it works surprisingly well. In lesser hands, old-style electronics can feel retrograde, with drum machines sucking energy from the mix. Stiles’ work, though, is tactile and inventive: she wrings some new life out of the machine.
Comrad Xero – Comrad Xero
Also on Paradise Daily, Comrad Xero is the new solo offering from Irena Luckus of Brisbane post-punk/no-wave outfit Xero (also Zero/Xiro). White noise and harsh licks wash around Luckus’s chanting and her heavy, primitive beats. The songs skitter and sway like wind-up soldiers, restless but utterly hypnotic.
Although he recorded prolifically, Fergus Miller’s last official release as Bored Nothing came out over two years ago now – which makes the recent singles by Pansy, a project with wife Anna Davidson of Major Leagues, rather special. The tracks, ‘It’s All Over Now’ and ‘Cold Enough’, sound like the work of 90s obsessives, lo-fi guitars muffling despondent lyrics clothed in power pop melodies. Miller and Richardson make quietly emotive music; it feels private, like an unmarked eight-track tape discovered at some suburban garage sale.
Sarah Mary Chadwick – ‘Turn On’
It’s hard to listen to Roses Always Die, the latest album from Sarah Mary Chadwick, all the way through; most of the time, I feel I just don’t have the grit. The last track, though – ‘Turn On’ – is different. With her vocals, Chadwick foregrounds despair, but a euphoric undercurrent slips in on that soft, rising synth. Dark as it is, this song lifts me up.