Here we are in 2019, but before we can fully embrace the new year in all good conscience, we must first look back at this little gem from late last year, that somehow slipped under our radars.
Alex Badham has been a staple of the Melbourne music scene for a number of years, as the banjo-wielding frontman of freak popsters Aleks and the Ramps, and more recently as one half of sultry dream-pop duo Magic Hands, with the ever-talented Lucy Roleff.
Alex returns under his new solo guise, Victory Lap, a project that finds him further honing his pop tendencies into perfectly formed nuggets of lo-fi indie goodness. Following on from lead single ‘The Afterlife’, the new single ‘I knew that I’d regret it but I did it anyway’ has a similarly playful feel with its slinky bass line and infectious groove providing the counterpoint to Badham’s endearing deadpan vocal delivery.
At first glance, the cleverly edited clip could pass for some corporate video cliché, stitching together an innocuous collection of stock video footage…that is, until the digital ghosts start to creep in. There is something unnerving about the seemingly random jumble of footage. A feeling further heightened by the subtle warping of the images, leaving you questioning what it is you’re actually watching. And just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, the song collapses into a psychedelic guitar breakdown as the ghosts take control and the video boils over in a melting overload of digital disruption.
If the first two singles are anything to go by, Victory Lap’s forthcoming album, Bleakend at Blernie’s is one to keep an eye out for in 2019.
Here’s another list to add to your…list. Following on from the self-proclaimed success of our ‘2017 in 10 tracks’ list from last year, we’ve decided to compile yet another list of tracks that gave us the feels in 2018.
Join us again in 2019 for another year of infrequent ramblings about great music.
Sarah Mary Chadwick – Bauble on a Chain
How to choose a song off Sugar Still Melts in the Rain? Probably not going to be the one that you tapped your toe the most to this year. Probably gonna be the one that still wrecks you for minutes after it finished, staring off in to space feeling that literal wrench that’s so rare in things that get called ‘heart-wrenching’. ‘Five Months’ is that song. But ‘Bauble on a Chain’ is the one I sent to people saying something eloquent like ‘FKKKKKKK!’ .It’s the best example Chadwick’s genius for capturing so much in a few biting lines, floating above this simple wandering piano line – a moment of almost lightness and total beauty.
Rebel Yell – Toxic
Rebel Yell’s other half Grace Stevenson is super prolific – this year alone she’s released an EP, a remix single, a Christmas EP, moved from Brisbane to Sydney and started a new seemingly more pop-focused project called Soft Touch. ‘Toxic’ is my favourite thing she’s done this year because she really seems to let loose – without the trademark harsh distortion on her vocals she steps into a new kind of persona, sneering at posers ‘bum-puffing durries in the line to TBC’ or buying Instagram likes. It’s an anthem for everyone who’s ever been creeped on or patronised with the chorus ‘back off don’t touch me get off my rave / back off don’t touch me get off my stage’. And, like all of Stephenson’s stuff, it absolutely rips.
Harmony – Love is a Chemical High
Harmony’s tremendous 2018 album, Double Negative, brims with a raw majesty, the songs are scrappy, vulnerable and catchy as hell. ‘Love is a Chemical High’ is quintessential Harmony, pairing stripped back guitar and drums with the band’s trademark vocal sound. The rag tag soul of backing vocalists Amanda Roff, Quinn Veldhuis and Maria Kastaniotis shift from punctuating oohs and aahs to devastating harmonies as the song boils over into full-blown rock catharsis.
Bitumen – Pound of Flesh
This song plays in my head every time I have to walk down a dark street late at night. It’s thrilling, it’s powerful, and it makes me feel TOUGH. Discipline Reaction was one of my favourite records of this year, and this track encapsulates everything I loved about it. The use of drama and tension is masterful, and makes the Go the Fuck Off moment at the end all the more satisfying. You can’t listen to this track online though, you’ll just have to buy the album.
Bilby – November Nights
Sydney’s own emo-rap prince, Bilby, is going from strength to strength. Kicking off 2018 with a slight left-hand turn in Walkin 2 the Lake, an EP produced entirely by U.S. artist Meltycanon, this was followed by his new full-length, Shade. The new album further hones the Bilby sound, all jangly guitar, trap beats and smooth af vocal hooks. ‘November Nights’, as the title suggests, is the perfect gateway to summer, the lazy guitar setting the scene for Bilby’s melodic sing/rap style.
Madboots – Headstone
Madboots have been one of the best live bands in Brisbane for so long, and their EP 2HARD from this year gives everyone else just a little taste of how cool their music is. It’s hip hop that sounds like you turned the radio on in 1994, with lyrics that are equally funny, dirty, sweet and tough. I picked this song because it’s about needing a huge headstone ‘Cuz I can see in the future / I’m gonna need room to / spread my legs in my tomb yeah’.
Liars – Murdrum
Now that Liars is essentially the solo project of frontman Angus Andrew, I think we can safely claim it as Australian, thus its inclusion here. After Andrew proved he could handle the weight of the project by himself with last year’s TFCF, he swiftly followed this with the companion album, TWTWF (Titles With the Word Fountain), a collection of indietronic abstractions and various musical bric-a-brac that is no less intriguing than its more fully formed sibling. ‘Murdrum’s’ propulsive beat, delicate synth arpeggios and Andrew’s unassuming falsetto are eerie and affecting, a mood captured beautifully in the accompanying video.
Tangents – Stents
In 2018 Tangents proved their breakout album, Stateless, was no fluke. Their follow up effort, New Bodies, is equally as rich while introducing new directions and elements further developing their already expansive palette.
If that wasn’t enough, they also gave us Stents + Arteries earlier in the year, an EP featuring an album cut and 2 new tracks. Opener ‘Stents’ is Tangents at their best, slowly building from drum scraps and flittering electronics, cello and piano parts are subtly introduced as the piece continues to grow before exploding in a cacophony of processed drums and whirlwind piano.
The Goon Sax – Make Time for Love / Love Lost
I found some of The Goon Sax’s second record a bit overcooked, but these first two tracks seem to hold on to some of the easy honesty that made their debut such an undeniable hit. Both songs bare the band’s early aus-jangle influences unapologetically, where in other parts they seem to be trying a bit too hard to show us something new. A classic second album thing from a young bands with heaps of ideas, but ‘Make Time for Love’ and ‘Love Lost’ appeal to me because they feel unburdened by irony or self-consciousness.
Air Max ’97 – Kermes
Elusive producer Air Max ’97 delivered on the promise of his earlier EPs with his killer debut full-length, Nacre. The skeletal percussion and capacious production result in an exciting electronic sound equally suited to the dance floor as it is to your headphones.
Canberra artist Sebastian Field shares the first glimpse of his forthcoming debut album with a lush take on the Bjork classic, ‘Unravel’.
Field’s spectral vocals and atmospheric guitar textures push the stripped-back earnestness of the original into an otherworldly realm. A realm hinted at in Field’s former band, Cracked Actor, whose occasional ventures into ambient territory can be heard on tracks such as ‘Ventilation’ (from the Upstructures EP) and ‘MYV/Light Year’ (from their criminally underrated 2015 full-length, Iconoclast).
This is fully embraced on ‘Unravel’, allowing it to disconnect from the original, adrift in its own constellation.
‘Unravel’ was recently included on Feral Media’s Covers Vol. 1, an EP of interpretations from artists including Bilby, Lucy Roleff, Reuben Ingall, and Aphir. The latter, a friend of Field who contributes a remix here adding beats and electronic flourishes resulting in an upbeat, almost danceable affair. Closing out the single is a propulsive remix from fellow Canberran Shoeb Ahmad, who introduces noisy blasts and choppy guitar parts which are the antithesis of the source material. If Field’s version is a celestial body in orbit, Ahmad’s is its explosive and fiery demise.
‘Unravel’ will appear on Picture Stone, Field’s ArtsACT funded solo album which explores the intermarriage between sound and space by capturing the reverberant qualities of various locations around Canberra.
Field will be launching the single in his hometown on December 1st at Smiths Alternative alongside Fossil Rabbit. Check out the full event details here, and lose yourself in the single via the player below.
The trio’s unique brand of indietronica is as strong as ever, full of sardonic wit and subtle hooks that sneak into your subconscious only to reveal themselves when you unknowingly sing them to yourself in the shower, in the line at the post office (if this is in fact still a viable pursuit), or other such times when your mind is left to wander.
Opener, ‘Noise’, kicks up with some cosmic synth noodling before sliding into a typically bent pop number, the kind we’ve come to expect from the group. This is followed by the single, ‘Cardboard’, a song which relishes the schmaltz taking musical clichés from another time and turning them on their head within a clever indie pop framework. Lyrically, Andrew Kuo is at his candid best with his humorous and poignant commentary on the idiosyncrasies of the human condition.
‘Chinese Whispers’ explores the group’s love of hip hop, a fondness which has borne fruit in the past through collaborations with rap upstart and Yes Rave label head, Simo Soo as well as the surprise guest spot from former Das Racist member Kool A.D. on last year’s ‘Dolphin’.
The EP closes with the psychedelic ‘When I’m Freaking Out’, a song that harks back to older Yon Yonson material, albeit in a more restrained and ultimately successful way. A good example of how the group has matured even in their fairly limited time together.
Fermented Fruit is another notch on the metaphorical belt of this talented crew. Now off to the post office.
On Double Negative, the latest effort from Melbourne band Harmony, the blueprint for the band remains the same. The heart on the sleeve arrangements are stripped of all excess, never overplayed or exaggerated. Yet although things may seem the same on paper, this new collection is more refined without losing the raw edge, more immediate, without seeming obvious.
There’s a deliberate looseness, which could be mistaken for sloppiness, be it the way the band casually rides the tempo in and out, or the bare bones approach to production, not an overdub to be heard. Yet these elements are very much calculated, each adding to the scrappy vulnerability and driving home the fact that in order to make everything work the songs need to be extremely well written, and catchy as hell. And the songs on Double Negative have this in spades.
The unique vocal sound, now a trademark of the band, is as engaging as ever. Tom Lyngcoln’s impassive vocal drawl explodes into cathartic wail, fervently flanked by the rag tag soul harmonies of Amanda Roff, Quinn Veldhuis and Maria Kastaniotis. A sound that is at once uniquely Australian but on the other hand, universal.
Double Negative could be seen as Harmony maturing, shedding some of their noisier tendencies, but far from mellowing the emotion is now fully charged and the dirt under the fingernails remains.
Tangents continue their winning streak on new full-length, New Bodies. The album lands on the heels of the Stents + Arteries EP from earlier this year, which found the group introducing new elements into their already expansive sound. New Bodies continues this exploration while further refining the distinct amalgamation of styles on their 2016 breakout, Stateless. As with Stents + Arteries, the new album shifts the balance between processed sounds and live elements, the latter now becoming the more prominent feature. There is a looseness within their sound that brims with confidence as the players explore beyond the gridded confines of electronic music.
Opener ‘Lake George’ picks up where ‘Stents’ left off; gentle, meandering post rock underpinned by delicate electronic flutters gradually give way to processed drum and bass rhythms and swirling ambient textures. ‘Terracotta’ revisits the formula explored on Stateless with renewed vigour as subtle cello and squalling guitar accompany an exquisite and transcendent melody before exploding into a frenzy of drums and organ stabs.
Album centerpiece ‘Gone to Ground’, finds the group channeling a different mood, one which has yet to appear in their previous work. Beginning unassumingly enough the tension slowly eats away at the edges, the throbbing bass and prepared piano clunks foreshadowing a creeping anxiety. This anxiety continues to build until finally conceding to the exhalation of ‘Swells Under Tito’, its whimsical tone accentuated having weathered the storm which preceded it.
There is much to love here, the group embracing their live roots without losing the adventurous studio experimentation sees them eschew the tropes commonly associated with much improvised music.
Tangents are currently embarking on a national tour in support of New Bodies, so be sure to catch them as their live show is an adventure in itself.
New Bodies is available via Temporary Residence now
Melbourne artist Andrew Cowie (aka Angel Eyes) returns with his debut full-length under his Match Fixer guise.
As Match Fixer, Cowie occupies a somewhat similar musical realm as with Angel Eyes but with more focus on rhythm and less on the abstracted pop elements of the aforementioned project. The atmospheric synths remain but the cavernous vocals and processed guitar are replaced with crunching percussion and forensically assembled sonic detritus.
Following his amazing 2014 split with Glass Bricks and more recently, the Attempts EP via Nice Music, the aptly titled Rubble is far more complex each piece layered with a manic intensity. The title itself could easily refer to the harsh percussive elements, which sound as if they have been torn from a metal scrapyard, or to the curious sounds emerging from some vast, smouldering wreckage.
Where the split honed in on an idea and slowly developed it over time, Rubble seems less disciplined instead moving with a restless energy, ideas teased at, sometimes quickly abandoned, other times revisited and fleshed out further. Dynamics are key here, shifting from an anxiety fuelled overload then stripped back to exposed and unassuming rhythms left to stutter away while various other elements drift in and out of the mix.
It seems obvious to draw parallels with outer space or science fiction, but to me there is an undeniable link. A link further reinforced by the cover image, which at first glance could be the remains of a destroyed spacecraft. Taken from Restricted Areas, a series of photographs by Russian visual artist Danila Tkachenko’s, the images depict abandoned structures and harsh frozen landscapes which could provide the cinematic backdrop to some stark, future dystopia. A scene that could very well be soundtracked by Match Fixer.
Rubble feels epic in scope, each piece intent on travelling its own path while remaining part of a greater whole, like some amorphous organism with its expansive colonial networks. The album is available digitally and as a limited edition cassette via the Match Fixer bandcamp page here.