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40 FAVOURITE ALBUMS OF 2017

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If anything, their music inhabits even darker territory, the songs collapsing in on themselves as they chug and career along – The Terminals, Antiseptic

In this day and age of accessibility and cultural saturation, it can be hard to unearth music you like, and at the same time discover new music outside the mainstream or the most prominent online access points. Digging through the detritus and overload, I’ve found that more and more I lock onto albums that give a little extra. They create their own world of music for the 30-60 minutes you spend with them. They make you wonder how the artists wrote the songs, how they composed the music. I was drawn to imperfect performances, atmosphere over precision (though The War On Drugs manage to exemplify both), melody, energy, intelligence and rhythm.

My favourite album of the year probably won’t feature on any other list you read (though hopefully it does). The Terminals, from NZ, released a record that mainlines a sense of musical nostalgia in my synapses, harkening back to the music of my teens and early 20’s in the NZ underground. The legacy of Flying Nun, alternative rock and darkly emotive music from a couple of islands at the end of the Earth. In my review I said “The Terminals have never been creatively stronger than they are on Antiseptic. It’s their finest album and the sound of musicians digging deep and exploring a lifetime of musical influences and experiences without concession to anything outside of their own ideas and instruments.”

Elsewhere you’ll find all manner of musical styles, from eccentric folk to kraut-tronica, country to ragged suburban punk rock, gothic 80s synth to skronking saxophone. Dig deep and enjoy.

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1. The Terminals – Antiseptic REVIEW

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2. Aldous Harding – Party REVIEW

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3. Kevin Morby – City Music

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4. Thurston Moore – Rock N Roll Consciousness REVIEW

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5. The Tall Grass – Down The Unmarked Road REVIEW

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6. Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent REVIEW

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7. Jep and Dep – They’veBeenCalled REVIEW

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8. Underground Lovers – Staring At You, Staring At Me REVIEW

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9. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding REVIEW

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10. Suicide Swans – Augusta

11. Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator

12. Ryan Adams – Prisoner REVIEW

13. Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – Dreaming In The Non-Dream

14. Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher REVIEW

15. Omni – Multi-Task

16. David Rawlings – Poor David’s Almanack

17. Traveller – Western Movies

18. Daniel Romano – Modern Pressure

19. The Texas Gentlemen – TX Jelly

20. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

21. Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys – Rot

22. Hollow Everdaze – Cartoons REVIEW

23. Feral Ohms – Feral Ohms

24. Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun

25. Pissed Jeans – Why Love Now REVIEW

26. Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory

27. Laura Marling – Semper Femina

28. Trevor Sensor – Andy Warhol’s Dream

29. The Singing Skies – Head In The Trees, Heart On The Ground REVIEW

30. Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives

31. Chomper – Medicine Mountain

32. Ricardo Villalobos – Empirical House

33. The Afghan Whigs – In Spades REVIEW

34. Marty Stuart – Way Out West REVIEW

35. Chain And The Gang – Best Of Crime Rock REVIEW

36. Karl Blau – Out Her Space REVIEW

37. Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Barefoot In The Head REVIEW

38. Destroyer – ken REVIEW

39. John Maus – Screen Memories

40. Gold Class – Drum REVIEW

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ALBUM REVIEW: Machine Translations – Oh

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J Walker returns with his first album in four years and it finds him in an eclectic yet economical mood. The Bright Door (2007) possessed polish and an ornate sheen while Oh replaces that with rougher edges and a subtle shift toward a lower-fi aesthetic.

The opening track Made A Friend sounds like Beck in his melancholic balladeer mode before the first single Parliament Of Spiders (and later, the title-track) veers off into skewed art-pop mode akin to Spoon. It highlights the stronger focus on rhythm and melodies that jump from the speakers with more immediacy. Sola gets even more primal with a Sonic Youth meets Sparklehorse guitar skronk and driving urgency.

Walker has a way of vocally inhabiting his songs in a range of styles, from slacker dispatches to warm songwriter crooning. It shows his magpie approach to writing but even though the styles vary the sonic palette he utilises is cleverly controlled and its elements blended in service to the song, never for the sake of obtuse musical eccentricity. The instrumental Room 17 particularly stands out with its delicate phrasings and Dirty Three-indebted European gypsy sway.

Oh is an endlessly fascinating album, still built on multi-layered creativity but presented in concise and vibrant form.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Midnight Oil @ Sydney Domain

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The Great Circle Tour came full circle, back to the city where it all began seven months ago with a warm-up show at Marrickville Bowling Club. Since then, Midnight Oil have conquered the world once more, returning sounding better than ever and with an enviable and overflowing back catalogue of generation-defining songs.

AB Original went down a treat as the opening act, standing tall and delivering their message of pride, culture and politics. A live drummer and keyboardist gave their sound depth and an organic feel. Hands were waved in the air as the celebratory outdoor-gig vibe kicked in, but not at the expense of conveying the importance of Briggs and Trials’ messages.

Although still with a conscience slant, John Butler Trio have a much more subtle delivery. Their breezy, rhythm-driven sound and Butler’s exceptional guitar playing worked well as the calm before the headliners’ arrival. It also may have helped to mellow out the copious tinnie-sinking punters who seemed to be intent on reliving their youthful excesses.

With slogans and messages of human and environmental rights peppering the large screens, Midnight Oil emerged on the towering stage and, as was appropriate, began with Armistice Day, Peter Garrett singing from beneath a hood. With crystalline sound they accelerated into Read About It, the screams of recognition immediate from that opening cowbell/guitar. From there it was a faultless set, balanced in its mix of the earliest of songs including Section 5 (Bus To Bondi) through to the biggest of hits – Power And The Passion, Beds Are Burning, The Dead Heart, Forgotten Years. Drummer Rob Hirst was having a ball, his muscular drumming a musical celebration of the band’s spirit in itself, joining the band front of stage mid-set for US Forces and Kosciusko. Nothing was lost with Jim Moginie restricted to a chair after his Melbourne fall, his playing a revelation of guitar and keyboards, the ingredients that added post-punk, art-rock and psych twists and turns to the band’s sound. Put Down That Weapon was reshaped as a slow-burning number and the large screens gave a fascinating insight into his and the rest of the band’s playing. Garrett is still the star of the show, though, the mad marionette dancer relishing the large stage and exploring every inch like the seasoned pro he is. He also created an intimacy with the audience with his interactions and expositions.

Sure, there were the requisite and important social and political messages, preached to the mostly converted, but the overriding message was a celebration of the music, songs that soundtracked more than one generation and still burn strong with real heart and soul.

Chris Familton

Here’s our Spotify playlist of the songs played in the Midnight Oil set:

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent

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Protomartyr immediately stood out from the rest of the anguished post-punk pack when they first emerged four years ago with their debut album All Passion No Technique. They went from strength to strength over their next two albums, twisting Joe Casey’s mantra rants over caustic punk, dark indie guitars and tumbling drums before arriving at their most realised set of recordings to date.

Relatives In Descent stands as their most exploratory and wide-ranging album in that they’ve pulled apart their sound, and reconstructed it with the same elements but a new and revitalised sound. Greg Ahee’s guitar is less all-encompassing. Now it slashes with intent on ‘Here Is The Thing’, spirals in woozy circles on ‘My Children’ and sparkles with chiming funk stabs in ‘Corpses in Regalia’. That diversity allows the rhythm section to conjure all manner of grooves; from the rapid fire jerkiness of opener ‘A Private Understanding’ to the catchy melodic swagger of ‘Caitriona’ and the taut post-punk propulsion of ‘Don’t Go To Anacita’. Elsewhere there’s the introduction of subtle strings and synths that take the songs to endlessly intriguing places.

Joe Casey is often the focal point of Protomartyr with his nihilistic blue collar vibe and barking vocal delivery akin to a transatlantic Mark E. Smith. Here he maintains the speak/sing/howl approach but lyrically he’s followed the lead of the rest of the band and upped his game. Thematically the album takes a look at contemporary America under the mismanagement of Trump and the state of society that Casey’s witnessed from tour van windows and coast to coast trips. It paints a dystopian vision of gluttony, excess and despair but you can still hear the glimmer of hope and humanity in the songs, framed and enhanced by the life-affirming creative intellectualism of Protomartyr.

Chris Familton

Read our recent interview with Joe Casey of Protomartyr

LIVE REVIEW: Peter Hook & The Light @ Metro Theatre

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Peter Hook & The Light @ Metro Theatre, Sydney, October 2nd 2017

Ten days after announcing a settlement with the rest of New Order concerning his use of various New Order and Joy Division assets on merchandising and in the promotion of shows by his new band, Peter Hook returned to Australia for a tour that honours the legacy of both acts, but for this particular show, primarily Joy Division.

Three sets and no support – no-one can accuse Hooky of shortchanging the fans or not putting on a totally professional show. They warmed up with a set of seven New Order songs. There  was little in the way of the hits, instead he went for album and EP deep cuts such as In A Lonely Place, Dreams Never End and Procession. It was a low key and somewhat tentative start that felt like a warmup for what was to come. By the time they hit Age Of Consent the band and audience had warmed to the occasion and the anticipation of Joy Division albums Closer and Unknown Pleasures, in full, was firmly established.

The Light were excellent at recreating the sound of Joy Division, the primitive synth the human/machine drumming of Stephen Morris and the dense guitar churn and simple melodic guitar lines. With two bassists in the band, Hooky had the freedom to play when he chose, clearly finding it easier to concentrate on the vocals without having to play at the same time. Vocally he nailed it, channeling Ian Curtis and his tone and intonations but adding a bit of Hooky rock bravado. Isolation, the dark and moody Heart and Soul and the even more desolate yet beautiful grandeur of The Eternal were particular highlights.

Unknown Pleasures, now something of an iconic symbol of post punk and the dystopian end of the 70s, sounded a lot better in that the songs are dynamically more fluid and intense. Hooky paced the stage, pulled low-slung bass moves and stared out across the audience, surprisingly making no comments between songs. It was a powerful rendering of a classic album with Shadowplay and Day Of The Lords as high-points. Returning for a brilliant three song encore of Atmosphere (dedicated to the tragedy in Las Vegas), Transmission and an exultant Love Will Tear us Apart before Hooky tore off his shirt, bowed to the crowd and strode off victorious.

Chris Familton

INTERVIEW: Protomartyr

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LOUD NOISE AND FLOWING ALCOHOL

Protomartyr’s frontman Joe Casey calls in from Detroit, MI to tell Chris Familton about the band’s new album, new record label and where that voice of his came from.

Protomartyr are already four albums deep into their recording career, all in the space of five years. It’s the sign of a band riding a wave of creativity and a relentless work ethic but, as Joe Casey explains, it is also about keeping the ball rolling and building on the success of each new album and tour.

“It’s definitely about keeping the momentum going. I can’t figure out how bands can take five years between albums. The space between this and the last has been the longest just because it was the most touring we’ve done. When that’s over and you go home you may as well get stuck in and write new stuff. Hopefully that will be the way forward but I think we’ll be touring this record more than the last one,” Casey predicts.

Relatives in Descent is another stage in the evolution of a band who sounded brash and chaotic on their debut album All Passion, No Technique. Now there’s a clearer attention to detail in the sound and structure of their songs, led by guitarist Greg Ahee, but also a result of working with a new producer.

“I think we always have to have the sound change. It helped recording with the producer Sonny DiPerri out in Los Angeles because he’s very good at sonically capturing things and he was always working and working harder than any producer we’ve worked with,” says Casey. “Our guitar player had some ideas going in, including violins and a different synth sound and I think it worked out really well,” he enthuses. “When he first said he wanted violins on it I had no idea what he was talking about but when we heard it come to fruition it sounded great.”

Casey’s resigned bark and conversational vocal delivery blends post-punk, spoken word and dissonant punk howling and with Protomartyr it developed out of figuring out how to be heard in a small room with loud noise and flowing alcohol. “At the time we were pretty drunk,” laughs Casey. “At the start it was mostly to make noise and have a good time all of the time. It developed from our early practice space which was basically a concrete box and I had to find a way to cut through the guitar and noise and a very sharp vocal attack seemed to work best. I have a very limited range and it’s about knowing what I can do with it, to fit into the songs the right way and not ruin them.”

Casey’s pride in the new album is evident, and their step up from the small label Hardly Art to the large UK indie label Domino means that they’ll be able to promote their music to a much wider audience, including, hopefully, some live shows in Australia in 2018.

“I’m amazed that we haven’t played Australia yet. From early on it was near the top of our list of places to get to, so we better be touring Australia some time in the next year. If it doesn’t happen next year the band is breaking up!”

Read our review of Relatives In Descent

ALBUM REVIEW: Gold Class – Drum

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Gold Class seemed to hit the ground running when they released their debut album It’s You in 2015 and backed it up with urgent and emotional shows centred around the controlled drama and tension of singer Adam Curley. On their new album Drum they’ve cemented and built on their already impressive post-punk sound.

Control is the order of the day on Drum. The songs feel more strongly anchored and though the sonic tension is still tightly wound, they approach it with greater poise and an assured management of space and dynamics in the songs. Gareth Liddiard (The Drones) produced the album and he’s replaced some of the instrumental coldness of their debut with a warm and organic production that sounds more like spring than winter.

The early singles Twist In The Dark and Rose Blind set the standard for bristling, brooding angular guitar rock but dig a little deeper and there are some other album tracks that really excel. Trouble Fun rolls along on restrained melodies and gently crashing guitars that sparkle rather than slash. Get Yours highlights the grinding propulsion of bassist Jon Shub – reminiscent of Big Black, Gordons and My Disco, while soaring across it all is Curley’s voice, that stentorian howl of angst and poetic declarations as he grapples with the issues of finding one’s place in the world.

A phrase from Rose Blind sums up the sound of Gold Class as Curley sings about “barricades and ecstasy”. Drum is darkly ecstatic music that sounds both defiant and spirited.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Tropical Fuck Storm – Chameleon Paint

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Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin (The Drones), Lauren Hammel (High Tension) on drums and Erica Dunn (Harmony, Palm Springs) have unveiled the sound of their new band Tropical Fuck Storm. It’s a jerky, catchy post-punk song that swaggers and slithers along, sounding like it could collapse at any moment. It’s a glorious collision of chaos and euphoric rock.

The debut TFS 7″ single, “Chameleon Paint” b/w “Mansion Family”, will be released on September 22 as a label collab between TFS Records and Mistletone Records. This limited edition 7” is the first of a series; each 7” featuring an original Liddiard A-side and a B-side cover of “songs we love and wish we had written”. The “Mansion Family” B-side is lifted from Melbourne band The Nation Blue, who released the original less than a year ago. Each 7” will feature phantasmagoric cover art by Montréal artist Joe Becker.

PREORDER