FEB 22ND UPDATE: We’re back baby!! Looks like the FB oracle has come to its senses and reinstated our FB page!
Unfortunately Doubtful Sounds has been caught up in the Facebook / Australian Government stoush over news content on the platform today. It’s the perfect example of the collateral damage that has occurred with a large number of non-news sites having their content stripped from their FB pages.
We are a music blog, not a news outlet that would be involved in negotiations with FB over being paid to have our content on their platform. We are an independent, non-profit music blog who does not run or place any paid advertising or have any employees. It’s solely an outlet for my music reviews and interviews, done solely for the love of music and the desire to contribute to the community of musicians and music fans, primarily in Australia and New Zealand but also right across the world.
Fingers crossed that sanity will prevail and we’ll back up and running very soon. In the meantime, subscribe here on the website and if you don’t already, follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
Despite the weirdness and social and political fracturing of 2020, there were still plenty of great albums that saw the light of day – and that light was a salvation for many. You can check out our Post To Wire (alt-country, cosmic Americana & dark folk) Favourite Albums of 2020HERE and Favourite AU & NZ Albums of 2020HERE.
Here are our 40 favourite albums of the year, ranging from alt-country to electronic, ambient to indie rock, post-punk to soul.
* Full disclosure – I worked on the publicity campaigns for the Golden Fang and Buddy Glass albums
On our favourite AU/NZ album of 2020, Thomson delivers his most accomplished work to date… ‘Sunday Girl’ is the closest Thomson’s got to a pop song, ‘Roll Away The Stone’ is smoky, winding blues, while ‘See The Wheels’ could roll on forever with its effortless groove. ‘Fatal Ribbon Highway’ is a dreamy slow dance, cosmic, heavy-lidded and sparkling and just one example of the diversification Thomson has brought to his impressive songwriting on Golden Exile.
9 Arlo McKinley – Die Midwestern
A new name for us and what a way to announce your arrival. Restrained songwriting with some exceptional lyrical content, Die Midwestern is built on poetry of the finest quality, delivered in a wonderful roughed-up country voice.
8. Moodymann – Taken Away
We couldn’t stop listening to this when it came out. Like a mix of D’Angelo circa Black Messiah, soul-jazz and futuristic electronic space funk. It was all in the rhythms, the breaks and the soul of it all. Deep hypnosis par excellence.
7. SAULT – UNTITLED (Black Is)
An album (and its follow-up UNTITLED (Rise)) completely of it’s time politically and socially, yet timeless in its blend of soul, funk, r&b, trip hop and more.
For us, Isbell was off his game on his last album The Nashville Sound but here he’s fully resumed his mantle of one of the finest songwriters of his generation. Lyrically and melodically there are gems galore right across Reunions. It was one of those albums that constantly inspired repeat listens throughout 2020.
4. Coriky – Coriky
Coriky are half of Fugazi (Ian Mackaye & Joe Lally) with Amy Farina (The Evens) and it’s the iconic DC band that they swerve closest to in the stop/start, quiet/loud dynamics and lyrical repetition, though it’s a less caustic, more intimate and organic vibe overall. Great drum sound on this damn catchy and gently visceral record.
3. Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
The Irish quartet sought to find different angles to approach their second album after the success and touring of Dogrel. They were hugely successful too. Widening their palette, going for denser guitar textures and rhythms that dug deeper and with more insistency. The vocals were just as earnest if more detached, observational and aloof. The key success to the album was that they showed they weren’t one trick ponies and look to be in it for the creative long haul.
2. Bob Dylan – Rough And Rowdy Ways
Once again Bob brought the element of surprise with this immense piece of work. Bold, literary, graceful, funny and highly moving. We thought his muse may have taken an early retirement with the endless touring and American songbook albums taking up his creative real estate. But no, Bob was back, hunched over his typewriter, casting an eye over the last century of pop and political culture, weaving in heartache and devotion. Nobody can bring together universality and the minutiae quite like the master.
1. Young Jesus – Welcome To Conceptual Beach
An intoxicating blend of post-rock and indie rock that in my mind ranged threw up comparisons to Talk Talk, Lift To Experience, Talking Heads, Wild Beasts and Radiohead. This was an album that created a sonic world to escape to, with heady and evocative ideals and some incredible dynamics in the arrangements.
We love a good playlist – that joy of finding a good angle or obtuse theme to indulge in and discover new or new old music. Here then is the first in a new playlist series called Doubtful Sounds for Uncertain Times.
An eclectic journey through impulsive listening, both reactionary and complimentary. Ears, memories and instinct leading the way through a playlist selection for these strange times.
It’s been seven years since the last solo album from Jamie Hutchings. In the interim he’s busied himself with 2 noisy rock records with Infinity Broke and the wonderful Down TheUnmarked Road, the result of his collaboration with Peter Fenton of Crow. Now he returns to the solitude of the self with the intimate, graceful and poetic Bedsit.
This is a sparser and more delicate set of songs than those on his previous solo album Avalon Cassettes. They feel weightless, unconcerned with time and the restraints of conventional song structures. There is a fragmentary and fragile quality to the music with guitars pulling in and out of focus, with gentle augmentation from strings, harmonica and the emotive piano of sister Sophie Hutchings on Above The Rain and Shadow On The Lung. For the most part this is Hutchings and his vignettes and song poems. Opener Second Winter details a dream of waking up with blocks of ice as feet and the resulting surreal happenings. A highlight is December Park, propelled by light flurries of guitar strings, upright bass and Hutchings’ voice sounding weary like a hazy, late-night afterthought.
References to dreams, seasons and nature abound, framing existential questions and the foibles of human relationships. Centennial Park and Marrickville get name checked and it feels very much like a Sydney album, albeit a reflective, introspective and intensely personal one from the melancholic side of town.
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.
And yet again the brain-scrambling exercise of narrowing down our favourite albums released in 2016 has been successfully navigated. Much gnashing of teeth ensued, spreadsheet cells shifted frequently and the dust surrounding the shallow process of rating albums against one another has finally settled.
Over at Post To Wire, our Americana music site, we’ve already ranked our 40 favourite albums that fall under that wide stylistic umbrella but here is our all-encompassing master list of our 50 favourite albums across all genres. We’ve still got a list of 40 recommended albums to listen to, that on any day may also make this list, but the cutoff has to happen sometime. Over time some of these entries will also shift around and increase/decrease in our level of appraisal but to my ears the top 20 is pretty rock solid. Dive on in and we’ll see you in 2017.
1 Arbor Labor Union – I Hear You
This was an album that slowly but surely dug its way into my ears and heart with its churning blend of Velvet Underground jangle and drone, the freewheeling sensibilities of some of my favourite recent guitarists such as Steve Gunn and Chris Forsyth, post-punk angles and disdain for perfection, a voice that hurls and breaks like Protomartyr and Pissed Jeans and a dusty back-roads vibe on 90s Dinosaur Jr and Smashing Pumpkins that combined to make I Hear You an unhurried and endlessly absorbing album of guitar rock.
2 Tindersticks – The Waiting Room
The UK group made a splendid return to form in 2016 with The Waiting Room. By taking a less-is-more approach they’ve mastered a sense of graceful musical levitation where songs drift by and hang in the air on the back of Stuart Staples’ soulful, rich and austere voice and backed by the band’s blend of post-rock, soundtracks, late-night jazz stylings, uber-stoned echoes of dancehall and sophisticated funk. Nothing else sounded like it this year. In ‘Hey Lucinda’ they produced one of our favourite songs of 2016.
3 Witch Hats – Deliverance
The Melbourne quartet continue to refine their sound and they came closest to perfecting it on Deliverance. Their dark, lurching rock ‘n’ roll is awash with howling dirges and claustrophobic angst. The bass is deep and heavy, anchoring the songs as they stagger off into Stooges proto-punk, and nihilistic post-punk. The key is the melodies that still burn a hole in the gothic, swampy vibe. They’re firmly in the realm of The Clash, The Drones and The Gun Club yet they’ve dug their own hook-laden hole and decorated it with all manner of exceptional dark pop and bruised, gutter-punk blues.
4 Drive-By Truckers – American Band
Hood, Cooley and band have built an epic back catalogue of albums over the last two decades and American Band is right up there with their very best. It rocks, it soothes and it was the most poetically prescient album of the year. It touched on modern America and the cultural, economic, political and societal struggles it still wrestles with. The band balanced education, commentary and incisive critique with country rock ‘n’ roll and weary yet defiant melancholy.
5 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Cave returns with his most affecting and intimate sounding album, after his family was struck by tragedy when his son died after falling from a cliff. The album was already underway when that happened but the weight of it hangs across the songs like a heavy, ghostly mist as Cave sings of drug addicts in Tijuana hotel rooms and a myriad of other characters flirting with the netherworld. It’s a hard listen emotionally as the relentless soundscapes conjured up by The Bad Seeds navigate the ominous and darkened waters yet ultimately they allow slivers of light to relieve some of the sadness and tragedy. Skeleton Tree is essential and moving music par excellence.
6 Dinosaur Jr – Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not
7 David Bowie – Blackstar
8 Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To
9 The Felice Brothers – Life In The Dark
10 Case/Lang/Veirs – Case/Lang/Veirs
11 Kyle Craft – Dolls Of Highland
12 Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
13 The Drones – Feelin Kinda Free
14 Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
15 Jason Walker – All-Night Ghost Town
16 Davey Craddock – City West
17 Eleanor Friedberger – New View
18 Steve Gunn – Eyes On The Line
19 Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Haven’t Been Sung
20 The Field – Follower
21 Lucinda Williams – The Ghosts Of Highway 20
22 William Crighton – William Crighton
23 Jonny Fritz – Sweet Creep
24 Big Smoke – Time Is Golden
25 Darren Cross – _Xantastic
26 Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis
27 The Goon Sax – Up To Anything
28 Karl Blau – Introducing Karl Blau
29 Okkervil River – Away
30 Cian Nugent – Night Fiction
31 Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Maths
32 William Tyler – Modern Country
33 Cass McCombs – Mangy Love
34 The Renderers – In The Sodium Light
35 Lambchop – FLOTUS
36 Oren Ambarchi – Hubris
37 Andy Stott – Too Many Voices
38 Lower Plenty – Sister Sister
39 Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – The Rarity Of Experience
40 A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
41 Will Wood – Magpie Brain & Other Stories
42 Underworld – Barbara Barbara, We Face An Uncertain Future
Another bumper year of music eases to a close with pretty much all the year’s albums now released. This year we’ve collated our 40 favourite LPs that we heard over the last 12 months. Of course there are bound to be a few gems that we didn’t get round to hearing that we’ll discover in the months to come but as of now these are the ones that hit the spot for us here at Doubtful Sounds. Americana music was a big part of what we listened to in 2014 and that is represented in the make-up of our list. If that is your musical cup of tea you can find our full folk and alt-country best-of list over at our Post To Wire blog. That aside, there are still plenty of other styles from brutal metallic riffing to woozy indie gems, primitive electronic poetry and doomy post rock. Hopefully there are a few records here that you haven’t heard yet and might feel inclined to check out. We’d love to hear your favourites in the comments section or on our Facebook page.
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Protomarytr – Under Color of Official Right
Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
In the obsessive tradition of music lists, here are the albums I found myself listening to and enjoying the most in the first six months of 2014. For a more comprehensive list of our favourite ’14 Americana releases you can head over to our other blog Post To Wire.