Thursday, March 15, 2012

Free Music Friday 38: The good Brisbane band edition

If you go to any sort of alternative, punk or hardcore show in Brisbane, you've probably heard of and seen Quiet Steps. Heck I've already seen them 3 times this year and for a good reason. They make good music.

It's hard to pigeonhole them. They combine elements of screamo, noodly math-rock and indie; which is why you see them open for so many diverse bands.

This week they finally released their long awaited new album, Secular. And yes, because it's on this blog entry, you can get it for free! Or, as is in my case, a donation. Head on over to their Bandcamp page to grab it, and if you like what you hear, chuck them a few dollars. If only for the reason the singer owes me a beer after he drunkenly grabbed mine at Archive one night and chugged the whole thing.

The new album Secular sways more to the indie side, there's nary any of the screamo or noodly influence there, but under the surface you can still grab glimpses of it. I've been jamming it constantly at work the last 2 days. I'll give it a few more listens before I write my customary Twitter review. But in case you were wondering, my favourite song is Pointless, as it builds up to a nice, almost punk, fast paced finish.

If you like what you hear and you're not doing anything this weekend, go see them at Woodland on Saturday. I'll more than likely be there with camera in hand.

Woodland's last call

So I've only been to Woodland once, in a drunken haze. I don't remember who I saw or when it was or anything, except that it was my kind of bar. Dingy. The shape of a box. Cheapish drinks. And a room for a band in the darkness.

Over the last 2 years they've put on some great punk and garage rock shows, featuring both local bands and internationals. I'm kind of ashamed I've never managed to go to one. They seem to always conflict with other things and have a reputation for running late and being almost impossible to photograph at.

It appears its short run is about to end though, on Easter weekend in April. It's a shame, as we're already hard pressed in Brisbane for venues of that size and quality. However, there's going to be some damn good shows coming up there.

The first I know about is the EP launch for the sludgy noise merchants No Anchor, supported by good Brisbane band Quiet Steps. March 17th, $12, bands start at 9pm. Go in, watch some great live music and enjoy the last few days of the venue.

Punk Show of the Year: 2012 edition

The Flatliners.
Strike Anywhere.

That's all I'm really going to write about this tour.

You like punk music yeah? WELL GET YOUR ASS TO THIS.

Seriously, I've already written a draft review of the new Anti-Flag album and it's shortlist on being my album of the year already, seriously catchy political punk. If that's not enough reason, Strike Anywhere are one of the best live punk bands I've ever seen, also with their political hardcore-punk. And the Flatliners, I've missed them on their earlier tours, but dammit, this is finally my time to see them!

The Zoo
May 30

Frank Turner

Frank Turner is one of the few artists that both me and my girlfriend agree on and have even seen together! And it's not hard to see why. His punk/hardcore credentials now moved on to folk/acoustic/punk is something we both like.

Last time we saw him was in the sweat box that is known as Rosies, with him playing by himself over the bad electronic music from the room next door. But now, we're getting him with his full band!

May 13 at the Zoo. To make this an even better folk-punk night, he'll be supported by William Elliot Whitmore (EEP!) and my number 1 album of last year, the Smith Street Band. This may be the gig of the year for me.

Mass tours update, the March edition

My blogging has been slack! Sorry! But hopefully you've checked out all the photography I did and my massive 2011 album review. I haven't been slack. And as much as I hate doing this, I'm about to spam you with a tonne of upcoming gigs that I just don't have the time to dedicate to individual posts.

Velociraptor Australia tour
First I'll start with one of the best garage rock bands in our fair town right now. Consisting of, at times, up to 13 members, of course it's Velociraptor.

They're packing their bags and heading around Australia but their home show will be March 23 at Alhambra. If you don't know these guys yet, you're really sleeping on your Brisbane music cred.

Fu Manchu
When I was all of about 15, my mum bought me a random mix CD entitled "The Hard + the Heavy". I fell in love with it and found a lot of bands I'm still obsessed with today on it (especially Ministry). The first song I ever heard of Fu Manchu was this one:

Needless to say, they are one of those bands I still like. Apparently it's been over 10 years since they've been to this country, but they are coming down and doing that old tour gimmick thing of playing one of their albums in full. For this tour, it'll be the stoner rock classic from 1997  The Action Is Go.

May 4. HiFi

Brian Jonestown Massacre/Raveonettes
Now this could be the indie sideshow of the year. The band probably best known for being the nemesis of the Dandy Warhols coming out with the Dutch two piece the Raveonettes. I'm already getting my hipster self psyched up.

I doubt they'll play this song, but I'll always love it.

May 24. HiFi.

Despite only being out here a few weeks back with his band of old, Coal Chamber, Dez is bringing his current band back, with less nu metal and more plain old metal.

May 4, Tivoli

Groovin' the Moo Sideshows
As I've already mentioned, this is probably the only festival in Australia where Brisbane gets quality sideshows. Possibly because the closest it gets to us is Townsville. There's two more sideshows announced in Brisbane for the festival.

Public Enemy, May 10, HiFi
Digitalism, May 9, Family

One of the longest lasting and best known electronic groups has to be Orbital.

They will apparently be bringing out a large audiovisual show to go along with their music at the Tivoli on May 6.

Zola Jesus
Most people this year would know Zola Jesus for her vocals on the intro to the 2011 M83 album. This former opera singer however does her own thing with beautiful synth music.

Catch her June 1 at Alhambra.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

2011: Best albums

Musically, 2011 was for me the final death knell of the CD. For years I had been a sworn defender of this format, where you'd get more enjoyment from the album, above and beyond a collection of songs. The greatest advantage was how easy they were to play in my car. But 2011 saw me very rarely driving, depending more on public transport, and thus an MP3 player to provide my musical enjoyment.

This does not mean that I stopped buying music and started illegally downloading it. Oh no. A lot of my downloads, especially of newer bands came straight from their bandcamps, chipping in a few dollars to get the newest EP or album. But this was not the main way I got my music. In a throwback to my parents era, most of my new albums of 2011 were purchased on vinyl.

Yes. Vinyl records. Call me a hipster if you want, but there's good reasoning for it. To me, it is more of a collector's item. You get something physical to hold and store, with more packaging and content than you'd even get with a CD. Listening to the album becomes more of an involved task. If I'm listening to my MP3 player, I'm generally doing other things and not paying 100% attention. Because I've only got the one record player, I have to make the time to sit down and actually listen to the music. My setup sees me lying on the couch a lot, eyes closed, just consuming music. You notice a lot more.

But really, it's become simple economics for me. When you buy an album on vinyl, 90% of the time you get so much more for the same cost as the CD. You get the album (which can be in a collectible limited edition cover or packaging) and a download or included CD of the album. For the same cost I'm getting the album on many formats for my enjoyment, whereas a CD would only be on CD. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll get even more. This year I've got included 7" EPs/Singles, Zines, T-Shirts, DVDs and even CDs of B-Sides. I find I get more for my money.

Switching formats has not diminished my consumption of music this year. For anyone that follows me on Twitter, you'll see I post album reviews whenever I can. This year I listened to and reviewed 237 albums. The big theme of the year seemed to be the return of the concept album. So many punk-esque bands upped their game, producing a CD with a central theme and story. Bands like Fucked Up, The Wonder Years, the Dear Hunter, Defeater and even Saves the Day, who finally finished their 3 part concept album. And the best part is, most of these concepts were not over the top and campy, they were really good albums.

Of course, there's more than just that, so what follows are my top 34 of albums released in 2011. I know it's late, but I wanted to go back and triple check that these were good albums, and I wasn't just caught in the buzz of it at the time of listening.

34. of Mice & Men - The Flood
(Twitter review: Perfect combination of really heavy music, with clean parts and just the right amount of breakdown 4.3/5)

I can see me getting a lot of hate for this, but I'm okay with it. I've preached many times in the past about the death of what I consider "post-hardcore" to be replaced with synth, breakdowns and screaming vocals in tandem with a higher pitch singing vocals and the kids with bad haircuts. Aside from the haircuts, which I am not sure about, Of Mice & Men are almost cut from the same cookie-cutter. Yet there's always been something about their albums which have caught my attention. With the Flood, it's an album I can't put down. Whenever I'm having a bad work day (like right now as I write this review) it's just the perfect heavy, angsty and angry soundtrack to put me in a better frame of mind.

33. Saves the Day - Daybreak
(Twitter review: A surprising upswing in mood from their last 2 albums sees them lapse back in time to sound like 2003 4/5)

Ever since In Reverie, Saves the Day have been on a bit of an exploratory phase. In Reverie saw them embrace a new, less-punk sound with a very Beatles-influence. It seemingly lost them a lot of fans, but not me. I loved it. Next came Sound the Alarm, a dark and heavy album dealing with absolute disgust and anger that is filled with some of their most violent lyrics ever. It is still my favourite Saves the Day album. Following that, Under the Boards was a bit more mellow. Now with Daybreak, we have Saves the Day mellowing out even further to a mix that sounds like a between phase from In Reverie and everything before. It turns out Daybreak was the third album in a cycle starting with Sound the Alarm's depression and then finally finding acceptance in Daybreak. And that's what you get in Daybreak. Acceptance; it's as happy as Saves the Day have sounded. It even includes a 10 minute epical song, that shares the title of the album.

32. Death Grips - Exmilitary
(Twitter review: Excellent grimey rap with lots of classical rock samples that make my inner music nerd jump for joy 4.5/5)

Death Grips is exactly what I imagine hardcore hip-hop to be. I don't care if that's a real genre or not, but in my head, this is the equivalent. A bunch of guys just screaming most of their lyrics into a microphone with fast beats and dirty guitar and noises. Sure, it's not the best rhyming you'll ever hear, and they still drop the old 'hos' and 'bitches' rhymes in, but there's something else that really excites me. And that's the samples. When listened through good headphones, you can pick up on so many little things. It's not at the level of Girl Talk, but there's a lot of sampling in there. Lots of little samples. Over a few songs I noticed a lot of Beastie Boys samples (from the Ill Communication days I think) and even a Black Flag sample! There's more, but it's quite hard for me to put my finger on. Lots of riffs I recognize but just can't place.

31. Ampere - Like Shadows
(Twitter review: 11 Songs, 15 Minutes of good hardcore. They exemplify short and sweet 4/5)

It's not a year of music for me unless there's one really short, fast, loud, noisy and dirty hardcore album. This is it. Figuring out what to write has taken me longer than the album itself. But for that kind of hardcore that just sounds like the singer and the band are airing some heartfelt grievances with all of their energy... well this is your album for 2011.

30. The Subways - Money and Celebrity
(Twitter review: a very up-beat pop/grunge/punk album, with a beat great for jogging. It's very fun 4.6/5)

I find the Subways to be like the Fratellis: a British band with punk roots and inspiration that write catchy pop-music. Money and Celebrity is a great example of this. All short songs, nary over 3 minutes. Screamed vocals at times, gang vocals at times and lots of quick and simple guitar riffs all set to a fast tempo. As much as I loved the Subways first album, this is their best work by far.

29. I Am the Avalanche - Avalanche United
(Twitter review: I was not expecting this to be the fun punk album it is. Preconceptions can be very very wrong 4.3/5)

As mentioned in the Twitter review, preconceptions can often have me missing an excellent album. There's two reasons I didn't listen to I Am the Avalanche for a long time: 1) stupid name. I skip bands with stupid names because I imagine their music is as bad as their name. 2) The Movielife. I'd seen the Movielife a tonne of times in my youth and they were just never a band I liked. But from the first minute of the opening track of Avalanche United, named "Holy Fuck", I was hooked. This is the punk album for 2011 for gang vocals. Vinnie's (the former lead singer of the Movielife) vocals are already gravelly, but about 30% of each song features everyone else singing along. And for a good reason, the songs and the lyrics make you want to sing along.

28. Dropkick Murphys - Going Out in Style
(Twitter review: 3 listens in, and it may already be my favourite celtic-punk album. Of all time. 4.5/5)

I like the Dropkick Murphys, but have never loved them. Each album always had one or two good songs, but the rest of it just fell to the wayside. But after 20 years, this is it. An album of theirs I love from front to back. It's not like their style has changed, it's the same formula as previous albums: some bagpipe, songs about unions, working class themes, drinking, gang vocals, tin whistle and a healthy walloping of hardcore punk througout. But as a whole album, they maintain the same excellent level of songwriting. And I feel like singing along with almost every song on the album.

27. The Wonder Years - Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing
(Twitter review: A pop-punk album with a theme. The songs show depth not known to the genre and aren't generic or whiny 4.5/5)

Pop-punk is the domain of teenagers. I loved it a decade ago. But these days it seems to be the same old aging artists singing songs of teenage heartbreak with really whiny voices even though they are in their mid-40s. And then there's the Wonder Years. I don't think a pop-punk album has made me this excited since the first time I heard New Found Glory. There's nary a mention of teen love, lust or heartbreak on here either, it's a basically a concept album, capturing a moment of time in suburban Chicago, a place that speaks close to my heart. Sure, there's still plenty of power-chord punk guitar, gang vocals, slightly nasaly singing, but it's almost not a pop-punk album.

26. Starfucker - Reptilian
(Twitter review: Hipster indie-dance. At times I think Flaming Lips, Of Montreal or Avalanches. The whole time I think "YES!" 5/5)

When I did my Twitter review for this all those months ago, I was obviously madly in love with this album. As I sat down and listened again for the end of year review, I could not remember why. It's got barely understandable vocals that sound like moaning, it's a bit of a quiet ambient indie-electronica sound and nothing really stuck out for me. But as the album started to unravel, I remembered why. It's the exact same reason I love M83. The layers of different music all mixed together just works. Although it seems a fairly quiet album overall with it's low key electronic beats and indie-stylings, when you really start listening to it you notice how complex it is at times and how well it works together. Sure, it still sounds like a hipster dance party, but it's the kind of hipster dance party I'd go to.

25. The Get Up Kids - There Are Rules
(Twitter review: It's much heavier than their classic emo sound and may alienate old diehard fans, but not me 4.5/5)

The Get Up Kids were once this powerhouse of 90's American emo. They disappeared for a few years before re-emerging with a reunion tour. And I guess they liked what clicked, because they got together and recorded a new album. However, on There Are Rules, they depart from everything and anything you knew about the Get Up Kids. Jangly, noodly, clean guitar is replaced by distorted fast garage rock. Emotional heartfelt lyrics have been ripped completely out, you'll barely find any romance on this album. Vocals that used to be softly song are now shouted in a punk way. Now, most fans have hated on their new sound, but I applaud it. Why come back and live in the past? Grow up, move on, try something new. And they have. If you ignore their back catalogue you find yourself listening to a great garage rock band. In fact, at times, I kept thinking I was listening to the Strokes!

24. Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts
(Twitter review: The Sonic Youth lead singer takes his noise rock acoustic, compensating with beautiful layering 4/5)

I'm a huge Sonic Youth fan. There's no denying it. Shirts, CDs, records; all of it is mine. With the news this year of the divorce of the two main characters of the band, Thurston and Kim, I was concerned. What will become of this music I love? But then I heard the album Demolished Thoughts, any and all concerns were banished. Thurston, Sonic Youth's main guitarist, continues his style from later Sonic Youth recordings on his solo album, but with one change: acoustic. It's the same meandering guitar and chord styles that he has honed over the last few decades, but without the distortion or the drone. And it works so well. It's not just one guitar and his voice though, he's layered it with other subtle music such as more guitars and strings. It shows that there's still plenty of creative genius left in him.

23. We Were Promised Jetpacks - In the Pit of the Stomach
(Twitter review: Embracing more of a post-rock sound on this album really pays off 4.3/5)

Accents in music is something that generally makes me shudder (see: Australian hip-hop). But there's something about the nice Scottish brogue of We Were Promised Jetpacks that really works. And post-rock is something that I generally don't like. In the Pit of the Stomach sees this Scottish Indie band descend down a very post-rock path with huge build ups and climaxes in fairly long songs. But in this case, two wrongs seem to make a right as the combination of the Scottish-ness and the post-rock is what makes this album stand out!

22. Cults - Self Titled
(Review : The ultimate hipster-indie-female-singer-lofi-pop album, but Christ it's good 4.5/5)

I should hate this album. It's that combination of hipster-love affair, sort of typical almost Triple-J fare that I bemoan constantly. But Cults are good. I can't hate them. The male-female vocals play off each other beautifully. Their lofi sound adds that bit of extra distortion that makes it just sound a bit more gritty and raw. The lyrics are somewhat typical, but with a bit of a twist. Like in the song "Abducted" which have the love v. gore word play you would expect more from an early 2000's emo-core album. An excellent debut album that managed to keep the hype that they expertly wove in the blogosphere.

21. Wilco - The Whole Love
(Twitter review: An uncharacteristically noisy, electric and long opening song gives way to the classic Wilco sound 4.5/5)

After my first few listens of this album, I really liked it, as I do most Wilco albums. But as I also do with most Wilco albums, it quickly got forgotten. And then, a few weeks back, I was up north on a work trip when one of my coworker's phone started ringing... and the ring tone was the acoustic guitar riff from One Sunday Morning. I recognized it within 2 seconds and got Wilco on the brain. This album starts and ends with long songs. One a full on electric noise assault, very unlike Wilco. The other ends with 12 minutes of soft acoustic guitar. The whole album slides from the loud opening to the very soft and romantic finish. It shows a Wilco that's still willing to experiment, but also still knows when to go back to the old Wilco formula

20. Andrew Jackson Jihad - Knife Man
(Twitter review: Quirky, acoustic-folk-punk. Although a common genre now, their more comedic take is a good spin 4.7/5)

Acoustic folk. It's done to death. But then someone like Andrew Jackson Jihad comes along. Packing an album full of comedy, wit and satire, all set to a slight folk-country soundtrack. Heck, he even apologises before a solo halfway through a song. I've found myself singing the words to American Tune over and over again, identifying with it way too much than I should "I'm a straight white male in America/I've got all the luck I need."

19. The DC3 - The Future Sound of Nostalgia
(Twitter review: The song "I Was the Guy in TISM" sums up this album perfectly. Best TISM spin-off yet. 4.7/5)

If you think you've heard this voice before, especially if you get annoyed by it, then you must have listened to TISM at some point in your life. The DC3 seems to pick up almost where TISM left off, but after having some time to mellow. Sure, it's still an album full of synthesizer rock that belongs in a shady bar in the 80s, but that's not why you listen to it. It's the lyrical content, delivery and dare I say... genius? The DC3 is just a platform for a rant by a man attacking his middle years and former infamy. With a massive dash of humour and satire. There's many reasons I love the lyrical content. 1) Purely for having numerous references to cricket and AFL. 2) The self-serving song "I Was the Guy in TISM". One of the songs of the year for me. 3) Ripping on pseduo-celebrities and Triple-J. 4) Ripping on the old-boy private school network 5) Well, you really need to listen to the whole thing and appreciate it yourself. But it's the perfect soundtrack for a former "alternative" Australian that is now grown up and looking on things he used to like with disgust. In other words, for me.

18. My Morning Jacket - Circuitual
(Twitter review: Every album gets more country, but in a weirdly good way. The Black Metal song may be song of year 4.5/5)

Over the last few years, probably starting with a Wilco album, I've been slowly falling in love with the soft, yet indie, sounds of alt-country. I think it's all been leading up to this new My Morning Jacket album. It's very laid-back and country, but in a very soft way. The songs seem quiet, but they've done enough to make each song work. At times they experiment a bit, with some crazy falsetto singing (and not-country subject matter) in Holding on To Black Metal, which should have been a huge single in my opinion.

17. The Weeknd - House of Balloons
(Twitter review: a modern RnB album with a lot of dub/electro overtones. Great rainy day or laid-back romance music 4.7/5)

This album is a huge step out of my normal listening asthetic. 1) It's dubstep. That deplorable genre. 2) It's R 'n' B, which, apart from the original rhythm and blues of the 30's, I've never been interested in outside of drunkenly singing Boys 2 Men songs. 3) It's minimalistic, ambient, electronica, a style of music I find so boring 98% of the time that it just knocks me out to sleep. But then, there's the Weeknd, who puts it all together and makes me love it. You'll find yourself turning the volume up whenever you listen to it, just because the background beats are so quiet and so subtle that you may just miss it. The vocals show the talents of a great singer, even if a lot of the lyrics seem to be about drugs. It's an album like this that makes me think there is hope for what can be popular music.

16. Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
(Twitter review: I wish every post-rock album was like this, not just droning & dreary guitars 4.5/5)

I'm a man that doesn't like post-rock. 98% of the bands are cookie cutter "oh let's just slowly build the guitars up for 7 minutes and crash them into a crescendo with maybe some spoken word samples over the top to be deep and shit". And I used to think that about Mogwai. Then this album happened. There's actually singing on the track Mexican Grand Prix. There's real song struture too. Sure, it's 90% instrumental and still does the build up/break down on some songs, but it's put together in a way that makes you stop and say "yes, this could be the soundtrack to the movie of my life."

15. Owen - Ghost Town
(Twitter review: Absolutely beautiful folk/indie/acoustic album, with just subtle touches of his noodly emo past showing 4.5/5)

I missed a lot of the noodly-90's-emo hype, so I was not aware of who Owen was until after listening to this album. A lot of people know him as Mike Kinsella, member of numerous bands in that genre/scene. With that in mind, you can see his earlier work influencing the album Ghost Town, but with a transition to an acoustic medium. That noodly sound becomes quite beautiful in this quasi-folk setting. His lyrics and voice translates better to this medium than the full-band emo (this I decided after listening to Owen and going back to check out his earlier work). At times Ghost Town builds up with a small post-rock feel, with a backing band adding depth and feeling to his songs, but it never gets too loud. It just stays at a nice, easy, medium. This is truly a beautifully crafted album that just makes you swoon a little bit on each listen.

14. The Horrible Crowes - Elsie
(Twitter Review: The Gaslight Anthem's lead singer creates a stripped back folk album that is just beautiful 4.6/5)

This album is 75% Brian Fallon, from the Gaslight Anthem, sitting in a room singing to himself quietly. The other 25% is what he does best, with his American-rock sounding punk. Elsie is a beautiful album though, as it's not the usual acoustic fare that punk lead singers fall back on. There's plenty of instruments when required, or even just electronic sounds. He's actually crafted a fairly new sound for himself that is just beautiful.

13. Royal Headache - self titled
(Twitter review: ridiculously fun and catchy retro garage pop. I dare you not to dance to this. Double dare 4.7/5)

If the first time you heard Royal Headache was someone playing you the 12" vinyl record, you'd be excused for thinking it was something they pulled out of their parents' record collection; some old band that no one ever heard of but made damn good music. This is pretty much what I thought the first time I heard Royal Headache. Their lo-fi garage rock has a sound reminiscent of the early days of rock and roll; nestled with polka-dot dresses, quiffs and hot rods. Even their band logo, surrounded by dimaonds, reminds me of the 60s. When your mind eventually escapes the 60s and listens to them, you'll find one of the danciest rock and roll albums you've ever heard. Every song, with it's jangly guitar and fast beats, just makes me want to get up and swing my girl. This is the most fun album of 2011.

12. M83 - Hurry Up We're Dreaming
(Twitter review: 70 minutes of lush and beautiful shoegaze. This will be my future album for long hot baths 5/5)

A double album is a huge effort, both for the artist and the listener. With a style of music that at times borders on dreamy shoegaze, this can be a challenge to the listener to try and stay awake throughout the course of the two discs. M83 do a pretty darn good job of this. Although spread out over 2 albums you will of course get a few quiet and boring moments that'll make you push skip on the CD player, you'll still find yourself falling in love over this album. It has it all: 80's saxophone (a scary amount of this actually), spoken word samples that don't make sense (I think one is a little girl tripping on mushrooms), plenty of uptempo dance-beat songs, plenty of quiet contemplative shoegaze songs and lots of vocals that just sound like chants, not actual words. It's everything M83 has done well in the past, spread out over 2 hours.

11. Touche Amore - Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me
(Twitter review: Hardcore that sounds like La Dispute had a musical baby with Defeater. 4.5/5)

In referencing the length of the album, this album is pure punk. 13 songs, 20 minutes and only one of them is longer than 2 minutes. What you do get in this short time is an explosion of angst and emotion in each song with the gritty shouted vocals (there's no singing at all) complementing the fast guitars and instrumentals. If you heard any other band play this way, you'd probably write it off as crap screamo. But there's something special about Touche Amore that makes it all work together. I'm still not sure what it is, maybe the honesty of the lyrics or the quick delivery, but it works very well.

10. The Black Keys - El Camino
(Twitter review: hard to believe it's 2 guys making such a sonically rich album; finally taking blues-roots mainstream 4.8/5)

Not long after writing that twitter review, it sort of came true. Look how high they got in Triple J's Hottest 100, how many ads the song is on and how much TV exposure it gets. And honestly, I can say good on them. I've been a fan of the Black Keys for years. For albums they toiled away on their two-piece blues-rock. Over time it lost that gritty edge and started sounding like a full band and it has hit it's peak with El Camino. The songs are no longer raw, although they still have a bit of blues in them. What you get here is 40 minutes of catchy rock and roll. It's not pop, it's still very much rock and roll, but gosh darn it deserves to be radio material.

9. Letlive - Fake History
(Twitter review: It's like Finch. Before they broke up the first time. Of course I love it. 4.5/5)

Post-hardcore is one of those genres that defines a whole bunch of music vaguely, that confuses me, most of which I despise and lament the really good bands which never seem to be around long. And then, amongst all of this music full of synthesizer lead breakdowns with bands with bad haircuts, makeup, horrible lyrics and misspelt band names, there comes something like Letlive. The first time I heard this album I was blown away, and much like my Twitter review says, it reminded me a whole lot of the very first Finch album. In fact, a lot of parallels can be drawn between the sounds of the two bands. And being that Finch was a rare act that never put a foot wrong with me, this album is just on how rotation for me all the time.

8. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Self Titled
(Twitter review: Surprising album that shows why he is a great songwriter. he's still got it 4.8/5)

Is it possible to write a review of this album without comparing it at one point to an Oasis album? No. So let's get it over with. If this was an Oasis album, it'd be one of my top two. Yes. It's good. But at the same time it's not Oasis. What Gallagher has done with his debut album from the High Flying Birds is take his years of rock star experience and put it all together with some superb songwriting. It sounds like he's really taken advantage of the solo creative control and managed to put the songs together exactly how he wants, with each part working together magnificently. It's just a testament to how someone with talent, despite his history of band breakdowns and inability to recapture early initial success, can leave it all behind and grow from it.

7. Boris - Attention Please
(Twitter review: Their 2nd album this year sees them make stripped back, yet bloody catchy, J-Pop, still with overtones of heavy rock 4.7/5)
Boris - Heavy Rocks
(Twitter review: their only album of the 3 this year that channels their older metal sound, but with a garage rock twist 4.3/5)
Boris - New Album
(Twitter review: Experimental metal band go electro J-pop... Confusing, But oh so good in a guilty pleasure way. 4/5)

You can't help but review all three of Boris' releases in one grouping. 2011 was quite a busy year for them, releasing 3 brand new albums. Although, to be fair, a few songs are featured in different forms throughout all three. The Japanese doom/metal band shows different facets of themselves over the three albums. In Attention Please, you get focus on the female singer, with more minimalistic crafted songs, a weird mix of J-pop gone ambient and electronica. On Heavy Rocks you get a more punk feel, with the female vocals nary in sight. It's as if they've tried to go back to the roots of the guitar/bass/drums traditional rock sound. New Album is almost the J-pop remix album of their work, with pop music, rock n' roll and even Atari Teenage Riot-styled digital hardcore thrown in. Throughout the three you can't help but respect what Boris has done, they are truly not a band to sit back on their laurels and rest, rather they push new boundaries.

6. Mastodon - The Hunter
(Twitter review: To me, it sounds like Baroness crossed with Alice in Chains. It's prog-rock/sludge bliss 4.8/5)
Sludge metal: Ever since catching Baroness at Soundwave a few years back, it's become something I've fallen in love with. Maybe it's the fact it's metal, but still fairly clean. Maybe it's the blues-rock feel that is somehow distinct in all of the noise. Maybe it's the stoner-rock elements in it. I'm not sure, I love it and the Hunter has all of those elements. Sure the album's got some prog-rock elements to it, especially the song content itself (What the heck is a burl and why does it curl?!), which may throw off a lot of listeners. But altogether it's just a great bloody rock album.

5. La Dispute - Wildlife
(Twitter review: an emotional trip with some of the best lyrics I have heard recently, each song is a story 4.7/5)
Wildlife came out at a very emotional point in my life. The week before it's release my roomate and friend passed away in an accident. Wildlife's subject matter was almost the perfect matching soundtrack to this part of my life. So much so, that it took me almost a month to be able to progress through more than the first handful of tracks without breaking down and having to turn it off. But that's what La Dispute do best. The lyrics of the songs weave a deep tale; but combined with Jordan's vocal tendency to ebb and flow (in intensity, volume levels and pitch; even wavering when it gets emotional) with this story and you get something you don't normally see in this post-hardcore genre: a journey. The journey is a loose collection of short stories, all sad. There's the kid that is collateral damage in a street-gang war, the child of a teacher dying of cancer, the life of a dad whose son is so ill he doesn't remember him and so much more. It's borderline depressing. But somehow, it works. The instrumentals in the songs are a step up and sideways from their noodly-screamo youth, branching out and accompanying the story quite well for the most part. Even now, 4 months later, I can still get goosebumps and tears in my eyes listening to this album

4. Yuck - Self Titled
(Twitter review: It's awesome lo-fi fuzz, as if Dinosaur Jr mated with Sonic Youth and their child dated the Japandroids 4.5/5)

Remember the days of 90's Brit-rock? Fuzzy guitars, nice melodies and almost happy songs? I do and look back fondly. Apparently I'm not the only one, because Yuck have put together everything I loved about the 90s alternative movement and put out an album that would be amazing then and is still amazing now. They've got guitar elements that sound like the noise rock of the late 80s,w ith plenty of Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth influence. They write songs which show they had an education based off Blur, Oasis and their contemporaries. And the song Georgia (my favourite of the album) channels a very healthy Cure guitar riff. This album is all of my favourite alternative rock rolled into a brand new band.

3. Fucked Up - David Comes to Life
(Twitter review: A departure from their hardcore to make a brilliant rock opera. May alienate old fans 5/5)

It's not every day a hardcore-punk band decides to try something big and brilliant, but if any band could pull it off, you would guess it would be Fucked Up. And they did. They've moved away from a hardcore sound somewhat, adding some beautiful melodies on their music, but have maintained that constant and loud rhythmic feel which is the mainstay of any Fucked Up song. But lyrically, they've moved it up and away from hardcore. It's a concept album. Following the life of someone named David. It's one of those albums that you may get one or two singles from, but put it together and listen to it in one sitting and it's something else. And yet, deep down, it's still hardcore punk. It's ridiculous to think that they were ever going to top their award winning album Chemistry of Common Life. Now I have no idea how they'll ever top this.

2. Defeater - Empty Days and Sleepless Nights
(Twitter review: Brilliant hardcore that is turned on it's head with an acoustic finish to the album 4.5/5)

This album is one of those rare jewels in the overcrowded hardcore field. It's an album the band has obviously sat down and thought about, as it doesn't play out as a collection of songs, rather a story. The album starts with the scream of "Dear God, what have I done?!" and the storyline then follows the journey of characters surrounded a bar in days gone by, the Copper Coin. It's not just that this album lyrically has a story, it also has the music to back it up. Despite being heavy hardcore music, the band still manages to paint scenery with the instrumentals as well as following the emotions of the vocals. The story then reaches a logical point towards the end: regret. This climax, the Sleepless Nights side for those with the vinyl, is an acoustic and sad look back on lives and loves lost. It's hard to believe this can be done with hardcore music. But it has.

1. The Smith St Band - No One Gets Lost Anymore
(Twitter review: a masterclass in writing hella-emotional and catchy sing-a-long folk-punk 4.5/5)

A lot of my good-music loving friends have been pimping this album out, not only as the Australian album of the year, but the album of the year. And I've been trying to not follow that path, but given that I've just listened to it 10 times on repeat to do this list, it's probably not going to happen. So why is it so damn good? It's the unique sound of it. Sure, it's folk-punk, channeling unhealthy amounts of Defiance Ohio, but with Will Wagner's voice, it's something new. Is it the lyrics? I dare you to listen to songs like My Little Sinking Ship without crying or Sigourney Weaver without laughing. It is an emotional rollercoaster of an album. Is it the way it can transition from full on punk with gang-vocals-fist-pumping-in-the-air singalongs to quiet acoustic retrospective numbers? It's the combination of all of this, but still remaining honest sounding. It's a fucking great album.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The last 10 days: a recap

Well it's been a crazy few days. So many good bands, so much has happened. Let's have a little review:

Friday - 24 February
Marilyn Manson, Coal Chamber, Wednesday 13, Motionless in White - Eatons Hill Hotel

At about 4pm on the Friday before Soundwave, I got an email. My photography pass had been revoked. In fact, all photography passes had been revoked for Manson for his entire tour. Why? Who knows. So, no Manson for me.

On one hand I was happy for this, it had been two almost 12 hour days at work in a row, Eaton's Hill is a long drive away, Soundwave was the next day and I had an opportunity to sleep for a bit. But come on, missing Manson and Coal Chamber? Disappointed. Plus, not to mention, it appears Manson allowed photographers again after Sydney. So I feel we got the short end of the stick. Can anyone provide me an explanation please?

Saturday - 25 February
Soundwave Festival - RNA Showgrounds

This was my first opportunity to photograph the amazing Soundwave festival, even though I've gone to every incarnation in Brisbane and a few other ones interstate. All up I saw 20 bands, 17 of them I photographed. I battled the mud, fatigue, the constant rain and rogue pyrotechnics. You can view my gallery of photos here.

As far as photography goes, I think it was one of my best outings ever. I got so many photos I was happy with. My favourite photo of the day was also one of my favourite sets of the day, one of the few I stayed for nearly the entire set of: Thursday.

I've never been a huge fan of Thursday, they've got a few great songs, but seeing this was their last set of shows ever, I thought I'd get along. Needless to say I feel like I'm extremely late to the party. They've got a new fan in me, even though as of yesterday it's now too late.

Other highlights include:
- Saves the Day doing a Weezer and set of classic songs. I knew nearly every line of every song.
- Mastodon. I wasn't happy to leave to photograph Thursday at the time, but kind of glad I did now.
- Dillinger Escape Plan. I was dancing around like an idiot in the camera pit singing along for most of the time.
- Devin Townsend Project. I wasn't going to go see him for some stupid reason, but Tim talked me into it. I was the only photographer there and he is such an excellent performer!
- Slipknot, despite the first pyrotechnic unexpectedly going off about a metre from my face.

Monday  - 27 February
Death Cab for Cutie - The Tivoli

I got Penny a Death Cab ticket for Christmas, so I was there in a non-photography role. It was the first time seeing Death Cab for me and I swooned. Hard. Death Cab are one of those bands that I know are good, but I only know a couple of songs off the top of my head. Yet throughout the show I found myself singing along with most of the songs and having a good time, even ignoring my usual hate of the see of iPhones in front of my face recording everything that goes on.

The big surprise to me was their sound though. On album, Death Cab almost seem poppy. On Monday night though they became this loud post-rock machine, blasting me away with long slow-building-to-an-epic-climax intros. I guess this is because they played a lot of songs from Plans, which is my favourite Death Cab album, but has a very post-rock feel to it.

Tuesday - 28 February
Dillinger Escape Plan, System of a Down - Sydney Entertainment Centre

When Dillinger were announced on Soundwave I made a promise to myself, to go see at least one of their sideshows. It just so happened to eventuate they were playing with System of a Down and I managed to get a photo pass to it.

First off, apart from festivals, the Sydney Entertainment Centre was the biggest venue I have ever shot at. It was an experience for me, being able to take advantage of amazing lighting and setup that is not what I'm used to with my plethora of small punk and hardcore shows.

Saying that though, Dillinger went the opposite way. All strobe lights and fog machines. It was really tough trying to get a picture, especially with the frenetic energy of their perfomance. The crowd wasn't really into it (obviously waiting for System) and the frustrations of yet another set full of broken equipment while playing to a fairly unenthusiastic crowd showed through. But heck, they still put on a grand show.

But really, everyone was there for System of a Down.

They apparently recorded the day for a live album (or DVD? I wasn't sure). There were issues with the photographers being forced to leave the venue after their 3 songs, but I managed to stash my camera gear and get back in after only a song or two to see an absolutely amazing set. They covered all of their albums fairly equally, which given my love affair with self-titled, and most bands inability to recognize their old material, made me weak at the knees. Throw in a cover of Dire Strait's Sultans of Swing (but sung as "we are System of a Down") and getting Ben Weinmen of Dillinger Escape Plan out to play guitar on Aerials, all together it was an epic set.

Wednesday - 29 February
Your Demise, Letlive, Enter Shikari - The Metro

A bonus of being in Sydney was that I got to catch Letlive play a full set. After an excellent day spent being a camera nerd with Pacey I ended up waiting for what seems like an eternity in line to get into the Metro. The line almost went back to my hotel room. It seems that Sydney people like to get to a gig on time? When I finally got in (after discovering my name on the door list was Allman) I managed to get photos of Your Demise for only one song. Knowing nothing about them, I actually asked a fellow photographer if they were a local band.

There were a lot of younger kids really getting into Your Demise, which lead me to discover an interesting fact about the Metro as a venue. It's a 2 strikes and your gone rule. If you crowd surf, you get a warning. If you do it again, you're ejected. A lot of kids were gone before the evening had even started!

But the reason I was there was for Letlive. And it was all of the insanity I was hoping it would be. It started with the guitarist playing with a coat hanger before de-evolving into a frenetic all out assault on our ears and the band's bodies. The lead singer's pure disregard for his own safety rivals that of Dillinger Escape Plan and made for one of the most enjoyable sets I've ever witnessed. It was hard going photographing them as they didn't stand still. Not to mention the microphone cord kept getting whipped out and hitting me in the head or wrapping around my neck.

Unfortunately the crowd didn't get into it as much, but I did. It was an incredible set. Letlive have rapidly shot up my list of favourite bands. Things I remember of the set include the singer playing a guitar case as a fake guitar, then using it as a surf board, climbing on the speaker stacks, the guitarist moving around the monitor speakers and using them to play the guitar before jumping off it, the singer using the microphone stand for all manner of thing and then simulating sex with it... and above all, playing their great songs.

Next was Enter Shikari. Last time I saw them I ended up with a concussion from a stupid fight dancer and don't remember much, except I enjoyed the music. It makes me wonder what I saw last time. As their set now has been deconstructed into a lot of electronic noise and standing around not playing instruments. The lighting conditions were horrible, with fog machines and strobe lights for most of it. After they played Sorry You're Not A Winner, and I got to do the hand clap thing, the songs all became the same bad electronic beat. So I left. Bit of a disppointment, but I could see it coming, given how their albums have pretty much lost most of the hardcore vibe now.

Thursday - 1 March
Quiet Steps, Army of Champions, The Smith St Band, Bomb the Music Industry - Between the Walls

Quiet Steps played as a two piece and sounded really good as it, Army of Champions as always did an amazing folk-punk-esque performance and then there were the two bands I was really excited for.
The Smith St Band have put out one of my favourite albums of the year and it seems a lot of people agree with me. As they played the venue (albeit with a fairly average crowd) were all hands in the air singing along. Unfortunately there was one drunk idiot that attempted to do a backflip off a monitor, before falling on to the concrete floor and knocking himself out. Once an ambulance had picked him up to get looked at, the show continued in a more sombre mode. With less backflips.

But they nailed an excellent set. I definitely spent more time singing along than taking photos.

I love Between the Walls as a DIY venue. The size is good (albeit it gets hot), the people are great, the sound quality is superb and it's in a great location for me to get to and park, or even public transport and drink. However, taking photos there drives me nuts. It's too dark for photos with no flash, even more so for this show. They've reduced lighting to one light on each side of stage with a coloured umbrella over it. And if I resort to flash, the roof is reflective metal, the walls are bright white and I get strange lighting bounces and shadows everywhere. I could point my flash in the artists' faces, but I always try my best to not annoy them. It's just plain rude. I struggle to take photos there and am never happy how they turn out. But I still have fun.

After the medical interruption and the end of Smith St band, there's still enough time for the headliner before the curfew. And the headliner was someone I've been waiting to see in ages, never imagining that they could afford to head out to Australia.

Bomb the Music Industry ends up just being the lead man Jeff, playing his guitar and singing with his iPod as his backing band. It's as DIY as you can get, which is how the band lives and breathes.

But holy hell it was a fun set. He played most of the songs I wanted to hear, and spent most of the time in the audience singing along with everyone else. At one point he even got someone up to play the spoons along to Sweet Home Cannada. I was very impressed at his dedication to the performance, even if it was just him and his iPod.

Friday - 2 March
Bonnie Prince Billy, Gallery of Modern Art

It had been a while since I did a musical GoMA up late performance. I tried to enjoy the Matisse artworks before hand, but the exhibition seemed to be just a collection of his old sketch books, with hardly any of his big works. More of a glimpse inside the mind of the artist.
But that's not why I was there, I was there for the music. And it seems despite the crowds, I was one of the only few there to hear him play. The crowd was over capacity, it was impossible to squeeze around the bar to get near the stage. But in a flashback to the crowds at Girls 2 years ago, none of them were there to see the band. Rather to talk. And when you've got the level changes that can occur in Bonnie Prince Billy's music, from the whimsical yet emotional quiet to the almost operatic loudness, it can kind of ruin it.

But if you take out the crowd, what followed was 1.5 hours of sublime music. His mixture of gospel, country and American roots (I personally call his style post-country) was backed by an excellent guitarist, an amazing Southern female vocalist and a great drummer. Each song was steeped in emotion. Even though I know none of his songs, it will go down as one of the best sets I've witnessed. It reminded me of when I first saw Mark Lanegan, the songs themselves as well as the ability and delivery of the singer create an experienec you can't forget.

Tuesday - 6 March
Manchester Orchestra, HiFi

Much like Death Cab a week prior, Manchester Orchestra were one of those bands whose songs I know of and I know I like. In the same vein they also had a set much louder, faster and more steeped in post-rock than what their recorded material appears to be. A thoroughly enjoyable set though, with a crazy keyboardist acting like he'd been kicked out of a band like Letlive and a singer that was eerily similar in look to the Mastodon singer but with a sound like the singer of My Morning Jacket.
Obviously at this point I was tired and exhausted from so many great live sets squeezed into a 10 day period (plus a few other non-music events I attended), but Manchester Orchestra were amazing. An excellent way to end the week.

Monday, March 5, 2012

2011: Best of songs

As I finish my last few album reviews for my best of 2011 album list and let the craziness of Soundwave and miss photography slowly dissipate, I think it's time to tell you what my favourite songs of 2011 were. In no particular order at all, except for when I wrote them down in my dodgy ass Windows Notepad file. I may write something about it, I may not. Just know that i love these songs.

Touche Amore - Home Away From Here

It's short, fast, hard and emotionally brutal, which at the time I got into this song was everything I felt. "It's just I have this problem that I want to be everywhere I'm not..."

Defeater - Empty Glass

Boris - Les Paul Custom '86

Multiple versions of this song came out this year, but there's something about the metal band doing stripped-back J-pop/electronica in this that just astounds me and makes me sing along, with words I don't understand.

The DC3 - I was the Guy in TISM

The Australian satire and wit! AHH!

Monument – Dot Dash/Bikeage/What a Wonderful Puddle

The album wasn't considered for my end of list because it was 50% covers. But what covers! Get it for free on their bandcamp.

My Morning Jacket - Holdin' On To Black Metal
The song's subject matter v. delivery. 

Yuck - Georgia
Rekindled my love affair with Brit-rock, even with a bit of a Cure riff rip-off.

Andrew Jackson Jihad - The Michael Jordan of Drunk Driving
Short. Quirky. Original.

Wilco - One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)
It may be a tad bit long for some people, but it is the perfect song to listen to while lying in bed on a Sunday morning. And that riff! My god, it's repetitive, but it's catchy.

The Smith St Band - I Ain't Safe
Thrice - Listen Through Me

The Hotel Year - Weathered

La Dispute - King Park
The subject matter alone. Christ. Try listening to this without getting goosebumps or crying.

The Wonder Years - Came Out Swinging
A great start to my favourite pop-punk album of the last 5 years. And it's not about lost love, but something I understand. Missing the youth of growing up in the burbs of Chicago (or near enough in the case of me up the road).

Joyce Manner - Constant Headache
This album was good, but not great. Yet I kept looking to it. And this song would always be the first one I listened to.

The Dear Hunter - We've Got a Score to Settle
Mastodon - Curl of the Burl

It was nigh on impossible to pick just one song from this album to be in this list, but this one had an "official" music video.