My top 10 songs of 2012

Another year’s year end music lists is just another reminder of how out of touch I am with what everybody is listening to these days. So here again is a list of my favourite songs from the year, as much as anything to reassure myself that I do still hear amazing new music. Apologies to all the other great bands who I left out.

Jess Locke – Drive to drink

It was this time last year I came across a video of Jess Locke playing this song while aimlessly wandering through music on the internet, and it turned out to be a defining musical moment for the year that was to follow. Over the course of the year I listened to her “Skins” record possibly more than any other, as well as getting to see her play a transfixing set at a show I organised in Fitzroy’s Edinburgh Gardens.

And this song is still my favourite; its simple, beautiful arrangement (the solo version of the song is just a single chord with a changing bass note), and lyrics that kind of fascinate me – they seem to be Jess internalising all the problems of a relationship, but there is no judgement attached, it just says what it says.

The Smith Street Band – Why I can’t draw

Four Wednesday nights in a row in April I went to the Old Bar to see The Smith Street Band debut the songs that would go on to make their album “Sunshine and Technology”. They were wonderful shows, and it is a wonderful album, which over the year elevated them to the position of one of Australia’s biggest punk bands.

It’s great to see a band I love getting that kind of recognition, and out of lots of great songs on that album I picked this one (which I actually first heard two years ago in a Wil Wagner solo set) because I will include in my list any song containing lyrics like:

All I can see through the rooftops and the chimneys is the top of a billboard that reads “love”. I think it’s an advert for nasal spray technology, but in my current state it doesn’t matter much.

Infinite Void – These days

Another Melbourne band, and these guys are a very Melbourne band, if you know what I mean. They’re even kind of a supergroup, featuring members of a bunch of very well loved Melbourne punk bands (Schifosi, Diamond Sea, Deep Heat, Circuits, plus more).

The music Infinite Void play is wonderful – catchy, atmospheric (even kind of spooky), and with an intensity that allows them to play (every time I’ve seen them) with all varieties of hardcore bands, though their music certainly is not.

Their album of this year, and the two shows in Brisbane to launch it, were highly anticipated in the punk community. And both completely lived up to everyone’s hopes.

Ghost Mice – The wrong train

Ghost Mice’s reputation is of the absolute archetype of cutesy, over the top happy folk punk. But in 2012 they released the most touching, heart wrenching album of the year. “All Punks Got” is a tribute to a friend of the band who committed suicide.

The album is occasionally funny, always touching and often very sad. It’s “The Wrong Train” that is the saddest moment. I can’t really explain why exactly, but I can tell you that a couple of times this song nearly brought me to tears while I was cooking dinner.

The Blamps – Transchicken

My relationship with The Blamps was a short one. I discovered them one night at Melbourne’s Bar Open thanks to randomly running into an acquaintance I barely knew, and decided on the spot that they were my new favourite band. Unfortunately, the next time I saw them their set was cut short, and then I left Melbourne. Later in the year came the news that they were breaking up, leaving as a recorded legacy only a handful of youtube videos.

But I don’t think any recordings could really have matched the joy of seeing the band live. They brought amateurish, imaginative femininity to a punk rock scene that is too often bland, predictable and male dominated. And that’s something I hope doesn’t end with the end of The Blamps.

Milhouse – Monday

I have no interesting personal anecdotes about Sydney’s Milhouse (some would say I don’t about any of these bands). I got told about them at the start of the year, downloaded all their music over the year as it came out, and saw them play a show in Melbourne.

But many were the times I spent enjoying their EPs, brief blasts of irresistably catchy pop punk with funny, verbose lyrics. While nothing on this year’s THRILLHOUSE ep quite matched the glory that is “Holiday” off their first record, this is still one of my favourite songs of the year. And it also features lyrics that mention listening to Good Luck records on repeat, which I have been known to do on occasion as well.

D. Rouser – Don’t blame the drugs

It was a very good year for Brisbane punk releases – there were great records and shows from veterans Dick Nasty, grindcore/crusties Idylls and Last Chaos, and posthumous releases from two of my favourites, Tangle and Wheatpaste. All could easily have fitted on this list, but my favourite shows and release for the year would have to be D. Rouser’s acoustic punk rock.

They are a great live band – they always get a good dance floor moving, and singer Duffy is a truly great frontman – dancing, crouching, pacing and gesticulating wildly as he rasps his way through the songs.

For somebody who in lifestyle is completely and happily anti-drugs, I have often had a strange attraction to music written about taking drugs, especially songs that explore the complexities of why people choose to chemically alter their brains. Sometimes I wish D. Rouser went beyond simple jokes/glorification, to delve more into those nuances, but “Don’t Blame The Drugs” is their one great lyrical moment, acknowledging the damage of drugs but pointing the blame at our society where “something isn’t working, it’s called money”.

One of the most surreal musical experiences of the year was seeing Duffy struggle through this song, obviously out of it and being force fed water from friends in the audience, asking on the mic for an ambulance to be called as he attmpted with some difficulty to stay on his feet. I left that night feeling a bit scattered and a little uncomfortable. Actually that’s still how I feel now as I recall it.

The Last Kinection – Are we there yet?

It was a big year for indigenous politics, with the 40th anniversary of the original aboriginal tent embassy sparking a wave of sovereign tent embassies around the country. In Brisbane it meant a new energy for activism, which maintained strongly through the year. Boxer Damian Hooper made worldwide headlines at the olympics when he was banned from wearing an indigenous flag on his singlet.

It was a big year too for indigenous hip hop, as the continuing rise of Australian hip hop brings to the mainstream voices which had been previously confined to the margins. Impossible Odds and Yung Warriors both brought out good albums that gained widespread attention, but unquestionably the leaders of this scene are The Last Kinection.

Next Of Kin actually came out at the end of last year, but The Last Kinection had a continuing presence over the year. A midyear reissue meant I was surprised and cheered to see a poster for the album in an upmarket inner city Sydney cafe, and in May The Last Kinection headlined Stylin’ Up, an indigenous hip hop festival in Inala in Brisbane’s south western suburbs. The day was wonderful, with a beautiful vibe that only a free, all age, alcohol free event can have. And to finish the day was a brilliant and very popular set from The Last Kinection. The whole thing was a sign of potential for a scene that could be about so much more than music.

Tom Denton – All indoors

Early in 2011 I saw Tom Denton play an acoustic set at Fitzroy’s Blue Tile Lounge. He didn’t really look at the audience, he told me later that he “didn’t think anybody was listening”. But he held the whole room captivated, especially for the song “All indoors”. It’s another song about hard drugs, but one that perfectly matches the nostalgia for youthful innocence with the sadness that lifestyle so often brings. It was a song so beautiful it seemed like it was some forgotten classic from another era.

I don’t think I heard the song again after that, but I never forgot it. Wil Wagner quoting the song’s chorus in the Smith St Band’s big hit “Sunshine and Technology” has also unknowingly introduced it to the nation. Occasionally I would contact Tom and ask if the song had been recorded yet. It was one such reply that led to me hearing the song again only very recently. It was every bit as good as I’d remembered.

Kimya Dawson – Utopian futures

One of the more unexpected things to happen to me this year was spending a couple of weeks in New York in December. New York has been, of course, home to so much great music over the years, and its cultural capital means that so often the trends in NY become the rest of the world’s trends soon after.

I had a few good musical moments on my trip, including a pretty bizarre pilgrimage to street corners immortalised in songs I love (53rd & 3rd, 52nd & Broadway). But the definite musical highlight of the trip was one time (although not at the moment) New York local Kimya Dawson.

I was surprised by how small the show was actually. In Australia, Kimya Dawson would be a big drawing card, especially post-Juno soundtrack. But in a city of 20 million people (which she once called home), there would have only been about 150 people at the show.

But it was a truly magical experience. Before the show I watched people lining up to meet and take photos with Kimya. One young girl was crying and they talked for a few minutes and hugged. Sounds cheesy, but it was touching. Afterwards she promised that anyone who bought one of her LPs would get a personalised drawing of them riding the animal of their choice on the sleeve.

And in between was a wonderfully inclusive performance, full of musical guests and songs about death, life, depression, friends, love, children, and finding meaning in a world that is so often so messed up. This song is actually a cover (originally by Tin Tree Factory), but I think it sums up the mood everybody left the building in that night.

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