This is now the fourth year in a row I’ve done one of these posts, and I really enjoy thinking back through all the music I’ve listened to through the year to remember the songs that really impacted me.
I think I listened to more different bands this year than I have for the last few – that comes from spending a lot of time at a radio station where you are always trying to find new music. I think a problem that a lot of music nerds like me have is that the more music you listen to, the less attached you are to any particular artists or songs. That’s one reason why no music ever means as much to you as it did when you were a teenager and only had a few albums.
Still, it’s a privilege to get to listen to lots of music that people have poured their heart and soul into, and of course during 2014 I heard a lot of amazing songs. Here are ten of them.
Babaganouj – Bluff
Early in the year I was part of a group that organised a fundraiser for the Maules Creek coal mine blockade. I wasn’t the one who arranged for Babaganouj to headline, but I liked their music and was impressed by the grace with which they took the news that their set was going to be cut short and they could only play for about 15 minutes (sorry guys!)
Later in the year I started hearing this song on the radio frequently. It would stand out both by how raw the intro sounded (just guitar and vocals, singing “you make me feel like I’ll never be good enough”) and then by the fuzzy pop glory that was the rest of the song. It reminded me of The Hummingbirds, the tragically under-appreciated legends of Australian indie pop.
I obviously wasn’t the only one who loved the mixture of sad lyrics and joyous melody and distortion – it got thrashed on 4ZZZ and ended up in the top 20 of the year end Hot 100. Hopefully there will be more to come soon from Babaganouj.
Big Iron – Milton
With each year that goes by, I listen to more country music. I don’t know if this is just me or if we can make a generalisation out of it, but either way, I was lucky this year that to go with all the classic country artists (including Chad Morgan, who I actually got to see play), I could listen to a surprising number of really good Brisbane country bands.
Among these bands, there were great new releases from Halfway and Carrie and the Cut Snakes, plus the possibility of some other new releases on the way, but the shows and the record that probably gave me the most enjoyment were from Big Iron.
My favourite Big Iron song somehow never made it on to their EP of this year – hopefully one day “Ain’t Got None” (“you say money don’t mean a thing, that’s good ‘cos I ain’t got none”) will be recorded, but in its place I’ve picked “Milton”. I like the group singalong, and I like that it’s written about a local place. There are enough songs written about places in America, it makes much more sense to write about Australian places eve if it means writing country songs about inner-city Brisbane suburbs.
MC Triks and bAbE Sun – We Still Right Here
I spent the 26th of January this year, like I have most years for the last half a decade, with aboriginal people. While for many Australia Day is for flag-waving patriotism or drunken partying; for aboriginal people it is Invasion Day or Survival Day, a time for remembering the injustice that has been done to their people and celebrating that a proud culture has been able to survive the attempt to wipe it out.
This year, a few local rappers and activists managed to hastily throw together an Invasion Day Mixtape to mark the occasion. There are a number of artists on the record, but some of the highlights come from MC Triks, who on this one is joined by bAbE Sun to lay down the simple message of Invasion Day – “We Still Right Here”.
Caitlin Harnett – Wandering Man
In the last few days of 2013, as I often do, I went to the Gulgong Folk Festival in western NSW. It’s a nice relaxed festival with a good variety of music. That particular year my highlight was Caitlin Harnett, a former indie singer who had been to North America and returned with a banjo, an open tuned guitar and a wonderful set of songs that sound like Joni Mitchell gone country.
I wanted to buy her record then, but none of her new songs were recorded at that point. It took until the second half of the year for Caitlin’s album to come out.
It’s a great country tradition to sing about the joys and sorrows of being a drifter, and there are a few songs on the album that fall into that category. “Wandering Man” is one of my favourites.
Crow Eater – Spit On This Floor
When the organisers of the DIY Hard punk festival in Sydney announced there would be an acoustic afternoon show to end the festival, maybe even they didn’t foresee the national convergence of folk punk bands that would come – Heaps Tuff and Glitter Rats from Melbourne, Crow Eater from Adelaide, Lordy Lordy from Hobart/Alice Springs, an unexpected acoustic set from Byron Bay’s Sin Fondos, and myself from Brisbane.
Now I’ll admit this isn’t quite Coachella in terms of an all star lineup, but not that many people play folk punk in Australia and it was amazing to have all these groups playing unplugged in the same room. It was a very fun show which I was grateful to be a part of.
It was also my introduction to the music of Crow Eater, which was nice too. They were still badly hungover when the show started at 2pm, but it was a great set. In true folk punk style they had half a dozen of them up there playing whatever acoustic instruments they could get their hands on, including a drumkit that was just a hi-hat cymbal and a beer bottle.
Also in true folk punk style, they’re not very organised at getting their music released. But during the year they did a live appearance on an Adelaide radio station which meant two of their songs were put up on the net to listen to. I played both these songs heaps, somebody take a dictaphone to one of their shows so we can hear more.
Against Me! – True Trans Soul Rebel
It’s over a decade since I first heard Against Me!, and over that time there have been different periods when they have been the band I listen to more than any other, especially their first two albums.
Theirs has also been an interesting career trajectory to follow. I must admit though that I, like a lot of people I think, had not been particularly excited by their last few albums. But the story of Against Me! had an interesting twist to come yet.
A couple of years ago, lead singer Tom Gabel made the somewhat surprising announcement that she would henceforth be identifying as a woman and going by the name Laura Jane Grace.
The band still toured, still played the same songs, it’s just that Laura now sang them while wearing makeup, a miniskirt and high heels. The new album that was promised, called “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”, promised to be an interesting insight into an incredibly difficult journey that not many of us have to make – to the point where the way you look matches up with the way you feel inside.
The lyrics of the album are definitely the highlight, and “True Trans Soul Rebel” is a brilliant tribute to the struggle of transgender people around the world – “you should have been a mother, should have been a wife… should be living a different life.”
Moonsign – Live Yr Own Life
It was a big year for transgender artists – Conchita Wurst won Eurovision and two trans songwriters got in Andy Paine’s top 10 list!
Seriously though, I have loved the music and writing of Bastian Fox Phelan for a few years now and am always excited to hear and see the things Bastian is creating. I haven’t managed to yet see Moonsign live (come to Brisbane!) but have listened to them a lot since the release of their first demo. This year we were blessed with not one but two Moonsign albums, although I must admit I do like the first one (released in January) more. And Live Yr Own Life is the gorgeous highlight, with it’s pulsing keyboards and multi-tracked harmonies. I’ve never quite worked out exactly what the lyrics mean, but I love them anyway.
Bastian’s songs contain the same mixture of vulnerability and life-affirming positivity that make their zines so amazing to read. They write so honestly and beautifully about a life that has been full of extraordinary experiences.
Kate Woodhouse – Dumpers
At the start of the year I had never heard Kate Woodhouse’s music. In the space of 12 months she has put out a great EP and played a whole heap of shows, to the point where she is now a fixture of Brisbane’s punk scene, seemingly playing every gig I see a poster for.
It’s awesome to see Kate’s success, I really like her songs. With emo and country music as the two main ingredients, her music is unlikely to liven up your next party. But if you’re in the mood for it, they are beautiful songs. I’m not sure how much it was affected by the fact that I had just gone through a relationship breakup, but I listened to those four songs a lot when they first came out.
“Dumpers”, with its striking opening line “home towns make me feel like I’m collapsing” and a wonderful instrumental section, is my favourite.
Tichawona Mashawa and Velvet Pesu – Kedush
I don’t know if it was officially released or just sent to radio stations (it’s certainly hard to find much info about it on the net), but one of the best releases of the last few months of 2014 was a compilation called “Echoes – World Music From Qld.
It’s full of brilliant songs, but maybe my favourite is this one from a Zimbabwean and Japanese duo living in Brisbane. They are normally part of a bigger band Umkancho, but this stripped back version of the song (just thumb piano and voices) is breathtaking.
I had already had my mind blown seeing Tichawona play earlier in the year at the World Refugee Day festival, but finding out more about his music is not easy. Surely one of Brisbane’s best kept musical secrets. Hopefully I’m doing my bit to get his music out there by uploading this song. And maybe one day music like this will be as prominent as white men playing guitars.
The Painted Ladies – Stranger In My Country
The story of Vic Simms’ album “The Loner” deserves to be an Australian music legend. I don’t have space to do justice to it here, but basically it’s the story of a 50’s teen star who through life’s ups and downs ended up in the Bathurst jail. While there, a stroke of good fortune led to Vic being able to record an album containing some of the first and best aboriginal protest songs to be recorded.
Naturally the album sank, but the few copies that did get made became cherished relics. Luke Peacock was working at Murri Radio in Brisbane where he came across a burnt CD copy, had his mind blown and ended up recording an album of covers from “The Loner”.
It succeeded in bringing attention to the original Vic Simms album (which apparently this year will get a brand new cd reissue), but it’s also created a great album in its own right.
The song that deviates most from the original is “Stranger In My Country”, which became a slow burning psychedelic rock song from the country-soul original. It’s also probably the highlight of the album. It’s a little bit cheesy having the all star lineup of singers (Paul Kelly, Ed Kuepper, Bunna Lawrie) take turns at the mic, but I can forgive them when the incredible voice of Roger Knox “the black Elvis” comes in.
There were only two live Painted Ladies performances for the year. I got to see one of them, and live this song transformed into an extraordinary experience, especially when it begins to build up around the 4 minute mark. I found myself shaking in time with the kick drum, my spine tingling with Kahl Wallace’s howls, brought to tears by the emotion of the song and all the pain and injustice that it captures. I was speechless, blown away. I know from afterwards when I was able to talk to others that I was not the only one who felt that way.