It was a funny year for me and new music. For various reasons I went to less shows than I have the last few years, and a lot of my favourite musical discoveries were old albums that were new to me. So when it came to making this list I was a bit worried I wouldn’t have 10 new songs from 2015 that I had really loved. So it was nice in the end to realise that actually I had too many songs and would have to whittle down my shortlist. Here are the ten I came up with:
Royal Headache – Carolina
A few times over the last couple of years I’ve run into Royal Headache’s lead singer Shogun. At some point the conversation would turn to his band and he would tell me that he had broken up the band because there were “too many dickheads” at shows. “You look out at the audience,” he told me, “and it’s all the people you hated at high school.”
The hidden darkside of alternative rockstardom. But despite Shogun’s warnings, this year Royal Headache returned with their first album in four years and launched it, of all places, at the Sydney Opera House. The album, of course, is amazing.
mewithoutYou -Red Cow
mewithoutYou are a band that I have appreciated for a decade without ever really sinking my teeth in properly. At the start of the year though I saw them play twice on their Australian tour and was enamoured by their last album, the circus escape concept album “10 Stories”.
Their new album which came out in the middle of the year wasn’t quite as immediately rewarding as the last one, and didn’t have any songs that I became quite as obsessed with as “Cardiff Giant”, but they are such an endlessly intriguing band – the band’s sometimes delicate, sometimes heavy sounds drawing you in to dig for the meaning in Aaron Weiss’ lyrics.
“Pale Horses” is another concept album of sorts, about somebody’s struggle with their faith and attempts to see where God could fit in our world. “Was he a violent man?” Aaron asks in this song… “Well, he had his genocidal moments.”
Virginia Sook – Soil, Seeds, Bellies
Over the last few years I have seen Virginia Sook play many times. This year it was a special treat to have some new recordings released. But my favourite Sook memory of 2015 was a show in a West End laundromat with a bunch of local songwriters plus visiting interstater Jess Locke. We passed the guitar around a circle, requesting each others’ songs and singing along. Riding home, I had the Virginia Sook song “Mandarin” in my head. I thought about how nice it was that I struggle to keep up with the hyped new bands or the latest releases, but the music that I really want to hear is being made by my friends.
“Mandarin” is not recorded for me to share with you though, but I have always liked this song too, and it also has a nice video of the band (which actually since the clip was made has an almost totally new lineup) having a picnic
Laura Mardon – Hail! Hail! The Dead Can Dance
I used to think that Laura Mardon’s music was like an incredible secret – she would come up from the Gold Coast, play an amazing set to a few dozen people and go back.
This year though she had one of those experiences that you’re never sure actually happen in real life – she opened for Joey Cape from 90’s pop punk legends Lagwagon, and a few months later ended up at his house in the US recording an album. Hopefully it’s helped her music become less of a secret, because I think her short, simple songs with beautiful honest lyrics are wonderful.
The album begins with “Hail! Hail! The Dead Can Dance”, which started life as a speedy punk song for Laura’s band Albion Gold. As an acoustic ballad it’s better though, bittersweetly singing the joys of punk music while reflecting on some of the disappointments that come from the scene.
Provocalz, Lady Lash, Djarmbi Supreme, Task, GekkZ, Mad Madam, Mr. Krow, Felon – Stand Proud
2015 was a big year for militant aboriginal protest. Starting with the G20 in November 2014, where a new group called Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance and a new publication called Black Nations Rising announced their arrival; there was a long-running protest embassy in Redfern defying eviction notices to demand aboriginal housing on The Block; and then following the plan from the Western Australian government to shut down services to remote aboriginal communities (and Tony Abbott’s description of them as “lifestyle choices”); there were a series of rallies in major cities that aimed for, and often acheived, maximum disruption to white complacency.
Fittingly, aboriginal hip hop in 2015 got militant as well. Briggs brought politically conscious indigenous music to the Oz mainstream with his album “Shepplife”; while in Sydney Provocalz and Felon stepped into the limelight, bringing a posse of indigenous MCs with them.
Provocalz is phenomenally prolific – he self-released two albums this year plus various other tracks. The music is pretty simplistic, and sometimes I think his lyrics about shooting politicians are a bit over the top for me, but it’s nice to have an Australian rapper with actually something to say. Another really cool thing about Provocalz is that rather than an exercise in ego, his releases are extremely collaborative, as would suit music from a very communal culture.
His album “Only Built For Koori Linx” features over 20 different MCs, but if that’s not communal enough for you there was this song in response to the community closures that gives us 8 different rappers in 4 minutes.
Russel Svinurai – Chemutengure
For a couple of years, Russel Svinurai has lit up West End and Southbank, playing his mbira to passers by. I have always loved it, and have regularly paid him in meals on Friday nights when we have been on the street doing Food Not Bombs.
On discovering that he didn’t have any recordings, I invited Russel into 4ZZZ to do a live on air performance and to talk about the cultural and historical significance of mbira music. The three tracks I recorded (including this version of a traditional Zimbabwean song) became regulars on my stereo and on radio shows I did.
Ryan Gosling’s Dog – Why Do I Keep Coming Back Here?
As a lover of acoustic and punk music, it is always exciting to find a new addition to the small collection of folk punk acts around the country. So it was great to have Ryan Gosling’s Dog join the fold last year.
I saw them play a few times, but after about 9 months together (and a brief name change to Slyng Shot) they broke up, leaving us with very little recorded material and one less folk punk band. This clip is from what was possibly their first ever gig – at the Leard Forest, unrehearsed, with a bunch of ring-in musicians. But that is maybe my best memory of the band anyway, singing these fantastic songs with beautiful harmonies on the back of a truck as the sun went down.
George Telek – Free West Papua (One People One Soul)
Unbelievably, I didn’t hear about George Telek’s tour of Australia to celebrate Papua New Guinea’s 40th anniversary as a nation until after it happened. But as a small consolation, Wantok Music released a best of from the Papuan legend, compiling some of his best tracks over the years and a few new ones.
The record is full of amazing summery pop, but Telek is not afraid of tackling big issues either, and a new song is his latest offering for the Western half of the island of Papua – a country still waiting to celebrate their own independence.
Screamfeeder – Alone In A Crowd
Long before I ever came to Brisbane, I always had a strange attraction to bands from this city. As a teenager in Mudgee I owned and loved albums by The Saints, The Disables, Custard, Regurgitator and The Melniks, plus a random compilation of Brisbane punk bands.
Another band I’ve always loved is Screamfeeder. I remember years ago in Sydney working as a labourer, I would drag myself out of bed every cold dark morning by listening to the same Screamfeeder album.
Since living in Queensland, I’ve got to see them play a couple of times. And late in the year we got, for the first time in a decade, some new songs. Happily (because you don’t always get to say this about new music from old bands you like), all three songs are really good.
Kev Carmody – Livin’ In The Country
It wasn’t until the very end of the year that I heard the somewhat surprising news that one of my all-time favourite songwriters had released a new album. And not just one album, but in fact a four CD box set, of songs that Kev Carmody has had sitting around unrecorded, some for over 40 years.
Like every quadruple album ever made, it could probably have done with a bit of pruning. But the really wonderful thing about this album is that it was recorded in an old shed, where Kev apparently declared he didn’t want to use any drums or bass guitar – that instead they would use whatever was lying around in the shed for all the instruments beyond voice and guitar.
It’s a side of Kev Carmody’s music that has always been there but is not often discussed – he is a restless experimenter. And this album is just sonically amazing – like a bush Lee Perry. This song is a great example of that, as well as being a 2015 update on an old Kev Carmody theme – telling the stories of rural Australia.