Well another year has passed us by, the hangovers have worn off and the resolutions are just starting to lose the wind in their sails which means it’s a time for reflection, a time to look back on 2014 and all it had to offer, a time to wax intellectual about music! What struck me about last year was the amount of the quality of domestic releases, almost my entire list is made up of bands from Australia and NZ. 2014 was certainly full of obsessions for me, here’s 10 of them…
10. Dear Plastic – The Thieves Are Babes
I was privileged enough to play a show at the The Espy on the Basement stage earlier this year. The line-up was quite a melting pot of different genre’s, I was riding the high of playing my first interstate show when Dear Plastic walked onto the stage. They were quick to grab my attention as the gear nerd inside me let out a little yelp of glee seeing their analog synth set up and for the next 45 minutes I sat still, covered in goosebumps as I let the music wash over me. The Thieves Are Babes is Dear Plastics first full length release and after my experience at The Espy I was eager to get my hands on this record. When I listen to Dear Plastic I hear a band who know how to combine their influences (Portishead, Bjork and Milla Jovovich) without simply rehashing. There are enough similarities to lull you into a familiar vibe but the music never sounds rehashed. The first single from the record “Epic Delay” is the perfect example of this with singer Scarlette Baccini delivering a powerful Bjork-esque performance with a subtle uplifting drive from the rest of the band. This is the sort of record you disappear into like the safety and wonder of a long lost family member.
9. Jakob – Sines
It’s no secret to anyone that I am a massive Jakob fan – as a band they’ve always managed to keep the balance of raw energy and whimsical post-rock ambience absolutely perfect and their new album Sines is no different. It’s been 8 years since the release of their previous masterpiece Solace and I must admit I was a little sceptical. This was of course before hearing the first track Blind Them With Science. This is a record that demands the attention of the listener. Within the first few minutes I knew that I wasn’t listening to a band attempting to grab at former glory, but instead the band was chasing a new direction and a stronger vision. Sines is 44 minutes of pure post-rock bliss instilled with a potency and maturity that you just can’t fake. I can’t help but feel the band had let this record gestate in the very core of their hearts until it demanded to be let loose on the world.
8. Crosses – Crosses
Time for something a little more upbeat. I must admit I was somewhat oblivious to the existence of this band, a collaboration of Chino Moreno (Deftones), Shaun Lopez (Far) and Chuck Doom and I was very sceptical as is the case with many collaborative side projects that I come across. What I didn’t expect (though had hoped for) was a driving synth-pop record that left me feeling that this was a labour of love, another record that “just had to be released”. The record opens with This is a Trick an almost modern hip-hop track with just the right amount of Depeche mode to add a sickness and angst which continues throughout the record. I couldn’t help but reach for this album whenever I got in the car, whenever I was relaxing with friends or just needed to listen to something a little more relaxed and chill but with substance. From the driving, doomy Bitches Brew to the more ambient (somewhat NIN-esque) Cross, the record warps and twists from lighter pop tunes to the firey angst we know and love from bands like Deftones. This was an album I just couldn’t put down.
7. The Occupants – Singles Collection
Alright I’m aware this wasn’t exactly an album or even just a 2014 release but the music is so perfect I couldn’t leave it out of this list! The Occupants is the brainchild of Flynn and Luke Gower of Cog pedigree, who have slowly been releasing material one song at a time since the release of their debut single I’ve Been Thinking. Since then I’ve been waiting eagerly for the next snippet of information or music along with the rest of the Australian music scene. Each song is a constant progression, allowing you to feel like you’re watching the band evolve right before your eyes (or ears). For those that were hoping for just another Cog record you won’t be disappointed by any stretch but this is still a new, synth infused direction for the Gower boys. Each track is a journey in itself, the production is incredible, the level of musicianship is incredible and the song’s are just unbelievable. Even the longer tracks Hindsight and Wonderland don’t ever feel like they’re dragging, if anything you become so lost in the groove and poetry that you’re surpised that it was only 9 minutes!
6. I Am Duckeye – Commando Too
Ok so I’m very biased when it comes to I Am Duckeye. There aren’t many bands around these days that are able to write music about punching people in the dick, new and wonderful ways to masturbate, rehab and hi viz clothing whilst still sounding like a badass punk rock band. Commando Too is just Duckeye doing what Duckeye do best, which is be themselves. The whole album is testament to the bands inability to take just about anything too seriously while still making you want to headbang like a 13 year old who just discovered how to jerk off. I was lucky enough to play some shows with the boys last year and can only describe it as my bassist Karl did; “that was the best anti-depressant ever.” The lyrics are completely absurd, the riffs are heavy, what more can I say?? Buy it, you just have to experience Duckeye for yourself!
5. HTRK – Psychic 9-5 Club
HTRK are a band that took me quite some time to understand and enjoy but once that switch clicked over in my head I was head over heels in love. Jonnine Standish provides a gentle voice to the brooding synth creature that is HTRK. This is the sort of record I always found myself listening to when insomnia had taken hold of my mind. The album is both soothing and despondent, the perfect soundtrack for 3am. Every song seems to draw out and exorcise an emotion that you had almost forgotten existed, leaving you feeling liberated and at peace. It’s very hard to describe Pyschic 9-5 Club but fans of Massive Attack will definitely feel an affinity with the duo and I’m a firm believer that just like any psychedelic, set and setting plays an important part in the entire experience. I’d never describe them as music to help you sleep but the music of HTRK certainly seemed to help me wind down in a somewhat controlled way, lulling you into somewhat of a trance. This is particularly true in tracks Chinatown Style and Soul Sleep. Pscyhic 9-5 Club is another step deeper into the subtle emotions I think we all try and hide away, it’s cathartic and verging on therapeutic and it gives you room to breathe and process everything as it begins to surface and wash over you.
4. Shihad – FVEY
It’s been a while since I listened to Shihad however I was insanely eager to hear this record after hearing Killing Joke vocalist Jaz Coleman would be taking the reins as producer. The opening track Think You’re So Free sums up the entire record, Shihad are fucking back and they’re taking no prisoners! You can’t help but get caught up in the almost tribal vibe that’s prevalent throughout the entire album, the message is powerful, the riffs are powerful the whole thing is high energy, no bullshit. Title track FVEY is another perfect example of the bands ability to almost hypnotise the listener with an infectious groove that sounds like the love child of Sepultura’s – Roots Bloody Roots and Led Zeppelin’s – Immigrants Song. Lyrically the album is highly political, demanding your attention without ever feeling in the slightest bit preachy, a rarity these days. The band seem to have a very intense and very clear mission statement with this record, they’ve found the riff, they know what they want to say and they’re not going to fuck around tip-toeing around anything. Fans of the band (including myself) will always remember 1999’s The General Electric as the gold standard in Shihad’s discography, there was something about the 99′ release that just felt right and this is no different. Though FVEY is a much heavier, riff based record, the band are still able to capture the feeling of a raw live rock band, their trademark sound. Tracks like Song For No One and The Reason Why make you realise why you loved this band in the first place. Radio friendly, hard rock songs that are still able to tug at your heart strings and allow you to let go. I could spend forever talking about this record, there’s no meandering tracks that leave you feel like the band was “trying to make a hit” every single song IS a hit. FVEY is like a shotgun blast, you better be ready for it.
3. Behemoth – The Satanist
Behemoth are a band that I’ve loved since high school, I still have fond memories of blasting their music through my headphones on those particularly strong teen angst days and in my opinion, they are one of the most aptly named metal bands in the world. They sound like one big fucking Behemoth! Extreme metal and I have had a bit of time apart over the past few years, we’ve remained friends but nothing really seemed to rekindle that fire I once had… that is until I heard The Satanist. It’s been 5 years since the release of Evangelion with frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski battling Leukemia but this didn’t stop the band from releasing what is in my opinion one of the best extreme metal releases of the decade and certainly the best metal release for 2014. When listening to The Satanist the immediate impression is that the band are doing exactly what they’ve wanted to do for their entire 23 year career. This is the bands greatest work to date, this is their opus. The Satanist is a perfect fusion of extreme thrash/death metal with only the best cuts of black metal thrown in. Every part of this record seems painstakingly pieced together, from the opening riff of Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel to the epic almost orchestral ending of O Father O Satan O Sun! , every twist and turn, every riff is perfectly crafted. Behemoth have always been known for their artillery like wall of sound and this is no different but what I found the most interesting and the most striking was the melody carefully woven between the moments of pure chaotic onslaught. Tracks 5 (Amen) and 6 (The Satanist) are the perfect example of this; Amen is easily the most brutally heavy track on the record and is followed up by the more traditionally metal title track, Nergal’s almost singing vocals (a first for the band) cry out from a slow bass driven groove and choir like synths giving the listener some recovery time without compromising on quality. Suddenly the track opens up into a furore of blast beats with brilliantly contrasting almost smooth guitar solo’s, ending with the main melody accompanied by horns before fading into the next track (Ben Sahar) which opens with a spine chilling scream, leaving you begging for more double kicks, more distortion, more everything!
I feel I should also mention the first single and opening track Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel and the accompanying music video. Throughout their career Behemoth have been known for their image, their dauntingly demonic costumes and horrific music videos and again, this is no exception. The video for BYTG can only be described as a brilliantly crafted horror film, full of dark, satanic imagery without ever giving off a “cheesy” vibe. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the record and to the band in 2014, with the ending slowly rising in intensity in a tense yet orchestral manner, leaving the listener almost begging for something more extreme and oh yes…it delivers. The Satanist is an absolute fucking metal masterpiece!
2. Sydonia – Reality Kicks
Words can’t describe how excited I was when a release date was announced for the bands follow up to 2006’s Given To Destroyers. I had heard some of the newer material at various gigs but I was eager and a little nervous to hear what the follow up to one of my all time favourite Australian records would be. Let’s just say my nerves were put to rest… Reality Kicks is everything I wanted from the band and a whole lot more. The album opens with the sound of a baby’s breath before kicking into the monolithic track Here. The whole song is Sydonia at their best and within seconds of hearing it you can’t help but let out a cry of “fuck yes!” with a chorus that just helps to build tension before an incredible percussion bridge opens everything up. I can’t begin to describe how much I love this song and in particular that short bridge. The second track Shame dives straight into the heavier side of Sydonia we’ve all come to know and love, without wasting any time. Already you start to feel like you’ve settled in for the ride and you know it’s going to be a good one! This is another record that you get the feeling was painstakingly crafted to produce a very specific experience, constantly moving between softer more grounded melodies and lyrics found in the albums title track to the epic “journey” songs like Nobodies and C 13. There’s not a bad song on this record and I mean that with all sincerity, it’s a complete mix of ballads, all out metal mosh grooves and prog soundscapes, none of which feel out of place.
Almost pop songs like Drag You Out and Wheels don’t seem to take anything away from the accompanying brutallity, with singer Dana Roskvist’s vocals blending effortlessly from blood curdling screams to soft, fragile melodies. Crash Here Tonight is another great example of the bands ability to combine two distinct sounds in the one song. Starting with a reverb and delay saturated guitar and a strong percussion driving force, the song suddenly starts to mutate into something more twisted, the chugg of the guitar builds slowly before erupting into a headbangers wet dream, then followed by the no nonsense rock powerhouse track TI. Song’s like Sinner are yet another example of the bands ability to move from dark ambience to straight up chanting lyrical anthems without any feeling of awkwardness. It’s this ebb and flow between genre’s that keeps Reality Kicks so engaging, every element serves a purpose. The band isn’t afraid to show their more gentle side and they don’t’ allow themselves to get drawn into some of the more meandering prog elements that are becoming more and more prevalent in the Australian scene today. Had it not been for one more release this would have been my number 1…..
1. Forever The Optimist – Arecibo
Ok so I should definitely note that I’m pretty biased here, I’ve played a few shows with the band and consider them among my close friends, however I won’t let that get in the way of the professional music journalist I’m pretending to be! I’ll start with one simple statement: everything about this record is perfect. Arecibo is the band’s first full length release and it’s a record that’s been crafted by blood sweat and tears, there are no shortcuts, there are no easy rides and from beginning to end; you’re in FTO’s world and they have a lot to tell you. The most striking thing I found with this record is how perfectly the track listing was, the opening title track is an ominous introduction to the full FTO experience, quickly bursting to life with Warning Horns which is like a slap across the face from an old lover, twisting and turning. From there the album continues building that energy while always keeping a subtle tension, denying you the release until you just can’t take it anymore and the levy breaks, opening to a strong hard rock mosh groove. Medusa is where the record starts to take an interesting turn, a track that lets you catch your breath without skimping on the quality before breaking into the bands latest single End of Antics. This is where the band starts to flex a muscle, both musically and lyrically. Vocalist Jamie Page delivers his lyrics with vitriol before allowing you a moment to process, this is where you realise the band is a lot more than your average Australian prog-rock outfit, this is something special. The track ends on an epic high, vocal chords tearing as the pleading line “will you learn?” is repeated over and over. Suddenly the album turns quiet, but it’s not the same breathing space as Medusa, this is something completely different, it’s a whole new level of maturity as we enter Chiral parts 1 & 2. You feel now the band is really trying to get a message across, is it a political or social commentary? To me it’s something a lot more, I can’t help but feel the band is trying to get across their own unique experience of life, love and the emotions we struggle to understand every day. The driving guitar force of Dan Page and Kellie Buckman ensure that this message is heard, whatever it may be. It’s time for you to pay attention and they’re going to fucking make you.
Now we come to the end of the record, a short interlude track that works as a calm before the storm that is Revolutions. Drummer Andrew Knox wakes you from the little trance created by the previous tracks with a thick reverberant thud, with subtle, fragile backing vocals preparing you for the experience. The accompanying music video is absolute perfection and one of the best music videos I’ve seen in a very long time. Revolutions is one of those songs that people will either get or they won’t; it’s subtle, touching on a desperation and chaos that is obvious in every element of the 4minute 10 epic as FTO do what they do best, let the tension finally break into an incredibly emotional climax. Now we reach the end of our journey with the track I Set Signals. It’s very hard for me to put into words my feelings towards this song, it has been somewhat of a comforter to me in my darkest days. The song starts quietly with just bass and vocals before the band slowly take their positions leading us to the first “chorus” of the song. The lyric “I will bide my time amongst the rubble, I swear there will be answers there” has been repeated in my head infinite times and is delivered in such a way you can’t help but imagine someone tired, worn, looking up at you from the ground as you share a moment of affinity. The track builds to what seems to be a breaking point then lulls back slowly, you hear the desperation and exhaustion permeate through every single inch of this piece of music. The final “chorus” defiantly breaks away, it’s tragic and uplifting, like a sudden explosion of light in an otherwise dark existence, that slowly fades.
Arecibo is complete, powerful yet grounded and is the perfect mixture of technicality and humanity. I haven’t been able to put this record down since its release. It has the driving hard rock intensity and the emotional maturity and catharsis many bands spend there entire career struggling to achieve. I could spend a lifetime talking about this album. It’s been the soundtrack to my darkest hours and brightest days, hence it’s place at number one in my book.
By: Christian Twiggy Carter