By Jake Cleland
Over the past few days I’ve been perusing the various year-end lists popping up across the internet, realising how comparatively little new music I listened to this year. For the most part I avoided the blog hype and took my listening cues from lineups around Melbourne, so while I still can’t tell you what Frank Ocean’s latest album even sounds like, I might at least put you onto some bands who, as long as Tame Impala and Temper Trap and 360 exist, probably won’t get much more of a mention in the Australian music press. These aren’t the best Australian songs of 2012. It’d be disingenuous to say so, not to mention “best” and “Australian” are nebulous and arbitrary categories. They aren’t even the songs I listened to the most this year. No, for what it’s worth, these are just songs I know you might not, but might like to. Give ‘em a listen.
ScotDrakula – Liquid Jesus
“Just how important is separation from the artist?” I wondered the other night, standing in a Thornbury backyard waiting to star in ScotDrakula’s next music video. When one has written as much on a band as I have on ScotDrakula over the past year, there are certain astronomical expectations placed, and if there’s one fucking idiotic, masochistic thing to have it’s expectations for a band. Of course, the risk of heartbreak is half of love and maybe the love I have for the songs on their latest album Burner, songs I’ve seen performed live dozens of times this year, was never really in jeopardy. “They say! To me! You gotta be committed!” Is it want of dedication or want of psychiatric treatment? Is there even a difference? I know a few manic depressives. It’s a life of dichotomy. Sometimes they’re manic: intensely focused, creatively driven, and good luck getting ‘em to shut the fuck up. Other times they’re depressed: isolated from everyone and contemplating a literal leap into the existential abyss. Outside the B.EAST on Lygon St, ScotDrakula’s lead singer, Matt Neumann, once used the term “catharsis” to describe the desired result for people who come along to ScotDrakula gigs and it seemed particularly apt. ScotDrakula is an acknowledgement that whatever’s your kind of fucked up, it doesn’t have to rule you. Fuck it. Use it.
Francolin – When I Get To Heaven
Speaking of Things Matt Said, he also once described Francolin as musical ecstasy – total aural euphoria. That’s about right. Watching Staffan Guinane sing it live really brings it out, his face a depiction of that steely, Nordic sorrow. Swedish guitar-pop, the Jens Lekman comparisons are inevitable, but Lekman’s always seemed more whimsical and while Francolin have their moments of honeysuckle sweetness, ‘When I Get To Heaven’ takes a scythe to the meadow. “Put the pen down/Get rid of my address/And breathe before you reach for me/If it burned for a while then it died later/And I’m glad that I betrayed you.” Woof.
Rayon Moon – It’s Not Too Bad
You want lo-fi? Well you’ve got it, pal. This is some of the lowest fi around. Rayon Moon’s gnashing, trashy punk takes a turn towards the horror movie soundtrack. This came out very recently on cassette, which all the kids are releasing these days. Done with CDs, done with vinyl – I suppose the next step will be music videos put out on Betamax. Or for them real baroque motherfuckers, EPs encoded on piano rolls. Hell, Beck doesn’t even bother recording his own music anymore, he just writes it down and empowers you to play it yourself. Maybe all music is moving away from listening to music for pleasure, towards only listening to a song for as long as it takes for you to learn how to play it and then moving on. Anyway. The simplicity of this melody is what makes it brilliant. Just a few notes repeated over and over again while ghostly moans echo in the background and singer Gene Ulmer plays like Vincent Price over the top.
The Stevens – I Look Back
Another local band nursing the hangover from Bob Pollard’s influence, The Stevens make equally craftsman-like pop songs. Most don’t exceed two minutes. Restraint: it’s a virtue. I only came across The Stevens a few weeks ago after an interview with Rick from The Boomgates but already their self-titled debut EP is one of my most-played from this year.
“I hope you’re travelling/Well.” The pregnant pause before the last word feeds it back into the line. You could equally read it as, “Well, I hope you’re travelling”. Because if we’re not gonna make amends then you might as well do us the favour of fucking off. Mere Women. Anything but mere. All of Old Life is like this. Brooding and angsty but full of confidence.
8 Bit Love – Go Fuck Yourself, Summer
So many wasted, sweaty nights spent dancing to this song. The band were even more animated than the crowd. Simon’s always smiling up the back, banging away on his drums. One night he was driving a friend home and he stuck his head out the window. “What the fuck are you doing?” she said. It was a full moon. I don’t know that you could call him a victim of clinical lycanthropy cos he seems devoid of the typical Hollywood angst. He’s more like a puppy in the presence of strangers, just excited to see new faces. Justice’s last record was such a disappointment and the DFA folks have all packed it in so thank god for 8 Bit Love. Keep dance rock alive.
Urthboy – Empire Tags
2012 might be historical as the year Aussie hip hop started to acknowledge the hella racists occupying the audience. It began with this excellent group interview on The Vine where Matt Shea asked 16 Aussie hip hop acts if there was racism in Aussie hip hop and the almost-unanimous response was “Yes”. Tim Levinson, aka Urthboy: “Unfortunately it then becomes a dialogue where people say, ‘Oh well, Australian rap is racist’. Well, no, there’s racism in Australian society and it infiltrates at every single level. Try walking in the shoes of someone who’s a different skin colour – then you’ll see the extent to which racism can affect your daily life.” As the head of one of Australia’s most influential hip hop labels it was encouraging to see that Levinson was aware of the issue and that he was vocal about changing it. Of all the songs on his new album, ‘Empire Tags’ demonstrates this the most explicitly. Levinson asks how long until we acknowledge the racist-as-fuck, imperialist past that led to this country we’re supposed to be proud of, and tacitly suggests that until we reconcile that, we don’t deserve to feel proud. It’s not exactly Curse Ov Dialect-style political but it’s an okay step.
Catcall – Art Star (live)
(Ivy League has scoured this track from the web, the fuckers, but I know everyone’s got the album anyway.)
If I had to pick one on-record track from The Warmest Place as a favourite, I’d either pick ‘That Girl’ or ‘Satellites’ (or ‘Shoulda Been’, which, as Jess McGuire once said, “It shoulda been, it shoulda been, it shoulda been the single”). It wouldn’t be ‘Art Star’ because along with ‘Paralysed’ it sounds comparatively gauzy among the other pop gems on the record. However, on Thursday night I saw Catcall live for the first time and the song took on a completely different shape. On the record, the ponderous funk melody plods along while Catherine Kelleher snipes over the top of it. It’s fine. Live, though, the instrumental sections flex, Cathy shouts, the whole thing explodes with a real sassy force. That plodding bass-line? Bec Allen of the Fabergettes took it and tore it to shreds. It was one of the best performances of the set. At the Liberty Social a few months ago she told me it was written about a guy who sent her a comprehensive critique of their date. What an asshole.
[Here's 'The World Is Ours' for our non-Australian readers - Ed]