FAVOURITE VINYL OF 2013

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My vinyl collection expanded considerably in 2013; it remains my format of choice for the music that means the most to me. Many of these records were acquired through mail order, I find it to be the most convenient way of sourcing my music. I’ll always love hitting record shops however and want to give a shout out to Tommy Gun Records (where the Native Cats album was purchased), Polyester, Round and Round, and my local store Thornbury Records for providing excellent service and superior product range in 2013. Drop that needle…

Dirty Beaches
Drifters / Love Is The Devil
Zoo Music

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Alex Zhang Hungtai’s triumphant nocturnal opus earned plenty of accolades in 2013 and rightfully so. Drifters / Love Is The Devil sounded like both an arrival and a departure for Dirty Beaches, taking the no-wave noise of previous releases to a more expansive, unsettling realm. From the distorted groove of opener Night Walk through to intense sonic saturation of Mirage Halls, first half Drifters makes for gripping listening. These are distinctly cinematic songs, suggesting seedy noir action and tragic love stories mixed up with deals gone wrong. The minimal atmospherics of second half Love Is The Devil were also stirring but in quite a different way. If Drifters is the whiplash motorbike ride through downtown Bangkok at 2am then Love Is The Devil is watching the sun bleed out of the Mekong through an amphetamine come-down haze, a slightly concussed set of instrumental pieces that explore murky depths greater than any lyrics can hope to describe. It’s wonderful when an album not only surpasses your expectations but offers a totally unexpected and challenging listening experience. Drifters / Love Is The Devil shattered all expectations, in the most thrilling of ways.

Ensemble Economique / Heroin in Tahiti
No Highway – Black Vacation
Sound of Cobra Records

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What a pairing. Italian label Sound of Cobra Records did a great service to the world of music when they combined the talents of Ensemble Economique and Heroin in Tahiti, artists who share a flare for the sinister and surreal. Brian Pyle continues to astound with his output as Ensemble Economique, and while I also thoroughly enjoyed his release with Not Not Fun, this was my favourite release of his for 2013. Opener I light my cigarette, I see YOU there is, as I will blog about elsewhere, the best song I heard all year. I was instantly hooked by the combination of sexy rhythms and dread filled drones that characterise this track, as was everyone else I played it for. A big sauntering beast of a song. EE’s remaining tracks on this side are great too, sitting together cohesively with the opener to create a troubling, magnificent whole. I wasn’t familiar with Heroin In Tahiti before listening to this record but am very glad to be have been taken on their Black Vacation, a terrific expedition into pulverising “death surf”, as they call it. A great achievement, issued with an apt note of caution by Sound of Cobra: The music that springs from having experienced these horror trips is as seductive as Lisa Bonet drinking a little red rooster’s blood! Be warned: This is a one-way ticket, no refunds, no exorcism included. 

Sonny and The Sunsets
Antenna To The Afterworld
Polyvinyl

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Ah Sonny. I’ve got so much affection for your music, it fills me with such giddy joy. I’ve been aboard the good ship Sonny and The Sunset since the get-go though I did feel previous album Longtime Companion slightly missed the mark with it’s existential country ramblings. It was good, but Antenna To The Afterworld was great. It’s a record that’s got everything I dig so much about Sonny’s music – warped humour, subtle shadings of darkness, tears-streaming-down-your-cheeks love songs and straight up good time party tunes. It’s really hard for me to single out highlights, I just adore this whole album so much, but MutilatorPath of Orbit and the interstellar romance of Green Blood seem to be thesongs that plant the biggest grins on my face. It was a total gas to see Sonny perform these songs and older hits as part of Melbourne Music Week earlier in the year, he’s a fantastic performer with a super tight band backing him. If I could see him every night, I would.

The Native Cats
Dallas
R.I.P. Society / Ride The Snake

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Native Cats were a band that I was only vaguely aware of before this year. I found their oblique synth pop somewhat evasive, I just never had that moment of clarity with their sound. Dallas provided me with a full album of clarity. Julian Teakle and Peter Escott achieve innovation through minimalism in their music, combining spare electronics and insistent bass lines with non-suquitor lyrics to create a compelling, singular sound. I Remember Everyone is one of my favourite Australian songs of 2013, an uncompromising reflection on existence that crackles with a defiant post punk attitude. Like all of Dallas, it’s a tense listening experience that disorientates in the unexpected twists and turns it takes, both lyrically and sonically. The production is superb and with a final sheen applied by the omnipresent Mikey Young, Dallas is an aural treat to listen to on vinyl nice and loud. There’s a terrific sense of space to these songs; though minimal they achieve great weight in the precision of the performances and in the power of the lyrics. Sure to linger long on the Australian musical landscape, and beyond.

Kevin Greenspon / Former Selves
Betrayed by the Angels / Apropos of Golden Dreams
Bridgetown Records

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Release #100 for the great Bridgetown Records was a superb split between label founder Kevin Greenspon and the prolific Paul Skomsvold, aka Former Selves. I regularly took to playing this record in the mornings as I started my day, I found the serene synthesizers of most tracks to be a fine way to settle my mind for the coming day. As such the album has grown to have a reassuring power over me, and I’m still discovering its subtleties. Betrayed by the Angels / Apropos of Golden Dreams could lazily be slotted in the “ambient” genre but it’s not all blissful minimalism, with some of the Greenspon tracks (From Concrete to CarelessnessTruth and Falling) exploring more abrasive sonic textures. The tone of the Former Selves tracks is well described by song titles Watercourse Way and Golden Dreams. With it’s graceful piano part and gentle layers of synth, the latter is simply immaculate. A transfixing piece of music that ranks with Skomsvold’s finest achievements, and that’s saying something. As a whole the album works brilliantly, an ingenious paring of two artists gifted in crafting sounds to drift away with. An album that has become a fine friend of mine.

Lee Noble
Ruiner
Bathetic

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I remember receiving this LP on a wet Melbourne night earlier in the year. I remember listening to it for the first time. That sort of record. To say I’d been looking forward to Ruiner is an understatement, in recent years I’ve become slightly obsessed with the music of Lee Noble. Listening to his music remains for me a deeply personal experience. Mostly I listen at night and on my own, mostly with headphones. Often while walking through empty streets. Ruiner is instantly identifiable as a Noble record in the slow melt of Covers and the disconnected haze of December ∞. However each album from Noble is markedly different, each has it’s own character, and this is true of Ruiner. Noble’s vocals are sometimes much more coherent on this album than previous releases, with the less emphasis on noise. The largely acoustic Wring the Rag is disarmingly spare – it’s both pleasant and somewhat jolting to be hearing Noble’s voice so clearly. This said there are still dense sonic textures at work in every moment of Ruiner, it’s a beautiful headphone experience. Centrepiece Demon Pond traverses a great expanse of musical styles in it’s fascinating nine minutes, while Disintegrate Ideas provides perhaps the most beautiful song on the album with its combining of other worldly organ, ghostly voices and shimmering beats. I could go on forever but I will not. Another triumph from one of my favourite music makers.

Michael Beach
Golden Theft
Twin Lake Records

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It was wonderful to sit back and absorb this full length from Michael Beach after closely following his progress in recent times. Here were songs that I had grown deeply fond of from previous EPs and 7 inches (There Is No Edge Of The World To Run To, Straight Spines, Mountains + Valleys) placed alongside several new exciting songs. Along with Chad VanGaalen, Beach is one of my absolute favourite modern songwriters. As a lyricist he is a craftsman – able to tell a compelling tale while slowly building tension in his words that often muse on love, sometimes evoke biblical beings and always resonate with honesty. There’s great variety in these songs too, whether it be the jolting punk mayhem of Straight Spines or the bluesy grit of Dirt or the west coast feel of Static, Golden Theft is a surprising and constantly engaging rock and roll album. It ends on a grand note with the epic Eve, an unholy vaunt along the highways of America with Jesus and a whole cast of misfits in tow. It’s great ride, right through to to the bitter end.

Parading
Swallowing A Sunflower
Birds Love Fighting

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Just recently I took a detailed look at this album from Melbourne’s Parading, a fine record that I’m obviously very fond of. Not much I can add to what I’ve already said really, you can read the review here. An excerpt:

Heartache and hardships come and go in this town, just like any other place. The Great Constant in Melbourne is the music – guitars to get lost in. Noise that bleeds the pain away. Great bands releasing great albums that become your closest of friends. Parading are a Melbourne band.

Mountains
Centralia
Thrill Jockey

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Experimental overlords return with their finest hour (and a bit). Is Centralia a place? A mystical land that this album explores? Perhaps. I certainly felt as if I was leaving this dimension as this album resonated throughout my home. The transcendent soundscapes of Centralia do indeed seem to suggest geological formations though not through brute force, rather these pieces evoke the subtle processes of nature – the gradual corrosion of rock by water, the shaping of land by wind, the complex contours of – yes – mountains. Processes of great power of course, though you cannot see them happening. They are subtle. For me this is what Mountains achieved on the grand Centralia – earth shifting power through restrained and supremely skilled music making. Synthesisers feature heavily throughout but so does acoustic instrumentation – to label Centralia electroacoustic seems woefully inadequate. It defies description. A deep listening experience, and a beautiful place to visit.

Trouble Books
Love At Dusk
MIE Records

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Another superb album of pristine, slightly disconnected electronic pop from Trouble Books, released on UK label MIE. What I’ve always liked about the Ohio duo is their ability to elicit a certain natural warmth from cold, synthetic sources, and Love At Dusk was perhaps their most coherent realisation of this sound. It’s also a fine advertisement for the album as an art form. Stacking Spheres is a wonderful song but being paired alongside the off-kilter piano paean of Unfolded results in both songs becoming imbued with a great lasting resonance. The contrast between the cacophonous conclusion of Fake Fern Shadows and the heart melting The Very End, Again is also genius, I recall being profoundly moved when I first heard it. Love At Dusk is that kind of listening experience. A brilliantly arranged album, best experienced by listening devotedly from beginning to end. Trouble Books are the pulsing electric flame. They are lovely lost moments in the analogue/digital divide. They’re a thousand beautiful moments beneath the shimmering pixelated sunset.

THIS MONTHS VINYL : PARADING

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Our Melbourne is a town that never gives you what you want. Desperate for definition as we all are, Melbourne – like any large city – defies categorisation, in both meteorological and urban terms. You can talk about how pretty the bay is on a summers day, but spend an afternoon sweating in the industrial badlands of Preston and you might not be so chirpy. Wax lyrical on the wonderful creative community that thrives in the town and I’ll suggest you walk down Swanston Street at 2am on a Saturday night. Tell me how everyone is getting along. Talk about how lovely it is outside right now and be certain that you’ll be struck by a blast of sleet within the next moment. My point being that a city is a rich and complex place, it has both unpleasant and beautiful aspects. Dark and light. Loud and quiet.

Released on ace local label Birds Love Fighting, “Swallowing A Sunflower” is a guitar odyssey that captures the contrasting sides of life in Melbourne. And those guitars are glorious. “Shoegaze” is probably one of my most disliked of all silly genre titles but it’s hard to talk about this record without dropping it in. The guitars on “Sunflower” do indeed build walls of sound and we are indeed guided into spiralling chasms of noise by these dream-like songs. The sound here tips its hat to stalwarts of late 80s shoegaze however there’s a rawness to the Parading sound that indicates their place of origin; a combining of hard edges and formless (I do like that word) noise that makes it a distinct Melbourne album.

There’s been a lot of hype about the rise of the “New Pop Underground”  in Australia recently but the last eighteen months has also been a Golden Age for heavier bands, led by acts such as Batpiss, The Spinning Rooms, White Wallls and Exhaustion, to name but a few. Parading fit somewhere between the two fields; their songs have a tenderness that sets them apart from these other high volume bands. Their sound is undeniably all about volume however and, like the bands mentioned above, seeing them perform live is the best way of experience Parading. My appreciation for this album has been heightened by seeing a few Parading gigs and they’re an impressively tight unit as a band, devoid of showmanship in their performance. What they are is assured, sharp and paint-strippingly loud. It’s the contrast between the power of their performance and the themes of uncertainty and personal struggle in Tom Barry’s lyrics that makes them an intriguing band.

Opener “Apollo” is the heaviest track of the album, a mid-tempo crusher that establishes the elements of the Parading sound : the muted, rock-solid rhythm section, those heavyweight guitars and Barry’s distinct voice.

His delivery has something of an affected slant to it – not slurred but sounding alternately like he is either entering an altered state or coming down from one. It’s a central part of the bands sound and adds to the understated quality of this album – while the instruments are often hitting celestial heights of noise, the vocals keep the sound grounded, and very human. “Apollo” also hints at lyrical themes to come in it’s fragmented, pained conversations with lovers-

You don’t come easy to me;
Thinking of how long;
We didn’t know that we was wrong

“Country Song” is a heavy one too though slightly more melodic than its predecessor, with the presence of acoustic guitar perhaps contributing to the songs title. It’s got a brighter feel to it, with a guitar refrain that almost reminds me of Teenage Fanclub’s “Alcoholiday”. The lyrics  feel conversational but that conversation is happening with just one person – an overseen diary entry of doubt and second guessing.

These dark themes take on their bleakest form in “Flying Too Low”, a song that inverses the myth of Icarus.

Please don’t turn around that’s too slow;
You’re flying too close to the sun;
I’m flying too low

The words here seem to deal with the paralysis of depression. I don’t believe it’s a misanthropic song though the lyrics reference wanting to be alone, of being repelled by society. The feeling of isolation is tangible, though as with many songs on this album the introspective moments are offset by the power of the band. It bristles with stoicism. Parading battle sadness with noise, fend off demons with jet exhaust strength guitars.

At only thirty five minutes “Swallowing A Sunflower” could be regarded as a brief album for a band with such an expansive sound but I think it’s perfectly weighted. Three instrumental tracks break up the album nicely – “Julienne” at the end of side one, “Sweet Julienne” as the second track on side two and the title track as the album closer. Wedged between the two “Julienne” tracks is a crackling cover of Springsteen’s “Factory”. At almost twice the length of the original, it’s delivered at a slower tempo and filled out with a much greater volume. That said it’s one of the more minimal songs on this album, delivered with (of course) less earnestness than the Boss to create a reflective rendition that seems to have more to do with the drudgery of working life than being a rousing working class anthem. Mostly it sounds like a band delivering an affectionate cover a song they admire, and in the context of being a Melbourne album it evokes the city’s hulking docks and factories – an aspect of Melbourne that is rarely acknowledged in song.

“Dreaming about Killing” is aptly named, its dark dreamy tone makes it the most “shoegazy” of all the songs here. A line that concerns a dream about murder can’t help but remind me of the opening line of “Via Chicago”, one of my favourite Wilco songs. And while on the Chicago band, the sound of “Swallowing A Sunflower” does remind me of “A Ghost Is Born” songs like “At Least That’s What You said” and “Hell Is Chrome” in the combining of detached vocals with cathartic guitar noise. Another big influence is undoubtedly Galaxy 500, and the albums high point “Untouched” evokes “Fourth of July” in the spoken delivery of the verses and soaring guitars.

A poignant postmortem on a relationship, it’s a terrific song that’s delivered with great power and honesty.

It was bound to happen;
They were bound to fall over just to get up again;
Two people crashing into each other;
Just to see how close they could get

In tandem with the blissful spaciousness of the closing instrumental, “Untouched” rounds off the album beautifully. Dark days have been encountered on “Swallowing A Sunflower” but it’s an album that leaves a positive afterglow.

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Like the long Melbourne winter that never seems to end, followed by the spring that never was, followed by the summer that refuses to begin, this album reflects the uncertainty of life in Melbourne but, I believe, rejoices in that uncertainty. Heartache and hardships come and go in this town, just like any other place. The Great Constant in Melbourne is the music – guitars to get lost in. Noise that bleeds the pain away. Great bands releasing great albums that become your closest of friends. Parading are a Melbourne band.

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For a limited time you can purchase “Swallowing A Sunflower” through Birds Love Fighting and receive  “Bow Down To” by Hierophants and the ‘”Fresh Milk EP” by Orbits 7″ for free.
Visit the Birds Love Fighting Bandcamp to do so.