In the season for declarations of the year’s best albums, you’re bound to find big names and major releases that most will recognise. However, the Australian music community has also produced an overwhelming number of superb releases from new and lesser known artists.
Here’s our collection of 10 essential local releases you may have missed:
Crepes, ‘Cold Summers’
Emerging from the sleepy parts of the subconscious in April with a melancholic and wistful debut Cold Summers, Crepes are a brilliant new arrival to the Australian scene. Marvellous territories unfurl with a sedate mid-70s sound. Songs written so beautifully they remind of the good humour and lightness of Beatles tunes. The vocals are a delight with clever hooks and infectious harmonies, delivered in a minimum of effort.
Tim Karmouche leads the Melbourne five-piece, exploring self-doubt, young love, weariness, sadness and lost relationships. It’s a super nostalgic set, where living in a dream world is a tangible choice. We gain an impression of social ruptures left in their wake and greater happiness found in moving from Ballarat.
“Size Of Your Town” makes things clear. At the beginning he’s still at home, “You’re worth as much as the size of your town, and my town is quite small.” Later, Karmouche reflects from a better place. “I’m sure that you’ve seen, a much less miserable side of me. You might have seen me dancing around in this old town. And I’m sure that you know, I used to like to let it go. And now I never let my head get in this old town.”
This young band has produced something truly remarkable, seemingly with ease.
I’lls, ‘Can I Go With You To Go Back To My Country’
One of Melbourne’s favourite groups disbanded (for now) a few months after the July release of their debut album, one of the best local electronic releases of this year. It’s the high point of an upward progression from a series of dreamy and melodic EPs dating to 2011. Electronic textures, inventive vocal production and many layers of sound set their songs in a deep space. The departure came with “Fifty-Phiphti” in 2014, an enchanting and hypnotic dance floor single. Its gradual reveal, stripped back production and lovely looping vocal cuts led toward the full length album.
“Let Me Hear Just One” sounds like a collaboration between UK producer Burial and Thom Yorke during The Eraser. On “Keep”, arpeggiated guitars fill space and guide like Jonny Greenwood on Kid A, before the listener is submerged in organic, analogue washes of synths that remind of Caribou’s Our Love. It was a real surprise to see them call an end after reaching a creative zenith. We can hope it’s a false end or that great things will continue from this trio as individuals.
Devotional, ‘Wild Blue’
Madelaine Lucas and Robert Irish, the main members of Devotional, recently married and moved to the United States after the August release of Wild Blue. Their relationship is much of the focus of their debut album, wherein country ballads are adorned by dreamy elements of pop and shoegaze. They sing often of true love and making each other feel fine, reprising “My Baby Loves Me All The Time” from 2013 in a lovely new rendition. Madelaine grew up as the daughter of Steve Lucas from the punk band X. Her voice is the delicate focus of their sound, while Robert provides a deep spoken counter along with washed out solos on a hollow body Gibson. The songs were influenced by travels along the West Coast of America in 2014. Seasoned performers Ben James (Talons, Songs) and Ryan Adamson (Regular John) joined the group many months before they left Sydney for two weeks to record in a farmhouse in country NSW. The material was elevated by their contribution, producing a mature and confident record filled with rich piano, brisk rhythms and the hushed echo of fading voices.
This album is a slow burn that travels at its own pace. Much like the band, untroubled by the scene around them, crafting their sound in seclusion before setting off for new horizons.
Terrible Truths, ‘Terrible Truths’
The long-awaited debut album from Terrible Truths finally came out in October after a few limited singles and 7″ releases since 2011. The combination of Rani Rose and Stacey Wilson, on guitar and bass respectively, continues to produce vital and infectious post-punk, years after their teenage meeting in Adelaide. They became one of the great exports of a scene renowned for unusual rock n’ roll and experimental music. Their material has a pure aesthetic of riotous up-tempo tracks that people will dance to, characterised by the atonal harmony and urgency of their vocals.
The quality of their songs, combined with the limited supply of material, has served to make Terrible Truths a bit of a cult band. They moved to Melbourne and went to Bedroom Suck for their self-titled debut, with label boss Joe Alexander joining the band on drums. Their overseas reputation was earned through earlier releases, and they found keen audiences in a recent European tour with new label mates Blank Realm and Totally Mild. Their live show remains the best place to hear their music where the raw energy, groove and bursts of guitar noise have greatest impact.
Day Ravies, ‘Liminal Zones’
Day Ravies, one of Sydney’s best loved underground acts, turn in a stellar and diverse collection on Liminal Zones. Here, we get a far broader palette than was used across their lovely shoegaze debut Tussle, with drum machines and analogue synths finding a new prominence within their familiar home-recorded style, spinning out odd, infectious psych-pop gems through a noisy and glazed filter.
They’re light, fun and super prolific. This is their second album in two years, along with an EP and 7″, and not counting releases from side projects Mope City, King Tears Mortuary and Shrapnel. Music and touring seems all they do with Lani Crooks, Sam Wilkinson, Caroline de Dear and Matt Neville all active songwriters.
Their songs are filled with ideas and little time to spare, as nine of Liminal Zones‘ 13 tracks clock in under three minutes. “This Side Of The Fence” is less than two minutes and echoes the beautiful sound of Broadcast’s Tender Buttons. Crooks and de Dear can affect the understated ’60s murmur of Trish Keenan, who passed away in 2011.
“Enter The Bee” is a lovely heavy synth interlude that leads to “Hickford Whizz”, a dive-bombing take on noise rock and Wilkinson’s strongest entry. The three vocalists provide great variation in style, while upholding a shared purpose and identity.
Power, ‘Electric Guitar Boogie’
With members hailing from other established Melbourne punk groups, including Soma Coma, Dribble, Gutter Gods and Kromosom, Power’s debut is a straight-up, super solid rock and roll album. Electric Guitar Boogie came out in October, following continuous live touring over the past two years.
It’s about the groove and blasting riffs on guitars. There’s a ’70s hard rock thing happening in the style of Iggy Pop and The Stooges or Hawkwind. It’s the sound of drunken shows in small clubs, noisy as hell and unmistakably fun. While obviously recalling a past many weren’t around for, it’s a palette cleanser amid a music scene that veers continually towards pop and electronica. A throwback led by singer Slimy’s Chains, the snotty, shambolic rager, who has all the hallmarks of a true, charismatic frontman. Having more fun than everyone in the room and ready to throw it all in at any moment.
Nite Fields, ‘Depersonalisation’
This Brisbane four-piece make beautiful and impossibly sad shoegaze pop music. Their debut album feels dark and menaced, with the raw nihilism driven by the foreboding vocals of Danny Venzin, the man behind the Lost Race label. The soundtrack washes through with an atmosphere that’s reminiscent of late 80s UK bands like Cocteau Twins and a depressive Spacemen 3.
There’s lovely sad moments, like on “Prescription” when Danny sings, “Everything you wanted, I can’t give you. Anything you asked for, ask of me.” His artistic vision is intense, uncompromising and well realised, with lyrical themes of disassociation and emptiness translated straight to music. Incredible background sounds sneak to the main stage throughout, as subtle guitars and deep thudding atmospheres generate weightlessness. Staring into the void with prescription in hand.
Nigel Lee-Yang from HTRK approached the band after hearing their “Vacation” single from 2012. He mixed Depersonalisation over a nine-month period in Sydney. His driving involvement in production makes sense of the strong connection between the feeling of this album and the synth-driven aural world of HTRK. A perfect match.
Methyl Ethel, ‘Oh Inhuman Spectacle’
Methyl Ethel follows a recent stream of weird psych pop from Perth that’s been produced for mass appeal. Songwriter Jake Webb describes his process as “stream-of-consciousness pop”. It seems his inspirations are steeped in dramatic and super earnest vocal delivery, which has some semblance to his formerly local contemporary: Nicholas Allbrook from Pond.
The sound is pinched and fine, trading on regular repeating hooks and 12-string lead runs on guitar. The drenched production, although crafted to be easily consumed fodder for radio, has a hazy feel more aligned to Melbourne’s Sunbeam Sound Machine than the field’s bombastic juggernaut, Tame Impala. It’s understated and calm, though exceedingly earnest and emotive.
Sui Zhen, ‘Secretly Susan’
Becky Sui Zhen is one of the shining lights of Melbourne’s flourishing dance-pop scene. She also performs with new world disco tour de force No Zu and was previously in Fox + Sui with producer Andras Fox.
Secretly Susan is an arresting display of odd pop and dub influences with early morning dance floor feels and a soundtrack for driving home the next morning. The sound is hypnotic and aurally forgiving for a tired mind, reminding of the disco from long departed New York DJ Larry Levan.
The “Infinity Street” single is a melodic copy paste of “Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac. Like a downbeat, lackadaisical form of her Melbourne contemporaries GL. Weirder than modern pop wonder Banoffee. It gets off the path to explore summery, watery textures. The production is ingenious and painstaking, incorporating aural signifiers of Asian pop and some connection to the tropical house of her former partner Andras Fox in his Café Romantica collaboration with Oscar Key Sung.
Heart Beach, ‘Heart Beach’
Heart Beach take a pure and monotonous approach to guitar driven pop. It has the twinge of Scottish noise and post rock, though I suspect that has something to do with the inflection of their Hobart accents. The music is pleasingly simple, emotive and vulnerable. Songs are carried by the atonal harmonies of Jonathon McCarthy and Claire Jansen, focused on story telling.
The quiet, loud/quiet dynamics, along with limited instrumentation, few chords and two to three note guitar solos, recall The Pixies. Some of the songs are quite stark and dissonant, elements we habitually look for in Tasmanian acts, set in a comparatively remote and small music scene amidst a raw natural environment.
Heart Beach succeeded in finding a wide and positive reception for their record from many discovering their music for the first time. There’s something very satisfying about a band that limits itself to a simple aesthetic and builds a world with what they have.