“Darts, darts, darts”
And so we bid farewell to a widely accepted shitty year in geopolitical intrigue, a potentially hopeful year for a cultural shift in the film/music/any industry, and another excellent year in Australian music.
What I was most excited to see were the galvanised efforts to craft greater continuity and communities from the musical diaspora. A sense of strength in numbers prevailed amongst the all-female, LGBTI corners of Melbourne’s punk circuit, with gigs increasingly premised upon identity and shared sociopolitical outlooks. By extension, these gigs were purposeful in their ethos; inclusionary, forceful and particularly pertinent in light of the #MeNoMore campaign.
New banners formed under the new label Hysterical Records from the Wet Lips/Cable Ties constellation, while people quickly rallied around relative newcomers to the scene Hex Debt, LAZERTITS, Crop Top and Parsnip. Fittingly, the year ended with a Meredith book-ended by star turns from Amyl and the Sniffers and Suss Cunts.
But the solidarity wasn’t just limited to the punk landscape, and frequently nights offered curious couplings across the rock/electronic continuum. A spirit of festive solidarity drove the punk/techno/bangers of Wetfest and the new cross-doctrinal mini-festival Republic, which pushed out three winning instalments in the space of a year across a number of venues.
New banners formed in the erstwhile fragmented electronic space too, as weekend festival Obsidian housed the various pockets of Melbourne synth acts under one roof. While I’m all for circuit benders breaking up a punk gig, it’s rare to find a dedicated symposium outside the humble label showcase. Hopefully the collegial atmosphere blossoms into some more permanent institutions next year.
Finally, while we bid the Mercat a sad goodbye, and no one venue has convincingly assumed the throne, promoters grew more adventurous in its absence. From underpasses to churches to reservoirs, it was the year of fugitive assemblies that marked a departure from more common expressions of DIY, championed by city-backed heavy hitters Liquid Architecture and the creatively under-resourced alike. With so many intriguing spaces at our fingertips, it’s great to see promoters beginning to meet the potential.
So without further ado, here’s my definitive, unassailable list of my favourite records of the year. It’s not listed in any particular order, other than being vaguely top-heavy in the word count. Whether having more to say on a record is a more reliable indicator of quality is anyone’s guess, but I will say there are a few records at the end there – honourable mentions we will say – that don’t need to be paid, in my view, any further lip service. In the interests of promoting under-appreciated acts from all over the world, this list favours the sleeper hits – Bandcamp releases, cassettes, bands with less Facebook likes than your local laundromat and so on. Please enjoy, and log a purchase if you like the sell.
Myra Davis/Beate Bartel/Gudrun Gut – Sirens
Carrying on from the trio’s previous collaboration of spoken word ‘tronica Cities and Girls, Sirens makes further inroads into the struggle for female self-actualisation in the face of cultural hegemony controlled by unimpeachable iconoclasts and their pupildom. Davies’ poetry still abounds in ghosts, from her past and the collective past – Ophelia, Blanche DuBois, John Cage – as history weighs insidiously on the present. For the female characters the ghosts are cages, quick parcelled reference points that invariably render their existence collateral to the canon of dynamic male protagonist – sirens, mermaids, damsels, the medusa, the madonna.
While Davies does speak conversationally and with frank wit, even the more whimsical pieces have moments of torrid bleakness. ‘Inshallah’ springs to mind; a chance encounter between a “global, hip and handsome” Turk and a “lovely Arab” at Tegel airport, who after her flight is delayed agonises over whether to follow the handsome stranger to his native Istanbul for one night. Silently urging the girl to indulge the flight of fancy, she rationalises ”a girls more likely to be molested by a relative, tutor, boy next door, dirty old stable hand” anyways. Meanwhile, the consistently excellent Gut and Bartel lend a diverse suite of sinister yet bouncy grooves to the proceedings. Heavy stuff, uniquely realised.
X-Pop – Alphabet Cereal
It’s rare to find such pop immediacy with such a rarefied air; rarer still to find one that quickly detours into dank trip territory. On ‘Dear Sally’ Eden’s articulate melodies traverse a gossamer of organ and plucky percussion only to land in the oil slick drone of ‘Temporary’, the stammering atonal guitar sounding like a clump of insects freshly deposited in an oil slick. Mel Eden’s vocals similarly curdle under blustery feedback delay, crescendo-ing into a tense howl as the tune begins to collapse under the weight of itself.
‘Sticky Patch’ offers further surprises: an abrupt cabaret number that, although it won’t necessarily be your favourite of the lot, keeps the sense of manic unease alive and well by taking a left turn rather than just turning up the heat.
Finally, ‘Julie Joy’ rounds it off with a suitably serene finale; the Vangelis synth-phonics bold and articulate, something not so shy of Laurel Halo’s kaleidoscopic Quarantine. Geena Cheung’s plays the synth like she’s scoring film (before we started punctuating every scene with stomach-churning subs), with sudden plunges into dissonance marking dramatic shifts in mood.
Like Sky Needle, X-Pop have developed their own vocabulary for pop music, yet the noisier moments indicate where their hearts lie. I suppose it has been a bit of a theme for me this year (I promise there’ll be a few more strings to the 2018 bow) but in an age of enigmatic shoegazing and ethereal cooing, it’s refreshing to hear the performative zeal of bands like this hit the experimental landscape.
Ewa Jutska – Acid Smut
[Fractal Meat Cuts]
Like other producers uncoupling rhythmic synthesis from dance music in recent years (Lorenzo Senni, EVOL), Jutska is keenly attuned to the infinite possibilities of her instrument – in this instance the 303. On the plumbly titled Acid Smut, the Polish-born Londoner really makes that baby sing: converting the world’s funnest synthesiser into dizzying long-form excursions. And like Senni, it still manages to get you moving without a kick drum to give the marching orders.
Various artists – MECHA01
Don’t let the cover art fool you… wait no let the cover art fool you. This is some utterly ballistic arrhythmia from young Argentinian collective T R R U E N O (as if the indiscriminate caps didn’t tip you off). For a compilation, MECHA01 is remarkably consistent – both in terms of content and quality – and one of the finest opening statements a label could stake themselves on. Sitting at the intersection of the PAN-coveted hyper-definition production and rolling Principe rhythms, here are 12 new artists who reward dance floor rotation and close listening in equal measure.
Total Leatherette – For the Love of the Night
Speaking of cover art. In the spirit (and welcome return) of some of early industrial’s bleakly unsexy appendage art, TL’s dank beat at once evokes the abandoned plant dripping with condensation and the club at full heave wiping precipitated sweat from your elbow. While they rarely get into a groove that could have any place at a rave, make no mistake, these slow-burning pulses are still in attendance, burning at the back of your mind with every glug of jungle juice.
Generally, I’d like to say I want the music to speak for itself. But this is such a neatly packaged constellation of sound, imagery and vibe you’d happily ink it on your bicep.
A Middle Sex – Soul Sways West
[The Audacious Art Experiment]
Originally released in 2015 as a measly run of 30 cassettes, Public House Recordings thankfully gave this record a second wind this year. All I can say is, what a fucking journey. As the eddies of vocal feedback land on the Shit & Shine psycho-boogie epic title track the band become less predictable with each crooked turn. In a time where psychedelic rock fails to really hit that third eye, it’s great to hear A Middle Sex marry the tradition with modern electronics and conceive something that feels wholly other from either. A psych record like no other this year.
Normil Hawaiians – More Wealth Than Money
[Upset The Rhythm]
Another reissue here but one that again wholly deserves recognition. This is a very recent discovery, from a few weeks ago no less, but it has quickly gained high rotation.
Post-punk has rarely sound as free as on this expansive set. The music falls in and out of focus like a fever dream of wayward ideas – sonic collages, baroque arrangements, spoken word, noise, with more cogent post-punk bangers emerging from the fugue (boy ’Sally IV’ really snaps you out of it). There are even some oddly prescient post-rock churners in the mix. Not like the forerunners i.e. Talk Talk, Slint, Bark Psychosis either; this is swimming in the same earth-splitting tectonics of GY!BE.
The Quietus were sheepish to describe More Wealth Than Money as the Pet Sounds of post-punk, but I’d throw out an equally tentative Smile of post-punk – a pointilistic painting with a strange air of sadness and despair. Stunningly ambitious for a debut.
Hypnobeat – Prototech
[Dark Entries Records/Serendip Lab]
Probably getting egregious with these reissues now, but shit if I’m not astounded by the precociousness of these recordings. This is one of those records that is so ahead of their time that it makes you realise how stupid it is that we still marvel at techno in 2017.
In a time where the genre was still lurking in the shadows of Afrika Bambaataa and Kraftwerk, Hypnobeat emerged as one of the few acts I’ve heard to give the 808 that real thrust before people thought to dance to it. Indeed, most of the tunes on this comp were almost entirely conceived with a pair of them – heavy jacking broken electro jams mugging full sleaze a la Diagonal, Mazzochetti et al. The cowbell has rarely sounded so surly.
Monologue – Spazio
A stunning treat for the ears from Monologue aka Marie e le Rose on Paris’ Hyle Tapes. Rose’s glacial evolutions have the sensation of a bud coming to bloom in slow motion, while sleepy resonances and sonic artefacts orbit around the stereo field. But it’s a real tour of moods, so don’t be expecting your regular ambient sleep-aid.
Yair Elazar Glotman – Compound
As more and more NTS shows edge into kosmiche and spiritual jazz (I’m sure Alice Coltrane has been blogged up to a fine SEO in recent years), it was only a matter of time before more producers commenced the search for the real spirit sound.
Which is a very cynical way of putting it; there have been some excellent journeys into the deep dark forests of Jon Hassell over the last few years with the likes of Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement and Refracted. But where those records channeled natural soundscapes into ambient music, Glotman is not so subdued. His music is a garden of instruments awakening into full flight; a rich vibrant sonic cornucopia with the consistency of water. As with the Necks, it’s a record enamoured with the perfect combination of timbre, and it comes damn close.
Davy Kehoe – Short Passing Game
[Wah Wah Wino]
Few records have been as on point as Kehoe’s Short Passing Game this year. And by on point I don’t mean it’s a ripper, which it is. Rather it feels like Kehoe has telekinetically mined the brains of the alt-music press for the most critically-assured cocktail of ideas. He knew the answers before he sat the test.
But don’t let that suggest for a second this is some focus group’s chimera; Short Passing Game is extremely creative. In many ways its the perfect intersection of krautrock, punk and techno that we’ve been trying to concoct for years now, and not in the way we expected (apparently harmonica in techno is a good idea). And sometimes there’s just a straight up rock tune because fuck it, he wants to. That’s what makes this record feel so alive.
JASSS – Weightless
Believe the hype, the Spanish producer’s debut on the excellent iDEAL recordings from Sweden is an intoxicating blend of African percussion, dub techno and psychedelia that would be in line with dreamier offerings from the Livity Sound ouevre if it weren’t so restless in its creativity.
Rather than cruise on a trusty groove for a marketable unit of time, JASSS allows her elements to swarm into an impressively noisy climax, twisting from one fever dream to the next. Luxurious track lengths are taken full advantage of, with a permanently upward trajectory thats more cinematic than conscious of any dancefloor potentiality.
Wetware – Salpinx
At a time where the post-industrial fatigue is starting to settle in, the Philly duo of Roxy Farman and Matthew Morandi whet the appetite with shuddering intensity. It’s all the hypnotic pleasures of Factory Floor without the playfulness as Farman plies her disembodied poetry and Morandi coaxes unusual angles from his modular.
Lee Gamble – Mnestic Pressure
Félicia Atkinson – Hand in Hand
Errorsmith – Superlative Fatigue
Still – I
Alan Vega – IT
Perc – Bitter Music
JLin – Black Origami
Gnod – JUST SAY NO TO THE PSYCHO RIGHT-WING CAPITALIST FASCIST INDUSTRIAL DEATH MACHINE