M+N Critics Poll 2012
You’ve had the chance to tell us your favourite local albums of the year in our seventh annual Readers Poll. Now, it’s our critics’ turn to weigh in. Below we count down the top 50 Australian records of 2012, which saw a bunch of debuts, some welcome comebacks and the emergence of several "supergroups".
50. Emma Russack
Sounds Of Our City
Key notes: Self-produced debut album for the Melbourne-based, Narooma-born singer previously known as Lola Flash.
49. New War
(Sensory Projects/Polyester Records)
Key notes: The debut album for Melbourne four-piece New War.
(Two Bright Lakes/Magical Properties)
Key notes: Melbourne bedroom producer Trent Gill's ambitious debut album.
Won't Let You Down
Key notes: A warm and energetic debut album from this rising Melbourne band.
46. No Zu
Key notes: The debut album for art-rockers NO ZU is diverse and unique, much like the EP which preceded it.
What we said: “At first Life is all a bit too much – what I imagine a Victorian College of the Arts party turns into at 2 am – but on further listen the sound collages and carnival nature of the music is actually a lot of fun.”
A is for Alpine
Key notes: Ethereal debut album from Melbourne six-piece Alpine, the follow-up to their Zurich EP.
What we said: “Alpine are that rarest of young local bands, where you can say with confidence they’re already the complete package. A is for Alpine should see them find a wide audience both here and internationally. It certainly deserves to."
More reading: Track By Track – A is for Alpine
Beard, Wives, Denim
Key notes: The fourth album for psychedelic rockers POND, who share three members with Tame Impala.
What we said: “Beard, Wives, Denim is decidedly a low-stakes, zero-stress sampler of styles and approaches. It may find much of its richness in music of the past, but it’s more rewarding to just take it all in than to play name-the-influence."
43. No Anchor
The Golden Bridge (Independent)
Key notes: The Golden Bridge is the fourth album for Brisbane “sludge-rock” trio, self-described as "the most No Anchor of all the No Anchor records".
More reading: [Track By Track – The Golden Bridge] (articles/4542061)
42. Infinite Void
Key notes: The self-titled debut for Melbourne punk band Infinite Void.
41. Ian Rilen & the Love Addicts
Family From Cuba
Key notes: Posthumous release of the final album by famed Melbourne artist Ian Rilen, who died in 2006.
40. Harry Howard and the NDE
Near Death Experience
Key notes: Harry Howard releases his first album as the frontman of his own band, The Near Death Experience featuring Dave Graney, Clare Moore and partner Edwina Preston.
What we said: ["It is authoritative, stylistically coherent and fully formed; mature, yet youthfully exuberant; self-mocking, yet joyful in its playful levity. One couldn’t really ask for more.”] (/releases/2001005)
39. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
Key notes: King Gizzard's first full-length effort offers frantic rock‘n’roll, much like the EP that preceded it, Willoughby’s Beach.
38. Grand Prismatic
Birds and Beasts
(Birds Love Fighting)
Key notes: Recorded in the rural Victorian town of Rosewhite by the genre-shirking Melbourne four-piece.
37. The Spinning Rooms
The Spinning Rooms
Key notes: Self-titled debut by Melbourne four-piece The Spinning Rooms. A small-town-Australian horror story.
More reading: Track By Track – The Spinning Rooms
36. Pony Face
Key notes: The independent debut release of Melbourne three-piece Pony Face takes inspiration from Ennio Morricone, Rowland S Howard, Deadwood and “disco cops”.
More reading: Track By Track – Hypnotised
35. Fabulous Diamonds
*Key notes:*Recorded at Melbourne’s John Curtin Hotel, Commercial Music is the third album for the duo Nisa Venerosa and Jarrod Zlatic. It follows 2010’s II.
What we said: "You can file Commercial Music under whichever age demographic you please, but Fabulous Diamonds still sound like no one else, which is definitely a feat for any kind of “contemporary” music."
More reading: Interview – Fabulous Diamonds
The Warmest Place
What we said: "This is heart-on-sleeve, ears-in-adolescence pop, where every tired pop trope has been fished from the dustbin and carefully reconstructed to remind you why you liked it so much when you were less cynical."
More reading: Track By Track – The Warmest Place
33. Something for Kate
Leave Your Soul to Science
Key notes: Leave Your Soul to Science is the sixth album for the Melbourne trio led by Paul Dempsey.
Key notes: Fourth album by Blue Mountains hip-hop group Hermitude, featuring the triple j-endorsed singles ‘Get In My Life’ and ‘Speak Of The Devil’.
31. Bored Nothing
Key notes: The debut album of Melbourne DIY musician Fergus Miller, his first true release after a series of homemade tapes.
More reading: Track By Track – Bored Nothing
(Two Bright Lakes)
Key notes: Sydney/Adelaide duo make R&B-inflected follow-up to 2011’s Iconography. Featuring ‘Missing’ and ‘Hypothermia’, which tied for #10 in our Tracks of the Year.
What we said: “Collarbones seem like a genuine attempt to recreate the dramatics of pop music, as if the weirdness sneaking in through their choice of sounds and subjects is almost accidental…And we’re left holding this broken thing that sounds diffuse and eerie but has a poignant charm.”
More reading: Track by Track – Die Young
(Army of Bad Luck)
Key notes: First album for Melbourne/Sydney conglomerate, comprising members of Fabulous Diamonds, Songs and KES Band.
More reading: Interview – Bushwalking
28. UV Race
Key notes: Warragul-via-Melbourne punks UV Race release their third album, following 2011’s Homo. They continue to outlay fables and life lessons without defaulting on their core promises by dropping the dick jokes or toning down the gnarling asides.
27. Toot Toot Toots
Key notes: First full-length effort from Melbourne “spaghetti western rock opera” (their words) merchants.
More reading: Behind the Scenes – ‘Fool’s Gold’
26. Ocean Party
(Sound of Melbourne/Birds Love Fighting)
Key notes: Second of two 2012 efforts from low-key Melbourne quintet. Follows The Sun Rolled Off The Hills.
What we said: “These guys mingle happiness and sadness in a way that should appeal to any Beach Boys or Kinks fan, while at the same time proving as tuned into common Australian life as Dick Diver or Lower Plenty.”
25. Dirty Three
Toward The Low Sun
(Anchor & Hope/Remote Control)
Key notes: Drought-breaking eighth album for revered trio. Recorded by Casey Rice.
What we said: “Toward The Low Sun is a work that successfully melds the strongest elements of their past with persuasive experimentation that's done with subtlety, economy and reach. It contains some of the noisiest, most insistent music the Dirty Three have yet created, however it also takes time to unfold and reveal itself.”
More reading: Interview – Warren Ellis
24. The Presets
Key notes: Third album for Sydney electronic duo, following on from 2008’s all-conquering Apocalypso. Features ‘Ghosts’, which came in at #15 in our Tracks of the Year
What we said: “It’s an intuitive grasp of the genres they’re working with that allows The Presets to so thrillingly distort them or take them to such extremes that they become something else, something transcendent.”
More reading: Interview – Kim Moyes
Gold & Red
Key notes: Second album for Brisbane band after 2010’s The Warm Side.
What we said: “Most of this album is an examination into dead relationships, and strangely for a songwriter, Potter is rarely the one being let down. Instead, a hidden violence hides behind his voice as he breaks the hearts of others.”
More reading: Track by Track – Gold & Red
22. Woollen Kits
Key notes: Long-awaited debut from Melbourne lo-fi trio. Second release of the year in addition to Four Girls.
What we said: “Despite guitarist Thomas Hardisty’s Calvin Johnson-esque baritone, that comparison doesn’t hold as much water. Woollen Kits come into their own here, spinning craggy, jangle-prone melodies into a glowing example of underground pop that’s decidedly unpolished but not quite falling apart either.”
21. Taco Leg
Key notes: Perth lo-fi aficionados discuss crap architecture and Shallow Hal on their debut full-length.
Key notes: Sixth album for New-York based outfit fronted by Melbourne-born Angus Andrew. Follow-up to 2010’s Sisterworld.
What we said: “Where others play fancy dress; Liars shapeshift. And, while their landscapes aren’t of this world, their aesthetic is. “Life is sad,” said Rowland S Howard. Yes, it is. It’s also terrifying, murderous and beautiful. All at once.”
More reading: Interview – Angus Andrew
19. Joe McKee
(Dot Dash/Remote Control)
Key notes: Debut solo album from former Snowman singer. Features ‘Lunar Sea’, which came in at #7 in our Tracks of the Year.
What we said: “It's a record about powerlessness, a particularly resonant theme in 2012. It's about being too far away or too ineffectual to influence, but maybe against the odds someone will hear you.”
More reading: Track by Track – Burning Boy
18. Graveyard Train
Key notes: The ball-and-chain wielding six-piece’s third album following 2010’s The Drink The Devil and The Dance.
More reading: Interview – Nick Finch
17. Blank Realm
Key notes: Experimental Brisbane band’s third album, a co-release between Bedroom Suck and iconic Philadelphia label Siltbreeze. Follows 2010’s Deja What?.
What we said: [“Their third album … sees them moving ever further away from their chaotic, noisy, performance-based beginnings into a band that have reined in the sound without losing any of the
16. Rat Columns
Key notes: San Francisco-based musician (and sometime Total Control member) David West’s first album under the Rat Columns moniker.
15. Paul Kelly
Spring and Fall
Key notes: The long-awaited return from one of Australia’s most revered songwriters. A low-key concept album about the blooming and withering of a relationship.
What we said: “Over 12 concise tracks, Kelly sings about fresh infatuation, deepening summer love, projected infidelity and the long painful break-ups that come when such connections are ground under the heel of time and disillusionment.”
Key notes: Fourth solo album from Blue Mountains rapper, label head and member of The Herd.
13. DZ Deathrays
(I Oh You/Illusive)
Key notes: Debut album for Brisbane two-piece, produced by PVT’s Richard Pyke.
What we said: “The danger, of course, is that when you clean up the sonic mess, people pay a lot more attention to the songwriting. In that sense, DZ have – for the most part – lifted their game substantially, and there’s a clutch of delirious belters that stand up to repeated listens.”
12. Spencer P Jones & The Nothing Butts
Spencer P Jones & The Nothing Butts (Shock)
Key notes: The Aus rock “supergroup” that just had to happen: former Beasts of Bourbon bandmates Spencer P Jones and James Baker team up with The Drones’ Fiona Kitschin and Gareth Liddiard.
What we said: “It may look and sound a bit rough and ready initially but, like all Jones’ work, over time and repeated listens it will gain a rich veneer and you will be very glad to own it. Just don’t take it for granted.”
11. Mental Powers
Key notes: First proper studio effort from Perth tinker-pop four-piece.
What we said: “While Mental Powers’ embrace of the synthesizer for this release could be interpreted as a band hopping on a global trend, knowing their penchant for evolving in tandem with each other and their instruments, it’s probably more likely the result of access and availability to said hardware.”
The Top 10
10. Ned Collette + Wirewalker
Key notes: Ned Collette’s fourth album (and his second credited to Wirewalker). Recorded in Berlin with drummer/producer Joe Talia.
What we said: “You don’t have to behold the mock European suaveness of the film clip for ‘Long You Lie’ to recognise the single’s saucy funk licks and blurred synth tones as having one foot on the dance floor. It’s got a sense of humour, as proven by those would-be ominous backing intonations, and there’s a silly sweetness to the whole thing that can make one coast over the fraught visions of Collette’s lyrics.”
More reading: “Storytellers – Ned Collette”
Key notes: Debut album from Melbourne garage-rock “supergroup”, a five-piece featuring members of Dick Diver, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Teen Archer and Twerps.
What we said: “Boomgates may be a band in their own right, but they are a band that comes with a prologue, eliciting more the rush of déjà vu than the mundanity of repetition, even when the songs are concerned with the latter.”
Key notes: Fifth album for the Melbourne soul/funk collective. Featuring collaborations with Aloe Blacc, Megan Washington and Tim Rogers (the latter, ‘I Got Burned’, came in at #5 in our Tracks of the Year).
What we said: “This is a record of songs, rather than jams, with clear, dominant hooks and unhurried progressions…It’s lean, uncomplicated stuff, making Medicine Man a much nimbler and more accessible Bamboos record.”
7. Sophie Hutchings
Key notes: The second album for Sydney pianist Hutchings, following 2010’s Becalmed. Produced by Tim Whitten.
What we said: “This isn’t music to whack on while you clean the house or drive to the shops: this demands attention and rewards it handsomely. Night Sky is the soundtrack to a film too heartbreakingly beautiful to exist.”
6. Pop Singles
Key notes: First album for the Melbourne dreamy guitar-pop three-piece. Follows a self-titled debut EP (2009).
What we said: “This is an album for fans of The Chills, The Smiths and The Go-Betweens, fans who sigh on listening and wish they were born 20 years earlier. Or, just as likely, sigh and wish they were 20 years younger.”
5. Bitch Prefect
Key notes: Debut album for Melbourne “chillmate” trio. Features ‘Bad Decisions’ which came in at #14 in our Tracks of the Year.
4. Oh Mercy
Key notes: Third album for Alexander Gow’s Melbourne-based band following last year’s Great Barrier Grief. Recorded in Portland, Oregon, with Burke Reid, featuring Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin on sax and flute.
What we said: “The reason Oh Mercy get away with this sort of unpredictability without it coming across as pretentiousness or simply inconsistency is the fact that, whether autobiographical in theme or not, Gow’s performances hit an emotional core nobody else in pop is getting near.”
More reading: In the studio with Oh Mercy
3. Grand Salvo
Slay Me In My Sleep
Key notes: Paddy Mann’s sixth album as Grand Salvo, following 2009’s Soil Creatures. A surreal song cycle, based around the love between an old woman and a young boy.
2. Tame Impala
Key notes: Second album for the recording project of Perth’s Kevin Parker following 2009’s Innerspeaker. Written, recorded and produced by Parker and mixed by Dave Fridmann.
What we said: “Taken in context with everything else Parker and company are involved in, Lonerism is fascinating. On its own, though, it seems less like an exciting new direction than an admittedly charming creative cul-de-sac”
More reading: Interview – Kevin Parker
1. Lower Plenty
Key notes: Second album for Melbourne-based band, comprising members of Total Control, The UV Race and Deaf Wish.
What we said: “Lower Plenty’s Hard Rubbish is an incredible assembly of some extraordinarily normal characters. There are no pointed fingers or worldly issues addressed, just insular observations of personality flaws, lost relationships and confused emotions. It makes for a very human record that, as a result, becomes achingly familiar.”
More reading: Interview – Lower Plenty