Best of 2012 - POP/INDIE/LO-FI
It’s been a big year for all things jangly and poppy, especially here in Melbourne. “The New Pop Underground” was the label given to the surge of guitar pop bands in our fair town as it seemed every week a new group popped up, armed with a hot little EP of songs that were often poignant, often funny, and always good. Of course, there were a million other wonderful “pop” and “indie"bands to surface on Bandcamp from around the globe but below are the ones I listened to and enjoyed the most. Often the term "slacker” is applied to these bands but I can tell you that whether it’s a solo bedroom artist or a full band, the artists featured here work harder than anyone I know, in any profession. So it’s not just their beautiful sunny tunes I thank them for, but also for the inspiration they’ve provided me through their goddamn hard yakka.
I recall being impressed by the initial White Birds release last year but I wasn’t prepared for the brilliance of this album. The project of one James Harvey from Pennsylvania (seemingly supported by a rotating cast of musicians), White Birds dip into a myriad of musical influences on “When Women Played Drums” to create an album that shines brightly on every track. Yes Harvey borrows-there are elements of doo wop, of soul, of garage rock, of nineties indie, of lo-fi folk-but the sonic bower he creates with these parts is so enchanting and so uniquely his own sound that the listener comes away feeling this is something fresh, new and quite vital. These White Birds are a terribly clever breed, and they have quite a song to sing.
Favourite tracks : Youths, Beehive, Veins Lined With Rust.
Summer Flake EP - Summer Flake
After playing in a stack of great bands (Batrider, No Through Road), this was the debut solo release of Steph Crase and, man, it’s a beauty. There’s a laconic feel to these songs (I’m avoiding using “slack”) that swim by in lovely blur at times (“Inside Out”) though a perfectly placed buzzing guitar line is never far away. And oh those guitars. There’s a beautiful tone to the instruments throughout though the dance between the guitars and Crase's breathy vocals is a wonderful thing to behold, often recalling Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo. She’s a terrific songwriter to - these song have a real yearning, an authentic prettiness borne of finely crafted lyrics. I’m not even close to getting sick of these songs, doubt I ever will.
Favourite tracks : Run Run Run, The Wedding March (for Jess & Kynan), Inside Out.
Talk about hard working. Courtney Barnett had been playing around Melbourne for a while before this year but 2012 saw her playing more gigs than anyone I know, all on the back of this cracking EP. From the first listens and the initial gigs it was obvious these were songs that were both highly likeable and a little bit different than a lot of other guitar pop going around. Barnett likes to jam and these songs are never in hurry to adhere to any pop rules-see the extended “Are You Looking After Yourself?” and the circular, almost trance like feel to “Canned Tomatoes (whole)”. But she’s a music fan too and draws on her influnces to great effect- there’s country rock and roll here, there’s garage pop there, there’s Cobain and Dando hanging out having a Melbourne Bitter on the garden wall over there. Very much the sound of the suburbs we live in and the shit that goes on within them in 2012.
Favourite tracks : Are You Looking After Yourself?, Canned Tomatoes (whole), Lance Jr.
I carp on about honesty in songs a lot and if you know Curtis Wakeling you now these are honest songs. Not in a cathartic-blood on the tracks-crazy horse raw honesty kinda way, but in a “I got drunk and fell off my bike-awkward walk homes after a one night stand-getting high with my mates” sort of way. There’s a wistful longing to some tracks too - “Thawing Out” is a great little song about Melbourne's favourite subject and the vague nostalgia the changing of seasons provokes. The unassuming charm of these songs lays in Curtis’s simple lyrics and the simple sound-no bass, just Ocean Party cohorts Lachlan Denton on drums and the ubiquitous Snowy Nasdaq on guitar along with Curtis. So, less is certainly more here, but the irony in saying this is that the bands Curtis and the other members of Velcro are connected to have put out like 35 albums in 2012. I dug everything they did, but this was my favourite.
Favourite tracks : G&T, Thawing Out, Awkward Mornings.
Talk to Gentle Stunts main dude Cal McNamara about his band and he is unabashed in his biggest influence. Perhaps you can pick it. Have a listen ^. Yes, McNamara is a Guided By Voices devotee and proud of it. The GBV sound certainly permeates this album in the lo-fi production, obtuse lyrics and the contrast of noise and crisp guitar but McNamara is a fine songsmith in his own right, a Berlin native who at 20 years old has already produced two rather brilliant albums. I’m very fond of all the songs on this album; of their sweet harmonies and the unexpected twists and turns of their winding pop structures. Lose yourself in the payoff of “Hills in the Dark”, walk the streets at dusk while taking in the wistful (and Teenage Fanclub-esque) “Till You’re Often”, get drunk in your frontyard and dance with your friends while “Waving Rather Soon” blasts. This album wants to have a relationship with you. Don’t fight it.
Favourite tracks : Figments in Red, Tall Retrieve, A Past of Fast Lashings.