Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Year That Was - Brendan Masala's 2014

January - let's get straight into it. We announced the creation of Sonic Masala Records and released the first singles, Roku Music's 'Collider' and Tape/Off's 'Pedestal Fan'. There were more good tunes than albums to kick off 2014. in particular from the likes of Marijuana Deathsquads ('Ewok Sadness'), Spectres ('The Sky Of All Things'), Magic Mountain Band ('Into The Wild'), Liars ('Mess On A Mission'), Gravel Samwidge ('Nervepowder'), Girl Band ('Lawman') and The Finks ('Alternate Histories'). Mogwai continued their beguiling evolution with the underrated Rave Tapes; the pop skronk breakdown that was Scraps' Electric Ocean; the broken post-punk of PYPY's Pagan Day; the pastoral psych squall of Woodsman's self-titled album; the plaintive guitar loop meditations of Catman's The Singapore Demos. But above all else came Brisbane's own Blank Realm, whose Grassed Inn continued their skewed take on pop that last album, 2012's Go Easy, merely intimated. An unqualified gem.

In February the LA-via-Beijing duo Alpine Decline came to Australia and played one of the best shows Ill ever see. Fifteen people in the rehearsal space below The Waiting Room - brilliance. I also discovered Melbourne band Worm Crown, who by year's end are slaying that city. Sydney's Ela Stiles preps her transfixing debut solo record with the excellent 'Kumbh Mela'. Tinariwen return with their West African psych in the form of the underrated Emmaar; Texan nether beings Quttinirpaaq deliver a destructive album that no one heard in Let's Hang Out. But the one-two punch of Harmony's Carpetbombing and Angel Olsen's Burn Your Fire For No Witness were the albums of the month.

We released our first record in Roku Music's Collider in March, and the shoegaze acolytes took off on a massive national tour. The album would go on to sell out; a special repressing is in the offing. A number of short form releases impressed, particularly Multiple Man's Guilt Culture 7", Brainbeau's 0.0001 Excuses 7", and Tense Men's Where Dull Care Is Forgotten EP. Sweden's Makeouts deliver a classic slab of garage on Back To Sleep, and The Night Terrors continue their reign of Theremin dread on Spiral Vortex. But its the desiccated destruction of Ruined Fortune's self titled debut and the NRL inspired pop musical of You Beauty's Jersey Flegg that truly inspires.

The inexorable march from the gutter for foaming mouths Sleaford Mods continued unabated in April with the release of their excellent Divide and Exit album. Plenty more brilliant releases this month actually, by the likes of Action Beat & GW Sok (A Remarkable Machine), Full Ugly (Spent The Afternoon), The Steady As She Goes (Dangerous & Dead), The Callas (Am I Vertical?), Bare Grillz (Friends), Warm Widow (Childless) and German Army (Millerite Masai). Some great songs too - the delectable Courtney Barnett cruiser 'Avant Gardener', the insidious synth blast of Total Control's 'Flesh War', the incessant mania of Parquet Courts' 'Sunbathing Animal' and the wasted rock squall of Pontiak's 'Innocence'. The Stickmen and American Football ushered in fantastic reissues too. But for me the month belonged to Nun (Nun), Nothing (Guilty Of Everything) and the left-field nihilism of Black Pines' Harsh Out EP.

May, and SMR002 arrives in the form of Gazar Strips' Sparkling EP, and they head down the East Coast to celebrate. One of my favourite songs of the year came out of Brazil - Ciro Madd's 'You & Me' is a stone cold classic. I really dug Tony Molina (his Dissed and Dismissed saw a deserved repressing come about), The Skull Defekts (Dances In The Dreams Of The Known Unknown) and Faux Fur's self-titled release reminded me why I love the defunct Canadian band Women so much. Another Canadian band, WTCHS, blasted my mind apart with their It's Not A Cross, It's A Curse! EP. But the month belonged to Cleveland one-man garage executioner Obnox (Louder Space), Detroit post-punk snarling esoterics Protomartyr (Under Colour of Official Right) and, weirdly, Norway's lounge lizard Todd Terje (It's Album Time).

Come June and we have released Tape/Off's Chipper LP and hosted our first Sonic Masala Festival which was an unequivocal success (with blistering sets from Scul Hazzards and Turnpike in particular). A big letdown was PAWS' new album (although I played the hell out of closer 'War Cry'). But some ace releases spun the rounds, including the stupidly addictive Half Man Half Cop from Hobocop, the intricate wizadry of Swiss band Disco Doom's Numerals, and the excellent song 'Water Or Concrete' by Sydney producer Setec. Albums of the month? Total Control - Typical System; The Austerity Program - Beyond Calculation;  and Lawrence English - Wilderness Of Mirrors.

Lots of short form delights in July - Contrepoison bring out goth synth romance in his I Keep On Searching EP;  Brisbane slackers Dag finally throw some tracks on tape with the Dogwood EP; and Melbourne miscreants Mutton bring out an EP (recorded by Scul Hazzards' own Steven Smith). Bird Blobs reissue their seminal self-titled album, which automatically becomes a favourite of the year; tracks from the likes of lesser-known acts Soccer Mom ('It's Probably Not Your Fault'), Brief Candles ('Terry Nation') and Liam Kenny as A Kenny For Your Thoughts ('Avalanche') invade the senses. Melbourne The Ocean Party offshoot Ciggie Witch remind all how the malaise of young living can be so laconic and weirdly innocently fun on Rock and Roll Juice; New York-via-Aus degenerates Degreaser release another dirtbomb in the form of Rougher Squalor; and we release the fourth album from Sonic Masala in the guise of Cobwebbs' 2nd LP, WORLD WIDE WEBBS. But the albums that take my breath away this month is Sydney post-punks Mere Women's Your Town and Brisbane's underrated lyrical ruminators Curlew's Animal Urges.

August to October tend to be top-heavy with excellence, and 2014 was no exception. Lots of good tunes from the likes of Dan Svizney ('Close-Up USA'), Pere Ubu ('Golden Surf II'), Crystal Stilts ('Star Crawl'), Institute ('Salt') and Spray Paint ('Cussin'). A few killer EPs reared their ugly heads too - especially Danyl Jesu's Celebration, Giggly Boys's ., Halt Ever's Body Limits, Exek's self titled effort and Bi-Hour's An Accident. Big Mess brought the noise on You Are My Sunshine; Saul Jarvie brought the understated internal noise with Existential Eczema; Bearhug made the noise an embraceable commodity on So Gone; and Jonathan Boulet found the noise on Gubba. But noise was truly brought by Michael Gira et al, as Swans' To Be Kind swept all before it. Other excellent releases included Setec's Brittle As Bone (which we almost put out on vinyl but unfortunately that fell through); the loose abandon of Wireheads' The Late Great Wireheads (which actually came out in May), and Falco (Mclusky/FOTL)'s solo effort as Christian Fitness, I Am Scared Of Everything That Isn't Me.

Lots of under-the-radar joy in September from the likes of Young Jesus, William Alexander, Gum Takes Tooth, Age Coin, Anne Guthrie, Sisilisko, Symbol, Legendary Hearts, Daughters Of The Sun and Delicate Features (as the last three releases show, September was a bit of a Not Not Fun month for me). Tying in with their name, September Girls release new song 'Veneer' and it blows away everything they have done previously; Woodsman take some offcuts from their self-titled album back in January and create the brilliantly oscillating Teleseparation EP; Twerps ratchet up the anticipation for their next album tenfold with their Underlay EP; and a 7" split from Chook Race and Unity Floors is a pleasing surprise. I wrote my first Quietus review on the long-gestating debut album from Martyr Privates. Albums of the month - Old Mate's It Is What It Is, Ausmuteants' Order of Operation, and Shovels' self-titled album.

More short-form brilliance in October with Wilful Boys' 7", Running's Frizzled 7", Ex Breathers' exbx EP, Unpeople's demo, Orlando Furious' High & Mighty EP, The Living Eyes - Guilty Pleasure 7" and Gold Class - Michael/Gone 7". Surprise packets, most from Melbourne - Pronto came blustering out of nowhere with debut album When You're Gone; Shards remain almost impossible to hunt down over the interwebs, but their self-titled effort slays; The Peep Tempel revive the debate over their dubious title as Australia's most underrated band with Tales; New Zealand's Trust Punks delivered on the promise with Discipline (and one of the songs of the year with 'Gordian Knot'); and a cassette, Sad Horse's Purple On Purple Makes Purple, raised the ire of moi because it was so damned good it deserved a vinyl release. Such a rich month, but the cream of the crop proved to be the lute-and-free-drums masterclass that was Xylouris White's Goats; the watershed abandon of unheralded French gutter punks Subtle Turnhips' Redhair With Some; and the blasted genius of Exhaustion's Biker.

We released our final Sonic Masala Records album in November in the form of Ghost Notes' Moonlight State, a minor magisterial masterpiece. I fell hard for enigmatic subvert Dean Blunt's Black Metal, despite its perverse idiosyncrasies. Brisbane punk reprobates Eat Laser Scumbag! make a brief reprisal after the release of 10" Chakras Aligned (and a killer track in 'Fandango'), whilst Spanish youngsters Mourn ignite the future with 'Mourn' - their debut album comes out next month. Useless Eaters released one of the best garage punk albums of the year in Bleeding Moon, and out of obscurity comes one of the best albums Clinic never made in the form of Exocomet's self-titled debut. Good dudes The Ocean Party finally garnered the recognition they deserved with fourth album Soft Focus (true story - I coined that album title, in the midst of watching them play Worms: Armageddon on the TV). But the album that tore every fibre of my being apart belongs to Richard Dawson's sublime Nothing Important.

And finally the death rattle of the year rolled around, and with it some gems. December offered up an amazing demo from Brisbane three-piece 100%, and great 7"s from Halt Ever and PLY/RS. I fell back in love with Love of Diagrams after listening to 'Double Negative' a thousand times over, Kids of Zoo prove to be anything but friendly family fare on new record Welcome To Parrot Eyes, Mogwai bewitched once more with new EP Music Industry 3, Fitness Industry 1, and the best band that no one bothers to acknowledge Dead finally got their Captains of Industry album out on vinyl.

It's been an eventful year, and as always the New Year is just as exciting. Enjoy the booze, the food and the overdose in gluttony, and we will see you on the beach.

2014 – Problems and Total Sunset Grassed Blank Tale-d Solutions (by Fred Savage Beasts)

The problem with doing a year in review, for me, is memory. Christmas Day I managed to lose my thongs, wallet and sunnies at three different houses. (And possibly my dignity at another, but that is a story for another day). That means that this is more a reflection on how I am feeling things right at this moment. So it goes...

First up, in a fit of more useless biographical information, I just got back from a school trip to Cambodia. We went over and spent a couple of weeks helping in rural areas, then did a bit of a tour through some tourist-y places. A few reflections will stay with me: Angkor Wat is amazing, Cambodia is a fascinating example of how fragile our hold on civilisation is, and teenagers have horrible music taste and listening habits. Yeah, I know I’m getting old, but in my defence, here’s an excerpt from one conversation:

Kid: Do you ever feel like challenging yourself and not skipping even one song in your playlist?

Me: I tend to listen to albums from start to finish.

Kid: I never listen to whole albums –

Me: You should give it a go.

Kid: - unless it’s Coldplay.

I rest my case. And here, in no particular order, is what cleansed me when I got home.

Peel Tempel – Tales

I dig records that tell stories about people; especially the people who don’t usually get a look in. So next time you see a polished film clip with people sharing a banquet of plenty (that they will probably chuck in the bin after the shot gets captured) spare a thought for the abattoir worker who had to carve that meat up. She might be stuck where she is, her only joy to spread some love down at the RSL by helping to prepare the meat tray. Real Tales.

Total Control – Typical System

'Expensive Dog' is the song of the year for me. The rest of the album is right close behind. If I close my eyes and imagine just right, I get the image of Total Control inside Don Bradman’s water tank, locking in with the rhythm as the Don chips his golf ball incessantly into the corrugated iron. It is a beautiful thing when talent and passion come together.

Ghost Notes – Moonlight State

Moonlight State is the soundtrack to your post-Christmas blues. As you stare at your Christmas tree wondering why the extra baubles didn’t afford you the ever-lasting joy you were hoping for, make sure you have this record on. It will put you back in your place. There’s really no such thing as the star to guide you. You are in a wide and hostile place. You have to learn how to gently paint yourself into the landscape. How strange it is to be anything at all...

Blank Realm – Grassed Inn

This is a really clever album. For me, it treads through the themes big and little with such ease that it’s kind of astounding at times. Equally at home starting or finishing an evening at home for dancing or arguing. It’s the little wobbles, phrases and details that do it. Like the tiny plane on the cover that was always there but you didn’t really notice it until the fifth time you put it on. Worthy of all the praise.

Sounds Like Sunset – We Could Leave Tonight

Nothing made me quite as happy as seeing Sounds Like Sunset play this (and a bunch of older tracks) bloody loudly this year. I can’t put my finger on another show I’ve seen were the layers and layers of guitar begin to feel as if they are actually tangible in the room as something between whitewash and ‘raw feels’. Also, I challenge you to listen to this a few times and not find yourself singing along.

I feel heaps better now. Nice work 2014, it was worth being a year older to have you.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2014 - Per Bystrom (Exhaustion, Ooga Boogas)

One of my favourite drummers in Australia is Per Bystrom. I guess it isn't a fluke then that two of my favourite bands - Exhaustion and Ooga Boogas - feature Bystrom in the mix, plus there's his involvement in guttersquallers Leather Towel. And in Biker, Exhaustion's second LP, we have one of the albums of the year. He is also a massive fan of Roku Music's Collider record, so the love-in is complete. Here is Per's favourite records of the year - a better list, better written, than anything that I will come up with.

Total Control - Typical System (Iron Lung)

Gaah gaah gaah – I’m joining in with the universal choir of seagulls swallowing this band’s soggy chip…hooks, lines and stinkers. A better record than ‘Henge Beat’. That's a massive achievement in itself. The record is more Total Control than I thought was possible. The sound of a band eating its own tail and regurgitating a new born. In all its complexity there's an underlying baffling effortlessness. I can't understand how this record came to be. The evidence pointing to this is missing. Nothing hinted at this elevated echelon. Typical system.

NUN - NUN (Aarght Records)

‘Evoke The Sleep’ is the song of 2014. Only one other LP barely managed to keep this album from being the ultimate jam of this year. Live - no one touched this gang of Aspbergers in Australia. They emerged from their live synthesized murk and heavily treated vocals, with foghorn bass player Tom Hardisty producing something dangerously close to being called synth-pop. Epic closer ‘In Blood’ is the only song this year that makes me feel oddly emotional. “I’ve just got something in my eye, fuck off!” 2014: The Year Goth Broke.

Eastlink - Mullum Mullum (In The Red)

"They busted up your brain for an idea. I’m supposed to do the duck walk. You're supposed to have a little bit of fun. You paid for the gun, I paid for the baton” drones Al Montford on ‘What a Silly Day (Australia Day)’. A Stooges riff spoofing all over Abbot policies. A wild dog deaf to the whistle of its supposed master, wasting no piss putting out raging fires in gated communities. The Mullum Mullum tunnel depicted on the cover of the LP was constructed not to upset the local habitat. I don’t know if this was deemed a success by the Wurundjeri people, but there is something appealing about the juxtaposition of Autobahn aesthetics, and the native flora phallus decorating the entrance to the tunnel designed by WA artist Angus James. This record talks about issues not found in your navel. The last song of the album is called ‘Thatcher’s Dead’. Is there a local wishlist?

Ela Stiles – S/t (Bedroom Suck Records)

Galactic Empire folk, Darth Vader hat hair – laments of evil empires crumbling bouncing off hard marble halls once holding splendour and Collingwood black and white tones. Linda Perhac and Anne Briggs inspired folk tragedy minimalism. ‘Kumbh Mela’ is one of the most devastatingly beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, and this album has remained a firm favourite throughout the year. I’ve got no idea what Kumbh Mela means, but it sure is no Jar Jar Binks.

Low Life - Dogging (R.I.P. Society/Disinfect)

I've bumped into the very affable Christian O'Sullivan (bass/Germs t-shirt) many times throughout the years, but only met Mitch Tolman (gtr/vox/Nike) when I filled in on drums at a couple of Melbourne shows earlier this year. "I don't drink" said the man just before frenetically trying to find a lost necklace after a show. Add council flat lad-fashion, and a fixation on Rihanna to their foggy post hardcore chorus pedal driven mix, and this record bewilders. The song "Friends" is the worst out of the lot. A muddy goth/grunge base with echo drenched vitriolic vocals "and all my friends, they're proper scum. Jaded and bitter and faded and twisted" dragged along at toddler pace. Why is it then that this is one of my most played songs of 2014? Fucked if I know. There is nothing positive to say about this record except that it rules. HARD.

Flat Fix - An Unkempt House (Not Not Fun)

Nick Senger (Castings) and Cooper Bowman (Altered States Tapes) make Australian techno. I've heard something region specific in the likes of fellow Antipodean electronic outfits Gardland, Rites Wild, and Angel Eyes. Heavily saturated drifting synth lines, Roland 303/808 hardware driven pulses, and occasional Terry Riley-like arpeggios. Intentional or not, there's something about this that feels Australian. Not so much reflecting its inhabitants, but more on a topographical level. It's a tape. It's an EP. Whatever. It's enough of an album as far as I'm concerned. Oh, and the cover looks like a 1980's paleo-futuristic drawing of Yggdrasil. Which is nice.

Peter Brötzmann & Sonny Sharrock - Whatthefuckdoyouwant (Trost records)

Hidden away Brötzmann and Sharrock live recording from '87, finally unearthed and released in 2014 (on my birthday, THX). The cover of the album features what looks like a slab of granite covered with doctor's writing, and sums it up nicely...70+ minutes of heavy, dense chaos. I've checked, because it's important to know the length of your punishment. That's what I want. What the fuck do you want?

Pan Sonic - Oksastsus (Kvitnu)

I toured Finland in 1994. We travelled there by ship, and soon after embarking the journey turned into a nautical leg of the Stereosonic Festival. The galley was filled with gacked up teenagers mixing vomit with tears. A bunch of bikers at the back of a Helsinki venue yelled out in broken Swedish “Go home fatties!”. In some ways I felt like I was finished with the band after that trip. In 2009 Pan Sonic performed their final gig in Kyiv, Ukraine. Oksastsus is the document of this performance. I wonder if they split up due to their harsh environment, or due to frying every circuit that they came in contact with. I imagine a bunch of Putin lackeys on r’n’r from the Donetsk Republic camps knocking back army hooch and yelling from the back of the Kyiv show in broken Finnish “Not heavy enough!”. The loss of military grade electronic status must have been one blow too heavy. A king hit.

You can grab Biker here.

2014 - oOo

One of the more left-field highlights of 2014 for Sonic Masala was being interviewed for a music magazine in Slovenia, Hrup (read it here, but be warned - Google Translate is not kind to me...). The interview was a lot of fun, and actually allowed me to visualise some of the things I want for Sonic Masala in the New Year. For that I have Ziga Jenko to thank - and it all came from him sending me some improvisations from his band, oOo. Since then we have kept in contact, and I have been introduced to a interesting underground scene in Slovenia that I hope to discover for myself in 2015.

I asked Ziga to hit me with the best experience/s of the year, and this is the result. Everything culminated in a six hour concert in November that they called povezoOovanja (CoOonectings), with fourteen guests coming up every half hour to interject their psych jams. It was held at Menza pri koritu, which is a half legalised ex-military squat in the middle of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. The idea came to Ziga when reading Improvisation - its nature and practice in music by Derek Bailey. It was so successful that other editions have been planned. Here is a video of the event:

oOo see this time as one where interests of big capital is trying to divide common people even more. It is time to drop all borders in our heads so we can connect without fear in honest and truthful ways. I for one am on board with such ideals.

2014 - Cobwebbs

One of the defining moments for 2014 for me was releasing WORLD WIDE WEBBS, the new album from Brisbane degenerates Cobwebbs. The four-piece have their shtick down pat - that is, an eternal garage arm-wrestle between ridiculousness and disdain, all tied up by great hooks covered in gravel rash. Sam Wightman and Roland Hlavka are the driving force of the band, and their other endeavours (Barbiturates, Police Force, Gold Shade, World War Four, etc) continue to push the sonic boundaries in myriad directions. Hanging out with Sam provided some of the best times of 2014 (most of which cannot be mentioned here). Here are their can't-fuck-withable best of list of 2014.




I notice SM Fest 14 didn't make the cut, whatever. Grab WORLD WIDE WEBBS in orange vinyl here.

Monday, 29 December 2014

2014 - Ryan Saar

There has been the upward surge of popularity across the wide brown land of Australia for a little blog that could. No, it's not Sonic Masala - although I'm sure our five regular readers might disagree - but Soundly Sounds, a Sydney blog run by Ryan Saar. His exuberance permeates all he writes about, and his focus on Australian music (some of which I was unaware of until he shook the dirt and grime off) is extremely fortuitous, not just for the people who stumble across his posts but the bands too. He doesn't pay lip service - he writes genuinely about the things that he loves about music - which is Sonic Masala's reason for being too. Anyway, here in Ryan's own words is the most exciting thing about music in 2014.

The 19th Consecutive Year of My Life; or How Brisbane Made the Best Music of the Year 
by Ryan Saar

This year, I turned 19. That’s a whole one year after 18, but two years before 21, which means it’s a pretty inconsequential year all round. Nobody ever looks back and thinks, “Fuck, 19 was so fucking great”. But I do. Kind of. I mean, there was plenty of clichéd 19-year-old bullshit motions that I engaged in. I started university. I began drinking way more than is probably healthy, simply because I could. The Foo Fighters continued to exist, always a good reminder of the pains of high school. But it was the explosive year of bands and sounds from a city I’ve never even BEEN to was what created the standout year that was 2014.

Everyone in trendy Shitney and Melboring always get all fired up about whatever two-dimensional, blog-approved act that manages to meld soft cock-rock with electronic flourishes happens to exist for two seconds. Most of the time, these acts exist for a few seconds, before moulding into another band that sounds exactly the same. At best, it’ll be Alt-J, which is a hell that I would rather not visit. And the local scenes are plagued with artists who are far too informed/entitled by the success of their overseas idols to want to sound like anything else.

There are exceptions of course – punk rock continues to thrive in the form of a new group called Point Being, Weak Boys released an instant classic, and others such as Collarbones, Shrapnel, Liam Kenny and Orion, who refuse to become pigeonholed. Even indie rock acts such as Prints, FLOWERTRUCK and Step-Panther provided excellence in their fields.

But as a whole, Sydney and Melbourne are too gentrified to be taken seriously. When you’re paying over $250 a week in rent alone, it’s hard to come up with a genuinely dirty aesthetic in your music. If someone is wearing a Dead Kennedys t-shirt, it’s more accurate to assume they bought it for $60 (plus shipping) because they heard one of the songs on Guitar Hero. What’s more, our finest punk venue, The Square, the only place that allowed 17-year old Ryan to get his fix, was shut down earlier this year. Ultimate sad-face emoji.

Maybe this is pandering because Sonic Masala is a Brissy-blog, but almost all the good stuff from this year has been sourced from it’s stinking hot depths. In much the same way that typing the words “producer” is almost always immediately preceded by “Melbourne-based”, the same goes for “gnarled punk band” and “Brisbane”. In some rare cases, it’s Newcastle, or Adelaide or Canberra, but it’s almost always Brisbane.

Why is that? As I’ve said, I’ve never been there, but from the fine exports who have made their way south,  it seems to come down to the remnants of the old police state, the stinking hot, and the lack of things to do. That stifling sensation creates an itch in the creatives, breeding some of the most honest and blood-curdling music to reach these freckled, Shitney-located ears.

2014 has seen Multiple Man, Cured Pink, Roku Music, Tape//Off, Sewers and Gazar Strips release material to soaring praise. Nite Fields got signed internationally! Then, new bands like Hideous Towns, Soviet X-Ray Record Club, Bat Nouveau and Dag chose to blow my mind. Labels like Sonic Masala Records, Virtual Cool and Tenth Court have sprung up to enormous satisfaction, and the almighty Bedroom Suck Records celebrated their 5th year of existence.  And Blank Realm released the album of the year in ‘Grassed Inn’, a product of pop-weirdness that could only have been birthed in Brisbane.

What’s more, actual attention is being paid to these artist’s, and recognition is being served to those that are worthy of it! This is probably due to the attention driven from the more popular rawk acts of DZ Deathrays, Violent Soho and Velociraptor, and the guitar-pop of Babaganouj, Major Leagues and Go Violets. But hey, those acts don’t suck, and they’ve brought attention to some of the best music that Australia has produced as a whole. If it means that “Persuasion” gets played to all the eager ear canals of the world, it’s worth putting up with another band that thinks The Cat Empire are good.

Basically, 2014 was the year Brisbane music just became incredibly excellent, excelling in all areas from pop, to noise, to darkwave and everywhere in between.  As the last bastion of hope on the East Coast, Brisbane showcased it’s divine talent and unique aesthetic to a godly extent more so than any other Australian city. Just do your thing, Brisbane, and I’ll be in your sweet embrace soon enough. 

2014 - Lawrence English

Another day, another poem. On Christmas Eve I published Mark Zian (Curlew)'s take of the year that almost was in the form of Frozen Cake. Today I give you a specially styled, succinct piece from Lawrence English, whose album Wilderness Of Mirrors is a minor masterpiece in sinuous drone, promoting both sepulchral elegance and gnawing, glacial tension. Here is what he thought of the year that was:

the wilderness 
creeping toward our door 
the sleepers 
smothered in easy dreams 
the woken 
howling for a breaking dawn 
the year to howl, join us.

I had the pleasure to meet Lawrence for a coffee a couple of days before I left Brisbane for London, and it was strange to think we had never crossed paths before that point. The conversation weaved effortlessly through our shared sonic predilections for drone music and field recordings - about 1/8 of which turned into this interview. The process continues, and will eventually coalesce into a larger, much more unwieldy article sometime in 2015. Until then we can revel in Wilderness of Mirrors (which you can grab here), as well as the collaboration he has done with Stephen Vitielli, Fable, which you can get from here. 2015 promises to be a massive year for Lawrence as his Room40 label turns 15 and he plays all around the world. I know I will be getting down to Cafe Oto on Friday January 23 for his show alongside John Chantler and Rafael Anton Irisarri - get tickets here.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

2014 - Curlew

One of the most underrated singer/songwriters in Brisbane - indeed, in Australia - is Mark Zian. His wry, sardonic, slightly skewed world view is at once immediate and oblique, simplistic yet philosophical in a slightly anguished way - with a delivery that is earnest and self-deprecating. His work with Curlew, Knee Chin and I Am Not A Nihilist has always impressed due to its ingenuity and brazen honesty. Zian doesn't play nearly enough shows, and some of that is due to the supposed inaccessibility of such an approach to music.


Listen to Animal Urges, Curlew's album of this year - it's an unqualified gem of a record. Mix Gareth Liddiard with Richard Dawson and that is the package you are getting.

As can be expected, Zian was a little reluctant to offer a "best of" list or article for Sonic Masala. But being the perennial observer that he is, he gave me this poem, one of hundreds that he has written over the course of 2014, that sums up the year rather succinctly.

 Frozen Cake 

Lunch at work and ladies were talking about having to take a cake into school when it's their child's birthday 
We never had such traditions. 
'What about the kids with allergies', one asks 
'Well their parents bring in a cake and they cut it up and freeze it so they don’t miss out when the others have cake' 
I thought this was ridiculous. 
'But why would you want your child to miss out? It wouldn’t be fair to them' 
'Because life isn’t fair they will have to learn that lesson soon enough might as well start with cake.'

I agree wholeheartedly. Buy Animal Urges here, and push to get Zian in any of his guises out into the open more often for 2015. He is playing a solo set at Rics on Monday January 5 - this will be the perfect start.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Tail End Wags - Great Aussie Releases From Now And The Future

I haven't been able to write on here for a while, but that is the extent of it - I am writing now. And before I list my year's end thing, I thought I would do a MASSIVE wrap up of bands and releases from Australia that really deserve either attention or anticipation. So without further adieu...

I thought I would get the self-aggrandising out of the way and show the last two singles from Sonic Masala Records bands for 2014. The first is 'Different Order', the second single from Tape/Off's debut album 'Chipper', a great song that is aided and abetted (maybe?) by a clip of what apparently happens during a TO rehearsal. Jeremy Neale of Velociraptor and many other bands and exercises is also on hand to smash some Branko-lite drummage.

Now here is a band that we have loved for some time, put them on a bunch of shows, and are now putting out their first EP. Barge With An Antenna On It are a duo who like wrapping repetitive riffs and smashed-out drums into some sort of metronomic mayhem - imagine My Disco as they might have grown up in Brisbane under the William Jolly Bridge. It's going to be a split LP though with another great band, Danyl Jesu, who are beginning the New Year recording for their debut LP over in the US with Phil Elverum (Mt Eerie, The Microphones) - you will hear a lot more about that soon... (NOTE: This is the second single from a band in our roster to record a video of them playing in a van. This could catch on?)

Now for some bands that don't need much introduction. Twerps are bringing out what is probably my first anticipated releases of 2015 with Range Anxiety (January with Chapter Music) and seeing how quality their Underlay EP was I think it will be a sonorous winner. 'Shoulders' certainly seems to accentuate this fact - Jules McFarlane's wonderful vocals/lyrics, the chiming, rousing guitars - I feel that if the Flying Nun comparison hadn't been made before (and by God it's been flogged), this track would be the true tipping point. Amazing.

Dick Diver also have a hot record on its way - their 3rd - in Melbourne, Florida (also out through Chapter Music, this one in March). 'Waste The Alphabet' is more chugging pop than anything we have experienced from this amazing band in the past - it is a borderline MOR languid rock tune that overflowed the stadiums of 80s yore. Yet as with Twerps there is that affinity with the jangle-pop legends from across the Tasman that permeates this track and imbues it with warmth and integrity.

The off-the-wall-charts Gooch Palms tore up the US earlier this year, managing to link up with Trouble In Mind Records in the process. They are relocating there in March, so their January tour is likely to be their last Australian tour for 2015. Don't fret though - they will hopefully have their second album ready. Here is a new track - 'Trackside Daze' - that will be on a 7" out through Urinal Cake Records in the New Year.

The lead singer of Brisbane band Naked Maja Cedie Janson occasionally ventures out on his own (he actually played the first Sonic Masala solo series Campfire Tales back in 2013). He is bringing out a cassette on Lost Race Records next year, and 'Light Curve' is the first taste of it - it's a glitchy electronic wash of crystalline shards of sound cascading down on a reverberating percussive beat murmur, Janson's vocals floating like vapour in and out of the frenetic waves. As always, impressive stuff.

While on the subject of Lost Race Records, label founder Danny Venzin's band Nite Fields is finally preparing to release their debut album Depersonalisation upon the world (through Lost Race and Felt Records). It's a goddamn great album that drifts along in its own dreamscapes, Venzin's vocals like a dosed-up Ian Curtis, holed up inside his own head (which when you think about how this has taken nigh on four years to come to fruition, isn't too far from the truth). The band take to Europe in January and February, playing in London on February 23 at the Old Blue Last.

Canberrans Wives are something of ACT punk royalty, even if not widely known (yet). Formerly known as Sweet Shoppe and featuring past and present members of the likes of Assassins 88, TV Colours and Sex Noises, Wives have launched into a harrowing post-punk underworld in their sonic inebriation. 'Buried' is a track on the latest Cinnamon Records mixtape and is darkly seductive. The band intend to bring out their debut album last year (I have been lucky enough to hear it - it's incredible) - expect big things from these guys in 2015

Another band outta Canberra that has just recently reared its ugly head is the excellent Agency, featuring members of Hoodlum Shouts, Spartak and A Drone Coda. The band are intent on making a noisy mess of everything they touch - a Shellac-esque Midas. They are currently recording for their first official release, but in the meantime get a taste of their wares on the unmastered track 'High Heat'. I live for this serrated melody and destruction.

A very new band on the Brisbane scene is 100%, the trio divulging a torrent of glacial electronic elegance not often found in Sir Joh's graveyard. The girls have mostly been in punk and hardcore bands in the past (Chloe still drums for Cannon) and that edge is evident on the urgent 'Phantom Game'. But this BDSM tainted tantric swirl of a demo is very much stuck to the red-light-lit, velvet draped underbelly of cyberpunk seduction. Think Nun but a bit glam underneath the black couture - this is fucking amazing.

ScotDrakula are pushing hard to ensure that the garage rock phenomenon in Australia doesn't dwindle away amongst other trends and concerns with their self-titled LP that came out last month. When bands like Step-Panther change things up and Velociraptor teeter on the edge of novelty, something as silly and simple as 'Shazon' is all the world really needs to justify its existence - plus they have other songs called 'Wendigo' and 'Pig Eyes' so you know, they have my vote. Grab the album here.

Lotta post punk coming out of Australia. Another band (who I spoke about not too long ago) is Melbourne four-piece Halt Ever, who are prepping a 7" launch early in 2015 around the time they will be supporting Eagulls - a double chamber hit for the band. 'Vicious Decor' is the A-Side and it starts in a squall of frenetic noise that blows arteries before the incessant melody comes forcibly to the surface. They cite Sonic Youth and The Wipers - seriously, this is my gear. Gearing up as a powerhouse live act, 2015 might actually see Halt Ever burst through to the upper echelons of Australian artists next year. And seeing as they have a song called 'Bruce Springsteen's Tears', so they bloody well should.

Another new band to blow me away in an instant is yet another Melbourne band, PLY/RS. The capitals/no vowels combo throws you deliberately off track, as the trio (formerly/betterly known as McBain) blast through the speakers with an aberrant scree of schizophrenic punk annihilation on Gold Mine, Gold Yours (recorded by Scul Hazzards' Steven Smith). The former plays out like an epileptic nightmare, whilst Gold Yours stretches things out to five times the length, and is all the more fearful because of it. In short, it's brilliant. They are releasing a new album in 2015 - if only this was a Sonic Masala release... The fact this exists is enough yuletide fare though for me.

Chook Race only brought out a split EP with Unity Floors not that long ago, but they are preparing to launch their new album aptly named About Time. First taste off it is 'Dentists' and it has the fidgety, somehow muscular jangle of Eddy Current Suppression Ring with the buoyancy that Chook Race pin down so effortlessly. It is being distributed throughout the US via Easter Bilby Records so hopefully a push over the pond is on the cards for these excellent dudes.

Another hotly anticipated release comes from a band that have been an indelible part of my DNA since the mid-2000s, Love Of Diagrams. Seriously, their instrumental debut The Target Is You is still stellar, one of the underrated albums of this century. Of course the lyrics have since come fully to the fore, but that doesn't mean their warm intricate interplay doesn't continue to weave aural magic and roots you to the spot. The new album Blast comes out on Bedroom Suck Records in March. Recorded at Steve Albini's Chicago Mastering Studio. Photo above taken by Bob Weston. ENOUGH! Blast cannot come soon enough!

Joe Saxby, once of short-lived Tabletop Lamps, now masquerades as These Guy. His productions are always pretty fun. Well he released an EP through Wood and Wire Records earlier this year called Human Language, and it's, in his words, "I found it only appropriate to make a kind of tepid, grammatically inadequate play on this idea and call myself These Guy and make beats and melodies and etcetera just like every other whiteboy with a computer." The discombobulated musings here all float around the notion that the most psychologically damaging thing to a human is human language itself, with all its nuances, discrepancies and failings. The album itself overlaps and floats in and out of recorded sounds, "whiteboy computerings" and a sharp insightful mind. In short, this is the calling card for an artist of considerable talent. Small Fact - he also played a Campfire Songs session, so there you go - I know what I'm on about.

Stacey Wilson (Rites Wild)'s noise/drone experiment Regional Curse released a self-titled record back in September through Not Not Fun/Format, and it is incredible. Mastered by Lawrence English (who had a great year himself with his excellent Wilderness of Mirrors album), the album is a dark and meditative journey through the lesser-explored regions of insecurity and regret, before a surreal sensuous reawakening occurs, the emergence out of the chrysalis, reborn. It is this kind of electronic drone that I truly enjoy - something that coalesces inside of you and around you, not just a bludgeoning apocalyptic nadir.

Another misnomer of a moniker is Kids of Zoo - these kids are anything BUT family-friendly. The punks never let up throughout the entirety of new album Welcome To Parrot Eyes, with the longest track barely scraping the underbelly of two-and-a-half minutes. There are McLusky moments ('Bad Nanna'), there are Hot Snakes moments, there are Jesus Lizard moments, there are even local touchstones like The Kremlings in there - but above all else, it is a electric rod into the groin that drives you around like a horny marionette, the sex punk parody of Weekend At Bernies with added cocaine. Out through Every Night Is A Saturday Night (The Spinning Rooms, Batpiss), this album is a powerhouse injection in both ears, an aural colonoscopy, a sonic desecration, a noise-laden lynching. Maybe it is for all the family after all...

Sydney dreamers Cull have another single out in the form of 'Nasty Drought', which will feature on their debut LP Aloft in early 2015. It's another dreamworld that is not of this world - the skewed bent notes that throw the balance off the cathartic release, the operatic sighs and warbles that belie the muscularity that drives the band forward... Cull are an elliptic band - hard to pin down, even harder to resist. They are playing Petersham Bowls Club Sunday Jan 18 supporting Ghost Notes' Moonlight State launch (sorry, had to fit in one more plug!) - expect to hear more from these guys next year.

Brisbane wired degenerates Bent played one of their first shows at a Sonic Masala show at Trainspotters (supporting Beef Jerk) and have continued to skew all notions of song-based writing on their rusted corkscrew. It's post-punk a la Trash Kit, but decidedly more unhinged - Heidi Cutlack's vocals and lyrics veer well off the track, a stream of unconsciousness, whilst Glen Schenau's guitar is just as breathtaking and off-the-wall as we have come to expect from the Per Purpose frontman. Non Soon (out on Virtual Cool) is eighteen songs of broken wails and cathartic chemtrails - an epiphany from the madman in the skies.

I feel remiss already having not covered the two singles off their new record, called, err, Record, so here is a mention to Brisbane sludgy degenerates Bottlecock who launched said album last weekend. 'Girt By Dickheads' and 'Karaoke Quickie' are great songs, even if my favourite is the newly offered 'Caant' which upholds those early drilled into the hole Magic Dirt references mainly due to Ash Cock's growl and sneer. A very underrated band - but then again, they don't really give a fuck - they are called Bottlecock after all. Nevertheless, get behind these clowns, they are great. Vote #1 Dickheads indeed.

Adam Scott has played in a plethora of Brisbane punk bands such as Eat Laser Scumbag! and Undead Apes. He is also responsible for Future Shocks, an 80s cyberpunk odyssey as imagined by the Sierra gaming studio. So it holds all the Scott staples then - heavy Ramones influence, tongue firmly in cheek, droll film clip (from the ever prolific Alex Dunlop). The sadness would by devastating if it wasn't so hilarious. Touche, Mr Shocks, touche.

Another day, another Dunlop production. This time its for Pleasure Symbols, another synth downer act from Brisbane - I mean that in the best possible way, because the glacial grind that this duo breaks out is the sensuous counterpoint to Multiple Man's sneering arrogance, yet still with the same level of disdain. I really dig these guys, and hope to hear heaps more of them in 2015.

I have mentioned Kurt Eckardt AKA Astral Skulls in the past. Well he has released another couple of songs recently, and they are both pretty ace. 'In The Sky' is this languid pulse with a gnarled electric guitar jam that underpins it all - but with Eckardt's monotone vocals dripping of melancholy and abject despair - yet still makes you feel pretty great. The party jumps back in with 'This Party Bites', and I know that it's these DZ-meets-a-puerile-Total Control-esque tracks that get a lot of people's blood pumping, but I prefer the shuffle rather than the sprint here. Anyway, regardless, I'm looking forward to hearing the album Mystery Loves Company when it comes out.

Byron Bay's dirtiest garage mavens The Ganaschz have more no-fi dribblings on offer, which are always nice. 'Wow Kapow' is a surprisingly well-executed video featuring fake beards, fake crocodiles, real knives and balloons - lots of balloons. The song itself is breakneck, a breathless balltearer - as you would expect from these degenerates. Are they bringing out an album? I can never tell with these guys what the fuck is going on. Ah well - at least we have this.

The calm before the storm - the penultimate band release on this relentlessly gargantuan post is the 7" split between two unheralded acts out of Melbourne, Hot Palms and Soda Eaves. 'Muss Blues' and 'Lolly Water' are as meditative and breathtaking as ever, a somnambulist sojourn through mid-dusk netherworlds, where the feet lift from the ground and the shadows flee your body. It's stuff like this that makes me miss Australia so much. You can buy the 7" now - and you really really should. Soda Eaves will also be supporting Ghost Notes on their Moonlight State tour - this show at the Public Bar at Sunday January 25.

And to finish off, another much anticipated Australian release - Captains of Industry by noise deviants DEAD. It's actually been out for a while, but the vinyl has been a times' coming. I'm not gonna say much now - partly because I have been doing this post on and off for six hours, but also because it deserves a stand-alone review - but suffice to say it is brilliant, and may feature in my best of list to end out the year. Just sayin. Buy this ASAP.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

2014 - Andrew Tuttle

I haven't done this for a while. I have asked a bunch of people that have made a real difference in my opinion this year, whether it be me personally or in the year of music, to give me something that captured their year. Today I'm kicking off with Andrew Tuttle.

Andrew Tuttle is a regular man-about-town in Brisbane, is one of the best guys that has walked this earth, and I'm lucky to call him a dear friend. But that isn't why I asked him to write for us. He has been promoting music for years, working with Micronations and Room40, and playing most notably as instrumental project Anonymeye, taking acoustic and synthetic machinations to create fibrous tapestries of amorphous sounds through guitar, banjo, synthesisers and effects. The line between improvisation and composition is an organic sine wave, continually played with and built on. Tuttle retired the name after a decade of experimentation, but continues to play with form under his own name. After releasing an EP loosely based on Brisbane and the suburb in which he resides named after the postcode 4064, Tuttle released the excellent sound collage BickLack back in June, a twenty-eight minute sound collage that sews together a bunch of audio samples, improv runs and unreleased edits recorded last year in a mesmeric yet ebullient whole.

And to see out the year, he has given us ...from soapbox to Senate, a result of a work created
for OtherFilm's Institutional Capture festival last month.  The piece  is inspired by Gordon Brown, a gentleman of the Commonwealth (Australia via Canada and United Kingdom) who variously as a radical agitator, subversive, unionist and respected ALP politician served stints both as the President of the Senate in Canberra and at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in Boggo Road Gaol (where the performance was made) in the first half of the twentieth century. Through the use of digital synthesis, on-site field recordings and sparse acoustic guitar, …from soapbox to Senate conveys the oppressiveness of institutions (the prison system, the old Empire) and also the ability of people and buildings to transcend and rehabilitate the consequences of prior associations.

He has had a massive year, touring the US meeting with the likes of Dan Deacon and Matmos, but let's hear it from the man's mouth...

Andrew Tuttle – #tuttythumbsup 2014

Musically this year I have laid a bit low. A few one off performances but no extensive touring, a couple of mixtapes/commissions (including my first film score) but nothing new to sell at shows and a few exciting collaborations that are still in progress. I’ve been working on new music to release and tour in 2015, much of it coming from ideas I picked up through a creative development trip to the USA in September. As well as being a musician, my full-time and freelance work centres around music so I haven’t been short of great listening options this year.

List time: I’ve made a top ten albums, things that are not albums, and live sets list below. I could have easily made top twenty lists and/or cheated by sneaking album preview singles of albums that just missed out onto the ‘other’ list. My token non music list is my top five live sport games I’ve been to this year. Conspicuously absent in that list is my AFL team, as I was a bad luck charm to them the two games I attended in person.

#tuttythumbsup 2014 - albums

Blank Realm - Grassed Inn (BSR/Fire) 
Charlie Parr - Hollandale (Chaperone) 
clipping. - CLPPNG (SubPop) 
Ela Stiles - Ela Stiles (Bedroom Suck) 
Fennesz - Becs (Editions Mego) 
Grouper - Ruins (Kranky) 
Lawrence English - Wilderness Of Mirrors (Room40) 
Nathan Bowles - Nansemond (Paradise of Bachelors) 
Simon James Phillips - Chair (Room40) 
You Beauty - You Beauty (Second Empire/Rice Is Nice)

#tuttythumbsup 2014 - EPs/mixtapes/singles/etc

Austin Buckett - Sand Stems 1-7 (Room40) 
Brainbeau - 0.0001 Excuses (independent) 
Bong YZA - Rippers (Must Destroy Mankind) 
Gardland - Improvisations (RVNG Intl) 
Emma Swift - Emma Swift (Laughing Outlaw) 
Frank Fairfield - Duncan & Brady (Third Man) 
Holly Herndon - Chorus + Home (RVNG Intl) 
Horse Lords - Mixtape Vol. 3 (independent) 
These Guy - Human Language (Wood + Wire) 
William Tyler - Lost Colony (Merge)

#tuttythumbsup 2014 - gigs/sets

Matmos @ Sydney Festival / MONA FOMA / Howler, January 
Screaming Match @ Trainspotters, March 
Boss Fight @ Sonic Masala Festival, June 
Jonti @ The Zoo, August 
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, The Tivoli, September 
Blank Realm @ BIGSOUND, September 
Clipping + Stag Hare + Kevin Greenspon @ Goldrush Festival, September 
John Kilduff/People Like Us/Bob Wagner @ High Zero Festival, September 
You Beauty @ The Haunt, November 
OtherFilm - Institutional Capture festival @ Boggo Road Gaol, November

#tuttythumbsup 2014 - live sport

Queensland vs Western Australia, The Gabba, March 
Brisbane Roar vs Western City Wanderers, Lang Park, May 
Australia A vs India A, Allan Border Field, July 
Baltimore Orioles vs Blue Jays, Camden Park, September 
Queensland vs New South Wales, Allan Border Field, October

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Relaxed Policing with the LAPD

(Post by Fred Savage Beasts)

You know those times in the morning when you take the time to let the day come to you before getting up? That’s what this Los Angeles Police Department record is like. It’s the looking out through a window as clouds pass by taking no heed of anything you have planned. And you feel insignificant but in a good way; insignificant but nimble.

The tracks blow in and blow out leaving piles of leaves arranged in ways that look sort of like faces until they get moved on. There’s a kind of haze covering the whole thing, but it’s less like something blocking your vision than something tinting it with an ever so slight nostalgia. This might just be your new soundtrack for the train to work. It’ll get you thinking how nice it is to be up and alive to see the clouds (and whatever it is coming through them).

Out now through Forged Artifacts.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Strange Species on the Galapogos

(Post by Fred Savage Beasts)

Galapogos never got the three minute pop hook memo. Just like the weather here in Queensland never got the memo that we were meant to have conquered it. People poured out into the streets following one of the most intense storms in recent history - windows smashed, cars pock marked - scratching their heads. A lot of people will react the same way to the squalls, shifts and wails that span Galapogos’ new album Strange Species.

Made up of two sprawling jams, Strange Species traverses genre, style, ideas, and, in parts, the madness/genius divide. The record lilts and spills through guitar sounds from waves to jabs, finding and losing its way around sections of repetitive riffs and spoken (yelled and whispered) word. I’ve seen Galapogos live a bunch of times, and it’s when they are doing exactly this that they are at their best. This record is really a statement by its very existence. I listened through it during G20 and it made me more hopeful than any of the politicians. Maybe Galapogos did get the memo, they just chose to write their own manifesto in response.
Grab it from their bandcamp. And make sure you check out Dan’s blog Heavy & Weird for someone who does it right.