Another year and another seemingly backwards step for our fair nation. Pauline Hanson rose from political career death and proved that “I don’t like it” has even more painful resonance in this century than the last one. You guys do know that she went to prison, right? I guess Orange Is The New Orange… Oh, and the Queensland Labour government back-flipped on a whole bunch of policy issues, and sold themselves to the devil for some of those sweet mining dollars. And to top it all off, the UN, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch slammed our Coalition government for it’s complicit knowledge in the treatment of refugees on the bleak hellscape that is Nauru. Great. Grand. Wonderful. And this is why we have music people: to drown out the cries of sorrow.
Here are my picks for the Top 10 Australian Albums of 2016:
The Amity Affliction – ‘This Could Be Heartbreak’
“Where previous efforts like ‘Chasing Ghosts’ and ‘Let The Ocean Take Me’ saw the group move into a more polished, repetitive, rhythm-oriented metalcore sound, ‘TCBH’ is a record concerned more with refinement than outright experimentation. Each song sounds like an Amity song, but the kicker is that they’re some of the best Amity songs to date… Now you could be forgiven for thinking that, in 2016, Amity’s style comes off as a little half-baked… But to do so, would kind of miss the mark entirely. Sure, they haven’t fucked with the formula, but Amity also haven’t sounded this positively energised since ‘Youngbloods’, and that’s exactly where they want to be.” Read the full review here.
Cursed Earth – ‘Enslaved By The Insignificant’
“Crushing, unrelenting and wholly visceral metallic hardcore is what’s on offer here with ‘Enslaved By The Insignificant’: a compilation record that features older tracks from the group’s split with ever-heavy Sydney locals Burning Season, the previously released ‘Vae Mortis EP’, and two new tracks to satiate their fans along the way… In terms of familiarity, ‘Enslaved By The Insignificant’ does lean on a hefty amount of older and previously released material from Cursed Earth, however this re-release sports huge production and improved mixing and mastering, which ensures that every element, from instrumentation to vocals to philosophical samples, sound massive and earth-shatteringly heavy.” Read the full review here.
Fear Like Us – ‘Succour’
“Our most iconic imagery often comes directly from songs like ‘Treaty’ or ‘Khe Sanh’ or ‘Blue Sky Mine’ or ‘Great Southern Land’ – songs with ideology that’s firmly entrenched in our public consciousness. With ‘Succour’, Fear Like Us elevate the discourse of recent tragic events away from our fickle attention spans, where we’re too often consumed by celebrity gossip and the next click-bait article, into something that will hopefully transcend time and resonate long after the news cycle has exhausted any perceived value. Fear Like Us care deeply and honestly about their country, and with ‘Succour’ sure to be one of the defining soundtracks for 21st century Australia, you should too.” Read the full review here.
Luca Brasi – ‘If This Is All We’re Going To Be’
On LP#3, Tassie punk Luca Brasi did some old-fashioned soul-searching and churned out the most dynamic, mature and introspective record of their career. Songs like ‘Aeroplane’ and ‘Treading Water’ kept the group’s epic choruses and working-class lyricism as signature, yet the St Helens quartet weren’t afraid to dip their feet into new sonic waters for ‘If This Is All We’re Going To Be’. The mid-section of ‘The Cascade Blues’ showcased the type of nostalgic yearning that made The Menzingers or Off With Their Heads so endearing, while ‘Overwhelmed / Ill Prepared’ pulled at the heart-strings with a great vocal trade-off and dynamic, duelling guitars. Yet the best is saved for last, with the powerful, slow-burn ‘Count Me Out’, featuring a guest appearance from wonder-woman Georgia Maq of Aussie sensation Camp Cope, who also enjoyed their own whirlwind year of success.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – ‘Skeleton Tree’
If 2016 truly was a bummer year for most people, then it’s only fitting that the latest Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds record provided a depressing and overwhelmingly bleak soundtrack. After the tragic passing of his son Arthur part-way through the writing and recording sessions of ‘Skeleton Tree’, there’s a noticeable level of pain, anguish and utter despair that comes through in Cave’s voice – particularly on tracks like ‘I Need You’ and ‘Magneto’ – which makes this album truly heartbreaking. Cave’s continued collaboration with right-hand man Warren Ellis imbues this album with a plethora of subtle moods, textures and instrumentals, which may feel slightly incongruous at times to the subject matter or tone of a particular track, however, this purposeful misdirection only serves to ease the listener right into the path of a breathtaking transition or soul-crushing lyric. ‘Skeleton Tree’ is a master work of loss and sadness; a dark album that only Nick Cave could bring to life so perfectly.
The Schoenberg Automaton – ‘Apus’
It may have taken three long years, and a jump across the pond, but Brisbane-via-Vancouver tech-death outfit The Schoeberg Automaton finally delivered their second full-length album ‘Apus’. And in true skull-cracking fashion – it’s some brutal shit: angular, dissonant riffing, off-beat and eccentric syncopation, dizzying chord progressions and gravel-throated proclamations disrupted by growls and gutturals. The Schoenberg Automaton have always sat comfortably within the mid-2000’s heyday of death metal-meets-mathcore like The Red Chord, Ion Dissonance and From A Second Story Window, and with ‘Apus’ they’ve solidified that presence and hopefully put down roots for more headache-inducing experimentation in the years to come. It’d be hard to find an hour-long slab of technical metal in 2016, that was more punishing, more expansive and so overwhelmingly visceral as ‘Apus’.
She Cries Wolf – ‘Doubt’
“Rounding out ‘Doubt’, She Cries Wolf return to what they do best on ‘Midnight’ and ‘Memoirs’: huge vocal chants, seismic beat-downs and splicing vicious melodies with equal shots of dissonance. Closer ‘Knock Knock’ finishes proceedings with screeching riffs, penetrating bass lines and a drawn-out, ambient instrumental that provides a fitting finale to an otherwise raucous record. She Cries Wolf certainly aren’t out to redefine or experiment with their genre, as much as they’re too busy solidifying their place in an existing one. ‘Doubt’ is a heavy, blistering record that perfectly complements the band’s energy, dynamics and their intense live performances.” Read the full review here.
Trophy Eyes – ‘Chemical Miracle’
“Not ones to completely abandon their roots or lose their edge, Trophy Eyes keep their tempos in check with the avalanche of drums and bottom end that open ‘Rain On Me’, and the fantastic guitar interplay on ‘Counting Sheep’. Standout ‘Breathe You In’ is the best song Basement never wrote, and delivers on everything ‘Promise Everything’ well … promised. ‘Suicide Pact’ finds the group returning to the catchy, melodic punk of their back catalogue, while the soaring chorus in ‘Home Is’ is surely destined to become a youth anthem, with its catchy refrain of “I’m so poetic when I’ve been drinking.” ”Chemical Miracle’ is a phenomenal, gold medal effort from Trophy Eyes, and the one they will be remembered for.” Read the full review here.
Violent Soho – ‘WACO’
After the runaway success of their ARIA Gold-certified album ‘Hungry Ghost’, many within the music industry wondered if Mansfield’s favourite sons could back it up with another smash-hit success story. But as soon as ‘How To Taste’ hits the stereo – with it’s soft guitar lead, cracking snare and guitarist/vocalist Luke Boerdam’s emphatic “Yeahhhhhhhh!” – any doubts were put firmly to bed. Violent Soho’s fourth album was everything it needed to be, and so much more: stadium-sized hooks (‘Blanket’, ‘So Sentimental’), fuzzy guitar riffs (‘Like Soda’, ‘Viceroy’) and mosh-ready rhythms (‘Evergreen’, ‘Holy Cave’). Not only that, ‘WACO’ earned the band ‘Best Group’ & ‘Best Rock Album’ wins at this year’s ARIA Music Awards, and the Brissy boys showed themselves to be effortlessly humble, kneeling in front of presenter and all-round Aussie legend Jimmy Barnes for a Wayne’s World-esque, “We’re not worthy!!” moment. Hell fuck yeah.
We Set Sail – ‘Feel Nothing’
“In the book version of High Fidelity, Nick Hornby’s protagonist reflects on how music can be a form of contradictory time-travel, saying: “Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostalgic and hopeful all at the same time.” In many ways, this accurately describes the mixture of yearning and optimism that We Set Sail manage to weave into their sonic tapestry. ‘Feel Nothing’ is a great album among a slew of terrific Australian releases this year, and one that pays homage to iconic Mid-West emo like Sunny Day Real Estate and Texas Is The Reason, whilst also confidently navigating the same space as influential modern acts like Brand New and Balance & Composure. Yes, sad bastard music it may be, but you’re guaranteed to feel something here.” Read the full review here.