This was a good year for Aussie music.
Whether it was for new artists breaking through or old ones coming back to life. For some it was the year of taking risks and for others it was just about making good on the promise of an exciting debut. So..making a top 10 list wasn’t going to be hard, but in honesty.. I didn’t review everything that I wanted to..and didn’t want to review everything I got sent either.
Life has a funny way of re-prioritizing your time & energy so for me that had be towards family, work and mental health. Somehow, almost in spite of this, my own musical pursuits picked up in quite exciting and unexpected ways. So if you sent me something and I passed on it.. chances are I just ‘couldn’t’ rather than ‘wouldn’t’. If you sent me an invite to a show, a link to an album or a press-release..i probably didn’t go, listen or read it all because i wasn’t ‘able’ instead of being ‘unwilling’.
In 2019 more than before, it was only music which really resonated with me that could spur the motivation necessary to write.
With that being said, the list below really just reflects my most enjoyed releases for the year because they helped get me through some tough points and lived longer than most in my car, playlists or desktop. The other notable thing to point out here is that in 2019 a MUCH better representation of genders began to occur. Finally. No effort was put into identifying gender balance, it’s just the way it spun for my list.
Anyway I couldn’t pick a #1. So I split it across two artists. Cos this is my list and I’m in charge here.
1. Bonniesongs – Energetic Mind
This was a curious slow burn that gradually made me more and more obsessed as I listened. It’s got hooks, it’s got novelty yes…but it has more depth and mystery than the Marianas Trench. Considering that my preference is generally toward heavy music and THIS is one of my top picks for the year … should only support how incredible this thing is. Mood 10/10 Heavy 0/10
It’s dark indie music, then it’s light and playful and alternative. It’s brooding and haunting but I still can’t put my finger on what single defining feature makes it so captivating for me. Stunning to the end. Cello kills me. Bonnie’s voice…chills me. Superb. I showed work friends, i showed other artists and industry people this album..I was so impressed. I don’t generally do that but ‘Energetic Mind’ is just a really rare kind of gem.
1.1 SEIMS – 3.1
I couldn’t have imagined anything being better than the previous album ‘3’ but this is a direct continuation of that work and supersedes it in every way as my favorite. IMO superior and faultless. Praise won’t be enough to explain. I like a lot of bands in the post-prog genre and for me I come back to SEIMS music as a benchmark. This was a better mix, these songs were more focussed and the music video that accompanied the release was breathtaking. I mean.. I showed my kids (who are dancers) and they were like ‘wow Dad, that’s really cool’ and from then on..it was allowed to be played in the car. You might not think that’s much of a statement… but wait till you try and convince your 7 & 10 year old that ‘your kind of music is cool’. Anyway, this was just a dream of an EP/mini-album-continuation thing. Where the previous album took a little bit of time and maybe alienated the casual listener, this collection was instant, easier to get into and yet managed to convey the complex musicality and dynamic of what SEIMS is all about. Since it’s an addition to a previous AOTY ..it shares the top spot as addendum.
2. Reside – The Light That You Saw
This was so good. It would have been a clear and easy #1 if it were longer. No kidding. I haven’t taken this CD out of my car since March and now it’s all warped, dirty and scratched. I love the emo/punk/rock thing these guys put out and among a sea of contemporaries and peers in Australia: ‘The Light That You Saw’ was the best of it in 2019. Singing along to this is a joy I partake in regularly. The fact that they have gone from strength to strength in 2019 is only a testament to the solid and accessible song writing. Production was.. simply put: utterly dialled, slammed and massive.
3. IBUILTTHESKY – The Zenith Rise
Always knew this was gonna be a banger and yet…I still felt surprised by how outstanding it ended up being. The mix, the balance, the tones, the diversity, the bass playing…the drumming..oh my god. Truly remarkable. I haven’t fully recovered yet. Read my review for a longer explanation. Bravo Ro.. it’s an achievement. Understand that while i’m ‘really into this music’ i can easily see how outsiders might view instrumental-guitar based metal and the way that tag is going to come across. Ignore that impulse, it’s lying to you. This is just really really great music. Whether you like Van Halen, Periphery or Newton Faulkner …this is a bridging album for lovers of guitar. Plain and simple.
4. Press Club – Wasted Energy
Better, bigger, braver and instantly awesome. Their debut was great, this just rips on a whole other level and I want to be in that band. I can’t honestly say there’s a single skippable track on it. I see them touring in other countries and feel proud that we are being represented to those audiences with music like this. It’s often regarded that the sophomore album that defines a bands longevity…surviving a successful debut is one thing, following it up with something better is rarer. I can sing to this, i can relate to this, i can understand it even if i don’t share those experiences. The guitars are a hot mess of fuzz and overdrive, the bass is furious, the drums feel live and un-altered…the sincerity that comes across from Wasted Energy is palpable.
5. The Beautiful Monument – I Am The Reaper
To the point: they didn’t muck around on this and its urgency, energy and pacing just felt spot on. The hooks and choruses are superb, riffs and grooves were mint and overall a much much needed entry in the modern heavy landscape. Essential listening. Such a class act and the album finally shows it. Every song gets down to business within 30-seconds to a minute..when it’s done, the song ends. No long drawn out endings or breakdowns, it’s a seriously head turning ‘stand and deliver’ album. The band have coined a styled that can be dramatic without being over the top and heavy without screaming all over it. They wrap pop-songs up in post-hardcore layers and instead of feeling contrived, the result is actually magic.
6. Coast – Skim
Post-jazz? Indie-fusion? Progressive-lounge-math? I DON’T KNOW! My brain can’t handle this. Too cool and groovy and technical. They can just GTFO.. this is the most unexpectedly bad-ass release on the list. Please check it out! I had to revisit this a lot over the year as the immediate appeal of their first album was missing. I was convinced that IF i stuck with it just a little while more something would ..click.. as you do sometimes with music you want to like…but maybe don’t right away. ‘Skim’ was that album for me. Took a few spins but it clicked. Hard.
7. Gravemind – Conduit
To standout in this field you gotta do more than go heavier and Gravemind did it. Lots of stuff in this vein dropped in 2019 and I couldn’t give a crap about 90% of it. Gravemind are the ONE & ONLY band of the lot who I can honestly say held my genuine interest and enjoyment from start to finish. Repeated listens only reinforced it. Huge album with variety, substance and serious themes to go with it. To say they dialed down the death/metal elements would be a disservice to the band, id rather reflect that the group simply made more room to incorporate feel, groove and melody in a uniquely ‘Gravemind’ way. It slaps hard and is in no way a cash in, just a maturation and refinement of the brutal extreme’s they started under. This is peek Gravemind.
8. Freedom Of Fear – Nocturnal Gates
This is an equal part black/death/metalcore epic and holy shit was it a journey! Blasts, pick scrapes, shredding, grind, thrash, guttural screams and the most metal shit I could need for 2019. Absolute fire. It’s possibly the lack of gimmicks, breakdowns and ‘flare’ that makes it seem so genuinely dangerous to your health. Freedom of Fear do like to take breaks in between onslaughts and those are tastefully handled which serves the arrangements well. The interludes or mid-song breathers are well placed because when this band fires up the pace it’s a pretty amazing result. The album takes plenty twists and turns in regards to tempo changes, style switches, crescendos and returns, it all helps relieve any building boredom that starts to bite at the heels of your attention during the more intense sections and i think Freedom OF Fear are kind of aware of this. That makes my appreciation even more sincere.
9. Introspect – Ad Astra
This release is just a ‘wow where did that come from’ entry. A metal..post-genre..ambient..djent..core..prog master stroke. I must have hit repeat 3 or 4 times before I was satisfied that I could review it. Absolutely can’t press just how much I’m looking forward to what they do next. There are a lot of ideas to either play into or avoid when going down the rabbit hole of post-rock and prog music. This band clearly just went ‘fuck it, lets do it all’. It’s honestly quite impressive but not just for the showmanship and talent but for the execution.
10. Jacob – Show Me Some Passion
I was not familiar with this band before witnessing them live and it was immediately apparent that they played ‘my kind of music’. Its brash, aggressive, coarse, pop driven indie punk music ..but..mostly screamed or yelled. I bought the disc right there based solely on the 20 minutes of ‘wow’ factor. Imagine my disappointment when I put it on in my car..and it didn’t match my expectations. It was still them, just ..not as good. The same songs, just…not as big. The same guitar parts..but not the face peeling tone. I was bummed. After a while I wanted to listen to it again, the memory of an amazing live set pushing forward. Again I was like..yeh but nah..it’s not very good…and I want it to be. Weeks later it kept calling me to turn it on, give it another chance. The songs sunk in, the ‘bit’s stood out and after a spell, the damn album became a staple for my drive home. Cant say I like the production…but I love the band. This is the burden of a band who is better live. It’s the stuff you can’t catch on a recording that sometimes brings to buy it anyway.