Image: Mitski – supplied.
2018, we hardly knew you. With countless high quality albums released this year, many of which in the first half of 2018 – and a few big names coming out to surprise us later in the year – it was hard to keep up with what was released and when. Additionally, with this blog’s extensive coverage on Melbourne bands from Tropical Fuck Storm to Augie March (more on them below), it felt important to pull back the curtain a little further and highlight a few of the amazing Sydney bands that have been doing the rounds, tightening and expanding their sound in local venues. With thanks to the extended Melody Menu family, we present to you just some of our top albums of 2018. It’s been a joy revisiting all of these albums and more.
Mitski – Be The Cowboy
Each Mitski album contains a wealth of unassuming, yet assured evolution. While controlled instability is a theme of her music, these songs take new leaps of structural and harmonic adventure. One chorus only; no choruses at all; key changes which leave you uncertain of your bearings not just from section to section, but from bar to bar. The interpersonal pessimism remains. Characters with points to prove to themselves and others have their hopes dashed. Miyawaki isn’t one for self-indulgence, though – even the delightfully sorrowful disco of ‘Nobody’ sets a verse aside to pull the focus away from its writer and out to our galaxy. She chants the titular word throughout the final minute – first in the same way as before, later by breaking it down to brutally edited syllables that jump across your speakers; a disembodied sound painting. I won’t spoil every moment of magic, but the closer ‘Two Slow Dancers’ possesses several. Listen out for those last few notes tiptoeing nearer without resolving; for that warbling drone as it tries to freeze time. Be the Cowboy doesn’t want your pity; it deserves your attention. – Paul Macadam
Yo La Tengo – There’s A Riot Going On
Contrary to the title, Yo La Tengo’s latest offering, There’s A Riot Going On is the distillation of warmth and comfort; the sonic accompaniment to a soft blanket and cup of tea. The bold horn section of previous album Fade are gone – as are the nervy breakdowns and extended jams of yore. Instead, There’s A Riot… becomes an extended meditation; comforting and cleansing by turns, confronting in its simplicity and lack of embellishment. Instrumental album opener ‘You Are Here’ is one such example, a jubilant affirmation of bright, syrupy guitars and slow, methodical bass, rising and circling alongside a spiralling patchwork pattern of percussion, which can uplift and energise, as much as it can leave one cold and dissatisfied. With Yo La Tengo’s latest offering – and indeed, plenty of their other albums – vast inner spaces are left for the listener to supply one’s own meaning. – Melody Menu
Tesse – How It All Unfolds
How It All Unfolds approaches relationships and the bittersweet moments of well-intentioned, yet unintended missteps people make along the way. Tesse, the brainchild of Tom Stephens, captures this sense of vulnerability through honest Australian enunciation mixed in with the flowing rhythm and spacious nature of Neil Young’s On The Beach. Whilst the first half of the record engages in traditional band arrangements, delicately culminating in quite literally ‘A Line Drawn Through the Air’, an instrumental which divides the album in two. The second half sees Tesse draw from more low-key sensibilities. There’s a feeling of closeness as heard in the artful developments of ‘How It All Unfolds’ into ‘Thin Plastic Thread’; the otherworldly minimalist guitar chimes, droning cymbals build and then fade into jaunted guitar chords phrasing Stephen’s soft lullaby. This translates excellently live, the ethereal melds with the strong rhythmic presence to create a wholly intimate setting. As far as opening impressions go, Tesse could do no better. – Sean Lees
Cat Power – Wanderer
First listen: A little underwhelming. I should persist though, it might reap rewards later on.
Second listen: Shivers, it’s finished already.
Third listen: Track 2 is fire.
Fourth listen: Why can’t I stop coming back to this album?
Twenty-fifth listen: It’s sparse, yet full. It’s delicate, yet fierce. It’s complex, yet simple. SHE HAS DONE IT AGAIN. – Chris Panagiotaros
The Tambourine Girls – Waiting For Pleasure
A romantic poet and a band of towering musicians make their masterful follow-up. Waiting for Pleasure is distinctively groovy, songs like ‘Grace’ and ‘Catch You on Film’ carry Simon Relf’s imagery like a serene bride, away from 60’s pastorals, across thresholds as remote as hip-hop and to stunning effect. ‘Clara’ quickens the heart and contains all the symmetry and turmoil of a melancholic idol, while ‘Wonderdown’ is a dissolving revelation, drawing daggers of solemn e-bow and broken glass poetry toward the devastatingly beautiful conclusion: ‘you’ve never lived the kind of life that’s hanging on the walls / but when it all comes crashing down it’s everyone who falls.’—Make some time and gaze at yourself in this Tambourine Girl’s mirror, there’s a lot to be revealed. – Marcus Gordon
Elvis Costello – Look Now
Elvis Costello returns with an album that proves he still has the scope and grandeur to create an album as flawless and varied as 1982’s Imperial Bedroom. His songwriting partnership with long-term collaborator Burt Bacharach also makes room for some of Costello’s most haunting songs to date. On Look Now, Costello embraces a songbook of melancholic balladry in cohesion with highly textured chamber pop. While during ‘Stripping Paper’, Costello laments about the simplicity of a life without money and excess, on ‘Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter’, he brings the mood up with a danceable Bowie-like beat and arrangement. A standout moment on the album comes from the final track ‘He’s Given Me Things.’ The track’s lyrics provide a benchmark for any male writers looking to approach the ‘Me Too’ movement with any finesse, understanding and empathy. Costello’s lyrics resemble a female protagonist who has been used and abused by a powerful public figure, addressing how these types of relationships have an enduring effect on people. This album will provoke with each tentative listen. Take the time, you will be rewarded. – Bradley Cork
The Breeders – All Nerve
Featuring the original and celebrated Last Splash line-up of Kim and Kelly Deal along with Josephine Wiggs on bass and Jim MacPherson on drums, All Nerve packs a power-pop punch with many of the songs feeling like they’re about to erupt. Pairing lyrical nonsense with full-blooded riffs, The Breeders turn songs featuring beach balls and haunted highways into epic stadium-sized rock songs to belt along to, with the quieter moments on the record being equally as charged with energy and searing guitars. Live, these songs really come into their own. Interspersed with the Deal sisters’ familial harmonies and guitar interplay, paired with Josephine Wiggs’ cucumber-cool delivery and Jim MacPherson’s barrage of unorthodox drum patterns, The Breeders know how to put on a good show. Full of confidence, vulnerability and pure rock ‘n’ roll, The Breeders’ latest album is truly All Nerve. – Bradley Cork and Melody Menu
Peggy Gou – Once EP
It’s a little sneaky putting a three-track, 12” EP into my end of year favourites, but I had to recognise this stylish and rhythmic release by Peggy Gou. These three tracks have etched their way into the deep crevasses of my brain. The first – and standout – track of the EP, ‘It makes you forget (Itgehane)’ is instantly rewarding. Gou’s gentle Korean vocals compliment the warm and textured acid-house beat – politely demanding your attention. Sadly, I am seldom on dancefloors anymore, but I joyfully await the day I am – and this song is dropped. The latter two tracks demonstrate Gou’s complex skill and ability to traverse boundaries. In a music scene that can often be trite, Peggy Gou has released a refreshing and danceable EP. – Chris Panagiotaros
Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders – Blue Poles
Ladder strides in his first self-produced release. A cohesive yet eclectic mix, Blue Poles encapsulates the electronic synth wave of Playmates and the darkened blues rock of Hurtsville – widened a step further to suit Ladder’s versatile palette. Throughout Blue Poles there are hints of Rolling Stones roadhouse swagger and the theatrical crooner ballad in the form of ‘Blue Mirror’. While thematically sordid and melancholic, Ladder passes through wit and dark humour that gradually unfold on continued re-listens. A light-hearted gesture from ‘I.N.M’ ‘Levitation is easy / if you know how to pull some strings’ works in heavy contrast to ‘Susan’ wherein a lost love urges Susan to mix Vicodin with methadone, so she may dance with him in the afterlife. This is approached with subtle hopefulness and feels genuinely uplifting for an apparent tragedy. Blue Poles reflects its namesake, as Jackson Pollock’s abstract art is free flowing yet labelled for context, thus limiting the viewers’ appreciation. – Sean Lees
Phantastic Ferniture – Phantastic Ferniture
Nearly four years in the making, the self-titled debut album by Phantastic Ferniture is a top contender for album of the year, even if it may be the only album by the group that we have the pleasure of hearing. With their customary Christmas show touted as the last for some time, Phan Fern’s insanely danceable numbers and slow, chill-out grooves will be sadly missed. Julia Jacklin’s soaring vocals and kickass stage presence will continue to be found in her solo material; Elizabeth Hughes’ emotive guitar tones will continue to be found under the name Elizabeth Fader; and Tom Stephens’ rhythmic storytelling can be found in both Tesse and Goodside; with Ryan K Brennan sure to be found producing the cream of Australia and beyond’s musical crop. But the unique alchemy of their efforts joined together in Phantastic Ferniture will be long remembered for its searing jungle beats, playful energy, and infectious jams. – Melody Menu
And time for some of our favourite album-related interviews this year –
Tropical Fuck Storm Interview: As The Name Implies
NZ Favourites Wax Chattels On Their Discordant Debut Record
Augie March: Glenn Richards On Bootikins And Expending The Nightmare Self
MOD CON: A Chat With Erica Dunn on her Raucous New Release
‘Til You Come Back With Me: Ed Kuepper On The Reinvention Of The Aints