Well, 2011 was yet another year dominated by souless, watered down music in the mainstream music industry. Bland garage/indie and horrid R&B-pop were, once again, the order of the day. Perhaps more disturbingly, some styles previously associated with underground music continued to be watered-down and repackaged into acceptable pop culture products - namely hardcore and metalcore, who have now seemingly completed their transition into music forms completely devoid of any human emotion or feeling. The post-rock scene similarly provided an endless supply of bands that sound exactly the same.
In spite of my general misanthropy towards the wider music scene, there were still some more unique gems to be had if you dug deep enough. What's more, I really felt like this was a great year for the various underground music scenes in Australia. I feel like there are more bands of more diverse styles going the DIY path, putting on great shows and releasing original, soulful music.
What more, Sydney was lucky enough to have Black Wire Records to actually support underground punk, hardcore, crust, powerviolence and grind.
Here's what I dug in 2011.
Top 5 releases of 2011
- The Devin Townsend Band - Deconstruction: Brilliant. Possible Devin Townsend's very best.
- YOB - Atma: If anything just for Before We Dreamed of Two and Adrift in the Ocean. An incredible doom record.
- Bjork - Biophilia: The best Bjork release since Homogenic.
- Graveyard - Hisingen Blues: I struggle to think of a better rock album released in the last decade.
- La Dispute - Wildlife: An honest and genuine emotional catharsis. Honest and genuine.
Top 5 grind(ish) releases of 2011
- The Kill - Shower of Bricks: the perfect distillation of intense grindcore.
- The Reverend Jesse Custer - The Reverend Jesse Custer: sludgy, raging metallic grind and hardcore.
- Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt - Counter Transference: techy polyrhythmic, sporadic math/grind bliss.
- IDYLLS - Amps for God / Plague Hell: furious fucking grinding metallic hardcore.
- Wormrot - Noise: blistering and intense.
The 10 albums I couldn't stop playing all year
- Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton - Knives Don't Have Your Back
- Roots Manuva - Brand New Second Hand
- YOB - Atma
- Bohren & Der Club of Gore - Black Earth
- Bohren & Der Club of Gore - Sunset Mission
- Dax Riggs - Angel in the Dopesmoke (live bootleg)
- Neil Young - Dead Man soundtrack
- Neurosis - The Eye of Every Storm
- Worlds End Girlfriend - Hurtbreak Wonderland
- The Cinematic Orchestra - Every Day
The 10 Australian releases you really should have heard
- Hydromedusa - Self-titled: Adelaide stoner rock that just oozes bluesy class. (It's FREE! Get it!)
- sleepmakeswaves - And So We Destroyed Everything: An interesting post-rock record? Well I never!
- Pirate - Left of Mind: Fantastic Sydney instrumental prog.
- An Emerald City - The Fourth: Technically Kiwi, but a great, cinematic album.
- Tangled Throughts of Leaving - Deaden the Fields: These guys came outta nowhere (Perth)! Incredible progressive, piano-driven music mixed with progressive and post music.
- Mother Mars - Fossil Fuel Blues: Perhaps Sydney's greatest stoner/desert rock band.
- Arrowhead - Atomsmasher: Or perhaps these guys are?
- Serious Beak - Huxwhukw: Okay it's my band, fuck you.
- Squat Club - Corvus (remixed, remastered and re-released): Now with even more mind-bending polyrhythmic clarity!
- Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt Counter - Transference
My favourite live shows of 2011
- Portishead at Sydney Harvest Festival
- Eagle Twin at Manning Bar
- Gotye at Angel Place City Recital Hall
- Kyuss at The Big Top
- The Reverend Jesse Custer at Town Hall Hotel
- Captain Cleanoff and Death-Cult Jock at Black Wire Records
- Ruins, Darth Vegas, Slimey Things (Featherfest 2011) at TONE
- Clagg and Agonhymn at The Pony
- Space Bong, Looking Glass and Hydromedusa at The Sando
Australian grind hero of the year
- Jack of Die Pigeon Die. Just an all around good bloke who never relents in his selfless passion to support Australian grindcore.
You disagree? Oh what a surprise! What did you guys dig this year? Was it a good year? A shit year?
Mother Mars have always been a band that I enjoy watching live. However, I can remember that about a year ago - sometime around Doomsday 2010 - I noticed a subtle shift in the attitude of the band. It was almost like, after some internal or personal turmoil the trio had finally begun to relax into their music, that they had found their own voice as a band. Mother Mars' attention to sonic detail has always been impressive, but they now seemed more cohesive and more comfortable - and their performance became undeniably stronger as a result.
As it turns out that over the aforementioned period, the group had been working quitely away on recording their new album 'Fossil Fuel Blues'. That immaculate attention to detail, and almost obsessive process of revision and recording has resulted in Mother Mars nowdays delivering some of the most best stoner/desert groove in Australia.
If there is one truly impressive thing about Mother Mars, it is the trios' impeccable and infectious sense of groove - and that is on full display on 'Fossil Fuel Blues'. Groove and feel is something I don't believe you can teach, and these guys have it in spades. Whether it's on a high-energy rock number like 'Ride Like the Wind' or a darker, more sedate piece like the albums title track, their feel is impeccable. These guys are so fucking chilled you half expect them to slip into a coma at any second.
For a home recording, the sound quality is solid. The tones and textures are absolutely beautiful. The bass is warm, fuzzy and fat. Matt's Strat sings with a gorgeous bluesy fuzz-and-overdrive treatment. The vocals too are tinged with psychedelic textures. Clearly a lot of time has gone into the crafting and layering of this album, as it continuously proves to be multifaceted. The only hallmark that this is infact a home recording is the volume, which sits considerably below most other albums. However, that approach has also let the band keep the depth and definition of their sound, so it really isn't a flaw.
'Fossil Fuel Blues' is another one of those seemingly countless local, underground releases that has seriously reinvigorated my passion for the Australian music scene. The sheer quality and range of releases that have been offered up in 2011 is mind-blowing, such that I am absolutely sure this has to be the best year for the Australian underground in a long, long time - but more on that wider narrative another time.
Once more I recall my disappointment at seeing the widely acclaimed Earthless live -- and once more I juxtapose that with the awesome local and relatively unknown talent of Looking Glass and Mother Mars. Both bands eclipse the vast majority of releases that the global stoner scene attempts to offer up as its best.
With 'Fossil Fuel Blues', Mother Mars have delivered a gorgeous sounding album thats smooth, psychedelic and with serious fucking groove. Any fan of psychedelic of desert or stoner rock would be a fool not to check this release out.