G’day lords, my name is Matt and I really, really, really like music. By day, I’m the editor of Australian Guitar Magazine (currently the only 100% locally produced music rag on newsagent shelves!) and a freelance writer and editor for pretty much any publication willing to exchange money for Star Wars puns and tinfoil-hat-tier ramblings about why the mid-2000s was the definitive era for pop-rock bands (I also crashed Wall of Sound‘s UNIFY Gathering 2019 podcast to chat with Pagan, just because I could).
2019 was a huge year for music, capping off a wild decade that had far more than its fair share of ups, downs, controversies and milestones. I could probably fill an entire book talking about it all – but of course, Browny has a life to live, a beard to maintain and an ungodly backlog of Veronicas remixes to mosh around his kitchen to, so I’ll try to keep my Year In Review as succinct as possible. Thanks for having me, WoS!
Top 10 Albums of 2019
10. Polish Club – Iguana
For their long-awaited second effort, the local meme-loving mates traded some of their retro rock’n’roll kitsch for a slicker and suaver sound that belts through the speakers like a tsunami of sexiness. The choruses are huge, the riffs are juicy as hell, and the production is unbelievably good (and surprisingly dynamic for a two-piece rock outfit – slap this one through a good stereo system if you’ve got the privilege). I had no doubts Polish Club would scratch up a scorcher with their album #2, but I have to admit, I was kind of thrown for six with just how scorching it ended up being.
Best track: “Moonlighting”
9. Sports Bra – Talk It Out
It’s equally poppy and punky, but I definitely wouldn’t call it a pop-punk record. Talk It Out is really sweet and fun and unexpectedly optimistic, and I love the way these really heavy-hitting choruses are served by the loud-soft dynamics the band play with. I think the only thing that hurts it in the end is its overly loose production and some muddy performances here and there. It feels a bit like a demo album, but where all of the demos are for songs that absolutely slap. Look past the hiccups and you’ve got 11 bonafide anthems, with earwormish hooks and lyrics that go straight for the heart.
Best track: “Old Age”
8. Slaughter Beach, Dog – Safe And Also No Fear
Driven by some of the most beautiful (if also the most understated) guitar parts he’s written, Jake Ewald finds the beauty in mundanity on his third SloBoDo album. This is the perfect album to spin when you’re driving home after an exhausting day at work (or in the final stint of a brutally long road trip) when you just want something chill to carry you along, but need something substantial enough to keep you hooked in. It’s the soft-rock equivalent of the perfect mug of hot chocolate on a stormy winter’s night.
Best track: “Black Oak”
7. Alex Lahey – The Best Of Luck Club
Alex does big, brash, mid-‘00s-channelling pop-rock like it’s second nature to breathing for her, and LP2 is jam packed with it. But it’s the left-field twists and turns she throws us through – the unforgivingly punchy ‘Misery Guts‘, the twinge-y pseudo-country bop ‘Black RMs‘, the downright adorable-sounding ‘Isabella‘ (which is, fucking hilariously, about a vibrator) – that makes it.
Best track: “Misery Guts”
6. Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties – Routine Maintenance
Dosing his second solo album with big horn section pay-offs, plucky lap steel rhythms and the occasional ripping harmonica solo, Dan Campbell further proves that pop-punk isn’t the only genre he’s a god at. There’s a really bold and enthralling narrative told across the ten songs, which fluctuate between chill acoustic crooners, giant country anthems and everywhere in-between on the spectrum. It’s one of those albums that feels crazy short (the story spans several years, a massive cast of characters and at least four individual plot threads, all of which tie into one larger cohesive storyline), yet at the same time, just perfectly portioned. It is absolutely essential that you experience this album in one fell swoop, cover to cover.
Best track: “Rosa & Reseda”
5. The Lazy Susans – Now That The Party’s Over
It fills me with so much pain and rage that this bloody incredible 13-tracker flew under the radar when it came out. In addition to some of the year’s most razor-sharp and emotionally poignant vocals on a rock album, the band’s musicality as a whole is ace, and the dynamic between the bendy and crunchy guitar parts is something truly special. The Lazy Susans are a stunning live band, too – if you get the chance to cop these tracks in the flesh, do yourself a favour and take it.
Best track: “If I Hurt You”
4. McCafferty – The House With No Doorbell
Wearing weathered hearts on tattered sleeves, LP3 sees McCafferty strike a stunning balance between the raw, visceral emotional fervour that defined their early days, and the ear-crushing brand of fiery, fist-in-the-air energy that made last year’s Yarn such a head-turner.
Best track: “Fentanyl”
3. PUP – Morbid Stuff
Every time the quirky Canadian punks announce a new album, I think there’s no way they’ll be able to one-up its predecessor. And every time, they manage to prove me wrong. I can’t even think of a way to describe Morbid Stuff that does it justice – they’re a tough band to crack as a critic because no other band sounds like PUP. And on their third album, they’ve delivered a veritable ‘greatest hits’ of their brightest talents and most poignant idiosyncrasies. It’s crunchy. It’s melodic. It’s fun. It’s brutally emotional (I have to skip ‘Scorpion Hill‘ on my regular playthroughs because it’s just a tad too much for me). It’s fuckin’ PUP, man – and it’s good.
Best track: “Bloody Mary, Kate And Ashley”
2. Zen Haircuts – Why Are All My Plants Dead?
This one is technically breaking the rules because it’s less of an album and more of a three-track EP, but despite its brevity, the Sydney trio explore a stunning wealth of stylistic peaks and valleys on their second proper release. For fans of bands like Modern Baseball, American Football and Modest Mouse, I feel like this could be the EP that finally puts a solid definition to the term ‘perfection’. I could listen to Julie’s kaleidoscopic fingerpicking for literal hours on end – it’s like she dances her hand on the fretboard and every note that comes out of it is pure gold.
Best track: “Melodeon Eyes”
1. WAAX – Big Grief
WAAX finally put their album out this year, and from the heart-punching lulls of “Fade” to the absolutely belting chorus on ‘FU‘, it lives up to almost all of the hype they set forward for it. I’d actually consider this a relatively ‘safe’ release for the Brisbane fivesome – I know they have the potential to go weirder, wilder and wicked (and hopefully on LP2 we’ll see them hit those beats a little more). That WAAX playing by the numbers yielded the best release of 2019 certainly says something of their raw, unabashed and unrivalled talent. Anthemic at its weakest points and downright monumental at its strongest, Big Grief is a massively solid debut from the hardest working rock band in Australia.
Best track: “Labrador”
Top 12 Songs of 2019
In no particular ranked order (and to shake things up, only going with songs that aren’t on any of the above LPs):
The Beautiful Monument – ‘Kintsugi’
Cry Club – ‘Robert Smith’
The Damned Things – ‘Cells’
DZ Deathrays – ‘A Lot To Lose’
Enter Shikari – ‘Stop The Clocks’
Feed Me – ‘Own Ghost’
The Front Bottoms – ‘Camouflage’
Heart Attack Man – ‘Fake Blood’
Hobo Johnson – ‘Sorry, My Dear’
Hozier – ‘Almost (Sweet Music)’
Press Club – ‘Get Better’
Vampire Weekend – ‘This Life’
Best Music Doco of 2019
Honestly, I haven’t paid all that much attention to music videos that came out this year, so I can’t give a proper answer. But I did watch the new documentaries from Enter Shikari (Further East, a feature-length recap of their 2019 Russian trek) and Brockhampton (Keeping The Band, a stylised, serialised diary-type deal) which were both fantastic. I wish more bands embraced the art of the music doco – hopefully Parkway Drive kick off a new wave of them when Viva The Underdogs lands in cinemas next month!
Best Gigs of 2019
I had a really lowkey year for live music in 2019, which I think was ultimately a smart decision; by the end of last year, I was totally burnt out on casual gigging. It just wasn’t that fun for me anymore, so I spent this year only going to the shows that I really wanted to go to (and even then, I missed an embarrassing amount of them). BIGSOUND was hectic as ever and I caught a metric fucktonne of sick new bands there, so I have to give that the obligatory shoutout. I had a lot of fun watching Courtney Barnett kill it at a couple of festivals (namely, Splendour In The Grass and Yours & Owls) – she’s not the first person I’d think of when it comes to artists that suit the average festival atmosphere, but she just crushed it every time. It was great to see Hozier at the Sydney Opera House, too. Vibes on vibes on vibes.
Favourite Band You Have Discovered in 2019?
Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers. I’d seen their name floating around a bit over the past couple years, but it wasn’t until I saw them open for Alex Lahey on her album tour in May that everything really clicked for me. They played the first few bars of the first song in their set, and I suddenly just got it. Their live show is so sharp and tight and fun, and the songs themselves… Fuck me into a hexagon, they have the catchiest songs. The quartet slammed at BIGSOUND this year, and I definitely think they’ve got a bright future ahead of them.
Next Big Australian Bands?
I really want to see Zen Haircuts make it big – they have so much potential to be the next biggest emo band in the world and I wish they wind up with the resources to capture the massive audiences they deserve to. But on a more realistic train of thought, I think Introvert are going to hit the bricks hard and fast with their record; the material is fantastic, and I definitely think they’ve got what it takes to hit all corners of the scene (heavy, soft, poppy, punky, grungy) equally big with it. I’m predicting a massive breakthrough release for Sweater Curse in the second half of the year. Cry Club have a big year ahead of them, too – they’ve got another couple of absolute anthems gestating and I know they want their debut record to really matter, so they’re putting everything they’ve got into it. I think if they keep playing their cards right and keep capturing the spirit of the modern Australian millennial (like they have with “DFTM” and “Robert Smith” especially), they’ll be set. Also, having heard some of it live, I can say with the utmost of confidence that the new material from Georgia June is unreal – definitely keep your eyes on them.
What Are You Looking Forward To The Most In 2020?
Three words, my good dude: “My”, “Chemical”, and “Romance”. Catch me right up the front when they take the stage at Download, eyeliner streaming down my face as every last gram of my cool is lost when Frank rips into the lead riff on ‘Thank You For The Venom‘. It’s going to be one of those shows that goes down in history forever, and I cannot wait to see it in the flesh. And I don’t think they’re just going to do this little handful of shows and then fuck back off – we’ve got a whole new era of MCR to look forward to in 2020, and I already know it’s going to be insane.
So many of my favourite bands and artists have new records due this year as well – I’m really excited to see how the new shit from Enter Shikari, The Front Bottoms and Against Me! is shaping up. As with every year, I cannot wait to see what new bands end up wowing me, and especially what Australian bands are going to lead the charge in a new decade of sick tunes. And just on a personal note, I’m excited to lead another huge year for Australian Guitar and grow the brand in some new and exciting ways, and hopefully get my shit together and finish writing the record I started chipping away at in the beginning of this year.
Words by Matt Doria