Penny with her Japanese band the Silver Bells at her "Tokyo" album launch at Melbourne Museum. Pic by Gary Hallenan
Album: “What Would I Know”, Brian Henry Hooper (Bang! Records) This posthumous album release is startling in its beauty, rawness and poignancy. Songs about romantic and filial love and songs about death are delivered in Brian’s signature kicking against the pricks style.
Mick Harvey's production appears to form a bridge between the states of life and death. This leaves the listener unsure whether our bard has in fact crossed the River Styx to Hades; while the instruments, like bellows, breathe life into a raging fire. Are they all bellowing from the Underworld or are their feet still firmly planted in the land of the living?
Like Orpheus, the musician, poet and prophet (armed with an electric golden lyre and a distortion pedal) performing in front of Hades, God of the Underworld (clad in a black leather jacket), in the hope of retrieving his ill-fated bride Eurydice, Brian Henry Hooper sings songs to make gods weep.
Spencer P Jones. Spencer’s untimely and tragically premature passing was a lowlight of 2018. The only silver lining was the outpouring of love for the man, his music and his unbridled generosity. There will never be another like Spencer.
Beasts of Bourbon, Prince of Wales. Has there ever been a more emotional gig? Brian Hooper wheeled onto stage by nurses from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, plumes of smoke emanating from his oxygen mask. Spencer Jones, frail but determined to accompany his fellow Beast on stage for one last time. It was as sloppy as the Beasts once were, way back in the day. But it was beautiful.
Brian Hooper - "What Would I Know?" Recorded at Andrew McGee’s Empty Room property-cum-recording in Nagambie, Hooper’s reaction to the initial recording sessions was scathing. “It’s all shit,” he told me one day. But McGee saw enough in the recording to convince Hooper otherwise. A mixture of love, passion, pathos, self-loathing, resilience and gusto, this is a record brimming with emotional depth and musical complexity. RIP, Brian.
Jackson Briggs and the Heaters. James McCann put me onto these guys. Grinding country rock jams that should go on forever. They’ve got a new album out. Listen to it. Enjoy. Repeat.
The Breeders, Forum Theatre. It had been almost 25 years since I first saw The Breeders, at the Big Day Out in Adelaide, February 1994. On a Sunday night at the Forum Theatre The Breeders proved their every bit as vital as they were back in the day. I could listen to that riff in ‘I Just Wanna Get Along’ anytime.
2018 kicked off with the release of Amy Rigby’s “The Old Guys” (Southern Domestic). That was probably my outright, most spun album of the year and always played from start to finish in its proper sequence. Produced by Wreckless Eric, this really should be on every year end list. I hope that one day, the world will catch on because it could sure use her music as a balm right about now.
The Dahlmanns “American Heartbeat” mini album (Beluga/Ghost Highway) features six songs whereupon Moss Rock City’s finest team up with Björne Fröberg (Nomads) and Chips Kiesbye (Sator) to deliver another chapter in timeless pop. It has a semi-baroque, almost folk quality. Line’s voice really has that Linda Thompson quality come to the fore. When I say folk of course I mean the LOUD variety, not that finger in one ear malarkey. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
My patience with one and two-person acts is often stretched but The Courettes are the exception to that rule. This fuzztastic duo make records that actually live up to the dynamite show. It’s nice to see them receiving the praise they deserve and how things are actually growing for them. “We are The Courettes” is their latest and unreservedly recommended album.
Lucy and The Rats, who are in Australia as I tap away, were the best thing I saw at the Wurlitzer Anniversary weekend in Madrid this past September.
2018 was a shit year but with some amazing gigs intertwined.
We have a sub-culture, in which fragments of our past local music scene survive from a time that was exciting (as Damian Lovelock said) “as England in 1966 or NYC in 1975”.
The folk who peruse and read this website are either musicians, sound engineers writers or rock pigs mostly from a by-gone era. Generally, a generation that was made of weekly trips for vinyl hunts on Sydney's Pitt Street, in particular Ashwood’s and independent record shops like Phantom and The Record Plant. A generation that had subscriptions to RAM Magazine, or Rolling Stone and read fanzines.
Our world was pre-gaming, home computers, no Netflix, no Internet, no YouTube. What mattered was music, and it was our obsession. We were playing in bands, producing bands, writing about music, collecting vinyl records before the hipsters made it expensive.
I've been to more than 140 gigs this year and the Tote is like an old high school friend you knew back in the day, who you catch up with at the 20-year reunion to find nothing has changed at all.
I've seen more gigs at my stomping ground, the Tote, than any other venue, so here's all the awesome gigs I've seen there this year:
Chris Russell is a lone man and his guitar. He has one hell of a swampy voice - like he's been hit in the side of the head with a lump of Mississippi mud
FLUFF - killer trio that pins the crowd down with a riff and continues to wail in their face
RVG - awesome post punk band, with an incredible singer in Romy Vager.
Heavy and Hammered. The yearly metal and punk festival put on by Melbourne community radio station PBS.
Little Desert: Roman Tucker from Rocket Science on Keyboards playing with an mix of Jefferson Airplane and Desert stoner rock
Spencer P Jones tribute gig: The legend that is Spencer P Jones passed away this year and a whole bunch of close mates had a two-day bender and tribute gig for their mate. Kim Salmon, River of Snakes, Digger and the Pussycats all put on killer sets.
I thought I’d take a unique approach to this year’s Top 10 by actually listing my top music highlights of the year which didn’t involve myself.
So you won’t be reading about my killer gig with the mighty Buffalo “Revisited” at the Bald Faced Stag in Sydney, where we performed the astoundingly cool Buffalo album "Volcanic Rock" from top to toe to celebrate the record's 40 years in existence.
You also won’t be reading about the one and only show by The Four Stooges at the Marrickville Bowlo that was in a word “devastating“.
Also you won’t be hearing about The Cool Chambers who struggled against a few odds in finishing recording and mixing our super duper originals for a planned release in 2019...nope...no ...none of that rubbish.
But you will read my Top 10...that has in fact become an explosive hits Top 20 (not in order):
1) Pink Floyd The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Record Store Day Mono re-issue. This sounds as great as I’d always suspected (having never heard a proper mono mix). It’s punchy and dynamic! Psychedelic being invented for many.
2) Amyl and the Sniffers LP Big Attraction/ Giddy Up - real punky rock - see my review on I94bar somewhere and go and see them play a show...the kids are alright
3) Mark Taylor 2 x 7”. If only more records were like this. Lipstick Killers, Psycho Surgeons guitar destroyer steps out front with a really brilliant double 7” with insane packaging, great songs and playing.
4) New Christs at the Marrickville Bowlo. Great band, great sound. Still explosive.
5) Bikini Kill - The Singles LP. Finally out on vinyl. The later day BK 7”s on one record...real punky rock #2!
6) John Foy book - Snaps Crack Pop. John is a true rock and roll dude be it his artworks, music fandom or his time challenging the biz with his Redeye label, his book tells his tale with words and pictures. Keep well John.
Paul McCartney - Egypt Station Solid album with some stand out tracks. A good repeated listen
Chocolate Watchband + Young Fresh Fellows @ Tractor Tavern Seattle Dec 2 Scott McCaughey's first YFF gig since his stroke last year. Good enough reason to take the trip. Kaz insisted she needed to see Chocolate Watchband after hearing me talk about them for the last 37 years. 51 since I last saw the proper Watchband. A couple of later line ups were name only. YFF tore the roof off. CWB were more than a recreation. Original drummer Gary A still hit them hard. New album they were previewing is also surprisingly good. A good time was had.
Beatles - Beatles reissue, remix The remix sounds like the best new band album of the year. It's familiar, yet very different feel too. Gilding the lily, but just fine. It's the Escher Demos and session tracks that are the revelations. Well worth the price of admission. Detailed note in the hard cover book explain the session material. There is a 5.1 mix which I have no way to listen to. The BluRay also has the remix and the original mono mix in high def. Mono still kills.
Guided By Voices - Space Gun + Ogre’s Trumpet Always hard to keep up with a band that manages two albums a year. Space Gun shows the current band are gonna keep cranking out great material. The live album, Ogre's Trumpet is easily the best live GbV album, yet. Recorded in 2017.
It's almost 2019… and the world seems to be going mad. But the big question I ask myself… is rock dead?
I see alternate styles of music like rap, hip-hop and commercial pop dominating youth culture. I wouldn’t recognise Drake or Flume if they dropped their USB sticks in front of me. In closeted rock’n’roll enclaves such as the I-94 Bar dirty rock’n’roll seems to be thriving, but one by one icons are dropping off the perch. How much longer can it survive?
The benchmark I’ve been looking at is guitar sales. Electric guitar sales have slipped 22.7 percent since 2008… the price of guitars is rocketing, yet it appears that the acoustic market is on the up… Something like a 15 percent increase over the same period. Although insipid, whiny vocal sounds have probably been tied to the same trend.
The trend that parallels the increase of Ed Sheeran wannabes is the rise of vinyl sales. I’d guess that pot smoking hippies, listening on their Technics SL1200 to Bob Dylan re-masters trying figure out how to play protest songs while avoiding the dreaded F chord are to blame.
Despite my sense of foreboding I did manage to catch some quality rock’n’roll but I put that down to confirmation bias. My personal faves:
Greetings from Warsaw, Poland! I don't know how many of these Barfly Top 10s will be from folks outside of Australia, but I'd wager a year's salary that mine will be the only one from a former Eastern Bloc country. Here are Top Seven things I enjoyed in 2018:
1) Starting a record label 2018 was the year a long-dormant dream became flesh. All the planets had aligned just right: some good local bands had appeared on my radar, I had a steady income that allowed for occasional extravagance, and the label name had been bouncing around my head for months, inspired by an Action Swingers tune.
And thus in July, Heavy Medication Records was born, and it's been a most-rewarding learning experience since Day One. I got turned on to a lot of cool bands, networked with like-minded labels and music fans, and even got some exceptional reviews that convinced me I wasn't wasting my time. The damage so far: three releases in the can, another three in the works, and a bunch more on the horizon.
I must admit, I didn't listen to many 2018 releases, outside of the ones I put out myself. It's rare that I feel the urgency of snatching up a band's new record as soon as it comes out. There were a few notable releases that caught my attention however...