2017 in review: My top 10 gigs

10. Lior & The Australian Youth Orchestra ‘Compassion’ – Recital Centre – 11 July

Incredible arrangements, Lior’s beautiful voice, one of Melbourne’s finest venues – an outstanding culmination.

9. Marlon Williams – Curtin Bandroom – 14 March

The first time in a long time and the debut of a swag of new songs – this was the hottest gig of the year, but Marlon never disappoints.

8. LCD Soundsystem – MCA – 26 July

One to tick off the wish list! Watching LCD build songs live is something to behold.

7. Sia – AAMI Park – 30 November

Art installation meets dancing theatre with some of the best modern pop songs going around. This was totally different to any pop show I’ve seen.

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6. Maggie Rogers – Forum Theatre – 23 July

This caught me off guard – such a captivating new artist with material to back the hype. Despite seeing several seasoned bands the same week (thanks Splendour), this came out on top.

5. City Calm Down – Shimmerlands Festival – 5 February

Melbourne Uni in the pouring rain (I’m talking torrential) – City Calm Down played anyway in a spectacularly atmospheric fashion. Thanks for not getting electrocuted.

4. Feist – Forum Theatre – 1 December

Enchanting, musically striking and funny, Feist delivered a lengthy stand out. Album Pleasure in its entirety was a treat and her “guitar boss” moments were superb!

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3. Aurora – Recital Centre – 31 January

Aurora’s vocal performance was flawless and she entranced the room with stunning music, whimsical banter and cool projections.

2. Making Gravy – Sidney Myer Music Bowl – 16 December

A solid lineup contributed to a damn fine night of tunes: Meg Mac vocally blowing us away, Gang of Youths giving one of the most expressive and fervent performances I’ve seen, and Paul Kelly dishing out the classics like he was Santa.

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1. Paul McCartney – AAMI Park – 5 December

This show deserves every superlative. The songs are all classics, the singalongs amazing, the tributes heartfelt and the energy and character of 75 year old Paul almost unbelievable. The set list speaks for itself – so many Beatles tunes for what might be a once in a lifetime musical opportunity!

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2017 in review: My top 10 albums

10. Kingswood – After Hours, Close To Dawn

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 9. Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s Gone

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 8. St. Vincent – Masseduction

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 7. Elbow – Little Fictions

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 6. Dappled Cities – |||||

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 5. The Preatures – Girlhood

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 4. Gang of Youths – Go Farther In Lightness

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 3. Lorde – Melodrama

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 2. Dan Sultan – Killer

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1. Gordi – Reservoir

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December album reviews

Miguel – War & Leisure

Miguel’s a busy dude and seemingly has a tonne of friends, having spent the last couple of years appearing on tracks from all sorts – Mac Miller to Schoolboy Q to Dua Lipa. Beginning as a smooth, upbeat and feel-good record, Miguel’s fourth long player, War & Leisure, takes dark turns, as well as laying down some uncomfortable truths. It’s varied in the right way, balanced to really draw you in before it sets things straight. Miguel wears his influences on his sleeve, with nods to Prince slicked through this album, vocally on ‘Pineapple Skies’ and guitar-wise on ‘Banana Clip’. Album highlights come by way of the sombre ‘City of Angels’, in which an apocalyptic Los Angeles is imagined, and ‘Wolf’, which fuses Miguel’s best blues take with gutsy vocals. Politics is the new relationship in 2017, with every pop and R&B star penning their thoughts on the rather shitty state of affairs. Miguel is no exception and there’s poignancy in War & Pleasure late comers, no more so than on album finisher ‘Now’, which sends a clear message: “It’s time we talk about it / Let’s not waste our common ground / We will fall for standing and watching, all in silence / Dear Lord, are we numb? Where we going right now?”

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Sia – Everyday Is Christmas

Sia’s song writing has seen some stellar albums, commercial smash hits or her own and for others, and accolades galore. And when you reach superstardom, your thoughts turn to… making a Christmas record? Christmas albums are such a niche market it’s hard to say whether they are a success or not; but even if it’s forgotten come Boxing Day, Sia’s pop prowess ensures that Everyday Is Christmas is, at the very least, a seasonal win. The ten tracks are originals, which is the first tick, and for the most part they sound like actual Sia songs, the second. There’s no religious fervour that some Chrissy records push, and there’s little sop. What Sia does deliver are inflated, colourful jams that will appeal to kids and inner-kids alike. ‘Candy Cane Lane’ sounds like the product of a true sugar overdose, while ‘Ho Ho Ho’ gets jolly about drinking all the booze with your misfit friends on Christmas – sounds good to me. Also appreciated is ‘Puppies Are Forever’, which is the kind of message that needs to be yelled more and more this time of year. The jovial side settles down at the back end, with Sia slowing pace on the final three tracks, but keeping things wistful in the round out. There’s definitely some tracks on Everyday Is Christmas that could replace the stale classics thrashed out every December. This will be a fun one to revisit in a year’s time.

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Charli XCX – Pop 2

Prior to recently seeing Charli XCX support Sia, I didn’t know much about her and thought what tunes I did know were fairly average (‘Boys’ is all kinds of bland). On stage, Charli delivered a pretty fun show, supplementing what the song writing lacked with a solid, energetic presence. So, I figured I’d give Pop 2 a go… A collaboration bonanza, Pop 2 seemed full of promise, with everyone from Carly Rae Jepsen to MØ and, well actually, a whole bunch of names I didn’t recognise. It begins with an approach that Charli seems to take with her everywhere: auto-tune. When artificial intelligence takes over Earth, the robots will leave Charli XCX alone the moment she starts singing to them. The Carly Rae double up takes the lead, followed by another with Tove Lo (‘Out of My Head’), which attempts the kink of the Swedish singer (“You got me doin’ all this stupid shit / You fuck me up like this / Secretly I’m into it though”) but falls way short of just how dirty Tove’s own lyrics are. Pop 2 doesn’t lift off early, which means by the time a complete pop abomination like ‘I Got It’ sounds, there’s little to no chance of turning it around. Stripper turned rapper Brooke Candy blasts all kinds of nonsense and murders the track entirely. As much as I love MØ, even she can’t bring it all back. Appearing very late in the game on ‘Porsche’, the song repeats the same synthetic nonsense of all that before it and by that stage it’s hard to even still pay attention.

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N.E.R.D – NO_ONE EVER REALLY DIES

When I heard ‘Lemon’ for the first time I was kinda torn – I wanted to get excited at the prospect of new N.E.R.D, but something about the track grinded me very much the wrong way. Intrigue brought me back, along with the killer Rhianna verse, and before I knew it, I couldn’t get the “bouncing around” repeat out of my head. I realised the single worked because it’s supposed to be strange. And in the very same vein, NO_ONE EVER REALLY DIES succeeds. It’s wacky, a lot of it doesn’t sit right and it’s cross-genre to heck, but somehow the tracks are super catchy, collecting in a solid 2017 late comer. Once ‘Lemon’ kicks things off, there’s a little of what sounds like Pharrell’s solo leftovers in ‘Deep Down Body Thurst’ – a buoyant pop track that sets the mood for what’s to come. Cheesy R&B by way of ‘Don’t Don’t Do It’ carries on the vibe with its very chant-able chorus, before the tables turn with some long hauls in the bizarre ‘ESP’ and ‘Lightning Fire Magic Prayer’, the latter coming in just short of eight minutes and flipping between weird synthetic percussion and the sound of running water. There’s plenty of friends on board as well, like Future, Kendrick Lamar, M.I.A. and Andre 3000. By ten tracks in, you’d think N.E.R.D would have exhausted their imagination, but then out of nowhere Ed Sheeran pops up on glitzed up reggae closer. I told you this was odd, right? Blending everything from hip hop, R&B, pop, and rock, N.E.R.D have a knack for getting you hooked on the peculiar. And it’s been a long time between drinks (Nothing was released seven years ago), so it all comes across even more alien at first. But sink in, and NO_ONE EVER REALLY DIES will have you well and truly back on board.

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Eminem – Revival

The (extended) saying goes, “you can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter” right? Well not everyone can – Eminem’s rolled his latest work (said turd), but it’s very patchy and despite the sparkly spots, it is still quite visibly a big ol’ pile of shit. I realise the absurdity here – likening Beyonce, Pink, Ed Sheeran and Alicia Keys, who all for some reason appear on Revival, to glittery spots patch-working a poo; but really, for one of the last albums we’ll hear in 2017, it’s an incredible dud. Having been at it for over 20 years, you’d think he’d evolve, but Eminem is still doing the same stuff I remember all the 14 year old boys thinking was “fully sick”. And frankly, nothing a 14 year old boy likes is remotely “fully sick”. The formula goes: sings about himself, gets a guest in, sings about someone doing him wrong, gets angry, gets a guest in, gets angry… Repeat. All over some of the lamest backing tracks Eminem could afford. So there you go, now you don’t need to endure those 80 minutes(!)…

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November album reviews

Taylor Swift – reputation

I’ve never listened to a Taylor Swift album before and have zero intentions of dipping into the back catalogue. However, I figured I’d give this one a go given all the hype surrounding it and all things Tay Tay. Turns out reputation is a fairly solid pop album, albeit tainted by Swift’s attempts to convince everyone that she doesn’t want restitution for having been a victim all this time, she just wants to be a badass. The problem is, she’s terrible at her new persona (I can’t vouch for her previous ones) – her “dark passenger” is as cheesy as that very Dexter voice-over reference. Lead single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ is where the reputation journey started. It’s hard to convince anyone this is a good track when its chorus is as bad as it is, but if you were to cut that out it’s actually pretty cool. Funnily enough there’s a bit of Lorde rip-off on the track, as Swift makes it clear she’s keen for a little melodrama of her own. The single will go down as a 2017 flop, but it’s kinda fun to see some kook from a mainstream mainstay. Follow up single ‘…Ready For It?’ is far more solid of a pop tune, and as the album’s lead track it kicks things into gear before you’re jolted back with ‘End Game’, a mixed-genre attempt that for some ungodly reason reboots rapping Ed. It’s probably more shocking than samples of Right Said Fred, but at least it’s out of the way early, leaving Swift enough time to try and make it up to us. What we’re left with is a package of mostly fun pop tunes, the odd misstep (like ‘Gorgeous’ – what a dud), and a question of why Swift needed to go “dark” so hard. Pop reinvention shouldn’t seem so forced.

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* I thought we left rapping Ed back in January!? Why was he not murdered on Game of Thrones!?

Sam Smith – The Thrill Of It All

Bringing mum music to the masses, Sam Smith returns with some superb soul on The Thrill Of It All and confirms classic components like piano and choir are fit for the mainstream in 2017. This is a seriously schmick record, beautifully produced with Smith delivering vocals that are smooth af. The album flows between forlorn balladry and roof-lifting gospel, the latter of which truly shines. The gutsier stuff hits hard early on, which meant there were many quieter moments on which I just wanted that choir to come back (and the odd time they did so frightfully – ‘The Thrill Of It All’). Musically, this album is consistently strong, although there are moments that hint a Chrissy album is on the cards (‘One Last Song’). Complimentary then are the words placed to those songs, which work especially well when Smith is conflicted between faith and feeling (‘HIM’). The Thrill Of It All is a bold follow up to a huge debut, but given Smith is just 25, his best is very likely yet to come. If that’s the case, watch this space.

Pnau – Changa

Pnau’s self-titled record – their third, released in 2007 – was an unexpected delight, embracing us with the kind of strawberry kisses we actually wanted, and earning its place among the memorable Aussie dance records of the naughties. With the exception of the kinda novel Elton John material, it’s taken Pnau a good ten years to come back to form. And while they’ve taken a new form, it’s pretty damn cool. Lead single ‘Chameleon’ was flogged hard in 2016, yet being almost a year older than its album home doesn’t mean it’s not a good indication of what to expect on Changa. The neon spattered jungle feels are all over opener ‘Save Disco’, as the tripped-out vibes blend into the fluro-bounce of ‘Chameleon’. It’s an altogether new brand of whacky thought up, at least in part, by the man who used to completely lose his mind and hang precariously from stage scaffolding – Nick Littlemore. There are a lot of pools that Pnau then dip in and out of among the tribal path of Changa, from pop rave ‘Go Bang’ to falsetto thumper ‘Please Forgive Me’ and from 90s British club vibes on ‘Into The Sky’ to all out sci-fi theme in ‘La Grenouille’. There’s even an intriguing cameo from Vera Blue on pulsating ‘Young Melody’, who delivers some of the rare lyrics you can actually understand. Pnau have created a real animal in Changa, which I feel is what they were after.

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Paloma Faith – The Architect

Paloma Faith’s latest begins with a monologue from Samuel L Jackson. It’s meant to be a political rally call, but there are no obscenities to be heard from the king of yelling “motherf*er” and a minute into The Architect I’m already left yelling “Snakes on a plane!” It’s a strange way to begin things, sitting alongside the title track, which totally blasts off. But while the lyrical message demonstrates Faith in political mode, The Architect is still an brazen pop record. Gutsy at its best and cheesy at its worst, glossy summer jams (‘Crybaby’) neighbour Smooth FM fodder (‘I’ll Be Gentle’) and Faith moves through a kaleidoscope of pop varieties. ‘Kings and Queens’ is an early crowd pleaser, built for the theatrics of a live arena, while the neo-soul likeness to Amy Winehouse and Duffy (‘Guilty’ and ‘Love Me As I Am’, respectively) offer more substantial emotion. The Sia-penned ‘Warrior’ bares more likeness to the writer than just its words, with Faith’s marbles-in-the-mouth delivery a vocal doppelganger of the Adelaide songstress. ‘Til I’m Done’ follows that up as though it were a new Sia collection, nodding to her We Are Born material. The likenesses play in Faith’s favour, coupling with her own kookiness to create an album simultaneously familiar and standalone.

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Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Who Built The Moon?

Liam Gallagher just released a chart topping solo album and within a month his bro Noel is back… Get the popcorn. While the post-Oasis Gallagher race has been neck and neck tool-wise, musically Noel’s been out in front when compared to Liam’s Beady Eye material. Where Liam’s 2017 As You Were won’t let go of the brothers’ heyday, Noel’s found his own groove as a solo artist, marking prominent territory with a High Flying Birds debut and backing it up with Who Built the Moon? While High Flying Birds is no Oasis 2.0 (ala Beady Eye), there is a familiarity to much of the material here, with Noel often doing a kind of Kasabian doing a kind of Beatles. The psychedelic side that made the first High Flying Birds album such a trip isn’t quite as prominent, but there’s enough loud, fuzzy grit to keep it real and the horns that feature heavily are superb. ‘Fort Knox’ is a formidable opening track, bound to soundtrack a big action sequence someday and one of the album’s finest moments straight out of the gate. From there the album is a reminder of great rock and roll, which Noel does justice. There are plenty of nods to Noel’s merry ol’ home of England: ‘Holy Mountain’ rings Bryan Ferry’s ‘Let’s Stick Together’, ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ borrows from The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’, ‘End Credits (Wednesday Part 2)’ smells of Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’, and ‘The Man Who Built The Moon’ is all kinds of, well, Oasis. It seems he’s not completely over the good old days.

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