Classic | Excellent | Good | Fair | Poor
Youth Group frontman channels Western Sydney stunningly.
Martin's second solo LP emerged from an artist's residency in Bankstown in October 2013. His penchant for character studies and preternatural eye for detail make for nine entrancing, deeply evocative tales of suburbia and the singular lives that combine to shape it. Deploying the manifold talents of his "folk-rock-Arabic-Vietnamese-jam-band", Martin draws zithers – Đàn tranh and Qanun – into the mix, along with oud, Mijwiz (reed pipes), and monochord. The sinuous "Olive Tree" is a timely meditation on alienation, before lead single "Spring Feeling" arrives as a shot of pure pop joy stippled with sunlight.
Compelling trio return after four-year absence.
After nearly 20 years and five albums of innovative electronica, PVT must come close to qualifying as a Great Australian Band. Longevity has not dulled them, with New Spirit a restrained, economical, mournful triumph. Though they don't make the same racket as in early days, a pleasing melodic sensibility has emerged, exemplified by the haunting changes of "Salt Lake Heart". The centrepiece, however, is "Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend", a nine-minute opus driven by brooding synth lines that escalate and intertwine. It all amounts to a futuristic kind of Australian gothic, an idea that sums up the whole of this hypnotic record.
Punk heroes are raw, explosive on first ever live LP.
With a cover like a xeroxed Nineties feminist 'zine and a recording like a hi-fi fever-dream of a cassette bootleg worn out in your pre-owned Cavalier, Live in Paris is a 48-minute purge reaffirming the power of that hoary rock cliché, the live LP. Recorded last March, landmarks like "Dig Me Out" and "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" are as breathtaking as 20 years ago. But the revelations are raw reloads from 2005's farewell The Woods and 2015's comeback No Cities to Love, which throb with new context. "1984 is such a bore!" Carrie Brownstein sneers on "Entertain," before Corin Tucker demands, "Whose side are you on?" Whose, indeed?
U.S. rapper still searching for himself on fourth album.
Big Sean is still finding himself. On I Decided, a mostly searing collection of introspective rhymes and light trap beats, he comes one step closer to a more self-assured sense of his space in the pantheon of today's most powerful and famous rappers. His fourth album sets out to finish the work of his third, 2015's Dark Sky Paradise, and comes close to completing his transition away from the boyish irreverence of his early era, decidedly marked by his early novelty hit "Dance (A$$)." He has come a long way from then, tackling concepts like rebirth, age and wisdom.
As always, his earnestness is believable. Every moment he counts his blessings – like on the casually catchy single "Bounce Back" – you root for him. He embraces his underdog status, especially since he is most often pitted against and working with rap's biggest personalities, like Kanye West, Drake and Kendrick Lamar. More often than not, however, he gets swallowed by the larger-than-life brands and presences of those he surrounds himself with, like Eminem who steals Sean's thunder with the quality, agility and fire of his guest verse on "No Favors." Elsewhere, Sean is no match for the affable charm of Migos on "Sacrifices" or the dulcet tones of singers Jeremih, The-Dream and Jhene Aiko who slip in and out of their dreamy appearances with ease.
Still, there's a sweetness to Sean that makes it difficult to not want him to shine. He caps an assertive album with a moment of spirituality, singing with the Flint Chozen Choir and Starrah on the glorious, tender and reverent "Bigger Than Me." In taking a step back from his bravado, he gives enough space to respect and even admire his own appreciation for all the good in his world.
Blues meets singer-songwriter on diverse, sentimental debut.
The rugged blues that defines Rory Graham's Rag'n'Bone Man spreads its wings on Human, showcasing far greater stylistic and emotive diversity than previous EPs. Between mining his signature sound on tracks "Human" and "Bitter End", his softer side seeps through on the mellifluous "Odetta", while "Ego", one of the album's best, not only propels trumpets and a gospel sound to the fore, but sees the UK artist flexing lyrical dexterity via a short but impressive rap verse, harking back to his career beginnings as a drum & bass MC. While the odd lacklustre moment admittedly fragments the energy, Human is a sincere, compelling, accomplished debut.
Singer-songwriter loses himself on second album.
It's ironic that Andrew McMahon first made his name in a band called Something Corporate, because their brand of emo-pop felt nowhere near as calculated and tailormade for radio play as this, his second album under the In the Wilderness monicker. McMahon has a pleasant voice, and knows his way around a good alternative pop song – see the pulsing "So Close" for proof. Ultimately, though, Zombies on Broadway feels interchangeable with much of what's currently on pop radio, with McMahon's personality and soul smothered under a mass of shiny production techniques.
Hip-hop crew keep moving forward on inspired fourth album.
It's been over two years since Thundamentals dropped their last album, 2014's So We Can Remember, and from the first notes of this follow-up it's clear the time has been spent pushing their sound even further than their last genre-defying effort. A mellow trumpet, piano and choral intro announces that Thundamentals won't be constrained by a hip-hop template, but one track later the De La Soul-vibing "Sally" is a reassuring blast of funk, letting you know they haven't forgotten how to bounce, either.
Lead single "Never Say Never" is a party jam with heart and showcases some of the best flows MCs Tuka and Jeswon have produced, while "Wolves" heads in a different direction altogether, all autotuned vocals and a haunting synth line that wouldn't sound out of place on a Cudi joint. The disparate influences had the potential to sound scatty, but producers Morgs and Poncho don't slip up. Jeswon and Tuka, meanwhile, deliver their finest work as writers; from addressing white privilege to penning a love letter to Reebok Pumps. It's a new level for Thundamentals, and with Everyone We Know also the first record released on their own label, it cements them as a creative force to be reckoned with.
Badass full-length debut for 'Odd World Music' punk collective.
It might be self-described 'Odd World Music' (which sounds like a suburban-white-boy hardcore version of Odd Future), but Ocean Grove's AD/HDcore possesses a nimble and unpredictable vitality. "These Boys Light Fires", "Thunderdome" and "Beers" mix a deft melodicism with scattered hardcore brutality, but their willingness to slow down ("The Wrong Way") or get weird ("Intimate Alien", "From Dalight" channelling Atari Teenage Riot) makes for a thrilling experience. In a world crowded with pissant white guy hardcore, the energy and restlessness of The Rhapsody Tapes stands out like Donald Trump at a YG show.
Perfect imperfection explored on Londoner's long-awaited debut.
On the profound, emotive Process, Kanye/Drake/Solange/SBTRKT collaborator Sampha Sisay bares his utterly unique voice atop futuristic R&B, tender piano ballads and electronic subtleties. He examines life ("Plastic 100°C"), loss ("Timmy's Prayer") and modern relationships ("Under") with a velvety rasp and delicate yet fully realised melodies. From the dancey grooves of "Blood On Me" to the crushing intimacy of "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano", Process is pristinely assembled; sagacious yet vulnerable, it neither conceals nor avoids what lies at its core: real, imperfect, uncertain humanity.
UK art-rockers regroup and lighten up on album seven.
The departure of drummer Richard Jupp might have thrown Elbow for a loop but they've embraced crisis as opportunity. Through a labyrinth of limb-twisting time-signatures, treated tones and weird choral counterpoints, the Mercury-winning band's elaborate scaffolds of rhythm and harmony have rarely sounded more driven by the joy of creation. Guy Garvey's jazz-inflected word pictures are dizzying in the eight-minute-plus title track, which finds the ominous "Little Fictions" seeming, after all, like trifles in the big picture of humanity. "What does it prove if you die for a tune?" he smirks elsewhere. "It's really all disco. Everything."
Philadelphia-based punkers reach new heights on fifth album.
What happens when your twenties are over? It’s time to settle down, get a good job and have a family, right? On their fifth album, Philadelphia punks the Menzingers are calling bullshit on society’s expectations of a traditional life path, pairing it with their boisterous brand of gritty, ballsy, blue-collar punk, which recalls everyone from Social Distortion to Polar Bear Club. In what might well be their most consistent collection of songs to date, the likes of “Tellin’ Lies”, “Charlie’s Army” and “Midwestern States” are rife with muscular hooks that are immediate without being throwaway. Here’s to growing old disgracefully.
Dune Rats create a record that your parents will hate.
Dune Rats know well that their charm lies in their ability to distil punk and pop down to its most elemental. Their 2014 debut was a heady mix of surf-rock and garage-punk, but it also had some interesting melodic tinges, lending otherwise stupid songs like "Dalai Lama, Big Banana, Marijuana" a sense of self-aware piss-takery. On The Kids Will Know It's Bullshit, that playfulness has been mostly replaced with rebellion so nihilistic that it seems irresponsible.
By the time you get through the punny first single "Scott Green" and the bogan anthems "Bullshit" and "6 Pack", it becomes clear that The Kids Will Know... is the Dune Rats' party manifesto taken to the extreme. Early singles like "Funny Guy" had a sweetness and honesty that made them easy to like, but their sneering bongs-and-beer-obsessed follow-up feels like the party has gotten well out of hand.
It's a fun record, but in the same way that drinking till you throw up is fun. Like the Cosmic Psychos, Dune Rats have created their own brand of Aussie irreverence by stripping everything back to its bare bones and turning it up to 11. It's the sort of album that will shock even the coolest of parents, which in this day and age is no small feat.
Genre-defying instrumental gymnastics from New Jersey.
The music of in-demand multi-instrumentalist Steve Marion is defined by its almost complete absence of vocals, yet such is the sharpness and tunefulness of his textured instrumental explorations that they're highly accessible, even hummable. There is a good-humouredness that recalls Todd Rundgren, while Rundgren's influence as a guitarist looms over Glam-ish tracks like "Cartoon Rock". Elsewhere, the slide work of George Harrison is hinted at on the particularly satisfying "Tomorrow". Those touchstones aside, Marion's idiosyncratic noise sounds like very little else, and it's an intoxicating concoction.
Indie-punk outfit redefine their sound with album number four.
Save for room-trashing climax "Realize My Fate" – reminiscent of the gritted-teeth snarl of 2012's Attack On Memory – Dylan Baldi's fourth full-length as Cloud Nothings sidelines scrappy spontaneity in favour of a more measured and melodic approach. The edges of post-teenage angst are buffed out, by both a notable increase in production quality and a cemented bond between Baldi's mainstay subject focus – personal weights of mid-west suburban mundanity – and the uncluttered, pop-skewed guitar rock route of his unconcealed influences (Built To Spill et al). This isn't exactly growing up, but it's definitely a step in that direction.
Replacements bassist reprises early Nineties solo project.
Tommy Stinson was 14 when he formed the world's greatest bar band. And despite stints in Soul Asylum and Guns N' Roses, that liquored-up Replacements sound has stuck to him like cheap cologne. That's clear from the moment Anything Could Happen opens with slide guitar, a honky-tonk piano and Stinson's weathered drawl. From there the hooks come thick and fast, most notably the chain of power-pop nuggets that begins with "On the Rocks". The relentless riffery barely lets up until "Shortcut", which closes out the record with a sober reflection: "Take a long hard look and take a shortcut through the dirt."
Ninth solo LP strums its way across the history of rock.
It's no mistake Ty Segall's ninth LP, and second self-titled LP after his 2008 debut, bears the prolific singer's name. An amalgamation of the guitar-shredding savant's many musical selves thus far, Segall throws up Sabbath-fighting-the-Stooges face-melters ("Break a Guitar"), Bowie-vs-T.Rex glam-offs ("Freedom"), Beatles-esque psychedelia ("Orange Color Queen") and sometimes all of the above at once (the epic, 10-minute "Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)"). An album that knows when to pummel and when to pause for breath, this is one of Segall's most satisfying records to date.