Splendid Splendour

Splendid crop - SITG by A CattPhoto by A. Catt

Having never been to a Splendour but having been to a great number of other festivals up and down the eastern seaboard, I can say I went in with a particular set of expectations and was delighted to have many of those absolutely smashed by my Splendour in the Grass experience.

The venue itself is huge and surprisingly well laid out and the flow of the nearly 30,000 punters was so smooth that I could have been forgiven thinking the numbers were less. Except for when we saw any of the amazing acts, then it became abundantly clear that the festival was at capacity with thousands of very happy festival goers rocking out at any given stage.

This year’s line up offered a great variety, so much so that there really were three distinct precincts within the site that allowed people to hang around stages that floated their genre boats.

The Timber and Steel friendly acts were evenly spread across the three main days and over two of the main three stages, so lets take a look at the folkier side of Splendour in the Grass.

Friday.

Photo by Justin Ma.
sitg14_HeadAndTheHeart_justinma-28The first act we caught was The Head and The Heart who delivered a really tight set and hearty performance for what was a modest crowd. “Ghosts” showed off their great harmonies in the live setting and the audience was treated to loads of favourites throughout their set list.  They were a solid start to the festival and I feel like loads of people missed out by not catching them. They don’t often get to come to Australia so they profusely thanked the crowd for coming to watch to much cheering and applause from said crowd. They tried out a new song with a bouncy tempo and happy vibe which was all very well received. “Sound Like Hallelujah” created a chilled vibe but with an immensely satisfying full sound. “Lost In My Mind” drew a rousing cheer from audience as it begun and took over the space with great drum build up before the crowd took over with a sing-along. The last song was an emphatic rendition of “Rivers and Roads” complete with epic drums thumping before stripping back to a delicate a Capella ending. And tumultuous applause.

We checked out Asgier, who has cropped up on the scene while I was away, but who commanded a huge and somewhat vocal crowd, all comfortably held in the palm of his hand. They sang along in crystal clarity. They swayed, sang, cheered and danced through a beautifully balanced set of both chilled tracks and up tempo songs. His popularity is clear as a really responsive crowd eagerly anticipated every song, with cheers of recognition in each of the opening bars and a seemingly constant surge forward of people to join the throng. “Going Home” delivered a beautiful mix of earthy drums, clear cut piano and haunting vocals undercut by subtle harmonies. The entire tent would clap along at poignant points of a slow song before the whole vibe would morph through the build up to a huge all encompassing piano and drums sound sphere. And to top it off, he pulled out a stunning cover of “Heart Shaped Box”, wow, just wow! His manipulation of piano and chillingly delicate treatment of vocals had everyone hanging on every lyric and every note. Definitely worth seeing any time you can.

We’ve all been hotly anticipating the return of Angus and Julia Stone and they did not disappoint. Starting with some of their new stuff, their set came wrapped in schmick presentation with a tight and polished sound with an obvious comfort on stage, oozing cool. Their new music is a few more steps away from the folky sound they originally brought to the scene and accomplishes a more indie vibe. While the crowd lapped up the new materials, it’s the old favourites so many know and love that really stirred the crowd with mega sing-along to “For You” melding beautifully with the song’s acoustic style. Julia seems really strong and playful in her style rather than the breathy, demure self we’ve known, which was a lovely counterpoint to previous performances. As an alternate opening and sound for “Big Jet Plane” dawned on the crowd, it was clear that their Hottest 100 winning track will always be a staple, crowd favourite that they are so comfortable playing and can completely turn on its head for both our and their pleasure. Their playfulness with their back catalogue was evident and jovial, with “Private Lawns” amping up the reggae vibe and syncopation. Julia pulled out a brilliant performance of “You’re The One That I Want” capturing the audience’s imagination with it’s fragility, building in to a full band resonance that proves they really own it as their own track now, it is no longer a cover. And if that wasn’t enough, they proved without a doubt that “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”! A rousing set and a great way to welcome Angus and Julia Stone back in to the festival rounds.

Saturday.

One of the great things about Splendour in the Grass is the sheer space available to absorb the almost 30,000 punters that flock to Byron Bay in search of great music and a good time. Aside from the 3 main stages, there’s a multitude of smaller spaces where all manner of performances take place, from the exciting extravagance of the colourful Dr Sketchy’s Burlesque Life Drawing, to the ukulele classes, to the buskers stage and its revolving selection of grunge, blues, roots, rock and alt bands, even dancing to the wee hours of the morning at the Tipi Forest full of dance DJs and electronica.

Amish Crop - SITG by ACatt_Saturday107Photo by A. Catt

Probably my favourite small (and surprising) space was the Amish Barn. In 2013, artist Bennet Miller ran a live installation called Barnraiser, where volunteers dressed as Amish people to raise a Barn. I kid you not. And this year, since the barn is complete, they opened it to the Splendour patrons for Rumspringer. Walk in to the barn at any point in the day and not only were you surrounded by Amish folk relaxing and enjoying the weather, but you could buy a drink from the bar and catch snippets of their pop-up bands playing folk in a ‘session’ style, or playing heavy rock like they were in their Barn’s garage band.

The sheer diversity of Splendour makes it an amazing experience. I hope to see the Amish again soon.

I haven’t seen anything of Darren Middleton’s new solo offerings, but as a Powderfinger fan, I was keen to see what he was serving up. As a duo with a stripped back setting on an enormous stage, their acoustic opening of guitar accompanied by violin and stomp pedal surrounded the small crowd with beautiful two part harmonies. Middleton is a humble performer, thanking the audience for coming to see him as he has played Splendour approximately 10 times in different acts, which must be some kind of record, and this time he plays it with his musical off-sider, Kelly. Picking through a back catalogue of numerous bands meant that the set was diverse and varied but sewn together with clever harmonies and a pristine acoustic style. His tracks from recent solo album, “Transition”, demonstrated the intimacy of close harmonies, plucky violin, upbeat acoustic guitar and stomp pedal in a big stage setting.  While touring, they have taken to playing a cover, a track Middleton never thought he would play again, “Falling Slowly” from the movie musical Once which drew a hush over the crowd and the occasional quiet lyrics sung along by individuals in the crowd. Middleton is currently touring with Busby Marou, and with such a solid set from Middleton, the tour will be a strong 1-2 combination definitely worth catching.

Camp Walkway - SITG by LachlanJohnstonPhoto by Lachlan Johnstone

Little May was new to me and they struck me as a sort of a combination of Lisa Mitchell, Gosling and Julia Stone all wrapped up in an indie pop 5 piece. They delivered great sound and a solid stage presence with a range of tracks including a rockier number with fabulous femme vocal harmonies.

Dustin Tebbutt drew a huge crowd in anticipation of his set. Opening with an ethereal quality and acoustic guitar built over top, he looked comfortable surrounded by his band creating a sensational blanket of music and melding sound. They make a cohesive group working together to scale the emotive heights of his body of work through the sweet ballads to the poignant numbers and his flawless falsetto. Tebbutt has the makings of a true balladeer. 12 months ago he was in Armidale planning to come to Splendour, and just starting to put out music. Sadly he wasn’t able to make it to Splendour that year but a friend reassured him not to worry, as next year he’d be playing Splendour. And there he was. The crowd loved it.

Tune Yards were a wild card on our list and if folkies wanted to go clubbing, this is what they’d see. Layered sounds and folky instruments looped to create danceable tracks and quirky grooves creating a somewhat “tribal tea party” soundtrack. They slip through genres, even the rnb and hip hop styles, with confidence and flair. In a nutshell, they are weird and quirky folktronica!

VanceJoy_SITG_26JUL2014_StephenBooth-56Vance Joy. Photo by Stephen Booth

Vance Joy has the potential to be a one hit wonder or a rising star and attracted a huge crowd to prove it. The audience were animated and engaged throughout, a sure sign of good things to come. With a full band behind him, new tracks like “Georgia” soared as a ballad with beautiful accompaniment, a troubled love song. His set was full of sing-a-long’s with the audience including “Snaggletooth” and “From Afar” proving popular. Special guests from Sasquatch created a hullabaloo on stage with a full, robust sound, tangy horn section, altogether a bit like a hoe down vibe a la Mumford and Sons. New songs and old songs, everything was eagerly devoured by the devoted audience. Huge cheers and clapping along carried him on high throughout his set, and then, out came the ukelele to a huge roar from the crowd who sang along, word for word. He wrapped up the set with a cover of “Stand by me” to an enthusiastic crowd. Definitely a star rising performance.

Sunday.

BallParkMusic_SITG2014_StephenBooth-2Photo by Stephen Booth

This year was the first year the site featured the enormous amphitheater, and while punters complained about the huge hill to scale, the reward of that stage was worth all the huffing and puffing to get there. We realised that the amphitheater was large enough to contain the entire main stages area of The Falls Festival, Lorne and the absolute scale of the space really hit home. While the Timber and Steel friendly acts were predominantly on the GW McLennan stage, the entire festival benefits from the innovations and expansion of the site.

Nick Mulvey, SITG_2014-1Nick Mulvey. Photo by Splendour Official

Nick Mulvey is someone I was told to keep an eye out for. An expectant audience gathered early with eager fans right up at the barrier claiming their spot. A small but dedicated crowd cheered him as he walked on stage. He opened with amazing classical guitar work, reminiscent of flamenco, and a really sweet voice with a low level resonance. As a soloist, his guitar style and confident voice really filled the space. The audience had tripled in size halfway through the first song, with a steady stream of people still coming in. Transitioning to a more bluesy, plucking style effortlessly for his next song showed off his diverse range and skill. He creates a really amazing presence through one instrument with really cool syncopation for emphasis and effect. With the crowd swaying along fluidly and the playful lyrics beckoning, I think every girl there wanted to do as his lyrics asked, and maybe some of the guys too… As his first trip as a solo artist to Australia and he could see a few people singing along and it’s obvious he is genuinely flattered by the audience appreciation which is evident throughout the set. Mulvey will be a force to be reckoned with on the scene. Watch this space!

Mikhail Paskalev is a Norwegian/ Bulgarian pop troubador by all accounts, and has a real mix of styles and variety of songs in his back catalogue which had the crowd pumping. He gave a very chilled out and mellow set with a woven sound of thrumming bass and vocal harmonies. Certainly a multifaceted act to look further in to.

I had heard of First Aid Kit, but hadn’t caught up with any of their music until Splendour. Their clear, crisp vocals attracted a decent sized crowd, complete with sparklers and incense. They have a beautiful on stage energy and presence and a light, airy delightful sound with an indie pop beat keeping it all trundling along. With a cover of Paul Simon and the occasional Carpenters-esque sound, their set was rounded out with a tinkly, delightful, angelic melding of voices and harmonies, even for their upbeat tracks.

Ben Howard, SITG_2014-3Ben Howard. Photo by Splendour Official

Rarely have I ever seen a folky act that the crowd chants their name to get them to come on stage, but it worked and Ben Howard presented himself, centre stage with steel string guitar and a cheeky “G’day Splendour!” He instantly had the crowd beside themselves. His set was peppered with a bit of everything, something a little poppy, something a little indie, something bordering on a Placebo track, and a great blend of indie pop layers and strings. A plucky rendition of “Black Flies” had the crowd going mid way through the set. I felt like sometimes his music and performance was moody introversion on public display but then a quick switch would see the entire set move in direction. The upbeat, twangy riffs of “The Wolves” had the crowd cheering and clapping, singing along, rallying the entire tent and surrounds to an almost frenzied state of hoe down style dance. Truly a highlight of Splendour.

All in all, if I could have cloned myself, I could have had 3 or 4 entirely different Splendour experiences – from the Splendour in the Craft tent and it’s Craft singles speed dating event, to the comedy and forum stage, to the crazy fashions punters strut in, the art installations and amazing range of bars with their own DJs and themes, or spending a fortune at the amazing array of stalls selling handmade and bespoke coolness in all it’s forms – each experience would have been just as amazing (plus I could have seen far more of the amazing musical line up). But in a nutshell, I think the 2014 Splendour in the Grass is quite possibly the best festival I have been too. Do anything you can to get to the next one, it’s truly Splendid!

Splendour crop - SITG by LachlanJohnstonPhoto by Lachlan Johnstone

A Folky Guide to the Splendour in the Grass 2014 Lineup

Splendour
Image Courtesy of Splendour in the Grass

So another Splendour in the Grass lineup has dropped and while there isn’t a bid name, folk leaning headliner like there’s been in recent years there’s still plenty for the folk lover to get excited about. We thought we’d dissect the lineup and let you know just who Timber and Steel fans should have on their must see list:

  • Angus and Julia Stone Returning this August with album number three, their first since 2010, Angus and Julia Stone will be making be making a welcome return to the Splendour stage. They haven’t performed together since 2011 so this show is going to be pretty special.
  • Vance Joy Joy was an absolute standout at last year’s Splendour in the Grass, riding high on the “Riptide” wave. He returns to the festival off the back of a bunch of international acclaim and brand new tracks from his upcoming debut album.
  • Ben Howard One of the best live acts to come out of the UK in recent years, Ben Howard has a loyal following in the country and with good reason. He’s played Splendour before – we’re guessing this time you’ll need to get to the stage nice and early for a good spot.
  • First Aid Kit Their second album, Stay Gold, will drop just in time for First Aid Kit’s Splendour performance so we predict there’s going to be a lot of buzz around the Söderberg sisters this year. Get yourself reacquainted with 2012’s The Lion’s Roar to remember just how good these guys are.
  • Mikhael Paskalev He was just in the country for a series of shows in March and it looks like Mikhael Paskalev just can’t stay away. The master of quirky folk-pop Paskalev has gained a legion of fans from his track “I Spy” which is bound to have the Splendour crowd up and dancing.
  • Dustin Tebbutt We’ve been hyping Dustin Tebbutt for ages now and it looks like the rest of Australia has finally caught on. His single “The Breach” was just about everywhere and his new single “Bones” is already making an impressive dent on national radio. He’s also a pretty mesmerising live performer so his set will be one to catch.
  • The Head and the Heart Having released their new album Let’s Be Still late least year The Head and the Heart are ready to return to Australia and wow the Splendour crowd. We highly recommend you go and see these guys.
  • Little May The ghost folk trio from Sydney, Little May, spent 2013 working very hard to build their profile, capping off an amazing year touring with Mikhael Paskalev and scoring a spot on the Laneway Festival lineup via the Unearthed competition. Little May’s sounds seems custom made for Splendour in the Grass lineup with their epic, folk influenced sounds and soaring harmonies.
  • Nick Mulvey We’ve been Championing Nick Mulvey since the release of his Fever to the Form EP mid-last year and while his profile is still pretty low in Australia we reckon it’s only a matter of time before the rest of Australia catches on.

Add to this a bunch of other artists that have crossed the Timber and Steel pages over the years (but have taken a less folky direction) including Gossling, Courtney Barnett and DMA’S and you’ve got a pretty impressive folk contingent this year. Splendour in the Grass takes place in the North Byron Parklands from Friday 25th to Sunday 27th July. Tickets go on sale on Friday 2nd May. The full lineup for 2014 is below:

Outkast (Only Aus Show)
Two Door Cinema Club (Only Aus Show)
Lily Allen
Interpol (Only Aus Show)
Foster The People
Angus & Julia Stone
City And Colour
London Grammar
Vance Joy
Darkside (Only Aus Show)
RÜFÜS
Ben Howard
Kelis
Metronomy
Hoodoo Gurus
Chvrches (Only Aus Show)
Grouplove
The Jezabels
Tune-Yards
360
Wild Beasts
Danny Brown (Only Aus Show)
Illy
First Aid Kit
Violent Soho
Ásgeir
Spiderbait
The 1975
Ball Park Music
Art Vs Science
Buraka Som Sistema (Only Aus Show)
The Preatures
Parquet Courts (Only Aus Show)
Sticky Fingers
Peking Duk
Sky Ferreira
Future Islands
Courtney Barnett
Phantogram
DZ Deathrays
Skaters
Gossling
Jungle
The Strypes
Hot Dub Time Machine
The Kite String Tangle
Ry-X
Mikhael Paskalev
Wave Racer
The Acid
Saskwatch
Kingswood
Circa Waves
Broods
Dustin Tebbutt
The Head And The Heart
DMA’S
Darren Middleton
Little May
Darlia
D.D Dumbo
Tkay Maidza
The Creases
The Wild Feathers
Chrome Sparks
Fractures
Mas Ysa
Nick Mulvey
Triple J Unearthed Winners

Plus DJs & Producers:

Nina Las Vegas
Yacht Club DJs
Motez
Touch Sensitive
Indian Summer
Wordlife
L D R U & Yahtzel DJs
Cosmos Midnight
Sable
Kilter
Basenji
KLP
Fishing DJs
Paces
Charles Murdoch

Review: The Falls Festival, Marion Bay, Tasmania

Ponchos are the latest fashionPhotos by Stu B.

So now to the fun bit, the music!

Day 2, Monday 30th December, rolled around and as we planned our day, we were a bit excited about some unknowns and some stalwart festival acts, it was going to be a great day.

First up, on the Field Stage, at a very reasonable lunch hour was local Foster a Band competition winner Lulu an The Paige Turners. Knowing little but what I gleaned from the Falls Festival App description, I was hopeful for something interesting, lo and behold, the Paige-Turners turned out to be a bigger than expected group of young men, resplendent in white dress shirts, black suspenders and bowties complete with drums, cello, banjo, acoustic guitar, keyboard and who knows what else! Lulu herself stepped on to stage looking like she stepped out of an old timey movie in a frilled lavender dress that would either float beautifully or become her own personal parachute in the windy conditions. Obviously a lot of friends were in the crowd, or at least local and loyal fans, as many shouts of encouragement met them before they even played a note.

Lulu and The Paige Turners Opening with ‘Begin-agains’ from their EP Bookends and Begin-again delivered a strong, strummy guitar intro, quivering vocals, subtle backing harmonies and touches of a soul pitch to her vocals. It’s a very indie pop style but very easy to lose yourself in. To follow up their opening, the slower track, ‘The Mean Reds’ also from the EP mellowed out the audience, becoming solemn at times. With a strong banjo melody and sweet, hushed tones of the harmonies, it was more like the lullaby style we’ve seen from a number of singer/songwriters but with a surprise build with drum and electric bass almost reminiscent of a Mumford and Sons hoedown.

The rest of her set was equally diverse with bluesy bass lines, cool vibes, raspy, rolling, gravely gutsy verses, sentiments stripped down to a Capella accompanied by clicks and whistling, and of course, many a banjo solo from probably the happiest Banjo player I’ve seen of late.

It’s a wonderful mix on stage, of piano intros, rhythm on a snare drum played by Lulu, tales of a broken heart, dischordant harmonies to really set the tone, not to be out done by angsty, angry, passionate vocals. Lulu is a multi-instrumentalist playing percussion, guitar and violin, but also delivering vocals reminiscent of Kate Miller Heidke or Tori Amos. All of this she achieves while also performing with a cold that would likely render her voiceless after her set.

Well in with the audience, they brought out a brand new song, ‘Bright Eyes’, a song she was not sure what it was actually about but “sometimes the universe gives you a song for a reason”. Beautiful lightly treated, stripped back sound with just the simplest of accompaniment graced the enraptured field. Their musicianship was all about the lyric weaving it’s way across the melody, and the 3 piece harmonies by the Paige-Turners with room for an instrumental break and some epic violin by Lulu, like she and it had a private dance to complete. ‘A Little Secret’ changed the mood, with a very country feel to the full instrumental sound and beat yet cleverly walked the fine line mixing between full sound and stripped back line “little secret”. Amusingly, keyboard and the banjo had almost a russian dance off mid song.

Their final song was full of thanks and appreciation for the crowds support, and delivered their first single release, a definite favourite, ‘The Music Box’. A stuccato piano intro, great harmony based vocals  and full band sound behind string and catchy melody had us all nodding to the beat. There was even an instrumental break showcasing the cello and of course a huge violin presence Lulu in breaks. I found it really catchy and could easily hum it all day with it’s killer vocals, Lulu’s passionate stage presence, it all makes for a warning: keep an eye out, Lulu and the Paige-Turners should take stages by storm.

Big Scary at Falls Festival Marion BayWe popped over to the Valley stage to check out Big Scary with their big piano and drum sound and 2 part harmonies. They’re certainly genre-defying and on the Falls stage, combining their slow piano stylings with heavy base and drums, created an ethereal quality to their set and sound. A really pleasant poppy, chill out band for the setting and time.

Paper Kites at the Falls Festival Marion BayWe headed back to the Field stage to catch The Paper Kites and watching their band tune a banjo, it struck me that I wanted to renaming this stage the Banjo Stage! It’s always promising when a banjo is sound checked, almost guaranteed a good hoedown. The five piece, opened with a strong drum beat/line and mellow guitar over the top and calm vocals wafting on the breeze. The crowd grew quickly, attracted to their ethereal indie quality. Their set saw great cohesion of vocal and instruments, working as one, blending when needed, separating when wanted.

They played “Young”, a more synth based track with finger plucking strings over the top. There was a steady crowd dancing up the front, from within, someone releases glitter across the top of the crowd and it floated over them much like the lyrics and vocals. A very mellow set with a solid under current of instrumental indie cool.

At times their set is airy, with floaty piano intros and breathy yet strong vocals. Other times, like when playing “Bloom”, an older song that the crowd can sing along too, a more plucky vibe sets the the crowd screaming and intensifies the atmosphere while still delivering beautiful harmonies that even a crowd can carry. Then they effortlessly add drums and banjo to truly catchy effect. I love the whistling break, crowd tried to whistle along and ended up sounding like drunk birds.

Their new song, “Cold Kind Hand”, is a more indie rock vibe with the femanine vocals playing beautifully off the big earthy drums beats. Staying true to their sound, their new stuff is as equally welcome as their old stuff. Take that Regurgitator.

James Vincent McMorrow at Falls Festival Marion BayI’m a complete novice when it comes to  James Vincent McMorrow, so when we headed to the Valley stage to catch his set, I was delighted to see a crowd had already formed, eagerly anticipating his set. Walking on stage to a rousing welcome from the audience, McMorrow opened with his breathtaking falsetto, reminiscent of early Matt Corby ethereal vocals, over simple piano chords, building to a faster speed with clapping, percussion and backing vocals. I saw in an instant the appeal and why so many are clamouring for his music. The crowd continued to stream in to the field as overall sound, now filled with bass to round out the effect, rolled up the ampitheatre. His voice delivers tones of Bon Iver but devled deeper within himself, ultimately creating an earthy, grounded effect.

His set celivered variety, with synth beat under harmonised vocals, the simplicity and stripped back nature of which was mezmerising. He is skilled at gently bringing new instruments in to the tracks, I didn’t even notice the piano build in to one song, and yet it ended solely on a tight vocal/piano harmony. He claimed nervousness as it had been a year and a half since his last big performance. He merely hoped his nerves were endearing, but to everyone present, not a nervous moment had been witnessed. Launching back in to his moody and soft, almost tentative vocals and delicious piano, echoing drum beats herald crowd favourites and everyone is lost in the performance.

London Grammar at Falls Festival Marion BayI’m one of those people who has heard of London Grammar, and has probably even heard their hits, but having been a bit of a musical hermit of late, I was keen to catch them in full swing on the Valley stage. The haunting intro and her voice flowing off the stage accompanied by keyboard and little else told me I was in for a wonderful show. “Hey Now” had a hypnotic effect on every member of the audience, ending in the kind of silence where you can hear a pin drop. And then there was the rapturous applause.

I can see why Hannah has been compared to Florence Welsh and Kate Bush, her voice dominates over the bass, electric guitar and djembe. But, not just a beautiful voice, she can take on the keys, build a melody that emerges alone only to wend through her soulful, lilting lyrics. She is a statuesque leading lady, yet manages stillness, poise, focus and delivers pitch perfect, stunning vocals that had the audience entranced. Whether they need to engage the audience with more in the way of stage presence is debatable, what they don’t have in presence, they make up for with atmosphere and sheer soundscape.

Hannah was experiencing the worst hayfever she has ever had because there is a unique type of grass in Tasmania and nowhere else in the world. With that revelation, it was amazing her vocals weren’t affected. Their wildly popular cover of Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” was to be expected, a popular choice with the crowd with it’s keys opening making way for the whining, stripped back electric guitar, reminiscent of The xx’s sparse production style.

With the crowd thoroughly in the mood, a staffer comes on stage with a giant birthday cake to celebrate Hannah’s birthday, for which the crowd sang happy birthday and she was incredibly excited as the cake was gluten free meaning she could actually enjoy eating it after their set. Fittingly, they celebrated the moment with a song the crowd could all sing along to, “Caught in the Middle”. To wrap up, they delighted the audience with “Metal and Dust” with it’s midway upbeat synth beats and keys which created a wall of sound crawling up the hill from the valley stage.

Violent Femmes at Falls Festival Marion BayI am of the age to have just been alive when their first, and arguably most famous, album was released, but I sure as hell knew about them and have danced in to many a late night with Blister In The Sun blaring. So needless to say, I was at the Valley stage for the Violent Femmes set. Just walking on stage they received a huge welcome from the crowd. And with out any ado at all, they cracked straight in to it with “Blister in the Sun”. They played like their album release was last year, like they do it all the time, and most of the crowd was up and dancing without a second thought. Naturally, with their time in the industry and their experience, they could play each track with a kind of laid back delivery, but full of cheer and that cool swagger attitude. Effortless in fact. They dubbed themselves the Grandfathers of folk-punk and to be blunt, they’re dead right on that call. And of course, they are one of those acts that can play their album from start to finish and hold every person in the palm of their hands for every single track, in spite of us all knowing what would come next. “Kiss Off” went off, the big slappy bass tones of “Please Do Not Go” had the crowd going crazy,  “Add It Up” had everyone singing every word at the top of their voice, and I was having a bit of a Reality Bites flashback. It was a glorious set, they sounded almost exactly like they did the day it was released and they were such a joy to watch, clearly having a great time on stage.

The Cat Empire at Falls Festival Marion BayOur final folky act of the night was our name sake and one of our favourite acts, The Cat Empire. I wanted to make notes and recall all they played, highlight the nuances of their set, but in true Cat Empire style, they just nailed it. They have this ability to cheer a crowd as soon as they walk on stage, talk to us all like we’re personal friends just jamming at their place, and have us all singing, dancing, grooving and jumping along to every track. They played a great selection of their back catalogue interspersed with tracks from Steal The Light and they generally got the party really pumping. We, as a crowd moved and grooved as one, loving every second. They, as always, nailed it. I read a Faster Louder review of the Marion Bay Falls  that put the Cat Empire down to a “pale imitation of The Roots” due to their scheduling, but clearly the reviewer was at an alternate universe version of the same gig, because we saw nothing of that. In fact, The Roots were a disappointment to us, nothing like we expected, so much so, that we left half way through their set and headed to bed. We must have missed the good bit.

Finally the penultimate day rolled around. Day 3, Tuesday 31st December – New Years Eve and the reason we were all there.

Gossling at Falls Festival Marion BayAfter a lazy lie-in, we headed to the Field stage to see one of our favourites, Gossling who we enjoyed seeing back in 2011. What a difference 2 years makes, from opening spot on the main stage at Lorne to a modest crowd, to a mid afternoon Marion Bay Field Stage spot absolutely packed with punters. Having not yet caught the latest offering from Gossling, I wasn’t quite that sure what to expect but bouyed by her unassuming start and complete skipping of any kind of chattering intro, Helen and band kicked straight in to the set with glee and abandon. Her set was heartfelt yet forthright, pulling tracks predominantly from the new album Harvest of Gold. The intimate setting allowed Helen to tell the stories behind the songs; the  love song about a couple who had been together a long time, whose spark was there in the beginning but is no longer there and the resulting mutual break up; her early experiences with social media as an artist and that anyone can say anything they want online and she just has to stop being a little pussy; and the day to day observations and experiences of life. Particular highlights included “Songs of Summer” (co-written with Steve Parkin) and that lamentable opening line “On a  Friday night, a thousand weeks ago” replete with male vocals (by Alexander Burnett of Sparkadia on the record) as well as the sheer frustration meets pop sensibilities of “Challenge” and it’s social media mayhem. All in all, another delightful afternoon spent with Gossling.

The John Steel Singers at Falls Festival Marion BayHustling from one stage to the next meant we could get a glimpse of The John Steel Singers on the Valley stage and their dedicated fans clamouring to tyhe front of the stage. Their set was upbeat and at times delivered a psychedelic vibe to the over all indie sound. I’ve heard a bit about the group, especially because TnS contributor Haz is a bit of a fan boy, but I was truly delighted by their tight harmonies and elegant guitar work. An oldie but a goodie, “Strawberry Wine” was a particular favourite with the crowd and as we made our way to our next stop, the set was in full swing, crowd singing and dancing along and glimpses of harmonised spleandour taunted us.

Later in the day we found ourselves back at the Field stage to catch complete unknowns, Bombino. Within an instant, our reaction was “They’re so cool!” Rocking traditional garb albeit of shiny material, and sporting electric guitars, this was an outfit set to impress. Opening rocky riffs drew an instant crowd to dance along. Singing in their native language, inspite of having no clue what was being said, their music translated with a sense of storytelling that spoke directly to the soul each member of the audience.

Bombino at Falls Festival Marion BayThe easiest way to describe their sound is a kind of a meeting of world music and indie stylings. Band members hail from West Africa, Niger, so it’s desert music that they play with touches of a Reggae feel to their beat. Bombino delivered a consistent energy and tempo throughout their set, holding the crowd in their groove through to the end, with a huge cheer from the audience to thank them for the performance. This is the kind of group I think Ash Grunwald would love to jam with!

Emma Louise at Falls Festival Marion BayRecovering from Bombino, we were set put to catch Emma Louise at the Field stage. Having missed a lot locally for the last 18months, I was curious to see just how far from folk Emma Louise had moved. With a heady mix of synth keyboard, acoustic guitar and stripped back drum kit, it was hard to predict just what would arrive. She walked out on stage looking super slick, breathy backing vocals began and she strapped on her acoustic guitar, much to the appreciation of the volminous audience. Stunning, breathy harmonised vocals wafted over the crowd creating a haunting and still opening. She has really matured and grasped the ethereal indie sound that Matt Corby toyed with a few years ago but delivers it with strength, confidence and delicate handling of the style.

“Toys”  gave a clever meld of synth, guitar and those evocative vocals, smooth as butter and just as addictive. Her stage presence has come leaps and bounds since I last saw her at Falls in Lorne, a true professional graces the stage now and captures the audience, holding them with every lick of a lyric.

The crowd, as one, responded to each synth-laden ethereal moment creating a sense of anticipation. “Tessalate” erupted from a mournful synth opening, trilling guitar and tantalising snare that broke in to a solid bass drum rhythm. Emma Louise’s Florence-esque vocals wound their way through the soundscape, met with harmonised backing, building to a beautiful crescendo before a delicate ending.

The set was peppered with new and old tracks including the strong keyboard, drum rhythms and intertwined angelic vocals of “Atlasize” and the rolling intimacy of “Keep Me Warm” allowed her great vocal range to tip in to and out of melancholic, interlocking harmonies to create an incredible, dreamlike atmosphere. And naturally, she ended with that favourite and original hit, “Jungle” which had the already large crowd heaving with enthusiasm and joy.

Crystal Fighters at Falls Festival Marion BayWhen we headed to the Valley stage for the Crystal Fighters, we had no real idea what to expect except that their bio included the word folktronica, so of course, I was there. The crowd were very excited for them and as they entered the stage they made an amazing visual impact as they were all dressed for the occassion. It seems this is what happens when a strange mix of percussion, glittery costumes and acoustic meets electric cohesion. No matter their cross-genre mix, the crowd were instantly dancing.

It all got a bit folkalicious when their txalaparta came into it’s fore (for those playing along, it’s like a giant xylophone played by two people at once), it was almost tribal in nature, matched with a thumping drum rhythm in an altogether stripped backing style to the vocals before the synth and full ensemble sound built in to a massive presence with crowd jumping and dancing feverishly. Did I mention they manage to include a ukelele in their dance music ensemble?

Love is all I’ve got for this act. Infectiously fun and impossible not to enjoy! I mean, you’ve got to love a bit of electric, hyper ukelele. They managed the crowd beautifully, taking us musically down to the beach (the real beach we could see from our vantage point), down through a
mellow, strummy intro in to the calyspo feel backing and harmonised vocals of “Plage”, where the synth builds before a big electric guitar line joins the party. I also adored the epic cow bell that features in “I Love London”. I think this is one of my favourite, highlight acts from the whole festival, a must see and a must to track down some of their back catalogue!

Grizzly Bear at Falls Festival Marion BayComing down from such a high energy set, we stayed at the Valley stage to catch Grizzly Bear
It was their second New Year’s Eve in Tassie and they seemed quite happy with their lot. Their opening number, “Speak in Rounds” brought with it the haunting quality of their vocals and the woozy atmospherics their sets are renowned for. They moved from one set to the next with such grace and ease that at times you’d forgotten that one song ended and another begun. The inextricably mellow and chilled resonance segued effortlessly in to echoey lament only to give way occasionally to a bluesy rock beat or to a revel in synthesizer gait.

Their performance is one of those truly enrapturing experiences, where their dreamy set can transport you to another reality, parrallel to the often frenetic energy of Marion Bay on a special occasion.

Neil Finn at Falls Festival Marion BayThe final folkishly influenced act on the Valley stage that night was the irrepressible, Neil Finn. We saw Finn take the stage back in Lorne and while that was a fun set, there was something more this time around. Whether the vibe of the Marion Bay festival or the hubbub of New Year’s Eve, either way, in that inimitable personality and presence, the audience was putty in Finn’s hands.

He crafted together a set filled with nostalgia, of hits and favourites as well as braw new works from recent album Dizzy Heights. Of the old songs, there was once voice as the crowd sang in unison, word for word, proving just how timeless Crowded House and Split Enz are. Of the new works, my favourite was the transidental temporary insantiy of “Pony Ride”, or that could just have been Finn’s explanation for the song and somehow we were all suddenly riding rainbows on unicorns with him, likely in hysterics. Title track “Dizzy Heights” and “Flying in the Face of Love” also were received well, but it was moments like Kirin J Callinan jumping in for a guitar solo on the Crowded House track “Locked Out” that made the set memorable. The spine tingling closer, one man on his knees and one guitar with no amped sound while crew changed over behind him for the next set, the thousands strong crowd with just the utterance of it’s opening  had us off singing “Better Be Home Soon” and claimed the defining moment of the night.

I don’t recall much of the actual New Year, with MGMT running over time, a quick countdown before kissing and hugging your nearest and dearest, or the random crowd members beside you, and then finally The Wombats hitting us with an onslaught of hits and subsequent dancing frenzy, it all just blurs together to be an energy filled night of frivolity with a matching hangover the next morning.

But, if you’re going to wake up with a hangover anywhere in the world, Falls Festival Marion Bay just moved up my list of acceptable places to do so.

Vance Joy Announces National Tour

Vance Joy
Image Courtesy of Vance Joy

Despite the success he’s having overseas, and the massive tours he has planned in the US, UK and Europe, Vance Joy hasn’t forgotten us. When he’s back in the country for Groovin The Moo this April and May Joy has announced plans to perform a number of headline shows around the country. Joining him in the support slots for the tour will be Gossling and Teeth & Tongue

Check out the full list of dates below:

Thursday 24th April – The Governor Hindmarsh, Adelaide, SA
Tuesday 6th May – The Hi Fi, Brisbane, QLD
Thursday 8th May – The Bakery, Perth, WA
Friday 16th May – The Metro, Sydney, NSW
Friday 23rd May – The Forum Theatre, Melbourne, VIC

Whitaker Announce New EP Wichita

Whitaker
Image Courtesy of Whitaker

Melbourne indie trio Whitaker have announced plans to release a brand new five-track EP on the 22nd November. The EP is titled Wichita and was produced by the band’s good friend Jono Steer (Hayden Calnin, Gypsy & The Cat, Ainslie Wills). A lot of Wichita was recorded in old halls and spaces around Melbourne and the vibe is said to be pretty special as a result.

To celebrate the release of Wichita Whitaker are heading out on tour, first to support Gossling through November and then to officially launch the EP at Revolver in Melbourne on Friday 29th November. The full list of dates are below:

Friday 15th November – Alhambra Lounge, Brisbane, QLD – Supporting Gossling
Wednesday 20th November – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne, VIC – Supporting Gossling
Saturday 23rd November – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, NSW – Supporting Gossling
Friday 29th November – Revolver, Melbourne, VIC

The New Year Conundrum

Every year as the calendar days roll by, friends and family start asking the inevitable questions about what you are doing for Christmas and New Year. In the past, there has been a good range of folk friendly festivals stretching up and down the East Coast of Australia for eager punters to choose from, but with the demise of both Pyramid Rock Festival and Peats Ridge Festival, it shrinks the obvious choices down to Woodford Folk Festival and The Falls Festival (which has conveniently added a new venue/ location for the 2013/14 event).

But, what if you’re not after a big and busy festival for your New Year’s celebrations? Well, let’s take a look at what’s on offer, both the big guns and the ones you might not have come across yet.

Woodford Folk Festival – Woodford, QLD

Woodford Cart

Undeniably one of the largest festivals in Australia, it has been repeatedly nominated for all kinds of awards in the events and tourism industries and remains one of my favourite festivals of all time, even if only for a 35 hour experience, I’d love to go back (but sadly, not this year). Based on their own site (Woodfordia, about one hour north of Brisbane), The Queensland Folk Federation have delivered outstanding line ups year after year and offer a range of musical acts and arts activities for all ages making this festival easy for the whole family to attend. While this year’s line up hasn’t yet been announced, we would put money on it being another outstanding list of great musicians from around the world, a quick glance through the 2012/13 programme book will attest to that.

Tickets and camping are still available at pre-festival web prices up until Christmas Eve, or if you’re feeling the pinch, they are always looking for willing volunteers who gain free entry in return for their help before, during or after the festival. Highlights of Woodford, apart from the amazing line up (in which we would name almost ever artist we’ve covered on  Timber and Steel if we were to list past festival performers), includes the huge range of workshops, crafts and activities for all ages to participate in, the exciting range of food and stalls available on site, the breathtaking lantern parade and the penultimate fire event bringing in the New Year. Completely safe for the whole family with plenty for the young and young at heart, if you haven’t been to Woodford, it is probably the festival I would tell everyone to go to no matter what their musical leaning. Don’t believe me? Check out their latest promo video:

The Falls Festival – Lorne Vic, Marion Bay Tas and Byron Bay NSW

Falls Festival, Lorne, 2008, Music Festival

Now, before I get you all excited, tickets for two of the three sites have sold out, tickets are now only available for Marion Bay in Tasmania. So, for those of you already with tickets to Lorne or Byron Bay, I’m only going to be reaffirming your excellent choice in festival for the New Year period. I went along for the 2011/12 festival in Lorne Vic and discovered an experience I had not anticipated, it was so big it required multiple small reviews, no single post could encapsulate it all. 2013 is the first year they’ve expanded to Byron Bay (which has successfully hosted Splendor in the Grass and nearby is the home of Bluesfest) so there is no hesitation that a New Year’s festival will have any trouble in such esteemed company.

Just like Woodford, The Falls Festival is not just a music festival, it has a vast array of arts workshops and experiences to keep every punter engaged no matter their hangover or musical interests, from themed days and fiesta’s through to art attacks. For those thinking still and wondering about Marion Bay, we can confirm it is a kid friendly event meaning, like Woodford, the whole family can come along and enjoy the line up.

Speaking of line ups, since The Falls Festival is not exclusively a folk festival, it means the artists cover a range of styles but still features some of our favourites including Emma Louise, Gossling, Grizzly Bear, Neil Finn, The Cat Empire, The Paper Kites, The Preachers and a whole lot more that we’d love to check out live. For the full line up, visit the listing on their website.

If you’re heading to the Byron Bay site and haven’t decided whether to camp, glamp or swag it, all the accomodation options are available on the Falls Festival travel page including the incredibly groovy Tepee Life village (Tepee Life also available in Marion Bay).

And if the idea of heading to Tasmania isn’t immediately appealing, just pause for a moment to consider the great adventure you could embark on. Not only do you get to head to one of the most pristine and beautiful forest areas within Australia and see some of the best acts around (including voting by Oct 31 in the Foster A Band competition to choose a local band to grace the stage), you can also take advantage of the 29 December start date to have an adventure around Hobart and broader Tasmania before bringing in the New Year!

If you’re struggling to decide, or wish you’d got a ticket to Lorne or Byron Bay, don’t despair, there are a few more options including applying for an Art Camp at any of the three sites to create the artistic heart and soul of the festival, and includes a coveted ticket to the festival. If you’re not so artistically inclined, but don’t mind a bit of work, volunteer applications are still open for Marion Bay.

Now, I move out of my comfort zone to two festival’s I’ve never been to!

Gulgong Folk Festival – Gulgong NSW

Dancing Gulgong Folk Festival by Flickr member farmgrovePhoto courtesy of Flickr member farmgrove

Technically not actually a New Year’s festival, the Gulgong Festival (which Gareth enjoyed earlier this year) takes place over the weekend immediately prior, 28 and 29 December 2013, making it a good option for those who have to work those pesky week days between the public holidays – if you’re in NSW and can manage a drive out to Gulgong that is. However, it’s also a great option for people that want a folky fix AND their big city New Year’s party as you could manage both pretty easily. If a nice jaunt out to Mudgee isn’t tempting enough, what if I told you tickets were free? I kid you not.

There’s no obvious camping options unless you seek out a camping ground but their website does list a number of motels and accommodation options, and really who doesn’t like a trip out in to the countryside and a good B&B to see you through?

Again, their line up is not announced yet, but with past acts like Jack Carty, The Falls, Mustered Courage, April Maze, we’re pretty confident it will be an impressive selection. A little birdy has shared some inside information that Daniel Champagne, Melanie Horsnell, Alan Caswell, Big Erle and Matt Southon may well make appearances *nudge, nudge, wink, wink*

Nariel-Creek Folk Festival – Nariel Creek Vic

Vendulka performing at the Nariel-Creek Folk FestivalVendulka on stage. Photo courtesy of Nariel-Creek Folk Festival

A beaut little festival in regional Victoria (North East for those playing at home) which looks to be the kind of scale of The Gum Ball or Corinbank and equally delightful feel for all the family. They went simple in their online presence – a facebook page only, having pulled down their website earlier in the year. Tickets are cheap at $20 a head and available at the door, camping is an incredibly low $5/ night and you can turn up early and stay late if you really want. No idea who is on their bill, but in honesty, it just looks like an amazing and relaxed way to spend a New Year’s, especially if you want to avoid the crowds! Plus there is ample opportunity to dress up for the fun of it with plenty of great shots of their past New Year’s Even cocktail parties on their facebook page.

Gum Ball Crowd

An honourable mention goes to The Gum Ball, who last month put the call out online to see who might be inclined to turn up at their Dashville property for a New Year’s Gum Ball-esque event. Unfortunately they didn’t get enough interest to make anything happen this year, but if you’re keen to see a New Year festival in the Hunter Valley for future years, we think heading to the 2014 Gum Ball and making noises at the organisers might help them decide to go ahead in 2014.

So, where are you spending New Year’s? We’re still considering the conundrum ourselves!

Timber and Steel’s Artists’ Top Albums of 2012

Listening to Records

Not satisfied with just providing you with our own opinions around the best albums of 2012 we have once again put the call out to some of our favourite artists to find out what they’ve been listening to this year. And the response to this call has been simply astounding – over 90 artists sent us their number one album of 2012, along with a couple of sentences as to why it’s their number one, almost tripling the amount of submissions from last year and demonstrating once again just how personal and diverse everyone’s relationship to music can be.

Once again a big thank you has to go out to all the artists who contributed along with the dedicated managers, publicity people and record labels we pestered to get this piece across the line – you’re all amazing, dedicated, wonderful people who keep this great national (and international) beast that is the music industry alive.

And now it’s time for the blogger to pass his keyboard over to the blogged as we present to you Timber and Steel’s Artists’ Top Albums of 2012:

The Lion's ShareSarah Humphreys
Mike McCarthyThe Lion’s Share
Mike has a beautiful way with words and melodies, he can stir up feelings of love, loss, mystery and hope all in one album. Sometimes in one song! There’s a gentleness in this record, I can hear more love in his voice than ever before.

God Bless You AmigoRoland Kay-Smith (Roland K Smith and the Sinners)
Felice BrothersGod Bless You Amigo
After the brave, but often confusing album that was Celebration Florida, The Felice Brothers return to more familiar territory with God Bless You Amigo. “Her Eyes Dart Around” is a tear-jerkingly beautiful ballad, the off-kilter harmonies in “Lincoln Continental” blow my mind every time I hear them, and “Dream On” is a fantastically melancholic retelling of the Stagger Lee story. At 20 tracks it’s overlong, but the porch-strumming charm of the album makes each song a joy to listen to, and I should know, I’ve listen to this album plenty.

The AnecdotesSam Lee
Seamus Cater & Viljam NybackaThe Anecdotes
English Dutch duo based in Amsterdam who have written this chronicle of biographic songs based around cultural figures and steeped in folklore and alternative experimental theatre sound art. They have created this soundworld that is both sepia toned in 70s fender rhodes and melodic drum work and captures the sounds of revival and the monologues of obscure historical figures. A work of touching depth and simplicity.

Who's Feeling Young NowChris Stone (The String Contingent)
Punch BrothersWho’s Feeling Young Now?
Outrageously virtuosic instrumentalists, with super strong musical vision, brilliant execution, and a work ethic like no other … they are the tightest, most polished band around, and given the technical and musical complexity of there music, is both depressing and inspirational.

Carry Me BackBen and James Daley (Bellyache Ben and the Steamgrass Boys, The Daley Brothers)
Old Crow Medicine ShowCarry Me Back
This album has all the Old Crow trademarks: hard hitting blues, fast pickin bluegrass, honest singing and lyrics, great harmonies, and most importantly brilliant songwriting. The title track and “Levi” are both contenders for song of the year. This album (and Old Crow’s ever growing and ever impressive body of work) confirms them as one of the great modern American bands. I dare say when they are done they will be remembered as one of the great all time American bands.

Who's Feeling Young NowClaude Hay
SoundgardenKing Animal
This is easy for me: Soundgarden, King Animal, quiet simply my favourite singer of all time. I’ve been waiting for this release for ever, some classic dirty guitar and pure rock the world’s been missing.

The Lion's RoarTodd Sibbin (Todd Sibbin and the Opposite Ends, Traveller and Fortune)
First Aid KitThe Lion’s Roar
Besides the blatantly obvious reasons (fantastic singing, fantastic songwriting), Mike Mogis (of Bright Eyes fame) has nailed the “atmospheric moodiness” vibe in his production techniques. It’s got that unmistakeable old school Bright Eyes sound, with slightly more polish

Into The BloodstreamWarren Fahey
Archie RoachInto the Bloodstream
I was never a hooked Archie fan but this new collection of very personal and aspirational songs really grabbed me emotionally. Archie has seen a lot of shit in his life including the loss of his partner Ruby Hunter and, over the past couple of years, some shocker medical hurdles yet he writes and sings in such an uplifting manner you feel the joy. It is also a craftily assembled album with a great choir, really tasty musicianship and some vocal acrobatics from Archie that I just wasn’t expecting. At one stage he produces a growl befitting the blues and soul and then his voice soars to the rafters. This is a really fine album

Carried in MindHat Fitz and Cara Robinson
Jeff LangCarried in Mind
This album of 2012 is one of those albums that more than manages to carry you away into another time and world. That’s what I love about a great album, it switches off the mind and lets the imagination take over and it does that completely. One song in particular is track 3, “Fisherman’s Farewell”, co written with his wife Alison Ferrier, a truly exquisite piece of writing.

LeelanauMatt Bauer
Dana FalconberryLeelanau
It’s rare when an album is as fully realized as this. It has everything I want in music: great lyrics and melodies, strange harmonies, beautiful arrangements, unexpected rhythms, a specific sense of place, an air of mystery, and just some kind of undefinable magic. Perfect from start to finish.

Mid AirMatt Walters
Paul BuchananMid Air
Paul Buchanan is the lead singer of one of the world’s most important and underrated bands, The Blue Nile. The lead singer’s first solo offering is a quiet masterpiece. Comprised almost completely of subdued piano, and smoky, hushed vocals; this is one of the most transformative, beautiful records I’ve ever heard. Buchanan, now in his late 50’s, croons like a more poetic and mournful Sinatra – reminiscing, regretting and reconciling through some of the most poignant and intimate songs ever recorded.

Born and RaisedAshleigh Mannix
John MayerBorn and Raised
Truthfully I’ve only listened to it a few times, but it was the first album that came into my head when asked about my favourite album of the year – and for good reason! Mr Mayer always surprises with the twist and turns he has taken when recording his albums. He’s playing with more of a country vibe in this one. In the second single “Queen of California”, there’s a lyric that says “Looking for the sun that Neil Young hung/After the gold rush of 1971”. There’s definitely a Neil Young-esque vibe throughout the album. I love it! It will be my soundtrack for hungover weekend’s in the sun!

HereTigertown
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic ZerosHere
A perfect way to follow up their first album Up From Below, they have captured the large group sound that they have live while still leaving enough space for Alexander Ebert’s genius song-writing and lyrics to shine through. This record always makes a loud appearance on our touring mix tape.

Farthest FieldMike McCarthy
Daniel Martin Moore & Joan ShelleyFarthest Field
Farthest Field sounds like an album recorded in a hall, live, with four beautiful microphones between two great songwriters. Sparse and incredibly beautiful is how I would describe it.

Mad BastardsJeanette Wormald
Alex Lloyd, The Pigram Brothers, Kasey Chambers and Shane NicholsonMad Bastards: Music From the Motion Picture
I found this late in 2011 and haven’t stopped listening to it. Great colours, great artists and oh so Australian. It’s fresh and it’s interesting and I really enjoyed the collaborations between Alex Lloyd and The Pigram Brothers. The movie is incredibly compelling too. A must see for people wanting an insight into the challenges of Australians living on the fringe.

DeathFrank Turner
Jim Lockey & The Solemn SunDeath
I’ve known Jim for a while and loved his work, but I always suspected he had a record in him that would take what he did from being good to being truly great. It was with great satisfaction, then, that I listened to this one for the first time. It’s everything I was hoping for, a perfect blend of country, rock, folk and something heavier and darker. Brilliant.

The Lion's RoarCallum Adamson (ahab)
First Aid KitThe Lion’s Roar
I’ve chosen First Aid Kit’s record for a few reasons.
1. The record is nothing more than great country songs beautifully produced
2. They are one of the few bands that are just as good live as on record
3. One of my “goosebumps” moments of this year was when I first heard “Emmylou” – I really really wish I’d written it.

DearEmily and the Woods
Keaton HensonDear
Keaton’s voice and lyrics cut through whatever is happening, wherever I am. There is an immediacy and strength to his words and his delivery is so full of emotion that it makes me want to cry with him. I believe in his heartache; it feels raw. This album truly reminded me how powerful it is when you tell it how you feel it. That’s my favourite kind of songwriting, and it feels exemplified in the way he phrases and sings some lines. My favourite song on the album is the closing track, “Party Song”; which is unashamedly bleak.

Stars and SatellitesThe Quarry Mountain Dead Rats
Trampled By TurtlesStars and Satellites
We were waiting for this album to be released and it didn’t disappoint. Got a good mix of slower songs and and the usual kick ass ones. Ear f*$#ingly good!

Trains I MissedNick Keeling (Mustered Courage)
Balsam RangeTrains I Missed
Balsam Range deliver straight up modern driving bluegrass at its best. They are world class pickers, songwriters and boy can they sing. The harmonies are super tight and I love how the vocals are mixed. It gives you that baseball bat of three part harmony hit, straight in the face.

Stars and SatellitesCoty Hogue
RodriguezSearching for Sugar Man Soundtrack
Okay, so maybe all these songs were originally released in 1970-71, but considering most all of us (at least over here in the States) had never heard of Rodriguez before this film, and the fact that these songs are absolutely BRILLIANT and beautiful, makes this my must listen to album of the year! (I should also include the original two albums that these songs come from)

Warm in the DarknessNadine Budge (The Stetson Family)
Liz StringerWarm in the Darkness
From the multitude of reasons why this is my favourite album this year, the overarching one is that Liz Stringer is authentic – the real deal. This album serves up some of the melting beauty of Liz’s slower songs that she has shown herself to be a master of – then whacks it for a six when she pulls out some big guns and rocks it out! It’s the triple threat of great songwriting, sublime vocals and kick-arse musicianship.

Hard RubbishLouise O’Reilly (Laneway)
Lower Plenty – Hard Rubbish
It’s stony dreamy domestic. We found it driving from Melbourne to Adelaide on our tour and it took us all the way home.

Off We GoDesert Rat Shorty (The Lurkers)
Jess and Richard ArrowsmithOff We Go
This year I have a toddler, and as a consequence, I’ve spent most of the year listening to my favourite kids CD. It’s real music for kids. No autotune, no synthesisers and no politically correct rewriting for kids (the pirates in the songs still drink rum!). The songs are all old English nursery rhymes played on traditional instruments. And our one-and-a-half-year-old loves it.

Black Vat TrioWeary Hobo and Rocky Mountain Slim (The Lurkers)
Black Vat TrioBlack Vat Trio
They are a Sydney-based trio with Rishin (trombone), Rascal (violin) and Bones (piano accordion plus drums) who play Klezma and Romani inspired originals and Eastern European Classics. Songs and tunes they perform from other traditions they acknowledge openly unlike some Australian bands in the same scene. What Black Vat Trio create themselves are soundtracks to my dirty old Sydney town. Songs like “Rapscallions” are reminiscent of Waiting for Guinness and the genuine, straightforward production of the album brings it out on top of the new releases of the year for me. This album keeps toddlers of all ages laughing and dancing!

Court The StormJeremiah Fraites (The Lumineers)
Y La BambaCourt the Storm
It’s a terrific album. Is it folk, is it world, is it singer-songwriter? I don’t know. And personally, I don’t care. Talking about music is like dancing about architecture. Just listen to the damn thing.

Spirit BirdNardi Simpson (Stiff Gins)
Xavier RuddSpirit Bird
I first heard Xavier Rudd perform over twelve years ago. I knew nothing about him but watched as he played and stomped and sang the young audience into waves of inspired frenzy. He was on the way up, he sounded great, the kids loved him and he had his own unique sound. He also played the yidaki or didjeridoo. Now as blackfullas we regularly walk around festivals and see masses of people dancing and trancing out to the sound of yidaki – but most times it is not being played by a black musician. And so we carry this with us a little bit, well I do anyway. I sat there and listened to Rudd and looked at the crowd and thought of all the brothers I knew who would never get the same chance or attention if they did. Ten years later an ‘Indig’ stage was funded at Bluesfest. We had got a gig and walked around starry eyed, shyly watching legends from the wings and spinning out on the greenroom facilities. We walked past dressing room doors…Blind Boys of Alabama, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Jason Mraz, Angelique Kidjo, and as we came up to Xavier Rudd’s room out popped his head: “Brother, come and be part of this smoking ceremony”, he asked my partner. I can only guess he didn’t see or recognise me. So in he went, into this stranger/stars dressing room and did ceremony. Four months ago I saw Xavier Rudd had a new album out. I assembled together all the little pieces of him I knew and I bought it. I wanted to understand something more of the man. I listened to his songs and let them soak into me and it was at that point that our worlds collided. Where first I was a young musician, starting to sing of my world and my special place in it – and compete with all those who were doing the same, now I was a searcher of stories and of deep, and meaningful connections. I had come to the place that perhaps Rudd was at all those years ago- creating narratives to forge and maintain relationships with people, place and country. As a musician Rudd has consistently taken steps towards the place that I too now wish to explore. To show others how beautiful it is when country sings back. I still haven’t met Xavier Rudd, I doubt whether I will but I think I am a little closer to understanding him and his music. And so I see this album Spirit Bird as more than a collection of songs, it’s a story about a man on a journey. And as he walks, so do we.

BlunderbussHenry Wagons
Jack WhiteBlunderbuss
Following the epic legacy of his other bands, there is no doubt the pressure was on, whether Jack admitted it to himself or not. All the publicity said this album was kinda throwaway, recorded when another artist cancelled his session at Third Man Records. Yet, when you tune in to the opening riff of the album’s opener “Missing Pieces”, you immediately realise this album is about to deliver in spades to all those curious ears pointed towards it. It sounds so smooth, rockin’ and analogue … and seems it would have been a blast to put together. Its sense of spontaneity and creative freedom translates through to the listener. A bluesy, garage masterpiece, gloriously thrown together.

Me and MoonHannah Acfield (Dan and Hannah Acfield)
Lydia ColeMe & Moon
As I suspected, iTunes confirmed this was my most played album of 2012! I met Lydia at the APRA Song Summit earlier in the year and she was so lovely it prompted me to buy her album. Me & Moon is a stunning collection of songs, the production is delicate and raw, yet so beautiful and clever. In this case, less is certainly more. Lydia has an exquisite voice that captured me straight away. The songs are well written, am honest tale of heartbreak and loss. I had an immediate connection with this album and have not stopped playing it. Beautiful.

BlunderbussDave “Christo” Christensen (Charlie Mayfair)
Jack WhiteBlunderbuss
By far the most soulful and energetic album of the year from a man that understands the effect that the women in his life have had on his personality and the insecurities it hides. Through big speakers this album is louder than anything else out this year.

Young Man in AmericaEmily Barker
Anaïs MitchellYoung Man in America
I love the mood she creates straight from the outset; pensive and alluring. Lyrically I think it’s phenomenal – it has a stream of consciousness element and repetition of themes: childhood; parenthood; growing up in America; stories we inherit. Instrumentally it’s killer too – I love the combination of woodwind instruments, mandolin, guitars, layered vocals, such rich textures always serving the songs. I get more and more from it every time I listen to it – there is so much depth in this record.

There's No Leaving NowLittle Bastard
Tallest Man on EarthThere’s No Leaving Now
It’s great to see a modern day artist maintain the quality of songwriting up to his fourth release. He has also manage to arrange and produce the music that keeps the listener interested and shows growth from previous albums.

The Burgh Island EPHeidi Waddell (Cordial Factory)
Ben HowardThe Burgh Island EP
All I want to do is sit in a cool, dark room with my eyes closed and breathe in the sounds of this EP. Since I heard Ben Howard’s song “Depth Over Distance” last year, I had been waiting and hoping that his new EP would be much the same and it is. I love that he’s not afraid of combining stillness and passion. He’s created something really unique; it’s deep and full and haunting.

Back at the Quonset HutKetch Secor (Old Crow Medicine Show)
Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll BoysBack at the Quonset Hut
About 20 years ago, while Nashville was perfecting it’s recipe for the blandest batch of country music yet, a band called BR-549 was serving it up raw seven nights a week on the freaky streets of Lower Broad. This year Chuck Mead, BR’s longtime frontman, released Back At The Quonset Hut – 12 classic cuts backed by Nashville’s A-Team of sessions players, the color guard of pickers, the very men who made country music what the world knows it to be – true. It still is, and Chuck Mead proves it.

Race the LoserJohn Spiers (Bellowhead, Spiers and Boden)
LauRace the Loser
It’s got everything going for it. It’s hugely complex and experimental with some superb playing yet it bears up to repeated listening incredibly well. For me, the ability to listen to it on lots of different levels makes it the perfect album.

Adventures in Your Own BackyardPete Flood (Bellowhead)
Patrick WatsonAdventures in Your Own Backyard
Eerie, lush, cinematic and full of intriguing twists and turns – it’s like walking through a sunlit wood in late autumn. Pretentious but true.

GossamerSam Sweeny (Bellowhead)
Passion PitGossamer
It’s a perfect pop record. It combines musical simplicity with awesome technical complexity. Each track has new layers that keep jumping out at you at every listen, and to top it all, there isn’t a duff track on the album. It’s sublime music.

Time As We Know ItAdam McGrath (The Eastern)
Todd SniderTime As We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker
We spend at least 100-150 days a year sucking up bitumen, roadside pies (best one in six years is the fish pie from wairoa on the bottom of the east cape of the Nth Island of NZ), junk from junk shops, and lung disorders from the air con, in all manner of wheeled transport around New Zealand, Australia and parts and ports beyond. There are basically three rules in the van, 1) Only let Flora the fiddle player drive when no one else can possibly manage it 2) Adam must listen to Waylon Jennings on any post 1am drives (and be allowed to sing along with gusto and a slight edge of drunken melencholy) 3) and when the shit gets bad, hard, or both then we must listen to Todd Snider bootlegs (Tales From Moondog Tavern Vol. 1-5 are particular faves) or Jerry Jeff Walker, they are our road guards. This year Todd Snider released Time As We Know It an album of Jerry Jeff Walker covers, it wouldn’t have mattered if it sucked (it doesn’t) the idea alone would have made it our album of 2012. If next year he does an album of Thin Lizzy songs our lives would indeed be complete.

The Idler WheelTexture Like Sun
Fiona AppleThe Idler Wheel…
Although I haven’t listened to too much new music this year this album is one that recently came to me, and floored me. It’s dark, melancholly and sparse, about what I’d excpect from a Fiona Apple album. Love the additional instumentation in some tracks (you can hear lot of things clanging in the background) – and her voice! This music makes me feel something more than most.

I've Got a Friend Called Emily FerrisJen Cloher
Courtney BarnettI’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris
The debut release from Melbourne based singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett was recorded in a friend’s lounge room in Thornbury. A lo-fi seven song collection of pop gems with plenty of psych-rock wig outs to boot. Original, often humorous lyrics tumble effortlessly over catchy-as-hell melodies. The first song, “Lance Jnr” opens with the lyric “I masturbated to the songs you wrote”. Nuff said.

The Stars Are Indifferent to AstronomyKevin Micthell (Bob Evans, Basement Birds)
Nada SurfThe Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy
I’ve been a fan of this band since their seminal album Let Go around 10 years ago and they’ve barely put a foot wrong since. Their new album is another perfect template on how to write glistening power pop with intelligent, poetic lyrics. Underated? I think so.

A Different ShipHusky Gawenda (Husky)
Here We Go MagicA Different Ship
Interesting, infectious songs. A diverse album, but one that flows nicely from start to finish. Spoke to me immediately, before I had a chance to consider why – as all good albums do.

All The Little LightsHelen Croome (Gossling)
PassengerAll The Little Lights
A beautiful album with sweet and heartbreaking stories. Mike is an incredible story-teller who manages to find the perfect balance between memorable melodies and a descriptive tale. A favourite track would be “Let Her Go” with it’s beautiful lyric imagery. And the live version of “I Hate” is another favourite for it’s humour and honesty.

Out of FrequencyNikki Thorburn (ILUKA)
The Asteroid Galaxy TourOut Of Frequency
Danish psychedelic pop band The Asteroid Galaxy Tour are in a class of their own, and their second studio album Out Of Frequency proves just this. With more attitude and swagger than their debut album Fruit, this record is as innovative and refreshing as it is inviting. Drawing on array of eccentric, hypnotic and inviting sounds, they create a fantasy world that is deeply potent and entrancing. Chicago blues on “shrooms” and film noir on acid, it’s truly a case of the sum being greater than its parts.

Mirage RockMark “Looch” Lewis (Handsome Young Strangers)
Band of HorsesMirage Rock
On first listen its hard to believe this is the same band who put out the excellent Everything All The Time album back in 2006. Raw, loose and stripped back, Mirage Rock is everything that their debut was not. Folk purists may baulk at the move in a popier direction on some tunes and whilst I agree that it is not all an easy ride, stand firm! Because with repeated listening this record will reward you if you invest the time. As all great records should.

An Awesome WaveHayden Calnin
Alt-J (∆)An Awesome Wave
This is one of those albums that you tend to pick up and chuck on pretty much every day. In my eyes (ears?) Alt-J have delivered not only the most original sounding record of the year with their very infectious compositions and hauntingly fragile yet powerful vocal style, but also the best written as well. My personal favourite “Ms” off the album takes the cake for being my favourite track of the year as well.

Mirage RockGeorge Jackson
Brittany Haas and Dan TruemanCrissCross
Here’s something you don’t hear every day, unless you have the album like me. Appalachian fiddle goddess Brittany Haas meets Norwegian style fiddler and modern composer Dan Trueman. There is no music I’ve heard before that sounds quite like this, and to top it off the performers achieve that oh so important mix of stimulating both the body and the mind! This project is full of beautiful and mind bending new compositions by both Brittany and Dan. Mix in Natalie Haas on cello + guitarist Jordan Tice along with Brittany’s Crooked Still comrade Cory Di’Mario on Double Bass = a stellar line up. The tunes literally criss-cross the complimentary fiddle styles of Norway and Appalachia, developed with masterful ensemble arrangements and some demanding modern harmony.

JerildereeLachlan Bryan
Bill JacksonJerilderee
It’s actually pretty hard to write convincingly about Australia – most people end up stumbling over the awkward sounding place names, or struggling to extract poetry from our often brutal, frequently covered-up history. Bill and his brother Ross are exceptions to the rule. They write stunning songs together, and microphones just seem to love Bill’s warm, weathered voice. Jerilderie is full of great stories, and was my favourite record this year.

PrisonerEli Wolfe
The JezabelsPrisoner
Driving on tour we have been listening to The Jezabels Prisoner, which fits the landscape perfectly. Though it was released late 2011, I only bought Prisoner this year. It’s a great vibey album and Hayley is an amazing front woman.

How About I Be MeDamien Dempsey
Sinead O’ConnorHow About I Be Me (And You Be You)?
A blinding return to form by a fearless warrior woman who is my favorite female singer. Her song “Take Off Your Shoes” makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck every time I hear it, breathtaking.

Fear FunTom Busby (Busby Marou)
Father John MistyFear Fun
This album reminds me of why I love listening to music – it makes me so happy! The songs are cheeky and full of swagger, and somehow steers away from sounding arrogant. I love the production, including the small imperfections which are clearly intended. It is obvious that there were no rules when recording the record and this is probably why I can’t stop smiling each time I hear it.

Toward The Low SunAidan Cooney (Boy Outside)
Dirty ThreeToward the Low Sun
Choose your time wisely because I cried like a mother fucking bitch recently on a long haul flight listening to this album. Melancholy to get lost in and the dirtiest violin sound known to man give you an album that should be sold with a warning.

Music From Kennedy's PoolCourtney Barnett
Merri Creek PickersMusic From Kennedy’s Pool
I have seen the Merri Creek Pickers play live about 80 times. I’ve heard them rehearsing about 400 times. I adore the gentle genius of Alex Hamilton’s songwriting, the all-inclusive yet sometimes argumentative arrangement process and the fact that it was all recorded by the band themselves live at a farm in the middle of nowhere. This is a classic album that should transcend our generation.

Warm in the DarknessCat Canteri (The Stillsons)
Liz StringerWarm in the Darkness
Beautifully tasty arrangements, playing, sounds and songs across the whole album.

HereSam Buckingham
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic ZerosHere
It’s so full of joy and somehow, every time I listen, manages to remind me to stop and enjoy the simplest and most beautiful things the world has to offer, and I have to offer the world. I love the songwriting, the production is unique and brilliant but I think, more than anything, it’s the feeling of hope and beauty that sits inside every song.

El CaminoCat Colman (Billygoat and the Mongrels)
The Black KeysEl Camino
So many albums to choose from!! The Black Keys scraped in at number 1, mainly because it has such a full solid and infectious sound.

Carry Me BackJohn Flanagan (John Flanagan and the Begin Agains)
Old Crow Medicine ShowCarry Me Back
Having just traveled to the US this year for the first time I’ve fallen in love with the mountain music that is so prominent in North Carolina and Virginia. Old Crow Medicine Show clearly draw on a wide range of influences though I love the old-timey core to their music with the claw-hammer banjo and fiddle. There are a lot of references to places we recently visited: Virginia, the Shenandoah river, etc, so for many reasons the album brings back fond memories of traveling through the South.

The Lion's RoarElla Hooper
First Aid KitThe Lion’s Roar
First Aid Kit are so full of potential it hurts. I don’t think they’ve quite revealed all they will in years to come but Lions Roar boasts great lush production from Mike Mogis (a modern master) and the girls’ tight folk pop songwriting is just my kind of teenage day dream, sorry Katy Perry, but This is talent.

PackwoodJulia Johnson (Julia and the Deep Sea Sirens)
PackwoodPackwood
In all honesty, I spent much of 2012 rediscovering old favourites. I re-arranged my bedroom, which inadvertently meant it was much easier for me to use my record player. Dad’s impeccable record collection has been liberated from the garage and given a healthy airing this year. There is one 2012 release that has had a particular impact on me musically though, so that automatically catapults in to becoming my favourite release of 2012. Early in the year I supported Packwood and The Falls in Canberra, at The Front Gallery. Probably one of the loveliest gigs with some of the loveliest musicians I’ve played with all year, but I digress. I’ve never heard such an ambitious EP as Packwood’s. Simply a man, his banjo, and an orchestra. Yup, a 50 piece orchestra. With a banjo. I’ve been messing around with my banjo for a few years half-arsedly, but since hearing that EP I haven’t practiced my guitar at all. I can’t put my banjo down. So thank you Packwood, for re-invigorating my love for banjo, and sorry housemates and neighbours, I’m not going to stop playing my banjo any time soon.

Baby We Were Born to DieRosie Catalano
Jen CloherBaby We Were Born To Die
Each song on this 3-track EP is so special. “Call If You Need Me” has an incredible ability to transport me to a whole other world every time I listen to it, “Baby We Were Born To Die” leaves me awed by Jen Cloher’s way of looking at the world and the hand she has been dealt, and the lyrics in her duet with Courtney Barnett always manages to catch me by surprise and make me laugh.

Love This GiantSarah Blasko
David Byrne & St VincentLove This Giant
It’s a collaborative album that really works and feels very cohesive. The arrangements are really imaginative and it has the freshness of not sounding like anything else that’s out at the moment. The brass arrangements are fantastic. It’s a classic sounding record, it’s beautiful and rich and full.

A Creature I Don't KnowLiam Gale (Liam Gale and The Ponytails)
Laura MarlingA Creature I Don’t Know
I spent this year listening to some not-so-current music, and it seems I’ve got some catchng up to do considering the snippets of albums I’ve heard over the last twelve months. Of 2012’s offerings, Laura Marling’s A Creature I Don’t Know was one that caught my ear. It had a lilt toward that concept-album-feel, some tracks outright flowing into the next, like Floyd with banjos or something. There was this poem she’d written that came out shortly after the album was released that seemed to explore the record’s protagonist character; the Beast. It’d come up every now again, like it was teasing the other characters on the album. Trippy.

Phaux CiscoSivan (The April Maze)
VariousPhaux Cisco
It astounds me that some of the greatest songwriters of all time remain relatively unheard. James Cisco is one of them. This album was produced as a surprise gift for the songwriter and includes some great Melbourne musos doing versions of his wonderful songs. The album features versions from Jeb Cardwell, Dan Lethbridge, Jed Pickett & Kate Walker, Kate Crowley, The Shivering Timbers, Simon Hudson & Anita Quail, Adrian Whitehead and more. The songs are in chronological order of when they were written, from 1988 to 2012. Its a real genre journey and wanders through folk, rock, country, punk, soul and blues. We love it and listen to it on the road all the time.

The Great DespiserFanny Lumsden
Joe PugThe Great Despiser
To me his songs are like stories from those who don’t usually tell stories. This album feels like I’m moving forward on a monster of a drive where one has very minimal encounters with anything man made and at the same time feeling settled. Good one JPUG.

An Awesome WaveBity Booker
Alt-J (∆)An Awesome Wave
Driven by Joe Newman’s haunting melodies, vowel-curling words, heart breaking notes; each song on this album is an independent masterpiece: cohesive and scrupulous. Every track is rich in layered detail, synthesizing meticulous sounds of pianos, guitars and xylophones. “Taro” is a wonderful story and an adventure in itself. I can’t get enough of it’s obsessive melody, which reaches a haunting climax when Newman’s voice breaks in the refrain, missing the crucial note, but making it that much more important in its absence.

The Only PlaceEmma Davis
Best CoastThe Only Place
This album really just came at the perfect time. I had just returned from a long trip overseas and having had a few changes along the way I took some time out to live by the beach and write. There’s nothing really ground-breaking or creatively astounding about this record, it’s just a great record. Solid, well-constructed pop songs all the way through. It’s a more positive sounding album than the last, with cleaner production and perhaps less raw emotion but to me still has that distinct ‘Best Coast’ sound that I first fell in love with. The lyrics are beautifully simple to the point where I’m not sure sometimes how they get away with it, but they do. Overall, it simply made me feel good, and at a time when I needed it. I’ve listened to it so much that I wouldn’t be surprised if a few subconscious references to “waves” or “babes” make it into my next record.

The Money StoreMark Piccles (Tin Sparrow)
Death GripsThe Money Store
Possibly the most intense, in-your-face hip hop record I’ve ever heard, but it’s endless originality and almost tangible persona is undeniable. It’s not for everyone but if you can withstand the brutality of the initial listen, there is much to be discovered on second venture and beyond.

LonerismDean McLeod (Tin Sparrow)
Tame ImpalaLonerism
Some killer overseas albums this year but Lonerism is by far my favourite. It’s texturally amazing which is really important for me and I love Kevin’s song writing. It also expands the sound they crafted on Innerspeaker. Almost perfect psych pop. Plus after seeing them at Splendour this year I reckon they are one of the best live bands going. Conclusion: instant froth.

The Year of HibernationBen Cooper (Radical Face)
Youth LagoonThe Year of Hibernation
I’m never good at these lists. I’m almost always a year or two behind, as I tend to stop hunting new records while recording and then play catch up when I’m not. So this album was late 2011, but I was told that’s okay. Anyway, this is one of those records that feels like it was made in a bedroom and is all the better for it. It’s a record that makes me smile, and as the lyrics slowly became discernible I found I really liked them. I don’t often describe records as charming, but this one I do. And it’s good walking music. I like it a lot

Spring and FallJack Carty
Paul KellySpring And Fall
I got myself into a tis trying to choose between a bunch of amazing releases this year by First Aid Kit, The Falls, Leroy Lee, Tim Hart and Packwood (just to name a few) but when I stopped thinking too much about it and just went with my gut, I had to go with Paul Kelly’s Spring And Fall for my favourite album of 2012. I am not sure if it’s because I grew up listening to my Dad singing along to his records or just because of the beautiful, simple honesty with which he writes, but I find something about Paul Kelly’s records incredibly comforting, and Spring And Fall is among his best. Each song is a story in itself, and a paragraph in the bittersweet tale the album as a whole tells. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, just says it plain and true … Music for everyone.

Unfinished BusinessJessica Cassar and Darren Cross (Jep and Dep)
Wanda JacksonUnfinished Business
It was on our way back from our Jep and Dep tour of Germany, cheap flights with Air China, that we spent our last night in Frankfurt. With a giant stroke of luck, Wanda Jackson was performing a stones throw away from our crappy fluorescent pink hostel. After one song she blew us away. The devil’s girlfriend. Queen of Rockabilly. She is Rockabilly (no visible tattoos by the way). Her 2012 album, Unfinished Business, is mixed a saddlebag of rock, blues and country covers and originals that doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t. It’s a fun and sassy album that pays tribute to the era the 75-year-old pint-sized, tassle wearing old school banshee reigned in. Listen to it.

SomethingEdward Deer
ChairliftSomething
For me the realm of intelligent and visceral pop music was completely owned by the ladies in 2012 (see also the exceptional recent records from Bat for Lashes, Cat Power, First Aid Kit and Sharon Van Etten, to name just a few). But the album I listened to more than any other this year was probably Chairlift’s Something. It’s full of thrilling juxtapositions – spontaneous and energetic performances meet painstaking songcraft, super hooky 80s-inspired pop melodies sit alongside bizarre sounds you’ve never heard before in your life. Caroline’s angelic, crystal clear voice is used to deliver wounded and often darkly comic lyrics, while Patrick’s bass lines are just plain killer. The band has just released some early demos from this album and those bare bones recordings reveal just how much work went into making the finished product so great.

Summer SongsJake Holmes (Merri Creek Pickers)
My Left BootSummer Songs
This is the coolest album I’ve heard in such a long time, absolute stoner heaven. “Sharks in the water” will make your hair stand on end. Roll up and just put it on.

The LumineersAchoo! Bless You
The LumineersThe Lumineers
I (Ross) heard the single “Ho Hey” in about July, and it was love at first listen. Catchy, awesome americana-folk-pop. There’s a massive scene they are championing, and they’re doing it real well.

MuseumPatrick James
Ball Park MusicMuseum
I often love albums where you can discover something new in the music every time. For me, this is one of them. I happened to catch a Ball Park Music concert at the Metro Theatre in the latter part of the year and was blown away. Since then, I keep going back to this band and especially this record, even to the point of covering one of their songs at my own live show. The songwriting is so left of field and it never fails to surprise me. Every time I listen to this album, I feel it moves me in a different way and keeps me intrigued about their music.

HypnotisedThe Twoks
Pony FaceHypnotised
Mature, fuzzy, warm and dark. The sound of three lads who know exactly how their music should sound, but (having mastered the art of subtlety) don’t shove it down your throat. Hypnotised has beautiful layers and textures. Not only does the album creep up and grow on you, but each song does. Highlights are the amazing “Alabama” (featuring the coolest laconic percussive vocal) and the spirited “Holly Said”.

Who's Feeling Young NowJane Hendry (The Tiger and Me)
Punch BrothersWho’s Feeling Young Now?
I’ve been a big fan of these guys for a few years now and this album shows just how talented they all are. I love the way they are bringing together traditional bluegrass instrumentation and techniques with songwriting that is much more indie-pop. This particular album does this probably more than their previous releases, but their complex and intricate arrangements are still there in spades, coupled with some heartbreakingly good melodies. There’s quite a bit of swagger too! Top track (changes regularly for me) – “Hundred Dollars”, where Gabe Witcher (fiddle) takes the lead vocals and swaggers all over the place.

The RubensSally Balfour
The RubensThe Rubens
Soulful, rockin’ blues; can’t get enough of The Ruben’s debut album. This album stirs something new within me each time I listen to it, especially their single “My Gun”. That track always cuts straight through to my heart. It is no wonder The Rubens are this year’s triple j Unearthed Artists of the Year.

Seven DaysAndrew Drummond
Emmy BryceSeven Days
The songs are fun and catchy and full of 90s pop influenced goodness! The EP also showed what an artist (and team) with drive and vision can achieve in a short period of time, with numerous TV show appearances (both live and soundtrack) and a national tour. Seven Days by Emmy Bryce inspired me to keep dreaming.

Ashes & FireStu Larsen
Ryan AdamsAshes & Fire
I know it was released pretty late in 2011, but all year long I just always went back to it. A classic easy listening album. I love the simplicity, I love the instrumentation and I love the way Ryan Adams’ imagery takes me some place else. My favourite track off this album at the moment is the opener, “Dirty Rain”.

Warm in the DarknessLeah Flanagan
Liz StringerWarm in the Darkness
Liz is one of my favourite Australian songwriters. The quality of musicianship and songwriting on Warm in the Darkness is incredible and it’s nice to hear her rocking out with full band and horn section. There are moments when listening to this record that I suddenly get goosebumps. They remind me of how truly beautiful her voice is. Buy it. Favourite songs are “High Open Hills” and “Warm in the Darkness”.

Slay Me In My SleepPiers Twomey
Grand SalvoSlay Me In My Sleep
The paradox about Paddy Mann – aka Melbourne’s Grand Salvo – is how he’s both adored and celebrated while also being overlooked and unsung. His critically acclaimed albums come across (to me) like profound, melodically gorgeous, yet slightly awkward museum folk songs: pure and emotionally charged vignettes from another era. Enough has been written about 2012’s Slay Me In My Sleep being one of his very best. I’ll just add that the record’s “The Boy’s Story Of His Faithful Family Dog” reduces me to tears. If you’ve ever loved and lost a family dog – and if you let it – the song may evoke the same consequence in you.

Over The SunCountry Town Collective
Tinpan OrangeOver the Sun
We love Tinpan Orange’s new album. It’s quirky, unexpected and eerily beautiful. A bit like Portishead but more organic sounding, it could be the soundtrack to an old movie, a bit James Bond theme even? It’s definitely got some magic to it.

Swing Low MagellanSteven Barnard (Arbori)
Dirty ProjectorsSwing Lo Magellan
I was surprised and satisfied by the peculiar and purposed brilliance of this record. It satisfies so many corners of my affection as it effortlessly showcased a band that are so deliberate and intentional. From the intricate electronic sounds scapes, to the biting crunch of guitar riffs, to the sweet and often bitter harmonics, dull acoustic tones, manic riffs, intimacy, mania … Lyrically prophetic both socially and emotionally and musically nostalgic yet completely original. I listened to it over and over as it continued to claimed my satisfaction.

Odd SoulPaul Brown (Arbori)
MutemathOdd Soul
This album came as a bit of a surprise to me. Mutemath have been a favourite band of mine for a while and they always do something different with each album, yet manage to create a sound uniquely theirs. Odd Soul is a masterpiece of musicianship which in my mind brings together the Mutemath feel to a very 60s soul and psychedelic sound. It is a fresh sound (albeit retro) in a market saturated in same sounding music! Fav tracks: “Cavalries” and “One More”.

RedJames Hutchinson (Arbori)
Taylor SwiftRed
We’re forgetting the biggest album of the year, the one that defines this generation and will go down in the annals of history as a watermark in the second decade of this century – Taylor Swift’s Red. It is my emotional comfort when I’m home crying myself to sleep over a lost boyfriend at night and the musical incentive to get me through the day.

Born and RaisedSibylla Stephen (The Little Stevies)
John MayerBorn and Raised
First let me say, I haven’t heard many new albums this year as I gave birth to my son in June. And like many first time mums I’ve just been tumbling my way through his first year trying to keep my head above water. It sure has been fun though, and one new album that we have sung, danced and gone to sleep to is the new John Mayer, Born and Raised. I know it’s cheesy, and it’s not all that “cool” to admit it, but I’m a big fan of his. I’ve always loved his lyrics, he had me at “I’ll never let your head hit the bed without my hand behind it” … Swoon … And on this new album he’s done it again. It’s full of songs I can’t stop humming and lyrics I wish I’d come up with. And he seems to have taken a little turn towards a more alt-country sound in some songs which I love. But all-in-all its just a great pop record, my favourite. Don’t judge me!!!

Young NorthZoe Elliot
The Paper KitesYoung North
The Young North EP has managed to stay true to the Paper Kites sound while still feeling fresh. My two favourite songs are “Leopold Street” due to the romantic nostalgia I hold onto of my grandparents, and “Paint” as its beautiful simplicity brought me to tears when I first turned it on sitting alone in my car – it takes a strong lyric to break me.

Goat Rodeo SessionsBayden Hine (Packwood)
Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris ThileGoat Rodeo Sessions
Of all the albums that I heard over the course of 2012, the one that really stood out for me was Goat Rodeo Sessions – a collaborative album put together by Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and one of my musical heroes Chris Thile. I first heard the album by way of a buddy, who told me I “had to listen to this”. Naturally I didn’t, until several months later whilst sitting in a car listening to The Punch Brothers’ latest album – at which point I remembered. The album’s title refers to a chaotic ruckus of sorts, a big ol’ mess that somehow just … works out in the end – exactly what this album is. I absolutely adore blended genres – especially blends of classical/folk/bluegrass – and so this album has been on high-rotation ever since! The stand out track for me is “Attaboy”, but if you can’t stand instrumentals and harmonies are your thing – “Here and Heaven” is sure to please.

TempestNigel Wearne
Bob DylanTempest
Yes, I’m another songwriter who’s a Bob Dylan fan but I had to choose this album because he’s still got it in spades. It’s more of a poetry reading these days but his phrasing is as good as it’s ever been. It’s pretty hard to beat a nasty 8 minute murder ballad and a beautiful 15 minute epic about the Titanic sinking. The man still has something to say!

The Rip TideJesse Lubitz (TinPan Orange)
BeirutThe Rip Tide
I started my year off with a live Beirut show in early 2012 and it’s stayed with me as one of the best shows I’ve seen all year. The songs on The Rip Tide seem effortless and the album flows as an album should flow. I love the quirky instrumentation and clever arrangements – it’s an album from a band who don’t sound like they are trying to sound like anything other than themselves.

Mullum Music Festival Announces Artists for 2012

Joe Pug
Image Courtesy of Joe Pug

Mullumbimby is a strange anomaly on the Australian music scene. Tucked away in the NSW North Coast with a population just above 3,000 (according to Wikipedia) Mullumbimby sees some of the most exciting artists in the country pass through on a regular basis.

And then of course there’s the Mullum Music Festival which attracts not only the best this country has to offer but also some of the world’s most talked about artists. Held from the 22nd to the 25th November, the Mullum Music Festival has just announced it’s 2012 program and for Timber and Steel fans it’s looking to be a treat. Among the artists this year are Husky, TinPan Orange, Mama Kin, Gossling, Joe Pug (above), Mia Dyson, Liz Stringer, Stiff Gins, Hat Fitz and Cara, Sara Tindley, The Rescue Ships, Rosey, Jack Carty and many more.

Tickets for the festival go on sale today and are available via the official festival web site, where you can also find a bunch of information about the event. The full list of artists is below:

The Abyssinians (Jamaica), Husky, Boubacar Traoré (Mali), Darren Percival, Tinpan Orange, Mama Kin, Nano Stern (Chile), Gossling, Joe Pug (US), Mia Dyson, Clairy Browne & the Bangin’ Rackettes, Will & The People (UK), Bustamento, King Tide, Electric Empire, Tim Freedman, Joe Robinson, Liz Stringer, Aya Larkin, Stiff Gins, Hat Fitz and Cara, Suzannah Espie, Vince Jones, Winter People, Entropic, Sara Tindley, The Rescue Ships, Band of Frequencies, Darky Roots, Kingfisha, The Lucky Wonders, Juzzie Smith, Victoriana Gaye, Jojo Smith, Loren Kate, Round Mountain Girls, Gyan, ShakShuka, Rosey (Ireland), Scarlett Affection, David Ades, Kapcha, One Dragon Two Dragon, Lifeline, Potato Potato, Brad Butcher, Jimmy Dowling, Eleea Navarro, Starboard Cannons, President Roots, Mr Cassidy, The Windy Hills, Jack Carty, The Buckley’s Family Band, Uke Mullum, The Biggest Little Town Choir, Raise the Roof Community Gospel Choir, The Pitts Family Circus, Stukulele & Miss Amber, A case for Cultivation, Mae Wilde’s Secret Gigs, The Amazing Drumming Monkeys, The Lollipop Ladies, Flycycle, Street Parade, Youth Mentorship program, workshops, The Magic Bus and much more!

John Butler Trio to Headline Peats Ridge Festival

John Butler Trio
Image Courtesy of Peats Ridge

For the past couple of years Timber and Steel has chosen The Peats Ridge Festival, held in the Glenworth Valley just north of Sydney, to see in the New Year. It’s definitely not the biggest New Year festival going and it’s certainly not the folkiest but it is one of the most chilled out ways to spend what can be a hectic time of year and there’s always a selection of Sydney’s finest indie-folk acts to keep even the staunchest Timber and Steel reader happy.

This afternoon the lineup for the 2012 Peats Ridge Festival was announced and this year the headliner is probably the biggest name in Australian roots music – the John Butler Trio. Add to that artists like Mat. McHugh, Gossling, Hat Fitz and Cara, Tigertown and Microwave Jenny and the festival has the acoustic fan covered.

The full lineup for Peats Ridge 2012 is below. Tickets go on sale on the 20th August via the official web site.

John Butler Trio
Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings
The Black Seeds
Friendly Fires DJ Set
Krafty Kuts vs A.Skillz
The Herd
Kaki King
Blood Red Shoes
King Tide
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Electric Wire Hustle
Mat. McHugh & The Seperatista Sound System
65daysofstatic
Deep Sea Arcade
Gold Fields
Gossling
Will & The People
Chapelier Fou
The Medics
Northeast Party House
Hat Fitz and Cara
Tuka
The Cairos
The Preatures
Battleships
Lime Cordiale
Daily Meds
Jones Jnr
Tigertown
Microwave Jenny
Brow Horn Orchestra
DJ Morgs

Some Folk and Acoustic For Splendour in the Grass

Michael Kiwanuka
Image Courtesy of Michael Kiwanuka

We probably don’t need to tell you that the Splendour in the Grass lineup was announced this morning – it’s plastered everywhere. But what we will point out is that after a few years of folk and acoustic friendly artists being near the top of the bill, this year we’re going to have to dig a little deeper.

In amongst the indie offerings Timber and Steel has spotted some familiar faces from both here (Angus Stone, Lanie Lane, Jinja Safari, The Beautiful Girls, Husky, Gossling, Missy Higgins) and overseas (in particular Michael Kiwanuka, Father John Misty and Ben Howard).

The full lineup is below. Check out the official Splendour web site for more details.

JACK WHITE • BLOC PARTY (ONLY AUSTRALIAN SHOW) • SMASHING PUMPKINS • AT THE DRIVE-IN (ONLY AUSTRALIA SHOW) • THE SHINS • HILLTOP HOODS • THE KOOKS (ONLY AUSTRALIAN SHOW) • GOSSIP • MIIKE SNOW • DIRTY THREE (ONLY AUSTRALIAN SHOW) • LANA DEL REY • 360 • AZEALIA BANKS • TAME IMPALA • EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY (ONLY AUSTRALIAN SHOW) • BAND OF SKULLS • LADYHAWKE • THE AFGHAN WHIGS • MISSY HIGGINS • WOLFMOTHER • METRIC • KIMBRA • MUDHONEY • 50 YEARS OF DYLAN • SPIDERBAIT • DJANGO DJANGO • GYPSY & THE CAT • SAN CISCO • LAST DINOSAURS • ELECTRIC GUEST • MUSCLES • ANGUS STONE • DZ DEATHRAYS • HOWLER • LANIE LANE • FUN. • BIG SCARY • MICHAEL KIWANUKA • SEEKAE • FRIENDS • YACHT CLUB DJ’S • BERTIE BLACKMAN • JINJA SAFARI • BLUE KING BROWN • YOUTH LAGOON • POND • THE BEAUTIFUL GIRLS • YUKSEK • TIJUANA CARTEL • BALL PARK MUSIC • THE RUBENS • BEN HOWARD • BLEEDING KNEES CLUB • ZULU WINTER • THE MEDICS • SHIHAD • HYPNOTIC BRASS ENSEMBLE • HUSKY • KATE MILLER-HEIDKE • FATHER JOHN MISTY • EMMA LOUISE • CHET FAKER • HERE WE GO MAGIC • PARACHUTE YOUTH • MOSMAN ALDER • THE CAST OF CHEERS • WOLF & CUB • GOSSLING • PLUS TRIPLE J UNEARTHED WINNER AND LOCAL ACTS TO BE ANNOUNCED

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