Our Mid-Year Album Awards for 2017,
part 2

Our Mid-Year Album Awards for 2017,
part 2

Featuring Some Really Hard to Define Records and a Couple of Lowkey Sleepers


As a part of the competition involving our Mid-Year Awards, just by reading this post you could stand to win $50. Find out how right here.


“Oooooh, Preeeetty” Award – For Best Pretty Music

Not Even Happiness by Julie Byrne

Sometimes, all that matters is that something sounds nice. It’s weird that needs to be said, but 2017 feels like a time where outright statements of enjoying a thing for its “niceness” could easily be perceived as ironic or just really foolish. Whatever the context for it, I’m glad to have Julie Byrne’s Not Even Happiness in my life, an unassuming album of stately folk and pastoral contemplation that is as pristine sounding as the mood underpinning it.

There are moments of beauty so universal on here that they evoke some of the most established reference points in all of pop culture. The woodwind jubilee of “Melting Grid”, for example, brings to mind the tranquil scenes of the Shire from The Lord of the Rings series. Elsewhere, “All the Land Glimmered Beneath” has such an American heartland feel to it that it hearkens back as far as Woody Guthrie’s dust bowl ballads. The unassailable highlight, though, is “Natural Blue”, a gorgeous wash of angelic tones and tender guitar, as wistful and chilling as a well-timed sigh after a prolonged silence.

Best Tracks:Natural Blue“, “Melting Grid“, “All the Land Glimmered Beneath

Not Even Happiness can be purchased on Bandcamp.


“Riddle Me This” Award – For Best Indescribable Music


Darling of the Afterglow by Lydia Ainsworth

It takes a particular chemical makeup to pull off what Lydia Ainsworth manages on Darling of the Afterglow. There’s a fluid, mutable quality to her music, full of quivering sounds that always seem in the process of coiling about themselves. And – though they appear to have an outward heft – they often shroud a wispy, incorporeal centre, where whispers briefly take form before shattering into dust. It’s elusive, indiscernible and endlessly intriguing.

Consider album opener “The Road”, which acts both as our entry point and the first moment of complete and utter disorientation in Darling of the Afterglow. A bell tolls and a drill bit synth vibrates the air around us, which is just as quickly flattened by the whipcrack percussion. Then there’s Ainsworth’s voice, a mix of refined singing and swarthy allure, beckoning us: “Let’s go on, and on, and on once more.” Later, on “Into the Blue” (one of the year’s best tracks), Ainsworth modulates her voice for a wordless vocal run on the hook, blurring the barrier between her impassioned delivery and the refractory studio effects in play. It’s just one further moment of confounding ecstasy on an album full of ’em.

Best Tracks: Into the Blue“, “The Road“, “What is It?”

Darling of the Afterglow can be purchased on Bandcamp.


Dirty Projectors by Dirty Projectors

Trust David Longstreth (the now sole mainstay behind Dirty Projectors) to approach one of the most tried and true concept albums and completely fucking obliterate it. For here – with his band’s self-titled take on the “break-up album” – are we presented with one of the most confounding explorations of love lost in recent memory. It’s not that it’s so surreal or indecipherable, just that there’s so much of it.

At first blush, there’s the digitally punctured rasp of “Keep Your Name” and “Death Spiral”, both of which hone in on Longstreth’s distress while managing a barrier of sorts, a sheen between him and us fused with pitchy yelps and tumbling backbeats. “Up in Hudson” takes care of the origin story, of both the relationship that is no longer and the subtle cues as to why it was probably never gonna work in the first place. And the inimitable “Cool Your Heart” (featuring D∆WN, both in buoyant and sultry mode) reckons with disenchantment while the sprightly beat grabs ahold of you and refuses to let go until you ride the melody with it. Not a bit of it makes sense from moment to moment, but it all feels right by the end, which is the best metaphor for falling in and out of love I can think of.

Best Tracks:Cool Your Heart“, “Death Spiral“, “Little Bubble

Dirty Projectors can be purchased on iTunes.


“Slack-a-Jack” Award – For Best Relaxation Music

This Old Dog by Mac DeMarco

Y’know those people that you’ve never once seen get upset? The ones who never get panicked, alarmed, overly excited, perturbed in any way or have ever even moved kinda quickly? Everyone of those people’s soul animal is Mac DeMarco, a man who cultivates such an air of unshatterable chill that it’s a shock to find out that he’s not a stoner. Then again, it does make his perpetual childlike zen more impressive, not to mention the fact that his music can so perfectly suit the chemically altered lifestyle.

At this point, this kind of laidback, effortless charisma should be starting to stagnate: grinning and insisting everything’s all good are perfectly likable traits, but they lack dynamic. Luckily, DeMarco’s not blind to this, as demonstrated by the variety of This Old Dog. Despite spending a lot of the album rehashing much of his typical sound (to great effect, mind you, such as on “Still Beating”), there are moments on this record of more depth and sadness than any on previous DeMarco albums. “Sister”, the short-lived ode to solidarity, is willing to concede that you can’t always feel the way you want to, and the quietly epic “Moonlight on the River” combusts and swirls like a whirlpool full of flint. Of course, this being Maccy, you get the feeling he’s not gonna let any of this get him down, lending a resilience to everything that transpires, no matter how dire.

Best Tracks:Moonlight on the River“, “This Old Dog“, “Still Beating

This Old Dog can be purchased on Bandcamp.


“So, Has the Acid Kicked In?” Award – For Best Trippy Music

Flying Microtonal Banana by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard once had forebears, but they abandoned them long ago. Any psychedelic band is going to draw on the mainstays in their initial stages, from Hendrix and Morrison to The Flaming Lips and (inevitably) Tame Impala. But the creature that is King Gizzard – once a form that was at least comparable to these other bands – has mutated, died, festered, been reborn, fallen into a pit of despair and come out the other end cackling like a loon. And now it wants to touch you.

This is obvious from the way they almost cinematically set their scene, with an ominous wind whipping through a darkened canyon in the first few seconds of “Rattlesnake”. Then there’s the marching band drums, the siren song riff and Stu Mackenzie’s squall that carries the song into a spiralling abyss. Elsewhere, “Sleep Drifter”‘s gentle groove and whispery vocals try to comfort you the way a grinning clown covered in blood might; it doesn’t work, but you’d almost appreciate the effort if it could hold still for a second. Most of all, Flying Microtonal Banana‘s suggestive riffs and eerie sonics are reminiscent of an unfamiliar dream, one in which there’s something wrong but you can’t quite put your finger on it. And, just as you realise it for the nightmare it is, it’s too late. It already has you.

Best Tracks:Rattlesnake“, “Sleep Drifter“, “Doom City

Flying Microtonal Banana can be purchased on Bandcamp.


“Tuesday Blues” Award – For Best Just Getting By Music

In a Mood by Slow Dancer

Aussie singer-songwriter Simon Okley – recording here as Slow Dancer – has a voice like a lot of stranger’s faces: familiar yet difficult to place, enticing but a little disaffected. It has a rough but sweetened texture to it, like sandpaper dipped in honey. Luckily, it’s the perfect match to his songs on In a Mood, which harness the same tact of practiced, sumptuous malaise that’s been batted around in popular music since Van Morrison first decided Cyprus Avenue needed more than one song written about it.

Though despondence can be a pretty brittle tone to carry a whole album, Okley is always sure to imbue his songwriting and instrumentation with a vibrancy that prevents things from going stale. The initially placid “Bitter” employs a plucky bass riff and quietly dizzying drum pattern first to lure us in, before the chorus whisks in and carries us away with it’s melodious guitars and intermittent, plinky keys. However, it’s on In a Mood‘s first single, “Don’t Believe”, that Okley’s sad-sack appeal is at its strongest, burrowing into the sweet spot between self-pity and quiet resistance that suggests a solo late night walk on the beach to clear your head. It’s the difference between an enforced solitude and taking a day for yourself, the latter of which Okley seems expert at.

Best Tracks:Don’t Believe“, “Bitter“, “I Was Often

In a Mood can be purchased on Bandcamp.


“Young & the Reckless” Award – For Best Poptimistic Music

Melodrama by Lorde

Lorde’s too young for this shit. I don’t mean that in a patronising way, just that she’s kinda making the rest of us look bad. Having only just turned 20 in November last year, the pop sensation who burst out onto the scene at 16 with “Royals” has been called the voice of a generation, an anthemic curator for millennials and a whole bunch of other silly shit that belies her razor-sharp pop instincts. It’s actually reductive of me to mention her age as – either or because of it – she’s made an album of such variety as to make it accessible to anyone with two ears and a functioning central nervous system.

Kicking off with the best Song of the Summer to ever be released in autumn, “Green Light” sets the stage for Melodrama, and does so through the progression of the piano at its centre. Beginning on a downer chord and staying in that zone for the verses and refrain, Lorde’s keys pick up momentum as she attempts to shed the concerns and hang-ups relating to a former lover. The fact that she can’t quite manage it (“I can’t let go”) is almost irrelevant when paired with the pulsing build of the pre-chorus, the piano embracing an abandon that Lorder herself cannot. Throw in the heady tonic of “Homemade Dynamite”, the plaintive ballad “Liability” and the holistically fractured “Hard Feelings/Loveless” and you’ve got a pretty killer lineup of what drives pop in 2017: the weirdos who outlived the cool kids.

Best Tracks:Green Light“, “Homemade Dynamite“, “Liability

Melodrama can be purchased on iTunes.

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part 2

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