Bird’s Robe’s favourite releases (and things) of 2011

Last year Alex and I put our heads together and came up with our favourite releases of the year. The task was made easier by the fact that the BRR label had only a couple of releases out and the general musical landscape was barren enough to allow some gems to shine out pretty clearly to us.

This year however, there’s been 20 releases on the BRR label alone! Not to mention the wealth of talent exploding around the world with so many amazing records, particularly amongst progressive/experimental bands.

So it’s a bit like picking your favourite child now. I tried to get around it by excluding re-releases from this list (Squat Club and Toehider appeared on last year’s list already anyway) but that still left me with a zillion minus 3 albums to choose from.

Overall it’s been an incredible year (as espoused in the last couple of posts here). I’d love to sit down and tell you the story of each release we put out this year (and those of our friends), as they’re all very special to me.

But as much as I know we all enjoy a bit of narrative, let’s get straight to the lists.

Here are my favourite releases, songs and shows, in no particular order.

Favourite albums

So much choice!

sleepmakeswaves…and so we destroyed everything

It’s a grower. After five listens, this album solidified as one of my favourites of the year. The production worthy of epic post-rock is all there – crystal clear instrumentation, a dynamic mix bringing every layer and element to the fore. But what really makes this album is the songcraft. Each track has a multitude of hooks to discover on every listen, which eventually burn themselves into your memory. There is diversity, from the soaring uplift of (hello) cloud mountain, to the darker In Limbs and Joints. But across the album, there’s one emotion that is consistent. The music is really hopeful. It may be a cliche by now to say that post-rock records get people through hard times, but albums like this make you realise it’s true. My favourite quote about this record comes from Daniel Roe of rockfreaks.net in Denmark “more than any other instrumental band, sleepmakeswaves make me feel.”  Me too, Daniel.

PirateLeft Of Mind

When I saw first saw Pirate in 2008, I got really excited. This was the kind of band we’d been looking for, something totally “prog” to bring to the Bird’s Robe shows we were running. I really loved their home recorded demo CD and when they finally released an EP, I loved that too. So when the guys told me the next album would have vocals on it, I was understandably afraid of change. The first taste I got was hearing ‘Animals Cannibals’ live and it reassured me they would still bring the rock. But what I wasn’t prepared for, was a track like ‘In The Balance’. When I heard that I got REALLY excited. The vocals, the playing, the arrangement, the production – everything just clicked. Although the album is definitely freaking nuts and a total prog-out, in my opinion, the band have started to mature. They come up with hooks galore right through the record and everyone gets to put their chops on display along the way. The whole thing is cemented by Tim’s brilliant drumming and sounds great. Love it and super keen to hear where they go next.

Toehider – “To Hide Her

Ever since I first heard Toehider online (through the OzProg.com site) I knew Mike Mills was a great guy. I love music where you can hear people’s character shine through what they play. Toehider has Mike Mills written all over it – he’s equal parts zany, introspective and genius, but overall just a good, talented dude. The 12 EPs took me a while to get through, but it didn’t take me long to put the offer to Mike to release his next work through BRR. The concept for the follow-up album changed a few times during the process and when he told me he was going to write in all basically in a week, I was a bit surprised, but didn’t for a minute doubt he would come up with the goods. The lead single ‘The Most Popular Girl In School’ is pop gold and it shows that Mike continues to put in a mammoth effort with his music. Although I’ve heard people complain it’s not as good as the EPs (and they have every right to I suppose), I don’t really think it’s fair to compare 10 songs to 100+. The album is every bit as good as any of the individual EPs and hangs together well as a full length. Can’t wait for the next one.

The Bird’s Robe Collaboration BandStill Scores

This one took a long time to get out! Partly my fault, as I needed to get it mastered. I sometimes have to pay for such things myself and hope that people are good enough to buy the album to pay it back. Luckily, this is darn good (so you should buy it!).

When I heard the first BRCB EP ‘Musodynamics’ – again, this is a theme – I got really excited. It was exactly what I wanted to come out of the collaboration project. Not that I wanted a particular sound, but I wanted something where everyone’s voice could be heard – and something gosh darn awesome. It was – and it totally set the standard for all future collaborative projects.

Everyone involved was suitably inspired and it wasn’t long before BRCB#2 and #3 were underway. Nick Soole’s superband is made up of Alex O’Toole (Captain Kickarse and the Awesomes, drums), Shan Abey (Pirate, guitar), Brendad Gloag (Day of the Meerkat, Face Command, guitars), Matt Williams (Captains, Adrift For Days, bass) and Lachlan Kerr (Godswounds, keys), plus of course Nick on vocals, guitars and production duties.

The project was inspired by a series of artworks produced by Jarrod Elvin (who does the Slimey Things art, look him up). As with the first project, the band didn’t show me anything until the tracks were ready for mixing. I knew Nick had it in his heart to top the first EP and whilst I thought doing a full album was pretty ambitious, the band certainly had the skill. Once again, it was a massive buzz to hear it – just five seconds into Hug Attack, I knew they had done something special. Everyone’s contribution is markedly clear, but again the music comes across as something different, like the freakish lovechild of their parent projects and Nick Soole’s imagination. It’s great fun to listen to and the chops are all there.

Captain Kickarse and the AwesomesNon Practising Pagans: B-sides Vol. 1

When Phil told me they were preparing a B-sides record, I was keen to hear it, but I honestly though it’d just be a bunch of leftover jams. In truth, these are well crafted songs, each with its own story and sound. The single ‘Don’t Wake Vincent’ is miles away from the frenetic rock of their last EP and announces the record as something different (hence the B-sides tag) – but really, it is still classic Captain Kickarse. In my opinion, it’s the band’s best release yet. The production is understated, but the playing is tasteful, the melodies and hooks are gentle and it makes you feel pretty good. It’s kind of like the perfect comedown after a Capt K gig.

AnubisA Tower of Silence

Anubis are a really unique band. I mean, obviously, they take their cues from Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes etc. But really, no one in Australia is doing anything quite like it. They have this brooding, yearning sound that really comes out in their production – but even more so when they play live, especially when the guys get stuck into the harmonies.

I came across the band back in 2008, as they’d been playing some shows with the (then) newly reformed Meniscus and I was pretty impressed. At the time they almost reminded me a bit of PFM (or maybe that’s just because I was listening to them at the time). Anyway, they just got better and better and it was a pretty comfortable transition to begin working with them. Their debut 230503 was pretty damn good and justifiably earned them a strong following internationally. So the expectation was high for the follow up.

The guys kept telling me they were going to top 230503. Which they did. ‘A Tower Of Silence’ comes together really, really well as an album. It has a bona-fide single in ‘Archway of Tears’ with its otherwordly guitar licks and snappy groove. It also has some of the best vocal harmonies the guys have ever pulled off. Not to mention the amazing artwork!  There’s not quite a ‘Disinfected and Abused’ moment on this record, but it’s matched by a plethora of other hooks, as the guys pile on the Anubis sound throughout the album and Dean and Doug’s guitars absolutely wail all the way through. Once again, it’s struck a chord internationally, bringing them even greater success and ensuring that I’m visiting the post office every week with a bunch of orders to ship out!

GrunGreenland

This really cooks live and on record it is gorgeous. The guys have come back to the live circuit with a fantastic band and have a top notch record that stands up alongside some of the best this year.  It really hit me just how good it was when I was driving to Canberra one lonely afternoon. Great driving music.

Favourite songs

There are heaps.

(hello) cloud mountain – sleepmakeswaves

Uplifting, soaring, full of hooks and complete with an epic guitar hero moment. Will’s best drumming on any SMW track and a triumph of Dax’s production. I fell in love with it on a winter’s day in my old bedroom, looking out the window at the sun shining across a bright blue sky. I never get tired of listening to it. The best thing I’ve heard in a long, long time.

In The Balance - Pirate

Tension and release. A wonderfully restrained experimental pop tune from Pirate. It builds and builds and builds and the release, when it comes, is awesome.  The groove is infectious and the production is superb. Again, one of the best.

The Most Popular Girl In SchoolToehider

Freddie Mercury would be proud. Mika might even be proud. Regardless, Mike Mills delves into the 80s to give us a classic boy/girl unrequited love adventure. Pop bliss with production and chops to envy. Vocally outstanding. This will stick in your head for months – it’s still in mine.

Into The Golden OceanPanzer Queen

Panzer Queen quietly released their second EP ‘When All Our Fathers Worshiped Stock and Stone’ in 2011 and were unfortunately unable to tour behind it due to some ill-timed injuries and lineup issues. However, the difficulties couldn’t hide the fact that this is probably their strongest track to date. It’s got a sweet undulating rhythm with shimmering guitar work and builds into a teetering crescendo that arches into the sky. In one word, glorious.

Archway of TearsAnubis

It’s got everything that makes Anubis great – vocal hooks, drums and bass locked into a hypnotic feel and guitar work galore. A fantastic introduction to this band if you haven’t heard them – and a fantastic track all-round if you have.

Hug Attack - The Bird’s Robe Collaboration Band

What do you get when you put six prog rock musicians in a room? Pop gold, apparently. Totally unexpected but at the same time, unsurprisingly amazing. It’s got hints of J-pop in there somewhere and should probably be the theme tune for an Anime cartoon or the next big kids TV show. Packed with upbeat shredding and ridiculous vocals, it’s incredibly good.

Fight Club – Meniscus

This is the kind of track Meniscus had been promising to write since ‘Pilot’ on their debut captured people’s ears. It’s got the classic slow cook that is Meniscus’ forte, but wraps it all in a series of perfectly timed guitar hooks. Ash Maklad has got Dan’s guitar sounds down to a tee and you can’t help but listen to this and think of the band’s powerful and memorable live show. Spine-tingling.

Strangers – Solkyri

Anyone who has seen them live will know this is monstrous. It’s painted in broad brushstrokes, but the subtle production from Dax Liniere brings out all the passion and exuberance the young trio pack into their live set. It’s early days, but I think this is the start of something special from Solkyri.

Ice Cream – Battles

I love the groove, the upbeat vibe and the undecipherable vocals. The video is pretty great too. Battles have loosened up and started making really fun music that belies the process behind the record. I love that this band is so popular around the world whilst still being such an inspiration to muso kids.

Fire Inside – Mish

It’s taken Mish 5 years to finish their debut album and it was well worth the wait. I don’t normally listen to a lot of heavy stuff but Mish blend emotions so well into their brutal riffery that it just works for me. The rhythm section is undeniably fantastic and there’s something about Rowls Hines’ guitar work and vocal delivery that makes you believe this band can do great things.

Deep Rivers Run Quiet – Tangled Thoughts of Leaving

So good. That rhythmic drop is so simple, but so effective, I could listen to it all day (and sometimes do). The energy of the band carries through so well and it’s my pick off their brilliant debut ‘Deaden the Fields’. The groove is a drummer’s dream.

Fallopian Tube Screamer – Injured Ninja

Perth group Injured Ninja quietly released a radicool album in April, to little fanfare. This track (and the accompanying video) is one of the best of the year, in my opinion. Groove and intensity, too good for you not to have a listen to it right now.

Nostalgic – Lander Configurations

It took 5 years to release, but …Of Smoke and Fire is finally out and full of moments like this that make you reflect on life. Nostalgic is one of my favourites from this beautiful release and it is evocative, dynamic and ethereal.

Favourite shows

January 16th – Annandale Hotel, Sydney NSW feat. BARONS OF TANG + CAPTAIN STU BAND + SLIMEY THINGS + CAPTAIN KICKARSE AND THE AWESOMES + ROCKETHEAD + VIOLENCE IN ACTION

First time seeing The Barons of Tang and man, they were good. Their frenetic folk-prog-metal-skirmish of a live show was insane. South Africa’s Captain Stu got things going with their ska-inflected numbers, whilst Slimeys, Captain K, Rockethead and ViA all delivered killer sets. Such a great start to the year =)

April 29th – Lansdowne Hotel, Sydney NSW feat. SOLKYRI + Meniscus + Grun + Lander Configurations

The Solkyri boys were beside themselves at not only launching their new EP and headlining for the first time, but being supported by post-rock legends Meniscus, Grun and Lander Configurations. However it was a sign of the respect and goodwill that the bands have for the young trio that these acts put their hands up to perform, with a packed room to show for it. The boys put in their best performance to date and sold a bunch of EPs. ‘No House’ is their low-fi introduction to the music world and has been greeted with solid support from Triple J’s Sound Lab, FBi and community radio. A good start for a promising young band.

June 11th – Featherfest @ TONE, Sydney NSW feat. RUINS-alone + UMLAUT + DARTH VEGAS + SLIMEY THINGS + SHANGHAI + GODSWOUNDS + SERIOUS BEAK + THE BZNZZ + THREE WISE MONKEYS + CAPTAIN KICKARSE AND THE AWESOMES

Without a doubt the most impressive Featherfest lineup to date. No need for further elaboration.

July 22nd – East Brunswick Club @ Melbourne, VIC feat. SLEEPMAKESWAVES + THIS IS YOUR CAPTAIN SPEAKING + THESE HANDS COULD SEPARATE THE SKY + LUNAIRE

When 300 punters showed up to see sleepmakeswaves launch their album in Melbourne, we were simply blown away. Not just by the size of the crowd, but the all-round great vibe. The audience hung off every note the band played and stuck around long enough to chat and wish the band the best for the coming tour. It was a great Melbourne welcome and just another example of the city’s amazing love and support for live music. Sadly, it was to be our first and last show at the East, with the announcement several months later that it would be closing.

August 13th – PROGFEST @ Annandale Hotel, Sydney NSW feat.

The lineup speaks for itself, but when I got chills watching Solkyri, Dumbsaint, Pirate and Meniscus all in the same gig, I knew it was one of the best.

October 14th – Annandale Hotel, Sydney NSW feat. MISH + Meniscus + Nobody Knew They Were Robots + Sicaria

Mish killed it. I don’t get shivers watching metal, but this band, driven by frontman Rowls Hines’ invigorating stage presence, was an exception. Gosh darn awesome set!!

December 22nd – BRR showcase @ Annandale Hotel, Sydney NSW feat. SLEEPMAKESWAVES + Meniscus + Pirate + Toehider (acoustic)

What a great way to finish the year! Absolutely buzzing crowd all night, from Mike Mills’ tackling (and owning) ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on acoustic guitar, to Pirate weathering a broken, smoking guitar amp and Tim Adderley proving to be the duracell endurance bunny version 10.0. Of course the icing on the cake was Meniscus and sleepmakeswaves closing the night, the latter with one of their tightest and most powerful performances yet. It was a tad emotional, with Kid and Alex celebrating 5 years of bromance on stage (marking the start of the band). A full room singing me happy birthday was pretty sweet too… <3

December 23rd – BRR @ Curtin Bandroom, Melbourne VIC feat. SLEEPAKESWAVES + Meniscus + Pirate + Toehider

Maybe we timed it a bit too close to THAT time of year, but despite not selling out, the vibe at this show was right up there with Sydney. A bunch of new faces came together with the hardcore fans and showed great appreciation for their efforts. Probably the highest percentage of headbanging I have seen at any sleepmakeswaves show! And Meniscus launching their album needed their own dedicated merch girl to deal with the demand.

December 31st @ Peats Ridge Festival, NSW feat. sleepmakeswaves

Their biggest show to date and the perfect end to a wonderful year for the band.

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