I originally wrote this for Mess+Noise’s mid-year roundup but missed the deadline by a couple hours. Chuckin’ it here instead.
JAKE CLELAND’S 3 FAV MUSIC THINGS FROM 2014 SO FAR
The Smith Street Band @ the Reclink Community Cup
Footy’s heaps good but even better is preceding it with a gig by a band whose lyrics resonate to an unspeakably, sometimes uncomfortably intimate degree, tinnie in one hand, durrie in the other, mates by ya shoulder, screaming so hard between drags and sips all the words to songs you’ve heard a thousand times in bars and cars and trains and bedrooms.
You might reckon other bands for your faves but I contend that in 2014 there are none so rapturous as The Smith Street Band. Christ, they’re a band to live for in every aspect of their operation, a pillar of a worldwide community spanning genres, tears, and literal bloodshed like the making of all great legends. And if they should perish tomorrow, disappearing into some temporal rift rent in the universe, we’ll all be so much the worse. These fears of disaster I reckon with on a daily basis but the promise of inevitable destruction breeds an immediate need to love as hard as possible. Meeting this fleeting moment in which we co-exist with shows like this with all mustered intensity is thanks and reward in itself.
L-FRESH the LION - One
L-FRESH doesn’t get much play round these parts - that’s okay, we’ve all got our wheelhouses - but his album this year is the most surprising to come out of Australian music’s greatest pride/shame. Unabashedly steeped in L-FRESH’s Sikh roots, One espouses community and positive thinking as a way to surmount the seemingly insurmountable. Glistening piano lines and classic beats back the LION’s sermonizing, and although these songs are often lectures, L never comes off as didactic.
One is unobtrusively religious, more often oblique and ecumenical, translating godliness into humanism. When I was a #yung atheist one of my favourite lines was NOFX’s “The world could certainly use some miracles / Until then I’ll put my faith in human beings,” but where those aging punks fall prey to that false dichotomy, L’s faith is holistic. There’s a vocal sample on ‘Survive’: “What’s your point of view? / Where do you come from?” That inquisitiveness is the bedrock of One, the root of L’s positivity in the face of so much terror. Directed internally and externally in equal measure, One's concern for humanity encourages a refreshing level of empathy.
Jen Cloher - ‘Stone Age Brain ft. Tim Rogers’/’Sad Dark Eyes’
I’ve been a fan of Cloher for a minute now - since the Dyson Stringer Cloher EP last year - but it was November’s ‘Hold My Hand’ what really sold me. A devastatingly tragic song with the backstory to match, ‘Hold My Hand’ still rends my heart with its softly raging chords and Cloher’s intimately-sung, swelling verses about love in the twilight of life. These singles are a little lighter in tone but beneath the roiling rock’n’roll is a similar desperation. Rogers is the ideal partner for Cloher here — the wrinkly rocker’s whiskey-soaked rep and inimitable charm gives pathos to Cloher’s swaggering barfly misery. You can picture the duo sinking into amber pots in some dimly-lit den, each searching the other for a response to “I don’t know why I’m breaking down,” and finding only commiseration as consolation. Shit, that’s something at least.
Contrast that existential laff with ‘Sad Dark Eyes’, which wears its moodiness on its sleeve. A cover of 60s Australian band The Loved Ones spins right in Cloher’s wheelhouse as something of a trad-rocker herself, but her version is even more luscious. I’m interested in Cloher as a figure, in one sense, because she fits a classic Melbourne mold. Imagining Cloher as one of the secrets the hoary beards talk about seeing at The Tote 20 years ago doesn’t take much, and as someone narcissistically concerned with their own involvement in history, it’s appealing to imagine being one of those hoary beards 20 years from now talking about Cloher in reality. She’s such a rich, sincere songwriter so maybe her presence is reassuring — like We can still have thrilling classic rock bands without having to be regressive at the same time. Beyond all that guff, though, I reckon these couple of songs were about the best three bucks I’ve spent this year.