Words: James Frostick
Band image: Lisa Businovski

A lot of things went down in March 2020. As the nation shut its borders and everyone prepared themselves for the oncoming pandemic, a cloud seemed to hover over everything. Despite the ominous feeling permeating those weeks, the music scene kept churning out great records – some of which are candidates for best of the year. In an effort to keep track of the year’s best recorded material, Weirdo Wasteland is releasing monthly round-ups of albums and EPs that we didn’t have enough time to cover at the time of release. In no particular order, here is the best of what arrived in March …

Big Yawn (VIC) – No! (Research Records)

I remember Big Yawn’s earliest recordings – they were incredible in a textured, dense and glitchy inhuman way. Admittedly I lost track of the group over the years, so when No! came out I was taken by complete surprise. The group has grown in size since I last wrote about them, and with this addition of personnel the group has also been able to add several new dimensions to its sound. If early Big Yawn was a rudimentary robotic creation, then Big Yawn now is that same machine upgraded with synthetic musculature and greater processing power, allowing for an enhanced range of motion and increased capability. From the lucid shimmer of ‘Skinrat’ and the experimental synth-jazz of ‘Thomas’ to the syrupy molasses of ‘Tasmanian Friend’ and the modulated garage house of ‘Negative Trigger’, No! is a cross-genre masterpiece that still sounds cohesive despite the various influences at play. Big ups to Big Yawn on this one.

Jackson Reid Briggs & The Heaters (VIC) – Hammered (Grubby Publications)

I remember Jackson Briggs from his days in melodramatic Brisbane post-rock group Nikko – a measured and unhurried project that revelled in lush and expansive soundscapes. For the uninitiated, Jackson Reid Briggs & The Heaters is resolutely more chaotic than Nikko by a large margin. A much more dangerous animal, to put it lightly. With Hammered, Jackson and his wrecking crew are intent on tearing down the walls that contain them, reducing everything within reach to rubble and settling the remnants alight. This is wide-eyed manic punk that feels equal parts spontaneous eruption and pre-planned back-alley beat-up. The band’s distinct elements – the chugging and needling riffs, galloping drums, keyed-up keys and Jackson’s own frazzled vocals – have been dumped into a box, which has then been kicked down a rocky incline. What emerges bloodied at the bottom of the tumble is a potent and prickly racket – one fuelled by the kind of desperation seen in Brisbane’s formative and contemporary no-hoper punk scene (The Saints, Martyr Privates, Ascot Stabber) and stylistically similar to unhinged Melbourne groups such as Batpiss, CLAMM, Darts and Future Suck. This is an aural assault, but once your ears adjust to the din you’ll find it hard to accept anything softer.

Mystery Guest (VIC) – Octagon City (Tenth Court)

Can shapes be classified as a love language? I’m not sure, but if so, perhaps the most fitting shape would be octagon – a many-sided reflection of our wants and needs. According to Melbourne’s Mystery Guest, Octagon City is where love and harmony reside. From the outset of the duo’s new album we’re lured in with the promise of solace – apparently everything we seek exists just a phone call away. Here the octagon presents a unification of disparate ideas, a multifaceted whole boasting strength through interconnectedness. Mystery Guest’s new album Octagon City is similarly multifaceted. Although you could generally categorise the entire record as a synth-pop album, that categorisation belies the substantial depth hidden below the surface. Over nine tracks the duo navigates the vagaries of life – heartache, nostalgia, escapism, the shedding of inhibitions, evolution of the self and the never-ending journey to be understood. Mystery Guest match these thoughts with suitably appropriate moods – at times languid and cloying, then forceful, tender, effervescent and danceable in turn. With this record the tandem of Pat Telfer and Caitlyn Lesiuk prove that while life is indeed a multi-faceted phenomenon, it may not be so geometrically clean cut. Could a harmonious utopia such as Octagon City ever be a reality? Are we buying into a fallacy? Is the octagon a pyramid scheme in disguise? One thing is for certain, we’re all complex beings at our core. Mystery Guest manage to convey not only the intricacies of being, but also how we should relish our many-sided nature instead of looking for a geometrically perfect hole to fit into.

Cold Meat (WA) – Hot and Flustered (Helta Skelta Records)

If you’ve ever been curious about what’s cracking out west, most in the know would point towards Cold Meat as one of Perth’s best punk units. After a string of singles the group has dropped a warhead on our noggins in the shape of Hot and Flustered, ten tracks of screw-tightening 70s-inspired punk underpinned by focused social critique. The crew absolutely tears shit up across the record’s duration, throwing themselves against the walls in a sweaty-browed flushed-cheeked frenzy. Vocalist Ashley Ramsey doesn’t mince words at any juncture, electing to reserve her breath for spray after spray of scorching elucidations about everything from her bad temper and the antiquated housewife archetype to her pure disdain for climate-change deniers, astrology lovers and ZZ Top. There’s scorn and sarcasm in equal measure, and Cold Meat’s cheek is one of its best qualities, that is in addition to the chunky bass throb, bulldozing guitars and percussive wallop. Despite their name, Cold Meat’s sonic furore could cook protein until it’s charred. It’s funny – that’s how I’m feeling after listening. Heavily scorched.

Prefect (VIC/SA) – The Ghost (Eternal Soundcheck)

It’s been seven or so years since Prefect released an album. In the interim they’ve cut their name in half and spent time working across an assortment of other projects. When the album arrived I was curious to see what time had done to the band, which many credit as one of the formative instigators of the Australian slacker-jangle sound that permeated the 2010s. The Ghost seemed to come an go like its namesake, dropping without much fanfare or celebration, which I reckon is a true crime. For most of their existence, the trio of Scott O’Hara, Liam Kenny and Pat Telfer had honed the art of crafting small slice-of-life glimpses into dead-end-town living and no-hoper malaise, so I was curious to see what stories and anecdotes they’d weave with a few more years under their belts. Sonically, the group’s signature blend of plodding indie-pop has matured, now boasting somewhat of a more rounded and robust feel. They’re not aiming for anything out-of-the-box or shaking up the formula a significant way, instead the group is content to settle into a neat unhurried groove – a contentment discovered in the span between drinks. The tracks are direct, not overwrought, and when the band finds a sweet spot they mine it for a sensible amount of time. The guitars sway from sharp and sure rips to herky-jerky buzz, enough depth and nuance to showcase a healthy amount of growth across the board. Lyrically, the crew retain much of their insight, looking outward and commenting on everything from heightened levels of digital surveillance, the inaccessibility of mental health services for communities in lower socioeconomic brackets, and bullshit self-help gurus, pick-up artists and slime-balls cultivating audiences of misguided men. When subject matter turns self-referential, it sounds like there is a newfound contentedness at play instead of downcast moping. While ‘The Ghost’ could either be about a literal spectral haunting or the lingering presence of relationships past and ‘Mid-Thirties Single Scene’ is a suitably bummed-out number about friendships, dating and loneliness when you exit your youth, tracks such as ‘Help!’, ‘Wildlife’ and ‘To See You’ sees Prefect largely appreciative of those they have in their life – like they’ve managed to carve out an existence that’s comfortable, stable, perhaps even happy. New name, new headspace, new lease on life. It’s good to hear.

Cable Ties (VIC)Far Enough (Poison City Records)

Among Australia’s feminist punk scene (and Australia’s punk scene at large), Cable Ties sit at the centre as one of its most vociferous participants. The Melbourne/Naarm-based three piece has forced ears to prick up and take notice thanks to some incredible musical chops and an unrelenting desire to be heard, and their new record Far Enough has, thus far, reverberated to every corner of the nation’s musical consciousness and even further abroad. The fearsome sonic combo of singer/guitarist Jenny McKechnie, drummer Shauna Boyle (who also plays in the previously reviewed Jackson Reid Briggs and the Heaters) and bassist Nick Brown has earned a fearsome rep thanks to their brand of incendiary post-punk dynamism that has been married to lyrics laced with both wickedly barbed critique and liberatory ideals – the kind delivered with such a fiery zeal that it eclipses the efforts of many of their peers. The subject matter on Far Enough oscillates between earnest introspection and gnashing defiance, a diversification of agenda that turns the band’s viewing lens inward and out. Across eight tracks the crew grapples with losing and maintaining hope in an illogical world (‘Hope’), they skewer cowards who would bring down those around them for not conforming to homogenous ideals (‘Sandcastles’), they comment on wealth disparity and the hypocrisy inherent in the self-made myth (‘Self-Made Man’), and they offer a rallying cry for the next generation of feminist punks (‘Tell Them Where To Go’). Across the album’s span the band shows clear signs of enhanced confidence in ability and a willingness to expand their vision beyond the confines of their set up. Musically the group brings their A-game, Jenny’s voice has never sounded better (a greater sense of versatility improves the potency of her words), while Nick and Shauna prove to be solid grounding forces when the group elects to kick up a sonic storm. While Cable Ties are still clearly capable of wielding the sharp end of punk as evidenced by the album’s snappier hitters, their forays into longer runtimes yield mixed results. Some of the songs lessen the album’s momentum and immediacy by being just a tad too long, but that’s a mild criticism (and purely subjective) – it still takes guts to weave in new elements when your foundation has long been bound by strict sonic guidelines. Crafting such vehemently assertive punk freighted with these important messages would be an exhausting task, especially when the nation at large revels in a “one step forward, two steps backward” approach to social progress. That being said, right now it seems as if the fire in the gut of each member of Cable Ties is more of an eternal flame – one that will continue to be stoked until until the fires reach from the idiotic band-bro milieu to consume the very peak of the patriarchal monolith that has kept so many in shadow until now.

Snowy Band (VIC) – Audio Commentary (Spunk Records/Osborne Again)

Liam ‘Snowy’ Halliwell has done more throughout his music career than many will achieve in their lifetimes. His fecund creative output extends far beyond his work with The Ocean Party – the lad boasts a discography containing a murderer’s row of top-tier Australian indie groups, not to mention an eclectic collection of solo work. With all that said, Audio Commentary might be the best thing he’s done so far. Some may disagree with that statement, but it’s also not their review. On this album it feels like Liam is at a crossroads of sorts – looking north, south, east and west, taking stock of his journey so far and everything that’s brought him to where he is. For an artist that has no problem weaving his thoughts into song, Audio Commentary seems like a collection of musings that Liam has held onto, the deeply personal ones he’s never had the right words to articulate until now. The record as a whole is coloured by nostalgia, as Snowy contemplates deep connections and the power shared experiences have on forging last friendships, making relationships work, how to handle grief, how time changes one’s perception of the past and present, and how life is so cruelly short so, for fuck’s sake, don’t waste it. Audio Commentary is an album that revels in subtlety and the power of quiet moments. There are upbeat segments, sure, but tracks like ‘Love You To Death’, ‘Grown Men’, ‘Been Trying To Explain It’ and ‘Don’t Waste It’ make evident the bedroom-demo origins most of these songs began life as. If you’re seeking The Ocean Party’s breezy indie-jangle clip, you might find yourself wanting. That being said, if you dismiss Audio Commentary outright for its lack of “bops”, then you’re an idiot and you’re missing out on one of the most magical listens to ever come from a TOP affiliate.

Girlatones (VIC) – Horn If You’re Honky (Lost and Lonesome)

Garage-pop isn’t an easy style to nail. It take a lot of work to sound perfectly carefree like Girlatones sound on their second LP Horn If You’re Honky. The record even kicks off with a sort of referential nod to keeping things simple. ‘One Chord Too Many’ strikes me as an ode to reining in creative impulse – relying on a concise palette of sound when all you want to do is indulge every elaborate whim. The group has followed through on this restrained mindset. Here we have ten steady head-nodders boasting pure and almost lighthearted musicianship – uncomplicated in style and subject matter. There’s a sense of positivity imbued throughout the record, with the band revelling in quiet moments and wholesome thoughts. Across the record the troupe waxes lyrical about the benefits of relying on friends during tough times, the simple pleasures of expressing through song, nurturing treasured memories, daydreaming of success and how we sometimes need to see ourselves through someone else’s eyes to cultivate a healthy sense of self worth. Even in the album’s more sombre and delicate moments Girlatones manage to soften the edges, lacing their songs with an element of earnestness that makes tracks about repairing fractured relationships feel therapeutic. It’s just a damn pleasurable listen – a real mood booster.  Horn If You’re Honky is a record that proves that simplicity is often the best approach.

Cayn Borthwick (VIC) – Big City Whispers (Lost and Lonesome)

I’ll admit I was largely unfamiliar with multi-instrumentalist Cayn Borthwick before first putting on his new record Big City Whispers (I’d only known him previously as a member of NO ZU), but I think having little to no preconceived ideas about what I was listening to helped heighten the album’s impact once I got around to digging in. What I encountered was a slick and imaginative foray into left-field composition and experimental soundscapes – fluttery synth-laden lounge jazz, shimmering romantic slink, paranoid jungle rhythms and warped skronk. Although the record boasts specific inspirations that feed into the record’s a conceptual thrust, the record could easily exist in its own realm, devoid of any tangible connection to reality. It’s a record that rewards intense listening but can also heighten the mood of a room if popped on in the background. Doing the latter from the outset would diminish the record’s inherent majesty – it’s worth resolutely plunging into, allowing the soundscapes to envelope and surround. If it affects you like it did me you’ll emerge enriched.

Ghoulies (WA) – Flat Earth (Self Release)

Another mystery entrant. All I know of Perth’s Ghoulies is that boasts members of Aborted Tortoise and Kitchen People. The band’s new cassette album is a frenetic garage-punk burnout – 11 tracks of peppy wigged-out weirdness that’s over in roughly 15 minutes. Although most songs are brief in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sense, you can still get a sense of the tongue-in-cheek humour that adds some conceptual heft to the whole thing. The hyperactive group touches on disparate topics such as the National Broadband Network, the mind-numbing realities of modern living and poseurs – enough fodder to chew on if you can keep up.

Plebs (VIC) – Work (Self Release)

This five-track EP from Melbourne punks Plebs threatened to pass me by as things sometimes do, but thankfully I latched on to it. This four-piece hammer together a frenzied and dizzying brand of frustration-fuelled spray that sits somewhere near Ausmuteants and Vintage Crop on the sound spectrum – speedy, immediate, tongue-in-cheek and socially aware. Work is a collection of aired grievances – some incredibly serious and some mundane, but the group maintains the same intensity regardless of whether they’re railing against toxic masculinity or having to put together mind-numbing Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. Each track is punchy and feverish in intensity, with Sam Jamsek’s slurred and hoarse vocals conveying a rabid irritation at life’s ever-growing pile of bullshit, backed by a band that matches the energy in a way that’s catchy and enlivening. I find myself nodding to the beat and also in agreement with the message, which typically means I’ve found a winner.