Review: Savage Garden – Savage Garden Savage Garden

A lot has changed since Savage Garden released their eponymous debut album in 1997. Not that it’s surprising — everything from technology to politics has rapidly transformed in just 25 years, so why shouldn’t music also follow that trend? Pop music today is closer to Savage Garden than pop music of ten years ago, strangely enough. I love seeing The Weeknd, Paramore, and Dua Lipa inspired by the glitz of 80s synth-pop and improving on pop-punk with empowerment and new stories. In a way, I suppose the music that multi-instrumentalist Daniel Jones and vocalist Darren Hayes have released, both from their time as a duo and Hayes’ solo career, hasn’t truly left us.

As a kid growing up in Australia in the late 90s and early 2000s, Savage Garden were inescapable. They were making music when there was more funding for showcasing Australian music. You’d hear “Truly Madly Deeply” on the radio (which I heard on the radio days ago, coincidentally, so that you know how omnipresent the singles are in this country). They performed on weekend television, we played their albums in my house, people still argue about misheard lyrics to “I Want You,” and they sold a shit ton of records. They performed at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Closing Ceremony. Delta Goodrem reworked her classic “Lost Without You” with Hayes. They played to huge audiences in their home city of Brisbane, Australia, a rousing response, to be sure, following mammoth tours around the country. Hell, Hayes even sang by Luciano Pavarotti’s side in a 2000 concert for Cambodia and Tibet. Savage Garden were massive, and rightfully so. 

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Review: Methyl Ethel – Are You Haunted?

Methyl Ethel - Are You Haunted?

Methyl Ethel is one of the most exciting artists in Australia right now. Led by multi-instrumentalist and producer Jake Webb, the Perth-based artist gathers numerous artists for his live shows. Webb has built up an impressive reputation: he has gained accolades for his solo work; the third Methyl Ethel album, Triage, released in 2019, was a mostly solitary affair. The band has supported Pond on tour, released Record Store Day exclusives, and steadily climbed the ARIA Charts with each release.

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Review: A Place to Bury Strangers – See Through You

A Place to Bury Strangers - See Through You

See Through You is relentless. Depending on your preference for in-your-face noise rock and post-punk, the sixth album from A Place to Bury Strangers – their first in four years and the follow up to last year’s excellent Hologram EP – won’t necessarily tick all the boxes for all listeners. For me, the record lives in an atmosphere beyond our tiny, insular worlds. The New York-based trio now comprises long-time vocalist and guitarist Oliver Ackermann and Ceremony (also known as Ceremony East Coast) veterans Sarah Fedowitz on drums and John Fedowitz back again after a stint with the band in 2016 on bass. See Through You is also the first A Place to Bury Strangers album on Ackermann’s brand-new record label, Dedstrange.

Since founding the band in 2003, Ackermann has produced, mixed, and mastered all its albums; their latest is no exception. How do an independent label and 20 years in music affect a band’s sound? Well, in the case of A Place to Bury Strangers, that experience and freedom have resulted in the catchiest, well-rounded album the group has offered so far. The Washington Post dubbed A Place to Bury Strangers as “the most ear-shatteringly loud garage/shoegaze band you’ll ever hear” in 2012, and while that referred to their live show, their recorded output is bloody loud, too.

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Review: Ducks Ltd. – Modern Fiction

Ducks Ltd. - Modern Fiction

There aren’t many bands like Ducks Ltd. (formerly known as Ducks Unlimited) around anymore. That’s it, that’s the pitch. Just kidding, Ducks Ltd. are excellent because their music transcends genre, time, and space. After releasing an expanded reissue of their debut EP, Get Bleak, in May this year, the pair – Tom McGreevy (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards) and Evan Lewis (guitar, bass, drum programming) – prioritised lively music and warmth with self-aware critiques of living under capitalism. The duo later somehow managed to release their debut album, Modern Fiction. At the same time, McGreevy was in Toronto and Lewis in his native Australia, unable to travel anywhere due to COVID-19 and Australia’s harsh border closures.

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Lorde, Halsey, and the Infuriating Discussion Around Their Producers


The most insufferable discourse awards of the year go to: “Solar Power sucks because Jack Antonoff produced it,” and “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is only good because Halsey worked with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from Nine Inch Nails.” Not only are these statements over the top, but there’s also a level of sexism, albeit most of the time unconscious and these comments rob artists of their agency. I’ve seen various conversations like this, but never to this point where people everywhere undermine a songwriter’s prowess due to their relationship with a producer’s work. Let’s not forget, Lorde demonstrated storytelling beyond her years from her beginnings with The Love Club EP in 2013. Halsey, who uses she/they pronouns, hasn’t found the same critical acclaim thus far, but fans who have followed their career recognize their growth since they released the Room 93 EP in 2014.

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Review: Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend

Wolf Alice - Blue Weekend

Wolf Alice began as a folk band. Not that you would know it if you had only heard their Grammy-nominated grunge single, “Moaning Lisa Smile,” or their commanding trysts into riot grrrl punk music (“Yuk Foo,” “Play the Greatest Hits”). You cannot pigeonhole the London group, not when they leaped from sophisticated balladry to shoegaze to rip-roaring metal tracks on their 2017 Mercury Prize-winning album, Visions of a Life. That’s why I love them so much. There’s always been something for everybody to love: if you like Mazzy Star, you will love “After The Zero Hour.” If you want to hear the British heavy metal revival, I reckon you will be impressed by “Visions of a Life.” If you like Britpop, “The Last Man On Earth” recalls the boldness, effortless cool, and timeless songwriting that defines What’s The Story (Morning Glory)? as a modern classic. 

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Review: R.E.M. – Reveal

REM - Reveal

It’s no secret that I wholeheartedly love R.E.M. I talk about them regularly on Twitter; I call myself a R.E.M. enthusiast on Instagram. By the time they released Reveal, 20 years ago this weekend, the band was already significant to my five-year-old self. I could take one look at the opening scene of the “Losing My Religion” music video and know the song was starting. The water drips from an open window; Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry run across the dark room while Michael Stipe stays seated; Tarsem Singh’s “melodramatic and very dreamlike” direction still captivates me. I loved that song while not understanding why I connected with it at such a young age. Maybe I loved it because my parents did, too. 

My parents didn’t follow R.E.M. in the 80s. Sure, they would have heard “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” – which dad hates – and “The One I Love” (which dad loves), but besides those two tracks, R.E.M. wasn’t breaking through in Australia. They didn’t hear “Fall on Me” on the radio, which is a travesty if you ask me. Life’s Rich Pageant – my favorite R.E.M. album, depending on the day – spent seven weeks on the Australian chart. A year later, in 1987, Document enjoyed nine weeks on the chart. Out of Time sat pretty for a whopping 33 weeks on the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Chart. Automatic for the People spent 52 weeks on the ARIA chart. By 1992, the band was rightfully inescapable in my home country.

Despite the wild success R.E.M. celebrated in their “peak” periods – for some, the peak is their run on IRS Records; for others, it’s the four-album run of Document, Green, Out of Time, and Automatic for the People – the band’s later output is criminally overlooked. If you look at pure sales and chart positions, they are among the most successful groups of all time. They are the college rock band that could. If you’re a Radiohead, Nirvana, or Pavement follower, you know the influence R.E.M. has had on them. Some people proclaim any album up to Automatic to be their last great album. If you’re one of those individuals, I have a couple of questions for you: Have you heard New Adventures in Hi-Fi? How about Up? Most importantly, have you sat and listened to Reveal?

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Interview: Tanner Merritt

Tanner Merritt

A lot has changed since I caught up with O’Brother last year. For one, touring again is a possibility for the band – over 105 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, which brings the country closer to post-pandemic normal. For vocalist Tanner Merritt, he has written a ton of new solo material due to monumental personal loss. Last year, O’Brother was riding high: They had released their long-awaited fourth album, You and I, to unanimous praise and incredible sales for a newly independent band. 

The album relished space and classical guitars while intentionally leaving vague lyrics to listeners’ imaginations. As beautiful as You and I is, there was a dark undercurrent beneath the track “What We’ve Lost.” A kind of follow-up to Endless Light’s “Black Hole,” Merritt needed an outlet to write about his father, Cyrus’s decade-long fight with Alzheimer’s disease. Then COVID hit, and Merritt spent most of the year in total isolation alongside his mother, watching his father’s condition worsen until he passed away on November 4, 2020, two days after his 63rd birthday. 

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Review: Manchester Orchestra – The Million Masks of God

Manchester Orchestra - The Million Masks of God

If you had only heard the initial two singles from The Million Masks of God – “Bed Head” and “Keel Timing,” the sixth album from Manchester Orchestra, you could argue that the Atlanta group has learned how to groove. I’m not talking about groove-metal, Pantera style, although their take on “Walk” would be sick. They have always had that heavy edge, after all. Their songs have always been catchy; look at the youthful energy of “Wolves at Night,” the brilliant key change on “I’ve Got Friends,” the blues-inspired “April Fool,” or the undeniable “Choose You.” The list could go on and on. On their fifth album, A Black Mile to the Surface, the band combined their talent for unforgettable melody with ambitious, sprawling storytelling. In that sense alone, The Million Masks of God is the natural successor, a sister album to their 2017 instant classic.   

The Million Masks of God is co-produced by vocalist Andy Hull and lead guitarist Robert McDowell, alongside Black Mile producer Catherine Marks (The Killers, Alanis Morissette) and newcomer Ethan Gruska (Phoebe Bridgers, Fiona Apple). With these two powerhouses on board, Manchester Orchestra turns the concept album dial up to 11. While the theme was abstract at the beginning of writing, it became far more straightforward following the loss of McDowell’s father to cancer. “If Black Mile was this idea of ‘from birth to death,’ this album would really be more about ‘from birth to beyond, focusing on the highs and lows of life and exploring what could possibly come next,’” Hull explained. The question here is, how well do they tell the story? Does the music itself match the quality of the concept? To me, it’s complicated.

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Review: Ronen Givony – Not for You: Pearl Jam and the Present Tense

Ronen Givony - Not for You: Pearl Jam and the Present Tense

Not for You: Pearl Jam and the Present Tense isn’t your typical book about rock stars. For one, Ronen Givony opens his second book with this line: “First, a confession, and a caveat: I’ve only seen them fifty-seven times.” From the get-go, it’s clear that this narrator possesses the kind of voice that we can relate to. Chasing our favorite band across the world is the dream, is it not? Secondly, Not for You is an unsanctioned biography, if you can call it that. No members of Pearl Jam are involved in this book. Givony isn’t a journalist, nor a close accomplice of the band, he is simply a fan: “someone with no more credentials than you.”

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Manchester Orchestra Is the Best Band in the World

Manchester Orchestra

There’s that beep. There’s that panning over Asheville, North Carolina. The Manchester Orchestra logo. It’s all so familiar – we’ve seen the trailer for this film. We are subsequently cast to Echo Mountain Recording Studios, NC, where the band recorded their greatest album to date, A Black Mile to the Surface. We’re not here for an anniversary show, nor are we here upon release of the album. No, it’s been four years since Andy Hull (vocals, guitar, producer, all-around legend), Robert McDowell (guitar, keyboards, vocals, producer, engineer, all-around legend), Andy Prince (bass, another all-around legend) and Tim Very (drums, legend) released their fifth album into the world.

We are here – over 6.5 thousand people watching this live stream at 8 pm EST/12 pm AEST – watching an exceedingly special performance of Black Mile played in its entirety right from our living rooms. In a statement, Hull shared that the band was excited to share this concert, for free, to everybody: “This album and your reception to it has exceeded our expectations, and we felt this the best way to thank you all for supporting our music.” This presentation invited speculation: after all, Andy did say that this would be more than a concert. It’s also the beginning. Of what, exactly?  

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Review: Fell From the Tree – ENOUGH

Fell from the Tree - ENOUGH

If the Pet Shop Boys’ vocalist Neil Tennant was the first music critic turned stupendously successful musician, Hannah Jocelyn aka Fell from the Tree should be the next in line. She is the editor at Singles Jukebox and has written for Pitchfork and Billboard, among others (I cannot say for sure whether her experience as a journalist influences her songwriting, but I would like to think it does). As an artist, her influences track from electropop, to hip hop, to post-punk; all wrestling for the same urgency.

“I thought I needed more time to sort it out, I guess I prayed too hard for the world to stop,” Jocelyn sings above a demanding bassline and beats bubbling with tension beneath her vocal on “Tread Water.” She is somewhat anxious, finally all her; on her fourth album, ENOUGH, the last album she will release under the Fell from the Tree moniker. Amid a global pandemic, personal issues are suddenly meaningless, right? But they cannot be so easily erased.

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Mary Varvaris’s Best Albums of 2020

Best of 2020

2020, the year that was: I have stared at numerous blank documents, attempting to summarize how music shaped a truly terrible, often traumatic period in our lives. In 2019, we could have never imagined that by March 2020, life as we knew it would change irrevocably due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We said goodbye to movie theaters, concert halls, cafes and restaurants, wedding receptions; anniversaries, birthdays, and further celebrations. We said goodbye to travel and to see our loved ones on the regular. We had no choice but to adapt – we said hello to virtual meetings on Zoom, frequent takeaway meals, taking up baking and meditation, and live-streamed concerts, with a welcoming embrace. We binge-watched The Queen’s Gambit. For MasterChef Australia viewers, we were treated to the best season yet, thanks to a new round of judges and familiar favorites as the contestants. And, my god, some of the food was simply to-die-for.

It was the little things that kept me going in the year that was – finding comfort in being at home and bonding further with my family and my beautiful Labrador x Kelpie, Dane (I acknowledge my privilege here, I lost work for four months but as I live at home with my family, I never went without anything. Millions of Australians and millions more around the globe can’t say the same, and that’s a ringing indictment on lack of leadership), Netflix and other streaming services, reading magazines, doom-scrolling Twitter (yep, seriously), and of course, music.

It’s difficult to explain why the albums I have chosen as my favorite albums of the year have been ranked where they are, stayed with me for months or weeks, or overshadowed equally great releases. I found myself drawn to more guitar-based music than I have in years – rock music was a safety blanket in 2020, after all, it’s music that I have known and loved since childhood – and that’s OK. Here’s hoping that while I don’t hold much optimism for the year that’s just beginning, that a) 2021 is better than I expect, and b) that we all get to attend some concerts this year. Here are my personal favorite albums of 2020:

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Interview: Stephanie Ashworth of Something For Kate

Something for Kate

Something For Kate should be held with the highest regard for what makes the city of Melbourne so great, alongside our coffee, world-class research facilities, and richly diverse communities. The trio was formed in Melbourne in 1994, with singer and lead guitarist, Paul Dempsey; drummer Clint Hyndman, and Julian Carroll on bass guitar. After the release of the band’s 1997 debut album, Elsewhere for 8 Minutes, Carroll left the band after recently getting married and relocating to rural Australia. He was then replaced by Toby Ralph, who wasn’t the best fit for Something For Kate. In 1998, Stephanie Ashworth joined the band after the disbandment of the short-lived indie rock band, Sandpit. Upon early recording sessions with the lineup of Dempsey, Hyndman, and Ashworth, Dempsey remarked, “We’ve just been lucky because we’ve got this really natural chemistry between the three of us… We’ve finally got the right combination of people and we’re collaborating the way a band should.” 

To date, Something For Kate has released seven albums. The first album recorded with Ashworth on bass, Beautiful Sharks (1999) reached the top 10 of the ARIA Albums Chart; as did Echolalia (2001) and Leave Your Soul to Science (2012). The Official Fiction (2003) and Desert Lights (2006) sat pretty atop the ARIA Albums Chart. Their first album in eight years, The Modern Medieval; released last month, debuted at #4 on the Albums Chart. I chatted with Stephanie Ashworth on a surprisingly chilly day in Melbourne last week, and it’s a conversation I won’t soon forget. 

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Review: SUUNS – Fiction EP


There are no ifs or buts about it – SUUNS are a band caught in a unique juncture of past and present on their new EP, FICTION. On the eerie opener, “LOOK,” the Montreal-based band conjures an ominous atmosphere straight off the bat. Vocalist Ben Shemie recalls sermons, his vocals high in the mix; processed to the point where words are unintelligible but that doesn’t even matter. All you can focus on is the feeling “LOOK” demands. “FICTION” takes a leaf out of trip-hop legends Portishead’s books with beats contrasting against a mournful elegy: “Where are you from, you don’t seem to know,” Shemie sings. “Life is long as a day/And one by one, you see them fall/I can’t talk, can’t take anymore.”

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