Note: this is not an 'of-all-time' list, I'm just talking of bands who are releasing stuff right now. Also, even though Ed Kuepper, Robert Forster etc are still releasing music, I thought it kind of went against the focus of BH to list them here, since they don't really need any assistance from me.
Is there a better band in existence than Turnpike? If I'm being objective then the answer is probably yes, but if I let myself give in to sentimentalism then the answer is a hearty 'NO!'. They're the sort of band who seem to inspire fanaticism in a percentage of people who chance across them, but equally seem to be fated to remain on the relative fringes of the more 'successful' aspects of the Brisbane music 'scene'. I think the band are perfectly ok with this, though.
I think that the thing about Turnpike that equally turns some people off and lures others in is the ugliness to their music. Adam's guitar verges on white noise a lot of the time, the music regularly goes through 90 degree turns to take you somewhere unexpected, and the band walks this weird line between being completely shambolic and incredibly tight - somehow they manage to be both at the same time. But when you get past that there's also a strange sort of beauty in there; you realise that there are actual melodies in the haze of distortion and screaming, that some of the time they're playing a fractured form of pop music, that the jarring transitions actually make perfect sense, and that the push and pull between the three players is what makes the band so thrilling - there's that constant sense that everything could fall apart, or that something completely amazing could be about to happen. Sometimes you get the former, but more often it's the latter.
The Rational Academy:
It's been a long time coming, but The Rat Acad are finally going to be releasing their debut album in a the next few weeks. I remember seeing my first (the first?) RA show back in the little room near the entrance of 610 back in 2004. I was super excited about the band, as it featured members of the recently disbanded Autumn Giants, Delpino and Iron On. It was a Brisbane indie-rock supergroup, and the descriptions I'd heard of the band sounded fantastic. For me, they lived up to those expectations. Through the years (and countless drummers, plus the recent addition of bass and occasional flourishes of live glitchy laptop... stuff) they've retained their core sound of distorted, down-tuned guitars married to loud drums and relatively meek vocals, creating a dreamy pop soundscape. They've also managed to move into some interesting new territory, especially on record (see: the cut-up folk of their debut EP '(drums)', as well as the synth-pop of '2004' from the upcoming full-length 'a heart against your own').
Last Thursday the Ambitious Lovers returned to performing live, and it was a heart-warming thing to witness. While the lineup has changed, the core vibe has remained the same: mostly beautiful but occasionally cathartically ragged ukelele underneath boy-girl vocals, with 'junkyard' percussion accompaniments (ie: drums made out of milk crates, wine glasses, kitchen utensils, etc). Where it can sometimes seem as though most local bands are just trying to rip off their favourite international acts, Ambitious Lovers seem to be able to effortlessly carve out their own unique sound and feel, even though they may be fairly comfortably lumped in with the whole 'freak folk' thing. Equally, they don't ever come across as being willfully difficult - there is always a beautifully written song at the core of even their most wayward moments. And when they do 'pretty'... well, they do it like noone else in town, with an authenticity that convinces.
They're by far the newest band on this list, having only existed for a matter of months, but after (self-) releasing two pretty amazing indie-rock/pop EPs and playing a handful of quality shows they've convinced me that they're a band to love. And really, with the pedigree behind the members of the band Nova Scotia was always going to be at least 'pretty good'. Luckily for us, they've pretty much surpassed all of their previous groups - they've somehow managed to take many of the best aspects of those bands and then add in new elements to take the whole thing further.
My review of Iron On's recent release 'The Verse' may not have exactly been glowing, but make no mistake: Iron On are a really good band (in fact I'm listening to the EP right now and liking it a lot more... though the things that I didn't like about it before still grate on me). They've been releasing quality music and playing quality shows for too long to be discounted, either by any perceived 'stagnation' in the band or purely because they've been around for so long that they start being written off due to their ubiquity in the 'scene' or, even worse, the fickle nature of the indie rock community. Iron On's sense of pop-songcraft is strong, and experience has polished it to the nth degree. The only question is whether or not they can continue to release music without things getting stale. We'll all find out later in the year, when they release their sophomore album. I'm hoping they release the sort of album that they've shown they have the potential to make.
Special mentions: Nightcrash (too recently disbanded), Scul Hazzards (too recently relocated), Rialto Decibel Choir (too new), Bloon (too 'reportedly finished' and too 'plays once in a blue moon', but still awesome), Shiver Like Timber, a whole host of others.