THE SISYPHEANS (ABC)
Like Sisyphus, drummer Jim White and multi-instrumentalist Georgios Xylouris are engaged on a journey without end. The rock they bear is the limitless investigation and expansion of a musical tradition rooted in Crete. With The Sisypheans, they unravel that ancient tradition still further, the multi-tracking of Xylouris’s lute, lyra and vocals creating a lushness where previously a more spartan aesthetic prevailed. The terrain they cover expands in consequence: sometimes freer and edgier (Goat Hair Bow), and sometimes wildly and primally rhythmical (Inland). Yet even as their options expand, their songs have never sounded more focused, intimate and emotionally searing. White’s drums are often mixed further back than usual without disturbing the sense of his being an improviser engaged in a dialogue of equals, rather than just an accompanist. The nearer he and Xylouris come to the peak of their mountain, the deeper their experiment takes them. These two potent musical personalities create a sound as new as it is old, and however far out on a limb they dare to go, they are in no danger of jettisoning their precious musical cargo. JOHN SHAND
HAVE WE MET (Dead Oceans/Inertia)
If there was an Olympic event for being casually cryptic or notoriously gnomic, Dan Bejar would medal every time. The Vancouverite loves tossing out poetic non-sequiturs in a slightly affected accent, like a cross between an indie beat poet and a fever-dream crooner. His songs as a member of the New Pornographers have provided a skewed counterpoint to Carl Newman’s sophisticated power pop, and his absence on their last two records has been felt. But even by his own standards, Bejar’s 13th album as Destroyer is oblique. The opening line of opening song Crimson Tide is: “I was like the laziest river, a vulture predisposed to eating off floors – no, wait, I take that back, I was more like an ocean stuck inside hospital corridors.” So far, so weird. Moody keyboards, clunking bass and the haunting recurrence of a descending piano melody sketch out a gauzy musical framework. Have We Met was mainly recorded alone with producer (and fellow New Pornographer) John Collins, with gull-like guitar curlicues out of the ’80s Boys of Summer school provided by Nic Bragg. Bejar plays it like he means it, even if meaning proves elusive. BARRY DIVOLA
STORM DAMAGE (Unmade Road/Caroline)
Ben Watt is best known as one half of Everything But the Girl (with wife Tracey Thorn), but he is prolific on his own, too, enjoying a 14-year stint as an underground house DJ and producer, and writing two award-winning books before returning to the folksier sound of his early solo releases. Storm Damage completes a gorgeous trilogy of mature male musings that began with 2014’s Hendra, followed by 2016’s Fever Dream. Unsurprisingly, the production is top-notch: an innovative blend of classical and contemporary, featuring piano, double bass, hybrid acoustic-electronic drums, analogue synths and various snippets from a public sound archive. It makes for a rich tapestry, especially on the album’s centrepiece, Irene, where the circular twang of a resophonic guitar is joined by gentle keyboards and warm, fuzzy pads. Current-era Watt, however, is probably most notable for his striking lyrics, which here address political implosion, the passage of time and the fraying and rebuilding of relationships. “Sometimes repeating yourself musically feels disrespectful to the sharpness of your feelings,” Watt has said. Thankfully, he’s very much in touch with his own. ANNABEL ROSS
Writer and author Barry Divola – who specialises in music, popular culture, food and travel – lives in Sydney, but his heart lives in New York.
Annabel Ross is a Reporter for The Age.
John Shand has written about music and theatre since 1981 in more than 30 publications, including for Fairfax Media since 1993. He is also a playwright, author, poet, librettist, drummer and winner of the 2017 Walkley Arts Journalism Award