Live music returned to Australia with a vengeance this year, allowing artists to get shows back on the road and fans to hear the songs they’d fallen in love with over lockdown live and loud. But that doesn’t mean the recorded side of things slowed down at all – quite the opposite, as our list of the best albums of 2022 will prove.
It’s been a hell of a task putting this list together – no doubt some will be sufficiently roused from their holiday torpor to fire off a tweet or two about what we missed – but the range of sounds and moods on display here is already breathtaking, if we say so ourselves. We have deeply personal missives, passionate explorations of culture and heritage, bristling voyages up to and past the boundaries of genre, wry winks and tongue-in-cheek humour, fiery manifestos against the piss-poor status quo, and so much more.
Here’s NME’s list of the 25 best Australian albums and EPs of 2022.
Karen Gwee, Regional Editor (APAC)
Words by: Greta Brereton, Mikey Cahill, Tom Disalvo, Alex Gallagher, Jackson Langford, Joshua Martin, Jared Richards, Ellie Robinson, Caleb Triscari, Doug Wallen, Cyclone Wehner and David James Young
25. Elsy Wameyo, ‘Nilotic’
The South Australian singer, rapper and producer Elsy Wameyo generated early buzz with 2018’s single ‘Intuition’, but her debut EP ‘Nilotic’ confirms her as one to watch. ‘Nilotic’ might be the soundtrack to Wameyo’s own biopic, charting her migration from Nairobi, Kenya to Adelaide.
- READ MORE: Elsy Wameyo: Adelaide rapper finds strength in her heritage on celebratory debut EP ‘Nilotic’
Wameyo ponders colonial trauma and diasporic fracturing in the conclusive title track, and in the transcendent ‘Sulwe’ (‘star’ in Luo), recognises her beauty as an ethnic Nilote woman and disavows Eurocentric standards over churchy keys, groovy trumpet and reverberating bass. The EP’s cinematic closer, ‘Hunger’, is compellingly expansive and an indication of her musical ambition. CW
Key track: ‘Nilotic’
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24. Alex the Astronaut, ‘How to Grow a Sunflower Underwater’
In crafting her second album, Alexandra Lynn didn’t just step out of her comfort zone. Embracing a kaleidoscopic palette of new musical influences – from warm acoustic folk to theatrical eruptions of string- and horn-laced grandeur – she dove headfirst into the unknown.
- READ MORE: Alex the Astronaut: “I wouldn’t want to be neurotypical. I get to see the world a little bit differently”
Whether singing about the mundane (like shopping trips on ‘Octopus’) or the monumental (a loved one’s terminal illness on ‘Sick’), Lynn imbues this record with a unique beauty, heartfelt and vulnerable, that makes the listener cling to every line like it’s gospel. ‘How To Grow A Sunflower Underwater’ is the boldest and most compelling material we’ve heard from Alex The Astronaut… so far, anyway. ER
Key track: ‘Haunted’
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23. 1300, ‘Foreign Language’
A set of stand-alone singles in 2021 immediately established Korean-Australian five-piece 1300 as an exciting, bold new force in Australian hip-hop. They followed up in 2022 with debut mixtape ‘Foreign Language’, a relentless flex of raw, chaotic talent and creativity.
1300 risk overstuffing these 13 tracks: rappers rako, goyo, DALI HART break out near-endless bilingual flows, while producers pokari.sweat and Nerdie (the latter also singing in these songs) play with trance, trap-hop, house and K-pop tropes. It’s an unpredictable, high-octane listen, but the group pull it off with bravado and an undeniable charm. JR
Key Track: ‘WOAH DAMN’
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22. Pinch Points, ‘Process’
“I get anxious,” goes the opening line of Pinch Points’ characteristically direct second album. The rapid-fire Melbourne punk quartet follow through on the self-aware anthems of 2019’s ‘Moving Parts’ while growing even tighter and more uncompromising: ‘Stock It’ is about exploiting both natural resources and an underpaid migrant workforce for our flat whites and fresh produce, while other tracks call out capitalism, male-on-female violence, devastating environmental policies and vacuous forms of self-help.
Such spot-on interrogations of our daily indulgences have no right to be this catchy, yet Pinch Points reliably pull a shout-along chorus out of just about anything. DW
Key track: ‘Am I Okay?’
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21. Spacey Jane, ‘Here Comes Everybody’
There’s a childlike playfulness to Spacey Jane’s sophomore effort, ‘Here Comes Everybody’. But the jangly glory of ‘Lunchtime’ and ‘Haircut’ belies lyricism more intentional than Spacey Jane has ever written before. The Fremantle indie rockers reflect on Gen Z anxieties, from the climate crisis to post-pandemic hangovers (‘It’s Been A Long Day’) to 20-something romance (‘Lots of Nothing’).
- READ MORE: Spacey Jane – ‘Here Comes Everybody’ review: indie rockers push forward on their mission of empathy
Ranging from guitar-driven confessionals (‘Hardlight’) to summer pop notes of optimism on the album’s second half (‘Yet’, ‘Pulling Through’), ‘Here Comes Everybody’ treads thoughtful new ground without losing sight of the freewheeling joy that made Spacey Jane so beloved in the first place. TD
Key track: ‘Haircut’
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20. Ninajirachi, ‘Second Nature’
‘Second Nature’ is the musical equivalent of an amphetamine fever dream, its 40 minutes bursting at the seams with colour, chaos and charisma. On her first mixtape, Ninajirachi takes listeners on a rollercoaster ride through fully realised worlds of pseudo-ambient IDM, ultra-shimmery hyperpop and deftly meticulous, boundary-pushing aquacrunk.
Along the way we meet a cast of Nina Wilson’s (extremely talented) friends – among them Montaigne and longtime collaborator Kota Banks – before being thrown into an epic and intense climax with ‘Icebody’, an eruption of sonic gore and nearly overwhelming sweetness. ER
Key track: ‘Icebody’
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19. Montaigne, ‘making it!’
Calling Jess Cerro’s third album ‘making it!’ their hyperpop turn feels reductive, as Montaigne has long played on pop’s fringes. But it’s fair to say they’ve traded in baroque-pop theatricality to bring their (overlooked but longstanding) goofiness to the forefront with sugary yet metallic production.
Cerro’s knack for balancing the banal and the cerebral is reminiscent of Talking Heads, so David Byrne’s appearances on ‘always be you’ and ‘gravity’ land like perfect tips of the hat. The former is the album’s clear highlight, making the pop cliché of declaring eternal love feel new, rattling with infectious excitement to be alive and feel it all. JR
Key Track: ‘always be you’ (feat. David Byrne)
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18. Confidence Man, ‘TILT’
Cheesy electropop, 3AM dancefloor fillers, flirty French numbers, and plenty of tongue-in-cheek one-liners: Confidence Man’s ‘TILT’ has it all.
Here, the four-piece have well and truly thrown the rulebook out the window. They lean deeper into their playful personas – Janet Planet, Sugar Bones, Reggie Goodchild and Clarence McGuffie – to create an eclectic mix of tracks without compromising on the overall cohesion of the record.
Those familiar with the band know the stage is where they really come alive, but ‘TILT’ does a stellar job of bottling the infectious, outlandish energy you can expect from a Con Man show. GB
Key track: ‘Feels Like A Different Thing’
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17. Big Scary, ‘Me and You’
There are several moments throughout Big Scary’s fifth album when Tom Iansek’s vocals sound like they’re on the verge of crumbling. Throughout ‘Me and You’, the Melbourne duo opt for restraint over grandeur even when the subject matter calls for a greater sound. Stories about heartbreak and self-destruction are mostly met with shy piano, rattled percussion and the occasional ding of a glockenspiel. Less is truly more.
‘Me and You’ was a reset for Iansek and bandmate Jo Syme, having released the more energetic record ‘Daisy’ only last year. In stripping back the instrumentation, the pair have let their unique, playful dynamic shine through. CT
Key track: ‘Real Love’
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16. Romero, ‘Turn It On!’
After courting well-deserved early hype with a pair of singles in 2020 (and appearing on the NME 100 last year), the Melbourne power-pop quintet made a rollicking headrush of a first album that builds on all that promise and then some. ‘Turn It On!’ pairs the dramatic flamboyance and infectious hooks of ’70s glam rock with a scuzzy, propulsive grit held together by singer Alanna Oliver’s centre-stage vocals – big, brash and full of soul.
Fuzzed-out ballads like ‘Halfway Out the Door’ and ‘White Dress’ are lighters-in-the-air showstoppers, while frenetic livewires such as ‘Honey’, ‘Petals’ and the title track find common ground between the dancefloor and the moshpit – bottling the heat and revelry of summer nights before setting it off like a firecracker. AG
Key track: ‘Honey’
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15. Stella Donnelly, ‘Flood’
While Stella Donnelly’s debut record ‘Beware of the Dogs’ blatantly stuck up middle fingers to sexism and other injustices, ‘Flood’ is more introspective – the pivot to piano makes that clear. And though not always obvious, the Perth artist’s musings on abuse, death and classism break through upon patient listening.
And the sharp wit that Donnelly is loved for still prevails on ‘Flood’, as she overcomes the dreaded sophomore slump and flaunts another side of her songwriting prowess on this deeply rewarding second offering. CT
Key track: ‘Lungs’
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14. Body Type, ‘Everything Is Dangerous But Nothing’s Surprising’
Delayed two years by the pandemic, Body Type’s debut album is as propulsive as it is articulate. Powered by three alternating singers, the Sydney post-punk quartet shift gears with bracing spontaneity throughout.
- READ MORE: Body Type on their fiery debut album: “I was trying to occupy the space that is so stereotypically male”
This is a record full of thorny hooks and piercing interrogations of how women are continually short-changed and threatened without adequate recourse, but ‘The Charm’ is perhaps the most cutting track of all. As she interweaves melodies with fellow guitarist Annabel Blackman, Sophie McComish recounts some casual sexism that the all-female band faced early on, countering it with the extravagantly delivered – and totally accurate – boast “I’ve got charm.” DW
Key track: ‘The Charm’
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13. Methyl Ethel, ‘Are You Haunted?’
Methyl Ethel’s polymath leader Jake Webb must be on very good terms with his muse. After releasing ‘Triage’, the final album in what he called a trilogy of records, Webb headed for the upright piano.
Songs spilled out that allowed him to be both weirder (see ‘One and Beat’s gladiatorial, electronic teeth-gnashing breakdown), more pop-leaning (the insistent groove of ‘Proof’ featuring Stella Donnelly) and – why not? – the man behind an ’80s new-wave banger with Golden Retriever energy (‘Matters’). Webb has a knack for doing things on his terms while simultaneously making us feel like we’re in charge. MC
Key track: ‘Proof’ featuring Stella Donnelly
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12. Flume, ‘Palaces’
Since 2016’s ‘Skin’, Flume’s bounced between stand-alone radio-friendly glitch-pop collaborations – ‘Rushing Back’ with Vera Blue, or ‘The Difference’ with Toro Y Moi – and more experimental productions, as with 2019 mixtape ‘Hi This Is Flume’. Third album ‘Palaces’ expertly balances and expands both sounds.
For every festival-ready singalong like ‘Say Nothing’, ‘I Can’t Tell’ or ‘Hollow’, there’s the skittering, IDM-lite of ‘Get U’, the industrial, Arca-indebted ‘Only Fans’ or spacious, contemplative instrumental ‘Jasper’s Song’. Collaborations with Caroline Polachek (‘Sirens’) and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn (‘Palaces’) combine the two impulses, respectively creating the album’s most electric and surprisingly touching moments. JR
Key track: ‘Sirens’ (feat. Caroline Polachek)
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11. Laura Jean, ‘Amateurs’
For her sixth album, Laura Jean made a tribute to the dilettantes, the Crowded House-singing buskers and YouTube selfie singers that struggle for the title of artist in an era where Australian governmental indifference has made forced professionals to accept an amateur’s wage.
- READ MORE: Laura Jean: “I was asking myself: ‘Why do you run from the fruits of your success?’ It’s about going deeper and deeper”
‘Amateurs’ is also a reflexive look at her own career, returning to the orchestral folk Jean was known for until the synthy pivot of ‘Devotion’ in 2018. She contorts winding dialogue about class in music and generational differences into airy melody. ‘Amateurs’ might be the most insightful work any Australian has ever made about the realities of the industry. JM
Key track: ‘Folk Festival’
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10. Thelma Plum, ‘Meanjin’
Thelma Plum is a poignant storyteller. With the release of her debut album ‘Better In Blak’ in 2019, the Gamilaraay singer proved she has a knack for taking the ups and downs of her lived experiences and weaving them into captivating indie pop songs that make you want to laugh, cry and scream along to in the car.
Her latest work, ‘Meanjin’, is no different. An ode to the Queensland city she calls home, the EP is an exploration of Plum’s childhood and adolescent memories, a recollection of how a place and its people have shaped the person she is today.
- READ MORE: Thelma Plum on her new EP ‘Meanjin’: “I’ve put so much into these songs… I feel very exposed, very vulnerable”
She shares vulnerable moments on ‘Bars On My Windows’ and ‘Baby Blue Bicycle’, but the EP’s standout is ‘The Brown Snake’. The song acts as an homage to the Brisbane River, but also to Plum’s own identity as a First Nations woman and her journey of self-love and acceptance. GB
Key track: ‘The Brown Snake’
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9. Party Dozen, ‘The Real Work’
Nothing is more thrilling to witness than an artist refusing to lean into what’s comfortable and opting instead for constant evolution. Few exemplify this quite like Party Dozen. On each of their three albums, the Sydney noise duo have consistently shifted shape, redefining their approach and pushing the boundaries of what their foundational sax-and-drums setup can achieve.
On their latest, this year’s blisteringly brilliant ‘The Real Work’, Kirsty Tickle and Jonathan Boulet are at their most sonically adventurous but also most direct, subverting traditional rock structures by forcefully imbuing dizzying, glorious dissonance into their bones. They implement their widest range of sounds yet – angular guitars, throbbing bass, effects-laden synth – and even bring in an outside collaborator for the first time (Nick bloody Cave, no less, on the pummelling last minute of ‘Macca the Mutt’), while somehow capturing the wildly visceral energy of their two-piece live shows. AG
Key track: ‘Macca the Mutt’
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8. Hatchie, ‘Giving the World Away’
Hatchie frontwoman Harriette Pilbeam was sick of singing sweet nothings about love after perfecting them on her debut ‘Keepsake’. She wanted to play popstar and keep their shoegaze bonafides. ‘Giving The World Away’ manages to see-saw between the two, sometimes even in the same song (‘Lights On’); it lives in the alternate reality where Kylie Minogue spends the rest of her career working in the same vein as ‘Impossible Princess’.
Pilbeam shows us how she can ditch the guitar pedals altogether for a MIDI-monster anthem like ‘Quicksand’ (co-written by Olivia Rodrigo-collaborator Dan Nigro). Although it presents as the kind of balls-to-the-wall pop Sia could be proud of, its lyrics are mired in guilt about enjoying her career at all. Pilbeam is able to navigate weightier topics like self-hatred without losing her seraphic Elizabeth Fraser melodies. JM
Key track: ‘Lights On’
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7. Sampa the Great, ‘As Above, So Below’
Sampa the Great not only surprised fans with ‘As Above, So Below’, but also herself. On 2019’s acclaimed ‘The Return’, the Zambian rapper, singer and storyteller re-established her cultural identity. For this sanguine sequel – both a homecoming celebration and Afrofuturist manifesto – she delves deeper into her heritage and embarks on a pilgrimage into selfhood. Unfolding with the metaphysical jazz of ‘Shadows’, ‘As Above, So Below’ finds Sampa re-emerging feeling restored, liberated and even voluptuous.
Sampa launched her career in Australia, and though she is no longer based in the country, her work continues to resonate here – as this list shows. Staying put in Zambia during the pandemic, the global superstar forged deeper connections with the local music scene, prompting intriguing intergenerational collaborations and fresh sonic directions. Notably, she embraces Zamrock, a cult genre in the West but near-forgotten at home – psyching out with W.I.T.C.H. frontman Emmanuel “Jagari” Chanda on ‘Can I Live’. And most joyfully, Sampa duets with Angélique Kidjo – as much an art-pop trailblazer as Björk – on the empowering ‘Let Me Be Great’. CW
Key track: ‘Let Me Be Great’
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6. Camp Cope, ‘Running With the Hurricane’
Camp Cope always charge everything they craft with honesty. Once you hear Georgia Maq roaring mightily throughout ‘Running with the Hurricane’s stampeding title track – an unrestrained anthem of persistence, endurance and willpower – you realise that 2022 might be the band’s best year yet, and that rough-hewn honesty has everything to do with it.
Those traits permeate the entirety of Camp Cope’s discography, but never as vividly or precisely as in ‘Running with the Hurricane’. It’s a markedly delicate album compared to its predecessors but pierces sharper than ever. Drummer Sarah Thompson gently and masterfully lays the foundation for Maq to unleash her anxieties and weather the storm of self-doubt, like in ‘Jealous’, to find peace in the chaos, if only momentarily, as she does in ‘The Mountain’. Bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich infectiously twangs her way into unmissable hooks, like in ‘Love Like You Do’, and there’s even help from Courtney Barnett on ‘Sing Your Heart Out’. JL
Key track: ‘Running with the Hurricane’
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5. Tasman Keith, ‘A Colour Undone’
You only get one debut – and, rather than rush in, Gumbaynggirr multi-hyphenate Tasman Keith made a point of methodically crafting an all-encompassing statement piece. Whether he’s trading bars with Genesis Owusu or locking into a soulful sway with Jessica Mauboy, on ‘A Colour Undone’ Keith puts his all into a striking array of sounds, styles and thematic structures.
- READ MORE: Tasman Keith: “As much as these tragic things have hurt me, they’ve also built me into the person I am”
Sure, a rapper who sings is nothing we haven’t already seen in 2022, but just try explaining to an outsider that the guy launching forth spitfire on ‘Sharks’ is the same guy who’s two-stepping into a late-night R&B groove on ‘Love Too Soon’. Keith always exuded confidence – hell, one of his best songs is literally called ‘Confident’ – but there’s a sense of purpose and conviction within ‘A Colour Undone’ that takes him to another level entirely. A lack of pointy awards can’t blunt this kind of sharpness. DJY
Key track: ‘Tread Light’
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4. Gang of Youths, ‘Angel in Realtime.’
In the opening moments of their platinum-selling second album ‘Go Farther in Lightness’, Dave Le’aupepe sang of “greying matter in [his] only father’s brain”. In the months following its release, said father shuffled off his mortal coil and left his son with a whole world of stories and secrets to unravel. All of it comes to a head on Gang of Youths’ unwieldy, ambitious and perfectly-imperfect third album – a Jackson Pollock of grief and catharsis, disco and devastation.
- READ MORE: Gang Of Youths: “Every artist should be able to tell the the story of their culture and their history”
Le’aupepe inhabits his father on the grooving ‘Tend the Garden’ and later offers a frank dissection of his newly-discovered family on the stripped-back ‘Brothers’. Much like grief itself, the album presents in a myriad of forms – and all deserve to be heard and exorcised. Not only does ‘Angel in Realtime.’ expand upon what Gang of Youths built their foundations on, it allows them to be reborn in a new image. DJY
Key track: ‘Brothers’
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3. Mallrat, ‘Butterfly Blue’
Mallrat’s star-making turn with 2019’s ‘Charlie’, a culmination of a long run of pretty and thumping singles, could’ve set her up as our newest pop superstar. But, once she took a sharp 180 with ‘Rockstar’, the first taste of her debut album ‘Butterfly Blue’, it was clear that Mallrat’s vision wasn’t only subversive – in her very own Grace Shaw way, it was anarchic.
- READ MORE: Mallrat: “When pop music is done with respect for the listeners, it’s perfect and exciting and beautiful”
‘Butterfly Blue’, as its name might suggest, wields its own delicacy powerfully. Opener ‘Wish on an Eyelash’ is just 54 seconds long, which is criminal for how impactful it is. But, in rare moments of unhinged chaos, Mallrat proves she hasn’t just metamorphosised on her debut – she breathes fire. ‘Teeth’ crunches, ‘Obsessed’ glimmers, ‘Your Love’ taunts. (We also get a feature from an agent of unhinged chaos Azealia Banks.) ‘Butterfly Blue’ only screams when it needs to, but that just makes its muted moments shine even brighter. JL
Key track: ‘Teeth’
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2. King Stingray, ‘King Stingray’
King Stingray’s debut album had been generations in the making, with core songwriters Yirrŋa Yunupiŋu (vocals) and Roy Kellaway (guitar) born and raised in (and eventually joining) the Yothu Yindi touring party. And while the record draws from their heritage – the bulk of its material being infectious indie-rock infused with Yolŋu culture – the band inject it with their own exuberant character.
They oscillate freely from punk (‘Raypirri’) to disco (‘Milkumana’), old-school Australiana (‘Camp Dog’) and even banjo-driven balladry (‘Life Goes On’), tying it all together with a gripping throughline of country and community, and their ever-growing appreciation for both. Since the album arrived, too, every song has become a staple of King Stingray’s live sing-alongs – even those sung entirely in Yolŋu Matha, like ‘Lupa’ and ‘Malk Mirri Wayin’.
We needn’t wait for ‘King Stingray’ to be declared an all-time Aussie rock classic – just four months after release, it already is one. ER
Key track: ‘Camp Dog’
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1. Julia Jacklin, ‘Pre Pleasure’
The cover of Julia Jacklin’s third record ‘Pre Pleasure’ shows her with her back turned and hands placed on a large billboard of her face. The staging resembles the perspective she writes from: gazing on her own relationships, beliefs and past, and finding them insoluble.
Jacklin’s songs here feel like scenes from a film with detailed script notes for the emotions. She’s sitting in a classroom, back to back with a devout Catholic classmate while the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack plays; her head is spinning in bed from wine and heat while a friendship sours; she’s flying through the sky, giddy with the belief she’s too in love to die.
- READ MORE: Julia Jacklin: “If I’m going to be singing about someone, it’s got to come from a place of wanting to be closer”
In spite of the subject matter, ‘Pre Pleasure’ is the brightest music Jacklin has ever put to tape, configuring doo wop and roaring guitars to match the peaks of her voice. ‘Ignore Tenderness’ twirls along with motion picture soundtrack strings, as Jacklin asks for sarcastic penance on desire. ‘I Was Neon’ is a grungy accompaniment to the year’s best lyrical mantra: “Am I gonna lose myself again? I quite like the person that I am”. She shouldn’t be worried, though – Julia Jacklin is Australia’s best musical meditator on the self. JM
Key track: ‘Ignore Tenderness’
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