Loss defined 2020 – a year that the world won’t soon forget – but there were still silver linings to be found and great art to be savoured. We’re only 11 days into a new year, but NME’s feeling optimistic, especially with the exciting releases by Aussie artists we can already see on the horizon.
From radio-friendly pop to cutting-edge rap and fuzzy psych rock, here are the records to keep an eye out for this year.
Four years after his debut EP ‘Mood Forever’, Manu Crooks is back with its sequel: ‘MFII’. He’s trimmed the letters and the fat, relaunching with inky two-minute swagger-bangers.
Manu says: “This project is gonna show a wide diverse/range of my ability to sing/rap/write. I wanna showcase and present artists I believe got the potential to take it outside of their territories, depending on where I’m at in the world. And since I’ve made most of this particular installation (‘MFII’) in Australia, the features are gonna be all Australian artists.”
Manu Crooks’ ‘MFII’ is out later this year.
Divide and Dissolve
On 2018’s ‘Abomination’, guitarist/saxophonist Takiaya Reed and drummer Sylvie Nehill crafted a crushingly heavy work of expressive instrumental doom, fiercely communicating their anti-colonial message without need for words.
‘Gas Lit’ continues the work of confronting white supremacy and colonisation – recent singles like ‘Denial’ are beautiful yet blistering soundtracks to resistance. Alex Gallagher
The band say: “‘Gas Lit’ is a collaboration and acknowledgement of the hope that fuels our survival.”
Divide and Dissolve’s ‘Gas Lit’ is out via Invada on January 29.
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets
‘SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound’
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets sound like their name: druggy, lurid and tasty. The Perth band are at full clip on their fourth album, perfecting their retro vibe with a wall of sound only modern production can achieve.
While still in a constant state of fuzz, the singles showcase the smartest arrangements they’ve ever conceived. JM
The band say: “A colourful dive into a playful glitch world that melodically swirls & builds with a continuous triumphant rise.”
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets’ ‘SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound’ is out via What Reality?/Marathon Artists on February 5.
Sarah Mary Chadwick
‘Me And Ennui Are Friends, Baby’
For her third album in as many years, the Melbourne artist trades the full-band arrangements of 2020’s ‘Please Daddy’ for a sparse, intimate solo piano record.
The stark honesty and genuine vulnerability of Chadwick’s writing has always been its most affecting quality, and lead single ‘Every Loser Needs a Mother’ indicates her latest will be just as powerful. AG
Sarah says: “When this album was finished it was too sad for me to listen to, but now I think lots of it is quite humorous. I’m an unstable person but I’m also resilient as hell.”
Sarah Mary Chadwick’s ‘Me And Ennui Are Friends, Baby’ is out via Rice Is Nice Records on February 5.
One of the more unique prospects within triple j’s indie-darling framework, Odette forged quintessential blends of poetry, soul and pristine production on 2018’s ‘To A Stranger’.
Odette says: “This record was written during a time of big change in my life. At first I thought it was to process interpersonal turbulences but after some time I realised it was to address the parts of myself that I had deeply repressed. It’s a love letter to accountability and an open acknowledgment of the parts of me I didn’t want to look at.”
Odette’s ‘Herald’ is out via EMI on February 5.
The Rubens mark a decade as a band this year – a journey they’ll commemorate with the new album ‘0202’ (yes, that’s ‘2020’ backwards, a nod to the topsy turvy year we’ve just left behind).
Produced by The Rubens themselves, this album is an unadulterated statement of intent from the New South Wales band. Karen Gwee
The band say: “We loved making ‘0202’. Taking more control of production let us really pour ourselves into this album, our best yet!”
The Rubens’ ‘0202’ is out via Ivy League Records on February 12.
‘Everything Is Tenuous’
You’d be hard pressed to find a stronger hit rate than Luca Brasi’s within Australia. In the last decade, they’ve ascended from inner-circle cult favourites to a nationally-acclaimed melodic punk institution. They’ve had the songs to back them up, too. Expect heart, hooks and endearing honesty for album five. DJY
The band say: “We taught ourselves to engineer and made a record about the fleeting nature of life and all in it.”
Luca Brasi’s ‘Everything Is Tenuous’ is out via Cooking Vinyl Australia on February 12.
While brother Angus traversed the globe with Dope Lemon, Julia Stone was cooking up something of her own.
Well, not entirely alone: she’s had St. Vincent, of all people, producing, as well as contributors like The National and Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa in the mix. This may well be her most left-of-centre project yet. DJY
Julia says: “A friend turned to me one night in the middle of dancing and said, ‘Can you believe we’ve only got sixty summers left?’ Referencing the seasons struck me. Life is quick spinning round the sun. This music is my tribute to living presently.”
Julia Stone’s ‘Sixty Summers’ is out via BMG in the first quarter of 2021.
Once a one-person touring machine, Tash Sultana has hired a band for live shows – but the songs on their heavenly second album are all the songwriter’s own. Their looped noodling has now been tempered into stronger, poppier material, and their voice has been liberated from working overtime, unlocking an unearthly falsetto. Get ready to hear Tash Sultana in a whole new light on ‘Terra Firma’. JM
Tash says: “It’s an extension of my catalogue of music with no sonic boundaries.”
Tash Sultana’s ‘Terra Firma’ is out via Lonely Lands/Sony Music Entertainment Australia on February 19.
On her second album, the former Two Steps on the Water frontwoman hones the idiosyncratic pop leanings she introduced on her 2019 debut, ‘Diana’.
June says: “‘Leafcutter’ is a self-produced collection of nine songs exploring hope and desire from within disassociation, dystopia, and dysphoria.”
June Jone’s ‘Leafcutter’ is out via Emotion Punk/Remote Control on February 19.
‘Smiling With No Teeth’
Ghana-born, Canberra-raised hip-hop artist Genesis Owusu’s long-awaited debut album is set to be the torchbearer for local weirdo rap in 2021.
His instrumentals are founded on neo-soul, layered with industrial whirl and served with groove; lyrically, the rapper delivers twisted sermons on the self, an approach he describes as “slathering honey on your demons”. JM
Genesis says: “The album is like if Prince was a rapper in 2020, and also a member of Talking Heads.”
Genesis Owusu’s ‘Smiling With No Teeth’ is out via OURNESS/House Anxiety on March 5.
A decade after forming, Mere Women’s esoteric style of post-punk remains underpinned by a thrilling musical tension between uneasy discordance and propulsive, tightly wound rhythms.
Three and a half years after 2017’s excellent ‘Big Skies’, the Sydney outfit are set to return with a meditative yet urgent album about the lived experience of women. AG
The band say: “The album’s all about love and control. It’s also the name of a gift shop that sells ceramic kittens, silk flowers and potpourri.”
Mere Women’s ‘Romantic Notions’ is out via Poison City on March 5.
This is it. After a decade-plus of attempted breaks into Australian pop, Amy Shark took the crown on 2018’s platinum-selling ‘Love Monster’. Now, the million-dollar question: Can lightning strike twice?
An A-team has been assembled for ‘Cry Forever’, and the singles have shown promise. All eyes on the prize, people. DJY
Amy says: “Unfortunately when you’ve been through what I have, it’s impossible to write an album without hurting anyone – including myself.”
Amy Shark’s ‘Cry Forever’ is out via Wonderlick/Sony Music Entertainment Australia on April 30.
‘Positive Rising: Part 2’
Fuzz rockers DZ Deathrays had big plans for their ambitious ‘Positive Rising’ project. Part 1 arrived in style in 2019, but the world obviously had other plans in 2020.
Fear not: Part 2 is almost here, and the band have no plans to rest on their laurels or phone anything in. DJY
Shane Parsons says: “Honestly we should have had this record out in 2020 but being the year it was we wanted to give ourselves the best chance to showcase how proud we are of this album… both on and off the stage. It’s definitely one of the biggest groove-based albums we have done to date with some of my favourite riffs littered throughout.”
DZ Deathrays’ ‘Positive Rising: Part 2’ is out via I OH YOU on July 9.