Although we’re six months into a year that’s turning out to be pretty dismal, the music’s been anything but – and that’s just going off what Australian artists have been turning out. From long-waited comebacks to exciting debuts, here are the country’s top 15 albums of the year so far.
‘Look At Us Now Dad’
While the subversive and glittering pop influence of her friend Charli XCX does shine throughout, Banoffee’s debut album ‘Look At Us Now Dad’ is a work that’s truly her own. Dealing with hereditary trauma, an acceptance of her own personal shortcomings and a determination to find herself once again, Banoffee – aka Martha Brown – expresses her inner turmoil with devastating frankness superimposed over sparkle-driven spot-lit electropop, best showcased on songs like ‘Permission’ and the closing title track.
With the help of aptly chosen collaborators CupcakKe, SOPHIE and Empress Of, Banoffee takes you by the hand on her quest for affirmation. She might not be there yet, but ‘Look At Us Now Dad’ is so painstakingly honest that you have to believe that her goal is within reach. Jackson Langford
Banoffee’s ‘Look At Us Now Dad’ is out now via Dot Dash/Remote Control.
The first time I saw Cable Ties perform at The Tote in Melbourne, my face was fixed permanently in the Home Alone scream. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and how viscerally my body reacted to it. Their second record, ‘Far Enough’, is brimming with the rage it’s impossible not to feel if you’re awake and aware right now.
- READ MORE: “Find something to fight for and be hopeful about”: Cable Ties make music in dangerous times
But that fury and fear is filtered through the lens of hope, one that reminds us to unite and see the forest from the trees, the purpose from the demoralising daily politics. It’s essential, galvanising punk that will only be made better when we’re allowed back into the world, sardined into the sweaty rooms it was designed to be played in. Brodie Lancaster
Cable Ties’ ‘Far Enough’ is out now via Poison City/Merge Records.
Like an old bottle of prosecco, the Donny Benét project was running the risk of losing its fizz. But with age comes depth of flavour and on his new Donny Benét album, ‘Mr. Experience’, multi-instrumentalist Ben Waples has toned down the gags and dialled up the songwriting.
There’s the moody Roxy Music-esque instrumental ‘Waterfall (Love Scene)’, the lustful, dark, Italo disco of ‘One Night In Paradise’, and the glimmering ‘Reach Out’, a tender ode to the power of love in uncertain times. He’s still sending up his flamboyant Italian heritage, but Waples is moving further away from ’80s pastiche while still clinging onto his irreverence and rhythmic genius. Nick Buckley
Donny Benét’s ‘Mr. Experience’ is out now via Dot Dash/Remote Control.
‘Out In The World’
Jay Watson has never been concerned with sounding like his collaborators Tame Impala and Pond, nor should he be. Kicking off with the drifting ‘Weightless In LA’, Watson’s fifth solo LP as GUM lures you with lush listening before bringing the beat in, ultimately making for a diverse spectrum of hazy and drum-driven tracks.
- READ MORE: Jay Watson on his new solo album as GUM: “I’ve spent a lot of my life trying not to fuck it up”
Newcomers to Watson’s work will certainly notice the psych-rock tendencies or dreamy vocal effects so familiar from his other projects, but those are quickly supplemented with his own choice of harmonies and the occasional Latin groove. It’s pleasantly unexpected and proves that Watson’s work holds its own in the sub-genre. Caleb Triscari
GUM’s ‘Out In The World’ is out now via Spinning Top/Caroline Australia.
Jack Colwell’s piano-driven debut album ‘Swandream’ (produced, perfectly, by Sarah Blasko) is lush, dramatic and theatrical, absolutely warranting all the comparisons made between he and artists like Rufus Wainwright and Patrick Wolf (and Kate Bush, and Tori Amos).
- READ MORE: No ugly duckling: Jack Colwell paints his own mythical, turbulent transformation on ‘Swandream’
However accidental, it’s also the perfect album for 2020 thanks to its combination of warmth, fear, intimacy and often confronting lyrics by someone who has clearly known a lot of personal isolation before anyone had even heard of lockdowns. Songs like ‘PTSD’ and ‘No Mercy’ are not comfortable listening by any stretch, but ‘Swandream’ is one of the most compelling releases of the year. Andrew P. Street
Jack Colwell’s ‘Swandream’ is out now.
Buzzy newcomer Miiesha Young’s first declarative collection of songs has arrived just as the Black Lives Matter movement regains global momentum. The Pitjantjatjara and Torres Strait Islander woman – from remote Woorabinda, Queensland – expresses personal insights into First Nations identity and experience on ‘Nyaaringu’ through prismatic neo-soul.
Symbolically, Miiesha connects songs with recordings of her late grandmother, Elizabeth Young. Musically, Young traverses gospel, hip-hop and even rock (see the liquid guitar on ‘Twisting Words’), yet she also embraces electronic innovation with the jazz-spliced dancehall of ‘Self Care’. ‘Nyaaringu’ is a celebration – and affirmation – of storytelling and community, but it’s also about reclaiming narratives. Its melodies and truths reverberate. Cyclone Wehner
Miiesha’s ‘Nyaaringu’ is out now via EMI Music Australia.
‘Is This Offensive And Loud?’
There’s something new yet strangely familiar about Nat Vazer’s striking debut full-length. It draws up a list of comparisons, from indie-rock peers Jay Som and Frankie Cosmos to Mitski’s sonic eccentricities. But over nine exquisite tracks, the Melbourne singer-songwriter makes the sound her own. Vazer pours her heart out, unafraid to turn political while also juggling the pains of a wilted romance.
Ultimately, ‘Is This Offensive And Loud?’ does what it says it came to do. It asks the tough, personal questions and is unapologetically brazen about it, proving that Vazer’s voice is one that needs to be heard and shouted out from the rooftops, not shut out. Sofiana Ramli
Nat Vazer’s ‘Is This Offensive And Loud?’ is out now via Hotel Motel Records.
‘Pray For Party Dozen’
Party Dozen have pushed their abstract noise rock to the extreme. From the frenzied saxophone and drums of opener ‘World Prayer’ to the swaggering, krautrock-tinged ‘Auto Loser’, Kirsty Tickle and Jonathan Boulet explore a wide spectrum of sonic territory that remains nevertheless coherent.
Given their improvisational creative process and the swirling walls of sound they create, it’s easy to categorise what Party Dozen do as chaotic. But on ‘Pray For Party Dozen’ the duo are masters of their craft, building a dizzying, genre-defiant ballet of beautiful noise that’s remarkable in both its scope and execution. Alex Gallagher
Party Dozen’s ‘Pray For Party Dozen’ is out now via Grupo Records.
Rolling Blackouts C.F.
‘Sideways To New Italy’
Released just a few weeks ago, ‘Sideways To New Italy’ feels like a record out of time. Its bursts of guitar rock euphoria evoke warming sunshine, nostalgia and the faded noise of Super 8 film. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever dot the blurry landscape of their sophomore album with moments of bliss, from the rapturous hook of ‘She’s There’ to the irresistibly danceable outro of ‘The Only One’. The mood of ‘Sideways To New Italy’ might be a far cry from our current winter of discontent and recorded Zoom calls, but the record feels all the more alive against the bleakness. Karen Gwee
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s ‘Sideways To New Italy’ is out now via Ivy League Records.
Just when you think rock ’n’ roll is all re-heats and reruns, along come RVG to inject it with power and potency again. The title track of the Melbourne band’s 2017 debut ‘A Quality Of Mercy’ didn’t just sound good – hearing it changed you. That’s the case with ‘Feral’’s opening track, ‘Alexandra’, too. Though, quoting perspicacious singer Romy Vager’s lyrics doesn’t work: it’s all in how her delivery wrenches you right into the moment with her. Elsewhere, ‘Feral’’s songs still channel the sunshine, shadow and pop chops of Australian greats Sunnyboys and The Go-Betweens. Kate Hennessy
RVG’s ‘Feral’ is out now via Our Golden Friend.
Sarah Mary Chadwick
On ‘Please Daddy’, Sarah Mary Chadwick delivers blow after blow of emotive songwriting. The Melbourne artist’s cracking, resigned vocals and heralding trumpets bring out the record’s underlying theme of loss – but what’s also powerful is the unnerving contrast between the more upbeat tracks like ‘Let’s Fight’ and lyrics such as “At 15, couldn’t shake the feeling that life would never let my tears dry”.
It’s conflicting, existential listening that makes us hope for any sliver of reprieve for Chadwick. Considering her previous record touched on similar themes, it doesn’t seem like she’s found peace just yet. CT
Sarah Mary Chadwick’s ‘Please Daddy’ is out now via Rice Is Nice Records.
‘How Much Works’
‘How Much Works’, the debut album from Melbourne’s Sweet Whirl/Esther Edquist, is one to behold. The 10-track record – almost entirely produced and recorded by Edquist herself – harbours gentle piano arrangements, hazy synthesisers and brooding baritone/bass guitar lines, harmonised under Edquist’s bittersweet lilt.
But it’s the singer’s penchant for intelligent and heartfelt songwriting that unequivocally steals the spotlight. Edquist’s songs blur the lines between poetry and pop, making room too for fleeting moments of levity. And with its release on Melbourne’s legendary Chapter Music, ‘How Much Works’ has firmly certified Edquist as an artist to keep an eye on. Eddy Lim
Sweet Whirl’s ‘How Much Works’ is out now via Chapter Music.
‘The Slow Rush’
On Valentine’s Day 2020, Kevin Parker gave the world a labour of love: the new Tame Impala album, ‘The Slow Rush’. A few months on, it’s uncanny how songs like ‘One More Year’ and ‘On Track’ (“I know it’s been a slow year, nothin’ much to show here”) have encapsulated the COVID-19 time-void.
But ‘The Slow Rush’ is the year’s best headphone album, and it offers more than pandemic prescience. A sumptuous, fastidiously woven psych-disco fantasia, it opens up new possibilities for Tame Impala beyond the ill-fitting psych-rock box the project has well outgrown. KG
Tame Impala’s ‘The Slow Rush’ is out now via Island Records Australia.
‘High Risk Behaviour’
Suburban monotony, pub feeds, chlamydia and drug deals gone wrong: The Chats’ debut album is a bootleg case study on the lives of 20-something-year-old Aussies, stuck in that unhinged period of not being a kid anymore but definitely not having your shit together enough to be considered an adult.
The trio’s scrappy, adrenaline-fuelled tracks have resonated far beyond the Pacific, though, with Dave Grohl and Iggy Pop sitting front and centre as fans. ‘High Risk Behaviour’ takes lashings of punk and ’90s alt-rock, then filters it through the pubwave sounds of now for a deceivingly considered result. Debbie Carr
The Chats’ ‘High Risk Behaviour’ is out now via Bargain Bin Records/Cooking Vinyl Australia.
‘Eveything Is A-OK’
On their fifth studio album ‘Everything Is A-OK’, Violent Soho provide unexpected hooks and clever sonic bends that uphold themes of doubts, uncertainty and resolution which are, though not intended, heralded by these ambiguous times.
- READ MORE: Violent Soho on ‘Everything Is A-OK’: “Funnily enough, this record is more relevant than ever”
From the distinct drawl of the vocals to the riff-rollicking simplicity of the melodies, the Mansfield band produce a wonderful grit that works at satiating existing fans and appealing to new listeners. Violent Soho are clear about what’s gone wrong in the world, channelling their thoughts with an unmistakable Aussie twang and a delicious DIY grunge aesthetic. Anna Rose
Violent Soho’s ‘Everything Is A-OK’ is out now via I OH YOU.