The Best Australian Music Of The Year So Far
It's shaping up to be a very good year for homegrown music.
Now, we’re shifting our gaze locally to find the best Australian releases of the year — because we reckon our locals deserve their own bloody list.
We asked Junkee’s most dedicated music nerds, once again, for their choices. But this time around, we opened up the field to any kind of release — be it an album, an EP, or a single. The 15 releases we came out with span everything from indie to pop, dance, garage and hip-hop, and features artists at all stages of their careers.
Most of all, it’s a testament to just how wildly talented — and diverse — our homegrown artists are. Dive in.
Methyl Ethel – Everything Is Forgotten
Methyl Ethel took a stylistic leap with their second album, Everything Is Forgotten, out of the scuzzy dreamscape of Oh Inhuman Spectacle and into something chunky and danceable. Weaving disco beats through its warped indie rock, the band emerges as a gothic, sometimes lilting version of Arcade Fire — every bit as playful and inventive, and occasionally just as anthemic.
Jake Webb’s quavering, feather light, yearning voice holds it all together, through propulsive funk, baroque synth breaks and psychedelic folk, his lyrics appearing like distant headlights on a highway and passing in a haze. This what you want from a second album, something bold and unexpected.
Touch Sensitive – ‘Lay Down’
I’ll preface this by admitting I don’t like house. I’ve tried, for years, but we’ve never gelled. To paraphrase the sagacious Carrie Bradshaw, I’m just not that into it. So when I hear a house track that not only genuinely excites me, but that I want to play over and over on repeat, it’s a big fucking deal. Such is the case for Touch Sensitive’s ‘Lay Down’, his first new track in about four years.
Maybe it’s the shooting star synths that pierce the intro, maybe it’s the deep, warm bass, or the absurdly catchy vocal loops, or the incredible breakdown, slowed and screwed into brief yet resounding oblivion. I don’t know, and frankly I don’t care. It makes me wanna move and dance and stay up all night, and that’s good enough for me.
The Smith Street Band – More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me
“Down here on the flightpath/We do our best,” muses Wil Wagner on one of More Scared’s standout tracks, “Shine.” By means of contrast, his Band’s fourth LP, essentially details what happens when one’s best is not enough.
It’s an exhaustive, painful and emotionally-wrought journey through mental health and the demise of relationships both interpersonal and romantic. It’s also, by the same token, a testament to keep going when one is going through hell.
After humble pub-rock beginnings, it’s remarkable to note the ascent of Smith Street to one of our most celebrated bands. The light at the end of the tunnel shines brighter than ever.
Horrorshow – Bardo State
Australian hip-hop’s new school may be fanning today’s bluest flames, but we cannot discount those among the old guard with explosive tricks still up their sleeves.
Four albums in, Horrorshow’s Bardo State is their best album to date. Adit’s production is an exceptional mix of diverse, bang-on-trend beats and motifs, from pop to trap and everything in between, while never once feeling like copycat or masquerade.
Solo’s bars, meanwhile, are among the most articulate and engaging in Australia. At once thoughtful, clever and entertaining, his lyrics — his strongest yet — glide along atop an accomplished, dextrous flow. From racism and political turmoil to partying, girls and relationships, this is an insightful, provocative, damn enjoyable album — even if ‘Australian hip-hop’ still sounds like a dirty word to you.
Kita Alexander – Hotel EP
At just 21 years of age, Kita Alexander is already producing some of Australia’s best pop music. On her 2015 EP Like You Want To, she blended ‘70s pop hooks with modern electronic production to produce songs that were easily digestible, but exceedingly sophisticated.
Even with this at her back, Hotel is a mammoth step forward for Alexander. She delves into much bleaker lyrical territory than her debut, addressing the loss of her sister on the icy title track, and the precarious balance of a relationship on the excellent single ‘Damage Done’.
As always, the production is pristine, and Alexander’s ear for melody remains razor sharp — these songs will stick in your brain for days. Meanwhile, short and evocative lines like “It’s hard to see your colour/When we all just bleed into one” demonstrate Taylor Swift-level lyrical prowess.
Holly Throsby – After A Time
After casually knocking things like writing a novel and having a baby out of the park, it seemed only natural Holly Throsby would eventually work her way back to her idiosyncratic, perfectly-crafted folk. After A Time pulls no punches and offers no surprise — and that’s far from criticism.
There’s a homeliness to Throsby’s writing and approach; inspiring an immediate sense of familiarity and welcoming. ‘What Do You Say’ borrows Mark Kozelek for an estranged lovers’ back-and- forth, ‘Aeroplane’ marries intimacy and distance and ‘Be You Lost’ coaxes one into a gentle sway against the breeze. May Throsby remain an omnipresent being of the musical realm.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard — Flying Microtonal Banana
This isn’t an album, it’s a brief chapter in a wild, churning, psychedelic odyssey, a little twitch of the kaleidoscope King Gizz are looking through. The band sets itself boundaries for each new recording and this one was made entirely with microtonal instruments, which can be tuned to intervals smaller than a semitone.
The result is a propulsive storm with Eastern accents: the hot desert winds that blow through Rattlesnake; the Turkish horns blaring over bushranger tales in ‘Billabong Valley’; the hypnotic circular riff of ‘Nuclear Fusion’.
Is Flying Microtonal Banana as ‘good’ as Nonagon Infinity or I’m In Your Mind Fuzz? Who gives a fuck. On his worst day, Stu Mackenzie is still possessed by gods.
Party Dozen – The Living Man
Hey! Do you like the indie-pop stylings of Jonathan Boulet? How about the icy-cool synth sounds of Exhibitionist? Ya do? Awesome. Here’s an album from the two of them that sounds absolutely nothing like that whatsoever — in the best way humanly possible.
Not for the faint at heart and far from an easy listen, The Living Man pits Boulet’s seismic, walloping drums against the squealing, shrieking saxophone of Kirsty Tickle (aka Exhibitionist) in a battle to the finish where no-one and everyone wins simultaneously. Part jazz, part noise, proto-everything and post-everything — that’s The Living Man.
Be warned: ‘Careless Whisper’ this ain’t. Great, however? Unquestionably.
RVG — A Quality of Mercy
The title track of the glowing debut from Melbourne’s Romy Vager Group was inspired by the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, and it carries that weight with a fierce and steady heart.
Across the album, songwriter Romy Vager is looking clear eyed and honestly at the word, plainspoken but compassionate, searching for meaning against a glittering pool of guitar fuzz. It’s a distinctly Australian album, heavily influenced by The Triffids and The Go-Betweens, with a melancholic intensity and warmth that does not falter across eight lovely tracks.
Ali Barter — A Suitable Girl
A written manifesto is good, but a musical one is just so much more enjoyable. On A Suitable Girl, Melbourne’s Ali Barter brings sexual and gender politics to the fore over 11 scalding and angst-ridden tracks.
There are beautifully vulnerable moments on songs like ‘Tokyo’ and ‘Please Stay’, but Barter is at her best when sharpening her axe — which thankfully, she does often.
Lead single ‘Girlie Bits’ is the standout, opening with the immortal (and depressingly familiar) line “Give us a smile baby/Act like a real lady”, before Barter dials up the distortion and ferocity to deliver its vicious chorus chant: “You don’t understand what it’s like to be a man.”
Also — props to anyone that lines “Battle lines” with “Panty lines”.
Jess Locke — ‘Bitter/Better’
Sometimes, if I’m feeling really fragile, I’ll skip Jess Locke’s ‘Bitter/Better’ when it plays on shuffle. It’s one of those songs that hits a little too close to home: “I feel better when I’m watching other people suffer,” goes the opening line, and it doesn’t let up from there.
Locke’s lyrics play like a list of all the lies you’ve ever told yourself to make up for inadequacies, platitudes like “Maybe I’m just waiting for the right time,” and “I’ll be better when I’m working hard and working longer” rolling off her tongue.
The song’s seemingly oppositional moods — the sunny jangle guitars, the darkness of the lyrics – mean that ‘Bitter/Better’ sounds just as fitting in an emo 1am Uber home as it does on Sunday morning when sunlight begins to stream through the curtains.
There are shades of Courtney Barnett here on a topical level, but Locke’s keen attention to vocal melody makes ‘Bitter/Better’ something different. The song ends too soon, exiting quietly and neatly, without saying goodbye. Sometimes I skip ‘Bitter/Better’, but most times, I have it on repeat.
Sampa The Great — HERoes Act 2
Some people want to be rappers. Others were born to do it. Sampa the Great’s blood runs rich with the kind of innate understanding and talent that many spend a lifetime trying to craft.
Though just three tracks long, her new Estelle-featuring mini-release reminds us why she’s one of Australia’s best, and perhaps the most likely international crossover success. Produced by Kendrick/Ab-Soul/Travis Scott mastermind Rahki, all three exist along a single seamless soundscape, as though one gorgeous 11-minute piece.
The darkly soulful ‘Everybody’s Hero’ transitions into ‘The Plug’ via heavier beat and twinkly synths, while final movement ‘Paved With Gold’ is flippant, sensual and jazzy. Throughout, the smokey spotlight is firmly focused on her rhymes, all quiet aggression and understated wisdom. Her flow astounds, her presence is unmatched, and the entire scene feels elevated for it.
Cable Ties – Cable Ties
Melbourne trio Cable Ties were already firm favourites in their hometown, but the savage strength of their debut album pushed them forcibly beyond city limits.
It’s an unwavering statement of cathartic post-punk, headlocking our attention right away thanks to frontwoman Jenny McKechnie’s blockbuster vocal range. Three of the eight songs push stubbornly past the six-minute mark as McKechnie takes down data-mining corporations and cocky music producers with equal ferocity.
Grounded by a churning rhythm section and lashing, slashing guitar licks, Cable Ties prove that intensity comes as much from discipline and control as from the moments when everything boils over.
Kardajala Kirridarra — Kardajala Kirridarra
You’d be forgiven for not being across Kardajala Kirridarra. The four-piece band only released their first single — the excellent ‘Ngabaju (Grandmother’s Song)’, below, in May — and they’re not exactly regulars on the Sydney pub circuit. In fact, they’ve never played a show in Sydney at all.
Bandmates Eleanor Dixon, Janey Dixon and Kayla Jackson hail from Marlinja and Kulumindini, two of the Northern Territory’s most remote communities. Together with Melbourne’s Beatrice Lewis, they make beautiful, bewitching music about the connection between Indigenous women and country. Their self-titled debut album, released just a few weeks ago, is sung in both Mudburra and English.
It’s hard to believe that a release so perfect could come from a group so new they still haven’t hit 1000 fans on Facebook. So, please — listen to the album, throw ’em a like, and take a look at their NT tour diary, full of photos from one of the most isolated parts of the planet, while you’re at it.
Toby Martin – Songs From Northam Avenue
What began as an experiment — writing songs in the outer reaches of Bankstown — has blossomed into perhaps the finest album of 2017, and one of the strongest sets of material erstwhile Youth Group frontman Toby Martin has ever penned.
Touching on everything from broken families and the dark underbelly of national pride, all the way to life affirmations by way of the seasonal change, Martin is an arresting storyteller and a truly captivating vessel for these characters and all-too- real scenarios.
Special mention to co-producer and arranger, the inimitable Bree van Reyk; as well as the cast of Bankstown locals that allow Northam to properly flourish.