20 Incredible Australian Albums That Flew Under The Radar This Year

Tick these off your list immediately.

australian albums 2021 photo

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As we come to the end of the year and list season approaches, you’re going to see lots of familiar names.

These artists deserve the recognition, of course, but things are admittedly about to get pretty predictable therein. Oh, Genesis Owusu is in your best Australian albums of the year list? What gave it away, his truck full of ARIAs? Who else is in there, Gretta Ray? Of course she’s in there! She’s lovely! Not liking Gretta Ray is like not liking sunshine and rainbows! And don’t think we don’t see ya trying to sneak The Avalanches in there — that came out last December, you had your chance!

With this list, let’s take a look at 20 Australian albums that might not have hit your radar this year — from resplendent singer-songwriters to scorched-earth metalcore and back again. 2021 has been a banner year for antipodean audio, but it always pays to read the fine print on said banner.

The Aerial Maps — Intimate Hinterland

Adam Gibson is a one-in-a-million storyteller. Across decades on the scene, he’s cultivated a small but devoted following that’s made him the unlikely star of Berry’s Fairgrounds Festival and resulted in a double-disc retrospective that dropped last year.

In 2021, Gibson reunited The Aerial Maps for their first album in a decade. Filled with nostalgic tales of lost love, old friends and every stretch of highway across the sunburnt country, this is weathered adult-alternative that holds court at the bar and calls for a sing-along at last call. Guide your way through Intimate Hinterland if you seek to feel less alone.

Alice Skye — I Feel Better But I Don’t Feel Good

This humble Melbourne singer-songwriter is the living definition of a quiet achiever. Her second album is a fully-realised, resplendent record blending indie, folk and rock – overseen by Jen Cloher, making her debut behind the boards as producer.

Such is Skye’s nature as an artist, however, it’s the kind of album where you have to listen in intently in order for it to really resonate — from the timid, heartfelt ‘Grand Ideas’ to the quietly-devastating ‘Wurega Djalin’, which reckons with Skye’s identity as a Wergala woman. One that may have slipped under the radar, but one worthy of hearing out.

Bored Shorts — Way Off!

Plenty of familiar faces from Sydney’s indie scene have bandied together to form Bored Shorts — if the names Flowertruck, Sunscreen, Big White and Classic mean anything, you’ll instantly be on board. Heck, even if they don’t, you’d be doing yourself a favour by spending a sunny half-hour with the ragtag quintet on their debut LP.

Bred on The Clean and The Go-Betweens, Way Off! boosts its guitar jangle with the kind of all-in choruses that can only be sung around a communal mic. Its runtime is brief, but guaranteed you’ll be ‘da-da-da’ing along well after the needle drops off.

Burn in Hell — Disavowal of the Creator God

Speaking of bright and shiny indie-pop… just kidding. Just in case there was any ambiguity lingering in the air from both the band name and album title, let’s make this one clear: This is menacing, cutthroat metalcore that’s blackened, dissonant, and unrepentant.

Their blistering second album gets in, gets out, and gets the job done in 15 goddamn minutes — that’s a certified bludgeoning if there ever was one, not to mention a time-efficient one. If you’ve missed the feeling of windmilling your mane and throwing down in a makeshift circle in front of a deafening PA, here’s your gateway.

Chimers — s/t

A husband-and-wife duo; husband on guitar, wife on drums. Before you paint them with white stripes, however, listen to s/t for yourself. Truthfully, the two-piece sound like little else in Australian music right now — something that plays right to their strengths. Stripped-back and primitive as you like, the Wollongong band thrives on urgent guitar chops and propellant drums. The album hides none of its imperfections, red-levels or scratchiness — and nor should it. The outcome is one of the strongest Australian rock records of the year. Even Henry Rollins is a fan — and he’d never steer you wrong.

Dianas — Little Glimmer

Heart, poise and conviction are central to the Melbourne post-punk trio’s second album. Shading in darker corners and revelling in a vulnerable, emotive spectrum, Little Glimmer is arresting upon first listen. Steely basslines and reverberating guitars tessellate and intertwine atop bustling drums, while the band’s distinctive and dreamy harmonies ascend above the fray.

It’s a layered and often busy musical affair, meaning its frequent shifts don’t allow for a dull moment. When lyrics reflecting on doomed relationships and internalised sexism cut through, though, it’s like there’s nothing else in the mix. Most importantly, Little Glimmer gives itself permission to shine.

DickLord — Pre Menstrual Attitude

You can probably tell this isn’t a band taking itself too seriously. The ensuing 26 minutes of Pre Menstrual Attitude go on to prove this hypothesis, with songs about dodgy hookups, Young Henry’s sponnos and that video of the Scottish mum ragging on her kids for not flushing.

If that wasn’t enough, the whole thing sounds like it was recorded on a potato — a proud potato, of course. DickLord aren’t angling for ARIAs or critical acclaim. Shit, they’re probably not even reading this. PMA is on here purely for being one of the funniest, most entertaining albums of 2021.

Diploid — I Am Yours. And I Am Here Again.

Despite co-signs from Anthony Fantano and winning a Music Victoria Award, noise/grindcore trio Diploid exist perennially on the fringes. Fair enough, too — they’re not exactly a user-friendly bunch — but let the record show that if you know, you know.

The band’s fourth album continues their relentless path of destruction, replete with snarling riffs and stick-breaking blastbeats guaranteed to raise a bombclaw or five. Highlights include cheery numbers like ‘Disease Carrier’ and ‘The World is Overflowing with Sorrow’, with the band’s penchant for petrifying detours into downtuned bedlam on full display. Here Again. is a testament to Diploid’s staying power.

FRITZ – Pastel

Novocastrian singer-songwriter FRITZ deserves to be in the same conversation as your Hatchies and your EGOISMs insofar as exceptional antipodean dream-pop/shoegaze hybrids go.

Her second studio album Pastel, however, came out back in February — which, when you’re in December, may as well have been five years ago — and ultimately never got the reception it deserved. It’s a damn shame, especially when considering that Pastel completely trumps 2017’s self-titled predecessor. No shade there, that’s a wonderfully charming record in its own right, but the bursts of technicolor and the syrupy-sweetness of the delivery put Pastel comfortably and confidently ahead.

Hard-Ons — I’m Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken

2021 has been such a fever dream that you probably thought you hallucinated Tim Rogers being announced as the new lead singer of the Hard-Ons. Best believe lifelong fan Rogers was waiting to wake up from his dream too, but here we are with living proof that it actually happened.

I’m Sorry Sir… was a new lease on life for the Punchbowl punks, adding in a classic power-pop sugar-rush to their gutsy punk-rock. It ended up being the best thing any of the four members have made in years. The band’s debut tour with Rogers truly can’t come quick enough.

Hilary Geddes Quartet — Parkside

You probably know Hilary Geddes — or her maestro nickname of “Shreddes” — as lead guitarist for Sydney legends The Buoys. Away from their garage-dwelling pop-rock, however, Geddes is a longtime jazz cat — and this, her debut alongside her quartet, is low-key phenomenal.

You know her chops as a rocker, but get her in amidst the creak of a double bass and the rush of brushed cymbals and Geddes comes alive. Her dizzying, inventive guitar parts leave jaws on the jazz-club floor. It’s borderline unfair how impressive this code-switcher is at her jobs. What’s next? Whatever she damn pleases.

Huck Hastings — Cheers to Progress

For those in Sydney’s music scene, discussing what a talent Huck Hastings is feels like preaching to the choir. Despite only playing for a few years as a soloist, he’s acquired a devoted following for his heartfelt, unapologetically-queer take on indie-pop.

On his debut album, the secret is well and truly out. From the break-up pop of ‘Soft’ to the slow-motion heartbreak of ‘Let Me, Please’, the album’s vulnerability is inherently relatable. Remember that .GIF of Emma Stone crying and eating ice-cream? This is the album for that — and considering it’s originally set to Adele, consider that your benchmark.

June Jones — Leafcutter

Speaking of sombre LGBTIQ singer-songwriters… folks gotta stop sleeping on June Jones. Across five years and four albums — two with previous band Two Steps On The Water, two solo — Jones has proven herself as one of the most distinct, powerful songwriters working in this country today. Leafcutter marks a further sonic evolution from her solo debut Diana, which itself progressed from her folk-punk origins into beat-driven emotive electronica.

Here, the production and beats are more finessed and detailed, while exploring darker sonic corners — reaching new heights with her depth in the process. A heart-wrenching but rewarding listen.

Liars — The Apple Drop

Normally, a new Liars album wouldn’t “count,” per se. This time around, however, we’re claiming Our Liars given that frontman Angus Andrew was back in town and had enlisted an Aussie line-up — multi-instrumentalist Cameron Deyell and drummer Laurence Pike.

The Apple Drop marked both the tenth Liars album and 20 years since the project’s debut. Andrew and co. are still as methodically, wonderfully weird as ever before. Even if some song structures and refrains are more quote-unquote conventional than their 2000s NYC eccentricities, they’re still further out on a limb than most bands would ever dare to venture. Truthfully.

Liz Stringer — First Time Really Feeling

There’s an argument that Liz Stringer might be better known for being the Stringer in Dyson Stringer Cloher than being… well, Stringer. She probably wouldn’t refute it, either.

For those that do know her, however, they know an open heart and a master songwriter — both of which are on proud display across her sixth solo record. Though recorded in 2018, First Time… still felt pertinent and prevalent in 2021. It’s a record that pulls no punches, yet still feels like you’ve been hit in the gut at the end of its best moments. If it’s your first time, welcome.

Mike Noga — Open Fire

You’d have to think Noga would appreciate being included on this list if he were still around. After all, the man spent his entire career being underrated — both as the engine room of The Drones across their best albums, and as a guitar-slinging troubadour across a frankly-excellent solo career.

His swansong was recorded with Low’s Alan Sparhawk and depicts an artist still looking to prove himself after decades on the scene. Right up to the end, he never lost that spark or that hunger. Listening to Open Fire, you’re thankful for it. Truly, you’re thankful for everything he gave.

Pist Idiots — Idiocracy

Perhaps the most famous image associated with Pist Idiots is a gaggle of munters in matching yellow merch at Splendour 2019, charging down the hill while they played the opening set. That should tell you everything there — they’re not arena-fillers, but those that pack out pubs to see them go absolutely wild when they’re in full flight.

As luck would have it, they’ve never soared higher than on their debut album, which combines moments of reflective rock with others of screeching, garage-punk urgency. Though they theoretically inhabit different spaces entirely, under the banner of Idiocracy it works a treat.

Quivers — Golden Doubt

It was a long road from Quivers’ excellent first album to their excellent second. Half the line-up changed, a relocation from Tassie to Melbourne took place and a staggered recording process meant that there were singles dropping for this way back in 2019. Remember 2019? Regardless of all of that, the journey was worth it for the destination — a brimming, beautiful indie-rock record that shimmered and shone radiantly across its runtime. From its pristine opener ‘Gutters of Love’ through to OG lead single ‘You’re Not Always On My Mind’, there’s plenty to dive into and relish here. No doubt.

Seth Sentry — Super Cool Tree House

Remember Seth Sentry? The ‘Waitress’ guy? Hoverboards? Yeah, him. He disappeared for something like six years and then quietly released the most fun — and funniest — album of his career. Go figure, right? His flow is as punchy and clever as ever, his beats are certified head-boppers and the hilarious sample work — including one of YouTuber videogamedunkey – guarantees a grin. How did this not get any traction? Didn’t this guy win a fucken ARIA? This may have dropped under cover of darkness, but Oz hip-hop heads shouldn’t let 2021 end without spinning it.

Toby Martin – I Felt the Valley Lifting

In-between solo albums, Youth Group’s Toby Martin was living in the UK countryside. There, he picked up a myriad of stories and a newfound love of their traditional folk music. It culminated in his third solo record, which boldly ventured out of the standard singer-songwriter fare to include plenty of peculiar instrumentation and unusual song structures. Martin’s laconic vocals tie the whole thing together, creating a compelling and curious mix in the process.

Fifteen years on from Youth Group’s number-one cover of ‘Forever Young’, Valley… is the sound of an artist who’s never settled and never stopped searching. Probably never will.

David James Young is a writer and podcaster. He Instagrams at @djywrites.