The 40 Best Australian Albums of 2016: From Outlier to Reclaim Australia

Last week we delivered our Top 40 Albums of 2016, as voted by our contributors – some huge albums from chart dominating artists entered in, as did some breakthrough records from bands on the homefront we were still getting to know. We go another level deeper and look at the Top Australian releases as part of our 2016 Best Of series – as with every year, we’ve opened the voting up to our writers and photographers as they come through with which locals have really struck a chord.

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40. Twelve Foot Ninja – Outlier
Released: August
Must Listens: “Collateral”, “Point of You”

As Stuart Sevastos describes of the ARIA-nominated album, “From the opening moments of “One Hand Killing”, Twelve Foot Ninja pretty much have your attention right from the word go. This album showcases their diverse influences of metal, reggae and funk and blends them into something unique. There isn’t a song on this album where you want to either dance to rock out to (depending on your chosen method).”

39. Olympia – Self Talk
Released: April
Must Listens: “Tourists”, “Smoke Signals”

Olympia’s debut album Self Talk came out of left field and quickly became a stand out of the Australian crop. She shreds on guitar and behind the microphone; a seasoned musician, Olympia and Self Talk instantly reminded us of Washington and her breakthrough record How To Tame Lions. It was captivating, fun and effortless in its delivery. The pop vocal shimmers over well constructed synth arrangements and production, while that aforementioned guitar injects a dose of grit that keeps everything well and truly anchored in the now.

38. Horror My Friend – Stay In, Do Nothing
Released: January
Must Listens: “Pb Remains”, “Death Hill”

Adelaide’s Horror My Friend released their debut album to acclaim in their hometown, all the while turning heads of those interstate. Having spent much of 2016 on the road with Stay In, Do Nothing, with the focus aimed on the development of their live show (now a fucking strong set, may we add), the trio have taken strides in bringing their unabashed and confidently crafted post-punk sounds to the live arena as well as it’s been laid down on record. Moments of darkness are balanced with bounding riffs and cathartic vocals – Stay In, Do Nothing was an instant hit with us.

37. CERES – Drag It Down On You
Released: September
Must Listens: “Choke”, “Laundry Echo”

Similarly, Melbourne’s CERES broke hearts and put them back together again over the course of their 2016 release, Drag It Down On You. From the delicate opening of “Okay”, to the wailing fire of album closer “Baby’s Breath”, vocalist Tom Lanyon puts himself and the listener through the emotional wringer. He writes about his father (“91, Your House) with the same emotional punch as he puts into the delivery of “Choke” and “Spinning Wheel” – whether it’s the breakdown of a relationship or rebuilding in the aftermath, Drag It Down On You was emo, but gorgeously so.

36. Dope Lemon – Honey Bones
Released:
June
Must Listens: 
“Marinade”, “How Many Times”

Angus Stone‘s latest musical project has seen the songwriter head in a decidedly different musical direction and man, we were loving it. Not quite expecting what we got, that’s for sure, but Dope Lemon had us leaning back and musing, ‘Well damn‘ halfway into debut album Honey Bones. Chilled out and soaked in groove – tunes like “Marinade” and “How Many Times” caught us in our feelings.

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35. The Jezabels – SYNTHIA
Released: February
Must Listens: “Pleasure Drive”, “Stand and Deliver”

The return of The Jezabels in 2016 was one many welcomed enthusiastically and SYNTHIA was their triumphant jump back into the light. Emotionally raw as ever, the band also played up a darker, sexier side on the album that made its allure positively intoxicating to be drawn in by. A concentrated effort to shake the negative and darkness that clouded the band following the release and touring of The Brink, not to mention Heather Shannon‘s diagnosis and battle with ovarian cancer, The Jezabels’ strength as a band of musicians (and friends pulling together, really) was showcased brilliantly on SYNTHIA.

34. The Griswolds – High Times For Low Lives
Released: November
Must Listens: “Out of My Head”, “Hate That I Don’t Hate You”

You’d be forgiven for forgetting The Griswolds are an Australian group, given the amount of time they spent on the road at home last year and the amount of hype surrounding them in States at the moment. But, the boys from Sydney will always remain a favourite band of ours and with their sophomore album High Times For Low Lives, The Griswolds showed us just how much they had upped their game during their time away. Encompassing a wider range of influences compared to their debut, Be Impressive, The Griswolds have tuned themselves into the pop mainframe to comfortably sit alongside US counterparts Walk The Moon and The Mowglis with an album full of bangers, slow-burning numbers and even a cheeky cover of Rihanna’s “James Joint”.

33. Rainbow Chan – Spacings
Released: August
Must Listens: “Shell”, “Only Kindling”

The intimate nature of Rainbow Chan’s debut album Spacings offers the listener an insight into an intelligent musicality – she warps R&B with electro vibes with the end result being an incredibly soulful and intriguing record. Each song on the album are distinct puzzle pieces of a textured final picture and they all have their defined moment in the spotlight, all the while fitting together brilliantly.

32. Friendships – Nullarbor 1988 – 1989
Released:
September
Must Listens: 
“Footscray 1989”, “When I Feel Like Killing, I Murder”

The debut album from the Melbourne audio/visual duo is a goddamn banger. It’s twisted, it’s fucking dark in areas and it is relentless when the pace picks up. Mixing in spoken word with some hectic drum and bass, luring synth lines and penetrating percussion, Nullarbor 1988-1989 has international appeal and hopefully, we see it hit more audiences in the same rapid-fire way it has done with us, this year.

31. Dorsal Fins – Digital Zodiac
Released: October
Must Listens: “Romeo”, “Blind”

We’ve always loved Dorsal Fins for their jump into the eclectic and their unabashed embrace and approach to pop music; Digital Zodiac not only met that brief, but splashed some extra vibrancy on it and presented it to the public with a buoyant flair. There are deft shifts in tone and emotion on the album that don’t take away from the effect of any of Digital Zodiac bigger hitting singles, rather, they invite the listener to take a deeper listen and focus on those intricacies.

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30. Big Scary – Animal
Released: September
Must Listens: “The Opposite of Us”, “Double Darkness”

Possibly Big Scary’s most ambitious release to date, Animal saw Tom and Jo level up; the roads they take on this musical run aren’t straight, they twist and turn and surprise. The Melbourne duo aren’t afraid to grate against what might have been expected of them at this point; there are moments of haunting, abrasiveness and stunning clarity on Animal that pull you in and out of being comfortable and thinking you know what’s coming next.

29. Paul Dempsey – Strange Loop
Released: May
Must Listens: “Idiot Oracle”, “Morningless”

The long-awaited second album from Paul Dempsey had a lot to follow, given the popularity of his debut, Everything Is True. While there wasn’t a “Ramona Was a Waitress” equivalent on Strange Loop, we instead were gifted with the likes of “Idiot Oracle”, “Morningless” and “Life Supply” – three songs in particular that made the whole album worth the years-long wait. One of Australia’s best songwriters, hands down, Dempsey’s relevance within the country’s wider industry has never waned; Strange Loop just went and proved it again.

28. Emma Russack – In a New State
Released: June
Must Listens: “Not The Friend”, “Have You”

Russack’s In a New State brimmed with honesty and contemplation, while also displaying great self-awareness and a humour that was always present. The Melbourne songwriter takes us through the ups and downs of relationships, becoming more independent (and comfortable) in oneself and the realisation that we’re part of a much bigger scheme. Brilliantly self-deprecating in areas, incredibly candid in others, Russack channels the insecurities of any late-teen, 20-something woman almost too well.

27. Brendan Maclean – funbang1
Released: July
Must Listens: “House of Air”, “Free to Love”

Maclean’s EP release funbang1 came with vibrance, honesty and a candidness only few have the ability of relaying on record without it sounding forced or done for the feels and online hits. Always an endearing and wickedly clever pop artist, the way Maclean embraced every facet of the genre confidently and proudly made us fall for the record. This isn’t to say he is a songwriter unable to go dark either; when Maclean delves into heartbreak or personal struggles through music, he pulls you with him and offers an intensely personal insight into his head. It’s how he comes out the other side of it all that makes him one of Australia’s brightest, and funbang1 is a fitting example of his chameleonic talent.

26. Gabriella Cohen – Full Closure and No Details
Released: December
Must Listens: “I Don’t Feel So Alive”, “Yesterday”

Cohen’s solo record Full Closure and No Details is a broody slow burner of an album that grew on us consistently with each listen. She’s a defiant musician and vocalist on the record, making it a confidently delivered collection of music. Though failed relationships and the aftermath may rear their heads on some songs, Cohen comes out the other end with a ‘no regrets’ vibe that is great to tune into.

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25. Mike Noga – KING
Released: August
Must Listens: “The Deceiver”, “Down Like JFK”

In terms of concept records, Noga’s KING is pretty damn good. With Paul Dempsey on deck to lend production talents to the album, the epic stands out as some of Noga’s best yet. Though the narrative on KING is a strong and defined one, the album remains completely accessible to the listener and doesn’t isolate in any way. It’s unnerving, haunting and almost indulgent in its sonic experimentation for Noga, but that’s what we love about it.

24. Gawurra – Ratja Yaliyali
Released: April
Must Listens: “Bundurr (Story of Myself)”, “Ratja Yaliyali (Vine of Love)”

From East Arnhem Land, Gawurra made an impressive mark on the wider Australian industry with his debut album, Ratja Yaliyali. It’s evocative and in-depth, a beautiful collection of music that comes from the heart and his captivating talent as a vocalist was just sheer gold to listen to. Performed entirely in the Gupapuyngu language, Ratja Yaliyali is arresting and inspiring at the same time – it’s not often (criminally so) that Indigenous artists share the spotlight with what would be considered ‘mainstream’ commerical or indie records but as we’ve seen Gurrumul do in the past and now, Gawurra, have proven, there is so much talent out in our more isolated music communities that deserves the world’s platform to shine.

23. Yeo – Ganbaru
Released: February
Must Listens: “Icarus”, “Promise/Secret”

One of our favourite young artists of 2016, Yeo came on through with his killer album Ganbaru and was quick to impress. There is no inch of spare room or empty space on the record; instead, Yeo utilises each track perfectly in fusing R&B with lush electronic sounds, even dipping into some borderline jazz vibes – it’s a melting pot of influences, yet Ganbaru remains completely individual in its final form. An endearing and intoxicating listen to keep returning to even now, almost a year on.

22. Northeast Party House – Dare
Released: September 
Must Listens: “For You”, “Heartbreaker”

Melbourne indie champs Northeast Party House doled out Dare in the second half of 2016 and to us, it was the album we were waiting for from the band. They displayed good development within their songwriting although they definitely maintained the chaotic fun vibe that defined their earlier material. As Giselle Bueti adds, “These boys know how to bring the party. If you haven’t seen them live, you’re missing out. Dare attempts to pack in the same energy and it achieves just that. With a slightly more matured sound compared to their last album, the record delivers a fun, party-like vibe perfect for revving up before a big night out.”

21. Montaigne – Glorious Heights
Released: August
Must Listens: “Because I Love You”, “In The Dark”

One of Australian pop music’s charming breakthrough artists, Sydney’s Montaigne made her mark in 2016 with her debut album Glorious Heights. Live, her shows are only levelling up and reflecting the quirk and the meticulous composition Glorious Heights itself showcased on record. Her range is a beast in itself and the way Montaigne executes different moments of brightness with an almost devilish dive into the opposite end of the emotional pool – an incredibly promising artist who’s only getting started, that’s for sure.

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20. Gang of Youths – Let Me Be Clear
Released: July
Must Listens: “Native Tongue”, “The Good Fight”

With The Positions firmly establishing Sydney’s Gang of Youths as one of the country’s most promising exports of 2015 and into 2016, their latest effort in EP release Let Me Be Clear indicated that they were already well into breaking into their next chapter. As Giselle Bueti comments, “[The Positions] was filled with frustrations and anger, it illustrated the fight to keep living. Let Me Be Clear is the final piece of the puzzle. It’s the acceptance, the closure, the end of the fight; but it’s also the beginning of something new. This EP gives listeners hope and tells us that with every ending comes a new beginning.”

19. Sia – This Is Acting
Released: January
Must Listens: “Alive”, “One Million Bullets”

Sia has long been away from Australian shores, but the Adelaide born songwriter and pop juggernaut will continue to be claimed by our own industry and those who have been rocking with her from the beginning. Of course, Sia is known for the sheer volume of chart smashing hits she’s penned for some of the world’s biggest artists, but This Is Acting defined her talent as a solo artist. You can’t deny the woman’s appeal and knack for writing tunes tailor-made for the radio and arena level audiences, yet Sia’s unique approach and artistry remains as prominent as ever on this, album number…

18. DMA’s – Hills End
Released: February
Must Listens: “Lay Down”, “Timeless”

The long-awaited debut album from Sydney’s DMA’s proved to be a sing-along rousing, full-bodied effort. Off the back of the success of “Delete” and even “Lay Down”, it was pretty obvious which way the band’s trajectory was heading early on and since the release of Hills End, the effect the group has had on a national (and now international) fan base has only grown stronger. While it may have taken a minute to grow on some newcomers, there’s solid material on Hills End that have resonated strongly with fans across the country – just look to the ticket sales on every DMA’s tour for your proof.

17. Matt Corby – Telluric
Released: March
Must Listens: “Monday”, “Do You No Harm”

Another long-awaited album that finally saw the light in 2016 was Matt Corby’s debut, Telluric. A well-balanced and impeccably written album, the effort Corby poured into the writing of the album is undeniable. Telluric drips with soul and emotion, two elements well-established within Corby’s musicianship, but there’s a matured sound on the album that showcased the songwriter as an artist well-comfortable in his own personal and creative space.

16. The Avalanches – Wildflower
Released: July
Must Listens: “Subways”, “Colours”

Easily one of the biggest albums of 2016, The Avalanches’ Wildflower was quick to impress and divide listeners. For some, the 16 year wait between albums was worth it. For others, the wait was too long. The hype wasn’t met. What’s always been great about The Avalanches is their knack for producing music that really isn’t supposed to be digested and thoroughly inspected quickly. And they’re confidence in this ability is what makes their music so interesting to delve into. When Since I Left You came out, the effect was similar; there were so many different things happening on that album that only with time, did it become the classic it’s been considered today. Wildflower retains that same curious and playful heat.

15. REMI – Divas and Demons
Released: September
Must Listens: 
“Losing Sleep”, “Hate You (Feat. Baro)”

Remi and Sensible J have long been advocates of pushing the boundaries of what is considered to be traditional Australian hip hop; we saw the inklings of this playfulness on Raw x Infinity and it’s only been further explored (albeit with more determined heat) on Divas and Demons. Remi gets dark; from clingy girlfriends to bouts of depression and drug use, the full spectrum is explored. There are moments of fun and light, but he isn’t afraid to get serious and take the audience on that journey with him.

14. Flume – Skin
Released:
May
Must Listens: 
“Never Be Like You (Feat. Kai)”, “Wall Fuck”

Flume’s sophomore album Skin came through and hit every nail on the head for the people who were expecting the Sydney producer to follow his self-titled up with something huge. Collaborations with Tove Lo and Kai in particular shot him to a higher level of international success and perhaps unsurprisingly, Flume has cemented himself as a verified chart legend.

13. D.D Dumbo – Utopia Defeated
Released: December
Must Listens: “Walrus”, “In The Water”

Although Utopia Defeated was only released last month, it was quick to hurtle to the top of many ‘Best Of’ lists. Full of gorgeous texture and skill, Oliver Perry took the reins on all duties behind the scenes and produced an album that not only showcased his vocal talent, but the sheer melting pot of influences that have driven him over the last few years.

12. Tkay Maidza – TKAY
Released: October
Must Listens: “Tennies”, “Simulation”

One of the major breakout stars of 2016, Adelaide rapper Maidza has become an international icon in the making. Her debut album TKAY was tailormade for the sweaty club and the large festival stage – two arenas she’s well and truly made her own over the last 12 months. Pulling in the likes of Killer Mike on “Carry On”, while working with dope producers including Dann Hume and Noah Breakfast (aka Xaphoon Jones of Chiddy Bang fame), Tkay had a great team around her to bring this album to fruition though her own presence kicks strong goals.

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11. Julia Jacklin – Don’t Let the Kids Win
Released: October
Must Listens: “Coming of Age”, “Pool Party”

Jacklin’s debut album is just an example of how much the Blue Mountains native has been killing it on the scene and killing it quick, may we add. She tells stories as if she’s still living them out herself, which is a talent that struck us early on. A clever songwriter, Jacklin’s album material is relatable and yet exists in a bubble of its own. Similar to Angel Olsen, Julia Jacklin has a charm that is instantly captivating – Jacklin, with Don’t Let The Kids Win, has set herself up for a huge 2017.

10. The Nation Blue – Black
Released: October
Must Listens: “CCTV”, “Caroline”

The Nation Blue’s double album release of Black and Blue was a delightful, compelling one. Their first collection of new material in almost seven years did well in satiating the thirst of fans but it was also a way to introduce themselves to newcomers – a punch to the throat and a reassuring, introspective conversation afterward. On Black in particular, The Nation Blue go deep into political territory, drawing visceral social commentary against some relentless music. The album is indeed ambitious and well laid out in its approach, while the band’s well-known cutting messages and cynicism came at the best possible time last year.

09. The Drones – Feelin’ Kinda Free
Released: March
Must Listens: “To Think That I Once Loved You”

Another dose of realness came from The Drones and Feelin’ Kinda Free – an album that stuck a middle finger firmly in the faces of those who thought they had the iconic Melbourne band figured out, The Drones were at their fiercest and most aggressive on this album. A risky, but impressive leap to make. The dynamics are brilliant, musically it is bold for The Drones and exists outside their previous work.

08. The Peep Tempel – Joy
Released: October
Must Listens: “Rayguns”

From the opening of Joy, The Peep Tempel are inciting riots. The rumble of the bass gives way to a snarling, almost nasty vocal that is incredibly self-aware as it is a character study on it’s own. The Peep Tempel has risen to being one of Melbourne’s best and the 2016 album has well and truly cemented themselves as such.

07. Jagwar Ma – Every Now & Then
Released: October
Must Listens: “O B 1”, “Slipping”

Jagwar’s return with Every Now & Then was a welcome trip down that dance-soaked lane that endeared so many to them years back. Almost hypnotic in places, Jagwar Ma made us forget about the time in between albums (and visits back home) with their new record, instead inciting us to get lost in the rhythms and thumping beats production.

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06. Camp Cope – Camp Cope
Released: April
Must Listens: “Done”, “Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams”

The ‘Girls to the Front’ movement of 2016 is largely attributed to Camp Cope and rightly so. They have been one of the strongest bands we have had the pleasure of seeing throughout last year and when it comes to albums that have driven artists forward, the Melbourne trio’s self-titled ranks high up there. Georgia Maq is at her brutal best as she doles out truths and opens up to show vulnerability at the same time – a treasure to listen to and an album that is definitely going to be around in the hearts of many for years to come.

05. King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity
Released: April
Must Listens: “Gamma Knife”, “Wah-Wah”

The eighth album from King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard is a seamless sonic journey that only these guys could pull off properly. It’s hectic yet incredibly concise in its arrangement – there is no moment on Nonagon Infinity that left us in a lull. It’s ambitious to even consider releasing so many albums in a short period of time (eight in four years, if you’re wondering), but King Gizzard have shown time and time again that they have the bloody chops to pull an effort like this off and still come away with a cheeky smile of knowing they’ve got more up their sleeve.

04. NGAIIRE – Blastoma
Released: June
Must Listens: 
“House on a Rock”, “I Don’t Hear God Anymore”

We have been championing NGAIIRE since “Once” came out as an early indicator of what Blastoma had the potential of doing to fans’ and newcomers’ heartstrings upon its release. And the final result? Exactly what we thought. It is a tense, soulful and raw album that sees Ngaiire put her heart well and truly on her sleeve, unafraid of delving into the uneasy and embracing the glimmering light at the end of a tunnel of a broken down relationship, or even just general bouts of feeling down.

03. Violent Soho – WACO
Released: March
Must Listens: “Viceroy”, “Blanket”

Ah, the Kings of Mansfield. Where Hungry Ghost took Violent Soho and plopped them well and truly within the hearts of the triple j addicted and the wider industry, WACO has been the album to properly solidify their spot as Australian rock giants. Spurred on, fiery and wickedly entertaining, WACO doesn’t hold back in aiming for that arena ceiling, instead, it pushes through proudly.

02. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Released:
Must Listens: “Jesus Alone”, “Magneto”

In a similar vein to Bowie’s Blackstar, when Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree was released, the public already was feeling some type of way about it. The accompanying documentary One More Time With Feeling detailed the creative process behind Skeleton Tree and in some ways, made returning to the album an easier one. You saw Cave laughing with Warren Ellis and the rest of the band, you saw his wife and son visit in the studio, indicating that the album-making process was one of healing as much as getting songs out and finishing something because it was needed. Shrouded in grief and mourning, the album still managed to retain glimmers of hope and light that were enough to pull you out of the dark.

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01. A.B. ORIGINAL – Reclaim Australia
Released:
Must Listens: “ICU (Feat. Thelma Plum)”, “January 26 (Feat. Dan Sultan)”

Taking out the Number One spot on our last countdown, A.B. Original’s Reclaim Australia also takes our Australian-specific list’s top title, perhaps unsurprisingly. Confronting, unapologetic and coming burning from the heart, what Briggs and Trials created in 2016 was an album that will exist in the Australian music industry history books for many, many years to come. A challenging listen; if you’re inspired to actually research the content matter as a result, then Reclaim Australia‘s effect has had another equally as important effect.

Revisit our Top Albums of 2016 features here and here