There’s no mistaking it, 2017 has been a stellar year for Australian music. We’ve seen Aussies surge forward internationally, while the term ‘household name’ has never been truer for some as this year has rolled out. As we approach the end of 2017, we’ve put together our annual End Of list, representing the 20 Best Australian releases of the year.
Train of Thought
The debut release from the Bad Apples Music artist had heads turning quickly and switching on to the Northern Territory rapper’s story. And man, what a story he has to tell. The messages all the Bad Apples crew project through their music are ones of strength through tough times, brutal truths and a burgeoning confidence that comes from simply rising up.
BIRDZ is leading that wave. His flow isn’t soaked in braggadocio, there’s a genuine grounded sense of self that comes through each track that positions BIRDZ as one of the realest in the game. 2018 is going to be very exciting for this artist; Train of Thought is possibly the best platform for him to launch from.
19. Ecca Vandal
Another debut album from one of the country’s most exciting artists is that from Melbourne’s Ecca Vandal. Seamlessly shifting between punk, hip hop and heavy production, Ecca Vandal is a pure statement piece of an album.
Collaborating with a diverse range of artists, from Sampa the Great through to Dennis Lyxzén of REFUSED notoriety, Ecca Vandal demonstrated her ability to infuse her music with a wide range of musical influences and really strike out on her own in remaining defiant in not being tied down or pigeon holed by the constraints of genre expectations.
18. Winston Surfshirt
A spin out of a debut record, Winston Surfshirt’s Sponge Cake is possibly the most fitting type of album we could have expected from the group. Sun drenched and fusing together multiple trademarks from genres ranging from soul, hip-hop, jazz and more, Sponge Cake is a record that proves Winston Surfshirt aren’t playing around.
Delightfully offbeat in some places, and freely experimental in others, Sponge Cake comes together like an intricate jigsaw puzzle. It was a few years in the making, but best believe, Sponge Cake has been well worth the wait.
17. King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard
Flying Microtonal Banana
The ninth studio album from one of Melbourne’s best and beloved exports, Flying Microtonal Banana was as thrilling and entertaining as we have come to expect from the one and only King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.
As Steven Morgan remarked earlier in the year,
“The first of five albums for 2017 from one of Australia’s most exciting bands and a relatively experimental collection to kick things off. When most bands make promises like that, you expect a heap of filler, but with a band as creatively on fire as King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, they set things off with an incredible opening statement.”
When Yeo’s Desire Path landed earlier this year, we were first struck by the sleek and high-class level of production and delivery that the Melbourne producer and writer had come through with on his latest collection of material.
As we wrote in our official review of the album: “Desire Path doesn’t stick to the orthodox structures of pop music in the wider scene today and I thank Yeo for making an album like this; it’s not just an easy listen, but each song streams to well into the next, it can feel like you are listening to one continuous project as opposed to songs that could easily be isolated and stand strong on their own.”
The sentiment still rings out loud.
15. Vera Blue
Vera Blue has really stepped up and out in positioning herself as one of Australia’s strongest pop musicians. She has undergone quite the transition since her musical beginnings and on Perennial, it feels like that journey of musical evolution has come full circle.
While the obvious embrace of the electronic in favour of the direct folk influences her previous work had been identified with, Perennial shows Vera Blue’s flourish into an artist capable of leading Australian pop music forward into a refreshed and invigorated new phase.
14. Ali Barter
A Suitable Girl
A Suitable Girl came highly anticipated from Melbourne’s Ali Barter, following the charging success of “Far Away” and “Girlie Bits” in particular.
Barter’s angst-injected vocals contrast the saccharine elements of such vocals that give already edgy, witty lyrics extra punch. Namely, “Give us a smile princess, it’s better for business,” positions Barter as a smiling assassin, ready to cut down any frustrating stereotype or expectation of a guitar wielding girl ready to be thrown her way.
Effervescent in its delivery of solid grunge rock and pop riffs that kicked out against the guy code that weighs down much of Australian music, even today, A Suitable Girl was a breath of fresh air back in March.
Find Something You Love and Let It Kill You
Adelaide’s Grenadiers stepped into third album territory when they released Find Something You Love and Let It Kill You in November. Continuing to refine and add layers of intensity to their brand of punk rock that is establishing the band as formidable players in this rugged territory, Find Something You Love… pours frustration with the banal and the boring and a strive for the passionate inspiration that can bring anyone out of depression and a creative darkness.
The end result?
A fiery and consistent record of balls to the wall Australian rock music worthy of its place within the larger collection of albums that have been released by bands in the genre this year.
12. The Smith Street Band
More Scared of You Than You Are of Me
The fourth studio offering from The Smith Street Band sees the Melbourne legends stepping further into the upper echelons of Australian rock musicians infiltrating the wider consciousness of our hungry, eager young live music fans looking for more than a thrashing guitar riff to connect with.
Produced by Jeff Rosenstock, the album sees Wil Wagner utilise every single speck of space to the fullest extent. A wide range of emotion is explored and overall, More Scared of You Than You Are of Me is a brighter, less melancholic offering from The Smith Street Band. It struck a refreshed and exciting new direction for the group, while the unmistakeable sincerity and heart behind Wagner’s lyrics and their delivery remained as strong as ever.
11. All Our Exes Live in Texas
When We Fall
The debut album from Sydney’s All Our Exes combined the talents of four of the city’s finest songwriters in producing an album that was equal parts clever, entertaining and very much accomplished. Blending indie-folk with country elements that have brought the band to wider attention in 2017, When We Fall came to us sun-drenched and oozing in honeyed, irresistible vocal flair.
The balance of musical influences on When We Fall was impressively executed, with the country, folk and indie charms on the record refraining from drowning one another out, while the personalities of each of these songwriters shine through brightly. A great deal of love has been put into these songs – something we should always expect from artists – but When We Fall wears its heart on its sleeve, a striking highlight of this collection of material.
10. Alex Lahey
I Love You Like a Brother
Alex Lahey’s breakthrough debut album, I Love You Like a Brother, built impressively on the foundations laid on B-Grade University and the shows Lahey had put behind her as 2017 rattled on out. It’s release back in October further showed off Lahey’s talents as a songwriter; the orchestration of these songs are fun, smart and evocative.
A clever lyricist, Lahey deftly weaves themes of love, rejection, gender norms and expectation like a goddamn pro and well, she is. Let’s be real here. There’s a reason why Australian audiences – and now, international ones alike – have been switching on to Lahey, her pop-punk melodies and insatiable choruses. She speaks for a lot of listeners and that sense of common ground and relatable content has been represented via I Love You Like a Brother brilliantly.
When we say ‘veterans’ in the case of Horrorshow, we’re not setting the Sydney duo up as being one album away from retirement. Much the opposite. On 2017’s Bardo State, Solo and Adit have poured almost a decade of experience on the road and in studio grinding into an album that stands out as a highlight of their catalogue.
The album itself brims with talent, established and emerging; discovering Taj Ralph and putting the spotlight on the young vocalist was an inspired move, one that demonstrated Horrorshow’s consistent knack for putting young artists and artists they believe in, to the fore. Bringing Omar Musa onboard too was another boss move; Horrorshow were aiming high with Bardo State and the pay off was definitely an impactful one. Heartfelt and sincere, Solo’s lyrics offer a further insight into a wordsmith that hasn’t stopped developing his craft, while Adit’s production skills are as ever, hard to beat.
8. Sampa The Great
Birds and The Bee9
The conversation around what constitutes an album and a mixtape has been strong with Sampa’s latest but regardless, the recently released Birds and The Bee9 is one of the strongest releases hands down. For Sampa, her emergence as a powerful player in Australian music has marked 2017 with a list of successes on stage and in studio both here, and abroad. When she wasn’t dominating on Australian stages, Sampa was in studio with Estelle and Rahki in France, or touring with Joey Bada$$ through the UK. It’s a catapult of a rise to success for the now Melbourne-based hip hop artist and with the release of Birds and The Bee9, we’ve been given a delectable taste of what’s to come from Sampa in the New Year.
Her influences aren’t confused; the mix of hip hop, neo-soul and jazz is assured and confident, as are Sampa’s words. Her stories have always been delivered with intense personal drive and on Birds and The Bee9, the heartfelt has never been felt so obviously. A career-defining piece of work for an artist still just getting started, Birds and The Bee9 is a shining highlight of music from this year.
7. Meg Mac
Another long awaited debut album, Meg Mac’s Low Blows met the high bar set by the artist herself. After years of grafting live stages around the country and abroad, Low Blows represented the strength in Meg’s music that has continued to develop as a result of these experiences. Of course, Meg’s vocals on Low Blows are a striking element that listeners have been drawn to, but the album doesn’t hinge on this element alone.
The production of Low Blows is gorgeously polished, while Meg’s talents as a songwriter expressed a mature and confident outlook. This is an album that was orchestrated and built to last and though it was released only in July, the longevity of the material is definitely showing itself to us, even now.
6. Cub Sport
Cub Sport’s sophomore album Bats navigated some incredibly personal territory, as songwriter Tim Nelson bared all. Bringing more musical influences into the band’s already established indie-pop sphere, ranging from synth-pop and house to those gorgeous gospel tones on “O Lord”, Cub Sport definitely moved up a level in bringing Bats to life.
As much as this was an album of sweet moments and club-ready hits, Bats harnessed great strength in its pop music and ultimately proved that Cub Sport has become a vibrant and powerful name all their own; if the triple j support wasn’t there, this would be an album that would still have survived and won. It’s the sort of album Cub Sport had been on the path to making for some time and the end result was excellent.
Rest in Piss
The pain and grief that comes through the new album from Melbourne’s Batpiss is undeniable, and that’s exactly how this album should be experienced.
As Thomy Sloane told us in the lead up to album release, this album was about moving on and moving forward. It was ‘a homage to saying goodbye to the old style of writing; we’re all about new beginnings now and moving forward, just getting over shit.’ The rawness of Rest in Piss comes as a slap in the face followed by a cheeky smile; the music entices you to persevere and appreciate it in its haunting, sometimes grotesque and all times clever form.
An intensely personal offering from the dirge-rock trio, the album bursts in its expert rhythmic pace, throttles with its distortion and aggression the likes of Gareth Liddiard would be proud of. Rest in Piss is concise in its overall form but it doesn’t leave any space or any area where the listener is left wanting more. Batpiss are easily one of the best names in the Melbourne hard rock scene at the moment, and Rest in Piss stands out as one of the pinnacle releases of 2017.
4. Paul Kelly
Life is Fine
Paul Kelly’s catalogue of music speaks for itself. Where his 2017 album Life is Fine fits in is definitely somewhere near the top as the revered Australian songwriter has released some of his best material to date with album Number 23. An upbeat and vibrant album filled with pop music already set up to be named classics in time, Life is Fine shows Kelly operating at some of his best songwriting strengths.
Powerful choruses and melodies are met with with the as-expected high level of talent of Kelly’s band of musicians, elevating the music to a bolstered level of excellence. Some may think that for a musician this far into his career, Kelly may be running on fumes of successful records already far behind him. Life is Fine is far from that, instead demonstrating that one of Australia’s best has broached a brand new chapter of a storied career and he’s thriving as ever.
The debut album from Sydney’s Sophie Payten brought Gordi – who had spent quite a lot of the last few years on the road carving out her place within the international market – home with a bang. Reservoir has proven to be a kicker of a studio album, brimming with an unashamed honesty and brashness that has become a signature of Gordi’s.
As our official review of Reservoir noted, “Helping close out Reservoir with five-minutes of the sprawling and soaring “Something Like This”, you’re continually reminded of the honesty Gordi has put into her lyrics. For many artists, the music takes precedent over the lyrics. And while the music on Reservoir is still outrageously strong, the strength of her lyrics is what puts Gordi in another league. Reservoir is an album of loss and relatable tales. But just when you think you’ve worked it out, it goes down another path. Much like a mixed bag of lollies, you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get on Reservoir until you sit down and smash through it.”
2. Jen Cloher
Easily one of Australia’s best songwriters, Jen Cloher presented one of her most candid offerings yet with her self-titled album this year. The honesty Cloher brings to her music is more than just open. She writes lyrics that look inward almost brutally in some places, while navigating childhood stories with an unfiltered frankness that has the listener appreciating Cloher’s body of work even more than before.
From enduring a long distance relationship with a partner that is also riding a journey of success, to the age-old opposition between musicians and music critics, much territory is covered with Jen Cloher that if you thought there was any room to hide out or take a breather, you’re dead wrong. Cloher pours love and an intrinsic appreciation for her craft into Jen Cloher that is undeniable, making the album one we’ve come back to time and time again.
1. Gang of Youths
Go Farther in Lightness
It’s the album that brought the Sydney boys out from under the shadow cast by “Magnolia” and into a new, levelled up light. Now a dual ARIA winning, J Award winning album, Go Farther in Lightness has proved that Gang of Youths are more than a one-triple j album band. And the international spotlight is only getting stronger. As Dylan Marshall said in his official review:
“Straight off the bat, Go Farther In Lightness is a victory album. It’s a victory of love and loss; a triumph for hope and life. It’s an album with many peaks and just as many moments that make you ponder and appreciate your existence. It’s a compass for those lacking direction. It’s the ‘I may not know what I’m doing, but I’m going to have a real crack at it anyway,’ moment we’ve all had. But most importantly, Go Farther In Lightness is an album that re-instills faith in the process called life.”