What a wonderful year it has been for Australian music in 2018!
Genre busting, ambitious, political, experimental and some amazing tunes. It is so hard to distill music into lists but we have tried! Congratulations to all the Australian artists featured – your toil and energies have been worth it. So thank you!
Here is the YMR Top 20 Best Australian Albums of 2018.
20. Golden – Kylie Minogue
Minogue’s 14th offering was a celebration of her fiftieth birthday. Not old, just golden. Yes, much of the album was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, but that is how far “country” the album gets (despite some of the publicity saying Minogue was channelling her inner Dolly Parton!). Regardless of that, the album is joyous and has some wonderful tunes like ‘Shelby ’68’ where Minogue sings about taking risks in love, ‘Lost Without You’ a beautiful song that could either be about a break-up, or the thirst of discovering something new in your inner self, and ‘Dancing’ where Kylie “won’t slow down” – she won’t be defined by age, and this album is an example of delightful pure adult pop.
19. Rainbow Valley – Matt Corby
Matt Corby’s second album is a real feast. An accomplished musician, he plays all the instruments on this album and has written all the songs. Musically and lyrically you feel as if you are gliding in a dewy reverie. An album of reflection , with beautiful tunes – in one song ‘No Ordinary Life” sounding like The Carpenters, and the next sounding like a soul singer from Motown on ‘All Fired Up’ . Corby has made a beautiful album, one that is deeply personal and very special. Sometimes the sophomore album can be the difficult one. In this case, Corby has nailed it.
18. Abomination – Divide and Dissolve
From the opening album title track, you know you are in for something that needs to be absorbed. An ominous feeling of doom and heaviness lurks. They don’t need words – the atmospherics of the music take you to a disconcerting place. Abomination is an unashamedly political album, that fuses scary snares, and trudging drums. The album tackles the rising and strength of marginalised minorities, including Indigenous peoples against racism and oppression. Frankly it is not an easy listen, but it’s not supposed to be. Like an art installation in the form of music, it takes you to a place where you have no choice but to feel.
17. Blue Poles – Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders
What a brilliant mindfuck of an album! Blue Poles is at turns funky, melodic, funny, sardonic, full of wit, and contains great quirky lyrics as exemplified in ‘Dates’, “Drive in the country/I see the cows/They seem happy eating grass?/They have four stomachs but no weekend”. Blue Poles is confident, with a suave feel like you would expect in an early Roxy Music record, while ‘Susan” is reminiscent of Leonard Cohen in his I’m Your Man phase. However comparisons cheapen the talent of Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders – this album is resplendent.
16. Devotion – Laura Jean
A paean to teenage years – those once in a lifetime years that we will never get back. Awash with 80’s synth sounds, personal lyrics, and one of the best Australian songs ever written in ‘Girls on the TV’ – a gorgeous reflection of two teenage girls, and the anguish of the meanness of bullying and harassment, and the aftermath left behind in adulthood. Evocative, courageous and an understated gem of an album. Devotion needs repeated plays to deepen your appreciation of it. Brilliant!
15. Stay – Luca Brasi
Rock is a music genre which some say is on the decline. However Luca Brasi have achieved something brazen with Stay – an album enveloped with pain, reflection, but a sense of optimism. An expansive piece of work that has an anthemic vibe that you might expect at a large stadium rock gig – but the lyrics set this album apart, with it’s emotional intelligence and an awareness that no matter how shit things are, there is always a way out. A band that is getting better and better with each album.
14. Different Beings Being Different – West Thebarton
How can one not like West Thebarton? The enthusiasm and the energy from this band is contagious, and on Different Beings Being Different the punk/grunge vibe is fully embedded and in full flight. Gritty, rowdy vocals sung in an Australian accent, they exude such confidence, where you can tell they enjoy what they are doing. It is rare than an album can reflect the power of a live gig – but this album comes mighty close. All hail to West Thebarton (and no, it’s not pronounced “The Barton”)!!
13. Good Mood – Ball Park Music
Good Mood is a coming of age album for Ball Park Music, where they have fine tuned their unique indie rock sound that is continually evolving. An album that is definitely catchy and loaded with hooks, having a sound that evokes (on some tracks) Hot Chip. From rock, to auto-tuned vocals, to acoustic guitars – this album is a kaleidoscope of sounds that has depth. ‘Hand Off My Body’ has an urgent quirkiness to it, with lyrics such as , “I didn’t like my dick so I chopped it off/I didn’t like my pussy so I chopped it off/I hate my tits so I chopped’em off/I didn’t like my arse so I chopped it off” – an ambitious album that reeks attitude.
12. Kira Puru -EP – Kira Puru
Okay, it’s not strictly an album (it’s an EP) – but isn’t ‘Molotov’ the most sexiest song of 2018? The song gets into your head, captivates you with its groovy bass line, and vocals delivered in such a languid sexy way. ‘Tension’ is another song that hits the mark, full of attitude and pulsating grooves. Kira Puru is a voice to be reckoned with, and these five sparkling songs are a great introduction to this new talent.
11. Teddywaddy – East Brunswick All Girls Choir
An album that evokes open spaces, the desolation of the Australian terrain and the isolation of just being. Teddywaddy is a powerful album that is at turns plaintive and the next building up to a crescendo of rage and longing. The album is held together by the arrangements and the explosive and expressive vocals of Marcus Hobbs. And what a voice it is! ‘Never Never’ a definite highlight. An avalanche of movement, and feeling of being jolted with songs that imbue such emotive expression – this album is the equivalent of the film ‘Wake In Fright’ but in music. An album that needs to be absorbed.
10. Hi Viz – The Presets
Adult electro-pop at its best. Hi Viz has The Presets moving away from the critical mass of other electronic music outfits, and show that they are continually shaping their music into something that you can not only dance to, but at the same time producing a piece of work that is an absolute triumph. How can you not be sucked into ‘Tools Down’ with the constant refrain of “Tools down, pump it up, back to the front, hug it out” or the sinuous sounds of ‘Beethoven’ – there is a feeling of daring on this album, with meshing of sounds, beats, shapes and colours.
9. Love Monster – Amy Shark
An album that is filled with drama, and a feeling that has echoes of Lorde. The album shakes with love, loss and anger, with songs that sound as if they have been taken directly out of Amy’s diary. Personal, emotive and arrangements that slither and pounce, with songs that sound like that they could be recited at a church. An impressive debut, with some anthemic choruses that rouse and provide an insight into the world of Amy Shark. An album that will open her up to the world, and definitely a songwriter to watch.
8. Keep Up – Loose Tooth
A sumptuous sounding three piece from Melbourne, with a knack for hooks, melodies, and short songs featuring jangly guitars, Lindy Morrison style drumming and sugar coated harmonies. First impressions have the band sounding like a mix of early 80’s indie band Romeo Void, with a touch of The Velvet Underground, The Go-Betweens and even The Chills, but comparisons to other bands would distract from the glorious pop contained in their first LP Keep Up. They sound from a different era, but have a timelessness that makes them feel so now. From millennial indecision, reflection on friendships and capturing the “slings and arrows” felt in relationship break-ups and subsequent aftermath – all meshed in brilliant pop. The confidence in their playing, contrasting songwriting styles and talent for identifying a honey coated hook, makes this album interesting – the melodies soaked in sunshine belying the darkness in lyric content.
7. Depth of Field – Sarah Blasko
There is a stark disquiet on this album – a feeling of discomfort. Is this reflective of Blasko’s mind, or is she like an actor creating a mood for us to absorb? Rhythmic pulses, her voices weaving over these songs, sometimes angelic, sometimes deep. Blasko as a mother, as a lover, as a wife, as a woman, and as an observer. This album continues to reveal itself over continued listens, and further exemplifies Blasko as a gifted songwriter that never makes the journey easy – an unsettling album that makes you feel – and in the end, that’s what good music is supposed to do.
6. Good Citizens – Cash Savage and The Last Drinks
How does one try to explain Cash Savage? Sometimes she sounds like Ian Dury or Shane MacGowan and the next delivers poetry like Patti Smith. Good Citizens pumps with sweat, blood, alcohol and anger. An album where Savage ponders on suburbia, misogyny, and the middle-class conveyor belt on the amazing title track – a song that makes you feel uncomfortable, and where gut reactions are not hid – and that’s the album’s strength – Savage delivering songs about all the glory and grit of her world in her impassioned way, with a band that sounds in top form. An album that meshes the political and the personal, and is a triumph for a band that continues their musical trajectory.
5. Becoming – Jodi Phillis
An honest, personal album that deals with loss, grief, love and the transformation of how all these things change people. Phillis has bared her soul, reached deep within and with her husband-producer, Tim Oxley, has created a beautiful and devastating piece of work. There is so much vulnerability in speaking such truth, but Phillis has aired all her feelings about her experiences. An album that serves as a chronicle of one person’s experience of change, yet ultimately becomes therapeutic for her listener – giving hope that life and love is worth it, and with change comes positivity. A beautiful album that marks Phillis as one of Australia’s vital singer-songwriters.
4. Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow) – Gurrumul
Gurrumul was an enigma and a great talent that we lost in 2017. This posthumous release is beautiful , sweeping, mysterious and spiritual. The meshing of the ancient and the modern. This musical journey is emotional – you don’t need to understand the words, you can feel Gurrumul transcend and weave a vision of the connection to land, connection to Indigenous stories and an overwhelming feeling of beauty and in some cases, sadness. His voice searing over the orchestral arrangements, just like a laser beam across the desert. This album is a masterpiece – never has an album reflected this country in such a tangible manner. Gurrumul’s name will forever live on, due to this sublime album.
3. Tell Me How You Really Feel – Courtney Barnett
No longer writing diary like vignettes, Tell Me How You Really Feel is a further step forward for Barnett. Deeper, darker lyrics, and more experimental yet melodic music. Tackling songs like ‘Nameless Faceless’ about internet trolls and coupling that with Margaret Atwood’s quote “I wanna walk through the park in the dark/Men are scared that women will laugh at them/I wanna walk through the park in the dark/Women are scared that men will kill them” – a song that resonated even more after the senseless death of Eurydice Dixon in a Melbourne park. The album ponders different things like Barnett’s lack of self confidence and despair – however, musically she has never sounded so confident. Her guitar playing providing the musical punctuation to her songs. Definitely an artist continuing on her artistic path, taking risks, yet producing an honest piece of work. For a woman that indicates “I don’t know, I don’t know anything“, she provides us with so much. Tell Me How You Really Feel has Barnett on an artistic high, but still an international commercial success.
2. Nature – Paul Kelly
Nature is a brilliant album, that blends Kelly’s own compositions with words of poets, where Kelly turns these poems into songs. Conceptually this album works, where there is something otherworldly about it. It seems to question the existence of nature and the forces of nature, the human soul, the cycle of birth and death, and of the beauty of being alive, in love, but also the gravity of the inevitable. Paul Kelly has produced a work that interlinks the poetic with far reaching questions about our existence. Love surely conquers all, but can the human soul really conquer death? We live in a mysterious world immersed in nature, seasons, the pull of the moon and the tides. Nature is an album of excellence, and further cements Kelly’s reputation as one of our best songwriters.
1. Native Tongue – Mojo Juju
As we reviewed in August this year, this concept album muses on identity, race, and the importance of belonging and self-respect. The album is a cathartic journey, as Juju through her songwriting explores her own genesis and identity, but also unravels a family secret that confirmed Juju’s great-grandfather was Wiradjuri. As a further representation of Juju’s genesis, and an example of the melting pop of Australia’s multiculturalism, Juju’s father is Filipino. With this album, as exemplified in the title track, Juju tries to identify who she is, singing in an almost gospel style “I don’t know where I belong”. The album permeates with a feeling of anguish, regret, lost time but is never self-pitying. Native Tongue has such indelible beauty. You might be able to dance to it, but this album speaks truth and deserves to be listened. Definitely an Australian classic. Native Tongue has further elevated Juju as an important and ambitious artist in Australian music.