Pilerats End of Year Wrap: The Best Aus Albums of 2018
It's been a big year for Australian music, but from Alice Ivy to What So Not, here are the albums that stood out.
2018 has been a wild ride for Australian music. While Australian music has never felt stronger, the top of our charts has been dominated by the internationals, with only a handful of Australian artists striding the to the top. Even then, the majority of these chart-toppers have been from 'legends' within the scene (Kylie, Gurrumul and Paul Kelly among them); an accomplishment? Sure, but it doesn't quite showcase the strength or versatility of Australian music in 2018. Instead, this power and range has bustling in the underground, averting popular commercial trends or spinning them in experimental and left-field reigns, offering something a touch different to everything else in there, even if they've got the same bright pop hooks or charging guitar that you'll find elsewhere.
Across the board, Australian music has strived in 2018. Feeling the effect of hip-hop's rise internationally, artists including B Wise have put out incredible debut albums that have shown their own spin on 2018's most-popular genre (earlier this year, rap music officially became the world's most popular genre of music, overtaking rock), while others - including Carmouflage Rose, Manu Crook$, Baker Boy, Arno Faraji, Miss Blanks, Tkay Maidza - have done the same with singles, mixtapes and EPs, showcasing a thriving local scene that time and time again, gets shut out in the limelight due to the 'old-dogs' (this year, Hilltop Hoods, 360, Bliss N Eso's Esoterik and Kerser made four of the five ARIA Award nominations for Best Urban Release - whatever that means). Our pop scene has thrived, whether it be through triumphant debuts from Jack River, Eves Karydas and Kota Banks (the latter of which technically being a mixtape, not an album, but we're letting it pass anyway), or returns from our best - Troye Sivan and Cub Sport included.
Our indie and rock scenes have become internationally recognised, with Camp Cope's powerful and engrossing return How To Socialise and Make Friends making many year-end lists alongside Courtney Barnett's Tell Me How You Really Feel, while DMA's, City Calm Down, Middle Kids and others fly the flag more locally. Electronic-wise, this year saw many of our country's long-time favourites - notably Golden Features and What So Not - finally put out career-defining debut albums, while returns by a newly-renamed RÜFÜS DU SOL and The Presets, at long last, continued to push our synth melodies and bass kicks internationally.
In summary, it's been a huge year and it's been relatively easy to gloss over essential releases because there's simply been too many to cover. So, consider this a primer of sorts - a 25-long list of Australian albums that we've come back to and been impressed by time and time again, featuring many of the names above alongside a whole lot more. Dive into below, and stay tuned for what's bound to be an equally successful 2019 from the country that makes music like no-one else.
Alice Ivy - I'm Dreaming
Released at the start of this year, many may have forgotten about Alice Ivy's first attempt into the world of the album format, which is a shame because I'm Dreaming is a trip and a half. Combining her sample-heavy swirls of psychedelic electronica with a range of guest collaborators - E^ST, Bertie Blackman, Georgia van Etten and Cazeaux O.S.L.O among the biggest - I'm Dreaming is a masterclass at what the gifted multi-instrumentalist does best. "Amongst the already released singles, I'm Dreaming solidifies Alice Ivy's prowess at crafting clever and intricate productions which shine with her recognisable bright touch."
B Wise - Area Famous
On his debut album Area Famous, B Wise presents a skilful 13-track display at his signature take on Australian hip-hop, mixing personal lyricism with a frenzied vocal pace and dynamic, versatile productions that all together, unite to form perhaps this year's best Australian hip-hop album. It's an ode to the cultural mixing he grew up with living in the western suburbs of Sydney, exploring the "loyalty and unspoken honour codes" that come with the a culturally diverse upbringing, enlisting R&B star-in-the-making Kaiit and rising rapper Anfa Rose for an album that, after a lengthy time of singles and mixtapes, felt like an artist finally finding his feet.
Camp Cope - How To Socialise and Make Friends
It's hard to find a more powerful Australian album than Camp Cope's 2018 return. Through the subtle indie-rock base created by Kelso and Thomo, lead singer and guitarist Georgia Maq shines and at times, roars, mixing incredibly powerful and touching lyrical themes with some of the best Australian songwriting of the year. Take The Face of God, for example, an obvious album highlight among many others, which features Georgia at her most vulnerable, howling above a stripped-back instrumental as she questions rape culture and the effects it leaves with those impacted. "Could it be true? You couldn't do that to someone. Not you, nah your music is too good."
City Calm Down - Echoes In Blue
“It turned to shit, on April 18th” opens City Calm Down frontman Jack Bourke on their second album Echoes In Blue, and from here, the album doesn't get much brighter. The long-awaited follow up to 2015's In A Restless House is a gripping affair that asks as many questions as it answers, tackling topics ranging from over-exhaustion to the "unintelligent and meaningless drivel that saturates the internet and TV;" taking on big ideas and subjects above delicate instrumentals that only a certain times, like In This Modern Land, blossom into the triumphant indie-rock of their debut.
Confidence Man - Confident Music for Confident People
To start, many people didn't really know what to think of Confidence Man. Their comical lyricism and dancefloor-ready instrumentals - something that became only more notorious after fragments of their Splendour In The Grass set became a social media hit - meant many dismissed them as a parody, offering light-hearted relief from the world but not much else. Confident Music for Confident People, however, set this straight, with the Janet Planet and Sugar Bones taking us on a bright and at times, hilarious journey through their catchy electro-pop sound that, in the time since has become one of Australia's most cult-adored.
Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel
The first few seconds of Tell Me How You Really Feel open with a whimper rather than a bang, but after the woozy indie of its lead track Hopefulessness, Courtney Barnett's latest album opens up into something of vulnerable beauty. It's a personal documentation of the artist’s struggle with opening up to her partner, her friends, her fans, and ultimately, herself; her relentless schedule, the burden of being always travelling and away from home, and the "soul destroying" effort of running your own label (Milk! Records with partner, Jen Cloher), all present above glistening guitars and subdued backings. "I’m getting louder now, I’m getting louder," she sings, and with Tell Me How You Really Feel, she's becoming one of Australia's loudest.
Cub Sport - BATS
In a year dubbed #20GAYTEEN thanks to the rising representation and power of LGBT+ humans both in culture and otherwise, Cub Sport, expectedly, flourished. BATS signalled the return of the Brisbane four-piece in a big way, with tender moments of gospel-pop (O Lord) and tropical-ish ballads uniting on a confident album that set out to help others and themselves, documenting the prospering romance of their most visible members, Tim and Sam, for the world to see. It's a record built with personal anecdotes and vulnerability in the forefront, and while it may be anxiety-inducing to put yourself in the limelight in this way, it helped mould Cub Sport into one of Australia's best acts - and one of our most important.
DMA's - For Now
In comparison to their 2016 debut Hills End, DMA's second venture into the long-listen format is a bit more complicated. While it upholds the ladsy, Brit-pop attitude of their debut, it does so in a bit of a different way, with brighter melodies, stronger pop mannerisms and even a Presets-aided moment of alt-disco showing their versatility and proving that they're a bit more than the howls of Delete. It almost feels like its bridging the gap of pre- and post-For Now DMA's; their catchy, stripped-back songwriting evident on singles including the heartful In The Air, while much of it, The End especially, signalling a future direction vaguer and less bound by genres. They can really do what they want, and it's impossible to tell where this will take them.
DZ Deathrays - Bloody Lovely
In 2018, DZ Deathrays were on top. After their 2014 record Black Rat thrust them upwards, Bloody Lovely kept them there, with DZ's impactful dance-rock punch combining new and old sounds alike for a record which could really appeal to anyone - The Wiggles' Murray Cook included. It's an album that sees their thrash-punk sound hit its limits; flogging guitar riffs meeting crashing percussion and soaring choruses as the adored two-piece up the heat and reintroduce the world to their energetic, high-energy sound after a bit of time away from the spotlight.
Eves Karydas - summerskin
Initially known as Eves The Behavior, 2018 saw Hannah Karydas embrace her new alias for a soaring debut album built around exciting productions and bright pop hooks, solidifying her place as one of our bustling pop scene's most exciting. Built mostly upon her experiences moving from Brisbane to the UK, via LA, it's an album that shines with glistening, polished shine; Australian ex-pats Sam Dixon (Adele, Sia) and Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa donating their own signature production and writing styles as Karydas' soaring vocal glides above some of the catchiest sounds of this summer.
Golden Features - SECT
This one can simply be described as a long, extended 'ooooooooooftttttt'. After teasing us for years with singles, remixes and EPs, 2018 saw masked house don Golden Features finally embrace the album format with SECT, a release that although chaotic and maddening, feels like a defining moment for an artist already well engrained into the scene. From Justice-esque vocal-synth to the crashing, bass pulse we've all grown familiar with, SECT saw Golden flesh out his thick, deep sound, while also signalling an exciting collection of future paths through collaboration and slightly off-centre breakdowns we didn't quite see coming despite our familiarity with one of Australian electronic's elite.
Hockey Dad - Blend Inn
Hockey Dad's second album Blend Inn is a great listen - of course - but when you see it live, it turns into a whole different beast. It seems that in a live format, the charging guitar riffs and jerking percussion of the New South Wales favourites become only stronger and louder, their vivacious energy upped and more chaotic as their screaming cries are met with rapturous enthusiasm in the crowd. Blend Inn, in recording, almost feels like a victory lap of Hockey Dad's signature surf-rock sound, packing the punch of their live show but in a way that's more polished and refined, signalling the refreshing arrival of Hockey Dad's fun and light-hearted approach to a sometimes quite serious sound.
Horror My Friend - Home Life
After their 2016 debut LP Stay In, Do Nothing placed them as ones to watch in the Australian music world, Horror My Friend's second album Home Life saw them evolve past that point, proving their place as one of your should-be favourite bands with a tantalising take on alt-rock, garage, shoegaze, punk and more, blending all these genres together into a mish-mash of genre-blurring goodness it's easy to get addicted to. Drawing inspiration from the push-pull of being in a touring band and having normal responsibilities, it signals a moment of maturity from the Adelaide three-piece, constantly keeping us on our toes as they thrive towards an even better 2019 ahead.
Jack River - Sugar Mountain
Jack River's debut album is a double-edged sword of sorts. On one side, it's a sparkingly collection of brilliantly written indie-pop that may be among Australia's best, with thick pop sensibilities meeting light, guitar-backed instrumentals that only spotlight and platform Holly Rankin's soaring vocal over the top. On the other, however, it's a crushing album about the loss of her sister, with the aforementioned glistening melodies meeting their match in Rankin's touching and at times, confrontational lyricism. "I confess I needed you there," she sings on the album's closing Confess. "I've gone through every memory we shared tonight / And I don't have the guts to carry on without you / When the storm breaks through I'll be standing there / Waiting for you."
Kota Banks - PRIZE
Although not technically an album, Kota Banks' debut mixtape PRIZE is an album-length release and it's among our favourites, so let's blur the definitions a touch. PRIZE is an invigorating listen, exploring the warped, club-centric electro-pop of Kota Banks' left-field gaze, mixing empowering, confidence-building anthems with odes to FIFA and her Italian upbringing amongst Swick's twisted bubblegum-pop productions underneath. It's a show-stopping entrance filled with flavour and energy, welcoming the arrival of one of Australian pop's most daring and unique - she's it.
Middle Kids - Lost Friends
While they were definitely well-known before the release of their debut album Lost Friends, Sydney trio Middle Kids were one of 2018's most successful Australian acts, with their 12-strong collection of versatile indie-pop setting them up nicely for national dominance and, with performances on Jimmy Kimmel and a heap of US festivals over the last twelve months, the beginnings of international dominance too. From blasting indie-rock to hook-fuelled festival-pop, Lost Friends set Middle Kids on track to become Australia's next big breakout band, and with their latest stand-alone single Salt Eyes only impressing more, it wouldn't surprise us to see this further in 2019.
Mojo Juju - Native Tongue
Uniting incredible vocals and songwriting the vulnerability and personal insight from one of our most remarkable musicians, it would be a near-crime to not have Mojo Juju's returning third album Native Tongue in your end-of-year lists. Native Tongue was a cohesive and career-defining album from the Melbourne-based artist, highlighting the importance of family and reflection above tender harmonies - offering a well-welcomed voice to a scene where so many people sound - and look - the same. "This album is about my relationships with Ancestry and Elders," she said at the album's release. " I wrote this album for my younger self, because as a kid growing up in regional Australia, I would have benefited so greatly from having heard more stories from, by or about other people of colour, queer people, people like me."
No Mono - Islands Part 1
What happens when you combine one of Australia's most angelic voices with the songwriting and production of one of our best? No Mono. The pairing of Tom Snowdon and Tom Iansek have gone from strength to strength throughout the past two years and their debut album Islands Part 1 captures their magicalness in all its glory, pairing irresistibly stunning vocal with swirling synth melodies and soft harmonies for passionate, tear-jerking and heartstring-pulling works of art that, in the time since the album's arrival, they've continued to expand upon with every move.
Ocean Alley - Chiaroscuro
Although they've always been a cult favourite in the Australian scene, 2017 felt like the true arrival of Sydney Northern Beaches outfit Ocean Alley, but 2018? 2018 saw Ocean Alley dominate. Following a successful run of singles including Hottest 100 favourite Confidence, the psych-surf-rock group found the absolute peak of their powers on their second album Chiaroscuro, combining their infectious riffs and festival-ready vocals for an album that sees them blossom into the guitar-driven, sun-soaked Australian heavyweights they deserve to be.
Odette - To A Stranger
It's hard to find a debut album with the elegance of Odette's burst-out-the-gates, To A Stranger. After initially rising with strong promise through 2017, Odette grabbed 2018 by the horns and made it hers, with To A Stranger being the highlight in a year of highlights for the 20-year-old musician. It was a record full of maturity and confidence, twisting between spoken-word poetry and soft harmonies as she sways between the claps of Take It To The Heart or the soft glow of Watch Me Read You, offering something remarkably different to the rest of 2018's new forces in pop music, and in the process, solidifying her as one of our scene's most memorable.
RÜFÜS DU SOL - Solace
2018 was a big year for the Australian electronic album, and alongside names like Golden Features, The Presets and What So Not, RÜFÜS DU SOL's return stood out as one of the best. Their third album Solace didn't include the accessible pop hooks of Bloom nor the crackling indie-dance of their debut, but instead, it met somewhere along the middle, offering their rawest and most organic album so far as the band reflect on a few years of chaotic upheaval - including a much-needed move to the US as they plot international dominance. It's an album focused more on songwriting and organic instrumentation than their past work, removing some of the polish from Bloom for an easy listen you can repeat time and time again.
The Presets - HI VIZ
It's been a while since we last heard from The Presets prior to this year, but it just made their return that little bit sweeter. Following on from their thumping, club-driven Pacifica record in 2013 came HI VIZ - an unadulterated and unapologetic showcase of the late-00s electro that defined their early rise to the top of Australian electronic, with guests including Alison Wonderland and DMA's joining their chaotic synth blasts for what was possibly the funnest record of the year. "It's club music with a bit of grunt, a little bit of dirt, with one eye on the future and one - slightly wobbly - eye on the past."
Tropical Fuck Storm - A Laughing Death In Meatspace
More than just a band with a bloody good name, Melbourne group Tropical Fuck Storm are one of Australia's best cult-followed bands, with their 2018 album A Laughing Death In Meatspace doing exactly what Tropical Fuck Storm want it to do: show off weird music for people who are sick of the same old shit. It's explosive yet smart, combining clever wordplay and witty one-liners with wild guitar riffs and blazing melodies that times, becomes a wild, chaotic mess that we whole-heartedly froth every minute of.
Troye Sivan - Bloom
After the success of his debut Blue Neighbourhood catapulted the LA-via-Perth musician into the spotlight, Troye Sivan turned into a whole different beast on Bloom - a far more triumphant, slick, and at times intimate take on the pop star's bright sound. From the maximalist dance-pop of My My My! to the tender, Smiths-inspired What A Heavenly Way To Die, Bloom is a raw and honest representation of every facet of Sivan as a musician and a person. It placed his unabashed queerness in the limelight in a way that little others do, and in the process, pushed him forward as one of pop music's best and most important.
What So Not - Not All The Beautiful Things
The past few years have been turbulent for What So Not, to say the least. The project has gone from a superstar pairing of two of Australia's finest producers to the creative passion project of Chris Emerson aka Emoh Instead, and in the process, became one of our international success stories, with EPs including 2016's Divide & Conquer giving the now-solo project a cult-like audience that has seen Emoh play everything from Coachella to Ultra. Not All The Beautiful Things, What So Not's first full-length album, felt like the musician truly finding his footing; the lessons learnt from past releases inspiring NATBT to be a concise and focused, collaboration-heavy masterclass at the twisting, bass-driven electronic that can only really go up from here.