Working as mtv.com.au's senior music and culture writer for the past 17 months has been a whirlwind. The Australian music industry throughout the past two years endured a painful and relentless battering thanks to COVID-19 and all the subsequent restrictions, it’s a wonder that there are any musicians that still can find it within themselves to make anything at all. But despite the odds being stacked against them, Australia’s musicians really turned it out. They really turned it the fuck out. While the country closed, opened up and closed once more, local musicians – both the veterans and the virgins of the industry – kept it pushing and delivered some of the best music this country has seen in a long time.
Without Australian music, I would have spent the past year and a half twiddling my thumbs, probably in silence. Instead, I got the chance to share this great music with you lot, and engage in conversation with some of the makers behind it. It’s been a real privilege, and I’m devo to be saying goodbye to it.
With that being said, this week feels ripe for retrospect, so I took a headfirst dive through the archives (see: my playlists) to find my 17 favourite songs released by Aussie artists in the last 17 months. Thanks for reading, and bigger thanks for listening.
Alice Skye – “Party Tricks”
I didn’t intend to start this list with a song that will leave tears just pissing from your eyeballs, but here we are. Alice Skye sings with such incredible fragility on “Party Tricks”, it leaves you completely still. Sounding like she’s spotlit, looking on from the outside, she sings “enjoy my party trick: I’ll break my own heart for you”. Who fucking writes lyrics like that anymore? As crunchy guitars build around her towards the song’s end, you can hear her sadness and grief envelop her, and you can feel it envelop you, too.
Amyl & The Sniffers – “Freaks To The Front”
Amyl & The Sniffers’ second album, Comfort To Me, thrashes ruthlessly from start to finish. Amy Taylor and co. do not leave a single moment unmilked, and get the most out of every second. Case in point? “Freaks To The Front”. You don’t even clock that the song is only a little over a minute and a half long, because it wastes no time in invigorating you with searing guitars and hyperactive drums. Get me to a mosh pit ASAP.
Barkaa – “King Brown”
Barkaa has never been one to pull punches, but “King Brown” feels like a definite inflection point in her already impressive career. The rattling percussion, keys and sultry brass are all great, but they all pale in comparison to Barkaa’s venom-drenched lyrics and unwavering bravado. God, this mix of energy, assertion and undeniable cool is so rare, and Barkaa makes it all look effortless.
Courtney Barnett – “Rae Street”
These past two years, all of us have needed to find some sort of solace in life’s mundanities, right? For large parts of that time, we were confined to the walls of our homes except for the odd government mandated stroll. After a while, things feel less exciting and more torturous. Not so, it seems, for Courtney Barnett – whose words make everywhere feel like wonderland. She’s a proven master at finding intrigue in the minute details the rest of us tend to gloss over, and “Rae Street” is no different. The song is easy-going and drenched in sweat, with Barnett staring out her bedroom window, musing about change in her bedroom, on the street and in the world around her.
flowerkid – “miss andry”
You know that episode of The Simpsons where Bart falls in love with that older girl, but she’s in love with Jimbo, then Bart has that nightmare about the girl where she rips out his heart and tosses it across the room before it slides down the wall into the bin?
This song is basically that. It’s also the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard.
Genesis Owusu – “A Song About Fishing”
Any song from Genesis Owusu’s monstrous and all-conquering debut album, Smiling With No Teeth, could have made this list, really, but the meditative ebb and flow of “A Song About Fishing” – a notably calm and breezy song from an artist who is rarely either – pulls it over the line. I don’t need to tell you how good Genesis Owusu is as a rapper, or how at home he sounds over an aggressive funk beat, but it might be worth reminding you just what else he can do.
Georgia Maq & Alice Ivy – “Someone Stranger”
Georgia Maq’s voice is synonymous with that special brand of Australian rock that has taken the world by storm. It’s a voice that could stand out among a chorus of millions, I’d say because of her unbeatable emotional range. When Georgia Maq feels, you feel it tenfold. In Camp Cope, she portrayed that emotion, easy, but when Maq released her debut solo album in 2019, Pleaser, she proved that she could marry her range with pop sounds, too.
“Someone Stranger”, a collaboration between her and multi-hyphenate Alice Ivy, reinforces Maq’s pop star credentials. It’s defiant and it’s soaring, strong evidence that Georgia Maq might just be able to do it all.
Huck Hastings – “The Clincher”
Sydney’s Huck Hastings specialises in the tender and the vulnerable, and he’s never shown more of either than on “The Clincher”. Listen to this with your full attention, and let Hastings command your attention with little more than his guitar.
Jack Colwell – “Home Again”
All of Colwell’s debut album, SWANDREAM, is as stunning as it is heartwrenching. But there’s something about “Home Again” that struck me deeply. Perhaps it’s the track’s haunting whimsy, or its gorgeous orchestration. Or maybe it’s Colwell’s voice itself, which echoes both his trauma and glistens, ever-so-slightly, of hope.
King Stingray – “Get Me Out”
This song is so damn special, man. King Stingray fuse traditional Yolŋu songs and clapsticks with pub-ready electric guitars and it results in some of the most interesting rock music this country produces. “Get Me Out” was written about the band – hailing from the Northern Territory – feeling swallowed up by Melbourne’s cityscape particularly, but there’s something to be said about the way we’ve all wanted to escape whatever the past year has thrown our way. Somehow, King Stingray managed to inject the song with such a liberating energy that, while “Get Me Out” simmers with frustration, it also feels hopeful.
Kylie Minogue – “Say Something”
She’s an icon for a REASON.
Mallrat – “Rockstar”
Anyone who has spent any time with Mallrat will tell you that the energy she puts into the world is nothing but sweet, sunny and positive – traits her music tends to share as well. But, on last year’s “Rockstar”, she is scorned, angry and has something to prove. She made a promise to her doubters, and a promise to herself, that her global domination is inevitable – and she does it over grittier production than ever before. Loved it.
Ngaiire – “3”
When I spoke to Ngaiire about this song, taken from her album of the same name, she spoke about how it represented an ultimate reset. She called it her favourite song from the album and, with its invigorating and soothing choral vocals, it’s no stretch to say it’s mine too.
Sarah Mary Chadwick – “Full Mood”
When I first heard this song, I was awestruck by how intimate it is. I sat in silence, listening to it on repeat. When I got my bearings again, I immediately shared “Full Mood” with a few friends. If you haven’t heard this song before, I’m challenging you to not react the exact same way.
The Kid LAROI – “Stay (feat. Justin Bieber)”
I said it was going to be song of the year. I said the song would make The Kid LAROI a worldwide superstar. Please come to me for next week’s lottery numbers.
Tkay Maidza – “Kim (feat. Yung Baby Tate)”
Rambunctious. Breathless. Electrifying. Those are just some of the words you can use to describe Tkay Maidza’s “Kim”, a song that ushered in a new era of the rapper’s career. One that has seen her sellout venues all around America. After years of working away at her craft, she’s finally getting the flowers she so rightly deserves.
Ziggy Ramo – “April 25th”
When Ziggy Ramo dropped his debut album, Black Thoughts, by surprise last year, inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests around the world, he knew these were words that Australia needed to hear. Australia, as it’s so called, has a longstanding problem with even acknowledging just how violent and racist its history is, or even that racism and violence exists at all. Black Thoughts is one man’s story, but the messages shared within are ones that all of us need to remind ourselves of, at the very least.
Its shining star? The confronting and fearless “April 25th”.
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