Madeleine Laing – Editor
As soon as I suggest to the other past and current contributors that we do this list, I regret it. How could anyone feel qualified to judge that? But being the longest running Aussie music blog still technically operational, we felt like we had to do something.
Me and Grace both confessed our fears that our lists would end up being ‘a bunch of Melbourne shit from 2014’. Hers turned out very diverse and thoughtful (frankly, rude). But mine… well, you’ll see. I guess it gets to a point where you know what you like.
There are many great live bands, fantastic EPs, or culturally important acts that aren’t on this list. But all I can say is these are the Australian albums, after ten years of listening to almost exclusively Australian music, that have had the biggest effect on me. The ones that feel emblematic, one way or another, of the decade.
The Ocean Party – Soft Focus (2014) & Light Weight (2015)
I couldn’t separate these albums, even though they’re quite different, because I fell in love with them both in the same all-consuming way. Because that’s what it’s always felt like for me to really love an album, a big overwhelming, and obsessive, crush. You wanna bring it up in conversation all the time. You lie around listening to it all day, dreaming about nothing in particular. When you’re 21 and 22 you really can feel like someone made a record just for you. Or two records, even.
Making the mundane transcendent is probably the one thing that unites if not all, then most, of the records on this list. The Ocean Party did it the best. They wrote years of our lives and sang them back to us. And everything was more beautiful that way. Self-awareness mixed with a healthy bit of self-obsession, the anxiety, the pleasure of apathy, the endless shades of youth. They’re also maybe the last ones who’ll be able to do it so freely. As the reality of the world’s doom becomes apparent, and every day is an endless battle between becoming hysterical and becoming numb, will we still be able to take pleasure in aimlessness? Not that OP were ever slackers, their songs always had a point, just the specifics never seemed as important as the sound of a few very talented friends coming together to make them, hopelessly smitten young people coming together to listen. Or maybe it’ll all make even more sense now. ‘I went out. I thought what else could I do?’
I’ve written this over and over, because I feel so much and need to say something, but I know I’m not the person to say it right. Zac Denton’s death was so senseless, so sad, it’s impossible to accept. Impossible to let go, impossible to express. He meant so much to so many people like me, who didn’t know him. It seems wrong to say you grieve for someone you didn’t know, but grief is the only word we have for this kind emptiness, anger, sadness. No upbeat note to end on. What can we do but go back to the records, remembering him.
Boomgates – Double Natural (2012)
This album sounds like the bits of Australia that don’t make you wanna cry blood. It’s all sweeping plains, rain clouds coming over the horizon, good bloke energy from Hughes and Huntley. The endless train tracks, chugging along, country vibe. Originally released on Brisbane record label Bedroom Suck, Double Natural reached cult status almost immediately, and was finally re-released last year. By then it already felt like a classic. It’s cathartic, the songs seem to revolve around giving up control, taking what’s coming. Most of all this album sounds ‘real’; it’s what we’re crying out for, now that life’s confusing and fake as fuck.
Sarah Mary Chadwick – Sugar Still Melts in the Rain (2018)
Aquarius and Gemini is my favourite SMC song. Because I’m a romantic coward. Roses Always Die was something I’d never heard before, and breaks my heart to this day. But as a whole record, I can’t go past Sugar Still Melts…. It’s record about grief full of wry genius, retaining some of the perfect simplicity of Roses Always Die, with the bombast of a rocket taking off and scorching a whole city behind it. There’s something defiant about Chadwick’s desperation on this record, saying she’s given up but is still fighting out of muscle memory and it’s so powerful. You want her to win, to finally win.
Total Control – Henge Beat (2011)
I was thinking about whether this spot should be Typical System or this record. Being a consistently late adopter, Typical System was the first Total Control album I properly listen to. ‘Flesh War’ and ‘Glass’ and ‘Black Spring’ are some of my favourite songs. It’s more sophisticated maybe. But then I listened to this record again and my heart raced just like it used to when I would walk around Brisbane listening to it over and over all day long, feeling indestructible and deep. The way that guitar line in ‘Carpet Rash’ gets under your skin, feels like it could rip you apart. The edginess and desperation of the whole thing. And god bless every other band that came after trying to do the same thing, because how could you not?
Angie – Shyness (2017)
This album made me insufferable. ‘Hey guys, have you heard of the piano???’ Truly it felt like discovering a whole new sound in that very old instrument, used in this lowfi, punk way with Angie’s strong but straining voice. Her lyrics are dark and claustrophobic while the sounds around them are confident and rapturous. I love how it often stops and starts, the heavy clanking of the keys, the physicality of her playing. Shyness is a whole world, a complete, tactile record.
Dick Diver – Calendar Days (2013)
Everything Dick Diver did (does?) sounded so good and so easy it’s hard to pick a standout record. I mean, New Start Again kicked off a sound that’s arguably dominated Australian music for the last ten years. But Calendar Days has aged better for me, and it’s got unbeatable jauntiness I often turn to in these trying times. ‘I turn my lemons into slices, and I put them in my beer.’
Alex Cameron – Forced Witness (2017)
I said all I need to say about this record when it came out, but Cameron’s (still very good) new album has driven me even harder back to this one and its dirtbag ecstasy, its pure smut and groove.
Mere Women – Your Town (2014)
Mere Women have ended up on a lot more mature and thought-out musical retrospectives than this one, but Your Town threw me up against a wall. And there I stayed, riveted by the power of these crooked, tough and nails melodies and Amy Wilson’s incredible voice. It turned female desire and vulnerability into a weapon in a way I’d never heard before, and haven’t heard done so convincingly since.
Heart Beach – Kiss Your Face (2016)
Finally a record about being in love. Kiss Your Face has got jagged edges and angst, but at the heart it’s a low-key pop masterpiece. Maybe it’s the two in-sync vocalists, but almost every song seems anthemic, making you wanna join in. This is an essentially hopeful, fun record to pull you out of a hole, and we need as much of that as we can get.
Lowtide – Lowtide (2014)
The hands-down best shoegaze album from anywhere in the last ten years? Don’t say things like that, you hyperbolic fool? Yes to both!
Honourable mentions because the list couldn’t just keep going on forever:
Ciggie Witch – Classic Connection (2016)
Scraps – TTNIK (2016)
Eddy Current Suppression Ring – Rush to Relax (2010)
Totally Mild – Down Time (2015)
California Girls – Desire (2016)
Greg Stone – Senior Contributor, also runs great record label Feral Media
TV Colours – Purple Skies, Toxic River (2013)
The elements that make up the complete package of TV Colours, brainchild of Canberra musician Bobby Kill, have all been meticulously crafted and considered. First and foremost, the music. Brimming with fuzzed out, lo-fi punk anthems, the overdriven guitars, primitive drum machine rhythms and scuzzy, distorted vocals combining with a youthful carelessness that belies the purposeful intent. Then there is the blurry, VHS-style album artwork (a better visual representation of the music I cannot recall), not to
mention the pitch-perfect font used for the band name and album title. And finally, the various images that would pop up in press releases and on social media sites that added further depth to the mythology of the band. One such image was used as the cover art for their eponymous 2011 7” single.
All of these perfectly stylised elements makes Purple Skies, Toxic River seem like it was plucked from another time, while contradictorily sounding like it could only exist in the modern day. Imagining this as a primarily solo effort by a bedroom artist with a penchant for nostalgia makes it no less authentic. Quite the contrary; the lyrical themes are universal and perfectly encapsulate the late-teen experience, while the music is that final summer before the depressing weight of adulthood comes bearing down.
Reuben Ingall – Dealt (2012)
Reuben Ingall is a musical oddity. His body of work flitters from drone and noise experiments to abstract electronics, to jokey mashups and beyond. But the area of his musical output I find most intriguing is the glitchy, guitar-based songs on releases such as 2010’s Don’t Give Up, 2015’s Microclimates, and the quintessential example, the beguiling 2012 EP, Dealt.
Opener ‘To Lose’ starts out like some sparse home recording before erupting into a cacophony of heavily manipulated guitar glitches that sound as if they are heralding the apocalypse.
This feeling of impending doom is one I can’t shake when I listen to this EP. I have visions of some barren, post-apocalyptic world where this lone musician is making somber, futuristic ballads on an old guitar and beaten-up laptop, fueled by a car battery and other electronic bric-a-brac scavenged over time since the big collapse. It’s the modern folk music soundtrack to a real life vision of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
Making – High Life (2015)
The taut and ferocious full-length debut from one of Sydney’s best live bands. Highlife was the climactic conclusion to Making’s brief, but hopefully not complete, history. With their impressive debut EP and 2 subsequent singles, the band had fans salivating for what they would deliver next. And deliver it did.
A decidedly darker affair, Highlife takes the technical complexity and razor sharp rhythms of their previous releases to new heights, this time with little room to come up for air. The pummeling low-end of the drums expertly contrasts with the metallic bass and searing guitar melodies, while the vocals shift from the detached, deadpan delivery on ‘Dream Job’, to the throat scraping catharsis on ‘Come to Me’. Making offered a new reason to rejoice for fans of My Disco, Ohana and others of this lineage. Let’s hope Highlife is not their swan song.
Kirin J Callinan – Embracism (2013)
Golden Blonde – Gwen (2013)
Angel Eyes – Final Fare (2013)
Tropical Fuck Storm – A Laughing Death in Meatspace (2018)
Hyde – Ox Hill (2017)
Kane Ikin – Modern Pressure (2016)
Tangents – Stateless (2016)
Melissa Tan – Past Editor
The Middle East – I Want That You Are Always Happy (2011)
There isn’t much about this record or the Middle East’s premature split that hasn’t been lamented about on the internet already. (Mess & Noise’s message boards. RIP.)
Sadly, the band’s ascent arrived as quickly as their dissolve. The hype, coupled with rumours of fragmented dynamics within the group proved too much of a Sisyphean task. Less than four months after the long awaited arrival of this record, the band issued an elusive statement announcing their split.
I Want That You Are Always Happy isn’t a groundbreaking record. It’s happy/sad collection of songs; with a few moments of jest. Its inclusion here is a purely a personal one. This album bookmarked a significant, turbulent time in my early 20s. A lot of people I speak to still talk about this record, and I like to think its collective reception had just as much to do with its cathartic value as its honesty.
The Middle East will long be romanticized; there are the tours that never happened, the follow-up projects by former members that always stood in the band’s shadow. This band never departed, and never really arrived. Yet, I Want That You Are Always Happy was the Middle East’s own final quietus; one that remains a perpetual codicil marking its influence on many bands that followed in an important decade for Australian music.
As seminal records do, and perhaps in a way some artists hope for – some records continue to exist in a the private spaces we return to, over and over again. For me anyway, that needs no explanation.
D.D Dumbo – Utopia Defeated (2016)
It’s a weeknight at Melbourne’s Worker’s Club in 2013. Mirroring the camoflage backdrop painted behind the stage, the crowd are congregated in the dirge of comfort; the back of the room. Oliver Perry’s one man band walks on stage, in a bright blue tee and tropical shorts. Given the general monochrome mood and surplus of ‘dolewave’ bands frequenting venues in the area at the time, it’s a welcome contrast. There’s a moment of nervous energy as he fiddles with his guitar, and records a vocal loop (the start of ‘Walrus’). He launches into a soaring devotional, replete with microtonal hooks and now, everyone is paying attention.
I first heard D.D Dumbo’s Tropical Oceans EP after a tip off from Tommy Lukaitis (All I Do is Listen – another now defunct but important Aus music journal). Utopia Defeated is more rounded at the edges than his original EP, but still an extended limb attached to Perry’s songwriting beast.
At the time, Perry was living an hour and a half out of Melbourne, in Newstead – a small town just out of Castlemaine. His room and home studio was attached to the back of an old horse stable. WTH’s previous photography contributor Alan Weedon caught the VLine up and spent the day exploring Castlemaine with Perry (still one of my favourite photo essays – view it here). A few months later, Perry was playing to a room of hundreds at Pitchfork’s music festival in Paris.
Sure, the isolated songwriter narrative comes with sentimental posturing – but Utopia Defeated is devoid of that. His reluctance to really attach himself to one particular sound works. It’s this reluctance that makes D.D Dumbo’s sound striking, but never brash. The album is part-existential commentary, part-humorous quip, with Perry telling stories about riding horses in Mexico, UFOs and epicurean dilemmas like Foie Gras.
There are moments that really crack open lobotomy of Perry’s ambitious vision; the extended woodwind jam on ‘King Franco Picasso’, the bouncy pop-strung sensibilities of ‘Satan’ and ‘Brother’, and closing track ‘Oyster’. Mali’s Ali Farka Toure and Tanzanian Hukwe Zawose’s blues/folk nuances paddle in and out through Perry’s cerebral landscapes, and ‘Alihukwe’ – a reverential nod to his heroes, is a prime example of Perry’s best work. Utopia Defeated is an opus of a record that also doubles as a chaotic, self-help audiobook. I really hope Perry gets back to making music soon.
Sampa The Great – The Return (2019)
From 2015’s The Great Mixtape, right through to this year’s The Return, Sampa The Great’s namesake has foreshadowed her trajectory. The Return is a dazzling palette of hip-hop, soul and spoken word. If The Bird and the BEE9 (2017) was Sampa Tembo’s guilding inquiry into race, then The Return is a note to resilience, cultural dislocation and the restorative journey ‘home’.
Spending her childhood between Botswana and Zambia, Tembo moved to California at 19. She moved to Sydney to study music production, before packing up to Melbourne. In an NPR interview, Sampa mentioned she learnt more about herself in her experiences “outside of Africa rather than in it”. There’s a thing where artists from minority groups become sudden messiahs for due to a lack of representation. Sampa’s long vexed these themes through her music without relying on aesthetic or excess to carry her message.
Australian ‘hip hop’ (a loose term) at the turn of the decade had turned into a boys-club circle jerk, with lyrical / nutritional content comparable to the bottom end of a Tip Top loaf. Munkimuk and 1200 Techniques set the pace for thoughtful hip-hop through the 90s and early 00s; and part of Sampa’s greatness has been restoring the narrative.
Tembo’s execution is forever sharp, wrapped in equal parts triumph and restlessness. There’s the fanfare of ‘Final Form’ – cradled by a sample of The Sylvers’ ‘Stay Away From Me’, as well as more tender moments lent by collaborators on ‘Freedom’, and on opening track ‘Mwana’, featuring Sampa’s sister Mwanje. If there’s one track worth your ears on this album it’s, ‘The Return’. The nine minute epic, also featuring Alien, Jace XL and Thando, ends with a stirring, spoken word piece in Somali by vocalist / Mogadishu native Whosane.
The album’s long roll call of collaborators (there are over twelve in total) are no strangers to the diaspora condition (including South African / Sri Lankan artist Ecca Vandal, Zimbabwe-born Thando and Krown, who left conflict in South Sudan as a teen).
The Return is Sampa’s prodigal note-to-self, but it’s also a record for the rest of Us.
The Ocean Party – Soft Focus (2013)
30/70 – Elevate (2013)
Aldous Harding – Party (2017) *originally from Lyleton, NZ but still a Melbourne transplant forever.
Big Scary – Not Art (2013)
Kins – Kins (2013)
NO ZU – Life (2012)
Royal Headache – Royal Headache (2012)
Grace Pashley – Past Contributor, current Head Honcho at Brisbane’s 4ZZZfm
Mod Con – Modern Convenience (2018)
If there is an Illuminati secretly controlling the world I hope it’s Mod Con: the Melbourne Trio of Total Rock Lords. But the world is terrible so I know that can’t be true. Ferocious live and recorded, frontwoman Erica Dunn is one of the most prolific songwriters and musos of this decade as the primary songwriter for Mod Con and her brilliant solo output Palm Springs, plus lead shredwitch of Tropical Fuck Storm and lending her supreme wail to the backing vocals of Harmony, all of whom put out excellent records this decade too. Anyways Mod Con rule.
The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking (2018)
Love a band whose sophomore gets past the hype, and a band who were struck by success pretty young but didn’t buckle under the weight of other people’s expectations. I’ve loved hearing their evolution with references across the DIY spectrum from The Clean to Clag, the new stuff they’ve been playing live is exciting as well. Whether it’s as The Goon Sax or something else, these three individuals are going to be doing exciting stuff in the 2020s.
Laura Jean – Devotion (2018)
Ugh. Just. I just love every song on this record. Awarding this one the most perfect folk-to-pop pivot of the decade.
Blank Realm – Illegals in Heaven (2015)
This was tough, because at least one of the five Blank Realm releases from this decade had to be in this list but WHICH ONE?? I settled on Illegals in Heaven because that was my gateway album into the Realm. I’d heard about them but never made the dive until every single song on this record smacked me in the face and made me pay attention. And I’m glad I did.
The Stevens – Good (2017)
Great, actually. I had this album on repeat for almost all of 2018 and the licks are still stuck in my head. Many bands spun have out of The Stevens by way of shared sound or shared members but The Stevens will be the genesis of that sound for me. Fucking decade lists are hard so fight me.
Madboots – 2hard (2018)
I have heard the term “acerbic wit” doled upon extremely mediocre men but the phrase should only be used to describe the one-liners across this EP. Still one of the best acts you can see live in Brisbane, can’t not include the inspiration for my new life creed and only goal from the track ‘Headstone’: I just want a really big headstone when I die.
Two Steps on the Water – Having pop punk feelings in a country western body (2016)
The eponymous line “thunderstorm for one” from the single off Two Steps on the Water’s debut EP still regularly enters my head without warning, such are the song and hook-writing chops of June Jones. Sadly, they’re no longer making music in this form (although June Jones is putting out excellent solo music) but Two Steps remains a beautiful mid-decade moment.
Total Control – Typical System (2014)
I put on Typical System when I need a good anti-apathy lashing. It’s for when forces beyond your control are causing strong emotions, this decade has been cause for so many of these and I’ve put this album on when I’m feeling mad and helpless. It feels like a modern soundtrack to Wake in Fright, classic, Australian, doomed.
Twerps – Twerps (2011)
Remember when calling a band “dolewave” could get you punched in the throat? Whatever. Twerps forever.
Nai Palm – Needle Paw (2017)
I still regularly think, how does she do that? With her voice? When finalising the track list for Needle Paw she literally wrote a letter to the family of recently-deceased David Bowie and was like hey can I cover Blackstar even though you’re not letting anyone else release covers of his stuff and they were like. Sure. ???? Ballsy stuff. Didn’t get into much else of the neo-soul movement Nai Palm really drove with Hiatus Kiayote in the mid 10s, but this one has stuck with me.
Scraps – TTNIK (2016)
HABITS – Ugly Cry (2016)
Lisa Salvo – I Could Have Been A Castle (2014)
Seekae – The Worry (2014)
Jaala – Hard Hold (2015)
Lower Plenty – Life/Thrills (2014)
California Girls – Desire (2016)
David Payne – Past Photography Editor
Ernest Ellis – Kings Canyon (2011).
Ernest Ellis and The Panamas opened the last decade with the wonderful Kings Canyon. Probably the most worn out vinyl I own and one that I cannot listen to below 11. I would also add that around the release of the record I shot one of my favourite ever live sets with these guys at the East Brunswick Hotel. I didn’t know much about them that night but their energy on stage left a scar in my mind that remains today.
The Ocean Party – Social Clubs (2012).
A large chunk of the last decade of my life has been sound tracked by the music of The Ocean Party. The ups and downs of the everyday have been explored by a bunch of mates that moved to Melbourne and lived the dream. I can relate. It’s been a comforting and at times discomforting experience. The Ocean Party have a very worthy discography but 2018’s The Oddfellows’ Hall has a special place in my heart for personal reasons. For this list of things however, The Social Clubs takes my record of the decade and is an album that will forever be a historical reference point of Melbourne life around that time and one that reflects the best of hopeful young lads making beautiful music out of the mundane.
Ainslie Wills – All You Have Is All You Need (2019).
One of the strongest voices I’ve ever heard and an incredible performer, Ainslie Wills released her second long player this year and it instantly felt familiar and warming to my soul. I remember first hearing Ainslie’s music and having the breath knocked out of me. Ten years later it still does. All You Have Is All You Need is a beautiful record and a perfect way to close the decade.
Emma Louise – Vs Head Vs Heart (2013).
Courtney Barnet – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015).
The Avalanches – Wildflower (2016).
Stella Donnelly – Beware of the Dogs (2019).
Robbie Ingrisano – MAPCAST Host
Gotye – Making Mirrors (2011)
It’s only while I’m writing this that I made a last minute switch in choosing this over Alpine’s Yuck, although it would have been a less obvious choice I realised what separated Gotye from the rest of the pack. While (sorry for taking aim at you, Alpine) other breakthrough artists got warmed our playlists throughout the decade I just feel like once you get your feet wet in a Gotye album, the element of unpredictability in what elements will hit you next make listening to this so much more of a journey. Twists and turns from turbulent love ballads adorned with carefully crafted sonic inflections to his signature backbeat driven motown throwbacks. Every time I listen to Gotye I wonder if he and Phil Collins hang out in a groupchat somehwere. But Seriously…
Tame Impala – Currents (2015)
My opening statement about this is a disclaimer that I absolutely hated Tame Impala before this album. Couldn’t stand them. Some John Lennon impersonator doing derivative psyche rock. Lame Impala. Get this garbage off my iPod. When Currents came out I had to make a choice over whether to remain insufferably narrow minded or admit to myself that this was in fact a masterpiece of reinvented psyche pop, futurism as perceived from the past. Something of a Supertramp swallowing all their pills before passing through the gates space rock odyssey. I’ll forever be listening to this album.
The Chats, Get This In Ya (2017)
Of all the albums I picked this stands out as the most culturally significant of them all and in 100 years time (If we’re not all up to our necks in water) will serve as a document of Australia today more than anything else released this decade.
Lyricially off the bat it could sound like a bit of a pisstake album, but taken less superficially there absolutely nothing wrong with this record, these guys can play. For me they filled the vacant space left by Eddy Current, and burn me at the stake for saying it but I get more of a kick listening to these guys than them, it’s just more relatable, it makes me feel good. More than it being an aussie pub punk rock album, it’s a crossover record, If you’ve ever walked around town on school holidays as a teenager in Australia you’ll know where these guys are coming from. You don’t need to be into pub rock to get lyrics like “I spent my last money on a sick-pack, now stuck in the jungga with no way back” & “I’m on smoko, so leave me alone”, its the great Australian album of the decade. Change my mind.
Mangelwurzel – Gary (2016)
Hungry Kids Of Hungary – Escapades (2011)
Donny Benet – Don’t Hold Back (2011)
Jack Ladder – Hurtsville (2011)
Palm Springs – Palm Springs & Friends (2018)
The Ocean Party – Soft Focus (2014)
Methyl Ethyl – Everything Is Forgotten (2017)