It’s time to take stock of the busy past six months and there’s much to be grateful for. Between dancefloor euphoria from Cub Sport to Private Function’s gleeful party rock and RVG’s revelatory post-punk, 2023 has had so many big, brilliant records to savour – and it’s only June.
Abrasive, idiosyncratic rap; slow-burn alt-country; boundary-pushing soul and pop – with these 15 records you get a sense of the sheer span of talent creating music and art within Australia.
Check out NME’s list of the best Australian albums of the year so far and let us know what we missed…
‘Brighter Side of Blue’
Imogen Grist may come from indie rock – as both a musician and music video director – but as Babitha she mines a darkly poignant strand of country ballads that should equally appeal to fans of Chris Isaak and Patsy Cline.
Members of Body Type and The Middle East join Grist on this slow-burn debut album, making cosy bedfellows of drum machine, steel guitar and other potentially disparate touches. Grist sings low and soft while her songs have subtle fun with familiar twangs of pain, from the vengeful narrator on ‘Happy Person’ to the lover’s murder at the self-aware heart of ‘Ghost’. Doug Wallen
Babitha’s ‘Brighter Side of Blue’ is out now via Spunk! Records / Virgin Music Australia.
Four albums into their career, Bad//Dreems finally sound happy not fitting in. The hairy misfits from Adelaide have an air of hard-won success across this record; they’ve established themselves near the top of Australia’s current crop of rock’n’roll big dogs and they have an axe to grind.
On ‘Jack’, Ben Marwe sings: “Three things that we cannot say: invasion, genocide, Australia Day” then sinks the Blundstones into our shameful colonial history while making the listener deliciously uncomfortable: “What d’you think about that, Jack? 60,000 years, gotta give it back.” The whole record snarls and whips. More please. Mikey Cahill
Bad//Dreems’ ‘Hoo Ha!’ is out now via Farmer & the Owl / BMG.
COVID delayed the release of Body Type’s debut album, but it was worth the wait. Thankfully, the Sydney quartet have followed it up less than a year later with ‘Expired Candy’ – a sophomore work equally fun and furious, largely written in that period of pent-up energy and frustration.
The result is a frenetic post-punk album, confidently loose as it tears through feelings big (intergenerational pain) and mundane (boredom, flirting, shitty men) with cheek, cheer and a sense of urgency. Turn it up loud and thrash around, especially to the shiny self-destruction of ‘Summer Forever’, the world-weary ‘Creation of Man’ and lockdown screed ‘Miss the World’. Jared Richards
Body Type’s ‘Expired Candy’ is out now via Poison City Records.
Cash Savage and the Last Drinks
‘So This Is Love’
“These are dark times / And there are darker times to come.” So sang Cash Savage on ‘Collapse’, circa 2018. On album five with The Last Drinks, this much is clear: She really hates saying she told you so. ‘So This Is Love’ reckons with the personal and political, tackling the state of the world with both grand gestures and subtle swipes.
The seasick disarray of ‘Push’, the gnashing ‘Keep Working at Your Job’ and contemplative ballad ‘Seahorse (I’ll Be Your Rainy Day)’, in particular, comfortably rank as career-best cuts. Savage and co. have again dissected the condition of contemporary adults, without ever becoming adult contemporary. David James Young
Cash Savage and the Last Drinks’ ‘So This Is Love’ is out now via Mistletone Records.
‘Jesus at the Gay Bar’
Over the last 13 years, Cub Sport have evolved from a baby-faced indie-rock four-piece to one of Australia’s most singular acts. Their increasingly idiosyncratic albums shift between psychedelia, pop, hymnals and more to capture the salvation of queer love’s release, inspired by lead singer Tim Nelson’s long-running relationship with keyboardist Sam Netterfield.
With their fifth album, the band take devotionals to the dancefloor. Rather than simply echo the disco-pop trend du jour, they infuse deep house and ’70s grooves with their trademark glittering, spacey synths. Nelson’s vocals are as tender and transcendent as ever, displaying the finest use of AutoTune since Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Impossible Soul’. Jared Richards
Cub Sport’s ‘Jesus at the Gay Bar’ is out now.
With a sound plucked from the emo surge of the late 2000s, combined with electronic maximalism both contemporary and futuristic, Daine’s work has consistently warped boundaries. ‘Shapeless’ is no different.
‘Shapeless’, as its title suggests, feels amorphous and endlessly fluid. This mixtape is all-encompassing, from the smoky, club thumper of a title track to the frenetic drum’n’bass cut ‘Portal’. Even the milder tracks, like the bouncy ‘Skin Deep’ and the pop turn in ‘Smb2l’, are refreshing in their boldness. The sound of ‘Shapeless’ is one that Daine’s contemporaries will try to replicate years from now. Jackson Langford
Daine’s ‘Shapeless’ is out now via Warner.
‘Painting of My Time’
What was it like to witness Midnight Oil or Hunters & Collectors in their infancy? Look at the current evolution of Floodlights and you might have an answer.
From the show-stealing opener ‘Moment of Distraction’ to its already-anthemic title track, ‘Painting of My Time’ is a storm of barbed lyricism, howling harmonica and driving drums. Floodlights are carving further into the niche of 2020’s ‘From a View’ while simultaneously eclipsing it, taking in Australia’s illustrious pub-rock history while simultaneously making some of their own. If ‘Painting’ is anything to go by, national superstardom feels practically inevitable. David James Young
Floodlights’ ‘Painting of My Time’ is out now via Virgin Music Australia.
Gena Rose Bruce
‘Deep is the Way’
Gena Rose Bruce’s second album has the clear-eyed reflection and genuine catharsis many songwriters strive for, but few execute well. She also crafts a distinctive, expansive sonic world that feels unrestrained by limitation: ‘Destroy Myself’ smoulders with a razor-sharp intensity, right before the heady synth-pop of ‘Foolishly in Love’.
Bruce unites with cult US indie-folk hero Bill Callahan on the album’s title track for a gorgeous, standout slow-burner, then channels freewheeling ’70s rock on the buzzy ‘I’d Rather Be a Dreamer’ two songs later. A pop record as intelligent as it is expressive. Alex Gallagher
Gena Rose Bruce’s ‘Deep is the Way’ is out now via Dot Dash Recordings.
‘I Am the River, the River is Me’
Jen Cloher has achieved a stunning level of empowerment, reaching a beautiful level of peace and resolve with the release of ‘I Am the River, the River is Me’. The album is a lush and vivid insight into Cloher’s continued journey of self-discovery in their relationship and connection to their Māori heritage.
Through songs that unpack grief, trauma, repressed experience – as well as joy and love – Cloher details a portrait of a life entering a revelatory new phase. It’s an absolute pleasure for a listener to experience – comfort is found in the album’s intimate moments, pleasure in its vibrancy. Sosefina Fuamoli
Jen Cloher’s ‘I Am the River, the River is Me’ is out now via Milk! Records.
‘Oro, Plata, Mata’
In 2018, pop visionary Mo’Ju presented the acclaimed ‘Native Tongue’, exploring their complex Filipino and Wiradjuri identity. This year they returned with ‘Oro, Plata, Mata’, an ambitious concept album inspired by their late uncle, Peque Gallaga, who directed the ’80s Philippine war drama that gives the project its title (translated as ‘Gold, Silver, Death’).
The musician sagely ruminates on hyper-individualism, materialism, ecological decline, intergenerational inheritance and superstition. Mo’Ju delivers expressive storytelling with lavish instrumentation, reconfiguring traditional and contemporary forms from hip-hop soul to synth-pop (‘Something to Believe In’ with Ngaiire) and reaching an apex in the rousing anthem ‘Change Has to Come’. Sonic cinema. Cyclone Wehner
Mo’Ju’s ‘Oro, Plata, Mata’ is out now.
Recalling the lewd, bombastic energy of Electric Six and the raucous vitriol of the Cosmic Psychos, Private Function’s third album ‘370HSSV 0773H’ (a classic calculator gag) is 30 minutes of relentless, unpretentious fun.
Singalongs are abundant – songs like ‘Bad Day to Be a Beer’ are destined to be screamed back at them at festivals – and their (ironic?) cover of Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’ might be the best/worst thing you’ll hear all year. Private Function have finally captured the chaotic and unpredictable theatre of their now infamous live shows on record. If you’re not already doing so, it’s time to take Australia’s preeminent party band seriously. Christopher Lewis
Private Function’s ‘370HSSV 0773H’ is out now via Still On Top.
RVG’s third album is less devastating than its predecessors, thanks to shifts in both sound and substance: their once scuzzy, lo-fi live band energy has now blossomed into a colourful palette of synths, clean guitars and early post-rock flavours – and frontwoman Romy Vager tackles lyrics from a new perspective, veering away from gut-wrenching rawness to embrace a more subtle kind of sting.
Where prior records ‘A Quality Of Mercy’ and ‘Feral’ were minted with small bars and basements in mind, ‘Brain Worms’ is primed for lofty theatres and festival mainstages. This is RVG at their boldest, most ambitious and, frankly, best. Ellie Robinson
RVG’s ‘Brain Worms’ is out now via Ivy League.
Teether & Kuya Neil
Hip-hop in this country is having a moment. There’s the bombast of Genesis Owusu and the bountiful array of sounds coming out of western Sydney. But down in Melbourne, Teether and Kuya Neil are lurking in their own esoteric bayou.
Their new mixtape ‘Stressor’ is a murky place, full of obtuse lyrics, echoes of sonic paranoia and surreal imagery. ‘Myth’ repurposes early-2000s drum’n’bass; ‘Purgatory’ bobs and weaves through more breakbeats and frightening brass samples; and the bass on ‘Instructions’ sounds like someone hammering on an old oil drum. This is brilliant, dystopian, vital stuff. Enter at your peril. Nick Buckley
Teether & Kuya Neil’s ‘Stressor’ is out now via Chapter Music.
‘Those Days are Over’
WILSN possesses the kind of voice that leaves jaws hanging the first time you hear it live. Shannon Busch’s is one of the most staggeringly powerful voices in the country and it’s baffling that it has taken this long for the Australian music industry machine to catch on.
After working tirelessly for years, she has finally broken through on ‘Those Days are Over’, an album of deep-reaching, classic soul and blues. Good luck remaining standing after Busch lets rip on ‘If You Wanna Love Me’ – those pipes truly are something to behold. Nick Buckley
WILSN’s ‘Those Days are Over’ is out now via Ivy League.
‘Sugar Coated Lies’
Ziggy Ramo’s stark 2020 debut ‘Black Thoughts’ broke down Australia’s colonial legacy. Its follow-up, symbolically released on Invasion Day, is purposefully more personal as the Wik and Solomon Islander MC diarises the impact of intergenerational trauma on his mental wellbeing.
In the hooky opener ‘Pretty Ugly’ Ramo discloses internalised racism and toxic masculinity – the flipside of 2019’s ‘Pretty Boy’ – and later extols Blak pride on the trap banger ‘Blak Man Swimming’. ‘Sugar Coated Lies’ is for listening over head-nodding, offering therapy as much as truth-telling. It exemplifies Ramo’s ability to engage – to prompt empathy in a polarised world. Cyclone Wehner
Ziggy Ramo’s ‘Sugar Coated Lies’ is out now via Ramo Records.