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Sun 13’s Top Australian Albums of 2021

We select our favourite releases of 2021 from the land down under.

Well hello again! It’s been another rough year here, there and everywhere else. If we didn’t have the gift of music, where would we be?

Even if we didn’t get to enjoy much of the current releases seen live onstage, we did get to experience them on our own terms in the confines of our own four walls.

Bustling as ever, I get more impressed and proud of the music pouring out from Australia. This time around, you will see quite the variety – a few familiar faces – a reminder that quality needs to be reacquainted with and not forgotten.

A good portion of Australian acts made our Top 50 Albums of 2021 – hell… one even took the top prize (kudos, Springtime).

So with that, the likes of Divide And Dissolve, The Still, Tropical Fuck Storm and, of course, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis didn’t evade our ears; their praise within that particular feature, which you can also read via the link below.

For now, though, here are our top picks from Australia over the past 12 months.

Sun 13’s Top 50 Albums of 2021

Amyl and The Sniffers: Comfort to Me
Rough Trade

With old school riffs from guitarist, Dec Martens, the thundering rhythm section of Bryce Wilson and Fergus Romer, and the frantic energy of lead singer Amy Taylor, blasting through sets like a machine gun.

Comfort to Me was written and recorded during the COVID pandemic, with the band all living together for the duration of the first wave of lockdowns. A decision that resulted in an even tighter unit than we had heard before.

Comfort to Me is Amyl and The Sniffers’ unrelenting, unapologetic and uncovered selves. They put their all into the album and you can hear it. With the band getting more comfortable exploring new sonic avenues, and the seemingly endless stamina of their ferocious frontwoman, the possibilities for where they could go are plentiful, and all of them equally intriguing.

Words by Matt Willby

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Adam Casey & The Liminal Choir: Nether | Aether
East Cape Calling

Melbourne artist, Adam Casey (The Boy Who Spoke Clouds, Trappist Afterland, Seascapes of the Interior) brings us his latest project with The Liminal Choir, in the form of Nether | Aether – one of the finest releases on New Zealand label, East Cape Calling, which was born earlier this year.

Alongside Katie Walsh (aka katheros), Casey combines spatial jazz with modest moodscapes that seep with rich atmospheric drones (opening composition, Katabsis, is absolutely beautiful).

Nether | Aether is a slow burn, but alongside some of the finest composers releasing music this year (some of whom are featured below), this is a lovely addition to 2021’s experimental releases.

Words by Simon Kirk

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Cedie Janson interview: “I wanted to bring this illusory and abstract feeling into my music”

Civic: Future Forecast
Flightless Records

Ah, so here it is – this year’s punk rock adrenaline rush you’ve all been hoping, wishing and longing for. This Melbourne five-piece led by Jim McCullough make it his primary objective to knock your fucking socks off. This is achieved through the quality consistent hooky and ferocious 12 tracks – lapping oodles of snarling vocals and countless diatribes in the form of minor political statements against them, you and me.

You can tell these lads have dined on the likes of classics Radio Birdman and more modern Eddy Current Suppression Ring – but I’m feeling a huge splice of The New York Dolls and Parquet Courts – it takes a lot these days to capture the attention and imagination of the listener but the tune smithing here is incredible. The first five tracks is the finest barrage to open an album in quite some time – if I had to edge the finest point I’ll take a draw between Just a Fix and Tell the Papers.

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CLAMM: Beseech Me
Meat Machine

Admittedly, CLAMM have featured on our pages earlier this year, but it was one of those nondescript news pieces, so we’re saying that it doesn’t count.

In any case, not much love was shown then and following the release of their debut album, Beseech Me, the love still seems to be evading the Melbourne three-piece.

Don’t get me wrong, just because CLAMM are fellow antipodeans doesn’t mean that bias is on show here. It’s just… when something’s good, it would be onerous of us not to shout shit from the rooftops.

So, yes, Beeseech Me is pretty good in an unadulterated Aussie post-punk sort of way. Reinventing the wheel it ain’t, but what CLAMM do here, they do it fucking well. So with that, show them some love and stop being a bunch of soft arses, okay?

Words by Simon Kirk

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Sound Waves: In Conversation with Springtime’s Gareth Liddiard and Jim White

A Country Practice: I Will Leave This Town While There’s Still Light
Self-released

Named after the ’90s Australian soap opera (anyone remember Dr. Terence Elliott?), A Country Practice make music that evokes thoughts of the past.

Combining avant-garde with country and folk, the Brisbane trio have made one of the more original releases from Australian shores in 2021 with I Will Leave This Town While There’s Still Light.

Filled with pastoral soundscapes that escape the clutches of inner-city living, with these songs A Country Practice take us out of our heads for a good 40 minutes. For the most part, anyway – the song Indooroopilly (while the album’s highlight), triggers a past thought of receiving a speeding fine in the Brisbane suburb. There you go.

Words by Simon Kirk

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Even: Reverse Light Years
El Reno

Look, sometimes there’s a plethora of bands just quietly existing below your eye view and sometimes there’s just that time when you cross paths with them. In this instance this said band is Melbourne’s Even, quick info dump – this is their eighth album and it’s a double LP created in isolation of the pandemic and I’ve had good sources tell me this is could be the best thing they’ve ever done (thanks Andrew Stafford).

These lads swirl and jangle through the runtime and If you know me I’m a sucker for immense guitar driven pop, psych pop and yet again anything that rolls, swirls, jangles and fucking pops. For the unacquainted give the single Cherry Afterglow a spin before losing yourself in the 80 minute runtime – and just try get past Miracle Drum.

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Flyying Colours: Fantasy Country
Club AC30

Notable Aussie acts from the past like The Morning After Girls and Belles Will Ring walked so bands like Flyying Colours could run. Plying their trade in neo-psychedelic/ shoegaze territory, it’s on their sophomore effort Fantasy Country the four-piece Melbourne outfit really hit their stride in creating a vastly rich sonic collage paying tribute to like the of My Bloody Valentine (This One), The Brian Jonestown Massacre (Boarding Pass).

I must admit I’m an absolute sucker for this kind of sound and I always have been and this band in particular show the knack and the verve I yearn for when it comes  to a genre that’s basically sacred – if you’re not adding a little bit of a unique DNA (Eyes Open – sound textures on point) to it don’t bother, but whilst the likes of Tame Impala going completely MIA and Hatchie far too saccharine for my liking, the combination of Brodie J Brummer and Gemma O’Conner’s penchant for beautiful vocal interplay can be proud to move the banner forward as leaders of this sound – look no further than the blissful, noisy and squalling White Knuckles.

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Tangled Beauty: In Conversation with Mess Esque’s Helen Franzmann & Mick Turner

The Goon Sax: Mirror II
Matador Records

“Do you think it’s better not feeling any of this at all?” This is the first line right at the top of Brisbane’s The Goon Sax’s third outing and it no doubt sets the tone for the following ten carefully considered and off kilter tracks that sound like they were created in a Rough Trade-esque mid ’80s vacuum. Plus the album title is a nice little philosophical exercise in reflecting upon reflection.

The band share lead vocals (truly shining when Forster and Jones share the track, The Chance, is an incredible example of this), which helps change up the tone and creates a varied mixture of material here; each song is a departure but we’re definitely on the same train. I’m partial to the likes of In the Stone, The Chance and Tag, but it’s the 5 minute Desire led by Jones is when Mirror II  hits its peak.

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Imperial Broads: Counterpart
Broken Stone Records

Imperial Broads consist of vocalists/guitarists, Pip Smith and Eve Lande, and vocalist/bassist, Lauren Crew. Together, the trio democratically share the songwriting and singing duties.

Counterpart, Imperial Broads’ second album, which follows 2016’s Who Are We Turning Into? is gnarly pop-punk delight.

From the dream-pop reverie of Unromantic and Another Planet to the driving rhythms throughout the beautiful shambles of Another Town, not to mention the frantic rush of album highlight, Sociaplath, Imperial Broads blend raucous post-punk with glittery noise-pop. It’s the kind of music tailor-made for road trips where careless air drums and that feeling of being free are on tap.  

Words by Simon Kirk

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Liars: The Apple Drop
Mute Records

And then there was one. On album number ten Australian expat Angus Andrew goes at it alone and the results are spectacular, after moving back to Australia and connecting with a swathe of collaborators he turns in a richly dense set of tracks.

Liars have always been known for their wildly curious and combustible experimental approach to songcraft in the past but for this project there appears to be a slightly downtrodden nature to it all, it’s intricate it’s asking you to lean in a little more and really pay attention to the compositions being offered you can tell even more than ever that Andrew has put every single inch of his heart, soul and body into this – (he declares this as a “sort of symphonic record”) this is a night time drive record, a headphones in your room in the dark to let every little detail unravel and seep into your mind.

I think the greatest strength of the album is the direct reaction to the demoralising times we’re living in – it chooses to join you on that level rather than create any further diversions. I’ve consciously decided to not mention any track in particular as this deserves to be experienced as a whole. This for me will go down as one of the best Liars records in their discography. 

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Beasts Of Bourbon’s Sour Mash: “A potent brew of belligerence and hedonism”

Mere Women: Romantic Notions
Poison City Records

Sydney’s Mere Women have been circling the traps for a good decade now. Their fourth record, Romantic Notions, is, to put it bluntly, a big time winner.

Released in the first quarter of 2021 (okay, we’re a bit slow, but better late than never), the sinister surges of noise that are dispensed by this glorious four-piece echo Siouxsie and the Banshees circa-Tinderbox; one the band’s most underrated periods.

However, Mere Women pick up the slack in what is their strongest release yet. A gnarly, blistering representation of gothic post-punk that simmers with nervous energy and bristles with pent-up rage.

Words by Simon Kirk

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Mess Esque: Dream #12
Bedroom Suck Records

Mess Esque’s self-titled LP (and second of 2021) made our Top 50 Albums of 2021, and (to be honest) this one could well have been included in that fine bunch, too.

It’s been some year for the collaboration between the Dirty Three’s Mick Turner and Brisbane-based artist, Helen Franzmann, better known to us as Mckisko.

With soft drums reminiscent of a punch-drunk procession, Franzmann’s cracked melodies and Turner’s gentle riffs pass through broody synths, guiding us towards the sunset. A release that gets stronger with every listen, Dream #12 contains the essence of something special.

Words by Simon Kirk

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MOD CON: Modern Condition
Poison City Records

MOD CON, the Melbourne three-piece spearheaded by Tropical Fuck Storm’s Erica Dunn, make a late showing in 2021 with Modern Condition – the band’s follow-up to 2018’s Modern Convenience.

While certainly thriving under the tutelage of Tropical Fuck Storm band mate and Australia’s greatest polemicist, Gareth Liddiard, on Modern Condition, it’s evident that Dunn possesses a unique voice.

Overall, MOD CON don’t stray too far from the sound world of Modern Convenience. It’s the same world Cable Ties dragged us into with their 2020 release, Far Enough, which is certainly no bad thing. The riffs and grooves are something we’ve all heard before, but the difference with MOD CON’s Modern Condition arrives with Dunn’s razor-sharp narratives and clever wordplay. These facets alone are worth your time.

Words by Simon Kirk

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Mope City: Within the Walls
Tenth Court

Sydney collective, Mope City, have been around for a while now, with Matt Neville and Amaya Lang operating as a two-piece up until their fantastic slowcore-inspired second record, News from Home (2019), which followed their debut LP, Petri Dish (2015).

With the addition of bassist, Nick Johnson, and drummer, Shaun Donovan, Mope City open up their sound on their third and wide-ranging latest release, Within the Walls.

Where the band’s previous works are concerned, Within the Walls feels like a more wholesome record, with the band gleaning ideas of the past and amalgamating them with the present. It would be wrong to call Mope City revitalised, but it’s refreshing to see a band constantly moving their sound forward.

Words by Simon Kirk

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The Dangling Man: In Conversation with Crime & the City Solution’s Simon Bonney

Mike Noga: Open Fire
Part Time Records

Like 2020’s Blake Scott’s Niscitam – we are always digging and diving into the deepest depths of the yearly album calendar searching for those golden nuggets. Those truthful, organic and rich releases that speak to individuality, originality – songwriters travelling a road generally unmapped without pressure and the audience they generally deserve. Mike Noga as you may well know is no longer with us (tragically passing last year) and on his fourth record he leaves us with a majestic, self-assured post-humous release that he unfortunately won’t get to see the outcome of.

If you read the pages of Sun 13 you won’t be surprised that Alan Sparhawk is one of editor’s Simon Kirk’s musical heroes and he lends his hands to the making of Open Fire, and you can definitely hear the Low blueprint on double track punch of Better Than Before and No Body No Soul.

The album maybe an indictment on the world we live in it’s up and it’s down – tracks like, single and title track might be the best iteration of heartland rock in 2021 and the super playful and spiralling upbeat Little Birdy Big Bear will have you licking your lips. Noga did say that the album is drenched in Velvet Underground vibes stating it’s “Pop…but with a weird, dark twist”, and if that doesn’t sell this album to you nothing else will.

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POND: 9
Spinning Top Music

Ah Pond, if not the most criminally underrated bands to come out of this land in this timeframe. Aptly titled album number nine – like the previous record 2019’s Tasmania, the band continue to leave the glam rock sound behind and push forward with a huge amount of momentum on the electronic psych pop sound – and in the hands of other’s it might have been another miss but in the hands of such meticulous song crafters, the band deliver another set of scorching tracks – getting more explorative in this template and honing in on the eccentricities and backwards sound mechanics the band has become known for.

I mean, it’s hard to not think of the band in Bowie terms and this potentially could be the second in their Berlin Trilogy, and I’m here for it. If we split it up for you Song for Agnes, Take Me Avalon I’m Yours, Toast all anchor the record – they are pitch perfect singles ready to steal away the unacquainted. Then you have one of the catchiest tracks of the year America’s Cup try not play that more than once each spin and then we are led to the krautrock induced, throbbing ambient electronic infused pop on Human Touch, Pink Lunettes and Rambo.

There’s no thematic connection here just a band working at the height of their powers experimenting in between the lines and sounding so fucking good at it. When will the name Nik Allbrook become a household name? Who knows but I’ll wait.

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Restless Leg: Dream Buffet
Peabrain Recordings

Inspired from the Velvet Underground, The Go-Betweens, and the stable of Flying Nun artists from across the pond in New Zealand, Sydney’s Restless Leg produce the kind of sun-dappled sounds that drown out the gloomiest of days.  

From the Batsian chime of opening track, The World’s A Room and A Song About A Song, the ’60s reverence of Caught the Corners, and the acoustic splendour of In A Mirror Life, Restless Leg cover vast sonic landscapes whilst still maintaining the ability to add their own flavour to the broth.

It all leads into A King’s Canopy. Mixing the elements of The Clean and Brighten the Corners-era Pavement, A King’s Canopy is one of the finest closing tracks committed to tape in 2021.

Words by Simon Kirk

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Rowland S Howard: The World’s Real Forgotten Boy

Scientists: Negativity
In The Red Records

So you’re tasked with putting together the best records to come out of your country for the year. You see one of Australia’s most unsung guitar heroes put out a record after 35 years? Welcome to 2021 Kim Salmon and the Scientists we’re lucky to have you.

If you’ve ever heard a note you know what you’re getting yourself into – straight up no-fuck-about discordant shambolic backwards blues punk goodness and it’s got a classy modern sheen to it – same same, but different. Tracks list opener Outsider and Safe are just straight up scuzzed-up anthems delivered express to your front door.

Seventeen sounds like the album cover whilst Dissonance will blow your ear holes out, but what is really delightful about this reunion of sorts is the little space between the scuzz that allows the band a mere bit of experimentation and playfulness. Get acquainted.

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Smoke Bellow: Open For Business
Trouble In Mind

Having released their 2014 debut, Blooming/Middling, following it up in 2018 with the ISOLATION 3000 EP (both via Baltimore label, Ehse Record), Smoke Bellow showcased a pair of krautrock-inspired gems, echoing all the best bits of Stereolab and the crate-digging voyages that such a world has to offer.

With the addition of new drummer, Oh Hang’s Emmanuel Nicolaidis, 2021 sees Smoke Bellow unveil their latest oeuvre, Open For Business.

The sonic explorations continue on Open For Business; an album bursting with junkyard rackets and west African rhythms which form a wild concoction of spidery jangle-pop and off-kilter post-punk. Smoke Bellow are the type of band you could listen to ten times over and form a different opinion each time. That, indeed, is the sign of a good band.

Words by Simon Kirk

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Snowy Band: Alternate Endings
Happiness Records

There’s a first for everything and for the talented Liam ‘Snowy’ Halliwell, Emma Russack and Co. have make the list again with another set of wispy, poignant pieces that deserve even more attention. It’s only been 17 months but here on their follow up there’s a massive amount of self-assurance as the songcraft is the star here and is on show for 40 minutes straight. It’ll sooth you, move you and in fact might even change you.

Each song is a new experience within the same realm – witness fingerpicking perfection (Old Man One Day), cute harmonies (Whatever You Want, Never Gonna Leave) the pulsating (Bitter Pill) and just pure majestic multi instrumental offerings (The Last Thing) what a gift these guys are turning out to be.

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Simon Bonney’s Forever: “It gives voice to the feelings of loss and rejection”

Indigo Sparke: Echo
Sacred Bones

Hailing from Sydney, Australia, Indigo Sparke creates a gorgeous world with her debut album, Echo.

Co-produced by Big Thief‘s Adrianne Lenker, Sparke‘s gentle atmospheric folk splendour is one of the finest debuts released so far this year and it will take something quite astonishing to better it.

Echoes is full of tender tales accompanied by Sparke‘s gentle, feathery brushes across the acoustic guitar. Fans waiting for a Julie Byrne record, look no further. You may have just found your remedy.

Words by Simon Kirk

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You Am I: The Lives of Others
The You Am I Set Pty Ltd

It’s been 28 years since their debut, Tim Rogers and co land an impressive punch on album number eleven. Striking a good balance between old and new – you have the raucous riffs (Reader’s Comments, Rosedale Redux) hatched from the Sound as Ever days, and just top class song writing you will look forward to seeing on the live set list (Lookalikes and the title track).

It was a mate of mine though that was in a phase of Mike Scott’s The Waterboy’s that brought it to my attention – he said you heard the new single from You Am I? The Waterboy? (just wait until the fifty-fourth second) – that moment won me over as surely Roger’s inspiration from the band. I’m feeling massive Kinks and Paisley vibes throughout this record but it’s how seamlessly the album weaves itself together that pushes this up a level. You’ll know what I mean.

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Previous Sun 13 Top Australian Albums of the Year:

2020

Sun 13’s Albums Quarterly 2021 round-up:

AQ #4
AQ #3
AQ #2
AQ #1

2 replies on “Sun 13’s Top Australian Albums of 2021”

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