2020 may have been a strange year to even consider enjoying art but some excellent albums still came out of Australia, so we decided to name the five best Australian records of the year.
The onset of COVID-19 in March changed music irrevocably, perhaps forever. Gigs and festivals were cancelled, artists retreating into their living rooms to livestream their performances. Intimacy was gained but passion was lost.
It might have been difficult to comprehend art as one once did but music still possessed the ability to uplift and inspire. In their own small ways, the albums on this list were befitting of the tumultuous experience of living in the year of 2020.
A junior doctor releasing an acclaimed album while working long hours fighting the pandemic; a former refugee aiming to unite people and spread a message of compassion; a timeless band crafting timeless sounds that contemplated the afterlife and space when most people were probably imagining a similar escape from the fragility of living on earth.
Below is our list of five of the best and most pertinent Australian albums of 2020!
Gordi – Our Two Skins
Gordi quit her role as a junior doctor in January to focus on her music; an unprecedented pandemic then happened just months later. She released her second studio album, Our Two Skins, in a changed world, while returning to assist on the COVID-19 frontline. It wasn’t the release she envisaged but it was a success nevertheless: the record reached the top 20 in the ARIA album chart and was nominated for Best Adult Contemporary Album at the 2020 ARIA Music Awards.
It’s a raw and unvarnished reckoning with the big subjects. ‘Aeroplane Bathroom’ was an unflinching look at suffering from anxiety mid-flight. The touching ‘Volcano’ discussed Gordi’s – real name Sophie Payten – struggles with her sexual identity.
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Moving into 2021, and with the fight against COVID-19, one hopes, coming to a conclusion, there are high hopes that Gordi’s third album could be of equal emotive quality.
Check out ‘Aeroplane Bathroom’ by Gordi:
Gordon Koang – Unity
Gordon Koang is the blind South Sudanese musician who represents everything that is great about immigrants to Australia. Known as the “King of Music” in his homeland, he was finally granted permanent residency in 2019 here after five long years of working through the asylum process. Unity, his first album in Australia, feels like a coronation: it shines with Koang’s cheerful indomitable spirit, his compassion for humanity, and love for refugees like him.
It’s also a sonic delight, a collection of empowering and overpowering African grooves that compel one’s feet to dance and never stop. Whether he’s singing in English, Arabic, or his native language, Neur, his joyous messages of hope still translate.
Check out ‘Stand Up (Clap Your Hands) by Gordon Koang:
The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You
The third studio album from The Avalanches has only been in the world for a week but it matters not: it’s their third masterful record in a row and feels larger than life itself. The plunderphonics style that has served them so well remains but there are added living guest vocalist this time around. Highlights include MGMT and guitar icon Johnny Marr coming together on the flowery and psychedelic track ‘The Divine Chord’; Blood Orange contributes a delicate and meaningful verse in the melancholic title track.
The exciting party-raisers that transformed music all the way back at the start of the millennium now sound mellow and contemplative, concerned with existential questions of life and death. The album was partly inspired by the wonderful story of scientists Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan: after the former proposed to her, her lovestruck brainwaves were recorded and sent into space on Voyager’s Golden Record. Everlasting love moved the minds of Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi; they should know that their spiritual art has the potential to be immortal too.
Check out ‘The Divine Chord’ by The Avalanches featuring MGMT and Johnny Marr:
RVG – Feral
RVG’s debut album was a breakout success, recorded live at Melbourne’s iconic Tote Hotel, and its follow-up more than matches it for ferocity and vitality. The band’s leader, Romy Vager, is an underrated storyteller, capable of weaving unexpected character studies. The strange ‘Christian Neurosurgeon’ considers someone with those jarring personality facets while the ludicrous ‘Little Sharkie & the White Pointer Sisters’ sees Vager recall a mentally unwell person that she met at a Fitzroy halfway house as a teenager.
There’ always an undercurrent of empathy though, whether it be towards an odd character or an ex-partner. Their bright and rollicking jangle might sound like an updated version of The Go-Betweens but it’s Vager’s sharp lyricism that makes Feral truly stand out. Before COVID-19 brought an end to live music, RVG supported the Pixies; that felt like acknowledgment of their position as one of Australia’s greatest modern rock bands.
Check out ‘Christian Neurosurgeon’ by RVG:
Cable Ties – Far Enough
If one band’s album on this list really deserved to be heard in a live setting, perhaps it was Cable Ties. The powerhouse trio are a formidable and exhilarating live outfit but luckily the tracks on Far Enough still burn with fire and fury wherever one listens. Jenny McKechnie is a visceral lead vocalist, spitting words that denounce sexism and inequality loudly.
Backed by Shauna Boyle’s controlled drumming and Nick Brown’s propulsive rhythmic lines, Far Enough was one of the strongest punk records of 2020. Their fearless anger was just what was required to pierce the chaos and horror of this year; in this way, Cable Ties’ defiant anthems provide hope.