It’s that time again when we look back on the past year and decide what the best of the best was. In a year as unusual and uncertain as 2021, though, that almost seems perverse.
Yet music was arguably never more important to us all. During the long winter months of lockdown, our favourite artists provided audible escapism from the difficult outside world; musicians battled against restrictive recording conditions and an unknown industry future to continue creating their art.
That’s why it’s testament to the resilience and talent of Australian music that deciding the best 10 albums of 2021 remained a tricky task. Bright new voices emerged, offering hope as we head into the unknown of 2022. Veteran performers came back renewed and empowered.
Take a look at our choices for the 10 best Australian albums of 2021 below. .
Amy Shark – Cry Forever
Shark may be as big as they come in Australia music these days but her integrity and honesty continues to shine through in Cry Forever. An artist always imbued with a certain sense of loneliness and longing, Shark bravely pulls at those strings again in her second album, unravelling a stark portrait of a woman on the edge of stardom and self-discovery. Vulnerable yet empowering, Cry Forever confirms Shark’s innate ability to create relatable contemporary pop.
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Amyl and the Sniffers – Comfort to Me
In a year dominated so much by the post punk revival, Melbourne’s Amyl and the Sniffers came in and blew them all away with some of the purest punk of recent years. Harking back to the glory days of Australian pub rock while updating it with modern touches, everything is bigger and sharper on their second album. And in Amy Taylor, they have a truly captivating punk performer; what Comfort to Me does, though, is emphasise that she’s also an impactful and evolving songwriter. The tracks are brutally honest, magnetically vulnerable, and brimming with rage and defiance.
Baker Boy – Gela
The debut album by the Indigenous Australian rapper is intoxicating in its joy and hopefulness. Gela contains strong guest turns by the likes of JessB and G Flip but it always remains Baker Boy’s. It’s a versatile record, jumping energetically between striking hip hop and playful pop. Baker Boy is a true entertainer on Gela, placing his vital deeper messages within an infectious and buzzy rhythmic framework. A summer record if ever there was one.
Courtney Barnett – Things Take Time, Take Time
The Melbourne star’s third studio album is a customarily excellent collection of clever and honest songwriting. At this stage, Barnett is displaying the consistency of tone and insight that has always marked the music of Paul Kelly. Things Take Time, Take Time is the sound of an artist who knows what she does well and sticks to it. It’s also a softer version of Barnett’s previous jangly rock, perhaps a given since it was written and recorded during the pandemic.
Genesis Owusu – Smiling with No Teeth
There’s a reason Genesis Owusu swept up at the 2021 ARIA Awards. His debut album is a supreme showcase, capturing a hip hop artist already remarkably assured at the age of 23. He’s an achingly cool performer but it’s never self-indulgent; the Ghanian-Australian rapper is a visceral voice but there’s plenty of substance to what he’s saying. One of the most exciting young talents to emerge from Australian music in recent years.
Gretta Ray – Begin to Look Around
After being a triple j favourite for several years, Ray’s 2021 debut album proves that she can back up the hype. Her soothing vocals are as strong as ever, pouring out her emotional ballads. Begin to Look Around is a collection of little pop gems, a coming-of-age record that offered comfort and hope in a turbulent year.
Liz Stringer – First Time Really Feeling
Over 15 years into her career, First Time Really Feeling cements Stringer as one of Australia’s best – and most underrated – modern singer-songwriters. Discussing with searing honesty subjects like newfound sobriety, Stringer remains a lyricist at the top of her game. The autobiographical songs are all wrapped up in rousing heartland rock and alternative country. Detailed storytelling such as this deserves a wider audience.
Middle Kids – Today We’re the Greatest
The War on Drugs’ Adam Granduciel called them “the best” and they’ve impressed the likes Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel; Middle Kids seem well-placed to be the next Australian band to break the U.S.. The alternative rockers second album improves on the first while maintaining what their fans loved in the first place. It’s quietly emotional, with lead vocalist Hannah Joy a songwriter of strong accuracy and potency. The songs on Today We’re the Greatest are emblematic of a band both made for arenas and small venues, which is a difficult feat.
Ruby Fields – Been Doin’ It For A Bit
Fields easily fits within this rising generation of beabadoobee and Olivia Rodrigo of youthful artists making strikingly mature pop punk and alternative rock music. Her long-awaited debut album captures a charismatic lead ready to seize their moment in the spotlight. Fields drops hooks effortlessly and consistently finds little nuggets of memorable lyricism. One to keep an eye on in the coming years.
Rüfüs Du Sol – Surrender
In the most disruptive of years, the electronic trio made their most accomplished record yet. Mixing euphoric rhythms with darkly atmospheric beats, the electronic palette has something to suit every mood. The group also got more rawly vulnerable than perhaps ever before – the pandemic has done that to most of us – and these songs are rich in emotion without ever devolving into schmaltz.