Travis's ten songs they really liked this year
Beniah and I both feel weird about top 10 lists, how can you take the artistic expression of so many talented people and rank them in order of what you think was best? And besides, too often these lists all read a bit the same, like yes we know Punisher was a paradigm shifting moment in music and W.A.P. is the anthem of our generation, you don’t need me to tell you that.
So much like Beniah, I have gathered a list of 10 standout (in my humble opinion) Australian releases of the bizarre hell-scape that made up 2020. Some much-needed supportive lights in a dark year.
Jim Dusty - Worms Like Me
First up is an artist that is close to home for me, those who have had even tangential experience with the Canberra scene will know Jim Dusty. The outback emo turned retro keyboard king of the inner north has had an awesome year expanding his sound and working on some incredible new material. Amongst all that, he gave us what I am calling the transitional album; from the solo banjo folk/emo sound we are used to into the bizarre world that is access to a heap of second-hand Casio tones. Right here in the middle we have the EP Perpetual Customer produced by Benjamin Drury, a beautiful presentation of these well-loved songs. It features heavily the left of centre production utilising samples and sounds that take the songs (which for my money are written by the best songwriter in the country, don’t @ me) to a whole new sonic and experiential level. Worms like me is the standout track, the sample work gives the song a feeling of an old western movie, the song is beautiful, do yourself a favour and give it a listen.
Drive Safe - Nervous Energy?
Next is a relatively late release in 2020 but one that really impressed me, especially as a debut release from a solo project. Drive Safe, Canberra’s favourite new import from Naarm has released two songs in the back half of this year that I am going to be considering as one very small EP or taste of what is to come. The debut track Nervous Energy? was an incredible splash onto the scene from former Frowny Dad now going it solo with its unique sound that blended synths with a more traditional alt-rock arrangement in a really nice way. But following that we got Delayed Maintenance which for me was another goal, showing the range in sound that the artist has at their disposal, a big emotional almost pop-punk emo track that just demands to be yelled along with in a live context. Big things to come from Drive safe in 2021 I would assume. Keep an eye out.
Lily Morris - Grand Illusions
Next we have another debut release, from the youngest entry on my list. Despite her age Lily Morris has certainly made an impression on the scene with her stellar debut release Grand Illusions. A song that is beautiful in its simplicity, DIY to its core yet is so rich in emotion, feeling and musicianship. Telling the very real and relatable story of growing up in a small town that you feel stuck in and giving off Courtney Barnet vibes with a voice and turn of phrase beyond her years. If this is how our journey with Lily starts, I can’t wait to see where we go next.
ONEFOUR - Home and Away
Changing the vibe for the next one and driving north to Western Sydney with the paradigm shifting release from the originators of Australian Drill, ONEFOUR. If you aren’t aware of the things that have been going on around the ONEFOUR crew and their issues with NSW Police (ACAB forever) you should really look into the story as it gives this album such incredible context, and despite all of this opposition we got the debut album Against All Odds. A hard hitting, brutal as their reality, album full of war stories that act as a rallying cry. This album is incredibly important, not only for the Australian Hip-hop scene who have to take notice of what is to me the best sounding hip-hop release of the year, but also for the community that ONEFOUR represent. Home and Away is the standout track for me, just super catchy and makes you bounce but the whole thing should really be listened to together to get the full experience that is this album.
NAIF - (Sometimes Love) Isn't Enough
Staying in the Sydney area for the next one, one of four releases that this artist has been a part of in 2020 alone we have my personal favourite of the group, I am Plenty by NAIF. An album about love that isn’t confined to being just romantic love songs. This album transcends the idea of what an album themed on love can do, reaching out to include themes like loving yourself, loving those around of you, the feeling of falling in love and it all is crashing down around you. It is beautiful, harrowing and truly an incredible show of artistry in song writing and musicianship. DIY to its core again but not in a tacky or underproduced way, the production is there and does the work it needs to in the presentation of these shards of the artists heart they so freely shared. (Sometimes Love) Isn’t Enough is a standout to me personally with lyrics that have a hook in my heart that I can’t shake.
Hope Wilkins - L.I
Back to the Capital for this one, we have a debut from one of Canberra’s fastest rising stars, Coffee Cups by the incredible Hope Wilkins. Featuring the singles from earlier in the year and a couple of surprises, this release serves as a breakout moment for who was in the before times, one of Canberra’s favourite live acts, with her Indie appeal and beautiful turn of phrase in lyrics. Hope has been strengthened by her band and has worked really hard to craft a beautiful introduction to herself as an artist showing her wide range in song writing from the touching Fly For Me to the explosive L.I. my personal favourite. Another one to watch in 2021 because I know Hope and I don’t see her slowing down anytime soon.
Helena Pop - Oh! What A Shame!
Now a sole release from a band I hope to hear more of in the future. My favourite live act in Canberra, Helena Pop with their single Oh! What A Shame! I remember hearing this for the first time and just being blown away, the driving nature of the track with the complex and rich imagery in the vocals alongside a sound that just teases the drop so beautifully. This song does everything I love about H-Pop songs, it tells a very real story, augmented through lead singer Jack Livingston’s unique turn of phrase that somehow makes everything more complex but simple at the same time, it features incredible musicianship (pentuplet swing needs to happen more in songs, I’m saying it now) and it is just provocative sounding, it draws you in and holds you for its two minute fifty two second duration. I want more from H-Pop in 2021 and if the world returns to some semblance of normality with travel restrictions, we may get it yet.
Ghostgum - Overnight
Next we have what was my surprise debut of the year from some of the most talented musicians I have had the good pleasure to see play live, Overnight by Ghostgum. When I say I was surprised don’t get me wrong, I knew it would be excellent because as I said, two incredibly talented people. But, I was expecting a beautifully crafted acoustic masterpiece featuring soaring harmonies and vocal lines that would make statues weep. And I got that, but I got all of that alongside a full band sound that I was just blown away by. Blending the pairs incredible musicianship with some great production and an incredible song just creates this perfect storm of musical goodness that captivated me as soon as I heard it. I would like some more of this please, my mind races with all the different things the duo can do in a studio context and I am very excited.
Jack R. Reilly - Old Guard
In the home stretch now and we have two albums that are doing battle for the spot as most important albums to me personally in 2020.
First, I am going to talk about the incredible debut album from Sydney’s darling Jack R. Reilly Middle Everything. As a long-time fan of Jack’s work (and someone who is fortunate enough to consider Jack a friend) I acknowledge that I may have bias toward this album but putting all that aside, putting aside the stories that Jack tells in the songs which I know come from a very real place, putting aside the way that I have seen these songs be crafted and refined in the time that I’ve known Jack, putting aside deeply personal side of the artist that we get to see that makes my heart break, putting all of that aside. I still truly believe that this album is a defining moment for one of Australia’s best performers for my money. A full band (filled with killers) that just add to the gravity of each song, with arrangements that serve the song rather than being flashy just because they can. A collection of stories that stand as masterpieces on their own but through the sequencing of the album take listeners on a journey. Jack hit it out of the park on this one and I can’t wait to see what comes next. Favourite track here is Old Guard the beautifully heartbreaking song that makes me cry every time but TW before listening to it, it deals with themes of body image, self-worth and eating habits, so make sure you are in the right place before you listen to it, and have a few tissues ready.
Cry Club - Don't Go
And last but certainly by no means least is the highly anticipated debut album from Australia’s next big thing (the ‘next’ to be removed very soon) Cry Club with God I’m Such a Mess. In my opinion the best live show in the country, in my opinion the most interesting sound wise band in the relative mainstream and in my opinion the nicest, hardest working, most talented people doing it in Australia today. The album has something for everybody, anthems to rally for safer spaces at live music events, love songs, heart break songs, songs about self-doubt, songs about being a badass, social commentary, if you can do it on track, Cry Club have thrown themselves into it. The sound of the album is incredibly varied too from pop-esque party tracks to ‘acoustic’ ballads to a math rock meets club track that confuses the body into dancing. Don’t Go is my favourite Cry Club song so far, I am so happy I can finally listen to it on repeat. Cry Club Forever.
So, there is ten songs that for me were excellent and showed the incredible talent we have to offer here in Australia, I wholeheartedly agree with all the entries on Beniah’s list as well. It has really been an incredible year of releases despite the strangeness of the world around us. I’m sure given more time, I could come up with one hundred songs that are worth a listen from Aussie artists this year, but for now here’s 10.
2020 was a weird year for everyone, I want to say from the bottom of my heart thank you so much to everyone who has read and shared and supported Homegrown Sounds this year, in a strange way, I don’t think that the website and everything we have done this year would have happened without a global pandemic but it certainly wouldn’t have happened without you supporting us, so thank you. And a big thankyou to the artists who released these songs, those that sent us your music, those that reached out to us through the year we love you and are committed to continue to spread the good word about the very best music that Australia has to offer. there was a lot of good music in 2020, let’s hope for more in 2021.
As Beniah said, we have more exciting things to come in 2021 but for now, Happy New Year, stay safe, stay healthy, support your local scene (in whatever way you can right now).