As with my top songs, the below are predominately Australian. Also, this was the first time in five years that I wasn’t helming a year-end round-up for a major publication, which allowed me to be as narrow in scope as I pleased.
Alvvays Antisocialites (Pod)
After belatedly obsessing over this Toronto ensemble’s self-titled debut (especially lyrically), I fell harder still for their follow-up — an even stronger reconciling of surging dream-pop and acidic sentiments. My review.
Stephen Bailey Silo (Dusky Tracks)
A sleeper record in more than one sense of the word, this low-key gem is a solo triumph for Stephen Bailey of Perth heavy psych battlers Mt. Mountain. It quietly mingles various eras and genres with homespun, earwormy warmth. My review.
Michael Beach Gravity/Repulsion (Spectacular Commodity)
‘I Never Had Enough Time With You’ may be the immediate calling card for this album, but the other tracks creep up with a similarly ragged glory: the cracked rock opera ‘Freddie Dreams of Mars’, the Neil Young-ish ramble ‘You Were A Mirror’, the anxious power-pop outlet ‘A Vision of Modern Love’, the piano-pushed ‘Endless Plain’ and a trio of bleary interludes. For Beach, who’s spent years in bands and playing solo, this feels like a hard-won new chapter.
Cable Ties self-titled (Poison City)
Marathons of focused punk ire, these eight songs have as much boogie as bite, ploughing forever ahead while Jenny McKechnie’s volcanic voice burns clear the path. They handily live up to the hype, on stage most of all. My review.
Jen Cloher self-titled (Milk)
Nobody packed more naked anxiety, thorny commentary and sprawling references into less space this year than Jen Cloher, who proved that indie rock can be dizzyingly smart and wincingly emotional at the same time. My review.
Mere Women Big Skies (Poison City)
On their third album, Sydney’s Mere Women brought newfound scope to their articulate, atmospheric post-punk. What’s more, they found unlikely immediacy against a wobbly, effects-drenched backdrop. My review.
The National Sleep Well Beast (4AD)
The singing is more supple, the lyrics less knowingly clever, the arrangements more open and electronic. But the songs still seize and envelope, thanks to brazen twists and pooling gravity. It’s been a joy to watch this band grow. My feature.
Rat Columns Candle Power (Upset the Rhythm)
Delicately dance-driven, David West’s latest foray as Rat Columns evokes such soft-sung indie royalty as Orange Juice, The Pastels and Rocketship. While every bit as idiosyncratic as any of West’s many projects, this one finds him at his most human — and most receptive to the accumulated history of pop.
RVG A Quality of Mercy (Our Golden Friend/Island)
Looking way beyond the Melbourne scene that nourished it, this insta-classic debut matches its timeless indie sound with an up-to-the-minute moral compass. And rather than signify some slacker absence of ambition, jangling guitars suddenly proved capable of setting the stage for high drama.
Wireheads Lightning Ears (Tenth Court)
Adelaide’s frazzled poets of the cosmic and the mundane stretched out anew this year, accommodating more left-field impulses and influences by the minute. The result is their most jolting, askew and ripely tuneful work yet.