Last week Backseat Mafia released its Top Fifty Albums of 2020 – a incredibly rich and diverse list of albums from across a wide range of writers with different tastes and a huge spread of genres; a magnificent task delivered well.
At the end of a particularly challenging year, I wanted to highlight the outstanding Australian and New Zealand releases: a region that consistently punches above its weight.
My list is not about the best – I have not heard everything released in this region and of those many releases that have crossed my desk, I have only reviewed those I loved. And even then, various circumstances have meant that I have missed reviewing some of those releases (sorry The Apartments and The Double Happiness). So, here’s a list of my favourite releases from Australian and New Zealand in 2020 that I’ve reviewed on Backseat Mafia, acknowledging this list is subjective and by no means exhaustive.
Follow the links for the original review.
Favourite singles for 2020
I do have my most favourite single of the year. Every year there is one release that stands out for me, and this year’s ear worm also happened to be Australian – the mysterious The Wednesday Night’s cool release ‘The Perfect Scene’.
There is undeniably a sweet, melancholic reverie about the single, but it also seems to perfectly capture an air of the swinging sixties – Emma Peel, John Steed (the real Avengers), thick black mascara, tweed jackets, E-type Jaguars and a chilled Martini. With a superglue-like melody and an air of studied insouciance, this is an absolute delight. Listing influences as diverse as the Ronettes, The Velvet Underground, Syd Barrett and Iberian folk (I must look that up), The Wednesday Night have captured celestial, ethereal shoegaze/dream pop perfection on ‘The Perfect Scene’.
The accompanying video, directed by Andrew Lancaster, is a nod to Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ as a crime is carried out with a wickedly dark sense of humour and a great deal of panache:
A few other standout singles for me (in no particular order) were:
Both releases are the very epitome of the description cinematic – visual poetry that evinces the mood and stunning nature of the songs and a mesmerising tableau that induces awe and wonder. This collaboration between Meares and Dymke is creating some extraordinary.
There is an ambient fuzz and, antithetically, a gorgeous delicacy to the new single ‘Irrational’ by Sydney band Erthlings. This is a dreamy and heavenly track that is imbued with an achingly melancholic shimmer.
While this band is surely a publicist’s nightmare with its shape shifting and elusive style that is impossible to categorise, the listener is the winner. Fingerless have yet again provided irrefutable evidence that they are a huge creative force.
Coalfalls – Coalfalls/Stephenson Street
Evocative instrumental shoegaze/dream pop that speaks without words.
Twanging, jangling guitars and vocal harmonies evoke sea spray splashes on bright sunny waterfronts and the briny delights of open-air seaside cafes and mucking about on the seashore. The Double Happiness have always excelled at capturing the landscapes they live in and wrapping it up in their surfing, rolling tracks.
‘Close’ has sky-high anthemic choruses, a certain indie pop sensibility and enough grit and grunge to be effervescently cool. And through the bubblegum pop melodies, there is a melancholia that adds an indelible poignancy.
The new single ‘Vanishing Point’ is delectable: mesmerising, hypnotic and crystalline with such a posed sense of style.
‘The Critic’ has all the hallmarks of what makes Didirri such a compelling artist: hints of melancholia, intelligent and poetic lyrics and lush and velvet instrumentation.
‘The Light That Shines’ is an effervescent slice of classic New Zealand indie pop mixed with a Buzzcocks swagger and a rousing chorus.
‘Why Am I You Only Friend?’ is a veritable onslaught of jangling guitars, delicious layered harmonies with epic swagger and joie de vivre bigger than the temporal world.
A velvet soundscape that highlights Gilligan’s epic vocals and her ear for melody with gliding, glitching instrumentals and a mesmerising atmosphere.
‘Berlin’ is arctic and sparkling: jangling, chiming guitars that have all the brilliance of classic shimmering dream pop with urgent post punk vocals. Second track ‘Marine’ brings to the fore the vocal interplay between male and female voices and is a more reflective, haunting piece.
‘You’re Immortal’ has that baroque pop elegance full of pomp and circumstance that the The Chills have perfected over the years – sweet, indie pop draped in a cloak of orchestral brilliance that sparkles and glows.
It is a rich and velvety tapestry. I am reminded of fellow Australians, the legendary The Triffids, with the deep and layered instrumentation and the sweeping vistas created by the melody and anthemic chorus.
This is classic indie rock fashioned from sparkling guitars and celestial melodies.
A paean to the plight of outsiders, poignant and cinematic and, above all, empathic with a glimpse of hope for the future. Lovely stuff indeed.
My Top 20(ish) Favourite Albums for 2020
In complete random order, my favourite Australian and New Zealand albums for 2020 were:
‘Shadows’…feels like a brand-new refreshed shimmering and sparkling Underground Lovers, seeking inspiration from the past to deliver a much need panacea for the present.
There is a fragile and elegant beauty in Even As We Speak’s new album ‘Adelphi’ that leaves the listener swooning with bliss.
‘Anthropomorphia’ is a stunning album: elegant and poised with a shimmering sheen and sense of deep connection to the geography it was created in. In this album, Key Out have proven themselves as good as any of their contemporary Australians that are currently making a global impact.
The songs in ‘The Glow’ are universally filled with epic melodies, complex layered instrumentation and, indeed, a glow. There is a continuous air of wistfulness and melancholy weaving in and out of the shimmering sound.
You Don’t Have Time to Stay Lost’ perfectly captures the ennui of modern middle-aged life and wraps it into beautiful melodies and wistful observations that manage to express the inherent beauty of existence at the same time.
Foothills’ is simply brilliant – it is a delicate, melodic album filled with beautiful observations on life delivered in The Bats’ trademark jingle-jangle, sparkling style.
Herein lie ten tracks of impossible beauty: gentle, thoughtful, reflective tracks that shimmer, shine and are filled with a sense of wonder.
‘The Death of Foley’s Mall’ is an elegant and perfectly formed collection of exquisite pop songs that are fresh, fearless and imbued with intelligence and humour.
A cathartic thunder of chiselling punk rock riffs hiding within it lyrics of profound intelligence and – dare it be said – sensitivity. All wrapped in a singalong packaging. And herein lies the majesty of this band.
This is unadorned, raw and celestial music that explores sounds and instruments, experiments and innovates in a creative milieu. Quite beautiful.
Savoury-Toothed Tiger’ is a pocketful of pure pop, with some sunshine and humour for the age of isolation and yet leavened by darker observations and the odd touch of melancholia.
Completely steeped in a shimmering cloak of chiming guitars and melody, this is a fantastic return from an iconic Australian band.
A collection of deeply personal songs that are heartfelt and passionate, raw and emotional, touched with humour and self-reflection.
‘Early Trauma’ is a sweeping, cinematic and statuesque release filled with five close to perfect pop songs that have theatricality and pomp and an elegance, leaved by a satisfying post-punk gothic darkness. Up there with the best of 2020.
This is a triumphant album that maintains one’s faith in the power of indie rock’n’roll. With Feral, RVG proudly join the ranks of the best that the Australia indie musical scene can give to the world
A delightful musical trip from musicians outstanding in their respective fields yet even more perfect when weaved together. Mention too must be made of Kilbey’s 11 Women solo album.
‘Sideways to the New Italy’ is a complete and consistent album – ten songs of pop perfection with no dips in quality and where there is nothing out of place. It instils a sense of euphoric joy to listen to and evokes the sense of a place to call home.
This is an epically beautiful tapestry with love, loss and longing interweaved amongst the most beautiful emotive and evocative music.
There is a calming beauty in PJ Orr’s new album ‘Tightrope Walker’ which incorporates the vibrant genes of fellow Australian indie bands – both past and present – and packages this into its own distinctive, mellifluous tones.
‘Here. Now Here.’: ten tracks that reveal a band that are an intensely serious and swaggering crew that are not afraid to inject a little battle-hardened humour into the raucous mix.
Whatever the influences and whatever the inherent genetic code that stems from the eighties, the result is spine-chillingly assured synth-pop rock of the highest order. One of my favourite releases of the year.
FIBATTY!’ from Augie March’s Glenn Richards is beautiful, expressive and ultimately joyous.
Mention should be made of a few antipodean record labels that have worked so hard to nurture local talent and really care about music and creativity. False Peak Records, 4000 Records – only a year old – Half a Cow Records – celebrating thirty years in the business – and the iconic Flying Nun Records are prime examples.
Thanks too to all the PR Agencies who have worked so tirelessly for their artists in such a crowded field.