King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity
Adrenaline-fuelled, mind-melting and interminable; Nonagon Infinity is intended to be listened to in order, on loop. It’s a grand concept and King Gizzard pull it off with incomparable success – entirely unique, as far as I know. The album opens with a steering chant, ‘Nonagon Infinity opens the door’ (also aptly laced throughout the album), before kicking off with breathless momentum. Each of the nine songs bleeds into the next, borrowing riffs and lyrics from one another along the way. With two synchronous drumming rhythms, fierce harmonica and rigorous guitars, Nonagon Infinity feels like its hurtling towards something cataclysmic, and its relentless speed can be gruelling. As you reach the album’s breakneck final track “Road Train”, you’ll be looking for a moment of respite, but King Gizzard offer none, instead seamlessly returning to the beginning and its cultish mantra: ‘Nonagon Infinity opens the door’. Appropriately, Nonagon Infinity is an insane achievement deserving of craze and worship.
Highlight: “Robot Stop”
The Avalanches – Wildflower
According to The Avalanches, a ‘Wildflower’ is a free-spirted person, one that rejects conventionality. Likewise, the album Wildflower is a colourful, trippy, bizarre sonic collage of related concepts and curiosities that collectively form the soundtrack to this person’s life. It’s an experiential album; you can hear the story and your mind creates the visuals (if you’re willing to let it). Wildflower is sketched out like a road trip on acid, travelling between beaches, fairgrounds, forests. It’s a wonderfully intoxicating journey and at times one that feels deeply nostalgic, conjuring the stylings of disco, psychedelia and hip hop to reflect its psyche. The album isn’t composed of songs or tracks (aside from maybe its two standalone singles “Frankie Sinatra” and “Subways”), but of moments where a sound or melody may invoke a memory or a sensation. It’s not always sociable listening, but it is remarkably stimulating. Wildflower is a living, breathing piece of music that rewards patience and an open mind, or rather a blank canvas on which to paint its vivid tune.
Highlight: “Frankie Sinatra”
Koi Child – Koi Child
Nu-jazz urban psych-funk hip hop – that’s how I would attempt to describe this self-titled debut album from Koi Child. The seven-piece outfit from Fremantle are best buds with Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, who volunteered to mix and produce this album. His influence is prominent here; silky production elements enhance the talents of the band’s seven members, finding depth and balance in their combined sound. There’s funky keys, trombone solos, and a couple of saxophones for good measure. Precise drums keep the beat while frontman Shannon “Cruz” Patterson lays down the rhythm and rhyme. Cruz raps about rapping on “Cruzy P”, deconstructing his pattern, revealing his creative method, and providing personal insight. Many of his lyrics are introspective but also playful; after two instrumental-heavy introductory tracks, on “Touch ‘Em” Cruz interjects with “Yo, you thought that was it?”, delivering a smooth change of pace. The album is constantly shifting from one genre and influence to the next but manages to never lose a coherent and assured identity. In fact, it might be one of the most confident debut albums of recent memory.
Highlight: “Black Panda”
Ball Park Music – Every Night the Same Dream
A free-flowing torrent of inspiration and experimentation that oozes with remarkable confidence. With Every Night the Same Dream, Ball Park Music aim for bleachers and end up knocking it out of the… well, ball park. Each song feels like a pure collaboration of talented musicians letting go of conventional restraints and doing what they do best. In this way, Every Night the Same Dream is consistently and wonderfully surprising, not exactly radical but always interesting. Take “Peppy” for example – a trippy, Beatles-possessed odyssey that defiantly plays out until seemingly losing interest and abruptly cutting out; it’s as if you can feel the band’s unfiltered thought process. Most of the album is warmly retro, influences spanning from 60s-era psychedelia on “Ever Since I Turned The Lights On” to the grungy 90s strumming of “Whipping Boy”. The album can perhaps be epitomised by “Pariah”, the best showcase of its recorded-straight-to-tape sound. The song begins with lead singer Sam Cromack’s raw vocals and gentle piano notes echoing throughout the recording space; what follows is a mind-bending, improvised jam session between all band members that builds to dizzying heights. It’s bold and doesn’t play by the rules, but at the same time never feels overindulgent. The album in its entirety strikes the same precise balance in exhibiting the sound of creative liberation.
Matt Corby – Telluric
If you’ve ever been to a Matt Corby gig, you’d know the incredible power and range of his voice; quite simply the best I’ve ever heard. It’s odd then that Telluric is, for the most part, unlike his potent live performance style or even any of the accessible hit songs that have preceded it (“Brother”, “Resolution”). On Telluric, Corby is restrained, flexing the light, whimsical qualities of his vocal muscle rather than the mighty, belly-compelled wails he’s celebrated for. It is indeed the driving force and centrepiece of the record – on “Monday” he creates an angelic soundscape using only his voice as instruments – but Telluric is also a bravura of his arrangement and production abilities. Corby and co-producer Dann Hume lean on jazz and soul influences here, with only touches of the rock sound he entered the scene with. Songs like “Knife Edge”, “Oh Oh Oh” and “Sooth Lady Wine” feature groovy, off-kilter drum beats matched with funky base lines and hypnotic keys. It’s a mature album – with a rich palette of sounds that rewards careful and repeated listening – and an impressive debut from the best voice in the biz.
Highlight: “Knife Edge”
DMA’s – Hill’s End
With an obvious nostalgia for the music of 90s Britpop, DMA’s breathe new energy into the genre. It’s easy to compare their debut album Hill’s End to the likes of Oasis or Blur and while it’s certainly influenced by the music of these industry titans, they commendably stamp their own tenor. DMA’s bring a certain Australian-ness to their sound, one that feels like it was birthed in the glistening heat of a summer festival; sitting on a grassy knoll, sipping on overpriced beer with a durry in hand. Steely guitar riffs and laidback sing-alongs is what DMA’s do best, padded with earnest and endearing lyrics. The meaning is often elusive, but singer Tommy O’Dell seems to be wearing his heart on his sleeve and reminiscing on a volatile past. On “Melbourne”, Tommy O’Dell sings with conviction, “I won’t feel no pain”, but only before the band crashes into an erratic, impatient outro that sounds like something deep down is trying to scratch its way through the poised veneer. The band might strike you as a bunch of nonchalant, smug wannabes but their music speaks differently, with greater truth.
Highlight: “Too Soon”
D.D. Dumbo – Utopia Defeated
“Satan” was my favourite song of 2016 – an alluring rich tapestry of exotic sounds that remarkably work together with immaculate execution. The rest of the album can’t quite reach such astonishing heights but it’s still one of the most exciting records of the year. Each song on Utopia Defeated is unpredictable and challenging; sonic layers collide, materialising and then evaporating as quickly as they come. On “In the Water” his fanciful folk strumming is abruptly met by a soothing bassoon flourish that comes as a stroke of genius and then is gone before it allows time to soak in. Everything feels inspired and deliberate; every sound is exactly where it needs to be. On “Brother”, D.D. Dumbo distorts his guitar until it’s clunky and unrecognisable, accompanied by brass instrument pulses and eventually breaking out into an Eastern choral dance. Utopia Defeated also offers an important environmental message, “The world is our oyster, but the oyster is dying and the gun is the soul of a man”, he sings. There’s a sense of compassion for the natural world, referenced in each track, but D.D. Dumbo’s contemplations are as provoking as the sounds he creates, proving that there’s depth beneath the glistening surface.
Client Liaison – Diplomatic Immunity
Beyond the deadpan, nostalgic façade of Client Liaison are two very talented musicians. If you ignore the ironic aesthetics, the 80s/90s business attire, the Australian political references, the sounds of the outback and the bush, you’re left with a gifted singer (Monte Morgan) and an skilled producer (Harvey Miller). It’s sometimes easy to overlook; neither one ever breaks character and the masquerade is now established and elaborate. The album opens with kookaburra laughs and parliamentary audio before breaking out into the thumping dance stylings of “Canberra Won’t Be Calling Tonight”. This is an electronica dance record through and through, whether that’s the slow-groove ballad “Hotel Stay”, the funky minimalism of “Off White Limousine”, or the deep house bass of “Do It My Way”. Lead single and album highlight “World Of Our Love” is a straight up banger (“You got me burnin’ up!”), and if the nostalgia wasn’t already apparent, there’s an exquisite duet with Tina Arena on “A Foreign Affair”. It’s an entirely unique album conceptually and executed with immaculate attention to detail, all the way down to the tiniest synth flutter. Ultimately, Diplomatic Immunity is delightfully reminiscent of a treasured part of Australiana but brought lovingly into the modern world.
Highlight: “World of Our Love”
Other notable Australian albums in 2016:
- RÜFÜS – Bloom
- Violent Soho – Waco
- The John Steel Singers – Midnight at the Plutonium
- Jagwar Ma – Every Now & Then
- Sticky Fingers – Westway (The Glitter & the Slums)
- Big Scary – Animal
- Bernard Fanning – Civil Dusk
- Flume – Skin
- Northeast Party House – Dare
- Hockey Dad – Boronia