2020 Yearbook: Sydney Recap
December 31st 2020
Despite the unwieldy amount of adversity that 2020 presented to artistic communities, Sydney music proved just as resilient, creative and prosperous as it has always been, flourishing in the face of challenge compounded atop of challenge to bring the rest of us some sorely needed enjoyment this year.
In fact, Sydney delivered so much that we felt it necessary to compile a big ol’ list of notable local 2020 releases as part of our end of year coverage. Hopefully, it gives some picture of the totality of Sydney’s creative going-ons from the shitfire ashes of 2020.
So without further ado, here are some Sydney releases of all shapes, sounds and sizes that we’ve had on high rotation throughout the year – LPs, EPs, compilations, relief releases and all of our 2020 Albums of the Week. Dig in and maybe you’ll find some previously undiscovered gem to soundtrack your stay-at-home listening.
BLESSED – Music is the Medicine
On his debut mixtape, singer, producer and songwriter BLESSED deconstructs genre barriers and challenges the traditional ideals of a rockstar. Channeling his peerless productivity and prolific past output into a more expansive format, Music is the Medicine applies the Ghana-born, Western-Sydney’s polymath approach to genre and style across a full-length canvas that threads together hip hop, punk rock, R&B and alt-pop. Evading labels and categorisations, what brings together the oft-undefinable Music is the Medicine is BLESSED’s guitar playing, which ranges from crunched-out, emo-inflected riffs to shifting, melancholic layers of atmospherics. Music is the Medicine is BLESSED’s paean to the uniquely redemptive powers of music, charting a journey of introspection, self-discovery and heartbreak as mediated through the solace and healing provided by art.
Caitlin Harnett & The Pony Boys – Late Night Essentials
Late Night Essentials, the debut LP from alt-country four-piece Caitlin Harnett & The Pony Boys, captures the foursome in all their live glory, translating their much-buzzed about live show into a full-length document recorded over a single day in the living room of producer, The Middle East’s Jordan Ireland. Following her 2014 solo LP, Late Night Essentials is Caitlin’s first album recorded alongside her backing band, The Pony Boys, who move with the intimate alchemy of a single, seamless unit, allowing their individual and collective talents to simultaneously shine through at any given moment. Folding notes of Americana and 70’s radio rock into their whisky-soaked alt-country, the foursome evoke the oppressive, windless days and long, sticky nights of summertime with lush melodicism, soaring saxophones and twangy guitar licks. Coloured by a warm resiliency and an aching tenderness, Caitlin’s vocals cut through the band’s backdrop with a tactile sense of honesty and a slow-burning emotional acuity that consoles the heart while also pulling it apart.
California Girls – Beat Boy
Sydney via Canberra auteur California Girls’ passionate second record, Beat Boy is dense, confrontational and emotionally charged, dripping with blood, sweat and tears of sincerity, the heightened emotions of its music matched only by its lyrical content. An intimate portrayal of sex, performance, self and doubt, California Girls’ second LP takes a raw, subversively punk approach to the usually glossy tropes of pop, obsessing over how to navigate the real world, including feelings of imposterism, how to properly relate to others and how those interactions inform your sense of self. In the world of California Girls, lust reveals the deepest insecurities, vulnerability is exposed through intensity and the utopian ideals of the dancefloor are stripped bare by its strobe-lit dystopian realities. Working somewhere between genres, Beat Boy’s propulsive, hyperactive palette takes in brooding post-punk, dark, industrial synth-pop, digital balladry and licentious club music. Over frenetic percussion and throbbing electronics, California Girls’ icy vocals move from soaring autotune to sensuous moans to desperate yells to monotone drawl. Carried by this sense of fervor and emotion, Beat Boy is one of the most passionate records of 2020.
Dro Carey – Nothing is a Solo Project
Nothing Is A Solo Project is the long-awaited, shape-shifting debut record from Sydney producer Dro Carey. Traversing silky neo-soul, acid-inflected techno, UK Garage, euphoric, vocal-led house and more, Nothing Is A Solo Project is caught in a constant state of flux, an amorphous debut from a producer whose career has so far spanned countless releases and various artistic aliases. Eugene Ward brings an unfettered approach to his first full-length outing as Dro Carey, placing roaming ambient soundscapes up against collaborations featuring a carefully curated roster of underground singers. Dro Carey allows his debut LP to be guided by this surrounding network of collaborators, from engineers to audiences to feature artists and more, lending a wonderfully malleable and textural quality to the record. In the process, Nothing Is A Solo Project stands as a reminder of how community always shapes what we ourselves put out into the world.
GODTET – III
Just over a year after their second record, Sydney instrumental collective GODTET complete their self-titled triptych with the textural and sinorous GODTET III. Where GODTET II saw the group strike a balance between improvised ensemble and beat production, GODTET III moves away from the sample-based foundations of its predecessor, entirely improvised and recorded live with no overdubs. The third and final installment in the GODTET trilogy is, appropriately then, a full-circle moment for the group, returning to the artistic methods that helped spawn their 2017 debut LP. In its spontaneous creativity, you can hear years of intensive, far-wandering playing, painstaking recording and prodigious gigging. Organic and radiant, you can feel the emotional bonds formed between members and the musical language shared by its disparate creators shining through. The final installment in the GODTET trilogy caps a period of time in which the group found and defined themselves – and produced a standing achievement in Sydney music along the way.
L-Fresh The Lion – SOUTH WEST
Centred around imagined conversations with a 13 year old incarnation of himself, L-Fresh the Lion addresses his younger self on his deeply personal third full-length record, SOUTH WEST, imparting lessons he wishes he knew when growing up. Channeling the likes of Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common, L-Fresh uses hip hop as a canvas to both untangle his own personal history and cultivate his political beliefs, infusing his conscious rap throughout his third record with stories of his experience as a second generation migrant living across two cultures while navigating the racism of Australian society. SOUTH WEST is an album which self-evidently lives its message out, as L-Fresh increasingly blurs the lines of activist, artist and community organiser, from the diversity of its musical makeup to the empowerment of its lyrics to its sense of uplift and pride in the area which birthed the record. On SOUTH WEST, L-Fresh details the continuing project of reconnecting with his Punjabi and Sikh heritage and cultural practices, opening up on his own processes of decolonisation on a record which is compelling, necessary and, above all, admirably honest.
Nick Griffith – 7am
A perennial mainstay of the Sydney music scene, Nick Griffith channels the spirit of mid- to late-aughts indie-pop on his debut solo record, 7am. Written, recorded, mixed and mastered entirely by Nick alone in his bedroom, 7am is an eccentric and joyous explosion of homegrown possibilities, an exploration of building character through limitation. Every musical knick-knack of the record comes alive with this sense of personality, feeling as though it’s been playfully pieced together via its DIY recording into a curious, affectionate whole, from retro drum machines to op-shop purchased microphones and buzzing, analogue synths. A member of Big White, Bored Shorts, High Tails and more, Nick assembles tracks written over the better part of a decade for his debut solo release. In the process, he packages up different versions of himself throughout his early twenties into the tracks on 7am, capturing the uncertainty, bewilderment and sometimes-fatigue felt at the prospect of a new world opening up to you.
Party Dozen – Pray For Party Dozen
Fervent, intense and crushing, Sydney duo Party Dozen stare deeper into the void of their abrasive industrial art-punk on their second record, Pray For Party Dozen. The improv-based musical partnership of saxophonist Kristy Tickle and Jonathan Boulet build compositions that are utterly unhinged and technically mesmerising at the same time, with Boulet’s unrelenting breakneck drums clashing against Tickle’s visceral saxophone playing, mashed, processed guitars and sweeping synths. A vortex of animalistic energy, chaos gradually materialises into form on Party Dozen’s second LP before dissolving into anarchy once again. Overwhelming with their ability to suck everything in sight into their onslaught of sound, the duo shape-shift through a dizzying array of rock subgenres, from stoner doom, Krautrock, math rock, downtempo ambient and rave-ready electro-punk, never sure of what final form their tracks will take. Rhythmic, primal and energised by a frenzied confidence, Pray For Party Dozen carries you away with the devotion and zeal of a newly indoctrinated cult member, the mark of a group that sound unlike anyone else right now.
Setwun – Our World
Sydney-based multi-instrumentalist and producer Setwun capped his fiery standout by gifting us his third LP of the year, Our World. Our World cements Setwun as one of the most prolific, talented and hard-working musicians Sydney has to offer. A suite of devotionals to music itself, the tracks on Our World seem to reach impossibly higher and higher, riding syrupy rhythm sections and sweltering, frenzied percussive grooves that sound as if they could run all night long. Featuring Setwun’s own vocals more extensively than any previous project, the personal nature of Our World is hard to escape, spirited by a palpable passion for his art. With ideals of uplift, healing and listening at its core, Our World is a celebration of the power of creation and artistic expression – its ability to unite, to help us better understand ourselves and one another.
The Kid LAROI – FUCK LOVE
FUCK LOVE, the debut mixtape from The Kid LAROI, more than earns the Sydney rapper the title of prodigy that has long been weighed on his shoulders. Matching his meteoric rise from Waterloo and Broken Hill to the forefront of new generation hip hop, LAROI suffuses FUCK LOVE with a newfound sense of artistic versatility and a firm command over his atmospheric emo trap-rap, garnering comparisons to luminaries such as Lil Peep, Lil Uzi Vert and his late mentor, Juice WRLD. With a level of nuance and emotional maturity seemingly beyond his years, the sixteen year old rapper turns heartbreak into hypnotic, tortured tracks that explore topics of adolescent angst, failing relationships and living with the grief of his best friend’s death. Laden with raw passion, LAROI’s tremoring, crooning autotune vocals shine over delicate guitars, heavy 808s and skittering hi-hats. Relentlessly catchy, vulnerable and stylistically fully formed, FUCK LOVE exceeds the weighty expectations placed on The Kid LAROI’s debut full-length and emerges as a milestone release for Australian hip hop.
Ziggy Ramo – Black Thoughts
Ziggy Ramo carves out his own space on his vital and eloquent debut album, Black Thoughts. Written in 2015 before being shelved due to fears of being misunderstood, Ramo’s first record arrived with little pre-advance notice, compelled by global Bla(c)k and Indigenous Lives Matter movements to make something of his platform. Uncomfortable, confronting, profound and intensely personal, it carries with it the full weight of the world into which it was born. Raised in Perth and Arnhem land and now based in Sydney, Black Thoughts distills Ramo’s experience of growing up Indigenous in Australia across 16 tracks of lyrical story-telling and jazz-inflected golden age hip hop. On his first full-length, he extols the oldest surviving culture on earth, canvases the history of racism in Australia, dismantles the systems that have oppressed First Nations peoples since invasion and examines how this entire history has manifested itself within his own life so far. Ramo’s pain, anger, heartache, exasperation and exhaustion are all palpable throughout Black Thoughts, but so too is his pride and resilience and optimism that First Nations people will continue to survive and prosper in spite of a world that would deny their existence. Ambitious and multifaceted, Black Thoughts is a lot of things: a potent monument to voice and presence, a diaristic piece of healing, an inedible exercise in listening, conversation-starter, a seat at the table, an education.
On their debut project, 700 Feel, the electronic duo comprised of housemates and childhood friends Jonny Reebok and Myspace Juan, bring channel the organic electronica of Four Tet and Nicolás Jaar’s ability to shift from ambient soundscapes to bass-heavy club edits and back again, threading together UK garage, hip hop, dub, and house with subtle shadings of footwork and jazz interspersed throughout. Raised in Ipswich and North Carolina respectively, 700 Feel’s music is as much a product of global movement and cultural interconnectedness as they are themselves, evincing a deep appreciation for genres and styles which are rooted in the places and communities that birthed them. Pulling from London, Chicago, Kingston and Bristol, 700 Feel is ultimately a project grounded in the duo’s hometown of Western Sydney, an affectionate homage to the community and collectivism of the area, the exchanges of ideas, influences and cultures that could only happen there. Guided by feeling, 700 Feel reaches towards a blissful, transportative state of electronic music that’s as human as it is synthetic, equally at home in the headphones as it is in the club.
Best Effort – Stay in Bed, Vols. I & II
Dinosaur City & Friends – Stay Inside: Songs From the Great Indoors
DJ Plead – Massari for Relief
E Davd – Environmental Justice Trilogy
Moonshoe Records – LIMBS, Vols. I & II
DECISIONS – Consequences
Deep Scan – Solid State Drive
New Weird Australia – Solitary Wave (In) & Solitary Wave (Out)
Of Leisure – Blue Line Steppers: Vol. 2
OTIS Records – Sweet Echoes, Vol. II
Pure Space – PROXIMITY
Andy Garvey: More Than Meets The Eye & Complex Clarity
Cousin: A Message From Q, Overtime & Cousin
DJ Plead: Going For It & AD 032 (with Anunaku)
Hugh B – Optiflexing
Low Flung: Haze of Distance, Outside the Circle, Oil in the Mangroves
Rebel Yell – Fall From Grace
Setwun & Hugh B – Yeah Definitely
Ten Brains – PIPE
Thomas Gray & Liam Ebbs – Recollection of Everything Beautiful
Tuff Sherm – Spore Whiskey
Wytchings – Oculus
Annie Hamilton – Annie Hamilton
Charlie Gradon – Blurry Ones
Elmo Aoyama – Spells
Georgia Marley – Yearning
Hearteyes – Even Headbangers Get the Blues
3NDLES5 & Crazy Mike – Sydney Bass
Otis Thomas – Make Yourself at Home
Sachet – Nets
Sawmill – Back to the Old House
Yon Yonson – Keep Cool But Care
RIYL: Hip Hop
Kwame – PLEASE, GET HOME SAFE
OKENYO – Solo
ONEFOUR – AGAINST ALL ODDS
Sevy & Bayang – notfromhere
Snoee Badman – #3badman
Tasman Keith – To Whom It May Concern
Jeida Woods – HIVE
Jessica Jade – Bet
Kymie – Indecision
Lara Andallo – For Her
Liyah Knight – Nesting
Cosmo’s Midnight – Yesteryear
GAUCI – GAUCI
Kota Banks & Ninajirachi – True North
Lupa J – To Breathe Underwater
Marcus Whale – Lucifer
Ninajirachi – Blumiere
Arafura – Arafura
Concrete Lawn – Aggregate
Death Bells – New Signs Of Life
Lisa Caruso – In Feelings
Oily Boys – Cro Memory Grin
The Buoys – All This Talking Gets Us Nowhere
RIYL: Jazz / Experimental
Bin Juice – Evergreen
Foshe & Horatio Luna – Nice To Meetcha
Laurence Pike – Prophecy
Pleasure – IMPROVISATIONS 180621-180622
Setwun – In Search of the Butubutu
Spectral Gates – Spectral Gates
Tangents – Timeslips