2021 yearbook: Sydney recap
December 24th 2021
2021 was unmerciful to Sydney’s artistic communities. But somehow, in spite of the relentless curveballs thrown their way, local artists made it through.
No, not made it through – flourished.
Sydney delivered so much that we felt it necessary to compile a big ol’ list of notable local 2021 albums as part of our end of year coverage. Like a phoenix flock (?) rising from the ashes of an absolute dumpster fire, here are the records that floored us this year.
And if this docket isn’t enough to illustrate the totality of Sydney (and Australia’s) creative going-ons, here’s a list of the incredible independent artists we couldn’t get enough of this year.
ZEAHORSE – Let’s Not (And Say We Did)
Skuzzy and restless, Sydney noise-rock outfit Zeahorse return with their 3rd studio album Let’s Not (And Say We Did), their first new music in almost five years. The album’s title and its lyrics show the band’s sense of cynical humour and the running thread of satirical social commentary that has also marked their previous releases. With their half-shouted, heavily accented vocal delivery, the four piece harness a typically feral strain of Australian punk, while also incorporating more heavy and sludgy elements. Fuzzy guitars and a healthy dose of feedback lend a noise rock influence whilst contrasting against the tight, precise drumming, propelling the album from track to track with a fidgety momentum. The sense of noise and energy carried across Let’s Not (And Say We Did) is accented by gnarled and electrically charged guitar riffs, expanding at times out into sludgy, hypnotic, psychedelic realms. On their third full-length record, Zeahorse submerge the listener head-first into their world of hazy, slime-coated noise-rock, a radioactive return for one of the Sydney underground’s most potent acts.
INDIGO SPARKE – Echo
Sydney folk singer-songwriter Indigo Sparke conjures up the mysteries of life on her debut full-length, Echo. With g
entle guitar melodies tracing the contours between darkness and light, poetic lyrics invoking soothing and at times nostalgia
-tinged atmospheres, Echo draws on deeply personal themes of dreams, queer love, addiction, heartbreak, connec
tion, death and unfurling life. Written during her travels across America, Sparke’s debut LP captures both a sense of boundless, open skies and highways, alongside cloistered, anonymous hotel rooms and lonely hours of introspection. Co-produced by Sparke, Adrianne Lenker and longtime Big Thief producer Andrew Sarlo, Echo is a sparse affair, filled out primarily by Sparke’s ethereal vocals and accompanying guitars. It goes in search of intimacy and the vulnerability that comes from feelings of true safety, floating between the softness of her art and the grit that underlies her lived experiences, stripping the music back until, like Sparke herself, it feels humbled by life. On her debut LP, Indigo Sparke looks towards a vast sea of constellations in the desert night, drawing parallels between those heavenly bodies and the human experience. Those stars are much like ourselves: connected but apart, luminous and awe-inspiring but suspended amidst a blank, void expanse of space, all of them yearning for something greater to belong to.
MERE WOMEN – Romantic Notions
Diving into the hidden and darker undercurrents of love, Sydney post-punk outfit Mere Women return with their new album Romantic Notions. The dark moodiness of discordant guitars and rumbling bass paint an atmospheric background for the band’s continued exploration of women’s stories and experiences, a theme that runs throughout their catalogue and continues here on their fourth studio full-length. Drawn from an old stack of keyboardist and lead singer Amy Wilson’s great-grandmother’s diaries, Romantic Notions delves into inter-generational reflection on how romantic relationships have changed and stayed the same, and the continuing ways that love can be used to trap and control women within relationships. Wilson’s dramatic vocals mirror the intensity of the emotional themes of obsession and unrelenting devotion, and, in doing so, challenges the rose-tinted portrayals of love, drawing out to explore how those portrayals ultimately hold back and disempower women. In a climate where stories of sexual assault enabled by cultures of coercion, control, cover-up and misogyny are pouring forth from even the highest halls of federal government, Mere Women’s urgency and their thoughtfulness in challenging cultural depictions of relationships makes Romantic Notions a vital, powerful listen.
REPO MAN – Repo Man
Noise rock four-piece Repo Man stake their claim to the title of Sydney’s heaviest purveyors of all things dark and twisted with their voracious self-titled debut. Having established themselves in the local scene across an EP and slew of standalone singles, Repo Man’s debut full-length takes this embeddedness and enters their own name into the pantheon of fellow boundary-pushing Sydney rock outfits. Appropriately, the tracks on Repo Man share a lot with these luminaries – combining the teeth-bared, white-knuckled intensity of DEN and White Dog with the abrasiveness of Behind You and the skuzzy, riff-laden appeal of Zeahorse, swaying with the brooding, gothic atmospheres of Mere Women. A warped amalgam of grunge, industrial, post punk and art rock, Repo Man feels like a slow descent into the sludgy underbelly of a psyche. Guided by the entrancing, half-murmured vocals of lead singer Josh Duffy, Repo Man immerse you within this gloom – track by track, from head to toe, until this ominous, foreboding malaise overwhelms. Troweling through classic post-punk themes of isolation, alienation and misery, Repo Man exists at the edges, the line between base primality and civilised exterior, the margins of all that we see, hear and feel, those sensations that we know are there but would rather not acknowledge. Repo Man’s debut reflects that sediment back at us and urges us to give in, if only for the course of an LP.
SHRAPNEL – Alasitas
Sunny guitars, chirpy flute melodies and ensemble vocals adorn Alasitas, the newest album from Sydney oddballs Shrapnel. A warm and weird redux of tripped-out optimism.
Initially starting in 2013 as the bedroom project of Sam Wilkinson (Day Ravies, Mope City, and Beef Jerk), over the last decade Shrapnel have evolved into a fully fledged six-piece band.
Shrapnel’s new endeavour sounds more vivid and colourful than ever before. Alasitas marks an aesthetic shift for the band, venturing into decidedly more psychedelic territory with picked guitar riffs and modal melodies underscored by fuzz, hazy vocals and a whimsical woodwind section.
A distinct move away from the looser and louder punk sounds explored in their previous release ‘Wax World 5’, Shrapnel’s more meandering and expansive new direction on Alasitas leads us through extended instrumental segments into a hypnotic sense of freedom.
LIARS – The Apple Drop
The Apple Drop is the new album from prolific experimental-rock project Liars. Originating from New York’s early 00’s post-punk scene, Liars has continually evolved through various incarnations over the last two decades, exploring a multitude of punk and electronic sounds with the project’s brainchild Angus Andrew at the helm.
With Andrew’s return to his native Sydney and the addition of new collaborators – drummer Laurence Pike (PVT, Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders), multi-instrumentalist Cameron Deyell (SIA) and poet/lyricist Mary Andrew – The Apple Drop exhibits somewhat of a return to the project’s guitar-driven origins. However, far from the unapologetic, serrated noise of Liars’ early days this new album is bathed in cosmic atmospherics and an unnerving sense of space.
The Apple Drop is Liars’ uniquely dark vision of a Space Opera: infused with wide-eyed psychedelic wonder and a horror-tinged fear of the unknown. The album signposts another impressive landmark in Liars’ eccentric sonic Universe and a suitably epic concept for Liars’ 10th studio album.
B WISE – Jamie
jaime is the sophomore album from trailblazing South West Sydney artist, B Wise.
Having paved the way for countless Australian hip-hop acts, this follow up to 2018’s Area Famous showcases a triumphant return for the Liverpool rapper.
Stacked with impressive collaborations from the likes of Sampa The Great, ONEFOUR, Milan Ring, Jess B, Blessed, Becca Hatch and more, this album sees B Wise step back from the characteristic bravado of his previous record to give us a more intimate picture of the person behind the persona: the real jamie. The resultant album offers up 13 tracks of absolute fire and cements his place as one of the nation’s most respected hip-hop artists, advocates and storytellers.
NGAIIRE – 3
Ngaiire dazzles on her highly anticipated new album, 3. Conceptualised on a trip to her hometown in 2017, 3 was initially a project aimed at exploring contemporary aesthetics in Papua New Guinea. However the ensuing years of Global political upheaval and personal transformation evolved the album into something much more intimate.
Ngaiire’s third album sees her grapple with new motherhood, her identity as a woman of colour from post-colonial PNG, navigating a whitewashed Australian music industry and exploring a bolder level of creative freedom than she has before.
Co-written and produced by Paris-based, Sydney transplant Jack Grace, 3 is deftly layered with entrancing gospel harmonies, decorated with soft electronic overtones and a percussive heartbeat that lays the groundwork for Ngaiire’s most impressive work yet.
MARCUS WHALE – The Hunger
Adorned in Satyr-esque chaps, an Elizabethan ruffled collar and a striking cowboy hat, Marcus Whale transforms into his newest persona – a vampire’s familiar – for his latest album The Hunger.
Known for his work as half of electronic-pop duo Collarbones and as part of underground club group BV, the Sydney auteur’s solo project utilises a more theatrical approach. The Hunger sees Marcus Whale integrating music and performance-based character work, composed alongside a dramatic performance, with set and costume design from artists Athena Thebus and Chloe Corkran.
Having previously embodied the persona of the fallen angel Lucifer in his 2020 album of the same name, Marcus Whale continues his exploration of mythological and queer-iconography by using the relationship between a vampire and it’s victim – a lonely cowboy – as a vehicle for exploring the tensions between life and death, sensuality and gore, fear and yearning.
Comprised of an entrancing mixture of delicate piano-led ballads and frenetic, arpeggiated synthscapes, The Hunger weaves a macabre but beautiful story of transformation fueled by the power of desire and lust.
INDIRA ELIAS – Songs from a Moon//Songs by the Sun
Songs from a Moon//Songs by the Sun is the stunning, highly anticipated full-length offering from Sydney’s Indira Elias.
Written and self-produced by Elias, with a local, all-star cast of featured musicians and mixing courtesy of Antonia Gauci, the album is a coming-of-age record, pieced together over the better part of a decade.
Songs from a Moon // Songs by the Sun is an album presented in two parts. Part one was largely written while Elias was fresh out of school, living in Paris – exploratory and curious, painted with youthful courage and naivety. Part two, written here at home, sees Elias come into her own, traversing grief, heartbreak and joy at once. Both halves come together to form a whole nothing short of epic.
Equal parts grandiose and sincere, peppered with soaring harp, rolling drums and angelic harmonies – Songs from a Moon//Songs by the Sun is a debut well and truly worth the wait.
LOW LIFE – From Squats to Lots: The Agony & XTC of Low Life
Sydney underground favourites Low Life return with their third album From Squats to Lots: The Agony & XTC of Low Life.
Continuing their tradition of documenting the reckless underbelly of sin city, the band stay true to their DIY ethos, while allowing their sound to develop into something a little more textured and withdrawn. Gauzy guitars, gleaming synths and the odd string arrangement decorate the anthemic grit that Low Life has become synonymous with. Conveying Low Life’s familiar nihilism and brutality, Mitch Tolman’s lyrics paint a picture of a life where dreams get broken, affection is fleeting and the everyday world bears a heavy weight. Despite all of this, From Squats To Lots is an ode to resilience through the grind; a testament to those who revel in the The Agony And XTC of life and a tribute to those who didn’t make it.
MILAN RING – I’m Feeling Hopeful
I’m Feeling Hopeful is the stunning new album from prolific Sydney artist Milan Ring. A deeply respected and established member of Sydney’s music community, Milan Ring has developed a reputation as a sought after collaborator and creative visionary both at home and abroad. On this, her debut album, Milan Ring plays the role of singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and mix engineer, unifying her widespread talents to deliver a poignant and cohesive 14-track odyssey. Exploring themes of inward and outward love, relationships, control and freedom, the critical mind, depression, desire and addiction, I’m Feeling Hopeful sees Milan Ring interrogate differing perspectives on the human experience; finally arriving at a considered but optimistic outlook. In her own words: “When we allow our minds to run rampant we often hurt ourselves, those around us and those around them in the process. But in these moments we always have the choice to break through the negative dialogue and lean into love, forgiveness and gratitude. It isn’t easy, but life is a blessing and I’m feeling hopeful.”
BARKAA – Blak Matriarchy
Blak Matriarchy is the highly anticipated debut EP from Malyangapa, Barkindji rapper, BARKAA. Having already established herself as a masterful storyteller with a unique, characteristically fierce and rapid-fire delivery, BARKAA’s new EP cements her place as one of the most vital figures in local hip-hop. An embodiment and celebration of BARKAA’s Matriarchal Ancestors, her family and Blak Women throughout the generations, Blak Matriarchy is a heartfelt testament to independence and a staunch indictment of the colonial mindset.