Record of the Year
Despite the digital age’s persistent threats to its primacy, the album is still the pre-eminent format – allowing artists the freedom to indulge their creativity in greater depth, and make more complex and substantial statements. In 2018 these Sydney acts delivered cohesive collections that kept us locked in from start to finish. Which was your record of the year?
B Wise – Area Famous
The long-anticipated debut full-length from B Wise belies its scale and sense of ambition with a relatively modest title: Area Famous. Growing up, B Wise simply wanted to be known as a good rapper throughout his hometown of Liverpool. Instead, he’s crafted a record which speaks to much more. An affectionate ode to the vibrant multi-culturalism of South-Western Sydney, where “fibro and brick are intermixed”, where cultures flow in and out of one another without delineation and where respect, loyalty and aspiration are valued above all else, Area Famous reflects B Wise’s upbringing with a generously collaborative spirit and an omnivorous musical appetite. The finished product of years spent refining his craft in the underground, Area Famous is a record which could’ve only been made by B Wise and which could’ve only been born from a place like South-Western Sydney, an authentic artifact of contemporary Australia and a powerful testament to the multiculturalism that suffuses Sydney.
Photo: Gabe Gasparinatos
Retiree – House Or Home
Drawing on a mix of real life experiences the Sydney/Melbourne-based trio had during the project’s creation, the debut album from Retiree, House Or Home, is an ambitious, sweeping investigation into the idea of home and what that concept represents for people living throughout Australia. Across its eight tracks House Or Home unveils itself to be a deeply human record, travailing Indigenous tent embassies on the South Coast of New South Wales, retirement villages and a one-room flat in Ringwood, Victoria, with a series of emotive meditations on place, attachment, memory and migration. Retaining the group’s tight, drum-machine-driven synth-pop, House Or Home also represents a sonic maturation for the trio, infusing their music with a big-screen romanticism and a warm, tactile sense of melancholy that makes the record as much of a rewarding listening and emotional experience as it is a conceptual one.
Photo courtesy of the artist
NASHO – NASHO
NASHO’s self-titled debut is probably the hardest thing to come out of Sydney this year, a raucous and unapologetic act of protest against systemic racism, colonisation and gentrification that tore its way through the local scene. Featuring members of Dispossessed, Royal Headache, Good Throb and BB and the Blips, the foursome harness a sludgy mix of hardcore punk and dubbed-out vocals bristling with a fiercely DIY feel, revitalising the genre in the process. Tearing down dominant narratives of whiteness, capitalism, dispossession and national identity, NASHO are not content with simply taking up space or being heard on their debut album; they’re sick of the entire conversation, the entire system all together. NASHO is music at its most essential and urgent – music that exists because, in a world where people still get asked daily what their “nasho” is, it has to.
Photo: Vanessa Echverria
Phantastic Ferniture – Phantastic Ferniture
Life in 2018 can be heavy. Sometimes, music in 2018 can feel even heavier, as if it’s trying to take on everything all at once. Free of pretension and overly complex mission statements, the self-titled debut from Phantastic Ferniture arrived as a welcome balm for the heaviness of modern life. The project’s origin story tells you a lot about Phantastic Ferniture: Beginning life as a plant pun centred around a joke gig, the trio’s debut outing is a collection of breezy garage-pop tunes fuelled by friendship and full of warm riffs, playful lyricism and slyly clever songwriting that feels like the adult aural equivalent of stepping into SkyZone. A scrappy but charming and all-too-brief escapist fantasy, a tribute to the value of not overthinking shit and revelling in life’s simplicities, Phantastic Ferniture urges the inner child in us all, something which was much needed in 2018.
Photo courtesy of the artist
DEN – Deep Cell
Deep Cell, the debut offering from enigmatic Sydney four-piece DEN is probably the most undefinable album on this shortlist. Symphonic and crushing in equal measures, Deep Cell discards rules of genre and style as it seamlessly intertwining elements of doom metal, industrial, post-punk and EDM as it opens up a troubling and disorientating glimpse of the void. Written in a World War II bunker outside of Sydney, DEN use their debut LP to craft an icy, otherworldly soundscape that envisions life in a big city as grimy, detached, claustrophobic and impenetrable. Ultimately, Deep Cell is less of an album that you consume and more of an experience that happens to you, a remarkably cohesive record that guides you through DEN’s singular vision of Sydney.
Photo: Dakota Gordan
Jack River – Sugar Mountain
Sugar Mountain, the long-awaited debut from Jack River, is an entire lifetime distilled into a record. Centred around the tragic death of her sister at age 13, River wraps her dark, hazily nostalgic pop in grief and glitter, using her debut full-length to excavate her personal history over a suite of cathartic, glimmering pop songs. An album full of shimmering highlights coloured by loss and the empty spaces of tragedy, Sugar Mountain is a study in juxtapositions, striking a delicate balance between the highs of pop and the shattering of heartbreak with compositions that feel both cinematic and painfully intimate at the same time and a tone which is lightweight but heavy with emotionality. River’s left-of-field songwriting smashes these contradictions together for the poptimist generation with a record that feels everything but wants to escape that feeling nonetheless. Above all, Sugar Mountain is a bittersweet ode to the loss of innocence and all the highs and lows of youth.
Photo: Michelle Pitiris