Almanac Music: The Best Australian Albums of 2020

During those tough months of Melbourne’s big lockdown, music was a solace for our family. Early on, we made the decision to eschew the evening television – particularly the increasingly grim news broadcasts – in favour of Spotify, our streaming service of choice. Possessing wildly varying musical tastes, the four adults living in our house took turns at selecting the music. This method had the continuously rolling effect of: a) my being introduced to new music to which I may well have never listened (son #3); b) my re-visiting my grunge and hard-rock early twenties years (son #2); c) my re-acquainting myself with classics such as Springsteen and Stewart (Mrs Smokie); d) a grab-bag of anything I had been listening to that day (me). Because this pandemic has inflicted such a terrible toll, I would never glibly claim that “there were some good things to come out of Covid”. But I will say that those nights spent listening to music over dinner will not soon be forgotten.


Jimmy and Jane Barnes and friends, with their nightly social media singalong, provided great comfort along the way. As for new releases, I had the time to listen for hours: some bad, some disappointing, but plenty of it excellent. What follows is, in my opinion, the best Australian albums I listened to in 2020….


“The Glow” by DMA’s. Smokie’s Australian album of the year


1) DMA’s – “The Glow”: Taking the Sydney three-piece outfit in new and interesting, there is simply not a weak track amongst the eleven on this superb album. With throwbacks to electronica (“Never Before”), disco (“Life Is A Game Of Changing”), and Brit-pop (the glorious “Silver” and “Learning Alive”), this record achieves the remarkable feat of sounding both brand-new and familiar. And catchy? There are hooks (in such gems as “Appointment”), which I guarantee will stay with you forever.


2) Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – “Sideways To New Italy”: This was the album to which I returned most often in 2020. Touches of REM, shades of Go-Betweens, with hints of the Byrds, there was some criticism that this album was too similar to their debut “Hope Downs”. I disagree – this album is superior both musically and in the themes which it addresses. Of course, RBCF have the benefit of no less than three singer-guitarists, which in itself will naturally lend itself to a diversity of styles, albeit all guitar-based. Try “Cameo”, “She’s There” and the sprawling “The Cool Change” for examples of a band maturely finding its feet musically and lyrically. I couldn’t get enough of this album, and cannot wait to see them live in 2021.


3) The Smith Street Band – “Don’t Waste Your Anger”: Three years on from “More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me”, this was a welcome return from the Smithies. With the addition of Jess Locke (keyboards) and Lucy Wilson (guitar), who both add backing vocals, the arrangements sound bigger and better than ever. Front man Will Wagner has battled personal demons and controversies, but in his lyrics here he seems more settled and more optimistic than previously.  Appropriately, the epic final track is tinged with hope, its lyrics imploring “Don’t waste your anger on me”…


4) Violent Soho – “Everything Is A-OK”: Ten tracks, 34 minutes. With Violent Soho, what you see is what you get. No pretence, no flourishes, just straight ahead garage-band-type alternative rock. As well as being partial to Luke Boerdam’s distinctive vocals, the tightness if this group is so impressive – which is unsurprising, given they have been together for over fifteen years. Foot-stomping tracks such as “Pick It Up Again” reference early Green Day, and there is nothing wrong with that. This album debuted at #1 on the charts, which indicates that plenty of people agree with me.


5) Benny Walker – “Chosen Line”: I had no business whatsoever liking this album, but I gave it a second chance a few months after I first listened to it and was greatly rewarded. Sometimes a little too a-o-r and smooth, there is nonetheless a diversity of styles which lean toward a bluesy feel. Yet another talented indigenous artist, this guy is the real deal, and an exciting future awaits.


6) Ball Park Music – “Ball Park Music”: Another band who have been around the traps for a while, this self-titled album is their sixth and best. Kicking off with the driving beat of “Spark Up!”, there are guitar solos and synths galore. Tracks such as the sweet “Cherub” have infectious hooks, and how can you possibly not sing along with the pounding Beatle-esque “Head Like A Sieve”? With plenty more cracking tracks to get your teeth into along the way, this album just brims with summery positivity and in the end is almost irresistible.


7) Tired Lion – “Breakfast For Pathetics”: I freely admit that I was introduced to this when Triple J played the hell out of it when it their “feature album of the week” not too long ago. But I liked what I heard, especially the kick-ass rocker “Lie To Me”. The band is now essentially just singer-guitarist Sophie Hopes, and boy, can she channel young adult angst and a “could not give a damn” attitude. But there are some tender moments (such as “Cya Later”) which counterbalance the harder edges. A small criticism is that, in the fashion of many punk albums, at only 30 minutes the record is way too short – which leaves you hanging out for more. But maybe that’s the point?


8) Lime Cordiale – “14 steps To A Better You”: I almost left this album off the list. Not because it is no good, quite the contrary, as it’s ‘Album of the year’ gong in the J Awards indicates. But it grates on me that five of the singles were released prior to 2020, with “Following Fools” having come out as far back as September 2018! I reckon that’s cheating more than a little, but in the end it does not detract from what is a strong outing from the Leimbach brothers. Tracks such as “Addicted To The Sunshine” and “Robbery” are keepers, and there is plenty more to engage the listener. The boppy “No Plans” certainly grabs your attention. But overall, you can just sit back and let the brothers’ perfectly smooth melodies and clever lyrics wash over you; it is the perfect summer record.


9) Tracy McNeil & The Good Life – “You Be The Lightning”: This was a real creeper for me. At first listen, I enjoyed it without loving it, but by year’s end it was a firm favourite. Canadian ex-pat McNeil’s vocals are the highlight of the album – a constant, soaring, front-and-centre presence. There is a mixture of country, folk, and soft-rock, but overall it is a laidback, slow-burn listen. Importantly, McNeil’s lyrics tell plenty of stories of love, loss and more, all worth listening to.


10) Spacey Jane – “Sunlight”: Vital and vibrant, this album sees Fremantle’s Spacey Jane move even closer to the mainstream than their indie beginnings could ever have imagined. This music is so enjoyable, so easy to listen to, and so packed full of catchy choruses just begging to be sung along to – which is undoubtedly what I must have been seeking in 2020.


Honourable mentions: Emma Donovan & The Putbacks – “Crossover” (what a voice); Miiesha – “Nyaaringu” (powerful); The Sockettes – “Wendy’s Place” (folk harmonies); Cable Ties – “Far Enough” (rock on!!).


Disappointments: San Cisco – “Between You And Me”; Washington – “Batflowers”; Ocean Alley – “Lonely Diamond”.



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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Love this Smokie. Haven’t personally listened to all of The Glow but have heard many good things. Definitely agree on Lime Cordiale and Spacey Jane – my two favourite albums of the year and the latter in particular really took a step forward in their progression!

  2. Good list Smokie. Especially liked the Ball Park Music album having not really been onboard with them previously. I reckon Cherub is what the kids call a choon. Tired Lion goes well too.

  3. What about the new Something for Kate album, Smokie? It’s a belter!

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    All excellent albums Smokie. If I can get my list done in the next few days there will no doubt be a few that will cross over. Tracy McNeil and Violent Soho my favourites from your list, while also agree with how good the arrangement sounds on the Smithies album.

  5. Keiran Croker says

    Thanks Smokie, I’m not familiar with many of these selections. I’m a big fan of Tracey McNeil, Emma Donovan and Benny Walker. I agree Benny is a great talent, however his recordings are over produced; live he has a great raw r&b feel.
    I’d add Van Walker in to the mix. His Ghosting CD is terrific. Van is also great live. His was the first gig I saw after lockdown.

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