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Top ten: essential Australian rock albums

Top ten: essential Australian rock albums

From Tame Impala to King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, and a whole load more in between, we discuss ten of the finest guitar wielding studio releases to originate from down under.

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 20th Mar 2019.
Originally published: 19th Mar 2019

Image: Tame Impala

To celebrate the ever-expanding output of the Aussie guitar scene, we have set ourselves the task of compiling 10 essential aussie  rock albums from guitar wielding outfits. It's clear that the spirit of rock and roll is in huge abundance in the land down under, and we’ve had the pleasure of witnessing this spirit in action, whether it be intimate shows, sell out arenas or a summer festival.

Whether it’s straight rock, psych rock, psych pop or goth rock, the turn of the century has put Australia neck and neck with competitors across the globe. Of course, their output is not only limited to the 2000’s, the past few decades have seen some extraordinary acts rise up the ranks and become global phenomenon's.

Whilst this list is not the ‘best’ albums Australia has to offer, this is a list that we guarantee will improve your music taste and, well, your life. There are a couple of acts who unfortunately haven't made the cut. Who knows, If Kylie decides to shred a guitar on her next album, then she may steal a position. Strap in and listen up, here are our ten essential aussie rock albums.

 

1. Tame ImpalaCurrents (2015)

A band that needs no introduction. Psych rockers Tame Impala are practically gods of psychedelic rock. A rare treat for us brits, who need to be extremely vigilant to catch them in action.  Conceived in 2007 by multi-instrumentalist and ‘one-man band’ Kevin Parker, who does a scintillating job at writing, recording and producing the music.

Whilst their second album Lonerism is where the band switched gears from impressive to down right imposing with well-loved tracks like ‘Elephant’ and ‘Feels like we’re only going backwards’, the album that re-defined Tame Impala as a worldwide phenomenon was in fact their third album Currents. Parker himself stated that after Lonerism, he wanted to make an album with a more “polished sound” and this inspiration came as he listened to Fleetwood Mac. Tunes such as ‘Let it Happen’, ‘The Less I know the Better’ and ‘Love/Paranoia’ are testament to Parker’s ever-increasing abilities to write incredible songs.

Transitioning from strict psychedelic rock, to a psychedelic pop stylistic, swapping the catchy guitar riffs for drum loops and pearly synths. This change of attack has completely compelled fans, with TLIKTB raking in 280 million downloads on Spotify alone. The album has recurring themes of a relationship meltdown, but with Currents, Parker seems to have left his isolation paradise behind and burst into life. We love him for it. 

2. Nick Cave and The Bad SeedsPush the Sky Away (2013)

Let’s face it, between the Bad Seeds and The Birthday Party, Nick Cave could’ve taken every position on this list. The man is practically a sentient being, exiled to earth to share his sorrow. An undisputed lyrical master. Since forming in 1983, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds have released a whopping 20 albums (including live recordings), so deciding on just one album to select is unexpectedly a topic of debate. Not only the sheer volume of their repertoire, but the uniqueness and quality of each album perpetuates the difficulty of this decision.

We have decided to select Push the Sky Away. It seems in this album that Nick Cave had completed his career-spanning transformation, transcending from a man burdened with pain, to more than a man. His return home to the stars. This is even more evident in the stand out track ‘Jubilee Street’, with the closing line "I’m Transforming, I’m vibrating, I’m glowing. Look at me now".  

The use of a child orchestra for that track and ‘Push the Sky Away’ is haunting, his unearthly journey to Geneva in ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ and the ragged bass that introduces ‘Water’s Edge’ all contribute to the culmination of his journey. Although followed by 2018’s equally dark Skeleton Tree following the tragic death of his son, we feel that our choice is Cave’s lyrical peak and Warren Ellis’ production peak too. 

3. WolfmotherWolfmother (2005)

A band that managed to soar to success despite frequent line-up alterations are hard rock band Wolfmother. The band released their emphatic self-titled debut album in 2015, an album predominantly stitched with a safe but equally pleasing garage rock thread with tracks like ‘Apple Tree’ providing some thrashy, trashy goodness. Nonetheless, it is not an album without its special moments.

The track ‘White Unicorn’ is a standout track for us, a track almost from a time long lost, where frontman Andrew Stockdale does utter the line ‘Now we live in another time’ to confirm this suspicion. ‘Mind’s Eye’ channels an intriguing psychedelic undercurrent, pumped full of poetically nonsensical lyrics. This album in the parts mentioned balances on a line in the sand, but rather than treading into stupidity, it executes what it aims to do rather cleverly.

This was recognised both nationally and internationally following its release. The album reached number three on the ARIA Australian Albums chart, also swooping the inaugural Triple J award. It didn’t manage to sneak into the top 20 charts in the U.S and U.K, but proceeding its international releases, managed to sell 1.5 million albums to listeners hungry for calculated experimentation. That’s what Wolfmother have continued to replicate ever since, which is why their fan base stays devout. Experimentation done right.

4. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Flying Microtonal Banana (2017)

The lords and saviours of psych rock had the busiest year of anybody on record in 2017, releasing an unprecedented five albums for us to feast upon. Amidst some truly great releases, the album which steered ahead of the rest is Flying Microtonal Banana. Born from Stu Mckenzie’s acquisition of a custom-made guitar modified for microtonal tuning. The album is, more calculated in its disorder.

Opening track, and the unofficial soundtrack to Samuel L Jackson’s battle with the cold-blooded creatures on Snakes on a Plane is ‘Rattlesnake’ which carries on where Nonagon Infinity left off, rampant momentum but also captures some foggy synths and a weird horn instrument that stop it from near implosion. On the other tracks however, there is a greater sense of peace. ‘Melting’ and ‘Open Water’ are cries for help at the ever-perpetuating state of the arctic, which will soon be swallowed by the rising sea levels. These epic tales subside for some funk in ‘Nuclear Fusion’ and even a dash of country in ‘Billabong Valley’, before returning to more conventional rock tones in ‘Sleep Drifter’.

Like practically every other album released by Gizz to date, Flying Microtonal Banana is a testament to their sheer creative diversity and life-long mission to explore sounds unknown and unexplored. It may not be as attractively manic as Nonagon Infinity, but it’s a welcome pit stop in a 1000mph journey down an infinite highway. With a King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard Manchester date announced later this year, there is a mighty opportunity to catch this live phenomenon at their absolute best.

5. JetGet Born (2003)

 

The quality of indie music in the noughties exploded in a way that music lovers who endured the dizzying heights of Britpop could never have anticipated. Whilst England was busy pumping out acts like Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand and The Enemy amongst countless others, on the other side of the world, the turn of the century saw the birth of Jet.

Formed by brothers Nic and Chris Cester, alongside Cameron Muncey and Mark Wilson, the band went on to capture the hearts of indie lovers everywhere and sell a whopping 6.5 million albums in a lavish career. But before the glory comes the hard work. Making a successful debut album is never easy. But ‘Get Born’ was a masterclass in how to go about achieving exactly that. Whilst there is clearly some emulation of 60’s Beatles and Stones, and the guitars of fellow Aussies AC/DC in ‘Last Chance’, Jet do not make the mistake of churning out the same song again and again. One track ‘Move On’ even calls on a harmonica for an acoustic country feel. But what unifies the entire album is how sing-along it is.

A quality which may be considered cheap, but in Jet’s case, they have made an album where it’s impossible not to stamp your feet and feel good inside. Legendary track ‘Are you Gonna Be My Girl’ still manages to make it onto the playlist of every British indie club almost two decades on. Of course, the album is also not without its’ sincerer social commentaries. Track ‘Rollover DJ’ is a vent at how difficult it is for the band to secure a venue since all venues seemed to care about was securing a DJ. Rock was dead.  Luckily for us, a hero out there somewhere did give Jet a run, and now we can cut loose to them for years to come.

6. DMA’sHills End (2016)

 

When boisterous aussie three-piece DMA’s released their debut album Hills End in early 2016, indie fans across the world may have felt like they’d taken the Tardis back to the early 1990’s and the birth of Oasis. They even adopted the iconic sportswear look and pulled in ex Oasis producer Mark Stent to work his magic with the albums. Not that we’re complaining.

The boys stormed out of their flat in Sydney to serenade the world with infectious hooks and anthemic choruses. This is most apparent in the track 'Play It Out' with its glorious refrain "I’m stuck inside of you, you’re stuck inside of me". Besides their ability to craft indie club classics with 'Timeless' and 'Too Soon', the boys demonstrate their versatility with more stripped back ballads 'Melbourne' and 'The Switch'.

As we know from their infamous cover of Cher’s ‘Believe’, frontman Tommy O’Dell has a real gift. it’s rare that a voice can facilitate both a gritty rock style and an elegant, tender style as well.  Whilst some critics have claimed that DMA’s have “played it safe”, we believe that they have found a winning formula and tweaked it to create an immediate classic. An album that the Britpop generation and millennials can treasure together. 

 

7. The Babe RainbowThe Babe Rainbow Aus (2017)

In seventh position is a band, which in comparison to the others may be considered a minnow but emanate raw talent and a very exciting 60’s throwback sound are The Babe Rainbow.  A psychedelic pop three-piece from Byron Bay who reverberate the very origins of psychedelic music, with a glossy, free positive outlook on life. This is an ethos characterised by New South Wales, a counter-cultural community since the 1970’s where the boys hail from, a major proponent in the green change movement.

It seems their home has rubbed off generously on their debut album, which as a whole is an explosion of colour and philanthropy, a description which seems counter-intuitive to apply to music. But listen to it and you’ll certainly agree. Tracks such as ‘Peace Blossom Boggy’ and ‘Monkey Disco’ are full of funk and flavour. ‘Fall in Love’ inspires you to throw your arms around the world and ‘Sunflower Suntra’ although perhaps a reference to Alan Ginsberg, sounds like a shared trip with George Harrison in a Hare Krishna temple.

The album does not fall flat in its cosmic festival, and anybody who has seen them live can testify that the sound transfers immaculately from studio to stage.  They may not have gained much fame and fortune let, but like The Murlocs, the future looks extremely bright. Belonging to the same label as them and King Gizz only serves to improve the chances of that eventuality.

 8. AC/DC- Back in Black (1980)

Continuing with a bang, an all-time rock classic by the apex players of heavy-metal art. This album was born out of despair, following the tragic death of frontman Bon Scott after the tremendous success of ‘Highway to Hell’ the preceding year. Rather than let the travesty burst their bubble, the event ignited a fire in the belly of the beast. Scott’s successor Brian Johnson, an icon in the act of screaming, combines elements of Robert Plant and Ian Gillan into spine-tingling, head rushing vocals. He certainly lived up to the expectations.

The sheer thunder of the guitars from the Young brothers may not add anything particularly new, but certainly reinforce their deserved place at the top. The track ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ is odd in the sense that its commercially catchy, and you find yourself singing along all the way through. ‘Let me Put My Love into You’ differs from the crowd too, boasting a little soul and romance. Self-titled track ‘Back in Black’ is a rock masterclass, with jungle-esque roars and heavy guitar kicks. Besides from that, sheer musical mayhem in ‘Hells Bells’ and ‘What you do for Money Honey’ driven by Phil Rudd on the drums.

It bellows ‘this is war, a war which we will win.’ And they did.  The album may not be to everybody’s taste, a lot of noise which for a lesser band, may have got in the way of the quality. But fans of AC/DC and rock everywhere can spot the intricate riffs, the strength of the rhythm section and furious lyrics from a mile away. The legacy of Bon Scott lived on, and Back in Black separated the Gods from the mortals, adored almost four decades on.

9. The Vines - Highly Evolved (2002)

Around the same time as Jet emerged from the shadows, another new invigorating talent emerged in the form of The Vines. Founded by Craig Nicholls in 1994, the band waited 8 years before the release of their stellar debut album ‘Highly Evolved’. In later years, the band may have endured several line-up changes and Nicholls’ himself struggled with the limelight, but 2002 marked the beginning of stardom for the band that they could’ve never predicted. 

Their single ‘Highly Evolved’ was named NME’S single of the week, ‘Get Free’ won the 2002 ARIA award and the album reached number 11 in the U.S billboard top 100 chart. Oh, and the band appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in October 2002. The first Australian band to do since Men at Work in 1983! As the feature stated what was unanimously agreed upon, The Vines managed to somehow combine their spirit of utter vivacity and adrenaline with a more traditional punk backbone.

The track ‘Get Free’ a dystopian hymn of rock legions everywhere elevates the album to greatness single-handedly, but ‘Outtathaway’ and ‘Autumn Shade’ also integrate a grunginess to the deafening thrashy melodies. It is an assault on the eardrums (a most welcome one), but Highly Evolved is also a glorious challenge to the limitations of strict genre music. 

 

10 . The MurlocsYoung Blindness (2016)

Last but not least, The Murlocs' Young Blindness. For those who don't know, The Murlocs happen to be a side project of band members from the aforementioned King Gizzard, Ambrose Kenny-Smith and Cook Craig. The band formed in the early 2010’s, in the midst of King Gizz’s ascension to fame.

Bandmates Matt and Cal met Ambrose in high school, which makes a lot of sense when listening to their second album Young Blindness. The band undoubtedly have great chemistry and prove again (as Ambrose and Cook did in Gizz) that they share the same vision for their musical output. Much like their first album Loopholes, the album is garage rock at its core, but also an embodiment of the summer’s spent lazily watching the sunset. Having said that, The Murlocs do up the stakes in this second album, with boisterous guitar-lickers like ‘Adolescence’ and ‘Rolling On’, and an exceptional vocal display from Ambrose in the title track ‘Young Blindness’ and ‘Think Out Loud’.

Don’t be enticed into thinking that the band are a replication of Gizz, The Murlocs stand competitive in the burgeoning Aussie psychedelic scene. They merit their time touring the UK and America, and since releasing ‘Young Blindness’ have also released their third album ‘Locomotive’ and continue to soar on their own merits of unique instrumentation.