Flume, Body Type, Midnight Oil and more: the 21 best Australian albums of 2022

From globe-trotting glitch-pop to Aria-winning Yolŋu surf-rock, here are Guardian Australia’s favourite releases of the year

Tasman Keith – A Colour Undone

Key track: Tread Light

Tasman Keith’s debut album follows the rapper into the gauntlet of pressure and self-loathing that awaited him offstage each night of Midnight Oil’s 2021 Makarrata Live tour. The Bowraville-raised Gumbaynggirr man stares down his ambition, ego and grief, and emerges newly vulnerable. Written and recorded over a blistering six days, and fusing steely and defiant trap, neon-hued R&B and car boot-rattling Cali’ funk, it includes arguably the year’s finest vocal performance on Tread Light – a one-take, goosebump-inducing tour de force in which Keith stares down his own mortality following his cousin Knox’s death, one of many recent family losses. – Nick Buckley

Hatchie – Giving the World Away

Key track: Quicksand

In her earlier singles, Harriette Pilbeam’s eyes were firmly affixed to the floor, making the kind of fuzzy swooners which always concealed a serrated sliver of self-doubt beneath treacly declarations of love. On her second album as Hatchie, she moves beyond the motion blur of shoegaze, honing her primal anxieties until they come into sharp, confronting focus. “I used to think that this was something I could die for / I hate admitting to myself that I was never sure,” she confesses on Quicksand, the album’s lead single and best track, looking outwards towards an expansive, if chaotic, future. – Michael Sun

Read more: Hatchie: Giving the World Away review – newfound confidence

Harriette Pilbeam, aka Hatchie.
Harriette Pilbeam, AKA Hatchie. Photograph: Lissyelle

Midnight Oil – Resist

Key track: Rising Seas

One of the world’s great live bands, Midnight Oil bid farewell to the stage this year, with their final performance an epic 40-song set at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion on 3 October. But the group has not ruled out returning to the studio. Resist, the second album gleaned from the 2019 sessions that also produced The Makarrata Project, shows that as a creative unit they remain undiminished. Blending gorgeous 60s folk-rock with supercharged anthems like Nobody’s Child (which features one of Peter Garrett’s all-time great vocal performances), it sits comfortably alongside the Oils’ finest recordings. – Andrew Stafford

Read more: Midnight Oil on Resist and their last ever tour: ‘We mean it, man!’

Julia Jacklin – Pre Pleasure

Key track: Too in Love to Die

Julia Jacklin’s first two records were stark, intimate affairs; on Pre Pleasure she opts for brighter, bigger sounds. Electric guitars are mostly relegated to supporting role status, while cinematic strings that conjure old Hollywood swoop and swirl. Opening track Lydia Wears a Cross is a stunning and unsettling tale of childhood indoctrination, told over an op-shop drum machine; Ignore Tenderness marries a breezy backing track and syrupy strings recorded in Prague with observations on dissonant messaging around female sexuality; while on Be Careful With Yourself, Jacklin gently implores a loved one to slow down and stop taking risks. – Nathan Jolly

Read more: Julia Jacklin finds the light: ‘I’ve wasted a lot of energy in my life trying to be cool’

Ninajirachi – Second Nature

Key track: Start Small

‘A flex of glitchy, industrial pop’: Ninajirachi’s debut album was inspired by ‘Nature 2.0’. Photograph: Billy Zammit

With her debut mixtape, Ninajirachi – AKA producer and DJ Nina Wilson — cements a singular sound, steadily formed since releasing her first track as a teenager in 2017. Inspired loosely by “Nature 2.0” – an utopian ideal where nature evolves with the help of technology – Second Nature is a flex of glitchy, industrial pop that builds its own unpredictable world while remaining danceable and fun. You can chew on the mixtape’s cerebral elements or just sweat it out, though either way Wilson’s dense production rewards repeat listens. – Jared Richards

The Chats – Get Fucked

Key track: Out on the Street

After the viral success of early singles Pub Feed (covered by the Wiggles) and Smoko (also covered by Wet Leg), the blunt title of this ferocious second album by the Chats all but ensured there would be no invitation back to the Today Show. It didn’t stop them packing venues around Australia and across the US and Europe, with audiences treated to a white-hot live act. They’ve lost original guitarist Josh Price, and he took a little of the Chats’ good humour with him, but replacement Josh Hardy has turned the Chats into a tougher-sounding unit, in it for the long haul. – Andrew Stafford

Read more: The Chats: Get Fucked review – Brisbane’s reprobate punks trade novelty for longevity

Body Type – Everything is Dangerous but Nothing’s Surprising

Key track: The Brood

Nothing thrilled me aurally as much this year as the long-awaited debut album from this Sydney post-punk quartet. This sharp, cerebral collection takes its cues from literature, film and life: the tracks The Brood and Sex & Rage are named for David Cronenberg and Eve Babitz’s works, respectively. The distinctive personalities of the band’s three songwriters shine through in these 11 songs, which flit from tender contemplation to righteous fury (The Charm takes aim at condescending music industry bros). If you get a chance to catch Body Type live in 2023, take it – these songs are even better in the flesh. – Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen

Flume – Palaces

Key track: Palaces feat Damon Albarn

After the magnitude of his first two albums, Harley Streten went left with his 2019 mixtape, steering away from festival-ready EDM drops in favour of more experimental electronica. Palaces balances the two impulses, filled with plenty of glitch-pop recalling his biggest hits, splintered between more challenging tracks, from the industrial Get U and Only Fans to the gentle piano of Jasper’s Song and the gorgeous, spacious title track, featuring Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn. Palaces pushes against the confines of the future-bass genre that Flume pioneered, taking us into refreshing territory. – Jared Richards

Read more: Flume finally finds happiness: ‘I didn’t want to tour any more. I hated my job’

Flume – aka Harley Streten – at home with his dog in Byron Bay.
Flume – AKA Harley Streten – at home with his dog in Byron Bay. Photograph: Natalie Grono/The Guardian

Modal Melodies – Modal Melodies

Key track: Occupants

On Modal Melodies, Jake Robertson and Violetta Del Conte-Race – the former best known for his shapeshifting solo project Alien Nosejob, the latter a part of art-punk band Primo – make sophisticated synth tracks that recall Anna Domino, Scribble and Anne Clark. This is pop music as bas-relief: the songs seem flat and papery from one angle, dramatic and multidimensional from another, mostly built around chugging synth loops that seem to flex and expand with each second. The debut’s palette is minimal, but the album is still surprising and variegated, intricate and strange – like a house filled with false walls and trapdoors, it’s ripe for exploration. – Shaad d’Souza

Kanada the Loop – Toyota Reckless EP

Key track: Blurr

Many great songwriters have made the personal feel universal, but there’s something to be said for the inverse too: stretching crowd-pleasing references beyond recognition until they sound alien. On his debut EP, Kanada the Loop takes all the sophomoric signifiers of a coming-of-age cliche – getting blazed, hanging out, staying out late – and infuses them with the self-deprecating irony of an adolescence spent online, landing somewhere between 90s pop-rock and 100 Gecs. “When I see you naked,” the Luritja producer teases on EP opener Blurr, before undercutting himself with a left hook: “Frito-Lay! Frito-Lay! Frito-Lay! Frito-Lay!” Nothing matters, so everything does. – Michael Sun

Sampa the Great – As Above, So Below

Key track: Never Forget

Sampa Tembo has long flirted with greatness – an Aria and Australian music prize here, a spot on Barack Obama’s summer playlist there – but on her second studio album, the Zambian-born rapper finally, fully assumes her moniker. As Above, So Below was conceived after a seven-year stint in Australia, when Tembo returned home during the pandemic and marinated in her musical heritage. The result is a visionary, deeply African record produced by Zambian gospel artist Mag44, featuring contributions from Joey Bada$$, Angeliqué Kidjo and Denzel Curry, with Zambian rapper Chef 187 joining her on Never Forget – currently soundtracking the Wakanda Forever film trailer. – Janine Israel

Read more: Sampa the Great: ‘It feels good to show younger Zambians they can do this’

King Stingray – King Stingray

Key track: Lupa

Led by Yothu Yindi members Yirrnga Yunupingu (nephew of former leader Dr M Yununpingu) and Roy Kellaway (son of original bass player Stuart), King Stingray’s debut album came off the back of five singles in two years, including Hey Wanhaka, Camp Dog and Let’s Go. Their familiarity doesn’t detract a bit from this instant classic debut, where they’re joined by five more songs of equal quality – most bands would be happy to release this as a greatest hits package. King Stingray’s self-described Yolŋu surf-rock is a cultural celebration, radiating with pride and happiness. – Andrew Stafford

Read more: King Stingray review – irresistibly joyful debut album from the Yolngu surf-rock kings

King Stingray at the Arias
King Stingray won the 2022 Aria for breakthrough artist of the year. Photograph: Hanna Lassen/Getty Images

Nick Ward – Brand New You

Key track: Alien

Nick Ward writes songs about the aftershocks of history colliding into the present like an untethered trolley. On Brand New You – the second of two short releases which have made him one of Australia’s brightest pop outsiders – his tracks reward the patient, opening with half-forgotten memories and samples from childhood tapes, crackling as if from distant planets. Stick around long enough, though, and they inevitably shift gears: with a sudden snarl of pop-punk guitar or a rap feature that wafts in like a breeze, breaking down and breaking up with long-held grief. – Michael Sun

The Stroppies: Levity

Key track: The Bell

Hamstrung by Melbourne’s lockdowns, the Stroppies adapted to Covid by redefining the conventions of their music. On Levity, the follow-up to 2020’s Look Alive, the four-piece is still making sweet, catchy indie-pop, but the shape of their sound has changed. Caveats begins like a dream-pop song, before slowing to a crawl like a carnival ride in a blackout; The Bell, fittingly, opens with a clattering bell and is animated by a primitive percussion sample. The krautrock elements are more prominent here, most songs built around thick, hypnotic loops. It’s like an anagram of a Stroppies album – a familiar sound given vastly new meanings. – Shaad d’Souza

Camp Cope – Running With the Hurricane

Key track: Running With the Hurricane

There’s a new sense of maturity and relaxation in Camp Cope’s third record. Known for their fiery activism, the self-described “power emo” band shifts gears into alt-country territory here. Piano features heavily, as do thick, luscious group vocals. It’s a much more chill sound, but singer Georgia Maq’s personable lyricism persists, whether she’s singing about loving through depression (Blue), persevering through adversity (the indelible title track) or being more abstract, inviting the listener to form their own meanings. It’s a wonderful evolution for one of the country’s most consistent and passionate bands. – Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen

Read more: Camp Cope: ‘You can’t yell at shit forever. It’ll kill you’

Mallrat – Butterfly Blue

Key track: Teeth

Australian artist Mallrat in her Teeth press shot
Butterfly Blue showcases Grace Shaw’s versatility as Mallrat. Photograph: Bossy music

There’s a tempting neatness to describe Butterfly Blue, Mallrat’s long-awaited debut album, as a post-chrysalis moment – but that’d suggest that Grace Shaw ever disappeared. Since she was 15, the Brisbane-born artist has steadily released singles and a trio of EPs filled with some of Australia’s finest pop toplines. Thoughtful yet fun, her lyrics oscillate masterfully between mundane images of warm cups of tea and huge pop platitudes, both intimate and obfuscating. Butterfly Blue showcases Shaw’s versatility, pairing her evocative lyrics with Memphis rap samples (Your Love), grunge guitar (Teeth), dream-pop (Rockstar) and even an Azealia Banks feature (Surprise Me). – Jared Richards

Read more: Mallrat: Butterfly Blue review – a confident, compelling and dreamy debut

Darren Hanlon – Life Tax

Key track: Lapsed Catholic

The Gympie folksinger’s sixth album is his most stripped back and heartfelt record in years, and the perfect tonic for a time when our emotions and attention spans are being juiced from all angles. Tracks such as Lapsed Catholic, All Creatures Know and Freight Train From Kyogle are funny, sweet and classic Hanlon, but its centrepiece is Uncle Viv & Aunt Phyllis: a 10-minute epic about love and memory in sout-east Queensland. “She still tells the story seven decades later / as if in her mind, it’s all about to begin,” Hanlon sings of his widowed great-aunt. Beautiful stuff. – Walter Marsh

Read more: ‘People started walking out of my gigs’: Darren Hanlon on losing faith and moving home

Miiesha – Smoke & Mirrors

Key track: Price I Paid

Miiesha’s Smoke & Mirrors deals with the fractures in her relationship with her mother. Photograph: Mitch Lowe/The Guardian

Let me put this crudely: if you ignore the lyrics, this is music to have sex to. Sure, you might want to skip over the emotionally raw ballads Damaged and Everything, but the rest of this double EP – released by the Anangu and Torres Strait Islander singer in two drops, half a year apart – is a masterclass in the kind of slinky R&B, silky vocals and glitchy synths that are made for both vertical and horizontal gyrating. But beneath the surface, there’s a fraught family drama playing out. There are recriminations, there is hopelessness and there is healing, all wrapped up in sublime, world-class songwriting. – Janine Israel

Read more: ‘I didn’t know I had it in me’: soul singer Miiesha steps into the spotlight

Gang of Youths – Angel in Realtime

Key track: Tend the Garden

Five years after their breakthrough album Go Farther in Lightness, David Le’aupepe and his band returned with a more contemplative sound, blending Pasifika choirs and dance beats with their gutsy ballad rock. Angel in Realtime is dedicated to Le’aupepe’s late dad Tattersall who, the singer discovered after his death, had left a first family in New Zealand to find work and make a new life in Australia, where he fathered Le’aupepe. The album is Le’aupepe’s reckoning with a new understanding of his heritage and the depth of his loss, as well as being a revealing portrait of the singer himself . – Sian Cain

Read more: ‘We want to get treated like normies’: Gang of Youths on fame, faith and family secrets

Elsy Wameyo.
Kenya-born, Adelaide-based Elsy Wameyo. Photograph: Alain Potier

Elsy Wameyo – Nilotic

Key track: Nilotic

“I’m here to take my place in what was rightfully mine,” spits Elsy Wameyo on Nilotic, a fiery, self-produced single that arrived in late 2021. By the time the titular debut EP landed in April, that statement felt less like hip-hop bravado and more like a prophecy. On Nilotic and River Nile, the Nairobi-born, Adelaide-based vocalist channelled Childish Gambino and Little Simz as she mulled over ancestral ties and colonial legacies with wit and righteous anger. As for the neo-soul flavours of Sulwe – sung in Luo, her grandmother’s tongue – and Promise? They sound like a prayer. – Walter Marsh

Read more: Elsy Wameyo: ‘I felt I had this coat of power. No one could touch me’

Elle Shimada – Home ≠ Location

Key track: Omnipotent _ 全能

On her debut album, the violinist, DJ and producer Elle Shimada journeys through spiritual jazz and drum’n’bass in search of a home beyond the geographical. In her spoken word across the opening track Home Is ___, the Tokyo-born, Naarm-based Shimada recognises her colonial settler status, finding discomfort in attaching her sense of belonging to lands “inherently tied to the displacement and dispossession of Aboriginal people”. Instead, Shimada embraces her own physicality and the connective, community-building power of music as scaffolding and shelter. After years of disconnection and fear, Home ≠ Location is a soothing balm. – Nick Buckley


Andrew Stafford, Nathan Jolly, Shaad D'Souza, Sian Cain, Michael Sun, Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen, Nick Buckley, Janine Israel , Walter Marsh and Jared Richards

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