If the ARIAs were conceived in the image of the Grammys and the BRITs, then the AMP is our equivalent of the Mercury and Polaris Music Prizes – awards that look beyond the mainstream to identify the year’s best album.
In recent years, however, the UK’s Mercury Prize has been leaning closer to the mainstream. In an effort to attract public interest and sustain corporate funding, the organisers have been nominating the likes of Ed Sheeran, Adele and Noel Gallagher for an award that claims to be an objective assessment of musical merit.
The AMP, thankfully, hasn’t been dragged down this road just yet. While the 2018 ARIA awards put the focus on Amy Shark, Pnau, 5 Seconds of Summer and Rufus Du Sol, none of these artists appear in the 14th annual Australian Music Prize shortlist.
The nine-album shortlist – details of which you can find here – is an impressive group of albums covering indie rock, jazz, hip hop, Indigenous-classical, electronic dance and cross-cultural art rock.
The shortlist was whittled down from an 85-album longlist, which includes plenty of other excellent releases. Here are five that were unlucky to miss out on shortlist honours.
Gabriella Cohen Pink is the Colour of Unconditional Love
Gabriella Cohen’s sorely overlooked second solo LP is an awful lot of fun. Along with jangly surf pop number ‘Baby’ and tear-jerking doo wop ballad ‘Miserable Baby’, Pink is the Colour of Unconditional Love incorporates tender folk pop, Brazilian rhythms, hymnal choir vocals and psychedelic ramblings.
Lyrically, Cohen journeys from Los Angeles to Portugal while also witnessing Neil Young lose the plot. It’s a continually rewarding listen, with the Brisbane songwriter sounding like she could tirelessly manoeuvre between genres all day.
Album highlight: ‘Music Machine’
Tropical Fuck Storm A Laughing Death In Meatspace
A Laughing Death in Meatspace is Tropical Fuck Storm’s debut LP, but founding members Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin are no strangers to the AMP. Their other band, The Drones, has thrice been shortlisted and won the inaugural prize in 2005.
Singer/guitarist Liddiard and bass player Kitschin are joined in TFS by guitarist Erica Dunn (Mod Con, Palm Springs) and drummer Lauren Hammel (High Tension). Distinguished by Liddiard’s contorted ocker vocals, unruly whammy bar guitar playing and slanting, verbose lyrics, A Laughing Death could be viewed as the direct follow-up to The Drones’ sizzling Feelin Kinda Free LP (2016).
The record harnesses revitalised firepower and gains extra theatrically thanks to Dunn and Kitschin’s prominent backing vocals and Hammel’s bendy, robust drumming.
Album highlight: ‘The Future of History’
The Goon Sax We’re Not Talking
Brisbane trio The Goon Sax are barely out of their teens, so although their excellent sophomore release, We’re Not Talking, warrants shortlist inclusion, it’s unlikely to be the band’s last stab at AMP glory.
Comprising three singing-and-songwriting contributors, The Goon Sax have a knack for easy-going melodicism and wonderfully precise lyrics. We’re Not Talking zooms in on the little things relationships are built upon and speaks openly about the psychological ups and downs of navigating the transition into adulthood.
It’s a poetic, sophisticated and bracingly honest indie pop record.
Album highlight: ‘We Can’t Win’
Mojo Juju Native Tongue
Led by its spiritually resonant title track, Mojo Juju’s third solo album is an exploration of the artist’s ethnic and cultural identity. Juju, who’s of Filipino and Wiradjuri descent, pushes back against the alienation caused by growing up in white, patriarchal Australia.
Working alongside producers Joel Ma, Jamieson Shaw and Steven Schram, Juju applies her unshakable charisma to hip hop, soul, blues, pop and rock. Her voice shines in each domain, as does her up-front lyrical inquisitions. With such thematic potency and stylistic breadth, Native Tongue can’t have been far from the shortlist.
Album highlight: ‘Native Tongue’
Sarah Mary Chadwick Sugar Still Melts in the Rain
Sarah Mary Chadwick is an emotionally charged songwriter. One listen to Sugar Still Melts in the Rain could have you clutching for a snuggie, bottle of wine and tissue box. Chadwick is driven to examine pain and uncertainty in order to improve our understanding of how others fall through life.
In line with classic singer-songwriter fare, Chadwick’s vocals and piano lead the way, supported by unflashy band arrangements. She’s a candid vocalist with a broad Kiwi accent, and her fluent chord changes would gain approval from Harry Nilsson and Carole King.
It might be impossible to completely understand someone else’s emotional life, but records like Sugar Still Melts in the Rain stimulate the tools for interpersonal connection.
Album highlight: ‘Sugar Still Melts in the Rain’