For many of us, recording music was even more important in 2020. In a year when COVID-19 worried Australians about the immediate future, longed for friends and family, and experienced prolonged lockdowns in some places, the songs we caught brought comfort and encouragement.
Pop music is part of the chatter of our daily lives that can be heard in snapshots and goes by quickly, but it also hardly takes a moment for a melody to achieve a deeper, lasting purpose for the listener. With this in mind, this year’s Australian Recording Industry Association Awards close a unique and challenging year – besides the festival there is a touch of commemoration: You made it and we made it.
The 2020 ARIA Awards will be hosted by Delta Goodrem, who herself won a dozen of the pointy gongs. You will be on 25. Held November at the Star Event Center in Sydney without an audience and broadcast live on Channel Nine. There will be guest hosts, at least one Shambolic Awards show moment, and an eclectic mix of Australian talent. Here are my predictions of who could and should win the main categories.
Sampa The Great described themselves as one of the most important voices in hip-hop with their debut album The Return.
Nominations: DMA’s, The Glow; Jessica Mauboy, Hilda; Lime Cordiale, 14 steps to a better you; Sampa the Great, the Return; Tame Impala, the Slow Onslaught
The welcome to these nominees is that together they refute any simple summary of where you might place the center of Australian music right now. DMA’s padded alternative guitars, Jessica Mauboy’s commanding soul vocals, and Lime Cordiales Northern Beaches revolve around 1970s vintage pop, each dropping their own diverse pin on a large map. Traditionally, album of the year has been an accomplished fact that ARIA’s size matters, especially when it comes to international success. But in a year when key elements of the music industry like the festival scene were on hiatus, two different acts stand out. Tame Impala’s journey from psychedelics to gold-plated pop on the act’s fourth album was usually artisanal and haunting, but Sampa Tembo called himself one of the key voices in hip-hop with The Return, an epic debut album brimming with creative assurance and intercultural energy. It would be a benchmark win.
Kevin Parker shaped Tame Impala’s journey from psychedelics to gold-plated pop on the act’s fourth album. Photo credit: Neil Krug
Nominations: 5 seconds of summer, quiet; DMAs, The Glow; Lime Cordiale, 14 steps to a better you; Tame Impala, the slow rush; The Teskey Brothers, Live in the forum
One small gripe: the music industry’s voting bodies, which determine most of the night’s winners, tend to be overly generous for leading acts for consecutive years. The Teskey Brothers selected Best Group for their studio album Run Home Slow in 2019, so they probably didn’t have to be selected again for a live recording this year. This isn’t the Melbourne roots rock quartet’s fault, but other acts could have done it with some of the limelight.
The best group, however, belongs to Tame Impala which is not a group at all in terms of inclusion. Kevin Parker is a studio savant, a one-man journey into sound via Perth, exploring everything from downtown disco to uptown funk to synth grooves and experimental pop. The Slow Rush lived up to its name, a revelatory epic that revealed new and uncomfortable layers each time it was listened to.
The phenomenal success Tones and I had with Dance Monkey in 2019 will likely carry over into this year.
Nominations: Amy Shark, Everybody Rise; Miiesha, Nyaaringu; Sampa the Great, the Return; Sia, together; Tones and me, bad child / can’t always be happy
Amy Shark has been an ARIA favorite for the past several years and has received six awards in a career that is still developing. So there’s a chance she’s got an insider run on Everybody Rise, an emphatic piece of pop drama.
I think Sampa the Great deserves this category, but the phenomenal success Tones and I enjoyed with Dance Monkey in 2019 will likely carry over into this year, with the hymn Bad Child, a deceptive statement about family hardship, the remaining success for Toni Watson.
Whatever happens, take a few minutes to discover by far the least known nominees. The young indigenous singer-songwriter Miiesha (pronounced My-ee-sha) hailed from the tiny Aboriginal community of Woorabinda in central Queensland and grew up in a church choir before discovering neo-soul melodies and R&B beats. Nyaaringu is a promising debut album that is characterized by its economy. Unlike most of the first albums, there is no attempt to bring in too many ideas.
Troye Sivan stood out for his Lockdown EP In a Dream, which was the toughest release of his career.
Nominations: The Kid Laroi, F — Love; Archie Roach, tell me why; Ruel, Leisure; Guy Sebastian, standing with you; Troye Sivan, In a dream
This category is a prime example of how artistically diverse the voices in Australian music have become. Traditionally reserved for the folk-rock-singer-songwriter, which is by no means insignificant when the genre is led by the incomparable Paul Kelly and includes one of the most welcome nominees of this year in Archie Roach.
There is a 47-year-old age difference between 64-year-old Roach and 17-year-old Sydney rapper Kid Laroi, but these two indigenous musicians have an intuitive sense of self-expression that underpins their contrasting sounds (it’s a shame they differ can not meet at night). But the nod here goes to Troye Sivan, who wasn’t sure what he was doing with In a Dream, an EP released when he was home from Los Angeles and locked down with his family in Melbourne. With a time of just under 20 minutes, it is the most emotionally stressful release in the pop polymath’s career, which is sometimes exciting, but also represents a breakthrough.
That year Lime Cordiale, also known as the brothers Oli and Louis Leimbach, achieved a signature single with Robbery and placed four songs in Triple J’s Hottest 100.
Nominations: Alex the Astronaut, The Theory of Absolute Nothing; The child Laroi, F — love; Lime Cordiale, 14 steps to a better you; Mallrat, Fahrmusik; Miiesha, Nyaaringu
There are years when breakthrough artist ARIA should be renamed Persistence ARIA: this is one of them. The brothers Oliver and Louis Leimbach founded Lime Cordiale in 2009 and learned their craft for years, both as composers and interpreters. But everything they pursued only merged in the last 18 months when they hit a signature single with Robbery, got four songs on Triple J’s Hottest 100, and then had their second album, 14 Steps to a Better You, at the top Diagrams. You could forgive the duo for partying a little.
In contrast, Brisbane’s Grace Shaw, who appears as Mallrat, is only 22 years old and has been making nimble and idiosyncratic pop songs since school. Under the baton of the single Charlie, Driving Music was their third EP and marked the point where the casual intimacy and cool flourishing of their songs sounded strikingly emblematic.
Archie Roach has already been inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame as a prestigious candidate.
Nominations: Archie Roach, Tell Me Why; DMAs, The Glow; Lime Cordiale, 14 steps to a better you; Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Ghosteen; Sampa the Great, The Return
This is a choice between two voices for the ages: Nick Cave’s weathered baritone, so steeped in such a sense of loss that his mighty backing band The Bad Seeds recede into the ethereal, and Archie Roach’s bedrock slumped between the voices can move screws and the quietly miraculous. Everyone has years of experience as independent artists in terms of record label and career philosophy. Ghosteen is 17. Album from Cave, which continues a string of late-career releases, but as adored as a character is, you can assume this was to be Roach’s year. He was already inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame as the evening’s valued candidate, but Tell Me Why also includes work that dates back to 1990 and includes the epoch-making song Took the Children Away, the seminal song that stole generations of the Australian aborigines illustrated. It is a legacy worth recognizing.
Flume has produced a song with singer Vera Blue that is an enchanting collision between jagged production and defiant longing. Photo credit: Kane Skennar
Nominations: 5 seconds of summer, teeth; Sam Fischer, this town; Flume with Vera Blue, Rushing Back; Hilltop Hoods with Illy and Ecca Vandal, exit sign; The jungle giants, heavy-hearted; Lime cordiale, robbery; Mallrat, Charlie; The Rubens, live in life; Ruel, pain reliever; Tones and I never saw the rain
Whether you’re thinking of mixtapes, CD compilations, or streaming playlists, this is a collection of songs (good luck with sequencing properly). . Of the seven leading ARIAs discussed here, this is the only one that will be decided by public vote. In other words, it could go many ways. This is compounded by the fact that there is no clear favorite.
Lime Cordiales Robbery is a ridiculously catchy song that you only hear once and humbly, while Teeth by 5 Seconds of Summer is a nifty reinvention for the electronic age by teen idols playing the guitar. I’ll give Lime Cordiale a tip because the ARIAs are interested in a nocturnal narrative, but the honor goes to Flume and singer Vera Blue, whose rushing back is an enchanting collision of jagged production and defiant longing. Nobody knows more about fantastic beats and where to find them than Harley Streten.
Craig Mathieson is a television, film, and music writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
ARIA Music Awards, Association of the Australian Recording Industry
World News – AU – ARIAs 2020: Who Will (and Who Should) Win Australia’s Top Music Awards?
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