An album forged from grief by an internationally renowned songwriter, a record made for $1000 by self-described “scummy little punks”, and a sonically complex hip-hop album more than 15 years in the making will compete for this year’s prestigious Australian Music Prize.
The Shortlist for the 12th AMP, whose prize of $30,000 makes it the country’s richest cash reward for an album, features nine acts almost as diverse as the Australian music industry.
The best known of the contenders is Nick Cave who is currently touring Australia. His album Skeleton Tree, which was recorded in the wake of the death of one of his sons, reached number one in 2016 and was critically acclaimed internationally.
With far less public recognition and for far less money, the all-female Melbourne trio Camp Cope – Georgia MacDonald, Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich and Sarah Thompson - spent a day and a half and $1000 to make their widely praised self-titled debut.
The band was described by critic Mikey Cahill as a “wry, femme-inist band for Gen i(Phone)” as they follow in the footsteps of last year’s AMP winner, Courtney Barnett, but for Thompson the trio remain “three scummy little punks” who are “stoked” to have fallen into “the realm of any sort of prize”.
Also from Melbourne, which is home to six of the nine shortlisted acts, is the Avalanches who added new dimensions to the term “long awaited album” when releasing their second record last year, Wildflower - 16 years after the groundbreaking debut, Since I Left You.
An update of hip hop-infused electronic manipulations, Wildflower is rich with samples, from a calypso song from the 1950s and a children’s choir singing the Beatles to the crunch of vegetables, as well as funk grooves and pop melodies.
Also drawing from hip hop, especially the hard-driven, aggressive sound of gangsta rap, is the politically and socially-charged indigenous duo A. B. Original whose provocative intent was clear from the white supremacist-baiting album title, Reclaim Australia.
An early favourite for the AMP, which this year saw a record 364 albums in contention, A.B. Original will compete against a previous prize winner, the duo Big Scary (with the album Animal), as well as late blooming pop maven Olympia (Self Talk), the sprawling psychedelic seven-piece, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard (Nonagon Infinity), three-piece agit-rock band Peep Tempel (Joy) and the solo, art-house pop man with the voice of a young Sting, D D Dumbo (Utopia Defeated).
The winner of Australian Music Prize will be announced on March 8.
(ps I'm one of the 16 judges of the AMP. I will play weddings.)