Meet the 5 nominees for Double J Australian Artist of the Year in 2017

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One of these artists will be the Double J Australian Artist of the Year.

Each year Double J takes a look at the Australian artists who have had a killer year and celebrates them, with the Double J Australian Artist of the Year, presented as part of the annual J Awards.

It’s not a legacy award. It’s not an ‘album of the year’ award, it encompasses everything the artist has done to make a valued contribution, through their music, to Australian arts and culture.

The fourth instalment of the awards takes place this November and we have locked in the five artists who we feel have contributed most significantly throughout the year.

Only one of them will take the crown and join previous winners Mia Dyson, Tim Rogers and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. While the thought of having to split these five artists is making us feel pretty uneasy, it’s been great reflecting on just how much they contributed through this past year.

Here are the five nominees for Double J Australian Artist of the year in 2017.

Jen Cloher

Jen Cloher appears to spend just as much time helping other artists as she does pushing her own barrow. She has been encouraging and educating fledgling musicians for years and leading by example with her hands-on approach to releasing music from the bands she loves.

When we had her in as Artist In Residence in September, Cloher dedicated her four shows to shining a light on 100 women in Australian music that you have to hear. And she wrote beautifully about why a culture change is so desperately needed in Australian music.

But the goodwill from work in the industry doesn’t necessarily make you a great artist. An album like Jen Cloher, which she released in August, does.

It’s an ultra-personal, heart-on-sleeve glimpse at the fascinating life Cloher has led over the past few years. It examines both the good and bad parts of her recent life and, while it’s consistently close to the bone, it somehow never seems indulgent.

When she sings, it feels like she’s just on the other end of the telephone line, telling you what she loves, what’s pissing her off and making you laugh with wry observations and snipes. It’s heartbreaking and funny, listening to it is enriching, and it’s the best thing she’s done so far. 

Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly. Australia’s poet. If you’re one of the many who consider themselves a fan, you probably reckon he should be nominated every year. Fair call.

But 2017 felt like an especially big year for Paul Kelly. After a string of fascinating divergences – putting music to Shakespearean sonnets, recording an album of funeral songs, a tour celebrating classic Irish poetry – he became a rock’n’roll musician again with his 23rd album Life Is Fine.

It connected in a big way. His hard-worn brand of poetry can make an emotional mess of the most stoic of listeners. Those bright, jangly guitar riffs served as a call-back to the Paul Kelly records of old, the ones that had him playing in pubs more often than theatres, the ones that soundtracked so many of the happiest and most heartbreaking moments of our lives.

It went to number one on the charts – significant mainly because it had never happened before – and prompted a rush of ticket sales for a massive run of shows through cities and regional areas which happens this month.

On top of that, his set at Splendour In The Grass served as the weekend’s finest moment of nostalgia, as he held an audience of music fans of all ages captive with a festival set for the ages. Then he went and topped it with a thrilling guest appearance with A.B. Original the following afternoon.

Paul Kelly is as relevant as ever in 2017, and he probably will be forevermore. 

Dan Sultan

Dan Sultan has been a part of our lives for many years now. But in 2017 he showed us, more than ever, that he’s still growing and evolving as an artist.

Killer was not more of the same from the celebrated singer. While he could easily have rested on his laurels and turned in another record that gave us exactly what we love about him, he kept the best parts and branched out a little to deliver a different take on his modern rock’n’soul.

There are synths and beats all over this record. The use of sparse arrangements and chilling gospel backing vocals is enormously powerful. It’s all constructed very cleverly – Sultan’s voice is so big that we’d back him in a fight against a lawnmower, but he only unleashes it when it’s most needed.

The album is packed with great songs, but nothing is quite as powerful as the opening track, ‘Drover’.

Sultan wrote the song from the perspective of an Indigenous drover working at Wave Hill in 1966, who hears whispers of a walk-off. It’s a clever prequel to Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody’s classic ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ – presented with modern electro soul rather than campfire balladry – and an unforgettable start to a brilliant record.

Thanks to a great record, a big tour and some brilliant festival slots, 2017 has been another triumphant year for Dan Sultan. 

Kardajala Kirridarra

 

This time last year we hadn’t even heard of Kardajala Kirridarra. Today, they are one of our absolute favourite artists in the country.

They gave revellers at Golden Plains a beautiful wake-up call in March. They sent chills down the spine of everyone who witnessed their power at Double J’s BIGSOUND showcase. They richly rewarded anyone who bought their debut album when it was released mid-year.

Their songs ‘Ngurra (Rain Song)’ and ‘Ngabaju (Grandmother’s Song)’ have been welcome additions to our playlist, providing equal measures of splendour and gravitas thanks to the group’s stunning harmonies, potent voices and the cutting-edge, atmospheric production.

The group’s name translates to Sandhill Women, which is in reference to the mysterious bush woman from the sandhills behind the community of Malinja, NT.

They sing in a combination of Mudburra and English, and use the sound of the Marlinja and Kulumindini regions they hail from, as well as things like seed pods and homemade clap sticks, to imbue such a striking sense of place into their music.

Just prior to the release of their excellent self-titled debut album, Kardajala Kirridarra took their show on the road, playing in some of the most remote regions on the planet – Tennant Creek, Elliott, Alpurrurulam, Ampilatwatja, Arlparra, Ali Curung and Alice Springs – they are determined to have the power of their music felt everywhere.

It has been a wondrous first year for these women and we’re sure there are plenty more big things still to come. 

Lance Ferguson

Lance Ferguson’s first album under his own name is, without question, one of the most ambitious releases of 2017.

Ferguson is not shy of hard work. For years he’s been at the helm of Australia’s premier deep funk band The Bamboos, while making records as Lanu, hosting a radio show on Double J and working on innumerable other projects.

But Raw Material was something else.

The premise is this: Ferguson records an album of songs, he then gives those songs to other producers and asks them to have their way with them. Chop them up, remix them, add vocals, add anything, completely change the feel of it, or keep it in a similar vein – no rules.

The first part of the huge double album features these reworkings of Ferguson’s work, which sees him in collaboration with over 35 producers, vocalists, MCs and musicians, and the second half is the songs in their original, pure form.

The result was a mammoth collection of music that, while based in the funk and soul that has been such a big part of Ferguson’s work forever, covers the whole gamut of different dance music styles.

Sometimes it’s super weird, other times it’s almost startlingly user-friendly, but it all melds together seamlessly. It’s an ambitious piece of music, but one that we are very confident has a place at your next party – no matter what the vibe is.

In 2017 Lance Ferguson may just have pushed himself further than ever before, and the results were well worth it. 

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