Indigenous hip-hop duo A.B. Original, whose song January 26 was one of the most controversial of last year’s Hottest 100, have scored the Album of the Year J Award for their debut record Reclaim Australia.
The 12-track record, which won the coveted Australian Music Prize in March (one of a few gongs the pair have picked up this year), pulls no punches on issues of Indigenous disadvantage, and features collaborations with Dan Sultan, Archie Roach and others.
January 26, which was released as a single last year and came in at number 16 in the 2016 Hottest 100, is unflinchingly political, with lyrics like “F*** celebrating days made on misery/White Oz still got the black history”.
“Change doesn’t really come from people comfortable and complacent,” Ngarrindjeri man Daniel Rankine (Trials), one half of the duo with Yorta Yorta man Adam Briggs, told triple j during last year’s countdown.
“If that means that we’re the guys up there being a little uncomfortable by spreading and sharing this message, then we’re prepared for that.”
There were many worthwhile contenders for Album of the Year, including records by Gang of Youths, Meg Mac and The Smith Street Band.
In the end, though, it was the solid production and the bold, uncompromising nature of Reclaim Australia that put it a cut above.
“It’s hard to look past the raw, confronting and empowering energy that Briggs and Trials have mastered on Reclaim Australia,” triple j music director Nick Findlay said.
“Its impact has been long-standing, incredibly significant and long overdue.”
The duo were in good form after the announcement in Sydney, acknowledging their controversial record was snagging a few accolades here and there.
“We are just going around the country collecting these joints, so we can send them back to our mothers,” Briggs said after the win.
Trials added: “We can’t wait to go home and check the Facebook comments, because they are always so positive about [us].”
Singer Jen Cloher named Double J Artist of the Year
This is the J Award recognising not just an artist’s musical output but their broader contribution to the industry.
Cloher was widely praised for her fourth, self-titled album, which Double J’s Dan Condon called her best so far.
But she’s also been a consistent advocate for the building of strong music communities, particularly in Melbourne, where she lives and runs the Milk! Records label with her partner, singer Courtney Barnett.
A recent essay of hers for Double J looked at how female musicians don’t get the cultural and critical attention they deserve. (She also compiled a list of 100 songs by Australian women that you need to know.)
Stella Donnelly and Client Liaison also win J awards
Donnelly, from Perth, scored Unearthed Artist of the Year, beating out a strong field of emerging musicians, including Baker Boy, Alex The Astronaut, Confidence Man and Ruby Fields.
It’s been a big year for the young songwriter — she received a killer reception at the Big Sound music conference in Brisbane, where she won the lucrative Levi’s Music Prize.
Her track Boys Will Be Boys, a quietly defiant song about victim-blaming, drew massive praise (from Pitchfork, among others) and justified the buzz around her.
“I’m so excited,” she said by phone from London, after the announcement. “It’s just been a year of doors opening.”
Meanwhile, Video of the Year went to Sydney electronic duo Client Liaison for A Foreign Affair (ft. Tina Arena).
The clip, directed by Tim White, beat out a range of excellent contenders, including clips for songs by A.B. Original, Methyl Ethel, Jack Rivera and Kirin J Callinan.
You can find the full list of winners and nominees for all categories, and the judging criteria, at the J Awards website.