Pnau ft Ladyhawke – River
For fans of: Paul Young, Neneh Cherry, Kygo
In 2007, New Zealand singer Pip Brown (Ladyhawke) lent her voice to Pnau’s single Embrace. She had previously played with Pnau’s Nick Littlemore in the short-lived side-band Teenager, before they split to return to their respective musical day jobs. Thirteen years after Embrace, the pair reunite for the joyous River, the perfect song to wash off not only the past year, but the past decade-and-change of EDM. This resolutely mid-00s-sounding dance track is built for the festival season we were denied; perfect for once-frequented nightclubs that now seem like a distant fever dream. Can you believe we danced so close, packed so tightly, sweated so freely? Ladyhawke’s frenetic, melodic vocal has a Pacific Island feel, with 16-bit bleeps and colourful keys furthering the tropical club sound. You can almost taste the Kahlua.
For more: Listen to Solid Gold and All Of Us, the first two singles from Pnau’s forthcoming sixth album.
Dannika – I Don’t Wanna Be With Anyone
For fans of: Lower Plenty, Courtney Barnett, The Twerps
If you listen closely, you can hear a certain jangly sound emanating from bedrooms and rehearsal spaces in inner Melbourne. Spidery electric guitars with an aversion to distortion spin webs around laconic vocals that speak of the Australian experience without any real specificity, with bloodlines stretching back to Brisbane’s poetic Go-Betweens singles and Lucksmiths CDs that pop up now and then in op-shops. Dannika Horvat’s latest single trades in such a sound, a beautiful ode to wanting to be with someone despite them falling short of expectations. Horvat’s voice somehow wrestles varying emotions and levels of intensity out of a repetitive second verse – “it’s just you and me, baby” – which stretches for almost half the song. It’s been four years since her debut EP For Peaches was released – a lifetime in the musical world, sure, but who said anything about being in a hurry?
For more: Dannika’s album Gems is out 29 January.
AC/DC – Demon Fire
For fans of: Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven
At the risk of sounding mildly judgmental about a band who have sold 200mrecords over 45 years, the first 10 seconds of Demon Fire may just mark the first time in AC/DC’s history that they have strayed from the formula that made them one of the biggest rock bands in the cosmos. Instead of the expected caterwauling, we are welcomed by a deep ominous vocal, ripped from the belly of the beast. Then it’s business as usual. And business is steady; business is good. Vocalist Brian Johnson has returned to the fold for the band’s latest album, as have bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd. Even the late Malcolm Young is present, having co-written this song with brother Angus. In a year where almost everything changed, it’s comforting that AC/DC are still peddling their unmistakable brand of high-voltage rock and roll.
For more: Check out their latest album Power Up, with every song co-written by Malcolm Young.
The Rubens – Masterpiece
For fans of: The Weeknd, Foals, Charli XCX
If you last paid attention to the Rubens around the time of their Powderfinger-aping, Hottest 100-conquering single Hoops, then you’ll be shocked at the sonic terrain they have covered in the five years since. Masterpiece, the fourth single and opening track from their forthcoming album 0202, finds them “pouring 40s” and chewing Valium, all over a club-ready beat and moody synths. They’ve come a long way from Menangle, that’s for sure. Masterpiece is built around minimal backing tracks – as were the three previously released 0202 singles – and Sam Margin’s earworm vocal hooks, veering ever so closely to hip-hop at times without sounding forced. The closest this tune goes to living up to its titular claim is when it slides from the rhythmic chorus into a beautifully melodic bridge before opening up into a wordless choir. It’s impressive stuff, a grab-bag of influences and styles that nestle in nicely against each other.
For more: 0202 is out 12 February, featuring singles Live in Life, Heavy Weather, and Time of My Life
Garrangali – Tongues of the Fire
For fans of: the Cat Empire, Blue King Brown, Australian Crawl
While most of Australia was bemoaning the loss of live music in 2020, Garrangali Band were touring the Northern Territory, bringing their upbeat live show to remote Aboriginal communities. Taking as its starting point an ancient story of Baru, the crocodile man, who built the first fire and shared both the flame and the knowledge to harness it with other clans, Tongues of the Fire speaks of community unity. Musically, it’s a rollicking rock tune, adorned with soaring harmonies, barking didgeridoo, four-on-the-floor drumming, and walls of off-beat guitars. Sung in the Yolngu language, the infectious tune had its genesis as a reggae-infused track released by the band 10 years ago. Sped up, rocked up, and with a brand new beat, this newer incarnation is set to become a festival favourite.
For more: Listen to previous single One Voice, the title track for their upcoming second album.
Emily Wurramara – Cruisin’
For fans of: Amy Winehouse, Santigold, Carole King
Inspired by carefree and aimless drives taken with her big-brother figure, Cruisin’ took on an unforeseen weight for Wurramara when he tragically died in a car accident a fortnight after she wrote this tribute to him. “I had no idea why I wrote it at the time,” Wurramara says of the song. “I was feeling trapped, isolated. I just wanted to cruise to a place that made me happy.” A warm and plaintive acoustic guitar opens with a tentative strum before falling lazily into a tight rhythm. From there, Wurramara finds a swaying, soulful, summery groove that slides into the spaces left by sparse instrumentation. Like soaking into a warm bath, or sipping drinks as the sun hides behind the horizon, this song is a slice of pure bliss. Then, just as you close your eyes a boisterous gang vocal rushes in like a wave and soaks you to the skin. Beautiful.
For more: Emily Wurramara will be touring nationally from February as part of the Summersalt festival, with Missy Higgins, John Butler, Cat Empire, the Teskey Brothers and more.
Paulini – Twenty Twenty
For fans of: Beyonce, Ricki-Lee
“Twenty twenty vision ain’t coming true,” sings Paulini in this infectious 90s-infused R&B tune that sees her cutting ties with an annus horribilis, slamming conspiracy theorists, and sliding hopefully into a bright new year, via the best bridge-to-key-change committed to tape since Beyonce was “that girl from Destiny’s Child”. This is the Australian Idol alum’s first new music in five years, landing as she pops up on screens as an ever-likeable contestant in the new season of I’m A Celebrity… It should see her career revived, and provide a boost for schoolteacher and Aria winner Antonio Chiappetta, who cameos with a short rap interlude that sounds plucked from back when hip-hop verses briefly replaced guitar solos in the world of pop. Twenty Twenty is bright and bouncy, hitting like a coastal breeze after a year in isolation.
For more: Listen to Paulini’s 2015 record Come Alive, or jump back to her 2006 album Superwoman.
The Avalanches ft MGMT and Johnny Marr – The Divine Chord
For fans of: John Lennon, the Flaming Lips, the Sleepy Jackson
Sitting somewhere between a Disney tune, an ad for Luna Park, and one of Wayne Coyne’s acid flashbacks, this stunning song is the highlight of the Avalanches’ new record We Will Always Love You, an album equally indebted to Carl Sagan’s Golden Record and the dusty crates of bargain-bin vinyl the group plundered for their kaleidoscopic 2000 debut Since I Left You. MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden takes the lead vocal, his cadence and tone an odd marriage between Neil Young and Motown, while it’s hard to hear just what it is Johnny Marr provides, other than a gateway for Smiths fans. As is the Avalanches’ stock and trade, the parts are mighty, but the sum is far greater.
For more: We Will Always Love You is out now.
Hanlon Brothers – Show Yourself
For fans of: Outkast, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak
The Hanlon Brothers are already legendary on the Gold Coast, and with very good reason. But even their most devoted fans might be thrown by this latest leap. Built over a luxurious 24-month period of studio experimentation, Show Yourself is the second display of their new mood, downbeat hip-hop that collects shiny sounds bowerbird-style from Canadian producer Noah “40” Shebib’s claustrophobic style, Chance the Rapper’s God-fearing gospel, and touches of Erykah Badu’s neo-soul. The result is a truly international sound, with the confident, slow-burning Show Yourself poised to propel the Hanlon Brothers onto bigger stages. Australian hip-hop is peaking at the moment, and the Hanlon Brothers are among our most excellent exemplars.
For more: Check out their previous single, Solar.
The Kid Laroi ft Juice Wrld – Reminds Me Of You
Less than a month before his 17th birthday, Charlton Howard, an Indigenous Australian raised in various communities around New South Wales, saw his mixtape debut at number eight in the US Billboard 200. It’s a stunning achievement for any artist, let alone someone so young. Yet his international success remains a rather well-kept secret in his homeland, despite his undeniable talent, universal acclaim, and easy-to-digest rags to riches tale. This track was released a year to the day after Howard’s mentor Juice Wrld died tragically at age 20, and is both a display of the brimming possibilities of the former, and the unfulfilled promise of the latter. Originally intended as a tear-stained love letter to an ex-lover, it takes on an unintended but much deeper meaning in this new context. Pay special attention to the Kid Laroi – he will probably become our biggest export within the year.
For more: Listen to his mixtape Fuck Love.