Ben Lee, Lisa Mitchell, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Australia’s best new music for October

Each month we add 20 new songs to our Spotify playlist. Read about 10 of our favourites here – and subscribe on Spotify, which updates with the full list at the start of each month

Australia’s best new music playlist.

Vika and Linda – I Miss You in the Night

For fans of: the Black Sorrows, Paul Kelly, the SeaChange soundtrack

Over the last 15 months, the Bull sisters have landed three albums in the top two of the Aria charts, which is all the more remarkable considering they last entered the top 10 in 1994, with their eponymous debut. New album The Wait features songwriting contributions from the cream of Australia, as that first one did, including this gem by Cold Chisel craftsman Don Walker, whose candlelight lament is transposed into a soul stirrer, anchored by a whiskey-stained piano. Vika and Linda in perfect vocal harmony can be one of the most joyous sounds in Australian music, but when affixed to a heartbreaking tune such as this, they can also cause you to feel that ache of missing someone, and not knowing what else to do but write about it, sing about it or howl at the moon.

For more: The Wait is out now.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Earthlings

For fans of: Will Oldham, Johnny Cash’s American Recordings, Rachael Yamagata

I’m a big believer that the measure of an artist isn’t their finest opus, it’s all the ill-fitting, madly conceived, shoulda-coulda-woulda-been-hits that turn up on their B-sides collections. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds released the mammoth 56-song B-Sides and Rarities collection in 2005, and given Cave’s flurry of activity in the 16 years since, it was about time for a new vault-digging exercise. Earthlings opens with funereal keys and ends with a solemn Kumbaya chant. “I thought these songs would one day set me free,” Cave bemoans as if writing them was therapy enough. “I think they’re singing to be free,” he adds later. Upon release, Cave called Earthlings “the missing link that binds [2019 double album] Ghosteen together”, and it certainly carries the same weighty grief as that album. “A lovely song that just got away,” Cave adds, and it’s certainly that too. We’re lucky it has finally found its place in the world.

For more: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: B-Sides & Rarities Part II is out 22 October. Or check out Ghosteen for greater context to this song.

Headland feat Maanyung – Nguura

For fans of: Bright Eyes, Damien Rice, Karen Dalton

The human voice is a remarkable instrument, able to express so much sorrow and depth without the complications of language. Maanyung (Michael Laurie) has one of these special voices, which he slides over a slowly swaying tune provided by longtime Tex Perkins collaborator Dr Murray Paterson, who appears here under his musical guise, Headland. Maanyung uses vocal vibrato in a truly affecting way, from the subtle wavering that cracks in the opening first lines, to a strong and rich second verse where it skims across the note like a stone on a still pond. This is beautiful, moving music, a waltz that dances for a serene five minutes without building or dropping. “The weightlessness of a lullaby and a gravity that stirs deep emotion in the listener,” is how Paterson describes Maanyung’s gift, and I can only concur.

For more: This is Maanyung’s debut single. Headland’s 2019 album What Rough Beast is out now.

Pluto Jonze – New Morning High

For fans of: MGMT, the Sleepy Jackson, Portishead

Pluto Jonze.
Pluto Jonze: purveyor of kaleidoscopic pop. Photograph: Good Intent

Fans of Pluto Jonze’s kaleidoscopic pop may be surprised to find the “weird” dialled right back in this reflective piano ballad. New Morning High twinkles like the new day it describes, with Jonze’s plaintive vocal taking centre stage amid fluttering mellotron flutes and the insistent, lovely piano line that opens the song. The only time this track threatens to break out of its contented, early morning stroll comes towards the very end, when guitars flare up and Jonze’s voice lifts in intensity. It’s a brief outburst, though, which is quickly quelled by that piano. Considering Jonze’s recent run of varied music, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what his second album, coming eight years after his debut, will sound like. In other words, business as usual on planet Pluto.

For more: Pluto Jonze’s second album, Awe, is out 5 November. Check out this track’s B-side, Rumschpringe.

Hatchie – This Enchanted

For fans of: Primal Scream, the Telescopes, Chapterhouse

Hatchie.
Hatchie, AKA Harriette Pilbeam. Photograph: Joe Agius.

“It’s washing over me,” Harriette Pilbeam sings in the chorus for This Enchanted, a heady rush of musical ecstasy, and it’s hard to tell if she’s talking about the sudden wave of shoegaze guitars that slam in on her vocals or the joy of a new crush. There’s no real need to parse the two, as this dancey, dream pop song perfectly encapsulates the tumble-dryer feel of a heart in motion, with its baggy drums, chiming guitars and a crashing wall of noise that overwhelms before disappearing under Pilbeam’s wide-eyed verses. Between her Sugar & Spice EP and debut album Keepsake, Hatchie has created some of the loveliest music of the past few years, with an aesthetic that bowerbirds from luminaries like MBV, Slowdive and Cocteau Twins to the likes of Cranberries and Deborah Conway. The type of song to spin around to, eyes closed, arms out.

For more: Hatchie’s second album will be out next year. First album Keepsake is out now.

Mod Con – Learner in an Alpha

For fans of: B-52s, Beat Happening, the Hives

In 1962, the Beach Boys released their breakthrough single Surfin’ Safari, which kickstarted two musical trends: surf rock, and, thanks to its flipside 409, the hot rod music craze. Kids have been singing about the beach and about cars ever since, and Learner in an Alpha applies a surfer stomp to a freewheelin’ post-punk tune where all the cars look like corpses and status symbols shine as the Earth burns. “There’s only one voice when you talk so loud,” Erica Dunn spits, as a simple surf riff breaks into a sinewy bridge that splits the difference between the B52s and Strawberry Alarm Clock. Learner in an Alpha follows Ammo, the jittery first single from the Melbourne three-piece’s forthcoming second album – the two tunes point towards a hell of a record coming down the pipes later this month.

For more: Mod Con’s second album, Modern Condition, is out 22 October. First single Ammo is out now.

Baker Boy.
Baker Boy’s forthcoming debut album Gela already contains five bona fide hits. Photograph: Charlie Ashfield

Baker Boy – Butterflies

For fans of: Pusha T, Kendrick Lamar

Since 2017, Baker Boy has released enough hit singles to warrant an impressive greatest hits collection, won Young Australian of the Year, received an Order of Australia medal, and recently performed at the AFL grand final. Yet here we are, and he still hasn’t released his debut album. Talk about pressure! Luckily, Baker Boy’s forthcoming Gela already contains five bona fide hits, and now Butterflies – perhaps his most confident and carefree single to date. As a rapper, Baker Boy has a similar dexterity and knack for language as Kendrick Lamar; here he lays his bilingual bars over the top of a golden era hip-hop beat, combining real world and boxy programmed percussion, and a twangy low-strung bassline with hints of Cypress Hill. The chorus melody borrows liberally from Chance the Rapper’s Cocoa Butter Kisses – yet another modern rapper that could take cues from Baker Boy. Butterflies is the latest in a long line of Baker Boy classics.

For more: Gela is out on 15 October, and features this song, plus hits Cool As Hell, Meditjin, Move, Ride and My Mind.

Ben Lee – Born for This Bullshit

For fans of: Ben Folds, Bob Evans, Randy Newman

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this song absolutely slay audiences in numerous settings throughout 2021, including a seated and socially distanced concert at the Domain in Sydney and at a tiny event filled with comedians, musicians and Russell Crowe’s mother. The hooky first single from his forthcoming album I’m Fun harnesses Lee’s optimistic energy and celebrates his penchant for leaping off cliffs (and an odd adherence to cults). As with Catch My Disease and We’re All in This Together, Lee has again written an unintentional Covid-19 anthem, this time about resilience in the face of an increasingly crazy universe. The swear in the title and a singalong chorus, combined with Lee’s varied recent promotional techniques (appearances on The Masked Singer, a bonkers video clip featuring gratuitous nudity and Web 1.0 graphics, and a public spat with Kyle Sandilands) should see him land another not-so-unlikely commercial radio hit here. That’s certainly the way I’d like it.

For more: Ben Lee’s next album I’m Fun is out 8 April, and can be pre-ordered now.

Australian musician Ben Lee.
Ben Lee has again written an unintentional Covid anthem. Photograph: Supplied by Ben Lee

Lisa Mitchell – Zombie

For fans of: Holly Throsby, Sarah Blasko, Ben Harper

When 16-year-old country girl Lisa Mitchell appeared on Australian Idol, she was impossibly shy, sang with a Sarah Blasko lilt, and made enough fans in that unlikely setting that she was able to crack Triple J and community radio with a series of rustic, acoustic-based EPs that focused on her preternatural songwriting abilities and warm vocals. Fifteen years and three increasingly technicoloured albums later, she has returned to this simple, timeless formula: an acoustic guitar, a great song and a confident, if fragile, vocal melody. Mitchell has also shed the weight of a major label, too, and you can almost hear the pressure release in this breezy, easy tune. Zombie marks the first single from her fourth album, her first in five years, and a very welcome home for Mitchell.

For more: Zombie single launches are happening on 2 December at The Factory Theatre in Sydney, and 9 December at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel.

Pond – Take Me Avalon I’m Young

For fans of: 1980s Bowie, Niles Rodgers, Roxy Music

Of all the various art projects that have spawned from the centrifuge of the Tame Impala Experience, Nick Allbrook and Jay Watson’s Pond is the hardest to pin down; by design it operates on a loose system, shifting from Grateful Dead-leaning, eight-man jams to tightly wound funk workouts and farm-born folk songs. On Take Me Avalon I’m Young – from their appropriately named ninth album, 9 – Pond throws everything at the mixing board and sees what gets caught in the dials. There is sleazy brass that sounds stripped from soft-core VHS porn, lashings of blue-eyed soul and an opening section too weird to slow-dance to at an 80s prom despite threatening to venture into John Hughes territory. The groove is reminiscent of a slowed-down You Know My Name (Look Up the Number), and during one of the beat-driven breakdowns, Allbrook interpolates AC/DC lyrics, throws in a quarantine reference, and makes a decent argument for the return of the saxophone lead.

For more: 9 is out now.

Contributor

Nathan Jolly and Guardian Australia

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