Bugs – Decisions, Commitments & Plans
For fans of: Luca Brasi, Silversun Pickups, Yellowcard
Despite having the least Googleable band name since Girls released their album Album, Brisbane three-piece Bugs are nevertheless making a name for themselves with a series of tightly-woven pop punk records, filled with candy-coated harmonies, urgent choruses, and hooks for days. 2016’s Growing Up and 2019’s Self Help are both future coming-of-age classics, riddled with uncertainty, unfocused energy – all the ‘un’s that come with figuring things out. This song is among their very best yet: two winding, swaying verses lead you towards one of the biggest pop punk choruses this side of the Vans Warped Tour. If this isn’t a hit single, then it’s just not 1994 anymore.
For more: check out their first single, Diamonds, and their upcoming tour dates (Covid-willing).
I Know Leopard – Day 2 Day
For fans of: Happy Mondays, EMF, Chapterhouse
This sparkling slice of pop could have come straight from the sweaty Hacienda dance floor, with its tinny, baggy drum sample, the bright plonk of the keys that recall blissed-out Happy Mondays singles, and a laconic falsetto courtesy of Luke O’Loughlin. A bassy synth churns and violins glide across the surface. It’s quite a euphoric song – a sharp right turn from the wonderfully earnest yacht rock sound that permeated I Know Leopard’s 2019 album Love Is A Landmine, and just as delightfully out of step with the times, too.
For more: I Know Leopard (hopefully) play 17 December at the Night Cat in Melbourne, and 23 December at Oxford Art Factory in Sydney.
Hard-Ons – Hold Tight
For fans of: You Am I, Lime Spiders, Easybeats
When legendary punk rock band Hard-Ons announced You Am I frontman Tim Rogers as their newest lead singer, it was so heavily debunked that they needed to post a new band photo before the online masses would believe this wasn’t just another piece of fake news. But fake news it ain’t, and first single Hold Tight is proof positive, with Rogers front and centre and bringing more than a little of his main band’s sound along for the ride. In and out in under three minutes, Hold Tight is a meaty power pop tune, driven by smeared guitars, a bouncing beat-pop drum part courtesy of the always excellent Murray Ruse, and some suspiciously sweet harmony vocals. As you’d assume would be the case, Tim Rogers makes a damn fine addition to a rock group.
For more: Hard-Ons new album I’m Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken is out 8 October.
DMA’s – 1 Way
For fans of: Ride, Ian Brown, early Blur.
DMA’s have been drifting closer and closer to the dancefloor with each release, working with members of the Presets and putting out club mixes of singles that already sound like club mixes – quite a shocking trajectory for a band that made it big with a slow-burning acoustic ballad. A fortnight ago they released a surprise EP that pulls them back to the self-produced sound of their first recordings, albeit a little less homespun and a little less indebted to Britpop. Opening track 1 Way might just be the most lush-sounding tune they have released to date: a swirling rush of shoegaze guitars, a honeyed vocal melody courtesy of the ever versatile Tommy O’Dell, and a relentless drum beat that splits the difference between the Stone Roses and Tricky. Whether this is a stopgap or a band getting back to where they once belonged, it’s a brilliant single from a band that won’t sit still, even in a pandemic.
For more: Listen to the new EP I Love You Unconditionally, Sure Am Going To Miss You.
Emma Donovan and the Putbacks – Love Without Limits
For fans of: Norah Jones, Aretha Franklin, Katy Steele
Emma Donovan possesses a truly remarkable soul voice, one of the very best that’s been committed to tape. This sounds like the type of hyperbole you’d find in a hopeful press release but all you need to do is listen to this laidback torch song to know it’s true. Love Without Limits already sounds like a jazz standard; subtle instrumentation from her backing band The Putbacks follows Donovan’s lead, whispering when she drops away, building as her voice lifts and holds. Donovan has remarkable control of her instrument, and eschews the usual melisma and roof-raising The Voice-style antics for a more masterful mood-setting performance, smokey and sublime.
For more: Emma Donovan’s new album Under These Streets is out 17 September
Ruby Gill – You Should Do This For A Living
For fans of: Lincoln Le Fevre, Lucy Wilson, Jen Buxton
“I can’t afford therapy with the money they pay me to sing songs for free,” Ruby Gill bemoans, in a stark song haunted by the presence of the many shitty men that steer a broken industry rife with underpayment and rampant entitlement. Gill’s depressing and pointed lyrics on this slice of well-crafted folk are enhanced by the intimacy of the recording: you can hear the fretboard buzz as Gill’s fingers slide across the strings, and the hum of the equipment used to capture the performance. Joined by a backing choir including Angie McMahon and Maple Glider, Gill spins a lonely tale that too many can relate to: navigating a world where misogynistic men make uncomfortable sexual passes, touch bodies without consent, and add reverb where reverb isn’t needed.
For more: Listen to her previous single, last year’s Borderlines.
Caiti Baker – Mellow
For fans of: En Vogue, Solange, Blood Orange
Worthy of its chilled-out title, Baker’s latest in a string of increasingly amazing songs is a slinky slice of 90s-indebted pop which sounds like an undiscovered gem nestling between hits by Mariah Carey and Salt-N-Pepa on a sun-warped Hit Machine compilation CD. Against lush, layered production, Baker easily proves herself a world class vocalist, sliding elongated vowels across seductive bass lines, bouncing the chorus melody like a basketball before peeling into soaring vocal parts. It’s her most blatant foray into the “bedroom jam” genre, and it’s a very welcome one.
For more: Caiti Baker will be touring nationally with Jess Mauboy in 2022. Check out her second album Mary From the North.
Jess Chalker – Don’t Fight It
For fans of: Bat For Lashes, Chvrches, M83
Jess Chalker makes anxiety sound like euphoria. The London-based songwriter is known in Australia for fronting pop duo We Are the Brave and for her 2010 breakout single Said the Raindrop to the Seed. Overseas, Chalker has become a feted songwriting partner, working with everyone from Passenger to Lisa Loeb, and even co-writing on a Grammy-winning children’s album along the way. Her anthemic, open-hearted new single Don’t Fight It takes more than a few cues from the glassy electro that has come out of the UK over the past decade, with military hand-clap drums, icy synths and a racing pulse all anchored by Chalker’s warm, inviting vocal. The chorus hook will be caught in your head for days, and you’ll find yourself driving too fast when it comes on the radio; you’ll wonder why this isn’t the front-runner for our next Eurovision entry.
For more: Chalker’s debut album Hemispheres will be out 5 November.
Ben Salter – Bereavement
For fans of: Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Tom Waits, Cat Power
Ben Salter is one of those journeyman songwriters that Australia produces in inordinate amounts, despite the geographical difficulties of being a touring musician in our country. Throughout the early 00s he traversed musical genres and stretches of scorched highway in much-loved Brisbane bands Giants Of Science, The Gin Club and Wilson Pickers, before settling down in Hobart as a solo artist, releasing six albums and a live set over the past decade. Bereavement, as befitting its title, is a croaky, broken elegy, a brief two-minute piano-led mood piece that draws you in and then disappears like a puff of smoke. It’s a wisp of a song, expertly rendered: like Four Walls or Tea For The Tillerman, everything is said and felt in the briefest of moments.
For more: Ben Salter’s seventh album Twenty-one Words For Loss will be out this month.
Birdz ft Thom Crawford – They Don’t Know
For fans of: Bad Bunny, early Nelly, Maluma
Being a card-carrying member of the Birdz fanclub, I have to admit I was surprised to hear the strains of breezy flamenco guitar opening this song, with a jaunty beat shuffling in from some nearby island, steel drums and what sounds suspiciously like maraca claps over a reggaeton beat. Has Birdz crossed over to No Mercy territory? Thankfully, the answer is no. This hooky single will, however, hopefully mark Birdz’ crossover moment, where commercial radio takes hold of this brilliant local talent and propels him to stadiums. Birdz’ dexterous vocals weave around the beat like a boxer, while featuring artist Thom Crawford’s smooth voice flows over the top of this refreshingly light musical bed. If Despacito could become one of the highest-selling songs ever, surely this far-superior summer jam can be a smash hit too. The weather is warming up; we need songs like this to lure us back outside.
For more: Birdz’ second album will arrive later this year. Listen to previous single, Fly.