Laneway Festival’s Dom O’Connor picks out the best tracks of the month including a pleasingly mellowed Deerhunter, a London singer on the rise, and some fresh voices on the Australian music landscape.
Deerhunter was one of indie rock’s most volatile bands, happy to shroud their pop melodies in layers of hiss and fog. But ‘Plains’ is another example of Bradford Cox and Deerhunter’s ageing into contentment – and they’re sounding damn good doing it, too. The track is a beautifully simple, Afro-pop accented moment of clarity where Cox’s voice sounds both calm and considered as pristine synths wash over him in the chorus. Coming from a man (and band) that used to vomit blood on stage, it’s astonishing how comfortable these mid-tempo sounds come off.
As assured and confident as a first single gets, ‘Fall’ posits Perth band Dulcie as an exciting new voice in Australian music. A tumbling, jazz-inflected tune with a vocal reminiscent of Odette and the associated vocal gymnastics, the crashing cymbals and major-sevenths of the song’s chorus bring a dose of grunt to proceedings. It’s a song that exists as a comforting synthesis of its influences, never attempting to outrun them but instead paying tribute in a pleasantly familiar way.
A bouncy headache of a first single, ‘Cut The Branch’ has Sydney musician Ruben Neeson living in a world of pained metaphors and organ swirls. He’s ably assisted by Julia Jacklin in the chorus, their voices intertwining in a quietly stunning way. It all coalesces into a deliciously twangy crescendo, where “I could be the beauty in your eyes” becomes a harmony-laden clarion call amid the sturm und drang of the band underneath. It’s an astute slice of alt-country that saunters along until it lands its final blow.
‘In Your Head’ is a propulsive, fast-moving fuzz ball with London-based artist Nilüfer Yanya alternatively howling and singing along with herself in the song’s differing sections. Guitars rumble underneath her and hi-hats continue to crash as the song’s momentum rises and falls, keeping a laser-guided focus on her as the song’s continuous focal point. It’s a maturation that’s been coming for a little while now. Yanya has been releasing music since 2016, but it’s taken until ‘In Your Head’ for it all to sound as impressive as this.
A slinky, insouciantly cool slow-jam, ‘Stay The Night’ is underpinned by a watery, Connan Mockasin-esque guitar. It builds slowly and subtly, letting its main hook burrow into your head without over-doing the instrumentation. It may take a minute, but ‘Stay The Night’ has a replay value that rewards repeat listens, a taste of the Sydney musician’s forthcoming debut album.
HANDSOME – aka Sydney artist Caitlin McGregor – has made a playlist of songs that mirror the sense of “boldness and an unapologetic vulnerability” she was trying to capture on single ‘No Cowards’.
After releasing acclaimed music for a number of years as Caitlin Park, she underwent a creative and personal transformation, embracing her queer identity and her experiences coming out in her debut EP as HANDSOME, No Hat No Play.
“The thing with these tracks,” she says of the playlist, “is their strength most likely came from the songwriter’s most vulnerable and raw moment, something that made them scared or made them feel powerless.
“Most people would hide from telling the world these stories, but these artists turned them into powerful songs. And that gives them grace.”
Mura Masa was on repeat while I was making No Hat No Play. There is something about the way he fuses organic sounds together with beats that really bring out the crisp moments – the licks, the top end of the drum stick snapping the rim. This track featuring Bonzai is a fucking nuts song, it’s not brash, it’s not loud – it’s all about capturing the attitude of the lyrics with the music. Dat bass.
To call this song unapologetic is an understatement. “Falling in love with avoiding problems” is something many of us have felt. The feeling of mania when you don’t know who you are, are confused with who you love – you can feel dizzy, and you can find a way to enjoy pain. Tim’s voice is direct, when he dares you to come at him. This song is triumphant, and it’s perfect. I feel everything when I hear this song.
Do not fuck with her. Okenyo is an artist with plenty of acclaim, but she deserves even more. Her writing is next level and deserves ears worldwide because she is making music like no one else. ‘Hang Your Hat’ is so bold af, where she encourages the listener to celebrate their unique self-expression and carry themselves with nothing but confidence. She challenges casual racism in Australia, and suggest a hint of the Time’s Up movement with the phrase “Tic Toc ya done”.
I was lucky enough to meet Fortune recently, jumping into the studio with him for an amazing afternoon. Fortune epitomises boldness and grace. Hailing from South Africa, he is often forced to defend his sexuality and carry his head high in harsh and dangerous environments. In fact, he had to defend himself recently after a show in Melbourne (congrats Australia!). His music exudes freedom, and that’s why he is such an important artist.
Hot goss. We were blasting this song in the video clip for ‘No Cowards’ in the scene where everybody is dancing on the roof. Robyn represents a release and a freedom to many queers around the world. She finds a way to capture a sadness or a regret in a dance song – and there is nothing more powerful that dancing away your pain. I’ve spent many a night on the dance floor with my friends screaming this song at the top of my lungs.
Bravery is a word that comes to mind when I think about HTMLflowers. He is hailed for creating great art out of a situation that feels so hopeless, and so he should. He doesn’t hide his illness, and has found a way of building a community around his art making, by creating a safe space for people in similar positions. He uses his most vulnerable moments, to instil hope in others. “I was easy to love once, wasn’t I?” makes me fall off my chair every time.
Kid Heron has really found himself with this new track, and it makes me so excited. The Kid plays drums in the HANDSOME band, and I’ve never watched someone blossom the way he has in the last year. And you can hear it in his music making, and the confidence in his lyricism. ‘Future Love’ is a blatant celebration of his sexuality – it is sensual, brave and affirming. And I love every moment of it.
I know she has just released a new album, Wanderer, but this one felt right to finish on. Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) taught has all to use our vulnerability to make art, didn’t she? Through stories of neglect and abuse and addiction, Chan revealed it all. I watched her play this song all around the world – Paris, Denmark, London, Sydney – and every time it is heart-stopping. Interestingly, she released this track on Moonpix and then again as a “cover” of sorts on Jukebox. She now performs it with power – motioning kicking, and scrunching up her face. A great example of a song that isn’t afraid of anything – it used to be about her hopelessness, and now its about her triumph over this. Cat Power, you’re worth everything.
Laneway Festival’s Dom O’Connor picks out the best tracks of the month including a smooth collab from Anderson .Paak’s backing band and the return of Chicago MC Mick Jenkins.
Sydney post-punks 100 have hit pay-dirt on their second single ‘Groove’, all restrained tension and a shredding payoff. There’s a kraut-rocky energy to the track as it remains fixed on a central rhythmic figure; one that’s shared in the grit and grime of the squealing guitars. It’s a perfect match of ingrained power-pop melodicism with rough-shod production and a likeable toughness.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Chicago MC Mick Jenkins, and ‘Understood’ has the warm, comforting embrace of a return to it. Guest producer Kaytranada provides Jenkins with a laidback, double-bass heavy beat for him to spit over, and Jenkins uses it to drop both an insouciantly cool verse and a deep-voiced counterpoint of a chorus. A showcase of one of modern music’s most talented producers with a technically gifted, non-showy MC. Made for repeating during the dog days of summer.
‘Heart’ has the swoon and sweep of a ’90s teen movie classic and the sparkling, watery guitars to match. Ali Flintoff (also of Perth punx Boat Show) dials down her usual vocal fury for a lovelorn sig; the loose, shoegazey sway of the instruments matching her nicely as the song reaches its fizzy crescendo. It’s a startlingly confident first single from the recent Barely Dressed signing, and a song that fans of Hatchie/Alvvays will find a lot to love in.
Former Royal Headache singer Shogun finally returns with ‘Pissing Blood’, a dramatic, organ-affected number with Tim ‘Shogun’ Wall in his finest crooner mode. It’s slower, and less immediate than any Royal Headache track, but his pained, emotional delivery is truly one of a kind. “No one could hurt you like I could,” he warbles near the track’s crescendo, the offspring of Bobby Womack and Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s Brendan Huntley. If only Shogun himself liked the song as much. He recently called it “ordinary” in an interview with Noisey.
Who could’ve guessed a collaboration between Anderson .Paak’s band, Daniel Caesar and Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruben Nielson would be unfeasibly smooth? ‘Beauty and Essex’ isn’t particularly left-field, but it’s a perfectly succinct slice of future-funk. Caesar’s perfect falsetto and Nielson’s warped higher register contrast wonderfully over a G-funk bass line. It’s the type of music made for late-night listening, and an enticing first taste of their upcoming debut record.
“I think about dying everyday” is one of the strongest first lines of the year, a jolt to the system that feels singularly unique in modern pop music. ‘Saint Nobody’ only grows from there, building on its bed of celestial synth pads and layering Reyez’s powerful voice over itself several times. It’s the most confident Reyez has sounded on record yet, and it’s immensely satisfying when the song’s drums kick in during the second chorus. The most memorable song she’s done.
Melbourne jazz/disco supremo Harvey Sutherland continues to grow on ‘Amethyst’, his first single in almost a year. As tenor saxophones rise under a frantic, ride-heavy dream beat, Sutherland showcases the producer chops he’s been honing for the last few years, never overloading the arrangement but keeping it busy enough. The tension continues to rise as the groove locks in during the track’s second half, where swelling strings and a busy bass line become the track’s focal point and let the groove ride out into aural nirvana.