Best New Music Reviewed: Arca and Sia, GRAZER, Keli Holiday and more

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Best New Music Reviewed: Arca and Sia, GRAZER, Keli Holiday and more

Arca Sia Best New Music
Words by Augustus Billy

We search far and wide to bring you the best new music from Australia and around the world each fortnight, expertly reviewed for your listening pleasure.

Last week in our best new music reviews, we had spots for Emma Donovan, Springtime, Acid Safari, Emma Russack and Lachlan Denton and many more. Check it out here if you missed it, otherwise, read on…

Big Skeez and Gold Fang – ‘Where Yuh From’

If you’re prepping to break the lockdown shackles in weeks to come, you’ll find no better soundtrack than this addictive new cut from Somalian-Australian rapper Big Skeez and Trinidadian-Australian dancehall artist Gold Fang. It’s big and boisterous, built on grime, dancehall and Afroswing influences, but the biggest element is the on-mic personalities of the two Western Sydney performers. 

Although described as being about “embracing where you’re from”, it’s equally a statement of authority from the two artists. Some choice lines from Big Skeez include, “They wanna talk they can come for me” and “Dropping names probably get you smoked,” both of which feel like sly warnings—if you’re not from around here, then don’t act like you run the place. 

The energy is non-stop, the chemistry infectious, and an album of more of the same would be most welcome.

Beans the Band – ‘Delone’

Beans the Band is the new project from singer and songwriter, Max Stanley, who you might recognise from Melbourne-based Sydney transplants, Grey Whistle Test. Stanley carries the band’s indie-folk sensibilities into ‘Delone’, his debut single as Beans the Band. However, there are some key distinctions. 

In place of the earnest delivery and polished atmospherics favoured by Grey Whistle Test, ‘Delone’ offers a sense of rootsy closeness. The track consists of five minutes of repetitive acoustic finger-picking, which creates a subtly hypnotic effect. Stanley and mixer Liam Halliwell were wise to leave the cracks exposed in Stanley’s guitar playing, as it lends a touch of spontaneous looseness to the track. 

A similar effect is achieved with the vocals, albeit via different means. Stanley’s voice swims in puddles of reverb, from where he contemplates the utility of days spent sleeping and dreaming. It sounds a little lost and lonely, yeah, but never fatalistic.

Keli Holiday – ‘December’

Peking Duk aren’t the most garish electro-party band in the world, but the Canberra duo’s high-velocity extroversion can come off a bit hollow. So, given Keli Holiday is the new solo project of PD’s Adam Hyde, should we approach with caution? In a word: no.

The project stemmed from a few weeks Hyde spent writing on guitar after a mega Peking Duk tour. And while electronic textures continue to dominate – including a chipmunky vocal sample in the chorus; the song’s most obvious PD allusion – he embraces traditional pop structure and more moderate dynamic shifts than what we’re used to. 

Absent are the lifts, drops and atomic chorus crescendos of Peking Duk’s biggest hits. There’s also no obvious triple j baiting at play and no ham-fisted attempts at zaniness or gravitas. ‘December’ is sunny, sonically on point and won’t leave you panting for breath.

GRAZER – ‘Reunion’

GRAZER is the project of Melbourne couple Matthew Spiller and Mollie Wilson, who recorded their debut self-titled EP during the halcyon days of 2020’s first lockdown. Spiller and Wilson describe their music as “a dreamy coalescence of 80s indie pop and the catharsis of 90s grunge and shoegaze.” In the case of their latest single, ‘Reunion’, this description is right on target.

‘Reunion’ is the sort of song you dream about. Not because it represents songwriting perfection, but because the combination of softened lead guitar sounds and encircling male and female lead vocals wash over you in a manner akin to how the events of a dream often do.

Plus, despite being lathered in reverb, ‘Reunion’ represents Spiller and Wilson’s keen taste for melody-driven songcraft, meaning it’ll likely infiltrate your subconscious after a few listens anyway. 

San Joseph – ‘Everything in the Room’

San Joseph is the project of Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Joey Cirillo. Cirillo recently signed a deal with Island Records Australia, who issued his debut single ‘Blink Twice’ in June 2021. Like that earlier single, San Joseph’s new one, ‘Everything in the Room’, was produced and co-written by Dean Lewis collaborator, Dylan Nash.

Lewis – another Island artist – is a decent point of reference for orientating newcomers to San Joseph’s heart-on-the-sleeve pop traditionalism. On ‘Everything in the Room’, Cirillo sets aside the upbeat, Dua Lipa-goes-folk pulse of ‘Blink Twice’ to make a more direct transmission. 

It’s a sad song, depicting its narrator as alone, paranoid and overcome with longing for an ex-partner who’s already moved on. To make matters worse for San Joseph, instead of his friends telling him “it’ll be alright”, he’s getting mocked by inanimate objects. 

“Everything in the room knows I’m thinking of you,” he sings in the song’s immediately familiar chorus. “Everything in the room knows that I shouldn’t do this.”

Dan Howls – ‘Bad Blood’

You get the impression that blues rock songwriter Dan Howls owns a fair few guitars. He’s probably spent hours fiddling with FX pedals and amp EQs in search of a brute force distortion sound that won’t drown out the notes. It was no surprise to discover that Howls’ favoured six-string is a Harmony Rebel thinline hollow body; the sort of guitar they haven’t made in roughly 50 years. 

And what does Howls do with these guitars? On his latest single ‘Bad Blood’ – recorded with the regular Dan Howls live band – the Perth musician uses them to make heavy, slow-moving blues rock. 

‘Bad Blood’ feels aged; not in the sense of being tired and broken down, but like a piece of music equipment that only reveals its true capacity after decades of use. Howls and band don’t try too hard on ‘Bad Blood’. They keep it slow, heavy and relatively simple. And that’s the key to the song’s bruising impact.

Arca feat. Sia – ‘Born Yesterday’

Arca has been more successful than most at bridging the gap between ground-breaking electronic experimentation and the pop mainstream. Along with co-producing two Bjork albums and working with Kanye and FKA twigs, Arca’s solo records have gradually risen from the underground to take a spot somewhere on the margins of mass culture.

It’s not dance music, and nor does it feign to be on-trend, but the fact that Arca’s 2020 LP, Kick i, featured guest vocals from SOPHIE and Rosalia (as well as Bjork and Shygirl) indicates the Venezuelan artist isn’t shy about joining the contemporary pop conversation.

But a collaboration with Sia? I don’t think anyone saw that coming. The good news is ‘Born Yesterday’ freakin’ slaps. The melodies and sky-scraping vocal performance are all Sia. Likewise the lyrics, which are stuffed with enough intimations of hurt and longing that they’ll go down a treat on pop radio. 

But the production finds Arca embracing her whackiest impulses, creating layers of wet, ASMR electro-noise and letting rip with completely extra percussion programming. 

Check out this week’s best new record releases here.