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 Shade Ray, Royal Blood, B Wise featuring Sampa The Great and Milan Ring, and The Wombats. Check it out here if you missed it, otherwise, read on…
Mike Noga – ‘Open Fire’
(Part Time Records)
Mike Noga died in August 2020 at the age of 43, but before his tragic passing, Noga recorded his final album, Open Fire, with Alan Sparhawk of indie slowcore faves Low. Despite the producer’s rare pedigree, Noga sticks to the ne’er do well singer-songwriter anthemics of his excellent 2016 LP, KING, on the album’s title track and first single.
With its layered synths and pulsing groove, ‘Open Fire’ starts out sounding an awful lot like Suicide (a band whose sly anthemic capacity has bred cover versions from Bruce Springsteen among countless others). But the chorus is all Noga, with his patient melodies suffusing lyrics about self-destruction and fear with a hearty dose of empathy.
Drapht – ‘Hypocrite’
‘Jimmy Recard’, ‘Rapunzel’, ‘The Life of Riley’, ‘Don Quixote’: WA party rapper Drapht has a history of narrating songs through the lens of a character. But on ‘Hypocrite’, the fourth single from Drapht’s new album, Shadows and Shinings, the rapper born Paul Reid makes himself the centre of attention.
‘Hypocrite’ can be read as an antidote to ‘Jimmy Recard’ – in contrast to that song’s flawless protagonist, Drapht documents the many paradoxes and unwitting infringements that characterise his day to day. But even when performing such unflinching self-examination, Drapht maintains a tone and tempo that’s every bit as carbonated as we’ve come to expect.
Nooky ft. Jamel – ‘Jet’
It’s hard to extricate the sound of ‘Jet’, the latest single from Yuin MC Nooky, from the grimy inner city scenes pictured in the song’s music video. ‘Jet’ isn’t a comment on dissolute late nights on the town – although it does include lines such as “drinking Henny by the case” – but the track’s tense production pumps wafts of threatening energy into every bar and synthesised snare hit.
Nooky’s guest, the Western Sydney performer Jamel, is responsible for the cases of Henny line, but the Nowra boy’s own verse is the real attention-grabber. ‘Jet’ can be interpreted as a statement of intent from Nooky. He’s got no time for sycophantic hangers-on; he’s confident enough in his own talent and work ethic to get where he needs to be. Plus, everywhere he steps, “heads turn, snap necks.”
Anna Smyrk – ‘The Excavator’
Jessica Pratt, Connan Mockasin, Karen Dalton – these are all artists with such a peculiar vocal style that it diverts your attention from the full breadth of their artistic attributes. Central Victorian singer-songwriter Anna Smyrk is another one to add to this category. Smyrk’s voice carries a kind of reedy understatement; it almost sounds like she’s singing through a pop filter made of Eucalyptus leaves.
But, on ‘The Excavator’, Smyrk proves an unexpectedly robust vocalist, despite the initial impression of frailty. The same can be said for the song as a whole. What starts out as a down tempo cautionary tale flips into a high-drama symphonic rock song. Is Smyrk’s voice up to the task? You bet.
MOD CON – ‘Learner in an Alpha’
(Poison City Records)
MOD CON’s latest is a four on the floor garage rock song with a rockabilly and surf rock twang. One of the song’s most appealing attributes is that, despite moving at a canter throughout, drummer Raquel Solier almost entirely refrains from hitting the snare drum.
This sly quirk can be extrapolated to explain what gives MOD CON their general distinction. They’re a fun garage rock and punk band, but their releases are never simple regurgitations of those genres’ well-worn formulas.
Lyrically, ‘Learner in an Alpha’ does at least pretend to be about learning to drive in an Alfa Romeo, though frontperson Erica Dunn includes a number of choice barbs. Perhaps none more so than the song’s opening one-two: “All these cars they look like corpses / The colour and the size of your big choices.”
Moonga K ft. Sampa the Great – ‘Rebel Time’
(Wild Everest Records)
Despite releasing just one album to date, Sampa the Great has become one of her generation’s most important artists, particularly among those working at the intersection of hip hop, pop, soul and political music (as well as a regular feature in our best new music column). Sampa’s risen to this status in part through her regular guest appearances, where she invariably steals the show.
Working here with fellow Zambia-born Botswana-raised artist Moonga K., Sampa clears space to vent about the exploitative practices of the music industry. “See through business though,” she raps in another traffic-stopping verse. “Emperor’s got not clothes / It’s the life you chose / It’s the cards they dealt / Fuck the feeling felt.”
Moonga K. and Sampa are a great fit and Moonga’s stated intention to disrupt the status quo is certainly enhanced by this partnership.
Troye Sivan – ‘Angel Baby’
Troye Sivan’s self-appointed gay power ballad ‘Angel Baby’ pretty much achieves that which it sets out to.
It’s a classic boy band number – it’s easy to visualise the Backstreet Boys singing it in a big budget music video full of costume changes and barely veiled queer baiting. Which is to say, ‘Angel Baby’ is a sweeping, yearning and horny ‘90s pop number.
However, what elevates ‘Angel Baby’ above the glut of contemporary pop couched in ‘90s nostalgia is how well Sivan and his production team balance the old with the new. It’s a simple song of romantic worship and they allow it to be just that.
MUNA ft. Phoebe Bridgers – ‘Silk Chiffon’
(Saddest Factory Records)
MUNA are a recent addition to Phoebe Bridgers’ label, Saddest Factory Records. The LA trio weren’t struggling to build a following or gain industry support before Bridgers’ endorsement – their RCA-released 2019 album, Saves the World, attracted an international listenership that numbered in the millions – but their initiation into Bridgers’ indie-sphere feels symbolic.
Pop musicians shouldn’t forever be at the mercy of apathetic major label machinations. And besides, for all its sugar sweet melody and shiny production, ‘Silk Chiffon’ is practically a paean to independence. Make your own choices, it says, embrace your individual preferences and empower others in your community to do the same.