The best songs of 2020 so far from all-Melbourne artists

The best songs of 2020 so far from all-Melbourne artists

From left to right - REMI, Kee'ahn and Sweet Whirl.
Words by Tom Parker

Here’s the best songs released or remixed by Melbourne-based artists in 2020 so far.

As we turn to the second half of what has been a turbulent year, it’s time we celebrated some of the best releases from Melbourne – from a music scene that is perpetually bubbling with creativity, eccentricity and fervour; from a music scene that is tenacious, resilient and wonderfully diverse. In spite of world calamity, there’s been so much good music this year and it’s always tough to put together a list that recognises all voices and talents. Nevertheless, there were a number of songs this year that made me stop and take notice. These are the songs that have struck a chord – the ones that are rife with adventure and ambition.

Without further ado, here are the best songs of 2020 so far released or remixed by Melbourne-based artists.

Sweet Whirl – ‘Patterns of Nature’

Sweet Whirl’s 2020 album, How Much Works, is fantastic from top to bottom. An album fully-formed and celebratory of Esther Edquist’s relatable, homely vocals, its sounds circle the lyrics like an expansive, ever-shifting solar system. ‘Patterns of Nature’ encapsulates everything that makes this album so magnificent – a stunning pop song that sees Edquist speak of independence and bucking the trend of traditional relationships.

Traffik Island – ‘Ulla Dulla’

Traffik Island is the project of Zak Olsen, a Melbourne music chameleon who’s most recently been a member of Orb, Hierophants, Thibault and The Frowning Clouds. Traffik Island steps aside from the garage and psych rock of Olsen’s past adventures to celebrate a hodgepodge of musical themes. The first Traffik Island album, Nature Strip, was steeped in country and folk while this year’s Sweat Kollecta’s Peanut Butter Traffik Jam is everything from psych pop to hip hop, experimental electronic to sampledelia, and the album’s most notable track, ‘Ulla Dulla’, is the ultimate culmination of that. Am I in space?

Bananagun – ‘People Talk Too Much’

One of the most anticipated Melbourne albums of the year came by way of psych pop collective Bananagun. This band have earned quite a reputation for their on-stage exuberance and now they’ve backed it up with an expansive 11-track album that floods us back to the ’60s. The True of Story of Bananagun‘s strongest songs are its longest, where the band let things go and allow the expedition to run its course. ‘People Talk Too Much’ is the summation of all of this – a trippy near-seven-minute concoction of wandering instrumentation.

Leah Senior – ‘With or Without Me’

One of Melbourne’s most graceful vocalists, Leah Senior is a songwriter who doesn’t come around too often. Her earlier records, Summer’s On The Ground and Pretty Faces, announced her to the world. Her third LP, The Passing Scene, takes a burgeoning reputation and catapults it into grander territories for Senior has found her rhythm. ‘With or Without Me’ is a continuation of Senior’s marvelously simple assessment of life – a timeless pop song that’s strewn with catchy hooks and harmonies.

Barney McAll – ‘Precious Energy’ (Mike Gurrieri Remix)

In 2019, revered jazz composer Barney McAll released ‘Precious Energy’ as part of his album, An Extra Celestial Christmas. The song paid homage to late seminal jazz vocalist Leon Thomas and his regular collaborator, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. Some months after the album’s release, lauded Melbourne producer Mike Gurrieri gave the track his own spin with a glistening remix. Gurrieri pumps up the bouncing bassline to create his own atmosphere – one where the stunning harmonies of Rita Satch can gravitate in solitude as Julien Wilson’s saxophone settles in for its own ride. A blissful house fantasy.

Simona Castricum – ‘Supertouch’ (ft. m8riarchy)

In mid-June, beloved Melbourne artist and producer Simona Castricum revealed her new album, Panic/Desire, an album exploring synth-pop, darkwave and queer electronic disco, as well as more abstract, dreamy soundscaping. Within the record comes her stellar collaborative track with m8riarchy. A heaving dance number that brought the house down at Golden Plains this year, ‘Supertouch’ is characterised by a pulsating minimalist beat that sets the tempo for m8riarchy’s tale of a transcendent influence – a ‘supertouch’.

RVG – ‘I Used To Love You’

RVG’s new album, Feral, has earned accolades across Australia for its continuation of Romy Vager’s magnetic storytelling. Prior to Feral, you could have argued that RVG were still a burgeoning name on the Australian music circuit but this album has solidified their repute. The music of RVG isn’t about indulgence, it’s about necessity – people need this band and with ‘I Used To Love You’, RVG struck a tender chord with anyone who’s ever lost a love one. Beautiful, Romy.

Andras – ‘River Red’

Pulled from Joyful, the magnificent early-2020 electronic record from Andras, ‘River Red’ is an absolute belter. Andras has long been of Melbourne’s most fascinating tastemakers and ‘River Red’ is a consolidation of his delicate house sensibility. There’s an effortlessness to the song that’s unmatched – it’s a shame the current crisis has kept us from the dancefloor because an Andras live show would be just the groove infusion everyone needs right now.

Allara – ‘Murnong Farm’

Yorta Yorta woman Allara is quickly becoming one of Melbourne’s most respected First Nations artists for her wit and honesty behind the microphone. In her 2020 single, ‘Murnong Farm’, Allara shines a light on her own marginalisation with a track that’s filled with both groove and acuity. “Can I start a murnong farm/In my rental in Preston?/Can I kill the grass/Turn the soil with my fingers/Revitalised the old traditions?” she muses as she considers her options in a society that has given her and her ancestors so few.

Mildlife – ‘Rare Air’

Mildlife recently returned with their first single of 2020 coming off the back of their near-seven-minute 2019 odyssey, ‘How Long Does It Take?’. The band have found their niche – producing nu-jazz that skirts the dancefloor. ‘Rare Air’ is typically ethereal and spacious. As a tip-toeing synthesiser fades in and sets itself in place, providing the undercurrent to a buoyant journey, the track opens up like a blossoming flower and then it’s game on.

Pop Filter – ‘Big Yellow Van’

Pop Filter is the new project from members of The Ocean Party, Snowy Band and Cool Sounds. The song was written by arguably Melbourne’s most prolific and hardest-working musician, Lachlan Denton, soon after he released his own solo album, A Brother, last year. ‘Big Yellow Van’ is decorated with all the pop sensibilities that we have come to know and love from Denton and stands as a love letter to touring and the long roadtrips that come with it.

Primo! – ‘Perfect Paper’

This all-girl post-punk outfit are one of the hardest-working outfits in Melbourne and their April album, Sogni, has delivered them widespread recognition from home and afar. There’s many stellar cuts from this LP, but ‘Perfect Paper’ is a minimal garage dream that bears some weird instrumental tidbits the likes of Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall would be proud of.

Kee’ahn – ‘Better Things’

Kee’ahn is one of Melbourne’s, if not Australia’s, most exciting vocalists right now and in May she delivered her debut single, ‘Better Things’. The Gugu Yalanji, Jirrbal and Zenadth Kes woman has smashed it out of the park right from the start with a song that places her immeasurable voice front and centre. It’s soulful, dreamy and most importantly, supremely fresh. The sky’s the limit for Kee’ahn.

The Meanies – ‘Cruel To Be Caned’

Man-o-man is it great to have a new album from Melbourne favourites, The Meanies. In a year that has been somewhat absent of strong punk songs, The Meanies have filled the void with a few rippers, including ‘Cruel To Be Caned’. I’ve had dreams of myself chugging the last of my pint and diving into the mosh as the four-piece tear through this track live at The Tote. Let’s hope this is no pipedream fantasy and that post-pandemic, I’m there front-and-centre.

REMI – ‘Get It Right’ (ft. Sensible J and Jace XL)

There aren’t many more committed and selfless voices of Melbourne music than Remi Kolawole. If he’s not fighting for the equality of First Nations people he’s steadily fostering a local hip hop scene that’s on the rise. Featuring longtime collaborator Sensible J and Hiatus Kaiyote’s Jace XL, REMI’s ‘Get It Right’ is a song about resilience and perseverance. It’s about working tirelessly and diligently until you get it right. Sensible J’s production is flawless once again.

JK Group – ‘Seeds’

One name on this list you might not recognise is that of JK Group, a rising Melbourne outfit made up of members of 30/70, Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange and Sex on Toast. Saxophonist and 2019 PBS Young Elder of Jazz, Josh Kelly, leads the way here delivering syrupy, smooth jazz music that’ll have you flocking to the dancefloor. In 2020, JK Group released their debut album, The Young Ones, and ‘Seeds’ stands at the top of the record as a nu-jazz dazzler.

The Stroppies – ‘Roller Cloud’

Melbourne’s current jangle-pop torchbearers, The Stroppies, carry a lofty baton previously ferried by Boomgates, Dick Diver and Twerps – bands that in fact share artist bloodlines with the four-piece in question. Delivering the ever-fantastic record, Whoosh!, last year and the equally stellar self-titled EP in 2017 there’s some serious momentum here and ‘Roller Cloud’ is a sunny cut from this year’s Look Alive EP that’s filled with melodic warmth.

Hooper Crescent – ‘Logos’

Another burgeoning Melbourne band from the legends at Spoilsport Records, Hooper Crescent are diving headfirst into a Melbourne post-punk scene that’s stood tall for decades. ‘Logos’ is a ripper way to get things rolling – the band’s debut single is strewn with a swagger that’ll translate deliciously to the live stage. Can’t wait to see where this crescent takes us…

Alice Ivy – ‘Don’t Sleep’ (ft. imbi the girl, BOI)

Local beatmaker Alice Ivy is carrying the Melbourne torch for radio-friendly, collaborative and inclusive dance music. Her debut album, I’m Dreaming, was a smash hit and as she readies herself to reveal her sophomore LP, she’s already let us on a few little secrets, including the single and title track, ‘Don’t Sleep’. This one brings rising voices imbi the girl and BOI along for the ride in a bouncy rap-infused party of a track. More please!

Shepparton Airplane – ‘Citrus’

There haven’t been many 2020 post-punk albums that have rivaled Shepparton Airplane’s Sharks. It’s a crunching return to form from a band that’s earned a strong following in Melbourne’s underground and while the album’s lead single, ‘Fear’, has earned plaudits for its bash and crash, ‘Citrus’ is a delight for this krautrock-adoring writer. Track one from Sharks slowly intensifies to become a grit-your-teeth instrumental headbanger and one that will be delightfully received in a sweaty bandroom somewhere when all this shit is over.

Loure – ‘The Walk Home’

For the last few years, Loure has solidified quite the local reputation for his smooth, dreamlike house music that draws from eons of jazz inspirers. Listen to ‘Keep It Real’, ‘Vue’, ‘Step In’, ‘Smooth Talk’ and ‘Streets’ and the dancefloor’s yours to occupy. In 2020, we await Loure’s much-anticipated new record, Outta 106, out on Friday July 17 through his own label, the new Nothin Personal. Four tracks have already emerged from the record and on ‘The Walk Home’, never has jazz and breakbeat complimented each other so effortlessly. This is a must listen, peeps.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – ‘Cameo’

I was on these guys when they released Talk Tight and now they’re bloody global taking over the world with their accessible guitar-pop. I’ll give it to them, their music is bloody addictive and ‘Cameo’ is right up there with the ‘Clean Slate’s and ‘French Press’s. The song sports epic choruses, finds room for cosy bridges and dazzling instrumental sections and it encapsulates RBCF to a tee. Keep it up, boys.

Floodlights – ‘Matter of Time’

A conversation about Melbourne’s most exciting artists can’t be had without mention of Floodlights, the band who are about to follow-up 2019’s debut EP, Backyard, with a new album in 2020. The Australiana dripping from Louis Parsons’ voice is one of the most idiosyncratic things I’ve heard in music over the last few years – this band have found their own space and it’s only up from here. Their first single of the year, ‘Matter of Time’, stands as a middle-finger salute to Australia’s faltering political system. It’s bloody catchy too.

Cool Sounds – ‘Vice’

Name a more underappreciated guitar band in Australia right now than Cool Sounds. I’ll wait… These guys have delivered two immeasurably good albums in the last two years and as they gradually begin to turn heads around the country, they’ll keep pumping out the effervescent jangle-pop hits. ‘Vice’ is sonically Cool Sounds’ most ambitious sidestep and sees them venture into ’80s-pop territory. Love it.

Keen on another Melbourne read? Read our piece on the 36 things every Melburnian has said.

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