From Darren Hayes' 90s throwback to agony aunt Nick Cave: music's eight defining moments of 2019

From Darren Hayes' 90s throwback to agony aunt Nick Cave: music's eight defining moments of 2019. Julia Jacklin finds a fan in Lana Del Rey, an indie rockstar becomes a cartoon dog and more: our critics pick the best moments in Australian music

1. Julia Jacklin finding a superfan in Lana Del Rey was a very big deal

Jacklin’s excellent second album took on life during and after a breakup, from the gnawing anxiety over what an ex-lover might do with intimate photographs to expectations about how to bounce back after everything has changed. But the most devastating moment in a record full of them was Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You, a murmured plea to a relationship that seems to be ending in slow motion.

The song found a fan in Lana Del Rey, who invited the Blue Mountains-born, Melbourne-based singer-songwriter to perform it with her at a concert in Denver last month. Seeing Del Rey sing Jacklin’s lyrics (“What if I cleaned up, what if I worked on my skin? / I could scrub until I am red, hot, weak and thin”) in a 10-second video on Instagram was definitive proof of Jacklin’s well-deserved international breakthrough. – Katie Cunningham

2. J McFarlane’s Reality Guest’s debut LP is understated and rich

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It’s hard to be surprised by new bands in a city like Melbourne, where certain styles prevail and many groups share members. Enter J McFarlane’s Reality Guest, a project anchored by one of Australian DIY’s more influential figures – Twerps’ Julia McFarlane – that’s startlingly, brilliantly fresh. Sitting firmly at the more avant-garde end of minimal wave, JMRG’s debut Ta Da utilises a bracing spareness to embed itself in your psyche; only ever featuring McFarlane’s voice and two or three instruments, it’s an understated record that’s rich and expansive. Released days into 2019, the album has a magnetic, transfixing quality about it. Befitting its title, Ta Da is a hell of a magic trick. – Shaad d’Souza

3. Custard’s David McCormack becoming a cartoon dog made perfect sense

Twenty-five years ago, McCormack was the voice of an indie-rock band called Custard. Now he’s the voice of Bandit, the doggo daddy of Bluey – the internationally beloved animated ABC children’s television series about an irrepressible blue heeler pup. For the goofball McCormack, such a career trajectory makes perfect sense.

Since launching in October 2018, Bluey has become the most downloaded program in the history of the ABC’s iView, with more than 150m plays. McCormack, who has two young daughters of his own, says the role has made him popular at school drop-off time. Meanwhile, Custard’s Brisbane peers Regurgitator have also made a children’s album, touring with kid-friendly versions of old songs, including I Sucked a Lollipop to Get Where I Am. – Andrew Stafford

4. The return of 90s Darren Hayes was a pleasant surprise

Savage Garden had one of the most economical careers in Australian musical history, both in a financial sense and in not outstaying their welcome. They released two albums in less than three years, both of which sounded like greatest hits collections, selling 23 million copies and spawning 15 hit singles.

Darren Hayes’ solo work moved well away from Savage Garden’s pop balladeering, so it was a pleasant surprise when he turned up in October on Cub Sport’s tender I Never Cried So Much in My Whole Life sounding so much like circa-97 Hayes that I swear – truly, madly – that I heard the CD skip at one point. Nathan Jolly

5. Warren H Williams’ show in Alice Springs was a joyful family affair

Stages at Northern Territory gigs are always shared with family members if they’re around. It gives the shows a feeling of fluidity, joy and generosity.

The gig of the Arrente man, country musician and CAAMA radio’s longest-running broadcaster Warren H Williams at Monte’s Lounge in Alice Springs was no exception, as he hauled up his daughter, two sons and perhaps an aunty or two.

After the gig, in the clean desert air, I chatted with an American stationed at Pine Gap intelligence facility as Williams was hailed by six female octogenarians from the local lapidary club who said they used to see his dad, Gus Williams, play country music too. Kate Hennessy

6. Holiday Sidewinder’s Forever or Whatever is gloriously shame-free

The dazzling light from a mirrorball wreaks more havoc than beer goggles. Holiday Sidewinder’s glittery debut album (Personal Best Records, funded through sales of her worn, sealed satin underwear) is bumper to bumper with exes, such as the mystery man at the Holiday Inn (“We wear the slippers and robes / But we can’t take them home / We get our rubbers and drinks / Out of vending machines”).

It’s a shame-free zone of which Grace Jones would approve. Sonically, analogue disco pop rules the roost – Kim Wilde and Sophie Ellis-Bextor are fans – but it’s also aesthetically showbizzy. The video to Leo is an homage to 90s Versace ads, and the album art depicts Sidewinder in fabulous aerobics-disco get-up. Jenny Valentish

7. Nick Cave’s folksy newsletter was surprisingly therapeutic

I only signed up to Cave’s the Red Hand Files newsletter in May this year. But looking back, I can see how these playful questions and answers randomly popping into my inbox shone an increasingly welcome light through a pretty shitty time.

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I came to crave the folksy detours Cave’s wisdom gave to my days. Buried within questions about reclaiming a song from a terrible relationship, requesting spare lyrics and the merits of tube socks, were achingly plain ruminations on why are we here and what are we for. (And sometimes just aches.) They never quite squared with the musician’s cultivated hubris, which made them all the more effective – just a wise, worn friend, emailing (me) to say everything’s all right, and if not, you’re not alone. –Marcus Teague

8. The Beasts of Bourbon are still here, even without the hard liquor

The Beasts of Bourbon were everything that was tough about Australian rock’n’roll. From their name upwards, there was an outlaw recklessness that at times perhaps overshadowed the broken-down vulnerability of their songs. The band were confronted by mortality in 2018 when bassist Brian Hooper and guitarist Spencer P Jones died after long illnesses. With a new name (the Beasts) and a shared feeling of loss and brotherhood, they convened for Still Here (Bang Records), an album honouring their bandmates’ passing not with maudlin musing but with a noble tip of the hat and an irreverent approach that breaks the sadness. Bob Gordon

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