Julia Jacklin, the Smith Street Band and AB Original: Australia’s best new music for September

Julia Jacklin – Too in Love to Die

For fans of: Doris Day, Nancy Sinatra, Lana Del Rey

Halfway through Julia Jacklin’s third album Pre Pleasure comes the LP’s emotional fulcrum: a sparse, spiritual track driven by a lone organ and Jacklin’s declaration of a love so powerful it can inoculate against death. Sequenced directly after the pop rush of earlier single I Was Neon, Too in Love to Die commands complete attention with Jacklin’s wide-eyed emoting.

Related: Julia Jacklin finds the light: ‘I’ve wasted a lot of energy in my life trying to be cool’

“If I stepped out on the highway, all the cars would spin around me like a dance, and here on Earth I would stay,” she sings, tempting the universe. It’s a nice thought – love as the ultimate fortification against the world’s cruel indifference. “Surely it’s love like this that keeps us alive,” Jacklin concludes, and I want to believe.

For more: Pre Pleasure is out now. Jacklin will tour Australia in February.

AB Original – King Billy Cokebottle

For fans of: Public Enemy, Run the Jewels, Ice Cube

King Billy Cokebottle was the racist creation of Louis Beers, who became one of Australia’s most successful comedians in the 1980s by donning blackface in a highly offensive impersonation of an Indigenous man. AB Original’s scorching new track, their first in close to four years, serves as a stark reminder that not only was Beers’ act big business until recently (with Sony Music Australia streaming and selling his albums until not long ago), but that this ignorance has remained in modern media through the likes of Chris Lilley, and the shocking 2009 blackface incident on Hey Hey It’s Saturday.

Over a hard-hitting beat, Briggs and Trials take aim at the racist tropes embedded in Australian larrikin humour, as well as those who attend Black Lives Matter protests and the like for the social currency, who “march in the street, like and retweet for the week”. Six years since their groundbreaking debut album Reclaim Australia, a follow up is long overdue.

For more: AB Original is supporting Hilltop Hoods on a national tour, and will release a second single in November.

WAAX – Mermaid Beach

For fans of: the Saints, the Kills, Sad13

Mermaid Beach is really two songs. First, a 90-second mood piece with a pulsing bass line and twinkling piano as Marie DeVita sings of outgrowing her small town, where only the tourists seem to stay, and her ex-boyfriend’s house still looms large on the landscape. “I’ve never been so sad in my life, but I’ve never danced so much,” the song goes, before drums and distorted guitars kick in, and the familiar roar of DeVita’s vocals kick the track into its second half.

Somehow, the second time through, her dancing declarations seem more triumphant, the beach seems less a victim of pollution and shifting demographics, and the lyrics become a celebration. She is sad but she cries; she is sad, but she dances. Sometimes it’s like that.

For more: WAAX’s second album, At Least I’m Free, is out now.

Stella Donnelly – Medals

For fans of: Bill Callahan, Clairo, Clare Bowditch

Related: Stella Donnelly: Flood review – dextrous songs and whip-smart lyrics reward a closer listen

“You’ve got a lot of medals for someone who is losing,” begins Donnelly’s incisive character study of someone who celebrates their past victories, who yells at the television and scares their housemates with loud, uninformed opinions. Medals is one of a number of standout tracks from Donnelly’s second album, Flood. A leap forward from the bruising 2019 debut, Beware of the Dogs, this record was written during the pandemic on piano – instead of Donnelly’s regular guitar – and the songs feel less judgmental and more open to the possibility of real change; a salve rather than the instant gratification of protest songs. The final 90 seconds gives over to an outro that swoons in with a seductive saxophone solo, the type last heard on a yachting holiday in the 80s, and a chorus of wordless “lalalas” that dance this slight, dreamy song to a beautiful conclusion.

For more: Flood is out now.

Stella Donnelly stands in front of a microphone holding a pink guitar and wearing a blue shirt
‘A salve rather than the instant gratification of protest songs.’ Stella Donnelly performing at Spain’s Primavera Sound this year. Photograph: Jim Bennett/Redferns

Tropical Fuck Storm – Moonburn

For fans of: the Bad Seeds, the Gun Club, The Drones

Moonburn once again sees Gareth Liddiard’s Tropical Fuck Storm project move past the sometimes limited palette of his widely celebrated band the Drones. Once again, there is sheer inventiveness in the arrangement, with the tune falling apart at the halfway point and never really rebuilding. The wonky backing of the all-female rhythm section, who push and pull like the seasoned live act they are, turns this glorious cacophony into a swelling, pulsing masterpiece. Moonburn is a stand-alone single release, backed by a cover of the Stooges’ Ann, and its release on cassette makes sense for a track that sounds like it has already been left on the car dash to melt.

For more: Moonbeam, with three bonus B-sides, is available now.

Jack River – Real Life

For fans of: Kylie Minogue, Len, Madonna

This song sounds like a dead ringer for Beautiful Stranger by Madonna. Or maybe it’s Express Yourself? Actually, it may be Step Back in Time by Kylie Minogue, or something from Primal Scream around the time they discovered the joys of sun-drenched dance anthems. Holly Rankin has long been a sonic chameleon when it comes to her Jack River output, but this is the furthest she has wandered into pure, sugary pop. Rankin speak-sings the verses, her Aussie accent coming in clear, while an impossibly hooky chorus that seems custom-built for this summer’s Coke campaign splits cheesy horn samples and dancefloor refrains.

For more: Check out her 2020 Stranger Heart EP, or last year’s We Are the Youth.

Yirrmal – Promised Land

For fans of: Colin Hay, Paul Kelly, Vika and Linda

Yirrmal Marika may sing largely in his traditional Yolngu tongue, but you will understand. One of the most arresting voices in Australian music, Yirrmal is best known to mainstream audiences as the vocalist behind the hooks on Baker Boy’s breakthrough single Marryuna, and 2021 standout Ride. His artistic lineage is unimpeachable: his father sang and danced in Yothu Yindi, while his grandfather was that group’s leader, and 1992 Australian of the year, Dr Yunupingu. Yirrmal follows in this grand tradition with the gentle Promised Land, a beautiful duet with Dami Im where the pair trade longing verses over a backing track that sounds like the ocean – with swelling slides, cymbals crashing like waves and saxophone licks peeling across the salty, summer air.

For more: Check out previous singles Get Happy and Dhaliwuy Bay.

Yirrmal playing in Darwin in 2019
Yirrmal playing in Darwin in 2019. Saxophone peels across the ‘salty, summer air’ in his new single Promised Land. Photograph: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

The Smith Street Band – Everybody’s Lying to You for Money

For fans of: Gaslight Anthem, Bright Eyes, Bikini Kill

Wil Wagner has never sounded this low, in multiple senses of the word. With his voice pitched down to resemble a bad sci-fi robot, he repeats the mantra of the song’s title before a 4/4 beat kicks in and he begins detailing his attempts to deal with his mania with medication, some of which caused him nausea, while others “felt more like ketamine”.

Related: Sampa the Great, Paul Kelly and Genesis Owusu: Australia’s best new music for August

He hints at recent attempts to dismantle his career: “Was I getting ideas above my station? Was this just public relations?” – and it doesn’t take much internet sleuthing to deduce the object of his scorn. Wagner has spun his own unravelling into a vicious song that ranks up there with the band’s very best work. A sixth studio album is coming shortly, and it’s safe to say it will be an emotional affair.

For more: the Smith Street Band is wrapping up a national tour, with shows on 16 September at the Marlin in Ulladulla, and 17 September at Kambri in Canberra.

Ella Hooper – Old News

For fans of: Jason Isbell, Kasey Chambers, Gillian Welch

On Ella Hooper’s 17th birthday, Killing Heidi’s Mascara hit No 1 in Australia, catapulting the teenager to a level of national fame that she hasn’t shaken in the two decades since. A preternatural songwriting talent with a distinctive voice and hairstyle to boot, Hooper admits now she once felt compelled to apologise for her overnight success. “I’ve had a complicated relationship with my career, but I don’t feel hamstrung by that any more,” she said in the press for her new single.

Old News couldn’t be further from the digital futurism of her early hits. It’s a slice of airy Americana driven by a fingerpicking guitar with a distinct slide that howls like a wolf on a lone highway, and Hooper’s rich, honeyed vocal. “If they say you’re old news, they’re still talking about you,” she sings, rejecting the trends and cycles that her career has passed through. This is Hooper’s first song in four years, and the lead single from a forthcoming solo album.

For more: Hooper is touring Australia throughout October and November.

The Church – The Hypnogogue

Across 25 studio albums and four decades of uncompromising output, the Church has proven itself to be every bit the institution its lofty name suggests. Fair-weather fans will be familiar with a handful of the band’s radio stables, such as Under the Milky Way or The Unguarded Moment, but these act as anomalies for a band that excels in spacious creations such as new single The Hypnogogue – a six-minute atmospheric dive with flanged guitars croaking like an army of frogs, Steve Kilbey’s baritone echoing majestically, and layers of psychedelic instrumentation pushing and pulling against the waltzing shuffle of the backbeat. This is the first music from the Church since 2017’s Man Woman Life Death Infinity, and points the way towards even more experimentation this time around.

For more: the Church will tour nationally this month, starting in Perth on 1 September.