Julia Stone, Middle Kids, Tash Sultana: Australia's best new music for February

Julia Stone featuring Matt Berninger – We All Have

For fans of: Damian Rice, the National, Taylor Swift gone folk

Julia Stone’s first solo album in eight years has been recorded piecemeal since 2015 with various collaborators, including St Vincent. As a result, the four singles we have heard so far all sound wildly different, with an ethereal production wash being the only binding element. We All Have is the most beautiful to date, a sparse ballad with minimal piano and finger-picked guitar accompanying Stone’s chirping baby-bird harmonies. Matt Berninger from the National takes verse two, his solemn baritone the perfect counter, before the pair combine for the chorus. It’s all over and done in two and a half minutes but it leaves a lasting, calming impression – a lovely ode to the impermanence of everything.

For more: Julia Stone’s album Sixty Summers will be out on 16 April. For now, listen to previous singles Break, Unreal and Dance

Cantrips – Goodbye Yesterday

For fans of: Donovan, Tame Impala, the Charlatans

Melbourne multi-instrumentalist Patrick Ryan clearly took his time creating Goodbye Yesterday, the third in a trilogy of intricately layered songs recorded during extended time locked down in his Thornbury garage. A complete mood piece wrapped in a three-minute pop song, this 60s-leaning tune represents yet another leap forward for his Cantrips project. Vocally, Ryan sounds uncannily like a young Liam Gallagher but musically this is a more general grab-bag of psychedelic touchstones: the baggy drumbeat of Manchester discovering dance music on half an E; the jangle of early folk explorers following Dylan into the great electric unknown; the eastern modulations the Beatles brought back wholesale from Rishikesh. Ryan himself cites early Pink Floyd and Curtis Mayfield; both are also present here, albeit in smaller doses. Much like the music of Tame Impala and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, this is more than mere homage to a bygone era, with Ryan adding his own stitches to the continuing patchwork of psychedelia.

For more: Listen to previous singles Off with His Head and Don’t Open That Bag

Scott Darlow – Forgotten Australia

For fans of: Colin Hay, Diesel, Midnight Oil

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This type of jingoistic anthemic rock is risky business – hit slightly too hard and you could land squarely in Nollsy territory, auditioning for an imaginary job writing jingles for Visit Australia campaigns from the 80s. Thankfully Darlow plays a more subtle hand, despite the huge guitars and a soaring chorus that bemoans a “forgotten Australia”. This is a song of reconciliation but with a more modern focus; Darlow bemoans the rise of misinformation that has led to a particularly dangerous and ill-informed strain of nationalism, as two sides of the same coin go to war. Musically, this song, production and all, could neatly slide onto the track listing of John Farnham’s 1990 Chain Reaction album. As it stands, like Darlow’s previous singles You Can’t See Black in the Dark and Bind the Hands of Time, Triple M will have no problems neatly sliding Forgotten Australia on to its own playlists.

For more: Listen to the aforementioned singles or check out Darlow’s 2016 album, Sorry, which features a rousing cover of Goanna’s Solid Rock

Jess Locke – Dead and Gone

For fans of: Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Beck, Holly Throsby

Proceeding at the pace of a funeral march and sounding just as sombre, Dead and Gone is a deceiving tune, starting with a weary drawl before optimism takes hold. Recorded in the back of a Melbourne guitar shop, and all the better for the locale, producer Rob Muinos (Julia Jacklin, Didirri) captures Locke’s unadorned performance without any unnecessary bells and whistles. Then, like the plants bending toward the light in this song’s timelapse video clip, Dead and Gone suddenly sprouts life, with twinkling synths, distorted guitars and drums all crashing in cathartically, sending the song skywards. It’s a moment of hope and growth – a shedding of skin.

For more: Locke’s album Don’t Ask Yourself Why is out on 26 March. She’s touring throughout Victoria in February

Odette – Amends

For fans of: Van Dyke Parks, Yoko Ono, Jon Brion

During the New Year’s Eve celebrations at the Sydney Opera House, muted as they were by the lack of a harbourside audience, Odette performed as if to an audience of millions, which, considering the televised aspect, isn’t as inaccurate as the empty foreshore suggested. This showcased one of Australia’s finest live performers doing what she does best. Amends is a completely different beast. While Odette’s powerful vocal and songwriting skills effortlessly shine through, it’s the warped and wonderful arrangements by Kelly Pratt, who has performed similar alchemy for Arcade Fire and David Byrne, that makes Amends more than just a strong pop tune. Squelchy, muddy beats, avant garde strings that stalk and soar in equal measures, and Disneyfied woodwind parts make this a beautiful sonic tapestry.

For more: Odette’s debut album Herald is out now

Middle Kids – Questions

For fans of: Coldplay, Washington, Bloc Party

Their debut album found them fans in Ryan Adams and the New York Times, invitations to perform on Conan and Jimmy Kimmel, and a legion of local fans to boot. But that was 2018, and talented songwriter Hannah Joy was swimming in safer waters back then. Questions is a bold reinvention – a slow-burning song that explodes into a street parade, with an army of horns blasting in, Magical Mystery Tour-style, marching the song towards a completely different conclusion. As always, Middle Kids impress with mature and surprising arrangement ideas; with each song Joy stretches out more and finds space between the straight verse-chorus-verse, and Radiohead-style experiments in form. This is only the second single from their second record and it’s becoming nigh on impossible to predict what will come next from Middle Kids.

For more: The band’s second album, Today We’re the Greatest, is out on 19 March. Middle Kids play May dates at Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane, Melbourne Recital Centre and City Recital Hall, Sydney

Teenage Joans – Something About Being Sixteen

For fans of: Get Up Kids, Jimmy Eat World, NO-FX

Adelaide two-piece Teenage Joans may have been born a decade after this type of energetic pop punk reached its commercial peak but such is the cyclical nature of music that this song sounds just as at home being blasted at their school-age fans as it would have when their parents were hiding Blink-182 and Green Day CDs from their own folks. Teenage Joans have done a lot over the last 12 months: winning Unearthed High, scoring a #87 place in last month’s Hottest 100, and selling out venues they are too young to buy a drink at. Musically, this has all the right elements: an arpeggio riff, guitars to melt your face, skip beats made for synchronised slam dancing, a lighter-waving ending for a generation who now wave phones, and heartbreak of the rawest form, the type best served up by and to the teenaged. Judging by this excellent punk tune and Teenage Joans’ rapid rise to national success, the kids are (still) all right.

For more: Listen to Three Leaf Clover

Chasing Ghosts – Summer

For fans of: Frenzal Rhomb, Bodyjar, Blink-182

In 1856 English settlers massacred an unknown number of Aboriginal people at Towel Creek. More than 150 years later Chasing Ghosts’ vocalist Jimmy Kyle learned of a familial link to “Baaba” (Babaang) Jack Scott, the lone survivor of this tragedy. Through the eyes of a grieving Aboriginal elder, Kyle tells this sorry tale, weaving English with his native tongue, and delivering a powerful punk song with sugary hooks and a thrilling momentum that belie the horrors of such a massacre. Kyle co-produced Summer with Hobart legend Lincoln Le Fevre, whose 2008 album 30-Watt Heart inspired an entire cottage industry of DIY punks suddenly showcasing their strine (see: the Smith Street Band, Camp Cope and Courtney Barnett). Le Fevre’s influence is more subtle here, pulling sounds that sit closer to the sunny SoCal pop punk of Yellowcard and Blink-182 than any of the aforementioned acts. Jimmy Kyle offers up an emotive, urgent vocal which lays the past bare while pointing towards reconciliation.

For more: New EP Homelands will be out in May. For now, check out the band’s 2016 album, I Am Jimmy Kyle

Sarah Mary Chadwick – Full Mood

For fans of: Bright Eyes, Cat Power, James Taylor

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The front cover of Carole King’s Tapestry is the visual embodiment of a certain sound: King in woolly jumper, blue jeans and bare feet, sitting in a window seat, lace curtain billowing, a disinterested tabby lounging on a throw cushion. Sarah Mary Chadwick may deal in more adult themes than Tapestry tackles – for one, this tune involves a proposed threesome – but this is definitely one of those homespun records to adore and hold close. Chadwick’s performance is intimate, unhurried and a little sloppy, much like the evening she is chronicling. Lyrically, she paints in vivid brushstrokes; sonically it’s just Chadwick’s close-mic’d voice and a piano – and the listener, of course, sitting in the middle of a carpeted room, red wine in hand, mesmerised. “You light me a cigarette, and I’ve always liked that move,” she sings early in the song, and a flirtation unfolds, the glitter of the early morning streetlights and drunken romance intermingle, if only briefly.

For more: Chadwick’s album Me and Ennui Are Friends, Baby is out now. She will launch the album with a residency at Avalon Bar in Fitzroy, every Friday night in February, and on 5 March

Tash Sultana – Sweet & Dandy

For fans of: Sade, Prince, Erykah Badu

The gimmick, if such a crude term can be used, that shot Tash Sultana to viral fame was her single-handed ability to recreate a multi-tracked studio recording with just a loop pedal, layering rhythm and lead guitar tracks, peeling impressive solos over fingerpicked lines and singing soulfully over the symphonic results. Let loose in an actual multi-track studio it’s no wonder that her records are becoming more lush with each release. Her latest hypnotic dreamscape features shimmering guitars, heavenly chimes, bird sounds, and, as if to ground this aural Garden of Eden in the secular, a slinky guitar. There are touches of Marvin Gaye in Motown balladeering mode, and Outkast’s Andre 3000 at his most intergalactic. This is truly gorgeous music – God only knows how she will pull it all off live.

For more: New album Terra Firma is out 19 February. Sultana performs at WOMADelaide on 7 March