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Gang of Youths, Courtney Barnett and Barkaa: Australia’s best new music for December

·8-min read

Each month we add 20 new songs to our Spotify playlist. Read about 10 of our favourites here – and subscribe on Spotify, which updates with the full list at the start of each month

Isabella Manfredi – One Hit Wonder

For fans of: Justice, Gwen Stefani, the Jackson 5.

It always feels like tempting fate when an artist so openly declares themselves to be a one-hit wonder, especially when said artist, like Isabella Manfredi, had a certain massive hit single that looms a lot larger than any of their other work. Lyrically, this song stretches the relationship-as-a-band metaphor to its logical extension, with talk of B-sides, fading tracks and confessions being “off the record”. Musically, it is a spritely, Motown-infused wonder, with a breezy vocal melody dancing over a bouncy, infectious rhythm track. The cheerleader call-and-response and a bright piano that sounds like a toy in the best way makes this the sweetest breakup anthem of the summer. And that’s on the record.

For more: Check out her score for 2021 film Plan B.

Alex Cameron – Sara Jo

For fans of: Tears For Fears, Bruce Springsteen, Talk Talk.

Related: Courtney Barnett on being forced to stop: ‘I felt myself opening up in a different way’

Alex Cameron’s down-on-his-luck lounge singer shtick is one of the sharpest satires in music, and as his songwriting has improved, the joke has worn off, with Cameron now just writing future crooner standards, albeit still with more than a touch of dark comedy infused. “Who told my brother that his kids are gonna die from this vaccine?” he asks, in a song aimed at the titular Sara Jo, who has – unwisely, he explains – been messing with his family. The cooing female backing vocals are perfectly faceless for a song so indebted to the cheese of the 1980s, while Roy Molloy’s sparkling saxophone outro reeks of cigarette in once-plush carpets and cheap cologne.

For more: Check out the 2019 album Miami Memory.

Springtime – The Killing of the Village Idiot

For fans of: the Disintegration Loops, the Bad Seeds, Tom Waits.

Gareth Liddiard has made no secret of his devotion to Aussie instrumentalists Dirty Three: shades of their rambunctious clambering cacophonies show up in almost everything he creates. Here, he teamed up with Jim White, the band’s actual drummer, as well as multi-instrumentalist Chris Abrahams, to unleash another work of beauty and rage. Across nine vital minutes, Liddiard leads this unhinged trio through a work of simmering fury, chronicling the shameful tale of Australian special forces who slaughtered civilians in Afghanistan, as always exploring the various nuances and viewpoints without letting anyone off the hook. White’s military drumming marches along as Liddiard leads the troops towards slaughter, “another empire in the grave”. The relative anonymity of this project will probably see it overlooked, but this song deserves to sit with Shark Fin Blues at the very top of Liddiard’s enviable canon.

For more: Springtime’s self-titled debut is out now.

Caiti Baker – Spice

For fans of: Ariana Grande, James Blake, Kitty Pryde.

Caiti Baker has traversed country, folk, gospel and hip-hop in her storied career, but it’s the Darwin singer’s recent infatuation with slinky 90s-leaning R&B that sees her find her groove, with glitchy futuristic production slipping in perfectly with melodies that could belong on an En Vogue record. The relatively unchanging backing track allows Baker’s voice to be the real star: harmonising, gliding into beautiful falsetto and growling in turn, while bouncing deftly from one earworm melody to another as the dancefloor thump keeps time.

For more: Caiti Baker is touring nationally with Jessica Mauboy in April.

Hayley Mary – Bullet

For fans of: Deborah Conway, DMA’s, the Sundays.

Hayley Mary’s solo turn has been one of the most pleasing reinventions of the past few years. Where former band the Jezabels were epic and, dare I say it, a tad overblown, Mary’s solo music is shimmering indie pop, sitting in the same sun-dazed world as the Sundays and the Stone Roses. Mary’s full-throated vocals spray joy like a sprinkler and the jangling guitars are perfect for soundtracking the type of road trip where cracked windows are the only air conditioning. Bullet is the best track from her new surprise-release EP, produced by the twin powers of Johnny Took from DMA’s and Scott Horscroft, who once added sheen to Silverchair and the Sleepy Jackson.

For more: The five-song EP Fall In Love is out now.

Related: Reverse Light Years by Even review – double album of unalloyed pleasure from indie rock stalwarts

Even – Cinnamon Edge

For fans of: the Who, You Am I, the Beatles.

For a band who wear their classic rock’n’roll hearts on their paisley sleeves, it comes as a surprise that until now Melbourne’s Even had never released a double album, a must-have for any retro-leaning discography. Cinnamon Edge opens disc two on Reverse Light Years, hanging off the type of riff the Stones haven’t been able to write since the 70s, settling into a vaguely Eastern chorus melody and splashing the odd Ringo tom fill to really rattle the wireless. Frontman Ashley Naylor is one of this country’s most underrated songwriters, with an incredibly high strike rate and an aversion to leaning on his laurels and going for the easy hook. Despite all the gleeful stomping on this track, there is a dark edge: the minor-y harmonies and the wailing vocals help round out what could have been mere the Who pastiche in lesser-skilled hands.

For more: Reverse Light Years contains 17 great tracks and is out now.

Courtney Barnett – Write a List of Things to Look Forward to

For fans of: Dick Diver, Kurt Vile, Parquet Courts.

It’s not surprising Courtney Barnett’s observationalist lyricism took a turn inwards during the recent pandemic, and like most self-talk, it can appear as both destructive and instructive. The song title implores someone, possibly herself, to write a list of things to look forward to, but such a list is absent here. Instead, Barnett bears witness to the dying world and pens a catalogue quite devoid of emotion. She watches the world burn and bemoans how “we can’t have nice things”, noting how our best efforts have fallen woefully short. A baby is born as a man lies dying. Life enters and exits. So it goes. Barnett sits and awaits a letter, the only thing seemingly keeping her afloat. She walks around shoegazing and sad. She never does write that list; maybe it’s something for her to look forward to.

For more: Barnett’s third album Things Take Time, Take Time is out now.

Barkaa – King Brown

For fans of: Busta Rhymes, Nicki Minaj, L-Fresh the Lion.

As Barkaa tells us in this song, she’s come too far to fail. The 26-year-old Malyangapa and Barkindji rapper has battled and beaten drug addiction, homelessness and regular incarceration; during one prison stint she gave birth to her third child behind bars and became determined to beat her demons and build her life up. And boy, has she! She declares herself King Brown in this attitude-dripping tune, reclaiming a slur slung at her by a former lover, and few will dare to argue with her royal title after they’ve heard her in full force on this track. A salsa sample anchors what is a truly singular hip-hop single, with Barkaa’s fierce bark obliterating whatever her sorry ex called her as toxic and then kept on calling her phone. She still believes in love, just not the way it’s being offered to her. She’s royalty, remember. Bow to Barkaa.

Related: ‘Unapologetically truthful and unapologetically Blak’: Australia bows down to Barkaa

For more: Her new EP Blak Matriarchy is out now.

Gang of Youths – Tend the Garden

For fans of: the Killers.

Devotees of Gang of Youths’ heart-filled epic Go Farther In Lightness will notice the drum machine first, then the heavy use of synths. By the middle of the song, they will be groovin’ to a sultry saxophone part not entirely divorced from the sound of Kenny G, which slides over a backing track reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. Frontman David Le’aupepe has signalled through previous singles that the band’s forthcoming album will be a sonic right turn, but this marks the biggest shift away from the past so far, with a danceable beat anchoring Le’aupepe’s lyrics, which give voice to his father’s early life and the deeds he was forced to commit. It’s ambitious as hell, unrelentlessly earnest and a sure sign that, despite this song’s nostalgic bend, Gang of Youths aren’t looking back.

For more: Listen to recent EP Total Serene and single The Man Himself.

Logic1000 – 21

For fans of: Armand Van Helden, Moby, the Wipeout 2097 soundtrack.

A mere four years ago, Sydneysider Samantha Poulter fell in love with dance music and taught herself how to create it with a computer and a set of tinny speakers. Since then, Four Tet played one of her songs to a packed Coachella crowd, Pete Tong declared her I Won’t Forget his essential new tune and a flood of major label offers took up residency in her inbox. 21 ends her new EP, In the Sweetness of You, and fittingly sounds like a late-night driving tune, the type of dark and steady throb that belongs to 3am, to driving on empty streets, the blur of reds and greens shining up from the wet roads. The dreamy synth swells that glide along are hypnotic and the layered production is world class.

For more: Listen to In the Sweetness of You.

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