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Australian Guitar's Fresh Frets: Vol. 4

(Image credit: Savannah van der Niet)

SAN MEI

SHE IS a fiercely enigmatic indie-pop trailblazer whose overdriven road-trip anthems are at once emphatically eruptive and deliriously dreamy. Mei (by night, or Emily Hamilton by day) revels in a labyrinthine soundscape that sears and swells with emotional tension, just enough restraint in play that she never truly kicks over into grunge territory, but teases a dry, warbly edge.

SHE SOUNDS LIKE the future of retro. Mei is a pioneer of the way guitars will exist in a synth-dominated pop world as the decade ahead of us unfolds.

YOU'LL DIG HER IF YOU LIKE Metric, Grimes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. With her sharp and spry slithers of musical whimsy, Mei evokes the imagery of late-night journeys through foreign cities, humming neon lights and open‑zippered leather jackets, blood-red lipstick and bold, black-rimmed sunglasses; she’s cool as f***, basically. You’ll dig her if you’re cool, too.

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT her latest EP, Cry, showcasing four soul‑absorbing gems of nostalgic pop plucked straight from the heart and wrung through a filter of fuzzy luminescence. You should also check her out onstage, off-white Strat firmly in-hand, where she truly shines as she tears through a jungle of reverb and delay, reeling the listener up close with her minimalistic verse rhythms all cool and cruisy, then roundhousing them into the sixth dimension when a blindingly bright chorus kicks in.

PARADISE CLUB

(Image credit: Supplied by label)

THEY ARE an odds-defying Adelaidian quartet who bury gut-punching themes under wickedly groovy blankets of sheer bliss. We’re branding it ‘dreamo’ – earnestly poignant nuggets of angst driven by warm, shimmery guitar lines and utterly charismatic vocals, the whole affair infectiously chill and inescapably catchy.

THEY SOUND LIKE gauzy, pseudo-psychedelic synthpop that instantly teleports the listener to a sunset boogie at Splendour In The Grass, circa freshman year of uni. Ah, how good were music festivals? Those were the days! Anyway, if you’re into crystal clear beach water, ice-cold guava Cruisers and sleeping in on your Saturday mornings, there’s a good chance you’ll get around Paradise Club; it’s all about the good vibes, baby, and they’ve got plenty to share.

YOU'LL DIG THEM IF YOU LIKE Bloc Party, The Midnight and M83. The guitars are twined around layers of ‘80s-esque keyboard melodies, understated yet always compelling, Casey Adcock noodling away with a carefree sprightliness that makes every three-minute jam feel like a full-on holiday in musical paradise.

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT the self-titled debut album they just dropped on Farmer & The Owl. The youthfully buoyant “Heart Of Gold” and Oasis-tinged “Saturday Night” are highlights, but there’s plenty to love throughout the whole 40-minute joyride.

WING DEFENCE

(Image credit: Kristy Lee Hague)

THEY ARE a loose and livid pub-punk duo from Adelaide who deal in short, jammy scorchers that could put a smile on the dial of even the sulkiest amongst us. Skye Lockwood and Paige Court wield a monstrous tone with their strummy fretwork, an avalanche of fuzz and distortion driving their equally bright and blunt vocal melodies.

THEY SOUND LIKE an injection of concentrated V Energy directly into the eardrums. Like a game of netball (a position in which their name is derived), the duo can be deceptively fierce – especially live. Beneath the summery veneer of their upbeat boppiness lies a vicious fuse just waiting for ignition. It’s in the gristly pomp of their basslines; drenched in the battered snark of Lockwood’s quips on “Listerine”.

YOU'LL DIG THEM IF YOU LIKE Alex Lahey, Press Club and Luca Brasi. They’re a band you’ll want to get into with a group of mates – these are the kind of songs you virtually need to scream along to at a window-rattling volume as you cruise down the highway at licence-risking speeds.

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT their inhumanly catchy debut EP Friends. With not a second of filler weighing it down, the six-track romp breezes by in a flash; before you know it, you’ll be on your eighth consecutive play, belting at the top of your lungs, “Be! Who! Ever you wanna be!”

HATTIE OATES

(Image credit: Daniel Nash)

SHE IS a Tamworth-native singer-songwriter with as keen an ear for dark, smoky alt-pop vibes as bristly folk and glittery indie-rock. Her acoustic fretting is cool and charismatic, and though she’ll often go long stretches without employing it, whenever she does hit the fretboard, the impact is felt long after the last note rings out. 

SHE SOUNDS LIKE a breathtaking new voice eager to bring Australia’s pop scene a striking personality it’s never seen before. The genuine passion she plays with – present in abundance on even her shortest and most lowkey tracks – is nothing short of transcendental; we could listen to her ebb and flow around a minimalistic drum beat or warbling piano jam all day long.

YOU'LL DIG HER IF YOU LIKE PVRIS, 1989-era Taylor Swift, and Megan Washington. she thrives on the beat with an untouchable might and crystalline confidence that whips from the speakers like a hungry dog towards its dinner; if you want to feel like a total badass while you strut down the street with your headphones cranked up high, Oates has your soundtrack sorted.

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT her latest single “High”, which starts off deceptively calm before blazing into a rich and riveting alt-pop anthem. Oates’ catalogue is rather bare at the moment, but we’d bet a hot dollar on some huge things coming from this up-and-coming luminary in the not-too-distant future.

OLD HAUNTS

(Image credit: Simon Dobson)

IT IS the latest project from Illawarra rock dog Neil Foley – best known for cutting sick with his brother Ben in the alt-rock project Elia Fell – who’s cranked his amps up a little higher and whacked on an extra distortion pedal to conjure up a maniacally heavy, yet also wickedly groovy new world of sound.

IT SOUNDS LIKE the alt-metal boom circa 2002 was revisited with all the tech we’ve since gained to make guitars sound great. The tones are sharp, crunchy and deliciously dynamic, and the way Foley dips and dives around them with his enrapturing honeyed vocal melodies… Words really can’t do it justice. You absolutely need to hear it for yourself.

YOU'LL DIG IT IF YOU LIKE Northlane, Deftones and Periphery. Fellow Aussie metallers Dead Letter Circus are an easy callback as well – it clicks instantly when you learn their shredder Clint Vincent produced the first three Old Haunts singles. But rest assured there’s so much unique about this mystifying new project, too; Foley has clear influences, but also a virulently strong voice of his own.

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT the twisting and turbulent single “Iron Birds”, which marries deep, droning post-hardcore melodies with a cataclysmic prog‑metal twist that demands a thrash of the head with every pummelling jut, while Foley’s soaring vocal cuts deep into the soul. We need a full-length album of this stuff, like, yesterday.

MONKEY KNIFE FIGHT

(Image credit: Dylan Laver)

THEY ARE four emphatically industrious Sydneysiders gearing up to grab Australia’s rock scene by the throat with their sharp and spontaneous, one‑of‑a-kind intensity.

THEY SOUND LIKE a kinetic blend of belting ‘00s pop-punk and sizzling country – like if the current trend of Southern fried emo was flipped on its head and given a cheery makeover. There’s a little bit of a twang to the guitars and a warbly spark to vocalist Carla Gates’ harmonies; coupled with the convulsive energy the four-piece revel in, it’s one hell of a winning formula.

YOU'LL DIG THEM IF YOU LIKE Pinegrove, The Academy Is... and the self-titled Paramore album. They wield a lighthearted and lively sound that Australia’s underground rock scene is sorely missing; once the live music scene bursts back to life, expect to start seeing their name pop up everywhere.

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT their latest single “Seeing Red”, with its roaring hooks and bombastic breakdown so inescapably huge that one spin is all it takes to have the chorus involuntarily tattooed into your memory. There’s a piercingly powerful chemistry at play between guitarists Max Russell and Fred Roberts, with Gates whipping vocal magic over them like a gymnast busting out backflips on a whim. Also peep the ripping guitar solo on debut single “Icy Shoulders”, which is just goddamn jaw-dropping.

AARON GUN

(Image credit: Avinash Yatiyawela)

HE IS a Sri Lankan-born singer-songwriter, now based in Sydney, with a voice that channels Americana greats and fretwork that, while notably and tastefully subdued, gushes with sincere emotion. He writes energetic songs for laidback moods, with tinges of reggae, jazz and blues adding a captivatingly colourful pomp to his tight and tepid indie-rock jams.

HE SOUNDS LIKE a future mainstage staple at Bluesfest. It’s impossible to finish one of his tunes with a frown on your face; it’s the kind of stuff you’ll want to listen to in the morning to inspire yourself to have a good day.

YOU'LL DIG HIM IF YOU LIKE John Mayer, Tash Sultana and Dave Matthews. Gun keeps his sound tight and close to heart, his radiant acoustic fretting in the foreground as a jungle of instrumental idiosyncrasy unfurls behind him. The production is markedly unfettered, allowing Gun’s raw and rootsy spark to really own the spotlight.

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT his debut single “On My Way”, which bubbles and brews with breezy strums and bright, crackly percussion – a classy and dry saxophone riff bleeding in at just the right moments – before finally kicking over into a massive (and massively fun) climax. It’s the only original song he has out right now, but rest assured Gun is hard at work on plenty of jubilant jams for you to bounce your shoulders and bop your head to.

PAPER TAPIR

(Image credit: Rachel Brown)

THEY ARE a trio of gruff and grungy post-hardcore heroes from Melbourne who, in five short years, have built themselves up a the country’s absolutely must-see underground acts. 

THEY SOUND LIKE an abandoned Triple Crown Records sampler from 2001, left behind by a time traveller from an alternate dimension. Their cuts are battered and brash and decidedly lo-fi, but that’s exactly what their style beckons; it wouldn’t make any sense for these emotionally visceral scorchers to sound polished or pretty, and so every distorted wail, dusty snare hit and whistling whippet of reverb feels acutely indispensable.

YOU'LL DIG THEM IF YOU LIKE Sunny Day Real Estate, Brand New and the really early, never-intended-for-public-release Nirvana demos. If you’ve got some feels you’ve gotta let out, Paper Tapir’s edgy effervescence will guide you along in that journey.

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT the split EP they recently put out with fellow emo-punks Nova. At a scratch over six minutes long, “The Crown” shines with a loud and livid prickliness before twisting into a deep, droning interlude that’s sure to keep the listener gripped on the edge of their seat in anticipation of what comes next. Too, the brassy angst that drives “Frogg” is powerfully bewitching – especially when that meteoric solo crashes in.