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Australian Guitar's Fresh Frets: Vol. 5

(Image credit: Ivan Souriyavong)

ROMAN TRAGEDY

THEY ARE the centremost sliver of gold in the venn diagram between A+ Twitter memes, loveable personalities, infectious ambition and equally bright and brash, fist-pump-worthy power-pop ebullience. Native to Sydney, but sure to make their major splash on the national circuit in no time, Josie Rizko [guitar] and Maz Boulougouris [vocals] revel in mind-numbingly catchy hooks, soundscapes stacked with jangly guitars and punchy drums, and downright explosive chrouses.

THEY SOUND LIKE the kind of act tame enough to be played over the PA at your local K-Mart, but edgy enough that you’ll find yourself in the middle of the homewares isle with your phone raised like a battle sword, trying to find a clear enough signal for your Shazam app to recognise – because there’s just no way you’ll be able to focus on picking the right scent of candle until you’ve followed your next favourite band on Spotify.

YOU'LL DIG THEM IF YOU LIKE Bleachers, Against The Current, The Killers, and dorky coming-of-age dramadies written by people you’re pretty sure have never even seen a real high school. 

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT the debut single “Bittersweet” – three minutes and 15 seconds of beautifully overdriven riffage, glassy keys and galvanised vocal melodies that are impossible not to melt into. With its spirit consistently upbeat and punchy, it’s a surefire pick-me-up for any morning commute or gym playlist.

GREATEST HITS

(Image credit: Gareth Owens)

THEY ARE everything great about Australia’s thriving indie-rock scene squeezed into the one bottle. It all makes sense when you find out this terrific trio hail from the Gold Coast – they make bright, bouncy tunes perfect for summer jaunts along the sand, ripened with ultra-sharp, ‘70s styled guitar lines hitting that perfect sweet spot between jangliness and fuzz.

THEY SOUND LIKE a relic of a better time – around ten months ago, when we were soaking in all the vibes at whatever summer festival would let us through the gates. They’re perfectly suited for a mid-arvo groove at something like Splendour The Grass; but until such a time is possible again, we recommend cranking up the car speakers, chucking on “Lemon Joe” and taking in the breeze.

YOU'LL DIG THEM IF YOU LIKE MGMT, Babe Rainbow and Tame Impala – but also getting up early, hitting the surf and topping it off with a shot of espresso and a cold shower, rather than a blunt and a bath. Their jams are a little more on the jovial side, suited better for a boogie than a swoon.

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT the back-to-back bangers on Greatest Hits’ debut EP, Volume One. As expected, it’s a total pain in the ass to find via search engine – but trust us, it’s well worth the effort. Between the summery strums of “Phil, Slow It Down”, the dizzy slow-burn of “Trying” and the soulful swagger of “One Afternoon”, this is 20 minutes of idyllic indie you won’t soon forget.

SOUTHEAST DESERT METAL

(Image credit: Oliver Eclipse)

THEY ARE Australia’s most remote crew of diehard shredheads, local to the outback town of Ltyntye Apurte (about 80km South of Alice Springs) but making their vicious and visceral spin on hard-rock heard all around the country. With strong ties to family, community and culture at their core, the quartet use their art to tell stories as powerful and authentic as their sound.

THEY SOUND LIKE what your tastebuds hear when you munch down on a big, juicy habenero pepper – pure, unrelenting spice in sonic form. The riffs at play are absolutely monstrous, Chris Wallace and Gavin Hayes tearing out serpentine soundscapes of unrelenting fury as if they were fighting off dragons with their fretboards. Add in Wallace’s captivating knack for narrative, and you’ve got a brutal brew of stories and shredding unlike anything you’ve ever heard before.

YOU'LL DIG THEM IF YOU LIKE Iron Maiden, AC/DC and Black Sabbath – their style is heavily rooted in the gruff and guttural heavy metal uprising that drove the ‘80s insane, with a distinct edge of modern flavours lingering in the breakdowns. 

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT 2018’s Break The Silence album, which is not only fantastic for how it weaves contemporary metal styles with elements of their Indigenous Australian culture, but also just for how crazily well all four of these legends gel when they jam out – the full-band dynamic on this record is next-level.

SHANNEN JAMES

(Image credit: Ellena Louise)

SHE IS a Melbourne-native singer-songwriter who’s virtually stolen our hearts in 2020. Triple J’s Declan Byrne said it best: “Shannen James isn’t just one to watch. She’s one whose songs you’d learn all the words to; one you’d get to the festival early to see; one who you’re convinced is singing about your life.”

SHE SOUNDS LIKE a total nightmare for a genre perfectionist. “Indie-rock” might be the easiest sticker to stamp her with, but James’ fill musical palate is much too dense and dynamic to quanitfy succinctly: littered throughout her catalogue are hits of warm folk, smoky soul and prickly pop, glittery psychedelica and punchy rock ‘n’ roll – each song is its own hand‑painted masterpiece with flecks of colour from all over the spectrum. We can’t begin to imagine what she’d do with a full album to work with.

YOU'LL DIG HER IF YOU LIKE HAIM, Gretta Ray and The 1975. The grace with which she ebbs and flows around a beat, Telecaster roaring in tandem with her rich, driving vocal melodies, is something words could never do justice. Just imagining how her tunes would translate to the stage has this scribe head‑to‑toe in goosebumps – here’s hoping she’s got a tour on the cards soon!

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT the explosively enigmatic Arrows EP, which just landed on Ivy Leage Records and crams a full spate of sly, summery sprightliness and powerful emotional poignancy into six inescapably catchy bops.  

DAVE THE BAND

(Image credit: Thom Mitchell)

THEY ARE three endearingly enthusiastic punk-rockers from Newcastle, keen to set the scene alight with their tirelessly spirited gems of tongue‑in–cheek vocal quips and six-string calamity.

THEY SOUND LIKE the soundtrack to a carefree Sunday arvo at the pub, loose and luminous with just a hint of solemnity looming under the skin. You won’t find any crazy time signature bends, key changes or technical nonsense in their three‑minute thrashers: Dave are all about tight, jammy hooks and catchy choruses that stick to their listeners’ ears like peanut butter to a pup’s chops.

YOU'LL DIG THEM IF YOU LIKE Kisschasy, Dune Rats and Joyce Manor. Noah Church belts his raw and relatable lyrics with an unapologetically thick Australian accent, the likes of which we saw come into mainstream prominence with bands like Luca Brasi and The Hard Aches. It works perfectly for the trio’s kinetic, backyard-ready liveliness – their songs demand to be chanted along to, tinny in one fist and the other raised high with pride.

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT the debut album Slob Stories, fresh out of the oven on Believe Records. It’s an adoringly animated 30-minute romp of 4/4 anarchy à la walloping overdrive and nods to classic pop-punk, laid down by none other than ‘90s rock legend Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, etc), who’s managed to capture Dave’s DIY spirit and industrious energy with vicious aplomb.

KEE'AHN

(Image credit: Naomi Lee Beveridge)

SHE IS a Kuku Yalanji, Jirrbal and Badu Island blueswoman with fingers that dance around her fretboard like ballerinas on an opera stage, and a singing voice that soars out into the distance, galvanic, warm and all kinds of enchanting. Her name (from the Wik people of Cape York) means to dance, sing and play – it’s without a doubt she lives up to the prodigy gifted to her.

SHE SOUNDS LIKE a hot cup of tea on a cold winter’s evening, the dewy haze of a morning drive through the mountains, or an umprompted text from a friend you’d been thinking about – Kee’ahn elicits pure euphoria with her rich and riveting musicality; her sound may be lowkey, but the vibe she wields is bloody enormous.

YOU'LL DIG HER IF YOU LIKE Nina Simone, Thelma Plum and Leon Bridges. She was also recently awarded the 2020 Archie Roach Foundation Award, so fans of the Mooroopna roots icon should absolutely see what she’s about.

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT her debut single “Better Things”, which simmers and sears with crystalline guitars, dusty and understated horns, and vocal harmonies that you’ll immeduately want to relive once the last notes buzz out. Once you’ve let the four-minute epic take over your body, track down the recording of Kee’ahn’s set from Delivered Live back in August: it is 25 minutes of the most beautiful and bewitching live blues you’ll ever see, every note she plucks and word she howls cutting deeper and deeper into the soul. 

HARPER BLOOM

(Image credit: Lisa Businovski)

SHE IS a beam of light, waterfall and scoop of ice cream in human form – the kind of storyteller you’d immediately want to become friends with after hearing one of her sprawling folk-pop reveries, and a songwriter whose knack for blending dance-pop attitudes with low-fi acoustic jamming is so fantastic you’d think she sold her soul for the skill.

SHE SOUNDS LIKE the next big name in Australian indie. Before even releasing enough songs to count on one hand, Bloom had caught the eye of industry heavyweights like Triple J, BIGSOUND and New World Artists... We’re betting on it now: by the end of 2021, she’ll have sold out a national theatre tour.

YOU'LL DIG HER IF YOU LIKE Alex The Astronaut, Ball Park Music and Angie McMahon, with an extra shot of coffee and a big drizzle of honey on top. In an interview with Tone Deaf, Bloom said she’d describe her music to her grandma as “Paul Kelly meets ELO” – a fair analysis if we’d ever seen one!

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT her first batch of inescapably upbeat and earwormish singles “Mary”, “Walk My Way” and “You’re The Music”, all three of which canter along with bright and bubbly guitars, glittery keys and booming vocal hooks. There’s an EP on the horizon – the pictorially titled Faith, Sex And Skin – which Bloom teamed up with renowned producer Benjamin McCarthy (G-Flip, Gordi, Alex the Astronaut) to lay down. 

HEY HARRIETT

(Image credit: Alexander Robertson)

THEY ARE five Adelaidian indie-rockers with spirits as high as they’ve cranked the volume knobs on their instruments. Their biggest tunes are bursting at the seams with authentic and infectious energy, but as proved by slower cuts like “Not Allowed” and mid-tempo head-boppers like “More”, their sonic arsenal is powerfully polychromatic and their chemistry impressively dynamic.

THEY SOUND LIKE the band 2020 needs: their art comes from the heart, all down-to-earth and bullshit free, but it’s also fun as hell and delightfully sprightly.

YOU'LL DIG THEM IF YOU LIKE San Cisco, The Beths and Last Dinosaurs. They downright master that millon-dollar blend of effervescent guitars and twirling vocals hooks – you can just as easily bop along to them on the dancefloor or sit back and get lost in their transcendental soundscapes. But however you choose to enjoy them, you’re guaranteed to enjoy them.

YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT last year’s debut EP Nipslip, which kicks off on a high note with the jaunty and jammy (and very aptly titled) “Honest”, before rolling listeners down a hill of sprightly pop and breezy folk vibes, all wrapped up in bright, noodly guitars and vocal melodies you’ll almost immediately find yourself singing along to (whether or not you actually know the words). Catch them live if you can, too – it feels truly special to watch these five loveable legends jam and gel as mates in the moment.