Climbing the charts, breaking the Internet or just dominating our office stereos, we profile 10 of our favourite new artists.
By Darren Levin, Simon Vozick-Levinson, James Jennings, Rod Yates, Brittany Spanos, Reed Fischer, Marielle Anas and Daniel Findlay.
SOUNDS LIKE: The zeitgeist. Steamy Aussie R&B, with an ethereal vibe and ridiculously on-trend beats.
FOR FANS OF: Banks, the Kite String Tangle, and other multi-tasking millennials. She's as comfortable covering Drake as she is Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams".
WHY YOU SHOULD PAY ATTENTION: Eighteen-year-old Olivia McCarthy (pictured above) first caught our attention with "Captured", a track she put together for a school assignment and uploaded to Triple J Unearthed in 2014. It's since amassed more than 135,000 plays on Soundcloud. "I was actually going to uni to study medicine," says the Brisbane-born McCarthy, whose performance at this year's Bigsound was one of the most talked about of the conference. "But I deferred and decided to do music at the last minute, which was scary for my parents." Taking the moniker JOY. (her middle name), McCarthy has released two EPs, Stone and Ode, but she's also making her name as a producer, cooking up beats for Eminem collaborator M-Phazes, Nicole Millar and New Zealand singer Ruby Frost. She's since relocated to Sydney, putting together a live band featuring members of the recently defunct Papa vs Pretty.
SHE SAYS: "I really fucking love hip-hop. I feel like all I ever listen to is hip-hop... I'm not sure if I want to go down the hip-hop track myself, but maybe [I'll] get a bit more R&B at some stage. I'd love to do like six EPs with different vibes. But I love making hip-hop beats for other people. It's really fun working with rappers."
HEAR FOR YOURSELF: "About Us" from her recently released Ode EP shows off her prodigious talents as both a singer and a producer. [D.L.]
SOUNDS LIKE: Lo-fi teenage symphonies to the great unknown, with catchy hooks and strikingly personal lyrics.
FOR FANS OF: Leonard Cohen lyrics, Beach Boys harmonies, Guided by Voices production.
WHY YOU SHOULD PAY ATTENTION: Twenty-three-year-old Virginia native Will Toledo wrote most of the songs on the stunning Teens of Style in college, recording in his dorm whenever his roommates were out and uploading the results to Bandcamp. "It was just sort of explosions in the dark," he says. "I was always hoping that the stars would align and I would get on board with a label, but nothing really connected." That changed as his music slowly gained a diehard cult of young, web-savvy fans. This year, Matador Records took note: Toledo signed to the indie powerhouse, put together a new band and re-recorded his best songs for Teens of Style, released in Australia last month. Plus he’s already got enough material banked for a second album, Teens of Denial, due in 2016.
HE SAYS: "Times To Die", a sweeping meditation on religion and the meaning of life, developed from an early fragment titled "Fuck Merge Records", which Toledo wrote after he tried and failed to submit his music to the North Carolina label at age 19. "The chorus was 'No unsolicited demos, no unsolicited demos'," Toledo says with a sheepish grin. "Obviously I have a greater appreciation of why that’s a policy now, but I was just a kid at the time, and I wanted a place to send my demos."
HEAR FOR YOURSELF: "Something Soon" turns family drama into pulse-racing bedroom pop. [S.V.L.]
SOUNDS LIKE: Kate Bush time traveling to the year 3000 and returning with a spaceship full of synths and sexy, cinematic electro.
FOR FANS OF: Banks, FKA twigs, AlunaGeorge, Purity Ring.
WHY YOU SHOULD PAY ATTENTION: Arriving in Australia from the UK at the age of 10, Lowe discovered a passion for acting that led to an AFI nominated turn in 2009 drama Beautiful Kate and a recent role on supernatural TV series The Returned. The 25-year-old began writing songs at 15 with the aid of GarageBand, her debut EP of gothic electro-Americana arriving in 2013 under the moniker 'SOLO'. With the imminent release of a follow-up under her birth name, a move into live performance has now taken centre stage, including supports with Meg Mac and Montaigne.
SHE SAYS: "I've never done stage as an actress so performing live is a whole new thing for me. It's so weird just watching people watch you. But recently at a show in Melbourne I decided to stop thinking so much and just have fun with it. I guess there's still an element of performance when I'm on stage – I'm trying to pretend I'm really confident [laughs]. When I'm acting I'm hiding behind somebody else's vulnerabilities, but with my music it's just me out there – there's nowhere to hide."
HEAR FOR YOURSELF: "Understand", an unholy lovechild of Gary Numan, Feist and FKA twigs. [J.J.]
SOUNDS LIKE: Melancholy and the not-so-infinite-sadness; amidst swathes of cold synths are bursts of hope and melody.
FOR FANS OF: The National, Joy Division, Editors
WHY YOU SHOULD PAY ATTENTION: When City Calm Down released their Movements EP in 2012, they generated a groundswell of buzz thanks to Triple J-approved tracks such as "Pleasure & Consequence" and "Sense of Self". And then... nothing. The quartet withdrew from the live scene and became consumed by the idea of writing songs on computers, forgetting how to be a band in the process. "We'd taken away the skill that we had as a group of people," says keyboardist Sam Mullaly. "We're skilled at our instruments, not as computer operators." Adds frontman Jack Bourke, "We found the most obvious thing: as a band, we should play as a band." After months of false starts and aborted songs, the breakthrough came on a writing trip to Phillip Island in the middle of 2014, when the four-piece – which formed in Melbourne in 2008 – wrote three songs that would end up on their just-released debut album, In a Restless House. An album of sweeping melodies framed within an icy, synth-laden shell, it finds Bourke ruminating on the creeping responsibilities that face those heading into their late-twenties. "I think for our generation," he says, "understanding how to take on that responsibility is quite different, economically we're in a very different position to our parents. It's just trying to draw out the emotions of what a person might feel, looking at what's ahead. That's where the title came from – there's a structure around you but you don't really know what's going on with it."
THEY SAY: "I didn't think it would take us this long to make an album," says Mullaly. "The years just trickle away and you don't realise. You're kind of just working on it and that's a focus that's isolated from time, because it's so important. And then people say it's been seven years and you're like, 'It was?'"
HEAR FOR YOURSELF: Album highlight "Son". A church organ ushers in Bourke's baritone, before building into one giant earworm of a chorus. [R.Y.]
SOUNDS LIKE: A short, sharp, sonic kick to the face that will leave you humming their melodies while picking your teeth off the floor.
FOR FANS OF: Hole, Iggy Pop, Veruca Salt.
WHY YOU SHOULD PAY ATTENTION: Formed in Brisbane in 2012, Waax underwent myriad personnel changes before recently settling on their current line-up. In 2014 they picked up Triple J airplay for debut single "Wisdom Teeth", which led to shows with the Delta Riggs, Stonefield, UPSET and Guitarwolf. Their just-released debut EP, Holy Sick, encapsulates the band's knack for combining fuzzed-out punk riffing with Maria DeVita's wild-card vocals and an ear for hooks that stick. Live, DeVita is a force of nature.
THEY SAY: "A lot of the songs come from a place of anger, and I think that's very evident in the way we perform as well," says DeVita. "But then there's also a lot more of a vulnerable side to my writing. So there's these two different ideas, and the one common element between the two is probably hooks."
HEAR FOR YOURSELF: Holy Sick's dynamic and biting title-track – a future anthem in the making. [R.Y.]
SOUNDS LIKE: Mid-Nineties Manchester transplanted to modern day Newtown via Lower East Side New York.
FOR FANS OF: The Strokes, early Oasis, Tame Impala.
WHY YOU SHOULD PAY ATTENTION: Green Buzzard may have only played their first show last July – "I brought two beers out onstage and knocked them over immediately," laughs bassist Huw Farrell. "I was a wreck!" – but by that point they'd already scored a record deal with tastemaker label I Oh You (DMA's, Violent Soho), to whom vocalist Paddy Harrowsmith sent a series of demos last year. Harrowsmith, Farrell and drummer James West had been writing songs together since 2013, with the frontman conceiving the concept for the band prior to penning a single note of music. Taking their name loosely from the song "Buzzards of Green Hill" by Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, their debut Double A-side single, "Zoo Fly"/"Slow It Down Now", has been praised by local and international media alike – NME declared them their "Buzz Band of the Week" in June, and Q magazine premiered "Slow It Down Now" on their website.
THEY SAY: "There was a definite idea behind [the band]," says Harrowsmith. "The name came first, and the image behind it, it was pretty pre-meditated. That's why we took so long putting the first [song] out, I wanted to take my time with it, get a band together and then have a bunch of songs ready."
HEAR FOR YOURSELF: The melodic, psychedelic one-two punch of "Zoo Fly"/"Slow It Down Now". A new single, "Phantasy Girl", was also released in mid-October. [R.Y.]
SOUNDS LIKE: An immersive, emotional, trippy dance party.
FOR FANS OF: Björk, Kimbra, Blood Orange.
WHY YOU SHOULD PAY ATTENTION: Lorely Rodriguez, a.k.a. Empress Of, has solidified a reputation as an original electropop voice with her catchy, textured debut, Me. To make the LP, Rodriguez ditched New York City and lived in a friend's home in Mexico to write: "I just had to detach myself from regular life and just be so obsessed with writing it," she says. For the album, Rodriguez wrote, produced and played every instrument, with the exception of her vocals, which were recorded at the legendary Electric Lady Studios. "I wanted them to be really strong," she says. "I wanted someone to be there to pull performances out of me." The final product is as diverse as the music she grew up listening to – from Celia Cruz to Britney Spears to Björk.
SHE SAYS: "I really love how everyone is calling it a pop record. I don't really think of it as pop music but the fact that other people think of it as pop music makes me think that pop music can change into something that's a little more than the norm...
I made a record that I would want to hear even if I didn't make it. I think that there's a lot in there to take from that record about how people forget to love themselves, put themselves first and put themselves as the most important. I think Me reminds you, the listener, that they are the most important person in their life. Whatever shit you're going through is secondary to you."
HEAR FOR YOURSELF: "Water Water" shimmers and throbs like post-dubstep Kate Bush. [B.S.]
SOUNDS LIKE: A secret late-night Radiohead jam at Paisley Park.
FOR FANS OF: Miguel, D'Angelo, Janelle Monáe.
WHY YOU SHOULD PAY ATTENTION: Dig into the credits for Janelle Monáe's The ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady, and Roman GianArthur's imprint – a mix of influences ranging from Stevie Wonder to Ennio Morricone – reveals itself. A key member of Monáe's Warhol-esque Wondaland Arts Society, the formidable vocalist, producer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist dropped a swanky verse on Jidenna's viral "Classic Man" and helped sculpt this year's Wondaland Presents: The Eephus EP. Now GianArthur's sensitive rocker aura is finally front-and-centre on OK Lady, a six-song EP of Radiohead covers delivered through a D'Angelo filter. In 2012, GianArthur was learning the guitar via the video game Rocksmith, and the first song he mastered was "High and Dry". After a deep D'Angelo discussion with Wondaland bandmate Chuck Lightning, the idea to fuse the two artists' styles crystallised. His version of "High and Dry" is slowed down to a meditative crawl and pairs elegantly with patches of Voodoo's "Send It On".
HE SAYS: "Thom Yorke's falsetto, the way he sings, it has a soulful thing to it. It's a different kind of soul that I hadn't seen before – but I recognised it. The rhythm, man. You can hear it. You can listen to The King of Limbs and hear it really prominently. You can tell they understand something about how to move your body. It's not locked into the stereotypical rock pocket.
"The music I'm working on now is more like 'well' music. What water was D'Angelo drinking? What water was Radiohead drinking? What was Jimi Hendrix drinking? What water was James Brown drinking? The greatest artists, they pull from the same water. They don't just take from whoever was next in line. They go back to wherever the genesis was. That's what this is."
HEAR FOR YOURSELF: Monáe jumps into the mix for a "No Surprises" duet. [R.F.]
SOUNDS LIKE: If Wanda Jackson had been born in 1989, sandpaper growl and brazen lyrical sensibilities fiercely intact.
FOR FANS OF: Nikki Lane, ZZ Ward, Valerie June.
WHY YOU SHOULD PAY ATTENTION: She's the third woman to have a single reach Number One on the U.S. Alternative charts (following in the footsteps of Lorde and Tracy Bonham). The video for "Ex's & Oh's" – from her February debut Love Stuff – has racked up over five million views, she's cracked the U.S. Top 40 and her badass rockabilly antics made a fan out of Reese Witherspoon, who asked King to contribute a couple songs to the Hot Pursuit soundtrack. Producers Jeff Bhasker, Mark Ronson and Patrick Carney have all worked to harness her irresistible charm.
SHE SAYS: "I started with the guitar around 12 but didn't learn the banjo until I was about 18 or 19. Like most things in life, it started with a cute boy. He was playing a banjo, and I obsessed over it and taught myself how to play." Though full of Southern spit, King spent her early days performing at open mic nights around Williamsburg, Brooklyn. "I learned that you could get free beer, even if you're underage, if you're playing a show. So I started playing shows as often as I possibly could. I was 15!"
HEAR FOR YOURSELF: The foul-mouthed and wily "America's Sweetheart" is a pop-infused killer that epitomizes her sassy love-'em-and-leave-'em style: "They say I'm too loud for this town," she sings, "so I lit a match and burned it down." [M.A.]
SOUNDS LIKE: Distilled Midnight Oil, frozen in carbonite and revived as a synth-loving slam poet.
FOR FANS OF: The Herd, TZU, Omar Musa.
WHY YOU SHOULD PAY ATTENTION: A powerful live performer, Perth MC Mathas (AKA Tom Mathieson) is also a renaissance artist who works in a variety of mediums. He didn't just write the lyrically dense missives on second album Armwrestling Atlas, he also produced and mixed them, and painted the LP's artwork. Six years on from his debut full-length, each of the 13 tracks has been polished through years of live performance and his deliberate, often stentorian flow is cut with almost gentle crooning and the occasional guest spot. There's a distance to the sound at times, as if the perspective Mathieson writes from is off-planet, and there's a sci-fi sensibility to many of the layered synth-driven melodies. For all that, Armwrestling Atlas retains a red-dust West Australian style of storytelling and poses questions that are firmly rooted in the soil of Australian society. "Nourishment" is the song that perhaps embodies it best, exploring the chasm that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia through our relationship to food and native ingredients. "I do not know a single recipe, do not know an Elder to ask," Mathas laments on the track, distilling in a line the sense of loneliness and disconnection that is shot through the set.
HE SAYS: "I'm not in a rush to make people party, if you know what I mean? I think there are other people who do that really freakin' well and I'm not really sure if it's actually my place. Hopefully the album reflects a relatively dark undertone running all the way through it, with a little bit of optimism floating in the background. I'm proud of it as a body of work."
HEAR FOR YOURSELF: "Nourishment" featuring Abbe May is a great place to start, but "Free Shit" and "Stone Cold Sober" are also essential listening. [D.F.]
From issue #769 (December, 2015), available now.