Tame, Banoffee, 100 Gecs + more: 10 essential songs from 2020's first quarter
Despite everything that's been going on, the first quarter of the year has delivered career-best work by some of the best in the business.
A word that summarises 2020 better than any other in chaotic, and especially so when it comes to music.
The last three months have represented the highest of highs and the lowest of lows - often simultaneously - when it comes to music, both in Australia and internationally. As known to everyone, the music industry is currently suffering through one of its worst moments of crisis in history, with live music - the major source of income for almost every musician, and the teams that work behind them - completely obliterated, and forced to thrive online in the forms of re-hashed live performances and Instagram-hosted festivals, such as the ongoing Isol-Aid.
With this in mind, it'd make sense that the musical output around this time has been just as turbulent. The year started with highs: Tame Impala, just before taking out triple j's Hottest 100 of the decade, matched Currents with the electronic experimentalism of The Slow Rush; new records from Banoffee, Grimes and others proved that pop music was as forward-thinking as it's ever been; and in Australia, an exciting next-generation was quickly making themselves known, regardless of whether it be in hip-hop, indie, electronica, pop or elsewhere.
Then, things started to become a little chaotic. Some albums were released without a hitch - The Weeknd's new record After Hours arrived with the highest-selling debut week of the year - while others were brought forward (Dua Lipa's disco-tuned Future Nostalgia arrived unexpectedly, a week earlier than planned) and others pushed back (Lady Gaga's returning Chromatica no longer has a release date, while others have moved release dates in April and May back to this winter).
However, regardless of what's been happening in the music industry and the greater world, some incredible music has still arrived. Outside of those we're breaking down in a little more detail shortly, we've had Childish Gambino at his warping best with Algorhythm, Nicolas Jaar's Against All Logic flip a Beyoncé favourite into clunky electronica, Empress Of solidify her place as an alt-star with Give Me Another Chance, the rise of new faces like Phony Ppl and Max Leone, and Dixie Chicks did everything they had to do with their first song in god knows how long, Gaslighter.
In Australia, the momentum has been similar. Whether it's the deepening of Australia's homegrown hip-hop world through newcomers like Hoodzy or the increasing dominance of indie-rock (which seems to be adding new stars quicker than we can keep up), Australia's music world has been bustling at a previously unmatched pace, and even if the momentum is being slowed by the lack of live shows, it hasn't come through in terms of release-output (at least yet, anyway).
Here's we've put together a little guide to our favourite songs of the year so far, encapsulating 2020's first quarter - from January 1st to March 31st - and the chaotic, wild energy it's brought to us thus far. Dive into it below, and if there's anything we've missed, don't be afraid to let us know:
Banoffee - Count On You
One of the year's most spectacular pop records so far came from Banoffee, the Melbourne-based musician whose long-awaited debut album Look At Us Now Dad is an encapsulation of their identity and craft, the latter often pushed to its most experimental and left-field. The full record is an adventure that plucks features from Empress Of and Cupcakke and places them amongst fruitful moments of her own; many tracks being highlights of Australia's pop world with the Melbourne-born musician becoming somewhat of an Australian equivalent to names like Charli XCX.
Count On You, however, is a song that stands out in an album full of stand-outs. Co-produced alongside Yves Rothman and SOPHIE, Count On You spotlights Banoffee's versatility in electronic experimentalism, emphasising the metallic twangs characteristic of SOPHIE's work and using it as a backbone for her vocal flexibility, which rises and falls amongst the production's changing peaks. It's a journey worth taking, and an adventure perfect for those that want their music digestible, but still a little on the wild side.
For Fans Of: Charli XCX, Grimes, LIZ, HANA.
Tame Impala - Breathe Deeper
Kevin Parker's Tame Impala project is world-class, and definitely beyond the point of introduction. Tasked with following up the masterful, career-defining Currents is something that'd make the most confident musician squirm and while it came with delays and set-backs, Parker eventually got there, and flipped the Tame Impala project on its head in doing so. Comparative to Currents, The Slow Rush moved at a more electronic-textured pace, emphasising the synth backbone of his work and often, fleshing them out into moments of disco and sprawling electronica marked by Parker's characteristic perfectionism.
Much like Banoffee's album above, The Slow Rush was full of highlights. Breathe Deeper, however, is next level. It begins as a standard Tame Impala tune of-kinds; the psychedelic richness of Currents brought forward and modernised into a 2020 epic that leaps with a distinctly-flavoured groove. After a brief interlude, the track reaches fever pitch, using mannerisms of acid-house, techno and big-beat to transform itself into a club-ready, strobe-firing epic you'd expect from The Chemical Brothers or Justice, not a one-man-band from the heart of Fremantle's live music community.
For Fans Of: Justice, The Chemical Brothers, Boards Of Canada.
Rina Sawayama - Comme Des Garcons
Rina Sawayama is someone at the upper echelon of pop's experimental drive, and slowly, everyone is becoming to know it. The UK-based, Japanese-born musician initially emerged as a new face in euphoric bubblegum pop, with heavily-synthesised electronica forming an almost-otherworldly sound Sawayama took and ran with - something reflected on cult-adored singles like Cherry and Flicker, and had touches of amongst RINA, an eponymous debut EP that arrived back in 2017. In 2020, however, Rina Sawayama moved into the unexpected.
In the lead up to her new record this April, Rina Sawayama has found herself in pop's outer edges, with STFU! giving you whiplash thanks to its injection of blistering pop-punk, something that finds itself a home amongst much of SAWAYAMA, the forthcoming record. Comme Des Garcons presents an uplifting aftertaste to STFU!, taking the more conventional pop sounds that were teased across her earlier work and crafting a down-right brilliant track with it, one made even more brilliant thanks to a guest remix by Brazillian icon Pabllo Vittar.
For Fans Of: Dorian Electra, Kim Petras, Poppy, Danny L Harle.
Willaris. K - INDIFFERENT feat. Gordi
INDIFFERENT came with many gasps from Willaris. K fans, who didn't expect the Melbourne producer to move into the ambience of subtle, vocal-fronted electronica. It was an unforeseen pathway from the producer, who built himself a name through crafting high-energy, rushing moments of industrial techno and thick-armed electronica emphasising sweeping melodies and heaving, Jon Hopkins-worthy bass rhythms. In saying that, intricacy plays just as major of a place in Willaris. K's music; the heaviness of some of his most maximalist work often contrasted with shimmering, piano-rich interludes more on the ambient side of the scale.
On a surface level, INDIFFERENT plucks the indulgent ambience amongst Willaris. K's work and stretches it out into a full-length single, enlisting Gordi for the process. It's soft and subtle, with Willaris. K's slow-burning synth melodies from a perfect underlay for Gordi's warm, comforting vocal to swerve in and out of, as always at its best. Deeper, INDIFFERENT is a sonic shift built to open new doors with new beginnings, marking Willaris. K's first work featuring a guest vocalist and with it, a smash-out-of-the-park that comes with the hope of more to come.
For Fans Of: The XX, Kllo, FKA Twigs, Four Tet.
SUPEREGO - O.B.S. (Outer Body Stranger) feat. Sampa The Great
SUPEREGO have come a long, long way over the years. Once known as POW!Negro, the Fremantle-based outfit initially emerged as a collective on the outer edges of alternative hip-hop, channelling the left-field experimentalism of acts like Death Grips and JPEGMafia but in a different way to many others, often electing to intertwine this experimentalism with mannerisms and textures plucked from soothing jazz and rich soul; a melting pot of influences and sounds creating SUPEREGO's many flavours.
O.B.S. takes them to a new level, however. Taken from their just-released Nautilus EP, O.B.S. captures the richness of SUPEREGO and the different identities within the group, enlisting hip-hop powerhouse Sampa The Great - someone who has become a defining name of Australian hip-hop within the last twelve months - for a message on identity and self-reflection that's amongst the best Australian hip-hop in recent memory. It's a near-spiritual affair, and after the shattering boldness of tracks that sit elsewhere in the EP, O.B.S. is a powerful relief.
For Fans Of: Solange, Flying Lotus, King Krule, Kaiit.
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Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers - Desk Chair
Canberra group Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers may not have been on your radar at the start of this year, but they definitely should be now. Over the last twelve months, the Canberra-based group have emerged as an exciting new light in blistering indie-rock, with a pair of singles last year - I Like That You Like That and See You In A Bit (I Still Care) - seeing the group blossom into cult-favourites, preluding a main-stage slot at Falls Festival that'd extend their reach to a greater, national audience.
Their first single for 2020, Desk Chair, is something special. It captures the energy and passion of the Canberra teens and what they bring to music that no-one else, channelling a sense of angst and frustrations through powerful indie and soaring vocal hooks that are amongst indie's best, and not just in Australia. Their music guides us through the strange complexities of adolescence and growing up, and although that may have been a long time ago for some of us, tracks like Desk Chair bring us right back - and that's the power of Teen Jesus.
For Fans Of: Moaning Lisa, CLEWS, Spacey Jane.
100 gecs - Ringtone (Remix) feat. Rico Nasty, Charli XCX and Kero Kero Bonito
In 2020, music is getting weird. Over the last year, we've seen increasing popularity in artists that aren't afraid to break boundaries and get weird in the process, and in turn, it's seen an exciting next-generation step up to keep this continuing in the future. Cross-country US duo 100 gecs know all about this, with their cult-favourite album 1000 gecs proving an unexpected favourite thanks to its hard-hitting and aggressive combination of everything from dubstep to nu-metal to pop to god-knows-whatelse finds itself in 1000 gecs blink-and-you-miss-it brilliance.
Throughout 2020, 100 gecs are slowly drip-feeding the remix accompaniment to 1000 gecs, which has already seen artists like Injury Reserve and AG Cook step up to take tracks from the album and give them new forms. Ringtone, however, is on an entirely different level, taking three artists that showcase very different sounds of music's left-of-centre - rapper Rico Nasty, pop experimentalist Charli XCX, non-confirming London pop trio Kero Kero Bonito - and mastering them above a refined production. It's a collaboration that doesn't make too much sense on paper, but it works perfectly - and that's what 100 gecs are all about.
For Fans Of: JPEGMafia, SOPHIE, Iglooghost, Caroline Polachek.
Cry Club - Obvious
Cry Club are a duo quickly becoming something special to Australia's music world. Since emerging with their bratty break-out single Walk Away, the Melbourne-via-Wollongong pairing have become an explosive source of trend-making alt-pop, whether it's through the powerful command of Heather Riley on DFTM (which feels particularly pronounced now, considering everything going on), right through to the songs that teeter on the edge of full-blown pop, like the colourful Two Hearts.
Obvious, their first single for 2020, sits somewhere between Cry Club's many sides, and shows them at their best. It moves with the pace and energy of some of Cry Club's heavier work, but is distinctly within the more pop-flavoured side of their discography, feeling almost like an end-credits teenage coming-of-age film soundtrack with the way its twists and turns. That's the beauty of Cry Club, though: they're difficult to place, and their sound could sit in so many different scenes and settings, but regardless of what they do, you always know it's going to be great.
For Fans Of: Japanese Wallpaper, Thelma Plum, Cub Sport.
Northeast Party House - Lose Control
To say that Northeast Party House would put out the year's best local dance record would be somewhat unexpected, but it wouldn't be a complete surprise. Over the years, the six-strong ensemble have become specialised in bright-lit indie-electronica, using live instrumentation as a backbone for electronic exploration and hand-gripping vocals. Their live show, however, moves at a somewhat different pace, full of highs and moments of unexpected heaviness that make them a go-to favourite as a live electronic group, and something that heavily inspired the changing textures of their new record, Shelf Life.
Worked on alongside The Presets' Kim Moyes, Lose Control is the album's peak, both in terms of quality and pace. It's a spiralling descent into full-blown blog-house chaos, taking nods from the indie-electronica boom of the mid-00s and pairing it with nostalgia for acid-house and 90s techno in a masterclass of production. It's still distinctly Northeast Party House - there are certain grooves and flavours amongst Lose Control that would be difficult to find anywhere else - but it's a step backwards into the past that feels all the more forward, if that makes sense.
For Fans Of: The Presets, Van She, Cut Copy, Midnight Juggernauts.
Christine and the Queens - La Vita Nuova feat. Caroline Polachek
After the success of her record Chris in 2018, you knew that whatever French pop mastermind Christine and the Queens would eventually follow it up with would have to be amazing. La vita nuova gave us more than we were expecting, however, with Christine - armed with her intricate storytelling skills - guiding us through a novel of crushing heartbreak with a five-track EP (six, if you count I disappear in your arms, which is an English version of Je disparais dans tes bras earlier on in the EP) and a short film starring Christine front and centre.
The full EP is remarkable, but its title track is a highlight. Featuring Chairlift's Caroline Polachek - whose record Pang last year was an end-of-year favourite - La vita nuova is proof that there's a plentiful pop market outside the English language, something becoming more evident as pop music becomes more inclusive and supportive in the new decade. Switching between French and English, Christine and the Queens is world-class as always, and Polachek's injection of Italian gives the track a trilingual edge that's likely to be a stand-out come end of year.
For Fans Of: Empress Of, Tei Shi, HAIM, Robyn.
For more great music - and to keep an eye on the tracks which may be highlights come the end of the year - dive into our Spotify Playlist below: