Genesis Owusu, Missy Higgins, Kymie and more: Australia's best new music for December

Nathan Jolly and Guardian Australia
·9-min read

Missy Higgins – When the Machine Starts

For fans of: Something for Kate, Lorde, Clare Bowditch

Expectations have been the bane of Missy Higgins’ career. She announced herself as a “triangle trying to squeeze through a circle” on her first single, and was soon so overexposed that her management and label asked her to disappear for a while, wary of running her still-nascent career into the ground. Much was made of the writer’s block she suffered during the five-year gap between albums two and thre. The weight of expectation spilled into the single Everyone’s Waiting, which she followed up with a covers record, furthering the narrative that the well had run dry. Of course, art must unfold on its own timeline – and Higgins, like so many, has found inspiration in the pandemic. This gospel-infused song about wondering whether she’ll fall prey to the rush and push of “normal life” when life goes back to normal is a very relatable one. Over strident piano and solemn harmonies, she asks for reminders of her lockdown revelations, well aware that good intentions fade into the background as what is expected from you begins to take over again. If you let it.

For more: Missy last popped up on a Tim Minchin-written song Carry You which she recorded for his show Upright.

Genesis Owusu – The Other Black Dog

For fans of: Talking Heads, Devo, Odd Future

Every now and then a song from the early days of MTV will pop up on the Classic channel, and it will be so wonky and weird you’ll wonder how on Earth this was ever popular anywhere outside of an IBM tech demonstration. The Other Black Dog is one of these songs – seemingly beamed down to Earth from a space capsule piloted by the ghost of David Bowie, and fuelled by reams of old Aerobics Oz Style tape. As the distorted synth scales higher and the track accelerates, the song takes on a manic quality, with percussive breathing exercises, arrhythmic robotic palpitations, and Owusu’s booming, cartoonish voice keeping pace like a cardio instructor. It’s machinery that’s become sentient. It’s the end lap of Mario Kart when the music speeds up and your heart rate marches in line. It’s a weird, wonderful, experimental piece of art. Just don’t try to go to sleep to it.

For more: Genesis Owusu’s album Smiling With No Teeth is out 5 March. Until then, check out his Aria-nominated single Don’t Need You.

Dope Lemon – Kids Fallin’ In Love

For fans of: Michael McDonald, Neon Indian, Marvin Gaye

In case you haven’t cottoned on, Angus Stone is completely on his own trip. Never one to exude energy, his latest single is so relaxed he has seemingly melted into a Paddle pop puddle on the summer sidewalk. This shimmering slice of blue-eyed soul hits all the right pressure points. There’s a hypnagogic glaze over the track, and a strolling pace to match, with nods to defunct genres with silly names like chillwave and yacht rock. Stone’s vocal creeps in as if he is unaware the record button has been hit, a slight layer of static suggesting he is phoning in improvisations through a transistor radio. He adopts a Southern twang (which could also be a laconic Aussie drawl) and speak-sings most of the song, in a manner that conjures one-hit wonder Shawn Mullins’ Lullaby. “Oh baby baby, you got me going crazy,” he sings, as if it’s too hot to come up with a more lyrically dense chorus. But such simple platitudes make sense when soundtracking kids falling in love.

For more: Check out Dope Lemon’s 2019 album Smooth Big Cat.

Alex Lahey – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)

For fans of: Slade, Joan Jett, T-Rex

There’s a very pleasing new tradition of Australian indie acts releasing Christmas songs. In recent efforts by Courtney Barnett and Stella Donnelly, neither dwelt on the spiritual aspects of the holiday, preferring – like Lahey here – to offer up a more realistic rendering of the day: years of family resentments and long-buried feuds mixing with flowing wine and heatstroke like the combustible chemicals they are. Sonically, this song is all sleighbells, chugging glam guitars and echoes of T-Rex – or more fittingly, Slade’s perennial glam Xmas anthem Merry Christmas Everybody. Add this to the Christmas playlist, and bump off Baby, It’s Cold Outside while you’re at it.

For more: Listen to Lahey’s pandemic EP, Between the Kitchen and the Living Room

Bob Evans – Born Yesterday

For fans of: Lucinda Williams, Travelling Wilburys, M83

With this forthcoming record, Kevin Mitchell will have made more Bob Evans albums than Jebediah ones: a strange watermark for a solo career that began so informally that his stage name was taken from the restaurant chain T-shirt he happened to be wearing at the time. In the beginning, he leaned heavily on Bob Dylan pastiche, all drawl and nasal musings over simple acoustic pickery – but as he started “going electric” it became unclear where the delineation lay between his two projects. Born Yesterday leads off his sixth studio album, and sits unmistakably in the “adult contemporary” category, with lush, harmony-augmented choruses, Cyndi Lauper synths, and a peeling saxophone solo that would make Rob Lowe’s St Elmo’s Fire character insanely jealous. Top stuff.

For more: Bob Evans’ sixth album will be out early next year. To catch up, listen to his “best of”, Full Circle.

Ali Barter – Twisted Up

For fans of: Lily Allen, Weezer, Regina Spektor,

The guitars that drive Ali Barter’s first two albums have been relegated to supporting cast on this sugary single – Barter’s most pop-friendly melody to date – as she skips her way merrily through something approaching drug psychosis: finding God on the bathroom floor, eating early morning fries, threatening to shave her head, steal a car, and join a cult. The context will breeze by if you simply focus on the treacly production and Barter’s skipping stone melody – but the lyrics that lift this above the average pop tune will no doubt hamper its mainstream appeal. This song also boasts the sweetest rendering on a two-part harmony over the word “motherfucker” in musical history, so there’s that too.

Paul Kelly and Paul Grabowsky – You Broke A Beautiful Thing

For fans of: Cole Porter, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett

If Paul Kelly’s songs played in his beloved AFL, they would be the kind known as utility players: able to mix it up in any position on the field. Adaptable and eclectic. Malleable under pressure. His most recent album was a collaboration with pianist and composer Paul Grabowsky, and the pair pluck 11 such players from Kelly’s catalogue and wash them in blue light, strip them down, hand them a whiskey neat, and dress them in drinking jackets and bow ties. Sinatra was a touchpoint, and his ghost is certainly present in these airy recordings, with the pacing of Kelly’s vocals, the creak of the piano stool, and Grabowsky’s intimate arrangements. You Broke A Beautiful Thing was recorded during the album sessions but held back as a standalone single. First recorded by Renee Geyer in 1998, and buried on the second disc of Kelly’s 2004 album Ways and Means, this version should go down as the definitive take of a song draped in sorrow, expressed with a parental disappointment that stings harder than mere anger.

For more: Please Leave Your Light On contains 11 Kelly classics and a Cole Porter cover, all in this light jazzy style.

Bugs – Old Youth Feeling

For fans of: Klinger, Jebediah, the Fergusons

Old Youth Feeling is a rollercoaster. Starting at a breakneck pace and never slowing, this gleeful blast of powerpop sounds like it came out of Perth during the 90s, with water-tight hooks bouncing into each other, guitars that threaten to fall off the tracks, and the effortless in-the-pocket playing of a rock band who have shared more than a few hundred hungover hours practicing in dark rehearsal rooms. Lyrically, this song is not at all a celebration (despite the uptempo joy emanating from every note), detailing as it does a mid-life crisis in all its ugly infamy: bailing on the wife and children, cursing missed opportunities, dating sites, sex tourism, pills, aches, faltering knees and receding hair. Luckily, it’s hard to contemplate the slow march to death as you’re pogo dancing.

For more: Listen to previous single Can’t Get Enough.

Luca Brasi – Everytime You’re Here (I’m Gone)

For fans of: Kisschasey, the Get Up Kids, Tuesday

If ever there was an Australian band who were angling for a spot on the Tony Hawk Pro Skater soundtrack (with an option for inclusion in Seth Cohen’s Starter Pack), it’s Tasmania’s Luca Brasi. Over four solid albums of power punk, and countless hours on the road, Luca Brasi have built an enviable fanbase and tightened their skills to the point where they are unmissable live. On record, they translate all that energy without skimping on the production sheen – a tricky balance to get right but necessary in this genre. Everytime You’re Here (I’m Gone) is the fourth single from their upcoming fifth album, and perhaps their best yet. If you think pop punk is a genre best left in the bottom of your closet with your Vans, give this a listen. Then, get an eyebrow ring. You’ve earned it.

For more: Everything Is Tenuous is out in February.

Kymie and Kwame – Name

For fans of: the Weeknd, Drake, Jhené Aiko

Two of Australia’s most exciting young artists team up on a claustrophobic, machine-warped single, a song for the club that actually sounds like it has been locked out of said club and is now holding a glass up to the wall and listening in: distorted, distant beats, washes of synth, and a dreamy feel, as Kymie and Kwame’s top-shelf vocals dance across the track. Kwame handles production on this song, as he does on her entire EP, and it’s clear he has been studying the sonic playbook of Drake’s right-hand-man Noah “40” Shebib. Kymie explains the song is about “about the journey of two lovers who are conflicted by love and lust”. It’s a triumph of a track.

For more: Kymie’s EP Indecision, produced by Kwame, is out now.