Nothing Is A Solo Project is the long-awaited, shape-shifting debut record from Sydney producer Dro Carey. Traversing silky neo-soul, acid-inflected techno, UK Garage, euphoric, vocal-led house and more, Nothing Is A Solo Project is caught in a constant state of flux, an amorphous debut from a producer whose career has so far spanned countless releases and various artistic aliases. Seemingly allergic to categorisation, Eugene Ward brings this unfettered approach to his first full-length outing as Dro Carey, placing roaming ambient soundscapes up against collaborations featuring a carefully curated roster of underground singers. Dro Carey allows his debut LP to be guided by this surrounding network of collaborators, from engineers to audiences to feature artists and more, lending a wonderfully malleable and textural quality to the record. In the process, Nothing Is A Solo Project becomes a reminder of how our chosen communities always shape what we ourselves put out into the world.
From being whispered about as one of the country’s best lyricists to Australian hip hop’s breakout star of 2020, Tweed Heads rapper JK-47 solidifies his meteoric year with the release of his debut project, Made For This. Surrounded by a community of close-knit collaborators, JK delineates himself throughout his debut by resisting the contemporary lures of drill and trap production, instead chasing a more solemn and reflective tone of conscious rap informed by 90s Golden Era and Boom Bap, coloured by an atmosphere of searing vulnerability and his self-assured lyrical delivery. Speaking truth to his own experience, Made For This touches on JK’s recent fatherhood, generational trauma, deaths in custody, the larger purpose of his art and the ongoing injustices faced by Indigenous peoples. Healing, learning, being understood and finding identity as a First Nations man in Australia in 2020 are at the heart of JK-47’s debut full-length, a project that affirms his exponential promise and heralds the arrival of an enduring, dynamic artist.
Sevdaliza returns with her cryptic and angular second full-length Shabrang. Across her second LP, the Iranian-Dutch songwriter and producer moves her brand of electronic, avant-garde R&B beyond the notable trip hop influences of her 2017 debut. Tying together an omnivorous appetite for style and genre through the strength of her creative vision alone, she covers traditional Farsi ballads, apocalyptic club music, internet age alt-pop and more. Constructing sparse, avant-pop landscapes interspersed with skittish beats, icy synths and cavernous bass, Sevdaliza carries the record with her mournful, autotuned vocals. While Sevdaliza dresses Shabrang in musical minimalism, she places emotional maximalism at the centre of the album. Unyielding in her determination to authentically channel her rawest self into her art, Shabrang presents a series of lithe, existential meditations on good and evil, innocence and guilt, power and powerlessness, and the extremities of emotion. Heartrending, bruising and vulnerable, Shabrang asks each of us to look at ourselves with just a fraction of the incisiveness and self-interrogation as Sevdaliza does throughout her second LP
Sydney via Canberra auteur California Girls unveils his passionate second record, Beat Boy. Dense, confrontational and emotionally charged, Beat Boy drips with the blood, sweat and tears of sincerity, the heightened emotions of its music matched only by its lyrical content. An intimate portrayal of sex, performance, self and doubt, California Girls’ second LP takes a raw, subversively punk approach to the usually glossy tropes of pop, obsessing over how to navigate the real world, including feelings of imposterism, how to properly relate to others and how those interactions inform your sense of self. In the world of California Girls, lust reveals the deepest insecurities, vulnerability is exposed through intensity and the utopian ideals of the dancefloor are stripped bare by its strobe-lit dystopian realities. Working somewhere between genres, Beat Boy’s propulsive, hyperactive palette takes in brooding post-punk, dark, industrial synth-pop, digital balladry and licentious club music. Over frenetic percussion and throbbing electronics, California Girls’ icy vocals move from soaring autotune to sensuous moans to desperate yells to monotone drawl. Carried by this sense of fervor and emotion, Beat Boy is one of the most passionate records of 2020.
Adelaide’s Tkay Maidza redefines consistency and excellence on her superb latest project, Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2. The second in a planned trilogy that the Zimbabwe-Australian rapper has been using to expand her vision and dabble in multiple styles, the follow-up to 2018’s first instalment provides a glimpse of an artist refining their artistry in real time. With creativity and an abundance of imagination, Tkay treats Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 as her own stylistic playground, rejecting conventional hip hop forms for innovation and genre-crossing electricity. Armed with the freedom to create whatever she desires, she fleetingly swerves between guttural trap, trippy funk, nostalgic neo-soul and saccharine, future-facing pop, recalling the eclecticism and technicality of Missy Elliot as she habitually evades easy categorisation. Amid Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2’s smorgasbord of different sounds, Tkay Maidza carves out a lane of her own, finding a space where her unique combination of ambition, idiosyncrasy and pop acuity can flourish.
Exuberant and irresistible, Unity is the eleventh studio record from Gordon Koang. Displaced by the civil war in his home country of South Sudan, Unity is a document of Gordon’s six year wait as an asylum seeker in Australia, the first recorded in his adopted home. Over galloping beats and his jangling thom, Gordon draws on his life experiences, telling stories of community aid workers in South Sudan, fellow asylum seekers enduring the isolated, drawn-out wait for asylum in a foreign country and the harrowing realities of civil war through his spirited brand of pop. Imbued with the knowledge of the rifts people can create between themselves, Unity touches on both the darkest and most redeeming qualities of humanity, with Gordon’s messages of uplift, peace and hope winning out over the record’s more sombre moments. Jubilant and heartwarming, Unity presents Gordon Koang as a compelling ambassador for the unique powers of music.
Fontaines D.C. deliver a masterclass in atmospheric post-punk on their second full-length, A Hero’s Death. A little over a year since their incendiary, razor-sharp debut, the Dublin fivesome return a radically different prospect, a deliberate inversion of their former selves that is more disillusioned with the world but also softer, prettier and more subtle. Where Dogrel painted a Joycean portrait of the characters and stories that populate their hometown, A Hero’s Death looks inward, ruminating on the isolation and disorientation of their success, burning down preconceptions and puncturing the band’s own mythology in the process. Older, wiser and more haunted, Grian Chatten’s poetic lyrics go in search of life, identity and a place to belong, coloured by an outlook that teeters on an optimistic nihilism. Stark and grayscale, A Hero’s Death specialises in a sort of textural misery, with Fontaines D.C. unmooring themselves from traditional instruments to trade in impressionistic, moody layers, downcast guitars and hypnotic, droning rhythms. As the lyrics move towards the introspective, the rest of Fontaines D.C. move musically outwards, ranging from spectral balladry to disjointed art-punk and dreamy shoegaze. The result is a risky but rewarding second outing in which the Dublin five piece stake their claim to genuine greatness.
Sydney’s The Kid LAROI earns the title of prodigy on his debut mixtape, FUCK LOVE. Matching his meteoric rise from Waterloo to the forefront of new generation hip hop, LAROI suffuses FUCK LOVE with a newfound sense of artistic versatility and a firm command over his atmospheric emo trap-rap, garnering comparisons to luminaries such as Lil Peep, Lil Uzi Vert and his late mentor, Juice WRLD. With a level of nuance and emotional maturity seemingly beyond his years, the sixteen year old rapper turns heartbreak into hypnotic, tortured tracks that explore topics of adolescent angst, failing relationships and living with the grief of his best friend’s death. Laden with raw passion, LAROI’s tremoring, crooning autotune vocals shine over delicate guitars, heavy 808s and skittering hi-hats as the young artist increasingly grows into his voice and delivery. Relentlessly catchy, vulnerable and stylistically fully formed, FUCK LOVE exceeds the weighty expectations placed on The Kid LAROI’s debut full-length and emerges as a milestone release for Australian hip hop.
L-Fresh the Lion addresses his younger self on his deeply personal third studio full-length, SOUTH WEST. Centred around imagined conversations with a 13 year old incarnation of himself, the Sydney stalwart imparts lessons he wishes he knew when growing up. Channeling the likes of Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common, L-Fresh uses hip hop as a canvas to both untangle his own personal history and cultivate his political beliefs, infusing his conscious rap throughout his third record with stories of his experience as a second generation migrant living across two cultures while navigating the racism of Australian society. SOUTH WEST is an album which self-evidently lives its message out, as L-Fresh increasingly blurs the lines of activist, artist and community organiser, from the diversity of its musical makeup to the empowerment of its lyrics to its sense of uplift and pride in the area which birthed the record. On SOUTH WEST, L-Fresh details the continuing project of reconnecting with his Punjabi and Sikh heritage and cultural practices, opening up on his own processes of decolonisation on a record which is compelling, necessary and, above all, admirably honest.
Melbourne-based, Dunedin-born producer Vanessa Worm mystifies on her enthralling and idiosyncratic debut LP, Vanessa 77. Returning to esteemed Glaswegian label Optimo Music, Worm expands her creative horizons beyond the purely dance-oriented work of her earlier releases. Stitched together by her distinct, drawling vocals, Vanessa 77 bottles an anarchic melee of disparate styles, moving from twisted, texturally rich ambient to experimental folk, taut post-punk, cavernous industrial and euphoric dancefloor pop. Adhering to little sense of genre or convention, Vanessa Worm goes instead in search of pure expression on her debut record, willing to contort any sound into the shape she desires, anchoring Vanessa 77 around her guitar playing, which is at times drowsy, distorted, discordant, harmonious and alive. Created during a period of self-imposed isolation in the winter of 2019, Vanessa Worm’s debut is her attempt to impose her joys, fears, epiphanies, questions and everything she’s learnt about herself so far onto something everlasting. Along the way, Vanessa 77 captures the intriguing alchemy that comes with self-realisation and coming into your own.