Finnish duo Amnesia Scanner present their second LP, Tearless, a sonic reflection on how it feels to grapple with life in the Anthropocene amidst a pervasive awareness of humanity’s irreversible destruction of the earth. Described by the pair as a “breakup album with the planet”, Tearless is suffused with a prickly sense of unpredictability and a mood that has soured significantly since their ecstatic 2018 debut. Now, shadows of dissonance and impending doom hang over tracks which, full of distorted synths, blown-out beats and fractured melodies, feel burned out and overwhelmed at the sheer scale of the problem. Borrowing from the scraps of EDM, ambient, metal, industrial, emo, pop, dembow, techno and more, Amnesia Scanner throw these disparate genres together and contort the results into a twisted, squalling kind of club music. With tracks that morph into unpredictable new forms in real time, fusing moments of dread to moments of genuine beauty, Amnesia Scanner’s Tearless gives a new sound to the chaos and confusion of life right now.
Phoebe Bridgers defines the emotional gravity of her songwriting on her mesmeric second solo full-length, Punisher. Swapping the muted, hollowed-out acoustics of her debut for noisier, livelier and more expansive production choices, Punisher locates feeling in specificity. Rushing strings, horns, processed vocals and effects-laden guitars swirl around Phoebe’s murmuring, multi-tracked voice like a cataclysm opening up on the horizon as the Los Angeles singer-songwriter finds herself preoccupied with the same apocalyptic anxieties as the rest of the world. But Bridgers punctuates her downcast lyricism with bruised honesty, acerbic wit and a winking self-awareness that prevents her poignant, unfiltered observational style from feeling confessional or prophetic. Instead, she obsesses over the banal, fascinating and sometimes absurd details of heartbreak, loneliness and modern sadness. It’s these details which colour her increasingly multifaceted stories, making them feel not only lived in but endlessly relatable, seemingly about everything big and small at the same time. A track about touring in Japan becomes about impossible-to-wash-off feelings of imposter syndrome, while a tribute to her spiritual mentor Elliot Smith becomes about awkward fan run-ins at the bar. Punisher is an immense and potent record, the statement of an enduring songwriting and a singular lyrical talent that hones in on what makes Phoebe Bridgers’ music so special.
Cathartic and delirious, KiCk i is the fourth solo full-length from Venezualan producer and performance artist Arca. The first in a four-part series of records exploring individuation, KiCk i is the coronation of Arca as pop star, a revelatory statement from an artist who has already helped to shape some of the most thrilling, forward-thinking pop music of the past decade through her work with Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Björk, FKA twigs and more. Restless and messy, KiCk i is defined by its ceaseless sense of forward momentum and mutation, encompassing operatic balladry, apocalyptic reggaeton, bubblegum club-pop, crystalline ambient, gothic noise and more. Arca layers these styles, moods and genres atop one another in dizzying fashion, allowing her tracks to exist in a constant state of collapse and regeneration. Out of KiCk i’s formlessness comes the realisation that these disparate elements can coexist simultaneously and harmoniously within the one whole. On her fourth record, Arca presents the endlessly divergent sides of her self, personality and history as being in constant conversation with each other, a multitudional symphony. KiCk i is her chaotic celebration of all this, an invitation into her universe of becoming and manifestation.
Ziggy Ramo carves out his own space on his vital and eloquent debut album, Black Thoughts. Written in 2015 before being shelved due to fears of being misunderstood, Ramo’s first record arrived with little pre-advance notice, compelled by global Black and Indigenous Lives Matter movements to make something of his platform. Uncomfortable, confronting, profound and intensely personal, it carries with it the full weight of the world into which it’s born. Raised in Perth and Arnhem land and now based in Sydney, Black Thoughts distills Ramo’s experience of growing up Indigenous in Australia across 16 tracks of lyrical story-telling and jazz-inflected golden age hip hop. On his first full-length, he extols the oldest surviving culture on earth, canvases the history of racism in Australia, dismantles the systems that have oppressed First Nations peoples since invasion and examines how this entire history has manifested itself within his own life so far. Ramo’s pain, anger, heartache, exasperation and exhaustion are all palpable throughout Black Thoughts, but so too is his pride and resilience and optimism that First Nations people will continue to survive and prosper in spite of a world that would deny their existence. Ambitious and multifaceted, Black Thoughts is a lot of things: a potent monument to voice and presence, a diaristic piece of healing, an inedible exercise in listening, an incendiary conversation-starter, a seat at the table, an education.
Just Kids is the radiant debut full-length from Wollongong-based multi-instrumentalist and producer Stevan. Collecting material written between the ages of 16 and 19, Just Kids caps a meteoric year for the Illawarra songwriter, from debut single to first ever mixtape. Appropriately, the project reflects on the dual simplicity and complexity of adolescence, where the awkward and uncomfortable sit alongside the landmark and transformative in Stevan’s relatable, open-hearted vision of suburban teenagedom. Gliding between hip hop, R&B, indie rock and more, Stevan conjures woozy, multilayered soundscapes from the confines of his bedroom, blurring the lines of style and genre at every opportunity. Written, recorded and produced entirely by himself, the tracks on Just Kids blend classic songwriting structures with a crate-digging, collage-like sensibility and the genre-melting approach of contemporary musical auteurs. On his debut collection, Stevan announces the coming of an endlessly inventive and prodigious talent.
Run the Jewels return after the longest pause in their breathless career to date with their exhilarating and cathartic fourth album, RTJ4. The potent partnership of Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and New York producer-rapper EL-P, the two go toe to toe throughout their fourth record together, equally skilled at street-hardened shit talk and rousing, righteous call-to-arms as they are incisive political commentary and deeply sincere reflections on their own personal pain. As a producer, EL-P subsumes the duo’s reverence for lyrical rap and Golden Age hip hop within their dystopian, industrial wasteland, while continually finding new ways to balance his dissonant, noise-bombed production with glimmers of lightness and hope. Killer Mike, meanwhile, tears open the fault lines of a broken, deeply dysfunctional society, expounding on racist cops, systematic inequality, corporate capitalism, religion and much more. Fourth albums in, and nothing dilutes the rush of Run the Jewels: the towering levels of talent on display; the palpable friendship between Mike and EL-P; the razor-sharp economy and consistency; the thrill of watching two artists who are just really, really good at what they do. A brisk and brutal listen, RTJ4 once again proves why Run The Jewels are one of the most essential and charismatic rap duos ever.
A record compelled to speak with truth and poise, Nyaaringu is the debut full-length from Central Queensland singer-songwriter Miiesha. Compiling her previous singles and new material into one, her debut collection shows the fullness of her lush style, combining the gospel influences of her childhood with hip hop and spoken word poetry, the rich, velvety smoothness of 90s R&B and the fragmented electronica of her avant-pop contemporaries. Threaded through with quiet, poignant interludes from her grandmother, Nyaaringu draws on family, story-telling and the passing down of knowledge to chronicle Miiesha’s life as a proud Pitjantjatjara and Torres Strait Islander woman from the small community of Woorabinda to a rising star of Melbourne’s bustling music scene. Taking its title from the Pitjantjatjara word for “what happened”, Nyaaringu presents a vision of history that is in constant conversation with itself, past, present and future all informing one another. Across her ambitious debut, Miiesha speaks to themes of intergenerational trauma, selfhood, community, truth-telling, survival, mass incarceration, media portrayals of First Nations peoples and the ongoing realities of colonialism in Australia. In doing so, she establishes herself as one of Australian music’s most vital new voices.
Fervent, intense and crushing, Sydney duo Party Dozen stare deeper into the void of their abrasive industrial art-punk with their second record, Pray For Party Dozen. The improv-based musical partnership of saxophonist Kristy Tickle and Jonathan Boulet, Party Dozen build compositions that are utterly unhinged and technically mesmerising at the same time, with Boulet’s unrelenting breakneck drums clashing against Tickle’s visceral saxophone playing, mashed, processed guitars and sweeping synths. A vortex of animalistic energy, chaos gradually materialises into form on Party Dozen’s second LP before dissolving into anarchy once again. Overwhelming with their ability to suck everything in sight into their onslaught of sound, the duo shape-shift through a dizzying array of rock subgenres, from stoner doom, Krautrock, math rock, downtempo ambient and rave-ready electro-punk, never sure of what final form their tracks will take. Rhythmic, primal and energised by a frenzied confidence, Pray For Party Dozen carries you away with the devotion and zeal of a newly indoctrinated cult member, the mark of a group that sound unlike anyone else right now.
Moses Sumney defies boundaries and classification on his fearlessly bold second record, Græ. Across the sprawling, ambitious double LP, Sumney indulges in every whim of his singular musical palette, veering between visceral, avant-garde indie rock, orchestral jazz-pop, spiritual, folk-inflected soul, haunting, minimal electronica and spoken word. Elegant and antagonistic, his second full-length is energised by a defiant, audacious spirit, containing both ornate, maximalist bombast and sparse, shapeless reveries, carried always by Sumney’s angelic falsetto. Exploring the binaries that society imposes on individuals, Græ deconstructs and rejects ideas of gender, genre and race from within. Telling stories of heartbreak and how his individuality collides with a misunderstanding outside world, his second LP lyricism maps his journey from isolation to acceptance of his identity. Moses Sumney contains multitudes. He insists on his right to be seen in all of his polymorphic brilliance. And on Græ, he finds a musical language that embodies that complexity and moves beyond archaic binaries.
Melburnian left-field instrumental funk outfit Karate Boogaloo arrive with their debut full-length, Carn the Boogers. Recorded live-to-tape in the group’s Collingwood studio and entirely self-produced, Carn the Boogers captures the group’s unconventional cinematic, break-heavy interpretation of funk. Combining elements of library music, deep funk, gritty soul and instrumental hip hop, Karate Boogaloo’s debut is a lived-in record that balances tight musicianship with casual, impromptu chemistry, the foursome proving themselves equally adept at cutting through with their percussive precision and razor-sharp playing as they are at carrying you away across exploratory grooves and unorthodox arrangements. Named for the vehement catch-cry that’s developed amongst their loyal live fanbase, their debut collection of original arrangements follows on from a series of mixtapes that reworked well-known hip hop samples and 80’s anthems into their uniquely suburban, zany perspective of the funk genre. It’s this idiosyncratic sense of taste and style, along with the group’s ever-present off-kilter humour, that’s differentiated Karate Boogaloo amidst Melbourne’s burgeoning jazz and soul scenes. On Carn the Boogers, they remind us of the charms to be found in always bending the rules and colouring outside the lines.