The Chats, Montaigne, Missy Higgins and more: Australia's best new music for February

Missy Higgins – Carry You

For fans of: Holly Throsby, James Taylor, the Whitlams

The final episode of Tim Minchin’s stunning new series, Upright, closes with a slow burning ballad penned by Minchin but starring the unmistakable voice of Missy Higgins. Although she didn’t write it, Carry You feels very much like a spiritual successor to Higgins’ 2004 gem The Special Two; just as resigned and heartbroken, but without the naivety of teen-dom. There’s dread and denial, love and lies. It’s a deeper relationship that seems to have been lost, carried by a more sturdy, solemn tune. If it wasn’t specifically written for her, it sounds like it should have been.

For more: Missy Higgins is touring Australia throughout February, and plays A Sunny Afternoon in Wollongong on 1 March

Cable Ties – Sandcastles

For fans of: Bikini Kill, the Buzzcocks, Camp Cope

There’s an undeniable truth in rock music: if you’ve got a good riff, hook or chorus then repeat, repeat, repeat. Pound that good thing into submission, then pound it some more. Sandcastles is crammed with this stuff, and Cable Ties aren’t afraid to parade them all in this four-minute punk assault. There’s the interplay between the driving bass and the scrappy chords; the yelping, riot grrrl vocals that slash angrily across the verses. And then there is the pure energy of the singalong chorus, with lyrics that slap down naysayers, gatekeepers and other malignant forces. This same energy will be thrown back at them by festival crowds through the summer, with a recent signing to US powerhouse Merge Records for a forthcoming album set to speed things up. After all, most good punk bands tend to speed up.

For more: Far Enough will be out 27 March. Cable Ties are touring Australia this month, America in March (including SXSW) and the UK in April

Australia's Cable Ties

Australian band Cable Ties. Photograph: Spike Vincent

Archie Roach – Tell Me Why

For fans of: Bob Dylan, Paul Kelly, Vika and Linda

Towards the end of 2019, Archie Roach scored his first ever Aria top ten debut with Tell Me Why, a collection of reimagined versions of songs from his hefty catalogue, with a couple of covers thrown in, published alongside his acclaimed memoir of the same name. The title track, originally from 1993’s Jamu Dreaming record, is presented here as a looser, more playful rendition. Roach’s soulful and gravelled vocal slides over a sparse, skipping backing, with Tiddas’ Sally Dastey joining in quite beautifully during the chorus. The driving acoustic instrumentation that commands the original is missing, as are the swelling yet distracting strings. The result is a grittier sounding yet more joyful recording.

For more: The album Tell Me Why is out now – or start with 1990’s Charcoal Lane and make your way through his career

Montaigne – Don’t Break Me

For fans of: Sia, Delta Goodrem, U2

This song has one of the most undeniable choruses of the year, an absolute belter that many hopefuls will try and fail to harness the power of in season after season of The Voice. But before we are treated to that, Montaigne dazzles us with some moody synths that sound like they were written for the trailer to a teen movie, and a low-key verse vocal that slowly builds in intensity. A short, percussive pre-chorus echoes out like she’s stomping up a stairwell, then we get that epic half-time chorus. Surely it’s only a matter of time before Montaigne starts hitting Sia-levels of fame.

The Jezebels frontwoman Hayley Mary

The Jezebels frontwoman Hayley Mary, whose debut EP is out this year. Photograph: I Oh You

Hayley Mary – Like A Woman Should

For fans of: Deborah Conway, Little Birdy, the Jezabels

There’s a type of sunny, powerful Australian pop song that existed on FM radio in the 90s which no longer finds itself too welcome amid codeine mumble-rap and self-conscious dance music. Hopefully this sterling new single from Jezabels vocalist Hayley Mary reverses the trend. A bright, jangly rhythm section plays second fiddle to a versatile vocal performance that echoes Katy Steele at her finest. Like A Woman Should is an earworm from start to finish, with gloriously warm guitar tones, clean and sparkling production and that same widescreen, whooshing feeling that all the best optimistic pop music conjures.

For more: Hayley Mary’s debut EP, The Piss, the Perfume, is out now

Alex the Astronaut – I Think You’re Great

For fans of: The DMA’s, Peter Bjorn and John, Foster the People

A baggy beat and chiming guitars propel Alex the Astronaut’s first single for 2020 into rare air, as syllables skip and positive platitudes prevail. Alexandra Lynn is so adept at writing pop songs that capture the rush of young love, friendship, confusion, sadness and all those messy situations that dominate your early 20s that it’s odd to think she is yet to release her debut album. “That’s a fun song,” she exclaims after the last notes ring out. She isn’t wrong.

For more: Alex the Astronaut will be at SXSW in March

#1 Dads – Freedom Fighter

For fans of: Augie March, Sarah Blasko, David Grey

The most mature of Tom Iansek’s many musical projects, which include Big Scary and No Mono, has one of the silliest names possible. But stately pianos and Iansek’s majestic voice make clear from the start that this is a song to take very seriously. Rather than slowly building the intensity of the backing track, Iansek ramps up the vocals, adding subtle but striking harmonies and doubling the piano melody to lift the tune. It’s an expert move, and one that stems from confidence in this song’s slow-burning charm. This is a mood piece first and foremost, and as the chorus jumps in suddenly one final time, like an encore you were about to yell for, you’ll find your finger already hovering over the “repeat” button.

For more: The new #1 Dads album, Golden Repair, will be out 6 March

Lenka – On My Side

For fans of: Joanna Newsom, Seeker Lover Keeper, Decoder Ring

After 15 years spent using songwriting as an emotional salve, Lenka Kripac – also an actor – was suddenly hit with a crippling bout of writer’s block. She went back to the basics, learning, dissecting and reinterpreting a varied batch of cover songs, which eventually led her back to writing originals again. One of these new gems, On My Side, is a wholly satisfying slice of chamber folk, with swelling, sweet vocals, gorgeous string-led instrumentation and a subtle slide guitar that swoops like a seagull. The whole thing is dreamy and lovely, with a middle eight that feels like diving into a sun-warmed ocean.

For more: Lenka is touring throughout March. Her twin EPs, Recover and Discover, will be out 14 and 28 February, respectively

Musician and actor Lenka

Australian musician and actor Lenka. Photograph: Skipalong Records

The Chats – The Clap

For fans of: The Ramones, Rancid, the Saints

How to follow up a breakneck punk song about eating schnitzels and chips at a pub – a song that landed in the Hottest 100 and was performed on morning TV? With a charming ode to venereal disease, of course. All the better if the chorus is a complete and shameless rip of the Go Gos’ We Got the Beat and the first verse opens with the charming Rodney Rude-referencing, “last week, pulled a root, in the back of my ute”. The drumming sounds like garbage cans, the guitars sound as rusty as the hinges on the aforementioned ute and there’s a reference to – ahem – “double-wrapping”. All in all, this is an excellent song.

For more: High Risk Behaviour, the Chats’ debut album, is out 27 March

Kingswood – Bittersweet

For fans of: The Killers, Queens of the Stone Age, Alice in Chains

Kingswood has cycled through many different incarnations throughout their career: Jet-styled rockers, sleaze merchants with an eye on the dancefloor, and anything else likely to prick the ears of radio programmers. This latest oil change is Kingswood’s slickest, as they settle into a doomy, sexy Queens of the Stone Age sound, with a haunting melodic vocal structure reminiscent of System of a Down, Black Sabbath or any other metal-inspired bands that flirt with “the devil’s interval” and its spooky cousins. This might not get them on radio, but it is the best they have ever sounded.

For more: Kingswood are touring nationally throughout March and April


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