If you’ve spent any extended time at home recently, you may have grown weary of what’s on your playlists. To help guide your algorithms in another direction, we’ve selected 11 Australian and overseas bands, singer-songwriters and all-round musical polymaths that we think are worth adding to your personal jukebox.
Born in Ghana, raised in Canberra, 23-year-old Genesis Owusu is an artist who refuses to be pigeonholed. On Wit’ Da Team he’s a laid-back neo-soul crooner; on Don’t Need You he’s angry and defiant; and he plays with his falsetto over lurching beats on Gold Chains. In July 2021, he released Missing Molars, a deluxe version of his debut studio album, Smiling With No Teeth, featuring an additional five tracks of his brand of futuristic R’n’B. If you enjoy the hip-hop end of Owusu’s oeuvre, you’ll be happy to know he keeps it in the family; his brother is the gifted MC Citizen Kay.
Charlotte Day Wilson
Despite putting out her first solo EP in 2016, it’s taken until 2021 for Charlotte Day Wilson’s debut full-length Alpha to hit the download market. In that time, the Toronto singer-songwriter has become known for her tender soul ballads and goosebump-inducing vocals, as well as for her collaborations. In the past five years she’s recorded with Canadian experimental jazz group BADBADNOTGOOD, the Internet’s lead vocalist Syd Bennett, and producer Kaytranada (among others). Her solo songs are about heartbreak and yearning, reminding us of classic performers like Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick.
If you’re a fan of We Will Always Love You, last year’s album release from Aussie music legends the Avalanches, you’ll already be familiar with Cola Boyy – the charming vocalist whose sheer enthusiasm lights up We Go On. The Avalanches have since returned the favour by featuring on Don’t Forget Your Neighbourhood, the opening track from Cola Boyy’s first album, Prosthetic Boombox. The Australian group’s cut’n’paste eclecticism is a good match for Cola Boyy’s vibe: a 21st-century reimagining of disco with house and psychedelia. He writes songs about disability, activism and politics, which gives you pause for thought as well as making you want to dance.
English singer-songwriter, instrumentalist and producer Alfie Templeman has been releasing music for four years, and he’s only 18. The self-taught polymath grew up in an age of unlimited music on demand, where notions of genre and category are almost meaningless, and you can hear the influence. He’s just as likely to create a sugary disco-pop confection as he is to make an inward-looking indie track. He’s not new, but if he’s not on your rotation now’s the time to get ahead of your colleagues (even the ones you sit next to at home).
Post-punk band Dry Cleaning released introductory album New Long Leg in April 2021, but for the English quartet it’s always 1982. The band’s sound is an homage to the early ’80s – drum attack, wandering basslines, distorted, angular guitar sounds. What sets them apart is lead vocalist Florence Shaw’s deadpan lyrics; she speaks them rather than singing them. They’re like semi-lucid thoughts and unfinished ruminations (“Why don’t you want oven chips now?” for example). What could be gimmicky works to a tee for Shaw.
Anime-heads will smile in recognition of the name Vegeta as the home planet of Goku from Dragon Ball. Planet Vegeta, however, is a hip-hop three-piece from western Sydney that combines old-school R’n’B and Samoan influences to create a fresh take on Aussie rap. The trio – SVNO, LKGD and Jazz NOBODI – love playing around with samples and covers just as much as creating new tracks. This year’s release, the Letters to Chi-Chi EP, includes a song built around a sample of Ray Charles’s Georgia on My Mind, alongside original cuts.
Budjerah Slabb is a teenage singer-songwriter from the New South Wales-Queensland border and a proud Coodjinburra man from the Bundjalung nation. He was raised on classic soul and gospel, and this influence is clear in his music – a mature and melodious mix of pop and R’n’B that feels modern and timeless. Despite falling at the first hurdle in the 2019 series of The Voice, he attracted the attention of singer-songwriter Matt Corby, who worked with Budjerah on his self-titled debut EP, released earlier this year. He’s the kind of singer your parents would probably enjoy just as much as you, and we love him for that.
With her garish visuals and excitable titles (such as 2020 EP I’m Allergic to Dogs!), you’d think Remi Wolf had come to prominence with the sole aim of making anyone with lived experience of the 1990s feel ancient (ahem). However, the Californian former American Idol contestant makes the kind of bright and inventive pop that can be enjoyed by all ages. Wolf’s previous singles, particularly the raucous Photo ID, bring to mind some of the bouncier moments of Kiwi artist BENEE. The two were planning to tour together last year until the pandemic scuppered plans.
girl in red
The recent success of Billie Eilish, Lorde and beabadoobee means that introspective, brooding pop with a hint of early ’90s grunge is definitely in right now. The latest name to add in that category is 22-year-old Norwegian singer-songwriter Marie Ulven, who performs under the name of girl in red. Her debut album If I Could Make It Go Quiet was released in April this year and reached the Australian charts’ top 10. The record drew praise for its openness; songs like It Would Feel Like This and Hornylovesickmess show girl in red is an artist who’s unafraid to show her feelings. The track Serotonin, on high Triple J rotation, examines her relationship with intrusive thoughts. FINNEAS, better known as Billie Eilish’s brother, has a co-production credit on the album – world domination can’t be too far away.
Signed to West London record label Dirty Hit (alongside Wolf Alice, beabadoobee and the 1975), Japanese-British performer Rina Sawayama has been making waves in the UK. There was uproar when the singer-songwriter announced she was ineligible for the Brit and Mercury Awards due to a nationality clause (she’s lived in the UK since she was a child but does not have a British passport), which has since been changed in her favour. It’s likely you’ve heard XS – a 2020 hit from her debut album Sawayama – as she has the knack for blending R’n’B, indie, electronica and sometimes even nu metal and turning into radio-friendly pop. The song takes a tongue-in-cheek look at extreme consumerism with an earworm of a chorus – you’ll be singing its “Oh me, oh my” for days – and that crunching guitar riff wouldn’t sound out of place on a Limp Bizkit track.
Given Tones And I was discovered busking in Byron Bay, it’s no surprise we’re seeing others breaking through with a similar story. Teenage singer-songwriter MAY-A (Maya Cumming) spent her childhood between the Northern Rivers town and Sydney. Her songs – sunshine-radiating indie-pop laced with just a hint of sadness – sound like they’ve been Triple J staples for years, but MAY-A is only just at the beginning of her musical career. She signed with Sony in 2020 and has a handful of singles to her name, such as Swing of Things. Her debut EP Don’t Kiss Ur Friends is due for release on August 6.