The idea for this blog post came shortly after my fairly recent discovery (via Steven Hyden’s Minneapolis-based Celebration Rock podcast) of the Australian rock band Gang of Youths. With their catchy, who-wouldn’t-like-this? perfect little rock songs and a fully-formed image, it was initially surprising to me that I’d never caught wind of these dudes before.
Then I was reminded of the recent death of Gord Downie, lead singer of Canadian band the Tragically Hip. When he died last year, all of Canada (Prime Minister Trudeau included) grieved. Yet down here in the US, I’d estimate that roughly only 5% of Americans have even heard of this band, let alone are big enough fans to be upset when he died.
But ok, I get it – some Americans can be wildly self-centered and ignorant, thinking that if we didn’t create it, it must not be that great. That’s not a remarkable revelation for me to have, but it did make me wonder just how many great bands there are in the world who are huge in their home countries, but relatively unknown elsewhere. I mean, for every one AC/DC or Courtney Barnett who are able to get America’s attention, there must be a couple dozen other great Australian bands I’ve never heard of.
So, keeping my focus on the land down under (ugh god, I feel like Rizzo making fun of Sandy at the beginning of Grease), I reached out to a couple friends of mine—Brad, an Aussie, and his wife Meryl, an American who has spent a good deal of time in Australia—to see what else they recommend I check out. And to be quite honest, I stupidly thought this would be a quick and simple research project. But as they say, the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know anything at all.
Don’t worry though, I’m not going to give you a droning, endless seminar on the History of Australian Popular Music. I have, however, hand picked some great musical acts from the past decade or so that I think will give you a good starting point.
The Smith Street Band
(For fans of: Japandroids, Beach Slang)
You can definitely hear an Aussie accent in the vocals on The Smith Street Band’s catchy hit “Death to the Lads,” a song demanding the take-down of “lads.” It has a 90’s punk sound to me, and leads me to imagine that their live shows are all kinds of wild, crazy fun.
(FYI, the term “lad,” which I believe, once referred to any young man, has more recently taken on a similar connotation to “bro” here in the US. Just letting you know, in case you’re ever abroad and decide to ask a local the following: “I’m looking for a good pub, but not place where a bunch of lads would be hanging out. Any suggestions?”)
(For fans of: Rich vocals and expertly picked electric guitar)
While it should certainly be mentioned that Tash, a young woman from Melbourne, can play more than 20 different instruments, to me it’s actually her work on the guitar that is most remarkable. I mean, check out that pickin’ on her “live” bedroom recording of “Notion.” Her vocals can range from etherial to reggae, with all other kinds of flavors in between. And guess what, Americans?! You can see her live right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. this summer at Gov Ball in NYC!
(For fans of: The YYY’s)
It would be difficult to mention The Grates without drawing a bit of a comparison to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The Grates are an arty-rock trio with a dark-haired frontwoman who doesn’t sound entirely unlike Karen O. The Grates’ music is a bit more accessible and pop sounding though, with lead singer Patience Hodgson’s vocals occasionally reminding me of Kelly Clarkson. Don’t judge before listening though, there’s still plenty of edge with this great rock band. They’ve been releasing music for over 10 years now and have a catalog full of great tunes. I recommend starting with their 2011 hit, “Turn Me On.”
(For Fans of: Vampire Weekend, Passion Pit)
Hoo boy, is this a fun group! This merry band of white guys play a style of afropop music that often reminds me of Vampire Weekend and (I can’t entirely explain this, but) Peter Gabriel. It’s just really fun, enjoyable music. Hear it for yourself; check out “Find My Way.”
(For fans of: Courtney Barnett)
This last artist I actually learned about from Seth Meyers. Thanks, Seth! (Well, maybe I should thank Seth’s music booker instead…) There is perhaps no song quite as catchy and enjoyable in all of this new Australian music I’ve been listening to lately as “Lotto In Reverse.” Stick it on repeat for an hour and it’ll be just as good the first time you hear it as it will be on the 15th. (I’m serious. Try it.)
Rejected titles for this blog post:
Shrimp Record On the Barbie
You Call That a
The Kangaroo Bop
Men Musicians at Work