10 Essential Australian Bands You Haven’t Heard

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Australia: it’s not just throwing another shrimp on the barbie while you crack another cold beer, y’know. The land down under is also home to a heap of excellent music that doesn’t always make it to American shores. Melbourne, in particular, houses a thriving indie scene, but there’s a surfeit of quality acts from across the country who’ve had little or no exposure beyond their native land. In hopes of adding some Australian flavor to your playlist, we’ve highlighted ten such artists, musicians who have wildly divergent sounds but share a common aesthetic: exploring the endless possibilities of song and sound.

1. Beaches

This all-girl five-piece toured the USA earlier this year, playing SXSW and a string of dates across the country. Beaches sound like their name: their songs are slow-building breakers of noise and feedback, built around motorik beats and pounding basslines. They’re a supergroup of sorts — various members also feature in the mighty Love of Diagrams, Spider Vomit, and Panel of Judges — and their music deftly treads a line between freeform jamming and pop sensibilities. Incidentally, the video for this song (“Hoedown”), was made by multi-talented bassist Gill Tucker.

2. St Helens

There were few better records released last year by anyone, anywhere, than Melbourne group St Helens’ debut album Heavy Profession. The band’s songs are sneering meditations on love and life, the album a brooding, wounded masterpiece. Dual vocalists Hannah Brooks and Jarrrod Quarrell sing in identical registers rather than harmonizing, creating a boy-girl double-tracking effect that’s both intoxicating and curiously disconcerting — both adjectives that can be applied to their sound as a whole.

3. Children of the Wave

Comprising a folk musician and a music writer with a background in noise bands, this duo’s influences combine to create warm, gentle psych-folk sounds. Live, they’re quite a spectacle — they wear matching white robes and play everything from glockenspiel and oboe to food wrappers and a toy dinosaur. Their debut album Carapace came out a couple of years back on excellent local label Sensory Projects and is the perfect soundtrack to a trip out of the city to get back to nature — particularly if you “stumble” across some mushrooms.

4. Erasers

This duo hails from the Western Australian capital of Perth. The city is one of the most isolated on the globe, and Erasers’ music sounds like a world of its own. The ingredients are simple: droning synths, a drum machine, and unadorned female vocals — and the result is gentle and dream-like, a warm sound that evokes endless summer days and empty landscapes. The band is a relatively new project — so new, in fact, that there’s nothing on YouTube to embed here! But click on through to their MySpace to have a listen. They’ve just released a 7” via their own label, and some copies should be winging their way to the US sooner rather than later.

5. HTRK

Ex-pats HTRK hail from Melbourne but have been based in London for the last couple of years, recording and releasing their debut record Marry Me Tonight (produced by the late and great Rowland S. Howard) via UK label Blast First Petite. Their music is simultaneously blank and groove-laden, atonal and pop-flavored, menacing and danceable. Tragically, bassist Sean Stewart took his own life earlier this year; the two remaining band members plan to release an album of new material (containing his basslines) later this year.

6. Naked On The Vague

Sydney is kinda Australia’s equivalent to LA: a glitzy, seaside city that’s home to the country’s TV and film industries. Naked On The Vague’s music tears away the gleaming faced to expose a roiling discontent. The band’s sound is brutal and minimal, all atonal keyboard sounds and punishing percussion. In Australia they’re signed to Sydney experimental label Dual Plover (also home to people like Justice Yeldham, a man who makes a living playing a piece of glass); they’re released in the U.S. via Siltbreeze. Their next project is apparently a film, which will be entitled Twelve Dark Noons and promises to be a “psychedelic movie for the apocalypse in twelve chapters.” Eeep.

7. Rat vs. Possum

Like Brooklyn, Melbourne is home to a burgeoning psych-pop scene, and Rat vs. Possum are its de facto flag-bearers. Their songs are percussion-heavy, based around faux-tribal drumming (all five members occasionally drum simultaneously), and eschew traditional verse-chorus structures for a freeform approach that’s experimental but grounded in pop sensibilities. Their work recalls early Gang Gang Dance and Animal Collective but has a hypercolor exuberance all its own. And the song we’ve embedded above (“Pills”) features one of the great choruses of recent times: “I think I love you/But it might just be the pills.”

8. Darren Sylvester

Already a well-known fine art photographer and visual artist, Darren Sylvester made his debut album as a companion piece for his video piece I Was the Last in The Carpenters’ Garden. The record was originally only sold on red vinyl at the exhibition, but happily for the rest of the world, it caught the attention of Melbourne label Unstable Ape and a proper release soon followed. Sylvester’s music echoes the plastic unreality of his photographs, a brushed steel ‘80s MOR veneer set over subject matter that’s sensitive and heartfelt.

9. Seekae

Seekae’s name references classic ‘90s computer game Commander Keen, and their debut album, released by Sydney indie label Rice Is Nice, goes by the memorable name The Sound of Trees Falling on People. Their music isn’t as abrasive as the title might suggest — it’s atmospheric and melodic bedroom laptop electronica, reminiscent of bands like Boards of Canada.

10. The Sun Blindness

Drawing inspiration from the sounds of pioneers like the 13th Floor Elevators, The Sun Blindness reclaim psychedelic rock from the clutches of tedious hippies and Syd Barrett. Their music is tripped-out and atmospheric, with a lightness that comes from the fact that it largely avoids distortion, using acoustic guitars and lots of multi-layered delay textures. Hyper-talented guitarist Tor Larsen also plays in psych-scene stalwarts The Sand Pebbles, whose albums are released in the U.S. via Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips’ label Double Feature Records.