Ella Hooper – ‘To The Bone’

In one of the more satisfying cultural victories of the last few years, we seem to have finally decided that pop is no longer a dirty word. Critics unashamedly gush over some of the biggest commercial powerhouses of our era; indie bands sneak into the mainstream without finding themselves tarnished with that dreaded ‘sell-out’ slur; and economic and artistic success are becoming increasingly married.

So trust Ella Hooper, one of the most accomplished pop musicians this country has to offer, to inject a different kind of ‘dirty’ into her new single ‘To The Bone’. Opening with a knot of drawn-out moans and sultry saxophone squirts, it’s one of the most gleefully tactile, accomplished paeans to pleasure released this year.

Hooper knows the pop machine inside and out by now, making her a master at deconstructing the thing. An intro as sensitive and glistening as sweat-soaked skin gives way to a classical pop bridge, before Hooper gleefully combines the two; by its conclusion, the song seems fit to collapse under its own rich weight.

And, never satisfied with sticking to the status quo, Hooper fills the track with invigorating, near-obscene left turns; “come on,” goes her bubble gum and barbed wire voice, percussion fanning out behind her. “I’m ready.” This is a song that never stays still, from a songwriter who doesn’t either. It might be the best thing she’s ever put out.

Opening with a knot of drawn-out moans and sultry saxophone squirts, ‘To The Bone’ is one of the most gleefully tactile, accomplished paeans to pleasure released this year.

Little Ugly Girls – Little Ugly Girls

For something completely different – yet just as highly recommended – one would do well to check out the two decades in the making, self-titled masterpiece from Hobart punks Little Ugly Girls. A mainstay of the early -thousands, emerging as one of the most emotionally intelligent acts of the Tasmanian alternative scene, LUG never put out a full-length in their heyday. And yet, despite the delay, Little Ugly Girls feels thrillingly current. It’s not some dusty old relic, thrown messily into the spotlight; it’s a vicious little work of art, as cutting-edge as a barrel full of razor blades.

The key to the record is the way it insistently flirts with utter collapse without ever crossing that particular line. ‘Tractor’, which opens with a drum solo that sounds as though a kit has been kicked down a set of marble stairs, warbles between compact pop punk songwriting and total, unhinged catastrophe. Few acts in this country have exhibited such a commendable command of chaos; just as the chanted choruses, and dirty spears of feedback seem about to overwhelm, the band pull back from the precipice. Highlights include ‘Slip’, which starts mean and gets meaner, and the joyfully unkempt ‘Baggage’, but to be honest, the whole thing’s such a singularly accomplished feat that picking out highlights is like choosing particularly nice brushstrokes from the Mona Lisa. Listen to it.

Listen to ‘Tractor’ by Little Ugly Girls below

Phantastic Ferniture – Phantastic Ferniture

Here’s a thing: we tend to overvalue singularity in music. Records don’t have to be thesis statements; sometimes, they can draw a wonky line instead of a straight one. Case in point being Phantastic Ferniture’s aces debut record, a collection of songs that flirt with the raucous and the melancholy in equal measure. “I think still to this day when I listen to this record and the music we made, it doesn’t sound like any of us,” Julia Jacklin of Phan Fern told Tone Deaf recently. “This doesn’t sound like anything that we listen to.”

And she’s right. A far cry from Jacklin’s own unique folk-rock blend, the erudite songwriting of Liz Hughes, the production chops of Ryan K. Brennan, and the meaty bass stylings of original member Tom Stephens, the record sounds like a thousand things at once. ‘Fuckin ‘n’ Rollin’ stands out as the most focused track of the lot, but there are deeper, stranger pleasures on the record; ‘Bad Timing’ is a weighty, rollicking thing, perfectly offset by Jacklin’s melodic delivery, and ‘Gap Year’ boasts one of the catchiest choruses of the year so far. Don’t miss it.

Watch the video for ‘Gap Year’ by Phantastic Ferniture below

Deaf Wish – Lithium Zion

Finally to Lithium Zion, the new record from Melbourne punks Deaf Wish. Taking a similarly pluralistic view, the band churn through voices, styles, and tones; the deliciously straightforward ‘Easy’ melts into ‘FFS’, one of the most aggressively watertight singles the band have ever released. And even ‘Birthday’, arguably the strangest track on the album, has an efficiency of form; it builds to a climax so pointed you could sharpen knives with it. There’s not a note out of place; not a lyric wasted. It’s like a bullet that comes straight out the other side; a wound so clean it takes a little while before it starts to bleed.

Highlight Of The Month: Little Ugly Girls