Editor’s note: This is a sponsored article created in partnership with Visit Victoria, Australia’s home of live music.
Tash Sultana is one of the most enigmatic acts in Australia today. Ever since Sultana first blew up, we’ve all had our eyes peeled on what they’ll do next. Their career has been a constant notching of milestones and now they’re about to hit another: the MTV Unplugged stage.
Unplugged is hallowed ground for any artist, and gives fans the opportunity to see Tash deliver songs from their back catalogue in an entirely new, uniquely intimate way. Ahead of the performance, now felt like the perfect time for us to consider the 10 tracks that have defined their already illustrious career.
Artists sometimes spend years building towards their seminal song. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was on Queen’s fourth album, while Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” arrived almost 20 years into her career. For some, it comes a little sooner; “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the lead single on Nirvana’s second album. Only a handful of artists can say that their seminal song arrived ahead of their first album. Tash Sultana is one of those artists.
“Jungle” embodies everything that made audiences fall in love with Tash. Stretching to almost eight minutes in length, “Jungle” is a work of art. It starts with the opening, hazy chords, before layers of featherlight percussion and guitar strums weave into the track. Before you know it, Tash has built an entire universe of scorching, waxy alternative rock right before you.
It might not be as well known as “Jungle”, but “Notion” – the namesake track of the EP of which both it and “Jungle'' appear on – deserves similar praise. Where “Jungle” was a mystifying and raucous wonderland, “Notion” serves as its glistening, quieter counterpart. Tash’s voice here is so dreamy and ethereal that it’s almost hard to distinguish one word from the next, but that’s what draws the listener in. It’s a cleanse coming after an outpour of emotion and fragility – “Tell your mother, she don't understand / Tell your mother, she's not listening / Why don't you tear my heart / The chain is made of string”.
“Murder To The Mind”
Part smoky jazz bar, part sunburnt music festival, “Murder To The Mind” was Tash at their most creatively refined up until that point of their career. Each layer of “Murder To The Mind” is still distinct and clear – the jittery guitar, the breathless percussion, the warm brass and Tash’s voice, which fluctuates from woozy vocalisations to rapid-fire sing-raps.
Tash told triple j that “Mystik” was about “(trying) to just come back down and connect to myself and just be present, because when you're busy all the time you kind of get caught up in this whole mist and you forget to stop and be still.”
Perhaps that explains why “Mystik” feels like a throwback to Tash’s earliest work. It’s subdued yet evocative, muted yet mighty. And, still, an absolute waterfall of vulnerability and introspection.
“Electric Feel (triple j Like A Version)”
When Tash Sultana stepped in to cover MGMT’s mega-hit “Electric Feel” on triple j’s Like A Version, they didn’t just transform the track – they ripped it down to its bare skeleton, only to rebuild it meticulously and beautifully.
Coming in at almost 10 minutes in length, compared to the original length of just under four minutes, Tash took the song – both wildly popular and instantly recognisable – and made it completely their own.
“Can’t Buy Happiness”
Elegant, powerful and explosive, “Can’t Buy Happiness” marked a turn in Sultana’s trajectory because it saw them dive headfirst into a more traditional pop songwriting structure, doing so in their own distinctive, inimitable style. You’d be hard pressed to find another song with such a cathartic climax.
“Talk It Out” (with Matt Corby)
Tash Sultana and Matt Corby couldn’t have had more different pathways to stardom. Tash famously spent hours busking in the streets, transfixing ever-growing crowds with their DIY approach to music. Corby grew to be a household name while competing on a reality television show, before having to reinvent himself outside of the Australian Idol spotlight.
Still, both artists operate on the same wavelength and frequency, which is what makes “Talk It Out” so special. From the rich and chocolatey brass that opens the track, you know you’re about to be whisked away to a place of comfort and peace. Corby and Tash match each other perfectly, their voices intertwined, lacquering the song in silk and in magic.
“Talk It Out” also stands apart in Tash’s discography as it marked the first single they released with another artist. This foray into collaboration marked a huge turn for them as an artist, showing a new side to their creative prowess.
“Daydreaming” (with Milky Chance)
And while we’re on the topic of collaboration; this was gold.
The lead single in Tash’s second album, Terra Firma, “Pretty Lady”, has a reflexive, sprinting guitar style that had been mostly absent in Tash’s prior work. Sultana is normally known for strumming a chord and letting the notes simmer, reverberating through your ears and into your soul. While their music in 2020 and beyond is still just as penetrative, Tash flexes a more acrobatic style of musicianship now – likely assisted by their recent change to a live band performance style as opposed to appearing strictly solo. “Pretty Lady” marked a new era in Tash’s career, as they now have more room to move, freedom to grow, and space to flourish.
“Willow Tree” (with Jerome Farah)
So much of Tash’s work has been anchored in fearless dives into their own psyche. Tash has been unafraid to pull out whatever emotion they feel and paint it beautifully on a canvas for the world to connect with. But sometimes, their best work also comes when they’re having unabashed, unashamed, unrestricted fun. Perhaps it’s the stage of their life they’ve reached with Terra Firma. Perhaps the undeniable charisma of Jerome Farah brought it out of them here. Perhaps we’re completely misreading it. But, “Willow Tree” feels like one big party. The two melt together seamlessly, no longer appearing as two collaborators but as one powerful entity.
“Willow Tree” is a song about grounding yourself and appreciating what you have, and it must be gratifying for Tash Sultana to sit back and revel in the work they’ve produced and what they’ve achieved so far. Their discography is textured, meticulously layered and expansively complex, and thankfully Tash will be sharing lots of this incredible music with us on the MTV Unplugged stage in just a few weeks.
This article is sponsored by Visit Victoria, Australia’s home of live music. Visit Victoria is MTV Unplugged Melbourne’s exclusive partner. The piece was written by music contributor, Jackson Langford.
Tash Sultana’s exclusive MTV Unplugged Melbourne performance will take place on Tuesday, May 4. Nab a limited experience ticket to the event or stay tuned to watch the set later in the month with us. More details to come.