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Song You Need to Know: Kirin J Callinan, ‘Young Drunk Driver’ (ft. Hubert Lenoir)

Callinan is as wonderfully peculiar as ever on his energetic new single

Song You Need to Know: Kirin J Callinan, 'Young Drunk Driver'


Hello, Mr. Kirin J Callinan, it’s been a minute – how are you? Still utterly individualistic? Still wonderfully peculiar?

The answer is, if “Young Drunk Driver” is anything to go by, a resounding yes. The divisive underground icon of Australian music is coming back with a new album, If I Could Sing, in 2023 – “sometime in the southern winter o 2023,” to use the artist’s own distinctive turn of phrase – and it’s been a long four years since its predecessor, Return to Center, was released.

But returning to the centre of anything isn’t something Callinan seems accustomed to doing. “Young Drunk Driver” is a puzzle of a song, barely unravelling its secrets, teasing and prodding with each listen. “Honestly, you’re so sexy / Young drunk driver,” he sings leeringly, seemingly parodying the overwrought ‘ride ’til we die’ spirit of some rock ‘n roll anthems.

As is always the case with Callinan, the song teeters – staggers – on the brink of preposterousness, yielding multiple readings, each one as ridiculous as the last. “Young Drunk Driver” can sound startlingly nihilistic (“Nothing happens very much / Nothing matters anymore”), perhaps Callinan’s endorsement of a philosophy for the times; it can also seem forcibly mischievous, maybe because Callinan – forever the exhibitionist – doesn’t know any other way of being. As Alex Cameron’s close collaborator Roy Molloy put it nicely in a press release, he’s a pendulum that swings recklessly between madness and delicate precision.”

The accompanying music video is – you guessed it – just as luridly silly. Thrillingly directed by Sydney filmmaker Ollie Birt, it features, at any given point, Callinan dancing merrily in a kilt, Callinan naked and oiled up to an alarming degree, and Callinan bringing flowers to a graveside beside a toppled car. The zany goings in the video more than match the disorientating dance rock production of the song.

But here’s the thing: in an era of music where algorithmic playlists and overhyped artists often feel like they’re stultifying the landscape, it’s invigorating to find a true original like Callinan still making his art as if nothing’s changed. Long may Australian music have artists like Callinan shaking things up.

Of course, Callinan hasn’t really gone anywhere. The multi-instrumentalist has collaborated with everyone from the Voidz to Mac DeMarco to “Young Drunk Driver” guest Hubert Lenoir to Genesis Owusu, who had Callinan feature on his acclaimed 2021 album, Smiling With No Teeth.

Before that “southern winter o 2023” arrives and Callinan releases his upcoming album on his own label, Worse Records, he can be found DJ’ing for acclaimed UK duo Jockstrap in Melbourne and Sydney in the coming weeks, as well as playing with Genesis Owusu and The Brisbane Symphony Orchestra in Brisbane.

Kirin J. Callinan’s “Young Drunk Driver” is out now.