Here we are! Another year (nearly) over, and countless world-class albums and songs have flown by. As I’ve done every year since I was sixteen, I’ve collected my favourite tracks of the year and counted them down in a list of the 100 very best.
Remember: It’s MY opinion, not YOURS. If you don’t see a song you like – or worse, if you see a song that you don’t – just remind yourself of that.
Now, without any further ado, let’s delve into part one of five….
100. Hoodie Allen feat. Chance the Rapper – Long Night
Alternative title: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Bro-Rap (But Were Too Afraid To Ask). The man born Steven Markowitz might not exactly be what you’d call a conscious rapper, but he delivers tracks like these with enough charm and wordplay that it’s much easier to forgive his flaws than, say, Asher Roth. Also of note is a guest verse from the severely overhyped Chance the Rapper, who surprisingly gets a pass with his verse – particularly when he offers his female counterpart the chance to “fuck in a Wendy’s bathroom.” Everything will be alright, indeed.
99. Against Me! – True Trans Soul Rebel (Acoustic)
The transformation of Against Me! lead singer Tom Gabel into Laura Jane Grace was the single most fascinating story of 2012 in rock music, bar none. On this acoustic teaser for 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, we are given our first proper insight into Laura’s struggles with identity. With barely more than a guitar guiding her words, we hear of regrets and distress delivered with palpable honesty. It resonates brilliantly in such a stripped-back format – and, admittedly, it doesn’t hurt that the track itself is catchy as anything that blew up pop radio this year. This is going to be a hell of an album. No question.
98. The John Steel Singers – Happy Before
2010 was a grand ol’ year for the Singers – releasing their debut album Tangalooma, opening for hometown heroes Powderfinger on their final tour and making major inroads on a global scale. As great as Australian music has been in the three years since, the band provided a certain je ne sai quoi that was sorely missed. All of the excitement that came with their arrival was matched with their triumphant return, perhaps best summed up by this track. Lush, airy harmonies take flight across guitar squiggle and fizzling synthesizer – it’s John Steel, Jim, but not as we know them.
97. Daughter – Still
The idea of post-rock instrumentation matched with indie-pop vocals is strange on paper and yet truly arresting when brought to life. Enter Daughter, one of the year’s biggest new arrivals, who offered up an arresting, breathily intimate portrait of lovers simultaneously closer and further away from one another than they have ever been before. It’s almost like eavesdropping on a conversation – hearing things that aren’t meant to be heard. If the bowed guitar or the thudding floor tom doesn’t give chills, Elena Tonra’s ASMR-friendly narration certainly will. Quiet is the new loud once again.
96. Junip – Your Life, Your Call
Although the third solo album from Jose Gonzalez remains ever elusive – perhaps the Swedish folk equivalent of Chinese Democracy – the first new album from Junip in three years proved to be a sufficient substitute. Here, Gonzalez trades in his typical flamenco style of guitar for a creaking earworm of a bassline; as well as his normally morose singing style for something unexpectedly upbeat. Junip has always allowed Jose to work his way out of his comfort zone, as well as what is expected of him. “Your Life, Your Call” is no different – as a matter of fact, it may be the finest example of this yet.
95. Worriers – Cruel Optimist
As one of the most underrated performers in punk rock, Lauren Denitzio has been releasing music for the past near-decade that’s twice as good as the majority of her contemporaries yet appreciated by half as many people as she deserves. This is unlikely to change with the release of the debut album from her new project, Worriers. Even so, if what you crave is sprightly, brisk pop-punk that’s bullshit-free and smarter than your average? Look no further. The title track of Cruel Optimist manages to perfectly sum up everything that is truly great about Denitzio and her work – her achievements thus far; and what is still to come.
94. Go Violets – Wanted
It’s less that Go Violets are really into the Go-Betweens and more that they pretty much live on 16 Lovers Lane, Tallulah. This is by no means a slight against them – the Forster/McLennan influence on what they do means they occupy a space within guitar pop that shakes off the trendy melancholy without sacrificing integrity. “Wanted” is their best effort to date – a lovelorn two-chord jangle that will break your heart before mending it through sweet, sweet melody by the time it’s all over. Grant, bless his heart, would have loved this so very much.
93. Cloud Control – Scar
Thankfully not a Missy Higgins cover, another honoured student from the class of 2010 returned this year with a more than excellent follow-up. Here, the former Blue Mountains residents played around with marching rhythms and some truly righteous keyboard work from the band’s secret weapon, Heidi Lenffer. The finished product was an up-market pop effort that dynamically ran a similar gauntlet to that of Sparkadia’s quiet-loud “China,” while also managing to maintain a grip of identity in no uncertain terms. Many happy returns.
92. Phoenix – Entertainment
To kick off their fifth album, the chart-topping Frenchmen headed east and replicated the sound of a traditional Chinese zither for what was, for many, the synth riff of the year. It took less than ten seconds to play out in full and would take the better part of 2013’s first half to get it out of your head. The best part was that it wasn’t even all that “Entertainment” had to offer – the stick-breaking drum fills, the chirping palm-mute guitar of the verses and Thomas Mars’ falsetto proved that the pop genius of Wolfgang Armadeus Phoenix was far from a fluke.
91. Charlie Parr – Badger
Duluth’s Charlie Parr has always been a fine storyteller – across over a decade’s worth of material, he’s rambled through the Great Depression, buried himself alive and retold countless murder ballads. On the centrepiece from his eleventh solo album, Barnswallow, Parr lightens the mood a little as he describes a scene from his youth in which a badger gets into the family yard. It’s delivered with a knowing grin and a surprising dash of poignancy. At a shade over 2 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome – it simply says what it has to say and then leaves. Sometimes, that’s all you need.
90. Paramore – Fast in My Car
Subtlety is so 2009 – on the big opener of the band’s monstrous self-titled LP, Paramore put all their cards on the table. Landing on top of a double-snare disco rhythm, Hayley Williams details the falling-out that saw the Farro brothers leave the fold in 2010; noting how it brought the band’s remaining members closer together. Was it worth the ordeal? Are you kidding? Listen to this track – it’s as celebratory and invigorating as you could possibly ask for. “We’re not looking for violence,” Williams calls out during the infectious chorus. “Tonight, we want to have fun.” Pretty sure that can be arranged.
89. The Smith Street Band – Bigger Than Us
It was a rough first half of the year for Wil, Lee, Fitzy and Chris. We nearly lost them during a national tour in which a good friend from The Bennies was attacked during a stop in Byron Bay. Thankfully, they came back with an agenda that was ambitious quite nearly to the point of revolutionary. When Wagner offers up a hook in the form of “Let’s start something bigger than us,” it’s safe to say it is delivered with the conviction of a man possessed. Having just wrapped a major North American tour, this may well be the feel-good story of the year in Australian music.
88. Justin Timberlake – TKO
Don’t call it a comeback. Actually, maybe you should – after seven years away from music-making, it felt so great to have the little Mouseketeer that could back in the picture. He essentially made 2013 his bitch, from a show-stealing Saturday Night Live to a show-stopping *NSYNC reunion at the VMAs. There was new music, too. Lots of it. Near the top of the litter was this cut from part 2 of The 20/20 Experience, a swagged-out Timbaland classic that bounces off the walls and smacks about listeners as roughly as the title may suggest.
87. Volcano Choir – Byegone
You can take the Bon Iver out of music, but you’ve got another thing coming if you try to take out the Justin Vernon. When he wasn’t busy singing the blues with The Shouting Matches this year, he was reassembling Volcano Choir for an exceptional second album. The sextet delivered a great exercise in restraint with “Byegone,” guiding the majority of the song with wafting keyboard ambience, a single guitar string and the lower ranges of Vernon’s multifaceted vocals. It makes the pay off – the piano scale, the arena-sized drums and the all-in vocals – all the more rewarding.
86. Wavves – Demon to Lean On
Somewhere in-between early Weezer, Nirvana’s discography and a bag full of sweet Mary Jane, Nathan Williams exists as Wavves. You don’t end up in Wavves territory if you’re after thought-provoking, boundary-pushing and genre-defying innovation. You end up there because, sometimes, you’re after the complete opposite – a comfort zone where, after loud guitars, everything else is a bonus. As the sneaker hits the distortion pedal and the chords of the chorus ring out, you’re a million miles away and screaming every last word. It’s a good place to be, and you’re welcome back anytime that you like.
85. Kings of Leon – Wait for Me
Telling people that Kings of Leon are still making great music post-“Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” is essentially a retelling of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. You’re not going to be believed – and, worse still, you’ll probably get eaten alive. Still, “Wait for Me” is one of the more sublime and understated moments of Mechanical Bull. The Followills each play to their strengths on this sombre plea for a relationship’s survival – particularly Caleb, who croons self-reservedly in a vain similar to that of “Knocked Up” from 2007’s Because of the Times. It’s a departure, sure; but it’s one worth braving the storm for.
84. Caves – ❤ Koala
The drums sound like they’re being played in a public bathroom. The bass sounds like it has radiation poisioning. The guitar has more fuzz on it than an episode of The Muppet Show. The vocals are pissed and defiant. Then, the organ comes in out of nowhere and takes the bloody thing to church. This choice cut from the Birmingham trio’s free second album Betterment was one of the year’s finest pop-punk creations – a complete mess; and yet somehow, not a foot out of place. Raise your beverage of choice and fuck anyone who’s too cool to go with it.
83. Paul McCartney – New
After the unfortunately-titled standards album, Kisses on the Bottom, it looked like we may have finally seen Macca trudging into his twilight years. No sooner had the dust settled, he was off jamming with the surviving members of Nirvana and recording new pop tunes with Mark Ronson. Yes, even at 71, Sir Paul still has a few surprises up his sleeve. Among them was the title track to his sixteenth(!) solo album – a strolling “Penny Lane” pastiche complete with harpsichord, tuba and even a charming doo-wop outro. Simply put, his best new song since God knows when.
82. Karnivool – We Are
Who knows how long Ian Kenny can keep this up? Simultaneously, he is working as one of the finest vocalists in Australian heavy music as well as one of Australian pop’s greatest irritants. This double life may be the death of him, especially with both projects releasing new albums this year. Still, at least he’s keeping up appearances where it counts – with its shuffling drum scatter, buzzing guitar and spectacular arrangements, “We Are” alone is better than all of Birds of Tokyo’s March Fires album combined. Keep your “Lanterns” – the Vooligans have all the fire they need right here.
81. Tired Pony – All Things All at Once
Sad bastards around the world rejoiced – well, as best as they could – when the union of Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck under the moniker Tired Pony was first announced. Three years on from their debut – and two since R.E.M. collapsed – we were treated to this blissful slice of Americana. Lamenting over steely slide guitar and earthy harmonies gave us one of Lightbody’s best vocal performances in years; while Buck applied his distinctive guitar style to an unplugged setting with marvellous results. No longer just for Snow Patrol or R.E.M. diehards, Tired Pony have graduated to essential listening.
Listen/download the podcast version of Part One here.
Check out Part Two here.