“We’re at the halfway point! Doing great so far!”
“‘We’? What’s all this ‘we’? I’m the one doing all the hard work!”
“Break time’s over – here we goooooo!”
60. Courtney Barnett – Dead Fox
On the occasions that Courtney Barnett does sit and think, she’s got a lot on her mind: The persuasive nature of a lover. The flora and fauna of her immediate surroundings. A truck driver bumper sticker warning that becomes one of the year’s most simply-sweet pop choruses. She’s just watching the world go by and letting her stream of conscience guide her meek but acute observations – not least of which is the gently-devastating suggestion we “mull over culling cars instead of sharks.” However brisk, “Dead Fox” gives listeners a lot to think about and a lot to talk about.
59. Georgia Maq – Mulder It’s Me (Something Terrible’s Happened)
Although the X Files reference is ultimately as apposite to the song as The Simpsons reference was to “What Do You Mean (The Bank’s Out of Money)” – i.e. not very – it’s worth bringing it around to the fact that Georgia Maq wants to believe. She’s drawn to the good in people even when they’re at their worst and she finds truth when surrounded by bullshit. When she drops the bombshell of the final line – a nod to Joan Osborne as much as it is to religious hypocrisy – you’ll want to believe, too. Truth’s out there, y’know.
58. Dan Mangan + Blacksmith – Offred
Once a whimsical, heart-on-sleeve acoustic troubadour, Dan Mangan sought at least a degree of separation 1on his fourth album. Turns out he didn’t need to look all that far – it was found as early on as its opening number. That’s still his distinctive husk and inventive finger-picking in the midst, but he’s shrouded by echoing reverb, whirring microsynth and various creaks and whispers that call from the shadows. It’s just enough to remove Mangan from his past and send him into the great unknown. “Offred” is the sound of beginning again – something we all have to do sometimes.
57. Death Cab for Cutie – Little Wanderer
On Transatlanticism, Ben Gibbard waxed lyrical and extensively-metaphorical on a love defined by the space between on its title track. As supremely beautiful as it is, it’s also fascinating to see the other side of what is ostensibly the same coin: Direct, from-the-heart messages of longing and pining as a new love spreads its fire across oceans and continents. No matter how many photos are sent or hours counted, nothing compares to the third verse’s ultimate payoff, as the wanderer wanders back. This is a love song accepting of reality’s fate, and perhaps that is what the world needs now.
56. Death Cab for Cutie – No Room in Frame
The split of Ben and Zooey felt like the split of Tom and Nicole for the Tumblr generation – and, although he’ll never say it, “Frame” deals with the former comprehending it. The honesty that comes with a first line like “I don’t know where to begin” is palpable; while the reveal of the chorus’ “No room in frame/For two” feels uniquely devastating. It’s arguable that Death Cab have always thrived on bleakness, adding a touch of sepia in darker corners. With Gibbard at a low, then, the music is given the chance to fly. The empty room fills again.
55. The Paper Kites – Revelator Eyes
A stylistic transition from indie-folk to folk-rock might not feel like some sort of drastic leap, but even the notion of these harmonious wunderkinds plugging in is enough to pique interest. A sun-kissed guitar sets over a cruising drumline and glassy keys, taking cues from 70s AM radio classics and the less-hypercolour side of 80s pop to create their finest song since breakthrough “Young” from years prior. Say what you will, but seeking out new territory and challenging their established sound is something to be commended – especially when they enter this next phase with such confidence and finesse.
54. Camp Cope – Stove Lighter
A more pedantic ear might grumble away at the low volume, the poor mix or even the slightly out-of-tune guitar. As far as being a introduction to the world of Camp Cope, however, it’s – as Sherri Bobbins might put it – practically perfect in every way. The dynamic is fascinating – Kelly-Dawn Helmrich’s upper-fret bassline slides up and down, almost of as if it’s avoiding the questioning nature of Georgia Macdonald’s lyricism or the authoritative hat-heavy bash of Sarah Thompson. Although all three operate on different levels, they tessellate in stunning fashion. The spark has been lit.
53. Brian Wilson feat. Nate Ruess – Saturday Night
Although both men symbolise great left-field pop of their respective eras, 2015 wasn’t exactly a career-best year for either; both turning in confused and ultimately disappointing solo efforts. When the two locked in together, however, they created this ray of sunshine that felt like the great lost Beach Boys single or a what-may-have-been for the late, great Format. The harmonies and key change are vintage Wilson; while the wide-eyed romanticism is right up Ruess’ alley. Yes, “Saturday night on Hollywood Boulevard” is the single cheesiest thing to end up on record in 2015. That’s entirely what makes it so endearing.
52. Brendan Maclean feat. Sarah Belkner – The Feeling Again
Brendan Maclean – much like Peter Cetera – is a man who will fight for your honour and do it all for the glory of love. Sometimes, however, that’s simply not enough to keep a relationship from crumbling. Admitting defeat is one of the most honest, important things a person can do in that situation, and Maclean articulates it beautifully in a song that – unlike Peter Cetera – doesn’t blow 80s-cheese chunks. With a masterful build toward the end and some stunning harmonies, Maclean dutifully signs off on what was clearly a huge time in his life. Feel it.
51. Blur – Go Out
Dave Rowntree struts purposefully through the backstreets of the city. Alex James holds down the fort with one of his thickest-sounding bass-lines on record. Graham Coxon lets his inner Andy Gill screech, crash and snarl all over the laid out path. Among it all, Damon Albarn resumes his post up front as if nothing’s ever changed, equal parts loudmouth tourist and perfectly-paranoid introvert. Of all the comeback LPs that could well have gone tits-up, Blur’s ranked toward the top. The fact it triumphed – and sported this career-best single – says a lot about the drab four’s uncanny abilities.
50. Carb on Carb – Take Your Place in the World
Auckland’s Carb on Carb are authentically New Zealand in the same way our indie exports are authentically Australian – uncompromising in their approach, a broad and unmistakable accent lilting the vocals and a true sense of being born out of a vibrant, versatile scene. The highlight of their exceptional debut arrives at the very end, ensuring its final moments count for all they’re worth. As the impossibly-busy drums scatter across a strident chord loop, it’s contrasted by lyrics that are at once confused, distressed and enraged. It’s here, notably, that Carb on Carb take their place in… well, you know.
49. Gallows – Bonfire Season
Word association with Gallows in the past has invariably lead to adjectives like “cutthroat,” “breakneck” and other dangerous terms involving the anatomy. On their first album without the Carter brothers involved, Gallows decided to see what would happen if they tried something that would lead to terms like “slithering,” “brooding” and maybe even – dare it be said? – “sexy.” Naturally, “Bonfire Season” confused the hell out of pretty much everyone. Once the shock wore off, however, it became ever more apparent there’s still so much we don’t know about Gallows. Curiouser and curiouser.
48. Sweater Season – Decay
“All I want is to be happy.” What a simple, perfect sentiment that is. We can run the gauntlet of emotional turmoil time and time again, but when you boil down the spectrum there’s really no greater endgame. Sweater Season took this little idea that could and churned it through their pretty soundscape of guitar noodle and subtle dynamics. What they ended up with was something as quaintly beautiful as that unforgettable lyric – a hazy, introspective and masterfully-executed ballad of sorts which eloquently showed a different side to what people came to know the band for. Happiness is.
47. Jamie xx feat. Young Thug and Popcaan – I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)
Who’d have guessed: the windows-down summer cruise anthem of the year came from a pale, gaunt twentysomething Brit, normally found glooming about with a couple of other sad-sacks. He wasn’t alone, of course – the odd team of Young Thug and Popcaan kept flavours sizzling and the swagger off the charts – but his big-swinging beat and dancehall vibes certainly did their fair share of the groundwork. It was completely uncharacteristic, and perhaps that’s why it made such an impression – it’s so cool that a lyric like “I’mma ride in her pussy like a stroller” glides right by.
46. Daniel Johns – Aerial Love
The first words out of Daniel Johns’ mouth on his first work post-Silverchair are “I’m ready.” Yes, it’s just as pertinent to the romance the track alludes to, but a bigger-picture perspective can also see it as an acceptance of one chapter of his life and another beginning. Twenty years on from Frogstomp, Johns has traded in Zeppelin and Nirvana worship for state-of-the-art beats and a hitherto-unseen sense of rnb bravado. It’s initially confusing, naturally, but it perseveres and it works its way into your head. We have arrived, ladies and gentlemen, herea at the day after “Tomorrow.” Let’s fly.
45. Northlane – Leech
Bands not previously invested in politics that are suddenly the opposite are often told to stay in their lane – and, in the case of bands like Muse or Shihad, rightly so. There’s something about Northlane’s all-too-environmentally aware “Leech,” however, that separates it from the pack. It could be the twisted Midnight Oil reference. It could be the desperate cries of “Show me a way out!” that precede one of the heaviest sequences on their entire LP. Above everything else, it could just be the signalling of Northlane’s evolution of their ideas; moving into their next phase with rage maintained.
44. Royal Headache – High
Love is a drug – and, despite all his rage, Tim “Shogun” Wall is still fixin’ for the stuff: “You get me high,” he sings as clear as day. The return of Royal Headache after years in the wilderness was signalled by this, the big-business title track to their long-awaited second album – and, as far as comebacks go, it felt all the right kinds of triumphant. It was brisk, it was upfront and it was the perfect mix of vintage soul and pierced-speaker garage rock. This, folks, was the sound of Royal Headache learning to be Royal Headache again.
43. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Can’t Keep Checking My Phone
Exactly what was going through Ruben Nielson’s mind when he decided to pair some of his most confused, desperate and paranoid lyrics with the ultimate homage to 70s roller-disco funk is really anyone’s guess. That’s the thing about Nielson, though – and, to a similar extent, the thing about UMO. It’s better to not question motive and to simply let their sense and sensibilities guide you. “Phone” is stunning on first listen – it sparkles as it twirls, each spin inducing a further state of hypnosis. Once you’re under, they’ll take you anywhere and everywhere. Welcome to their boogie wonderland.
42. Daniel Johns – Surrender
Not to get all LATFH on the matter, but the best showcase of Daniel Johns’ evolution from rock-star to pop futurist was not on his debut LP, Talk. It wasn’t even one of the first two singles that sprung from his Aerial Love EP. Rather, this non-single cut from the latter ended up working wonders for arguing the case that Johns has had this kind of sultry swagger in him for longer than we could have anticipated. The beat pops and cracks, snapping itself around John’s heavens-high falsetto and cooing refrains with absolute style. We’re not in Newcastle anymore, Toto.
41. The Weeknd – The Hills
2015 was the year that we lost Wes Craven. It was also the year, strangely enough, that an allusion – a tribute, even – to his work managed to top the pop charts and take commercial radio to what Barney Gumble could only describe as “strange new levels.” From a songwriting perspective, “The Hills” was born out of darkness. There are no heroes here – only villains. Each scream; each sub-bass thud feels like a massacre. In the hands of a lesser performer, this could have tanked. The Weeknd, however, refuses to loosen his grip until we are… well, weakened.
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