I know a lot of you are keen to see 2016 go, but let’s not forget all the greatest music that got us through the best and worst of times. Here it is, the DJY100, segmented as always into 20-song parts for your complete digestion.
This supplementary playlist was put together last week to give honourable mention to the songs that just missed out on the countdown. You can check it out here:
As always, DISCLAIMER: This is not a list of the most popular songs, nor is it a list curated by anyone except myself. These are, in my view, the best songs of the year. Disagreement and discussion is welcomed, but ultimately if you have any real issues with any songs that are ranked too low, too high or not at all… make your own list!
– DJY, December 2016
100. Safe Hands – The Great Affair
It was around ten years ago that Safe Hands first emerged in a fit of twentysomething rage and discordant abandon. It’s more than a little curious, then, to find the band almost unrecognisable in its current-day formation; delivering a versatile and robust sound best described as post-hardcore in every possible sense. “The Great Affair” is one of Safe Hands’ most intricately personal and uniquely resonant songs to date – a pained reflection on self and its direct intersection with those held dearest. The band are still throwing themselves against the wrecking ball. This time, however, it’s to save someone else.
99. Every Time I Die – The Coin Has a Say
If punk rock was the WWE, Every Time I Die would be someone like Kane – they’ve been around longer than nearly everyone, and yet they can still turn in a menacing performance as well as they did a decade ago. “The Coin Has a Say” is more hell, fire and brimstone from a band that seemingly has an endless supply of the stuff. By the time Keith Buckley shrieks “I can’t go back to what I was,” no-one is safe – a pummelling breakdown shifts the gears and sends the entire shebang into a glorious tailspin. Mosh harder, dumbfucks.
98. Alex Lahey – Ivy League
Higher education isn’t for everyone, but many are raised under the illusion of it being the sole option to advance one’s career. So when Alex Lahey sings “I went to B Grade University/And I got myself an arts degree,” it strikes a chord with a mass of millennials faster than you can say “literally me.” This song is for every single person that has put up with shithead lecturers, slumped over a computer in the library trying to stay awake and held down a meaningless job just to keep the cycle going. Hey, at least you can dance to it.
97. The Knocks feat. Justin Tranter – Tied to You
There may be some die-hards that remember Justin Tranter from his time at the front of Gaga-approved glam-rockers Semi Precious Weapons – but, then again, there’s a pretty good chance neither of them are reading this. Of late, Tranter has reinvented himself as a songwriter to the stars; enlisted on bangers for Bieber and Britney alike. With “Tied to You,” however, Tranter got to relive his pop-star days for a few glorious minutes of windows-down joy. The hook is a pure sugar rush, its twirling release a trumpeting confetti cannon waiting to happen. Don’t keep this peacock in its cage.
96. Dinosaur Jr – Tiny
It’s been 11 years since the original line-up of Dinosaur Jr. decided to start hitting things together again – and, truth be told, it’s as good now as it ever was. Their latest, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, shreds as hard as any of their late-80s classics; this opening cut serving as a prime example. The guitar radiates, the bass rumbles and the drums splash about – an archetypal Dino jam in the best possible way. By the time J pulls out a certifiably shit-hot guitar solo out of thin air, we’re well on our way to perfection.
95. Beach Slang – Punks in a Disco Bar
Spare a thought for Beach Slang. This is, after all, the band that battled through losing half their line-up, playing the worst show of their career, getting their gear stolen and nearly breaking up. How did they survive? How else but the sheer power of rock & roll. “Punks” makes its presence felt immediately with a piercing T-Rex riff before launching it forth into the stratosphere with a charging rhythm section and James Alex’s distortion-heavy rasp. “The words I scream,” he testifies, “are meaningless or holy things.” When a song like this kicks in, you’re likely to believe the latter.
94. Sampha – Blood on Me
Through working with big names like Kanye and Drake, British singer Sampha has had a few years of coolness by association. With “Blood on Me,” the lead single from his forthcoming debut LP, he forges his own path and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has gotten to this point entirely on his own merit. Although originally penned as dystopic, surrealist fantasy, the song has since drawn scarily-close parallels with racial tensions in the United States. It adds even further depth and a greater impact as the emotion swells around the minor-chord piano and that indelible chorus.
93. Kari Faux – Fantasy
A double bass creaks in the darkness. Solitary finger clicks keep some semblance of time as a monotone voice decrees defiantly, “I’m no man’s fantasy.” Welcome to the world of Kari Faux, unquestionably one of 2016’s most fascinating discoveries. On the centrepiece of her debut LP, Lost en Los Angeles, Faux adds a little avant-garde to a hip-hop groove and a jazz-heavy arrangement to meld into something that’s unmistakably hers. There was a lot going on musically in 2016, so it’s not for nothing that it’s stressed how unique and prodigious Faux’s music is. Get in, get lost, get out.
92. Paul Simon – Wristband
Paul Simon’s always had a sense of humour – who could forget him singing “Still Crazy After All These Years” in a turkey costume on SNL? Here, he gets a modern refurbishing of his sound care of Italian outfit Clap! Clap!, weaving in a story about getting locked out of a concert venue that somehow ends up with Simon ranting about class warfare to a giant bouncer. Believe it, you’ll want to be there to see how this gets from A to B. The tongue-in-cheek hook is complemented by the percussive undercurrent, and a folk hero survives a Madonna-level reinvention.
91. Rachel Maria Cox – A Phone I Can’t Use
Most love songs tend to come straight from the heart. Then again, “A Phone I Can’t Use” isn’t most love songs. Hell, it isn’t even really most songs – who writes pop songs without a chorus? Regardless, “Phone” is focused more on the more obscure details of the body. It’s bloodshot eyes, dead legs and scooped-out bone marrow. The heart only comes up when it’s skipping a beat. It’s all a bit odd, which is perhaps why it works so well. 2016 saw Rachel Maria Cox properly come into their own as a songwriter and performer. It all began here.
90. Wolfie’s Just Fine – I Forgot
Yep, that’s Jon Lajoie. He of The League and of “Show Me Your Genitals” fame. And yes, he’s made a non-comedy album. In a bluntly honest Facebook post, he confessed to lamenting over the transition from joke songs to Wolfie’s Just Fine; worried he would lose fans in the process. The reality is that anyone who can’t appreciate the work Lajoie has put into this project – specifically this track, the album’s second single – wasn’t worth keeping as a fan to begin with. A stomping nu-folk charmer that shimmers and shines from cavernous darkness, “I Forgot” is instantly memorable.
89. A Tribe Called Quest – The Space Program
“Let’s make something happen.” On their first transmission in over 18 years, A Tribe Called Quest use this chant as a defiant, impassioned call to arms. No longer will black America be made to feel like aliens in their own country. This land is their land – and the universe belongs to them. This is science fiction. This is down-to-earth reality. This is hip-hop. As many years that have passed, “The Space Program” truly makes it feel as though Tribe never left us. So long as we the people are still out there, celebrating their legacy, they never really will.
88. Lonelyspeck – All My Skin on the Air
Very little is known about Lonelyspeck, an Adelaide-based singer/beatmaker in their early 20s. It would be easy to play up the relative mystery behind the enigmatic figure – who doesn’t love a good PR guessing game? – but the fact of the matter is that there is a much bigger talking point at hand. Perhaps not since Collarbones has the marriage of emotional vulnerability and icy, scattered production worked so effectively and impressively. “All My Skin on the Air” is one of the best songs to emerge from the underground of indie electronica in this country for quite some time.
87. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Rattlesnake
It’s been said the greatest of journeys begins with a single step. King Gizzard are about to embark on a new year in which they plan to release five albums – no, that’s not a typo. First cab off the rank is February’s Flying Microtonal Banana – also not a typo – and it seems Gizz have put their best foot forward with “Rattlesnake.” Across seven-plus minutes, they lock into a hip-shaking gridlock and refuse to let go. And why should they? Its propulsive, hypnotic build brims with energy; the odd notes accentuating each and every twist in the tail.
86. Paul Dempsey – The True Sea
“The True Sea” is officially the longest song that Paul Dempsey has ever recorded across half a dozen Something for Kate albums and two solo LPs. As such, it’s inherently grandiose – all shimmering ambience and tactical restraint before undertaking an exhaustive, vast musical journey. It’s fitting the song implements Dempsey’s book-smarts and deals conceptually with the idea of things greater than comprehension – “It makes the ocean/Seem like a drop in the ocean,” he repeats over and over. Dempsey has always had a knack for pondering the universe while creating private ones of his own doing. A true talent.
85. Radiohead – Daydreaming
A Moon Shaped Pool was either the most underrated or most overhyped LP of 2016, depending on whom you asked. One thing there was a fairly solid agreement across the board on, however, was the merits of its piano-laden second single. A focus on the core of Radiohead’s strengths – Jonny Greenwood’s imaginative arrangements, Thom Yorke’s unmistakable lilt – saw the band stripping back; gently floating through the haze of minor-chord melancholy. The stunning Paul Thomas Anderson-directed video certainly assisted, but it’s worth noting “Daydreaming” stands just as solidly if you simply close your eyes and drift off with it.
84. Danny Brown feat. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt – Really Doe
Posse cuts can either make you look like a mastermind curator (Kanye, “Monster”) or like the single weakest rapper alive (Big Sean, “Control”). Across a swatting, imposing beat, With “Really Doe,” a standout of the Atrocity Exhibition LP, Brown asserts himself as the former. He also showcases his tactical abilities – he leads the charge, yes, but he’s also happy to be a team player in his own operation. King Kendrick arrives with a bombastic hook and a dynamite verse to boot; while Earl’s now-famous verse sported a handful of the year’s most quotable lyrics – take your pick, really.
83. A Tribe Called Quest – We the People….
A sign of how terrifying 2016 got: Q-Tip was one of the few people to say the phrase “Muslims and gays/Boy, we hate your ways” with any semblance of irony. What’s scarier is that this banger was assembled well before the mass hysteria kicked in on these issues, meaning that ATCQ really were the heroes that 2016 needed. The centrepiece of “People” is a flawless verse from the late, great Phife Dawg – this album truly is a celebration of his legacy as much as it is Tribe’s. “Fuck y’all know about true competition?” he goads. Not a lot, Phife.
82. Justin Timberlake – Can’t Stop the Feeling!
A pop star in his late 30s adding a sugary, feel-good single to the soundtrack of an animated kids movie? Gee, aren’t you “Happy” no-one’s tried that before. Despite the obvious Pharrell parallel (say that three times fast), Timberlake and Max Martin must be commended for the wonderland of bright, major-chord joy assembled here. It skips, hops, jumps and even slides into this secret passageway right before the chorus hits. All Troll-ing aside, “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” is one heck of an adventure, and if it wasn’t cursed by overexposure perhaps more would have given it the credit it deserves.
81. The John Steel Singers – Midnight at the Plutonium
Somewhere over the rainbow kraut and beyond the overpass, The John Steel Singers unleashed the funky dance-punk odyssey that they seemingly always knew they had in them and no-one outside of their immediate circle could have ever seen coming. As honky-tonk piano tinkers against a “Billie Jean” drum beat and a Chic bassline, the party truly kicks off as the late night turns into the early morning. With the release of the album came the announcement of an indefinite hiatus – and what a glorious way to send yourself out. From Berlin to Brisbane, “Plutonium” was ready for the floor.
That’s all until next week! You can listen to all of these songs by checking out the playlist below:
You can also follow along on the hashtag #DJY100 on Twitter.
See you next week for part two!