40. Thelma Plum – Clumsy Love
After a few years away, a comeback from Thelma Plum felt like the warm moment of hope 2018 needed. The prodigious wunderkind delivered with her breeziest, most glistening pop song to date – not demanding of repeat listens, but it felt so good you just wanted to hear it again. Assisted by Sparkadia alum Alex Burnett, Plum details a bizarre love triangle where her betrothed is in purgatory between his past and present – ie. Plum. Her confessional croons are guided via tasteful electric guitar, buzzing synth-bass and a boom-clap drum machine reminiscent of early single “Dollar.” Ripe, delicious fruit.
39. Post Malone feat. Ty Dolla $ign – Psycho
Much like the identically-titled Amy Shark single, there’s something intriguing about the paradox that lies within a mellow, down-tempo number with a title as provocative as “Psycho.” Millions worldwide ended up finding a connection to what ended up being one of the year’s biggest hits from one of our more unexpected pop-culture figureheads. Post Malone’s flow is primarily based off Nelly’s two-note rap-sing approach, adding in flourishes of melody when the moment calls for it and riding out a floating, trap-flavoured beat. He may be a critic’s punching bag, but “Psycho” is just bright enough to block out the haters.
38. The Story So Far – Upside Down
It hasn’t been an easy road to “Upside Down,” as any fan of The Story So Far will attest to. The stark self-reflection, e-bow guitar and churning Hammond organ of this single are a complete world away from the boisterous teenage riot that was their debut, Under Soil and Dirt. “It’s all love now,” sings vocalist Parker Cannon – someone who once sat comfortably within pop-punk’s angry-young-man mould. It’s a testament to the band’s persistence that they were able to assemble what is easily their strongest song yet, eschewing their usual fanfare in favour of something subdued, mature and pensive.
37. Drake – In My Feelings
Would “In My Feelings” have been as massive without its viral dance challenge? Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Don’t get it twisted, the traffic-stopping sensation was definitely a booster. Even if no-one had hopped out of their cars, however, they no doubt would have still had “Feelings” blasting inside of them. It’s one of Drizzy’s most vivacious and addictive singles ever, brimming with perfectly-timed samples (Lil Wayne, the late Magnolia Shorty) and a warm melodic keyboard descent care of producer TrapMoneyBenny. Overexposure could have easily killed this song, but through some black magic it somehow made it even stronger.
36. Courtney Barnett – City Looks Pretty
For over two years, Courtney Barnett saw the world. As soon as she was done, she retreated. The bustle of “City Looks Pretty,” then – which recalls Paul Kelly’s more rocking moments like “Darling It Hurts” – doesn’t come from the hum of the nightlife, but the great indoors. The song sees Barnett’s world as topsy-turvy: “Friends treat you like a stranger/And strangers treat you like their best friend,” she sighs over major-chord strums. The brisk tempo depicts a racing mind and internal paranoia, which only comes to pass with the song’s swaying 6/8 outro. The real world beckons again.
35. Mitski – Geyser
It was almost a unanimous critical consensus that Mitski’s Be the Cowboy was the most acclaimed album of 2018. Here’s the thing, though: You could have easily been forgiven for not making it past the first song. Not because it made you want to turn off, mind – “Geyser” is the kind of album opener that is entirely transfixing. Its ocean-floor ambience, its distant percussion, its jump-scare noise – this song is a whole world unto itself. Not only is “Geyser” the strongest opener to any Mitski album, it manages to do so without even so much as a chorus.
34. Hockey Dad – I Wanna Be Everybody
At this stage, you could forgive Hockey Dad for being over-bored and self-assured – after all, they’re in one of the most popular rock bands in Australia, and they’ve assisted in putting their native Wollongong’s music scene back on the map for the first time since the Tumbleweed days. What’s shocking about “Everybody,” then, is how bluntly it confronts the idea of impostor syndrome. Sure, Zach Stephenson may have everything a young musician could dream of – but as he croons against twanging guitar chords and walloping snare, he doesn’t feel deserving or worthy. A Trojan horse of garage-rock emotions.
33. DZ Deathrays – Like People
From downing beers in matching Ts to getting blood on their leather, DZ Deathrays have spent the last decade smashing together the heads of dance-punk and pub-rock to create a reflective skull of pedal-stomping riffs and big-swinging drums. “Like People” is as nasty and snarky as anything they’ve ever written, but even its nihilism can’t offset how damn catchy the fucker ends up being. When the chorus hits, it lands in your hands like a hot potato – fitting, given the video’s cameo from Wiggles alum Murray Cook. DZ have thrived, survived and even revolutionised themselves. There’s no stopping them.
32. Charlie Puth feat. Kehlani – Done for Me
Many male popstars have songs where they basically go unchecked and say whatever they want without any in-song consequence. “Done for Me,” like “Too Good” and “Somebody That I Used to Know” before it, gets a word in from the other party and is all the better for it. Kehlani plays Puth’s jilted lover, setting our loverboy straight while he dishes over “Billie Jean” drums and “PYT” keyboards. Considering the first time Puth tried a duet was the garish “Marvin Gaye” with the even-more-garish Meghan Trainor, it says a lot that “Done for Me” succeeds in the way it does.
31. 5 Seconds of Summer – Want You Back
This is the point where we realised we got it wrong. 5 Seconds of Summer were never supposed to be the next blink-182 or the next Green Day. They weren’t supposed to be the next One Direction, either. Get this: They were supposed to be the next Maroon 5. “Want You Back” ditches the old 5SOS sound quicker than you can remove your American Apparel underwear. Slick bass, guitar funk and falsetto rolls around this effortlessly-cool number, locking into a technicolour groove that more or less reinvents the band entirely. At last, Australia’s favourite boy band are, simply, a band.
30. Calvin Harris feat. Dua Lipa – One Kiss
After the California dreaming of Harris’ excellent Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, it seemed only natural that the Scotsman would return to his native habitat of the club. He didn’t come back empty-handed, though – or alone, for that matter. “One Kiss” is his most triumphant dancefloor-filler since “Sweet Nothing,” and it’s handily assisted by pop sensation Dua Lipa. It feels like achieving ecstasy while high on… well, you know… and Harris’ pristine production accentuates every last endorphin. There were few greater moments in pop this year than when the drop of “One Kiss” was figuratively trumpeted in. True love.
29. Post Malone – Better Now
Austin Post remains divisive. For all of his fans, he has just as many detractors and people that just don’t quote-unquote “get it.” Allow “Better Now” to assist those in the latter category, as it’s probably the closest you’ll get to understanding what our man is out here trying to do. He’s a young T-Pain after the party. He’s an emo kid that got into beatmaking rather than mic-swinging. He’s a lower-class loser that was never meant to reach these heights. “Better Now” is a view from the top, but also a reminder of how lonely it gets up there.
28. Polish Club – Clarity
“Clarity” showcases the best of Polish Club – vocalist David Novak howls and moans just like Otis, while John-Henry Pajak sneaks in the best drum fill of his career to kick off the song’s final burst. Consider their trajectory in tandem with another notable rock duo, The Black Keys. After years of lo-fi and bluesy brawlers, a touch of production polish and a newfound funk have made their way into the mix. This is Polish Club’s “Tighten Up” moment – and considering the latter arrived on the Keys’ sixth album, it means the Club is evolving at an alarming rate.
27. Hop Along – How Simple
Hop Along quietly and unassumingly returned in the first few weeks of 2018, sharing their first new song in nearly three years ahead of an album set for that April. If you didn’t have your ear to the ground you could have missed it entirely – which is why “How Simple” felt so rewarding to those that were across it. Frances Quinlan has always had one of the most – ahem – quintessential voices in indie rock, and to hear it implemented in her band’s danciest, poppiest and most upbeat moment to date felt like something special. Joy in simplicity.
26. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers – Good as Gold
Country either depicts new love or dead love. “Good as Gold” finds us at the arse-end of a busted relationship: So intertwined are the two, Sarah Shook doesn’t even look at this person, as she sings, “like a thing of mine/That I can just up and lose.” Lamenting over looming pedal steel and the scuffle of a train-track drum roll, Shook delivers a bar-country number alongside her trusty Disarmers that by every right should have taken over country radio. Soon enough, women within the genre will be too loud to ignore – and Shook will be on the damn frontline.
25. Jack R. Reilly – Pursuing Balance
Anyone who’s seen Jack R. Reilly perform knows that he always had bigger ambitions than your average troubadour. He was raised on a diet of post-punk revival and 21st century art-rock, and “Pursuing Balance” was his first major play at paying homage to that. With the assistance of Cry Club‘s Jonathan Tooke, Reilly spilled his heart over disco drums, stuttered hooks and washed out guitars, all tied together by one of the year’s most distinctive piano lines. Whether it soundtracks a weekend in the city or a night of intimacy, “Pursuing Balance” succeeds. It’s the best song he’s ever written.
24. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Hunnybee
You really never know what you’re gonna get when Ruban Nielson gets cooking. Unknown Mortal Orchestra songs could end up being roller discos, porn grooves, riff-heavy wig-outs… it’s a huge spectrum, and a full testament to his versatility as a songwriter. After the tape-loop strings subside, “Hunnybee” reveals its undeniable groove in all of its glory. The thing plays out like a complete dream – the funk of the bass, the coo of the lead guitar, its addictive chorus, the faint keyboards. It’s a masterwork, and a true career highlight from a man who’s never short on ideas.
23. Charlie Puth – The Way I Am
In Charlie Puth’s eyes, he was never meant to be a star – yet, in 2018, he was as big a star as he’s ever been. “Everybody’s trying to be famous,” he sings, almost at a whisper, before adding: “I’m just trying to find a place to hide.” It’s fitting that the riff that serves as the song’s foundation recalls the opening of Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” – Puth knows exactly where he is, and there’s no turning back. Nevertheless, “The Way I Am” finds method to the madness, and makes tracks on Puth’s road to superstardom.
22. The 1975 – Give Yourself a Try
Ben Lee once described pop music as “philosophy you can dance to,” and that’s rarely been more true than in the case of The 1975’s massive lead single from what ended up being an event album of 2018. Over a spiky guitar loop and a booming drum machine, Matt Healy offers advice and ruminates on his past. The titular hook is one of the wisest things you could possibly impart to a young person that’s struggling, and the way it’s delivered means that it no doubt landed square in the hearts and minds of its many listeners. Try, try again.
21. Gladie – The Problem is Us
As singer of Cayetana, Augusta Koch detailed the finer parts of her 20s in the throes of sweetly-melodic indie rock. With them on the back-burner, Koch began anew. Gladie may not have the same edge or bounding energy that was found in Cayetana’s finest moments, but it doesn’t really need them. Koch instead focuses on something more refined and stylistically mature, offering up brilliant lyrics and subtly-invasive hooks over warm keys and restrained drums. By the time she’s hamering home the final refrain of “We’re speaking softly/We’re not communicating,” you hear her – and Gladie itself – loud and clear.
20 songs to go, and they’re next! What will be number one? Only one way to find out. In the meantime, have a listen to all 80 songs that have been in the countdown so far: