We’re back! After simply not having time to write a 2019 feature on the best songs of the year, 2020 has thankfully allowed for a lot of spare time for whatever reason. Can’t think why.
Anyway, in case you missed it here’s the supplementary list – 50 songs I loved from this year that just missed out:
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 2020
100. Luca Brasi – Every Time You’re Here (I’m Gone)
Nearly a decade on from the rallying cries of “Fuck the drab, fuck the dreary/Fuck world weary,” Luca Brasi enter their 30s absolutely exhausted. On the fourth single lifted from their next album Everything is Tenuous, they continue to reflect on a sense of place and belonging in an environment that’s constantly shifting. Tyler Richardson’s barbed-wire melodicism and forthright lyrical conviction is muscled to the front of the fray, care of the band’s walloping drums and urgent pop-punk guitars. The end result makes for one of Luca Brasi’s strongest singles to date. After all, there’s nothing more honest than home.
99. Midnight Oil feat. Jessica Mauboy and Tasman Keith – First Nation
After re-emerging in earnest three years ago, there was a bittersweet nature to hearing the Oils perform decades-old songs which remained entirely pertinent to the sociopolitical landscape of the present day. On their first album in 18 years, then, Midnight Oil kept their eyes firmly on the target on the colony – and they didn’t come alone, either. Despite their contrasting vocal styles, Peter Garrett and Jessica Mauboy blend in impressive harmony. Elsewhere, firebrand MC Tasman Keith hops atop Rob Hirst’s razor-sharp groove and rides it to the front of the protest rally with aplomb. Always was, always will be.
98. Kate Miller-Heidke – Little Roots, Little Shoots
As someone who has spent the majority of her career behind a piano, the last couple of years has seen Kate Miller-Heidke drastically change her approach. Both Eurovision and The Masked Singer saw the Brisbane native in elaborate performance scenarios that lent themselves to extravagance and melodrama. Album five Child in Reverse felt, in many ways, like an extension of this new universe. Its centrepiece and lynchpin is “Little Roots, Little Shoots,” where Miller-Heidke’s beloved piano is chopped and screwed into a jittery future-pop beat care of producer Evan Klar. High risk? Certainly. The end result, however, is high reward.
97. Kylie Minogue – Magic
“Do you believe in magic?,” Our Kylie asks in the chorus of her best single in a decade. Really, being a Kylie fan is one and the same. The amount of odds the artist formerly known as Charlene has had to overcome would be insurmountable for a lesser performer. Nevertheless, she persisted – at 52 years young, Minogue sounds as vibrant and excited as she did when she first donned the gold short-shorts some two decades prior. The neon-tinged PhD production accentuates every moment here, while the chorus twirls with such ecstasy you might spontaneously don rollerskates. Keep spinning, Kylie.
96. Juice WRLD and Marshmello – Come & Go
A year on from his untimely and tragic passing, Jarrad Anthony Higgins is gone but certainly not forgotten. A string of posthumous releases and singles have kept Juice’s legacy afloat – including collaborations with idols like Eminem and blink-182. The strongest of the batch, however, came in the form of an electric team-up with EDM producer Marshmello. Powered by persistent guitar and hypercolour synth gloop, Mello’s contrast-heavy beatwork allows Juice’s vocals to both float in the abyss and skyrocket into the stratosphere. It’s yet another exercise in genre-hybrid excellence that celebrates both a surviving legacy and a prosperous, burgeoning one.
95. The Buoys – Already Gone
The Buoys have become one of the most formidable live rock bands in Australia. Their kinetic energy, rousing on-stage unity and knack for all-in harmonies ensure every show is a memorable one. Better yet, this year’s All This Talking Gets Us Nowhere EP captures just enough of their lightning in a bottle to ensure their recorded work maintains a similar energy. There’s a certain 70s flair to “Already Gone” – it does, after all, share its title with an Eagles hit. Still, it maintains just enough garage grit to go as hard as a soft-rock number can. Yeah, The Buoys.
94. Dua Lipa – Levitating
Let’s face it: We wouldn’t let just any old popstar call us “sugar-boo” now, would we? On an album that seemingly had an endless supply of smash hits, Dua Lipa kept the disco inferno tempered with one of the year’s straight-up coolest songs. Where else among the heavyweights of 2020 would you find stabs of synth-strings, a talk-box jam and a rousing rabble of “yeah yeah yeah”s? Imagine some sort of cross-section between Chic, Charli XCX and Sophie Ellis Bextor and you’re about halfway there. Not even a bog-average remix featuring a phoned-in DaBaby verse could block “Levitating”’s mirrorball shine.
93. Amy Shark feat. Travis Barker – C’mon
A phrase so common it’s been used by everyone from The Von Bondies to Little Birdy, not to mention serving as both the name and entire lyrical content of one of the best Hives songs. In the hands of Amy Shark, however, “C’mon” becomes a desperate emotive plea. Her second single of 2020 was built on the rock-solid foundation of a surprisingly restrained Travis Barker drumline and the production flourish of old mate M-Phazes. While her forays into out-and-out balladry have been hit-and-miss over the years, “C’mon” finds a sweet spot – fitting, given it’s in such a sour mood.
92. Cloud Nothings – Am I Something
Cloud Nothings move so fast that it can be hard to tell when they’re on the rails as opposed to off them. It certainly doesn’t help things that they’re flanked by Jayson Gerycz, one of the most hyperactive limb-flailing drummers in modern rock, but it comes down to Dylan Baldi’s lyrical psyche just as much. The titular question is asked over and over throughout the song’s flurrying three-and-a-half minutes, growing increasingly desperate and intense as sparks fly off the guitars and drums. Nearly a decade removed from Attack on Memory, Cloud Nothings still operates on volatile ground. It’s something, alright.
91. E^ST – MAYBE IT’S ME
Part “Close To Me” pastiche, part zoomer synth-pop bouncehouse, all E^ST. The Sydney singer’s debut album I’M DOING IT took its cues from a myriad of sounds and styles. Essentially, view it as a Trojan horse of sorts – bright major chords and upbeat instrumentation may colour her music, but a dark underbelly and internal conflict is soon to be exuded. One of several singles, “MAYBE” runs out of people to blame for E^ST’s problems. This results in one of the year’s great faux-triumphant choruses, with a bonus hook that mimics a robot breaking down mid-sentence. E^ST: Keeping pop weird.
90. Headie One x Fred again.. – Told
The end of the 2010s saw a revived boon for UK hip-hop, which has quantifiably carried over into the new decade. 26-year-old Headie One emerged as one of the top new contenders this year, scoring two UK top-five hits – including one cosigned by omnipresent hitmaker Drake. Of particular note, however, was his excellent collaborative mixtape with prodigious producer Fred again.. – Headie’s Jigga may well have just found a Timbaland in this pairing. Look no further than GANG‘s chilling opener, which places sub-bass club doof beneath stiff piano chords to create a fascinating post-dubstep exercise in tension and release.
89. Annie Hamilton – Californian Carpark Concrete
Little May alum Annie Hamilton ain’t so little anymore – and neither is the world surrounding her. “They say if the crocs don’t get ya/ Then the sharks will,” she warns over drop-D guitar and the thud of a bass drum. Everyone is out to get her, but Hamilton holds firm. There are darker corners to her writing, but enough light shines through to allow for you to see your way around inside of them. It’s this use of juxtaposition and imagery that allows her to forge something truly memorable. Bask in its reverberating resplendence, but beware its hardened exterior.
88. Huck Hastings – It’s Alright, It’s Cool (Commitment Issues)
You only know it was never going to last once you’re looking in the rear-view – this year, as they keep telling us, is all about hindsight. It’s with this framework that newcomer Huck Hastings laments a will-they-won’t-they in which the differences range from trivial (“I like white/And you like dark”) to toxic (“100 endings/101 new starts/I still run to you”). It’s a 50s pop song – four chords, double-hit snares – with millennial anxiety poured atop, with some niche antipodean references for good measure. It’s also one of the year’s most accessible, engaging odes to queer relationships. Cool, indeed.
87. Sylvan Esso – Ferris Wheel
Remember Sylvan Esso? They’re back – in pop form. The indie darlings of 2014 have kept a modest profile since their initial breakthrough, but have continued to forge a respectable career out of body-moving electronica in their post-“Coffee” ouput. This, the lead single to third album Free Love, is easily the strongest track they’ve released since that aforementioned breakthrough moment – Nick Sanborn’s hip-swivelling beat is a pure rush, accentuated and complemented in turn by Amelia Meath’s irresistible smoke-and-honey vocal delivery. “Can’t wait to do it/Can you?” she posits. “NO!,” she yells back at herself. The feeling’s mutual, you two.
86. Hockey Dad – In This State
In their few before-times gigs, Hockey Dad were opening with “In This State.” Brain Candy was months away – hell, the single release was months away – and they still made sure it got its road innings. Why, exactly? Think about it: They may have never written a more perfect kick-start. Zach Stephenson’s solo first verse adds calm before the storm, as Billy Fleming gets in the pocket and pounds out driving, insistent rhythms. They soon bowl themselves over with the power of their own chorus. We’re not off to the races here – we’ve somehow broken the sound barrier.
85. illuminati hotties – content//bedtime
There were better songs released in 2020 than “content//bedtime” – its position on this list should confirm that alone. Nevertheless, however, but: There was no snarkier song released this year than this one. It’s the centrepiece of a 22-minute fuck-you “mixtape” made exclusively to piss off the exact people illuminati hotties wanted to piss off. A deceptively-menacing hardcore feedback intro gives way to utterly goofy pop-punk by way of Toni Basil cheerleader chants – for what? Fuck you, that’s why. Even in its endeavours to be completely annoying, “content//bedtime” is just as catchy as any of the hotties’ in-earnest singles.
84. Allday – After All This Time
Allday’s next move was always going to end up being further removed from hip-hop. He is to the genre what Taylor Swift was to country – a one-time devotee, now an estranged cousin, twice removed. Few, however, could have anticipated a full-on pivot into indie-pop, with The Delta Riggs and Gang Of Youths alum Joji Malani laying the groundwork. It’s crystallised and dreamlike, as indebted to the 90s as someone who was born in the 90s can be. It might just be Malibu Stacy in a new hat, but you’ve got to admit – it looks rather fetching on him.
83. Azim Zain and His Lovely Bones – You Just Hit the Jackpot, Tiger
Kuala Lumpur-via-Canberra’s Azim Zain became one of Australia’s emo-revival stalwarts on his last EP, home to the unforgettable “Dreams I Could Recall.” Now stationed once again in South-East Asia, the singer-songwriter has swung for the fences on debut album Be Good. “Jackpot” sees Zain reflect on both where he is, where he isn’t and where he’s got to be. “I’m the one who has to leave,” he sings – before screaming it moments later, tussling with the weight of such a realisation. It’s gripping, honest, emotive and entirely enthralling. He paints a picture as well as Spider-Man slings a web.
82. Jaime Wyatt – Neon Cross
“They’re gonna nail me to a neon cross,” bemoans alt-country upstart Jaime Wyatt on her second album’s title track. Succinctly, Wyatt matches small-town judgement with evangelical kitsch – in turn, concocting one of the genre’s finest 2020 moments. Her liquored vocals – equal parts Sarah Shook and Lurleen Lumpkin – rings out from behind the chicken wire as the pedal steel shimmers and the galloping snare cuts through the dirt-roads and dive bars. Hell, when she sings of “pitiful perfume,” you can even smell this song. That’s how good Wyatt is. For those that like their country rough and ready.
81. Alex the Astronaut – I Think You’re Great
Alex Lynn makes simple songs that also happen to be entirely effective. When a voice at the end of “I Think You’re Great” remarks that she’s a genius, you’re inclined to believe them after what you’ve just heard. With a pinch of Darren Hanlon and a dash of Paul Kelly, Alex turns in a career-best sing-along that’s entirely endearing and quintessential by design. It doesn’t set out to be anything grander in scope – and yet, almost unintentionally, it evolves into something anthemic. Put it this way: You haven’t wanted to “doo-doo-doo” this hard since “Walk On The Wild Side.”
Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:
Back next week with part two!