The Top 100 Songs of 2021, Part Two: 80 – 61

Why hello there! Can I interest you in another 20 songs that were the best songs of 2021? I can? How lovely! Do make sure you’re up to date by hitting up Part One over here prior to that, of course. It’s only fair!

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80. The Goon Sax – Psychic

Forgive the pun, but there’s a good chance you didn’t see this one coming. Having carved a jangle-pop niche, equal parts 2010s zeitgeist and a chip off the old block, The Goon Sax pulled off an impressive pivot on their third album’s second single. Things get dark on “Psychic,” from the incessant pound of the programmed drums to the knife-edge guitars battering against it. The chorus is light pouring in from the cracks, all before tensions mount in the verses once again. If you haven’t yet found yourself a crossing over point with this ever-evolving Brisbane trio, consider consulting “Psychic.”

79. Amyl and the Sniffers – Guided by Angels

As the world slowly started turning again, it felt like “Guided by Angels” arrived at exactly the right time to start kicking a bit of forward momentum. It’s the perfect opener for the band’s excellent Comfort to Me LP, capturing both the band’s spark-flying live presence and the ethos of their garage- and punk-rock hybrid. Through every tom roll, every chugging guitar and every “FUCK!” that frontwoman Amy Taylor barks, you’re witnessing a band ascending to new heights and creating something just like heaven in the process. “Guided” isn’t the cure to the world’s problems, but it’s a great start.

78. Jerry Cantrell – Atone

You’d be forgiven for missing this one – Alice in Chains aren’t the household names they were, least of all the other guy in Alice in Chains. Under a relative cover of darkness, however, this grunge veteran turned in one of his best efforts in years. “Atone” finds a resolute balance between Cantrell’s day-job and his sporadic solo career – the close harmonies are pure Alice; the snarling resonator guitar riff is pure Cantrell. Revelling in darkness and southern Gothic imagery, “Atone” shows you can put a man in a box, but he’ll always find ways to think outside it.

77. Courtney Barnett – Rae Street

One of the most common observations about Courtney Barnett’s songwriting is that it’s… well, observational. That’s rarely taken a more literal form across her career than it does on “Rae Street,” so named after the titular stretch across the north of Fitzroy. Here, our protagonist finds herself watching the world going by and taking notes on the neighbourhood. In anyone else’s hands it would feel mundane, but finding the extraordinary within the ordinary has been Barnett’s bread and butter since before she blew up. With the guiding hand of Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa, “Rae Street” thrives in its own unique way.

76. Halsey – honey

There’s lots of moving parts to “honey” – at least, more than initially seen. It’s an ode to queer affection and femme-fatale addiction – certainly not the first of Halsey’s career, but definitely the most explicit. It pits bright acoustic guitar against steely bass – both of which happened to be played by Trent Reznor. That’s accentuated by four-on-the-floor back-beats that occasionally splash into tom-heavy rolls – all of which happened to be played by Dave Grohl. It stems from the album If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, but “honey” is the sound of symbiotic relationships between both.

75. Amyl and the Sniffers – Hertz

“Take me to the beach! Take me to the country!” Amy Taylor is rattling at her cage, begging to be let loose. This anywhere-but-here restlessness is something that felt particularly relatable this year, but it’s given an extra boost of electricity care of the Sniffers’ urgent and bustling instrumentation. You can feel the sweat coming off this one, not to mention the sparks flying. With every listen and every flurrying dance-along, there’s a strong argument to be made for “Hertz” as the best Amyl song to date. “I want you to love me!” Taylor screams. Really, how could you not?

74. Eliza & The Delusionals – Save Me

There’s something borderline cinematic about what Eliza & The Delusionals deliver here. The Gold Coast band have always made a point of emphasising the influence of 80s pop within their work, but it’s especially pertinent to this sun-kissed heartbreak. The warm glow beneath the mirror ball allows “Save Me” to shimmer and revel in its quiet desparation, pinpointing moments of lost connections and rekindled flames. Whether you’re in or out of love on the prom-night dancefloor, “Save Me” will save you. Not a moment too soon, either – it stand proudly amongst the best singular moments of their still-young career.

73. Citizen – Black and Red

As a new decade begins, it’s worth looking back at some of the defining acts from the 2010s emo revival. One such band was Toledo’s Citizen, who were never keen on repeating themselves even at the heights of the genre’s resurgence. This cut from album four offers a focused, tightly-wound band that’s channeling new terrain with precision and integrity. At points it’s more Bloc Party than Balance & Composure, which may deter the demo-was-better cross-arms, but the alarm is far from silent. It’s an engaging evolution from one of alternative rock’s most underrated, undeterred players. Here’s to an upstanding Citizen.

72. Low – Days Like These

You’re not prepared for when it hits the first time. “Days Like These” begins in perfect harmony – quite literally, as husband-and-wife duo Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker warmly sing together through the waft of a vocoder. Sparhawk adds some sparse, glistening chords… and then it hits. It hits fucking hard. It genuinely may be one of the most shocking moments in music for the entire year. To say more would be to spoil “Days Like These,” but rest assured to be able to achieve such a surprising element to your music after 25-plus years is truly remarkable.

71. Kings of Convenience – Rocky Trail

Who remember the folk-pop revolution of the 2000s? Norway’s Kings of Convenience were, fittingly, royalty of the genre – across stunning LPs like Quiet is the New Loud and Riot on an Empty Street, they brought close harmony and flamenco guitar into the earbuds of the blog generation. So, how does such a sound fare after a decade-plus? In all honesty, like an old blanket. Instantly familiar, even after going through the wash, and gentle to the touch. Just hearing Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe singing together again is enough to make your heart soar. Long live the Kings.

70. Baby Beef – It Stings

Cameron Stephens, AKA Christian Values, has always been the secret weapon of Baby Beef. Stealing the show on the group’s best singles with his vocal runs and enigmatic presence, “It Stings” is his first run at centre-stage. It’s one Stephens does with aplomb, reflecting on lost loves finding new love in a city where running into one another is inescapable. It offers vivid imagery about the mental anguish that ensues (“There’s no need to treat me like a rescue dog” feels especially pointed), as well as an inherently-relatable hook to hang its hat on. Consider Stephens a secret no more.

69. Phil Fresh feat. RISSA – On the Low

Yeah yeah, a song about hooking up is at number 69. Rest assured, Phil Fresh has earned this shit. “On the Low” is one of the year’s smoothest rnb cuts, balancing out its dynamics with perfection and offering an exceptional exercise in platonic honesty. RISSA’s guest turn is a star-maker, matching up to Fresh’s finesse with her own velvety late-night coo. The slinking bass of co-producer/co-writer Xiro, too, adds further dimension to the duet dialogue. Fresh has stated his EP title, L.A.T.E., is a backronym for “love ain’t that easy.” “On the Low” serves, then, as that notion’s strongest exploration.

68. Fred again.. – Sabrina (I am a Party)

In “Explaining My Depression to My Mother,” poet Sabrina Benaim lays out her greater anxiety to an audience in awe. It’s a stunning performance, reveling in home truths and heart-wrenching realisations. A very real risk is run by producer Fred again.. by dragging it kicking and screaming into the club. What he does on “Sabrina,” however, is thrive on the performance’s tension. The siren-blare beats and the booming synth-bass hold her words under cold, unforgiving red light. Soon, she’s lost to the gathering crowd – which is, in its own way, a reflection on what Benaim was going for originally.

67. Ed Sheeran – Bad Habits

Ed Sheeran’s got no business being here. The king of the basic whites? The high chief of bland singles? How’s this wimpy little ginger snuck his way in? Simple, really: The little vampire freak has momentarily forgotten how to be Ed Sheeran. His tiny acoustic guitar is nowhere to be seen, making way for MIDI piano tinkering and thudding sub-bass guaranteed to raise a snarl. Assistance from Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid and the aforementioned Fred again.. certainly helps matters, too. “Bad Habits” is a transmogrification from the weekend to The Weeknd; a lazy Sunday afternoon to an all-out Saturday night.

66. BROCKHAMPTON – DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY

Self-proclaimed boy-band BROCKHAMPTON alerted their devotees that this year’s ROADRUNNER LP would be their penultimate album. If “DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY” is the last great BROCKHAMPTON song, then, may it be said: What a way to go out. All guns blazing, pun intended. Every verse boasting impeccable flow atop the mechanical, intrinsic beat. The perfect bridge, right down to its Kendrick homage – way better than the other Kendrick homage going around this year. It’s a shame they’re saying goodbye when they’re still this effortlessly good, but we’re gonna keep going hard until the party’s over. Shoot your shot.

65. Carly Pearce feat. Ashley McBryde – Never Wanted to Be That Girl

There’s surprising parallels between this and “The Boy is Mine”: two women at the height of their power within a particular genre trading verses on their relationship with the same man. While Brandy and Monica asserted their dominance, however, Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde are commiserating – Pearce has been cheated on, and McBryde has unknowingly been the other woman. Both bring powerhouse performances and utmost conviction here, proving they’re collectively far superior than the no-good man they’ve left behind. For those wanting country-pop with a bit more sizzle than your average Bourbon Street steak, “Never Wanted” is that song.

64. Modest Mouse – We Are Between

The 2010s were odd for Modest Mouse, especially considering how dominant they were the decade prior. With one (average) record and an increasingly-erratic live reputation, word of new material surfacing in 2021 felt like good news for people who love bad news. Imagine the surprise, then, when “We Are Between” comfortably became their best since 2007’s game-changing “Dashboard.” Robust, off-kilter and just that tiny bit unpredictable, it rushes forth in the same spirit of other modern ModMo material without hesitating at the finish line. Maybe that garden hose Isaac Brock is being chased with hasn’t yet caught up with him.

63. Plaster of Paris – Internalise

“Recent nostalgia” feels like an odd term, but it’s a unique sensation applied to this cut from Melbourne trio Plaster of Paris. Remember that rush you got the first time you heard Sleater-Kinney? What about when you heard the Gossip, or Savages? It doesn’t feel like all that long ago, but there’s still that little tinge of a bygone era when names like that arise – this bold, unapologetically queer and decisive take on proto post-punk. “Internalise” pulls at these memories and these elements to forge something new, fresh, emotive and exciting. Easily one of 2021’s most underrated tracks.

62. 1300 – No Caller ID

You might be reading this sometime in 2022 when 1300 have inevitably blown up. Maybe they got a feature on a Kid LAROI track, or they signed to 88rising, or they’ve ended up on some other astronomical plane entirely. Wherever they are in the future, just know that their future started here. 152 seconds of ice-cold, merciless rap-game shit that goes harder than it has any right to. This Korean-Australian collective are most likely painting the future of hip-hop within the country before our very eyes, and it’s a remarkable thing to witness. “No Caller ID” is worth answering for.

61. Green Screen – I am Boring

The thing about first impressions, as they say, is that you only get one. The thing about Green Screen’s first impression is that they only needed one. “I am Boring” is neon city-pop with an electric undercurrent and a multifaceted approach, resulting in one of the more antithetically-titled tracks to come out in 2021. Its major-minor tonality, matched with its impressive vocal tradeoffs, result in an experiment boasting extremely positive results. “People are dancing/The earth is dancing,” prophesises cohort Zoe Catterall in amidst the synth-claps and the springy synthesizers. Be the change you want to see in the world, right?

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Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:

Back next week with part three!