I went to 153 shows in 2020. These were the best ones:
50. Laurence Pike @ Old 505 Theatre, 13/8 49. Not A Boys Name @ The Lansdowne, 10/9 48. Bloods @ Crowbar Sydney, 6/11 47. Sally Seltmann @ The Lansdowne, 12/11 46. Caitlin Harnett & The Pony Boys @ Petersham Bowling Club, 12/9 45. Lisa Caruso @ The Vanguard, 16/10 44. Tim Freedman @ Camelot Lounge, 24/11 43. Fanny Lumsden @ Red Rattler, 6/11 42. Sarah Blasko @ Old 505 Theatre, 14/11 41. Andy Bull @ Mary’s Underground, 29/11 40. Jack Colwell @ Oxford Art Factory, 2/10 39. Totally Unicorn @ Crowbar Sydney, 22/8 38. Shady Nasty @ Mary’s Underground, 3/12 37. Jack Ladder @ The Lansdowne, 17/7 36. Baby Beef @ The Vanguard, 20/6 35. Ruby Fields @ Wombarra Bowling Club, 17/10 34. Shogun & The Sheets @ The Lansdowne, 24/7 33. Party Dozen @ Mary’s Underground, 10/10 32. Mary’s Loves the Bush @ The Lansdowne, 27/1 31. The Buoys @ The Lansdowne, 22/8 30. E^ST @ The Vanguard, 2/8 29. Terror @ Hamilton Station Hotel, 19/1 28. Gordi @ Factory Theatre, 22/10 27. Nick Lowe @ Enmore Theatre, 16/2 26. An Horse @ Old Bar, 24/2 25. The Presets @ Factory Theatre, 21/11 24. Ben Folds with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra @ Sydney Town Hall, 6/3 23. Fatboy Slim @ Sydney Olympic Park, 31/1 22. Amanda Palmer @ Enmore Theatre, 20/2 21. Kwame @ The Lansdowne, 29/10 20. Hockey Dad @ Bulli Showgrounds, 9/10 19. Polaris @ Enmore Theatre, 28/2 18. The Stranglers @ Enmore Theatre, 8/2 17. mclusky @ Oxford Art Factory, 12/1 16. A Sunny Afternoon @ McCabe Park, 1/3 15. Vampire Weekend @ Enmore Theatre, 9/1 14. Private Function @ The Lansdowne, 13/12 13. The New Pornographers @ Metro Theatre, 26/2 12. Sleaford Mods @ Metro Theatre, 4/3 11. Invasion Fest @ Metro Theatre, 18/1 10. Urthboy @ Lazybones Lounge, 20/11 9. A.B. Original @ Factory Theatre, 14/11 8. Dune Rats @ Big Top Luna Park, 7/3 7. Laneway Festival @ The Domain, 2/2 6. Violent Soho @ The Lansdowne, 14/2 5. Knocked Loose @ Dicey Riley’s, 16/1 4. Elton John @ Qudos Bank Arena, 14/1 3. Farmer & The Owl @ McCabe Park, 29/2 2. Pagan @ The Curtin, 22/2 1. Genesis Owusu @ Mary’s Underground, 22/10
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Jesus Piece @ Burkedin Hotel, 18/1; Cry Club @ La La La’s, 1/2; Tool @ Qudos Bank Arena, 17/2; Tyre Swans @ Stay Gold, 22/2; Julia Jacklin @ Enmore Theatre, 5/3; Dyson Stringer Cloher @ The Vanguard, 15/3; Hard-Ons @ The Lansdowne, 3/7; Phil Jamieson @ The Lansdowne, 7/8; Elana Stone @ Old 505 Theatre, 16/10; Brad Cox @ Wollongong UniBar, 23/10; Maddy Jane @ The Lansdowne, 24/10; Josh Pyke @ Factory Theatre, 29/10; Jack R. Reilly @ The Vanguard, 10/11; Middle Kids @ Factory Theatre, 11/11; Donny Benet @ The Vanguard, 12/11; Polish Club @ Factory Theatre, 17/11; Annie Hamilton @ The Lansdowne, 18/11; We Lost the Sea @ Crowbar Sydney, 21/11; Imogen Clark @ Factory Theatre, 9/12; Post Truth @ Hamilton Station Hotel, 17/12; The Vanns @ Wombarra Bowling Club, 23/12.
1. Ashley McBryde – Never Will 2. Spanish Love Songs – Brave Faces Everyone 3. Banoffee – Look at Us Now Dad 4. Sports Team – Deep Down Happy 5. Blake Scott – Niscitam 6. Gil Scott-Heron – We’re New Again: A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven 7. The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers 8. Miel – Tourist Season 9. The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You 10. Polaris – The Death of Me 11. Gordi – Our Two Skins 12. Azim Zain and His Lovely Bones – Be Good 13. Pillow Queens – In Waiting 14. Sorry – 925 15. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia 16. The Chicks – Gaslighter 17. Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant 18. Gulch – Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress 19. E^ST – I’M DOING IT 20. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters 21. Party Dozen – Pray for Party Dozen 22. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush 23. Dune Rats – Hurry Up and Wait 24. Miiesha – Nyaaringu 25. Run The Jewels – RTJ4 26. Hockey Dad – Brain Candy 27. HAIM – Women in Music Pt. III 28. Jack Colwell – SWANDREAM 29. Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor 30. Something for Kate – The Modern Medieval 31. Cry Club – God I’m Such a Mess 32. El Tee – Everything is Fine 33. 5 Seconds of Summer – C A L M 34. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher 35. RVG – Feral 36. illuminati hotties – FREE I.H: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For 37. Headie One x Fred again.. – GANG 38. Touché Amoré – Lament 39. Neil Cicierega – Mouth Dreams 40. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud 41. Jeff Rosenstock – N O D R E A M 42. Tired Lion – Breakfast for Pathetics 43. Haiku Hands – Haiku Hands 44. Jack R. Reilly – Middle Everything 45. Diet Cig – Do You Wonder About Me? 46. Covet – technicolor 47. Frances Quinlan – Likewise 48. Violent Soho – Everything is A-OK 49. Shopping – All or Nothing 50. Paradise Club – Paradise Club
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Jaime Wyatt – Neon Cross, Colter Wall – Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs, envy – The Fallen Crimson, Adrianne Lenker – songs, Car Seat Headrest – Making a Door Less Open, Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today, Soccer Mommy – color theory, Good Sad Happy Bad – Shades, Cub Sport – LIKE NIRVANA, Snarls – Burst, Laurence Pike – Prophecy, Taylor Swift – folklore, Bright Eyes – Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was, Laura Jane Grace – Stay Alive, Polkadot – Feeling Okay, Ratboys – Printer’s Devil, The Streets – None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive, Turtle Skull – Monoliths
When they were first making noise, the most common term for Fontaines D.C. was “post-punk.” It made perfect sense circa Dogrel – after all, it was all we had to go off. What if, however, Dogrel was a punk record… and A Hero’s Death was the real post-punk record? The churning bass, the Madchester big-beat drums and the surf-nightmare baritone guitar on “Televised Mind” is like night and day when paired next to, say, “Boys in the Better Land.” It’s an evolution; a primordial and powerful progression. Whatever it is, it’s post-something. They’ve once again gotten ahead of the game.
19. Gorillaz feat. Peter Hook and Georgia – Aries
“Aries:” the best Gorillaz single since “DoYaThing,” and also the best New Order song since “Crystal.” While the band’s previous collab-heavy project Humanz felt like too many cooks, Song Machine saw the fictitious troupe get the balance just right. Case in point: the legendary Peter Hook pulls out a classic high-fret bassline for 2D’s weary, emotive vocal. Meanwhile, electronica upstart Georgia patterns a V-drums undercurrent that drives it along before literally bursting into high tide (what a chorus, while we’re at it). This team-up may seem like a bizarre love triangle, but in execution “Aries” was written in the stars.
18. The 1975 – If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)
The role “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” plays shifted significantly. Its initial April release was a final burst of hype for the band’s Notes on a Conditional Form, after endless delays and an elongated hype trail. Post-Notes, it’s symbolic of better times – where we hadn’t yet been let down by the exhaustive hour-20 bloat that ensued. In either case, through the good times and the bad, “Too Shy” survived. It stood alone as one of the band’s brightest and bubbliest singles to date. Everybody wants to rule the world, but “Too Shy” actually followed through on it.
17. Cry Club – Obvious
There’s two pertinent lines in “Obvious.” The first, from the perspective of Heather Riley’s bank account, is “Bitch, you need to stay at home.” This, mind, was written well before every bitch needed to stay at home for months. The other is in the song’s chorus: “How could anyone say no?” Cry Club are irresistible by design. They are a beloved pop band making beloved pop songs. This is among the best they’ve penned, from its ascending cascade of keys to its urgent, propulsive drums and topped off with a sweet cherry of a melody. Cry Club feels like home.
16. Jackson Wang – 100 Ways
Jackson Wang is from a South Korean boy band. No, not that one. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter which one he’s from. This is about Jackson Wang, solo star. By all rights, “100 Ways” should’ve been as explosive a hit single as… well, “Dynamite.” The state-of-the-art LOSTBOY beat, the Paul Simon flip of the chorus, the oozing charisma of Wang himself… goddamn, “100 Ways” has everything going for it. What gives, America? He’s even on 88Rising, and y’all LOVE them. Wang can do more as one man than most boys can do as a group of seven – including his own.
15. Urthboy – The Night Took You
They say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Urthboy knows this well, but consider that he’s spent the last 20-plus years being unbroken. If anyone’s earned the right to go in and smash shit up, it’s him. “The Night Took You” is the sound of one of the country’s all-time greatest MCs risking it all by not spitting a single bar. A weary, heartfelt melody takes its place, accompanied by plaintive piano and stirring strings. How then, does this recipe for potential disaster taste so rich and fulfilling? It’s simple, really: Urthboy rebuilt in his very own image.
14. Good Sad Happy Bad – Shades
Several circumstances lead to Micachu & The Shapes changing their name. Raisa Khan took over on lead vocals, for one; multi-instrumentalist CJ Caladerwood expanded the band to a quartet, for another. Ultimately, it came down to drawing a line in the sand. That was then, this is now. “Shades” feels like a new chapter, in that sense. It pulls many of the same shapes as the Shapes, but it’s cast through a new lense. Khan’s reserved, distinct delivery pairs well against the harsh synth and feedback-heavy sax. It’s the future, but it’s now. It’s here. Come, see the bright side.
13. The Beths – Out of Sight
“Out of Sight” doesn’t do anything particularly different for The Beths. It’s more resplendent, sun-kissed indie-pop that revels in its darker corners while never losing its brightness. This, of course, changes once you find yourself below its surface. In the thick of this song is a shattering piece of love-lorn poetry: “I’ll keep a flame burning inside,” offers vocalist Liz Stokes, “if you need to bum a light.” Her bandmates allow the song’s sentimentality to both simmer and burst into life – see Jon Pearce’s impeccable lead guitar and Tristan Deck’s racing snare-rim. It’s not particularly different, no. It’s better.
12. The 1975 – Me & You Together Song
“We went to Winter Wonderland,” reminisces 1975 frontman Matty Healy amidst his love-letter to 90s jangle-pop. “It was shit, but we were happy.” A potentially-revelatory thought: Could The 1975 themselves be the Winter Wonderland of the pop world? This is a band acutely aware of its shortcomings, prone to self-sabotage and over-indulgence among many other things. In the times when you need them the most, however, they glisten. They are everything you need. You – and they – are happy. You’ll let them make a two-hour triple album if it means three minutes of paradise like this. You and them together.
11. Fontaines D.C. – I Don’t Belong
“Dublin in the rain is mine,” boasted Grian Chatten at the beginning of his band’s acclaimed debut album a year prior. What a difference a year makes. He can see clearly now, the rain has gone. “I don’t want to belong to anyone,” he prophesises at the beginning of his band’s acclaimed second album. A new man, fronting a new band. Methodical, refined, steely in focus. Slow to build and bright to burn. Once standing on the shoulders of giants, now giants themselves. They roam this barren, empty land. “I Don’t Belong” is a new beginning and a turning tide.
10. 5 Seconds of Summer – No Shame
When did 5 Seconds of Summer go from being – to borrow a phrase – boys to men? There are several key points along the Sydney band’s trajectory: Making it in America, crashing under the weight of expectation with their sophomore slump, blazing a comeback trail with a global number-one smash. These are all worthy answers, and testament to 5SOS’ maturation and evolution. If you want the proper answer, however, it lies within the confines of “No Shame:” They’re finally so famous that they’ve written a song about being famous.
Not only have they done that, they’ve written one of the best songs of their career. It’s a move that can go drastically wrong – lest we forget the band’s heroes, Good Charlotte, absolutely whiffing it with their 2005 tantrum “I Just Wanna Live.” What makes “No Shame” stand out, then, is its revelry. “I only light up when cameras are flashing,” boasts vocalist Luke Hemmings, stomping down on his territory as Ashton Irwin smacks out a “Closer” disco groove. That’s not the first Nine Inch Nails reference 5SOS have made of late, either. Rather than rally against the starfuckers, however, 5SOS are leaning directly into their primitive, forceful nature. “Go on, replace me,” Hemmings taunts. “When you’re cravin’ somethin’ sweeter than the words I left in your mouth/Go on and spit me out.” He’s seen his band get dumped in the bin before, he’s not afraid of it happening again.
That’s the thing about “No Shame.” It’s got nothing to lose. It’s a dark, sneering pop song, driven by a washed out, “Come As You Are”-esque guitar line and the guttural squelch of bass-synth patched in with the industrial-tinged beat programming. Australia’s biggest boy-band export have burned their lovable-larrikin image to the ground. No more cutesy cock-rock, or acoustic gaslighting anthems, or even pushing and pulling away.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
– 11 Corinthians 3
5 Seconds of Summer are men now. Treat them as such.
Needless to say, it’s anyone’s guess where Sports Team end up in this trajectory. Consider this: Arctic Monkeys got their start kicking out Strokes and Vines covers, the hyped bands of their teens. Sports Team, and bands of their ilk, almost definitely got their start on Arctic Monkeys covers. Maybe even Art Brut and Maxïmo Park too, actually – oft-forgotten names that may be more influential on the current generation of UK rock than anyone is willing to give credit for. Either way the baton has been passed, and a new breed of sardonic English artists are emerging to rattle whatever foundations are left.
Sports Team arrive on the scene as bitter upstarts. Even their name sounds ironic – like, ooh, go team! I love my sports because I’m a man! Then again, of course Sports Team are bitter. Look at the world they’ve inherited – it’s drastically different to the one that the Monkeys and Bloc Party and the like took up in. They’re being fed a constant stream of bullshit on an information superhighway – and there they are, plugged in and playing in the middle of the road, trying to not get totalled by an oncoming truck.
This is at the core of their lead single, statement piece and soon-to-be signature song. “Here’s the Thing” is a barrage of slogans and self-help mantras, rattled off with increasing frustration by frontman Alex Rice. “Jesus loves you!” he chirps. “The football’s coming home!” Of course, as the band will happily remind us at the end of every verse: “It’s all just lies, lies, lies, lies.” The band themselves aren’t exempt from the smell of their own bullshit, either. “Hey, ma! I wrote a song!,” Rice cheers at one point. “Now everything’s alright!” It’s not, of course. Who knows if it will be. Still, despite their snark and their piss-antery, there is a bubbling undercurrent of hope that a band like Sports Team exists in the first place. That’s just the thing, isn’t it.
8. Peach Tree Rascals – Things Won’t Go My Way
At the time of writing, Peach Tree Rascals don’t have a genre listed on their Wikipedia page. That might seem like an oversight more than anything – symptomatic of an incomplete article – but it’s honestly worth thinking about. We’re in an age where everything can be categorised. An entire t-shirt can be filled with the names of subgenres – and sometimes that’s just subgenres for one genre itself. How the fuck are a band like Peach Tree Rascals getting away with not having a genre? Simple, really: They’re living by example.
For those playing catch-up, the NoCal collective first took off over on TikTok circa 2019 with their single “Mariposa.” While the success story isn’t unique – it probably makes up nearly half of the no-name artists on the charts currently rubbing shoulders with established giants – the song itself certainly was. It’s a zoomer’s take on sunny-afternoon, carefree 60s pop, mixing jazzy chord strums with the whirr of AutoTune and a multitude of vocal perspectives. Think BROCKHAMPTON covering The Turtles, or maybe the other way around. It’s not uncategorisable entirely, but it’s genre-free both by choice and by nature.
While not nearly as successful – it holds some four million Spotify streams to “Mariposa”’s 150 – “Things Won’t Go My Way” arguably goes a greater distance in emphatically diversifying the Rascals’ sound. The churning indie-rock guitar progression clatters and clangs against a sturdy bassline, washed-out keys and pristine pop drums. The vocals, too, range from understated lower-octave to reverb-heavy calls out from the ether. There’s lots of elements and moving parts at work here, but it never stakes permanent residence in any immediate musical spectrum.
One could also view this as a larger issue of music attempting a one-size-fits-all mentality – a mater of homogeneity rather than originality. To dismiss Peach Tree Rascals in such a manner is to miss the point entirely. It’s not that they’re trying to be too rap for indie, too indie for rap, or anything in-between. It’s that they simply don’t want to be. They want to be themselves. That’s something not enough acts aspire to.
7. Spanish Love Songs – Self-Destruction (As a Sensible Career Choice)
Just over a decade ago, pop-punk took a turn. Its stalwarts stayed true to the “my friends over you” and “girls are so confusing” school of songwriting, yes, but its contemporaries shifted into something harsher by touch and texture. This notion of “realist pop-punk” came primarily from young American men in their early to mid 20s, attempting to find their own place in the world and assuring those around them that they were not alone in their confusions and general anxiety. The Wonder Years, Transit, Fireworks, Real Friends – even the more belligerent acts like The Story So Far and a young Turnover eventually transitioned into this more emotive musical territory.
Bands like Spanish Love Songs were born in the wake of this, and have molded themselves in this image. Whether you see it as a gritty reboot of pop-punk, the fourth wave of emo or something new entirely, it’s grown increasingly hard to deny its presence. From The Hotelier and Modern Baseball to Sorority Noise and You Blew It!, this sound made waves and developed cult status through the 2010s – occasionally spilling over into mainstream crossover with the success of by-products like Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers.
We may have entered a new decade, but the grievances and turmoil faced by this generation of songwriters hasn’t magically gone away. “Need about 30 goddamn miracles,” spits Dylan Slocum – a nihilistic twist on the tried-and-true trope of needing a miracle. While previous generations couldn’t see the forest for the trees, he “can’t see the world is burning down/’Til we’re living underwater.” It’s a devastating lyric sheet – and entirely emblematic of what follows on third album Brave Faces Everyone. What, then, makes a song like this so rousing and endearing?
For one, it’s an immaculately-crafted piece of alternative rock. The crunch of its guitar tone bounces off the wallop of the drums, with Slocum’s histrionic howl centring itself within the fold. That piercing lead guitar in the chorus cuts straight through the treacle, adding an even sweeter release to the already-powerful hook of “It won’t be this bleak forever.” That’s not even touching the military precision of the chorus’ stop-start reinvention in the finale – as a unit, SLS really stick the landing on this one.
Perhaps its most endearing moment, however, comes in the twist of its closing moments. The whole song sees Slocum fighting against the hook – it’s always bookended with an addendum like “yeah, right” or “have you seen me lately?” For its final repetition, however, Slocum doesn’t talk back. He lets it sit. It’s a flicker of hope. It’s a resolute moment after three minutes of turmoil and tragedy.
In an interview with Billboard, Slocum reasoned that the entire purpose of a project like Spanish Love Songs was to make people feel less alone. “It’s bleak stuff, but I find some comfort in knowing that we’re all in it together,” he says. He’s right – it is bleak. But it won’t be this bleak forever. It can’t be. Not with bands like Spanish Love Songs in our lives.
If it wasn’t obvious, Sophia Allison – aka Soccer Mommy – was another notable part of this wave. She could have perhaps even been its crescent, if only she hadn’t been crashed on by the ever-rising tide. Make no mistake, though: Soccer Mommy is no also-ran project, and “circle the drain” is no also-ran song. In fact, this song is so breathtakingly good that it will make you reconsider her entirely. Whether you liked her initially or not, this song proves she was considerably better than you were ever willing to give her credit for.
“circle the drain” succeeds in a way that previous Soccer Mommy tracks were not able to for one clear-cut reason: It’s found a niche. Rather than trying to keep up any kind of indie-darling purist facade, the song instead openly and outwardly opts to be a pop-rock song. Allison has noted that Avril Lavigne’s second album, 2004’s Under My Skin, was the first album she ever bought. Lavigne’s influence plays a key role here – this sounds exactly like it could be a cut from either of her first two records. We’re all adults here, by the way – we can all acknowledge those records as being excellent now.
This isn’t a bratty “Sk8er Boi” moment, though it’s not exactly “Nobody’s Home” either. Think more “Mobile,” or “Things I’ll Never Say.” Pensive, forlorn pop with a dozen guitars jangling around inside of it and processed beats that just dash across the turn of the century. Here’s where the carving knife for Allison’s niche grows particularly sharp: The song may musically be indebted to a bygone era, but its lyricism details an acute millennial malaise that can only come with someone of her age at this exact moment in time.
Perhaps it was wrong to overlook Soccer Mommy when she first arrived on the scene. Then again, perhaps that very notion makes “circle the drain” all the more triumphant. It’s one of the year’s most unexpected delicacies – a left-of-centre dream-pop diary entry that potently merges the past, the present and the future. Round and round we go, once more.
5. Miel – Must Be Fine
Miel Breduow never had to explain that she wasn’t kidding.
Under regular circumstances, a person best known for doing comedy has to clarify what’s sincere and what isn’t. From Nanetteto Wolfie’s Just Fine to… ahem… Dane Cook’s “Forward,” there are countless examples of comics moving into earnest territory. Bredouw isn’t all that different. She goofed around on Vine at its peak, ending up on countless compilations and keeping the dream of Keisza’s “Hideaway” alive. She moved over to podcasting and found a new cult following as she punched up countless jams, both with friends and on her own. She is, as Streisand would say, a funny girl.
When “Must Be Fine” came out, Miel never had to explain that she wasn’t kidding. Why?
The answer is twofold. The first is a reflection on the kind of person Bredouw is – or, at the very least, a reflection on the public persona fans and listeners have come to know through her work. Even when making ridiculous jokes or shriek-laughing at more of Chris Fleming‘s escapades, she comes across as entirely genuine. The kind of person who means what they say, who wouldn’t be laughing if they didn’t find it funny and the kind of person who sees honesty as the best policy.
More pertinent to the song itself, though, is that secondly there’s basically no other read you can give on “Must Be Fine.” It’s a cutting song – it’s sharp, and goes surprisingly deep for a two-and-a-half-minute song with two verses, two choruses and a bridge. A bridge that doesn’t lead anywhere, either – which is surprising on the first listen, but once you’re intimately familiar with your surrounds it clicks and begins to make sense. This isn’t a story with a definitive conclusion. There are no heroes and villains. It’s a time-lapse of a flower withering beneath a descending California sunset. It’s beauty and loss and tragedy within a sunburnt city landscape.
Hannah Gadsby, who performed the aforementioned Nanette, speaks of the effects of laughter in that show. “Laughter is very good for the human,” she said. “It really is, because when you laugh you release tension. When you hold tension in your human body, it’s not healthy. It’s not healthy psychologically or physically.”
Miel’s work has always released tension. It’s interesting, then, that her work that achieved this in the most accomplished of ways was not centred on laughter. And she never had to explain that she wasn’t kidding.
4. Sarah Jarosz – Johnny
“Why is it that we can feel so robbed when someone tells us a story we just heard isn’t true, and yet feel so satisfied at the end of a fictional novel?” This is a question posed by puppet-comedian Randy Feltface in his 2015 show Randy Writes a Novel, which comes at the end of perhaps the show’s finest moment of storytelling. (Referencing that quote if you haven’t seen the part in question is a bit of a spoiler, but so be it.) In songwriting, we’re so obsessed with the idea of what’s “real.” If it’s “real,” then it’s “authentic.” And if it’s “authentic,” then it’s inherently good. Or so we’re told.
“The tortured artist myth is rampant. People paint me as some kind of black witchcraft-practising devil from hell, that I have to be twisted and dark to do what I am doing. It’s a load of rubbish.” This is a quote from PJ Harvey, giving an interview to promote her 1998 album Is This Desire?. It’s an album, much like all of her work, that is steeped in character and fable-oriented lyricism. Does this make her work any less “real” or “authentic” because she didn’t literally drown her child like she sings on “Down By the Water”? Do we dare question men about this authenticity the same way we question women? Harvey’s one-time fling Nick Cave has been singing of murdering people for 30-plus years and has barely batted an eyelid in that time.
“Johnny’s on the back porch drinking red wine/He knows that it could be the very last time/He raises the glass up to his lips and wonders.” This is the opening line to “Johnny,” the lead single from Sarah Jarosz’ fifth studio album World on the Ground. Jarosz didn’t do a great deal of press for the album – for obvious reasons, of course – and so there isn’t a great deal of information as to whether the story told in the song is real.
The titular Johnny is staring down the barrel as he prepares to go in for open heart surgery – one fast move and he’s gone. It’s a moment filled with drama and suspense, and its unresolved nature only drives the intrigue even further. Did Johnny make it? Where is Johnny now? Is he even real to begin with?
Which then circles us back to these original points made by both Feltface and Harvey. Who cares if Johnny is real? “Johnny” is no less authentic because of it. It’s a striking, harmonious and emotive slice of Americana. Its lines trace around a bright octave mandolin, Levon Helm-esque drumming and rustic close harmonies that tie well into Jarosz’s bluegrass background. It’s certainly poppier than her earliest alt-country work, but that too doesn’t make it any less authentic. Any less real. From the second its tape-loop drone guides you in to the second its strummed mandolin lick guides you out, everything in “Johnny” is as real as it gets.
3. Hayley Williams – Simmer
Paramore is a band. Hayley Williams is a musician. Hayley Williams is in the band Paramore. “Simmer” is a song. “Simmer” is not a Paramore song. “Simmer” is a song by Hayley Williams.
This may seem like a collection of more moot points than a Rick Springfield song, and rightly so. Still, you would genuinely be shocked at how many people took issue differentiating when “Simmer” arrived in the first few weeks of 2020. If this is a Hayley Williams song, does that mean Paramore no longer exist? There are other members of Paramore involved – does this mean Paramore has become Hayley Williams? Hayley Williams is the only member of Paramore that has an unbroken line on Paramore’s Wikipedia timeline from start to end – surely this means she’s some sort of fascist dictator?
Again, you don’t get this kind of malarkey with male-fronted bands. For whatever reason, though, drama and discourse follow Williams around like a bad smell. It’s enough to send you mad – and, in a way, that’s a lot of what “Simmer” is about. It’s about the acknowledgement, the processing and the temperament of one’s deepest, darkest and most seething hatred. Williams has been outwardly pissed off before – hell, her first few albums with Paramore were quite literally fuelled by teenage angst. It’s never felt as subversive and as outright threatening as it does on “Simmer,” though.
Why, exactly? Consider both the context and the delivery. The context is no longer a firebrand pop-punk upstart, it’s an embattled 30-something divorcee who has grown up in public and been to hell and back twice over. The delivery is no longer a roof-raising, glass-shattering yelp – a defiant voice aiming to be heard in a dude-heavy scene. No, Williams is done with that shit. If you want to hear what she has to say, you’re going to have to lean in a little closer. When you do, in the throes of the second verse, she quite literally ideates violence. To paraphrase Tegan & Sara, you feel the knife going in.
Heightening the context is the musical environment of “Simmer.” 15 years is a long time, and you feel all 15 of them when you draw the line from All We Know is Fallingto “Simmer.” A smoky blend of trip-hop, indie and 21st-century pop lays out a trail of twists, turns and inevitable spirals. It’s a leap into the great unknown, and as Williams herself may have said 15 years prior you can feel the pressure.
How does one protect themselves, knowing danger awaits? Williams knows. “Wrap yourself in petals for armor,” she says. Don’t mistake kindness for weakness. Your anger is a gift. A riot inside the mind is no lesser of a riot.
“Simmer” is a song. It may be the best song Hayley Williams has ever sung.
2. EGOISM – Here’s the Thing
Breaking the fourth wall here slightly: Two different songs with the exact same title being in the same countdown has only ever happened once before. This was in 2018, when both Post Malone andAmy Shark released songs called “Psycho.” The pair both came at the titular phrase from unexpected places on surprisingly downbeat songs, unified by little more than a subversive take on a slightly-taboo word.
What, then, of “Here’s the Thing” and “Here’s the Thing”? Both come from upstart bands in their 20s, yes, but the similarities end conclusively there. Sports Team enlist the phrase like a weapon – a condescending, mansplaining place-setter, barked from the perspective of an elder statesmen with a chip on their shoulder. EGOISM, however, enlist the phrase as a jumping-off point. It’s the beginning of a difficult conversation. It’s the beginning of the end. The end of a beginning.
How could this phrase manage to hold such a different connotation in this context? Such weight? Truth be told, it’s part and parcel of EGOISM’s modus operandi. The band may traverse the realm of dream pop – often sonically light and airy by design – but their lyrical and thematic structure delve the inner depths as only the truest of confessionals can. It’s not for nothing that the duo of Olive Rush and Scout Eastment named their band after a school of philosophy defined as “concerned with the role of the self, or ego, as the motivation and goal of one’s own action.” EGOISM are at the centre of their own universe – and when they’re falling apart, it can only reflect in their music.
“Here’s the Thing,” with this taken into consideration, easily stands as the band’s most emotionally affecting song. Rush, who takes a stellar lead turn, spoke openly about the vulnerable place from which it came upon its release. They described it as being “about feeling like your heart is getting smashed into a million pieces.” It doesn’t get much more explicit in intent than that. This sentiment is subsequently reflected by the song’s palette, among the most tasteful the duo have ever composed. Striking math-rock chords ring out in tandem with sombre piano, while a ticking-clock snare rim ultimately gives way to a clattering loop that recalls that of Ben Lee’s similarly-pervious “Cigarettes Will Kill You.”
It’s the kind of thing one can find themselves simply entranced in, time and time again. It’s within these repeat listens one also finds themselves hearing things just that little bit different. The song’s seemingly-endless repeats of the same question – “Should you love somebody new?” – start to give way. Because of the quick succession of syllables, sometimes you can just mishear the “new” as simply an elongated part of the previous word – thus, forming an entirely new question of “Should you love somebody?”
It’s there that “Here’s the Thing” goes from wondering as to whether it’s worth starting again to wondering whether it’s worth it at all if this is where it will inevitably lead to. It’s a dark turn – and just think, that’s assembled entirely from something that’s not there. Imagine how much more there is to what’s actually present.
Eastment described “Here’s the Thing” as the best song Rush has ever written. She’s right, but not just from a songwriting perspective – from an egoism perspective. Months before “Here’s the Thing,” EGOISM had released “You You.” The Eastment-lead track covers very similar emotional ground: rising from the rubble left in the wake of a tattered relationship, knowing there is still love there but it cannot continue in the same way that it has. Eastment even acknowledges in the song’s Bandcamp notes that “Olive was going through something really similar at the time.” The mirror image is literally reflected between the two songs when Eastment takes lead on the bridge of “Here’s the Thing” – in the very same point of the song that Rush takes over from her on “You You,” no less.
I won’t mess with anyone else but I won’t mess with anyone else but I won’t mess with anyone else but you, you You, you
The pair’s inextricable link and their unshakable bond is what keeps EGOISM alive. It’s what gets the two of them through their darkest moments. “Here’s the Thing” is the crack where the light gets in. A problem shared is a problem halved.
1. The Avalanches feat. Rivers Cuomo and Pink Siifu – Running Red Lights
In order to tell this story, you have to know where three different sets of people were in the year 2000 and where they were in 2020. Yes, this is a story that’s over 20 years old; let it be told.
The three sets are plunderphonics collective The Avalanches, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo and singer-songwriter David Berman. With respect to Pink Siifu, his story doesn’t necessarily intertwine here. He appears here as more of a vessel than anything, but more on that later.
In 2000, The Avalanches released their debut studio album Since I Left You. It would turn them into one of the most internationally-acclaimed groups of next 12 months, scoring a boatload of ARIAs and selling out an explosive world tour in support of it. Their sample-heavy mix of pop, hip-hop, dance, funk, electronica, indie, rock and whatever other genres traversed their obscure record collection was a unique prospect. So much so, that The Avalanches’ idiosyncrasy raised a myriad of questions pertaining to how exactly they intended to follow such a seismic debut.
In 2000, Rivers Cuomo revived Weezer after a period of dormancy. He had spent the bulk of the late 90s – and, subsequently, the end of his 20s – in a spiral of depression. He, too, was plagued with the pressure of following up a hugely-influential debut album – and although Pinkerton was certainly not without its fans, it too found itself at the mercy of many a divided critic. With the band back in action and playing shows again, this was Cuomo’s impetus to start again – to finally achieve the greatness he’d been searching for.
In 2000, David Berman was between albums at the helm of the Silver Jews – the band with which he had made his name as a cult figure on the American indie rock circuit. His distinctive voice and unflinchingly-honest approach to lyrics and songwriting found a loving home on cult indie label Drag City, while the Jews’ initial lineup served as the launchpad for a separate juggernaut entirely in Pavement. Much like Cuomo, Berman would soon also find himself at odds with the black dog – a recurring motif throughout both his musical and personal life.
In 2020, The Avalanches were in the present tense again. Having finally followed up Since I Left You in 2016 with the technicolor experimentation of Wildflower, the group’s surviving duo – Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi – wanted to ensure that another new record would not take nearly as long. They began to assemble what would become their third album, We Will Always Love You – a tribute to those no longer with us, and a further exploration of what the group could sound like now that they were no longer defined entirely by a singular work.
In 2020, Rivers Cuomo was back at work again with Weezer. Truthfully, the band never really got off the wagon once that 2000 revival happened. The band scored big with hits like “Island in the Sun” and “Beverly Hills,” but their constant attempts at appealing to the same age demographic as they had a decade – and, eventually, two decades – prior saw their reputation end up in general disarray. Much like Paul Simon before him, Rivers Cuomo needed a photo opportunity and a shot at redemption. Thanks to Chater and Di Blasi, he was about to get one.
In 2020, David Berman was gone. He’d gone off to play the great gig in the sky a year prior, after ultimately losing his lifelong battle at the age of 52. As a collaborator on Wildflower, Berman was pulled out of reclusion by The Avalanches to contribute to a track on the album. He also later consented to having his work interpolated into a new song the band was working on – a gesture that, although he may not have fully realised at the time, was a parting gift and an eerie foreshadowing of what would come on We Will Always Love You.
There’s history in the walls of “Running Red Lights.” There’s ghosts in the walls, too. There are spirits in the night sky, looking down upon you as the city lights up. There’s over 20 years of stories in “Running Red Lights.” Stories of triumph, tragedy, love, loss, life, death and the human condition. What may be the most defining trait of the song, however, is its universality. The truth is, you can come to this song not knowing a single thing about any of its participants and get just as much out of it as someone who knows all of the above and then some.
The reason for this is that “Running Red Lights” is a momentous song – literally, of a moment. What that moment is, however, remains up to you. It can be a defiant rooftop primal scream, claiming the city for your taking. It can be a love-lorn, desperate plea to an estranged loved one. It can be your candle at the vigil memorial for someone you miss. It can be a sunlit drive, a rainy day or an autumnal stroll. Whatever it is to you, it’s yours. No-one can take that from you. No song in 2020 quite held such power in its runtime – and, indeed, long after the track subsides. It’s a crowning achievement for all involved, whether they’re around to see its fruits bared or not.
Welcome to the top 40! The cream is really rising to the top here. Remember, catching up on the list thus far is as easy as one, two, three! With that out of the way, let’s do it to it.
40. Ashley McBryde – Never Will
Consider the title track as a statement piece. One could certainly do this across both of Ashley McBryde’s major-label LPs – and, by proxy, link “Never Will” as a spiritual successor to the modern Opry classic “Girl Goin’ Nowhere.” Much like “Girl,” McBryde once again goes toe-to-toe with those who doubted her. Rather than not believing she’d make it, however, this time they’re saying the good times won’t last. It’s louder and more defiant this time around, backed with rousing electric guitars and a mantra that could reflect McBryde’s entire career: “I didn’t/I don’t/I never will.” Country’s realest, freshest voice.
39. Caligula’s Horse – Autumn
Rise Radiant, the fifth studio album from Caligula’s Horse, is replete with bombast and layered instrumentation, itself zigging when you expect a zag and vice versa. There’s something to be said, then, for a song like “Autumn.” Rather than immediately throwing listeners to the wolves, it gently fades in on a lone acoustic guitar and the subdued, tender vocals of frontman Jim Grey. The prog-rock grandiosity eventuates, yes – there’s a bass solo that leads into a guitar solo – but “Autumn” succeeds primarily as a daring venture for a band that could easily but unfairly be dismissed as by-the-numbers.
38. Baby Beef – Sticking Around
A Layman’s introduction to Baby Beef: Imagine Matt Berninger fronting the Pet Shop Boys. Both the same baritone and quizzical lyrical nature follow, matched with synths and programming that are pure, unabashed kitsch. Still, that’s just a starting point. As a song like “Sticking Around” proves, there’s more to the Beef than meets the eye. All three vocalists create standout moments for themselves, while the spaghetti-western guitar adds an unexpected twang to the otherwise glacial synth-pop. There’s no-one currently on the Australian circuit quite like them – and songs like this, fitting to its title, attest to their staying power.
37. Polaris – Vagabond
Although they didn’t get much of a chance to celebrate it, Polaris ascended to the top of the foodchain in Australian heavy music in 2020. The Death of Me not only cleared the bar set by their impressive 2017 debut The Mortal Coil, it set a new benchmark for their contemporaries entirely. We listen now to the album’s centrepiece, wholly exemplary of this fresh standard. If you’re not coming to the dance with riffs that bounce as hard, drums that slam as aggressively and hooks that feel as all-encompassing as “Vagabond,” ask yourself: What the hell are you doing here?
36. ONEFOUR – Welcome to Prison
Of course, one can’t document the rise of Western Sydney’s ONEFOUR without also addressing the ever-present elephant in the room. A Rooty Hill incident landed key members of the group in jail, leaving only two on the outside to keep the name alive. To their credit, ONEFOUR have done a fantastic job of this – not least of all for keeping shit very, very real in their lyrical content. “Welcome to Prison,” as its name suggests, hits even harder than something like “In the Beginning” purely for how much heart, honesty and introspection lies within it. They remain Sydney’s realest.
35. Ty Dolla $ign feat. Kanye West, FKA twigs and Skrillex – Ego Death
Was there a greater example of ego death in 2020 than Ty Dolla $ign releasing a song named after it from an album titled Featuring Ty Dolla $ign? Ty always plays John C. Reilly to countless artists’ Will Ferrell. “Ego Death,” then, might be his Walk Hard. It’s still flanked by others’ star power (including Kanye’s best verse in years), but also serves as a showcase of an underrated leading man. This also wasn’t a hit, but give it time and it has every chance of attaining cult-classic status. Rightfully so, too. It’s the soundtrack to a thousand boogie nights.
34. 5 Seconds of Summer – Wildflower
Is there anything more fun than cosplaying decades you weren’t around for? 5SOS – who were all born in the mid-90s – finally get to indulge on a full-blown 80s moment on “Wildflower.” It honestly makes you wonder why they hadn’t gone for it sooner. Those synth stabs! That squeaky-clean guitar! The wallop of the gated snare! Take a dash of solo Phil Collins, add a splash of solo Peter Gabriel, and you’ve got the genesis of “Wildflower.” Maybe a pinch of Talking Heads, too – ’tis the season, after all. As comforting as a pair of giant shoulder pads.
33. Waxahatchee – Fire
It’s always been easy to feel what Katie Crutchfield is singing. She’s always possessed a raw, soulful voice within the indie-rock spectrum that has housed moments of vital vulnerability across her five albums as Waxahatchee. What “Fire” does is make you see what she’s singing. “West Memphis is on fire/In the light of day.” You can see the horizon, the smoke, the terror and the beauty in a moment like that. A bittersweet countryside journey, laden with impeccable harmony and bold structure. “Fire” encapsulates one of the most compelling pieces of songwriting yet in a career defined entirely by them.
32. Something for Kate – Supercomputer
At a time when many of their contemporaries have resigned themselves to the nostalgia circuit and Days On The Green, Something for Kate deserve to be commended for existing in the present tense alone. Even if their new stuff wasn’t up to scratch, at least they were still making it. That’s what makes songs like “Supercomputer” all the more defiant and baffling: Something for Kate are still making some of the best music they’ve ever written. Paul Dempsey’s ongoing sci-fi dalliance continues in a blaze of orbiting synths, pounding toms, rousing na-na-nas and a fiery guitar outro. No nostalgia necessary.
31. Nothing Really – Yuck
“Do you think I’m yuck?” Vic Austin’s voice cracks into a higher register as she asks the song’s titular question. “I adore you,” it adds. Perhaps a separate point, but perhaps the two are wholly intertwined. Like Roger Sanchez’s tragic “Another Chance” video, Austin and her Nothing Really cohorts begin the song with a full, giant heart that is eventually shriveled and shrunken by the cruel nature of the outside world. It’s vital, purposeful indie rock – the kind one loses themselves in for days on end, hooked on a feeling. There’s never an answer given, but silence speaks volumes.
30. Genesis Owusu – Whip Cracker
Much like “This is America” before it, much of “Whip Cracker”’s power lies within its visual accompaniment. Kofi Owusu-Ansah stares directly down the camera barrel, shot in black-and-white as he unflinchingly calls out his targets. By the time the video bursts into colour, blood is dripping from his mouth. It’s one of the year’s most perfect videos for what ended up being one of its hardest-hitting songs. Owusu’s acidic bile is egged on by thudding drums, which turn on a dime into a dance-punk apocalypse around the song’s halfway point. It’s complex by nature; unrelenting in execution. Whip it good.
29. Run the Jewels feat. Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha – JU$T
When the tracklist for RTJ4 preempted its release, one particular odd-couple feature pairing raised eyebrows – and, believe it or not, it wasn‘t Josh Homme and Mavis Staples. Of course, Run the Jewels hadhistory with Zack de la Rocha – but what of Pharrell, whose happy (pun intended) disposition felt immediately at odds with the harsh reality of RTJ? As it turns out, this fab four complement one another perfectly. It’s all there: Williams’ syncopated hook, El-P’s rubbery beat clatter and prolix wordplay, Mike’s effortless verse, de la Rocha’s scene-stealing finale. “JU$T” is a legend convention meets social revolution.
28. Tame Impala – Lost in Yesterday
One of the more interesting musical elements at play on the last two Tame Impala records has been the lessened emphasis on guitar. What happens when you remove such a key element from what is, for all intents and purposes, a rock band? You get in the groove. “Lost in Yesterday,” tellingly, sports the best Impala bassline since “The Less I Know the Better.” A bustling drum shuffle – equal parts “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “The Moment” – muscles in, while an aviary of synth squalls colour in atop of the rhythm. Reinvention never felt so revolutionary.
27. Miiesha – Twisting Words
The title of Miiesha’s debut Nyaaringu stems from her native Pitjantjatjara. It translates to “what happened,” and the Queensland singer is true to it across inter-generational storytelling and heartfelt odes to her past, present and future. “Twisting Words” shows us what happened when Miiesha was underestimated, overlooked and spoken over. Spoiler alert: It made her mad as hell, and she’s not gonna take it anymore. She’s flanked by a pristine neo-soul arrangement, which builds from a warm bed of keyboards to a righteous guitar solo. It feels real, and it feels right. Believe the hype: Miiesha is the total package.
26. Gordi – Extraordinary Life
Three years removed from jaw-dropping debut Reservoir, Gordi found herself adapting and evolving. Not only was she musically recalibrating following her first album’s kitchen-sink maximalism, she was simultaneously experiencing loss in tandem with new love. With this, consider “Extraordinary Life” the centrepiece of Our Two Skins. It’s a resolute piece of folktronica that doesn’t shy away from matters of the heart. In fact, it thrives upon them. It comes from a place of open sentiment and quiet desperation, with the kind of emotion that lingers long after the final chord rings out. It’s vintage Gordi, but simultaneously brand-new. It’s extraordinary.
25. Pearl Jam – Dance of the Clairvoyants
So much got forgotten from the first quarter of 2020, their existence alone may shock you. Case in point: You forgot Pearl Jam put out a record, didn’t you. You also forgot that the lead single was a massive gamble – a new-wave, post-punk hybrid; hardly recognisable when put next to “Alive” or “Jeremy.” Here’s the best-kept secret of all: “Dance of the Clairvoyants” is the best Pearl Jam single since at least “The Fixer,” maybe even “Do the Evolution.” It’s a strutting, positively Byrne-ian musical revelation. A Pearl Jam song like this only comes around once in a lifetime.
24. Miel – I’ll Be Holding
The cover of Miel’s debut album Tourist Season sees her leaning back, eyes closed and mouth agape. It’s part daydream, part free-fall. Such a tableau feels pertinent to the sensations caused by its second single, “I’ll Be Holding.” It’s a rush of wind to the face as the city flies by in a flash, internalising a complex situation in the medium of retro-tinged dream-folk. It’s a moment to get lost in, throwing your body into an arm-flailing tube-man trance. “I’ll Be Holding” is the sound of dancing like no-one’s watching, and lord knows that kind of release was needed here.
23. The Chicks – Julianna Calm Down
For 20-plus years, the Chicks had the loudest voices in the room and knew how to use them. They called out from wide open spaces, killed Earl and refused to make nice. They took it to 11 and never turned down… until now. “Julianna Calm Down” brings the trio into close quarters with their nearest and dearest. They get real for a moment, showing a side they’ve never quite shown before. It’s the kind of tenderness that can only come from three loving mothers, passed on with the kind of wisdom that can only come with knowing each other mile-long.
22. Tigers Jaw – Warn Me
When Tigers Jaw shared their first new music of 2020, it was with a caveat: This won’t be on the album. There was one coming (still is), but you wouldn’t find “Warn Me” on it. This is a good thing, in hindsight – insofar as that you can appreciate “Warn Me” strictly on standalone merits. There’s plenty of those, too: Teddy Roberts’ double-kick thrash injects new life behind the kit, while Ben Walsh’s double-whammy of a wordless pre-chorus and a howled hook is testament to his songwriting skills. When they put their minds to it, Tigers Jaw are practically peerless.
21. Something for Kate – Waste Our Breath
Paul Dempsey claims that “Waste Our Breath” is about “trying to find an empty space.” He’s right, of course – it’s his song, after all – but perhaps the best thing about Something for Kate is that they’ve always left things open for interpretation. Whatever you hear is right too. The song’s “checkpoint on the shortest day of the year” could mean everything and nothing. “This show”? What show? Your call. It’s futile and fascinating, powered by Dempsey’s towering presence and the resilience of his long-serving rhythm section. Fill this empty space however you see fit. It’s yours now, people.
Have a listen to all 80(!) of the songs on the list so far, in order, via Spotify below:
Check back soon for the final installment! 2020’s almost done, thank the lord.
I went to 233 shows in 2019. These were the best ones:
50. Youth Group @ The Foundry, 15/11 49. Seeker Lover Keeper @ The Lansdowne, 12/7 48. Anberlin @ Enmore Theatre, 26/5 47. The Magic Numbers @ The Triffid, 21/3 46. Bugs @ North Wollongong Hotel, 17/11 45. Florence + The Machine @ The Domain, 26/1 44. La Dispute @ Cambridge Hotel, 19/9 43. Allday @ Hordern Pavilion, 24/8 42. Two Door Cinema Club @ Enmore Theatre, 28/11 41. Frenzal Rhomb @ Cambridge Hotel, 21/12 40. Dune Rats @ Metro Theatre, 13/9 39. High Tension @ The Lansdowne, 10/8 38. Rob Thomas @ ICC Sydney Theatre, 13/11 37. Splendour in the Grass @ North Byron Parklands, 19/7 – 21/7 36. Underoath @ Hordern Pavilion, 12/9 35. WAAX @ Cambridge Hotel, 23/8 34. The Story So Far @ UNSW Roundhouse, 19/4 33. Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals @ Hordern Pavilion, 9/1 32. Paul Dempsey @ Oxford Art Factory, 15/6 31. JPEGMAFIA @ Oxford Art Factory, 2/10 30. Ms. Lauryn Hill @ Qudos Bank Arena, 7/2 29. Pianos Become the Teeth @ Rad, 16/2 28. Laneway Festival @ Sydney College of the Arts, 3/2 27. The Barking Spiders @ Factory Theatre, 28/12 26. Gang of Four @ The Zoo, 7/11 25. Turnstile @ Factory Theatre, 16/1 24. Dispossessed @ Greeny’s House, 1/11 23. Mitski @ Oxford Art Factory, 4/2 22. Phil Collins @ Qudos Bank Arena, 23/1 21. Making Gravy @ The Domain, 14/12 20. U2 @ Sydney Cricket Ground, 23/11 19. The 1975 @ ICC Sydney Theatre, 21/9 18. Azim Zain and His Lovely Bones @ The Front, 6/6 17. Download Festival @ Parramatta Park, 9/3 16. The Monkees @ Sydney Opera House, 18/6 15. Kacey Musgraves @ Enmore Theatre, 12/5 14. The Chemical Brothers @ The Dome, 2/11 13. Fleetwood Mac @ Qudos Bank Arena, 27/8 12. The Flaming Lips @ Sydney Opera House, 30/9 11. Yours & Owls Festival @ Stuart Park, 5/10 – 6/10 10. Charly Bliss @ The Lansdowne, 23/7 9. Deafheaven @ Manning Bar, 28/2 8. Four Tet @ Enmore Theatre, 7/3 7. Totally Unicorn @ Rad, 11/6 6. The Cure @ Sydney Opera House, 28/5 5. Death Cab for Cutie @ Sydney Opera House, 11/3 4. Childish Gambino @ Qudos Bank Arena, 24/7 3. Iggy Pop @ Sydney Opera House, 15/4 2. Dear Seattle @ Rad, 16/6 1. IDLES @ Oxford Art Factory, 28/1
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Kylie Minogue @ ICC Sydney Theatre, 6/3; Eagles @ Qudos Bank Arena, 14/3; Tropical Fuck Storm @ UOW UniBar, 30/3; Party Dozen @ Oxford Art Factory Gallery Bar, 25/4; Post Malone @ Qudos Bank Arena, 8/5; Midnight Oil @ Anita’s Theatre, 23/5; 5 Seconds of Summer @ Factory Theatre, 3/7; Foals @ Hordern Pavilion, 17/7; Friendly Fires @ Metro Theatre, 22/7; You Am I @ Annandale Hotel, 6/9; Troye Sivan @ Hordern Pavilion, 20/9; girl in red @ The Lansdowne, 8/10; Fucked Up @ The Gasometer, 9/10; Northlane @ UNSW Roundhouse, 11/10; Courtney Barnett @ Howler, 22/10; Grinspoon @ Waves, 31/10; DZ Deathrays @ The Triffid, 8/11; Slim Set @ The Lansdowne, 23/11; Genesis Owusu @ Vic on the Park, 30/11; Spacey Jane @ Wollongong UniBar, 4/12.
1. FONTAINES D.C. – Dogrel 2. 100 gecs – 1000 gecs 3. Brittany Howard – Jaime 4. Copeland – Blushing 5. Great Grandpa – Four of Arrows 6. Totally Unicorn – Sorry 7. Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind 8. Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center 9. American Football – American Football 10. Clairo – Immunity 11. Charly Bliss – Young Enough 12. Thelma Plum – Better in Blak 13. WAAX – Big Grief 14. The Twilight Sad – IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME 15. Youth Group – Australian Halloween 16. Seeker Lover Keeper – Wild Seeds 17. Knocked Loose – A Different Shade of Blue 18. Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? 19. Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties – Routine Maintenance 20. Ceres – We Are a Team 21. The Cranberries – In the End 22. Turnover – Altogether 23. Pedro the Lion – Phoenix 24. Lambchop – This (is what I wanted to tell you) 25. PUP – Morbid Stuff 26. Miss June – Bad Luck Party 27. Eat Your Heart Out – Florescence 28. Baroness – Gold & Grey 29. Dispossessed – Warpath Never Ended 30. Palehound – Black Friday 31. Angel Du$t – Pretty Buff 32. Battles – Juice B Crypts 33. Collarbones – Futurity 34. The Chemical Brothers – No Geography 35. Ceremony – In the Spirit World Now 36. Bon Iver – i,i 37. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Fishing for Fishies 38. Sleater-Kinney – The Center Won’t Hold 39. La Dispute – PANORAMA 40. No Haven – Deep Ends of Shallow Lives 41. House Deposit – Reward for Effort 42. Witching Waves – Persistence 43. Miranda Lambert – Wildcard 44. Show Me the Body – Dog Whistle 45. Tacocat – This Mess is a Place 46. Sheer Mag – A Distant Call 47. DZ Deathrays – Positive Rising: Part 1 48. Kate Davis – Trophy 49. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains 50. Somos – Prison on a Hill
Amy Shark has never been the best at first impressions. Commercial success aside, she lead off her Night Thinker EP and Love Monster LP with their two weakest tracks (“Adore” and “I Said Hi,” respectively). For the upcoming Cry Forever, though, Shark has promptly stuck her best foot forward. “Everybody Rise” is career-best catharsis, prompted by Goodnight Nurse alum Joel Little assembling the catchiest synth orchestra this side of “I Write Sins.” It’s doomsday pop with a crack in everything, taking the intricately introspective and pushing it to the masses. It’s no longer just hers anymore, you see. It’s everybody’s.
59. Tame Impala – Breathe Deeper
“If you’re thinking I can’t hold my own/Believe me, I can.” So begins one of the key tracks to Tame Impala’s fourth album; a line that became increasingly defiant in nature throughout 2020. Tame ended up as one of the year’s most inexplicably-reviled acts – perhaps not assisted by “The Less I Know The Better”ascending to the top of triple j’s decade-end Hottest 100. Maybe it’s tall poppy… or, in this instance, high poppy. Whatever it is, songs like the synth-wielding roller-disco of “Breathe Deeper” proved that Parker could indeed hold his own. He still has lots to prove.
58. IDLES – Grounds
Speaking of previously-beloved bands: Boy, do people fuckinghateIDLES now, huh. Not even millennial tastemaker Anthony Fantano could sway The DiscourseTM from trashing the band, which kept going almost to the point of being a meme. Admittedly, September’s Ultra Mono wasn’t as striking as the one-two combo of its predecessors. However, it still had an ace up its sleeve in the form of “Grounds.” Jon Beavis’ “Fix Up Look Sharp” beat and a booming Kenny Beats production assist allowed for the band to defiantly swagger down the street. Don’t get it twisted: these are still men on a mission.
57. Sweater Curse – Close
The great hope of Brisbane indie pulled together an exceptional A-list to work on “Close.” Former next-big-thing Alex Lahey co-wrote with the band, while Ball Park Music‘s Sam Cromack produced. Needless to say, the lead single from their Push/Pull EP was one that felt like a proper arrival. The trio endeavour to take things to the next level and promptly succeed. Through glistening guitars, pounding drums and one of their most striking choruses to date, Sweater Curse edge closer and closer to being their city’s top export. It’s no longer a case of “if,” but “when.” The Curse ain’t broken.
56. The Beths – I’m Not Getting Excited
Much like their first album, Jump Rope Gazers opens with a rush of nervous energy. Such is its frenetic nature, however, “I’m Not Getting Excited” makes its predecessor “Great No One” sound like “Kumbaya.” It’s a spiral of word-vomit and urgent guitars, pushed along by the driving backbeat of new-kid drummer Tristan Deck. How do you sum up two years of non-stop touring into two minutes and 42 seconds? The Beths have found a way. Of course they have. This is how you open up an album, people – with both a bang and a whimper. Get listening. Get excited.
55. Protomartyr – Michigan Hammers
Not many songs throughout 2020 sounded more or less exactly like their title. Protomartyr’s exceptional single “Michigan Hammers” is the standout example of songs that did. It pounds away incessantly, keeping 16th notes running on the drums and cymbals throughout. Its guitars are knife-edge, while a horn section tempers an acidic bile rather than any sort of jazz-bar smooth. Joe Casey, up front on vocals, barks out the scarce but succinct lyrics with his quintessential sense of authority. This is working class music from a working class American state. It’s motorik from the Motor City. It’s Michigan fucking Hammers, dammit.
54. Headie One feat. AJ Tracey, Stormzy and ONEFOUR – Ain’t It Different [Remix]
Wanna feel old? There are people of legal drinking age that weren’t born when CrazyTown first flipped the Chili Peppers’ “Pretty Little Ditty.” Hell, Headie himself was all of seven. Did this childhood memory prompt the sample flip from the ever-reliable Fred Again..? Inconclusive, but credit to everyone involved for inventively reworking it alongside a chipmunked Lady Saw. Further compliments, too, to the hip-hop elite in the mix with One and Fred here. Not only do AJ Tracey and Stormzy lend ample muscle, but Sydney’s ONEFOUR prove they can hang with the giants of the industry. Different, but good different.
53. Georgia June – Baby Blue
Synaesthesia, in the most Layman of terms, is defined as “coloured hearing” – that is, translating sensations between senses, and essentially seeing sounds in the process. Even if you’re one of the many that aren’t synaesthetic, “Baby Blue” will appear to you in this very shade. Its 80s-soundtrack synths and reverb-tinged drums recall an age of innocence; its hues brush broad strokes across the refined guitar lines. The vocals glue the whole affair together, mournful yet simultaneously resplendent in nature. “The sky was painted just for you,” goes the chorus. You can picture it already. Your hearing is permanently coloured.
52. Georgia June – Don’t Leave Me Hanging Out to Dry
Bob Dylan boasted of containing multitudes in amidst the chaos of 2020. Sydney pop-rockers Georgia June probably have an idea where he’s coming from – although their eponymous vocalist might see herself more as a rainy day woman than a master of war. On their second single of the year, the quintet picked up the pace with a sneering rock shuffle. It’s paired impeccably with a kiss-off vocal, a rumbling rhythm section and an increasingly-rare but always-welcome bonus: A guitar solo mimicking the melody. Chef’s kiss for that one. Listen to “Don’t Leave Me” and you, too, shall be released.
51. Run the Jewels feat. Greg Nice & DJ Premier – Ooh La La
There was a meme doing the rounds this year captioned “Make music that makes people do this face,” accompanied by a photo of a kid with his eyes and mouth scrunched up. You know the look – mostly because you definitely pulled it the second the kick and snare dropped in on “Ooh La La.” El-P’s jaunty piano chopping against an incessant, irresistible Greg Nice sample had more heads nodding than Will Smith and Paul McCartney combined. If El and Mike swaggering atop this molotov cocktail wasn’t enough, wait until DJ Premier gets in on the cut. Ç’est très bon.
50. Violent Soho – Lying on the Floor
No-one’s accusing Violent Soho of doing co-writes with Nostradamus or anything. That said: Releasing a song with the hook “Lying on the floor/Is all I wanna do” a month prior to global lockdowns, from an album titled Everything is A-OK? They had to know something was up. All gags aside, we should be thankful that the album made its way out into the world when it did. Tracks such as “Lying on the Floor” certainly, to borrow a phrase from The Kids, hit different. Doesn’t hurt that it’s more sharp, precise post-grunge from arguably the best Australian band doing it, either.
49. The Beths – Dying to Believe
The lead single from The Beths’ top-shelf second album is equally capable of rolling with the punches as it is landing a few of its own. It opens with Thin Lizzy-aping guitarmonies, rolls into urgent snare-rim clicks, departs into early Strokes jangle before blowing up its own spot with a pure, unadulterated power-pop chorus. Yet another masterclass in structure, songwriting and performance by one of the best working rock bands in the world, let alone their native New Zealand. Not enough for ya? How about Rose Matafeo doing a train announcement? All aboard, motherfuckers. The Beths are here to stay.
48. Tigers Jaw – Cat’s Cradle
Tigers Jaw had to rebuild after three-fifths of their line-up departed in the mid-2010s. When backed into this corner, however, they came out of it with their best album in 2017’s spin. What fate, then, awaits their first album as a newly-expanded four-piece? If “Cat’s Cradle” is anything to go by, we ain’t seen nothing yet. Brianna Collins proves yet again she’s the band’s not-so-secret weapon. Her steely synths cut through the brisk power chords, while the vocals make for one of the band’s most irresistible melodies to date. The throughline from Harry Chapin to the emo revival is complete.
47. Ashley McBryde – Martha Divine
It’s odd to think of a murder ballad as “subversive,” but just about every little thing Ashley McBryde does could be considered as such. The second single from her major-label sophomore Never Will sees her taking down the most unlikely of enemies: Her dad’s new girlfriend, presumably following the death of the protagonist’s mother. Actually, “protagonist” might be too strong a word. “Anti-hero”? You don’t know who to root for, but the song’s rambunctious country-rock shuffle makes sure you’re there for every last shovel bludgeoning. “I’ll say the Devil made me do it,” she reasons. Hell yeah youwill, Ashley.
46. Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death
You know how when “Lust For Life” starts with that clatter of drums and you know shit’s about to kick off? That exact feeling hits when the title track of A Hero’s Death begins. As both the first taste of the album and the first song the band released post-Dogrel, it was imperative that the Dubliners got everything right. As luck would have it, Fontaines’ momentum kept the ball in play – and, furthermore, progressed on their established sound through adaption and evolution. It’s darker, meaner and tougher, but still resolving to maintain its fighting spirit. Life ain’t always empty.
45. Phoebe Bridgers – Kyoto
What kind of year did Phoebe Bridgers have? Career-wise, she went from being an indie darling to a personality trait. The SoCal singer-songwriter has become to alt kids what The Office is to Tinder normies. Credit where it’s due, though: Better Oblivion Community Center’s employee of the month has been putting in the work. “Kyoto” revels in both majesty and misery – who else could make a line like “I’m gonna kill you” sound so goddamn triumphant? Her prolix lyricism employs hammer-swing subtlety amidst fuzzed-out power chords and a Neutral Milk style trumpet line. It all works. It’s Phoebe, bitch.
44. Floodlights – Matter of Time
Written amidst national protests raising awareness of the Australian government’s ongoing climate inaction, there’s a simple sincerity to Floodlights’ lead-off to their debut studio album. It’s not proporting to be bigger, smarter or more powerful than it is. It’s humble, working-class rock from inner-Melbourne suburbia – think Scott & Charlene’s Wedding in their honeymoon period. It’s striking, catchy and quietly resolute by design. When all four band members hone in on the chorus of “It’s all just a matter of time for you,” you’re on their side. You’re heading to the protest on the same tramline. You believe in them.
43. Bob Vylan – We Live Here
Bob Vylan may have kicked off 2020 as a complete unknown, but this rolling stone made a point of gatecrashing the UK scene with a menacing, cutthroat EP and a take-no-prisoners approach. This is the story of the hurricane: a black English millennial spitting bile at the racist infrastructure held up by Boris and his white supremacist clowns. Self-hatred has been instilled in Vylan since he was a child, and “We Live Here” is the menacing, piercing sounds of him refusing to let it win. This is the sound of the Union Jack burning while smashing a guitar into it.
42. Touché Amoré – I’ll Be Your Host
Grief became a huge part of the Touché Amoré canon circa 2016, when their Stage FourLP left no stone unturned concerning the passing of a loved one. A side-effect of this came with touring the record, where frontman Jeremy Bolm became a stand-in outlet for other’s trauma. When he screams that he “didn’t ask to lead this party” here, it’s coming from a place of exhaustion and inner conflict. “I’ll Be Your Host” is the centrepiece of October’s Lament, both for its unbridled emotion and its searing musical intensity. It’s a meta-narrative on the band, and an endearing testament.
41. Code Orange – Underneath
Born of an expansive yet insular hardcore scene, Code Orange always shot for something bigger. Something that would cause friction, both within their bubble and outside it. Provocative, yes, but also prevalent. “Underneath,” which arrived less than two weeks into 2020, felt every bit the mission statement for the band’s defiant reinvention. Tinged with an industrial backbeat, packed with an alt-metal chorus, swerving into mathcore chaos for chaos’ sake. No-one sounded quite like this for the 50 remaining weeks of the year – not like they could come close, anyway. These are not the kids of yesterday. They’re the future.
And there you have it! To listen to all 60 songs thus far, crank the Spotify playlist below:
Welcome back, y’all. First up, if you missed part one: Don’t worry! You can click right on these underlined words right here and you’ll be magically whisked away to it.
And now, on with the show!
80. Caitlin Harnett & The Pony Boys – 5am
If you’ve seen Caitlin Harnett live (if you live in Sydney, you almost definitely have), you’ll know “5am” is hyper-literal, single-entendre storytelling. The lyrics details exactly what happened with an old fling of Harnett’s, and couldn’t be more specific if it tried. Such is her everywoman ability, however, Harnett makes it easy to step into her R.M. Williams. The alt-country swagger exudes from the rustic guitars and its Levon Helm-esque drums, while the chorus is about as pop as it gets while still keeping its Akubra on. Bonus points for Andy Golledge’s exceptional guest harmonies, too. Stay gold, Pony Boys.
79. EGOISM – Happy
Although it was the fourth single from the Sydney duo’s second EP On Our Minds, “Happy” existed in the band’s live show well over a year prior. It undertook quite the journey to get to where it ended up on record, however, including a restructuring and a freshly-minted rhythmic calibration. As such, it took a moment to get used to the song in its new context. Ultimately, however, the song didn’t lose its heart – just as well, given that’s kind of EGOISM’s forte. Atop of shimmering guitars and amidst impeccable harmony, “Happy” endeavours to turn that frown upside down.
78. Pillow Queens – Holy Show
As much as we remember explosive album intros, there’s a lot to be said for openers that take time and ascend through steady builds. Indeed, Kacey Musgraves once opined she’s “alright with a slow burn” on an album opener just so. Pillow Queens aren’t comparable otherwise – they’re Irish, for starters, and genuine indie darlings as opposed to poptimist shrapnel. Still, they’re on the same wavelength as far as “Holy Show” is concerned: Reverb-heavy, captivating in its grandiose slow-mo reveal and arrestingly harmonious. You’re now prepared for In Waiting – which, not for nothing, is one of the year’s best.
77. Lily Morris – Grand Illusions
Much is made of class tourism in Australian music. Those that live in the proverbial big smoke are chided for attempting to appear as though they’re not. You won’t have that trouble with Lily Morris, who resides in the Southern Tablelands and knows all the ins-and-outs of the three Rs: remote, rural and regional. “Grand Illusions” captures a moment in time – it is to middle Australia what “Streets Of Your Town” is to Brisbane; encapsulating a specific place with focus and attention to detail. It’s the new sound of dolewave in the slashed Newstart era, making the ordinary extraordinary.
76. Vacations feat. Sarah Sykes and Craterface – Panache
Newcastle indie kids Vacations had a weird year – like, weirder than most. They ended up as unexpected stars of TikTok, and then decided that a near six-minute song with a completely unrelated AutoTune outro would be an ideal single from their new album. And guess what? They were right. Sure, it’s defined by the framework of its unexpected collaborators – Sunscreen‘s Sarah Sykes, as well as alternative hip-hop duo Craterface. Simultaneously, however, “Panache” reflects Vacations’ sonic evolution and their grander-scale ambitions, as guitars take a backseat in favour of glassy synths and disco-ready basslines. Groove is in the heart.
75. Weezer – Hero
We’re at least 15 years removed from Weezer being permanently written off. Why, then, do they insist on writing these late-period power-pop smashes while no-one’s looking? It’s like The Singing Frog, where the titular character will only perform for this one guy. Everyone else gets a meagre croak – read: “Africa.” This, from the long-delayed Van Weezer, churns along with walls of guitar and some classic Pat Wilson drum muscle. It then gives way to their best chorus in years. It’s another ode to innocence lost, but it still feels as fresh as when Weezer actually were kids and outcasts.
74. Hockey Dad – Itch
For a band defined by its youthful exuberance, it’s a rare moment to find them – to borrow a phrase – in this state. They arrive at “Itch” an emotional wreck, exhausted by the world around them and pushing their last burst of energy into burning the whole thing down around them. The howled chorus of “I’m okay/I feel safe” serves as one of the year’s most strongly antithetical musical contrasts. The desperation to this song serves as the band’s biggest musical departure since its inception. To release it as a single was bold, certainly, but ultimately a much-needed push.
73. EGOISM – You You
A word so nice, they sang it twice. Really, it’s pretty impressive that only a select few had chanced upon this double-up before – and even then, Odetta Hartman and Malaria! didn’t lay out the titular phrase the same way. In a sense, that sums up a lot of what makes EGOISM great – they hone in on established ideas and give them a new home in which to flourish, tweaking them to the point of being quintessentially theirs. Few other bands in Australia carry such a confident stripe of identity, and even less can forge such pristine, impeccable indie-pop.
72. Party Dozen – Auto Loser
The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney once said The Stooges’ “Down on the Street,” quote: “makes [him] wanna walk the streets with a switchblade.” Listening back to the song’s snarling one-note groove and four-on-the-floor strut, you understand exactly where he’s coming from. One gets the feeling he’d say the same about fellow two-piece Party Dozen, who here ostensibly turn “Billie Jean” into a noise-jazz dark alleyway. Rather than splatter the canvas as they normally do, P12 instead colour between the lines. It’s out of character, but they still have a wide palette to draw from – and they’re still making masterpieces.
71. AC/DC – Shot in the Dark
The bar was admittedly the lowest it’s ever been for Acca Dacca on their umpteenth comeback trail. Still, for Angus and co. to return in such a confident, definitive manner – in their 70s no less – left jaws agape. “Shot in the Dark” is, for all intents and purposes, the best lead single the band have delivered since the almighty “Thunderstruck” nearly 30 years ago. The unstoppable force of the returning Brian Johnson is propelled along by the immovable object that is the returning Phil Rudd – all while Angus lays down one of his hardest, bluesiest riffs yet.
70. Dua Lipa – Break My Heart
Another one bites the dust every time Dua Lipa steps up to the mic. Jilted exes, playboy pretenders, her pop contemporaries – truly, she’s evolved into a proper force to be reckoned with. Still, this doesn’t mean she’s let herself off the hook entirely. Yes, even the hottest pop star on the planet – in every sense – is prone to make mistakes in the throes of the club. He looks like her next mistake, but she can’t help herself. Especially if there’s a state-of-the-art disco groove being laid down at the same time they lock eyes across the room.
69. Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion – WAP
68. Tired Lion – ~Cya Later~
The first time that Tired Lion did Like a Version on triple j, they covered Violent Soho’s understated “Saramona Said” with a dash of the Smashing Pumpkins’ opus “1979” teased for good measure. “~Cya Later~” feels like figurehead Sophie Hopes’ attempt to create a song of her own that melds the musical and thematic structures of both. It certainly helps having an actual member of Soho in her back pocket (Mikey Richards plays drums here), but even putting that aside you’re looking at one of the year’s most resplendent, heartfelt odes to apathy. A post-grunge apocalypse never felt so inviting.
67. Bugs – Can’t Get Enough
Forget the semantics of pub rock, indie rock, garage rock… Bugs make power-pop. Clear-cut, straight down the line power-pop. “Can’t Get Enough” is a career-best demonstration of that – hell, its opening “WOOOO” is timed directly for both the first pool cannonball of the summer and the first stagedive once restrictions lift. With a spring in its step and just the right amount of distortion layered atop its major chords, the single effortlessly bounds from its twinkly verses to its bunny-bounce chorus. It even throws in a shit-hot bridge, just for the fuck of it. Now they’re just showing off.
66. Cry Club – Don’t Go
What took you so long? “Don’t Go” was, ostensibly, the first Cry Club song – in spite of “Walk Away” being released first, way back in 2018. For whatever reason, the duo could never get the song on the good foot. Enter Gab Strum, AKA Japanese Wallpaper, who assisted the band in dragging the song kicking and screaming out of the doldrums. When that big-business chorus rolls through town with its 16th-note hi-hats and pulsing guitars, you’re so thankful they gave it one more shot. Not only is it an album highlight, it’s living proof of patience as a virtue.
65. Squid – Sludge
“Sludge” starts off decently enough; a sort of subdued take on the “House of Jealous Lovers” beat with some steely bass locked it. Once drummer/vocalist Ollie Judge goes into the red levels, screaming about scraping his teeth off the floor, however? Shit gets crazy. Car-alarm synths take over, a ride cymbal is hit so hard it sounds like it’s splitting in two and the one-chord jam somehow goes even harder than it had been before. You know those viral videos on YouTube or Instagram or whatnot with the caption “WAIT FOR IT”? That’s “Sludge,” in a nutshell. Behold: Disco’s inferno.
64. Dry Cleaning – Scratchcard Lanyard
Usually when a band is referred to as the best new band in Britain, it’s some sort of hype puff-piece tacked onto another Arctic Monkeys also-ran whose career ultimately proves to be as asymmetrical as their haircuts. There’s something different about Dry Cleaning, though. For one, they probably don’t want to be the best new band in Britain. They’re detached, deadpan and distant by design, and it’s perhaps this very notion that draws listeners to them. “Scratchcard Lanyard” deepens the band’s ties to proto post-punk, all while weaving an increasingly-complex post-modern narrative in tandem. Their audience loves it. Don’t you?
63. Car Seat Headrest – Hollywood
We knew this era of Car Seat Headrest was gonna be weird the second that Will Toledo chucked on a gas mask and started referring to himself as “Trait.” The rhetorical of just how weird, however, would ultimately receive an answer in the form of “Hollywood.” Imagine coked-up millennials getting their hands on the riff from The Sonics’ “Have Love Will Travel,” cranked up a drum machine over the top of it and launched into a tirade about good ol’ Tinseltown. A disaster on paper, sure, but in execution it made for one of their most fun singles to date.
62. ONEFOUR – Home & Away
“Home & Away” hits as hard as brass knuckles to the jaw, man. It’s proper staunch trap, with the group’s flow impressively filling out the beat’s nooks and crannies with both vitriolic wordplay and hyped-up ad-libs. The song reflects on ONEFOUR’s saga, with the kind of twists and turns you’d normally expect from a soap opera but are unfortunately all too real. Key members are still serving in prison, meaning there hasn’t been an official ONEFOUR show in over a year. Still, no matter where they are, ONEFOUR are our shining stars. Don’t let them go. Let them stay forever.
61. Vacations – Lavender
Songs are often praised for lacking “bells and whistles,” so it’s honestly easy to forget that such excesses can actually be a lot of fun. Does “Lavender” need that weird tape-loop effect on its guitars? Does it need the flurrying undercurrent of bongos and percussion? Of course not. You wouldn’t want this song without it, though – it’s in the ivy league of prep-indie indulgence, and its doubling down deserves to be commended. Plus, isn’t that chorus just to die for? Feels weird to be yearning for the days of Yves Klein Blue and Last Dinosaurs, but here we are.
Listen to the entire DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:
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.
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:
Boy oh boy, anyone remember this lot? Five white boys from Byron – but, get this, they play HEAVY stuff?? Man, where have I heard that one before? Anyways, I never cared for this band too much if I’m perfectly honest, but I remember the guy from this band being polite enough. They were also good with environmental philanthropy, so kudos to that. I haven’t even looked at this article since I sent it off to my editor all those years ago, so let’s see if it holds up.
Can one band make a difference? In Hearts’ Wake believe so. Vocalist Jake Taylor introduces us to The Skydancer Project.
It’s safe to say that Byron Bay quintet In Hearts’ Wake have accomplished quite a bit in their relatively short lifespan as a band. They’ve toured both nationally and internationally, scoring slots with bands like Enter Shikari and iwrestledabearonce; and dropped their debut album, Divination, in August of 2012. As the band enters the next stage of their careers, coinciding with their most ambitious project to date, the band’s lead singer Jake Taylor affirms that they have picked the exact right time.
“I feel that, until this year, working with UNFD and working with managers, we didn’t have the resources at our fingertips; to be able to really delve into this kind of project like we are now,” he says. “With the network that we have and the fanbase that is behind us, we felt like there was no other time than now to do this.”
Welcome to The Skydancer Project, an inventive and creative take on a charity drive. “Skydancer,” the band’s new single, has been released on a pay-what-you-want basis. No matter how little or how much you put towards buying the song, all of its proceeds will go directly to three non-profit charities. The song deals with the preservation and heritage of indigenous cultures of the world; specifically relating to the stories of Native American-Indians who were iron-workers in New York City, who would walk the beams tens of storeys above the ground creating what would become the city’s iconic skyscrapers.
“My mother isn’t a Native American, she just grew up there,” explains Taylor; the “there” alluded to referring to the Mohawk region of the state of New York. “I was affiliated with the land, and I’ve travelled it. That’s how I became face to face and eye to eye with their culture and got to really be engaged with it. I was really taken – I found the stories and messages they had to share to be very inspiring.”
“I’ve been a good ten times in my life in various blocks,” he continues; explaining his connection and his fascination with the culture. “My first real memories would actually not be in the Mohawk region itself, but in New Mexico; when I got to visit a few of the reservations. It was like venturing into another world – we’re talking mudhuts with ladders going between buildings. I would have been about five at the time, and back then you could actually visit the reservation. These days, the white man is a lot more cut off from those type of areas. It was quite an experience. New Mexico is a real hub for so many reservations and cultures that are all around there.”
When it came to choosing the charities that In Hearts’ Wake would work with on “Skydancer,” Taylor did some extensive research and scratched substantially below the surface to find people and groups dedicating their entire lives to improving the ones of those less fortunate. The first group chosen was Red Dust Role Models, a group who devise and enact health programs within regional Aboriginal communities within Australia. Secondly, the band enlisted the Seventh Generation Fund, who describe their work as “dedicated to promoting and maintaining the uniqueness of Native peoples and the sovereignty of tribal Nations.” Finally, proceeds will also go to the Hardcore Help Foundation, who work within poverty-stricken areas of Kenya providing medical assistance and much-needed supplies.
“I wanted to find three organisations that weren’t glorified companies that were taking profits from donations to fund their business,” says Taylor on the selection of the three charities. “Literally 100% of the profits that these organisations take in go to their causes – they put their money where their mouths are. We also wanted to reach in on a grassroots level, which meant not going to a charity like, say, World Vision. Not because they don’t deserve it, but because we wanted to touch on the smaller organisations doing the rounds.”
The importance that weighs on a project as big as Skydancer is something that is certainly not lost on Taylor – not only are three organisations involved, but the band’s ever-expanding group of fans are being ushered into issues and ideas rarely spoken of or touched upon within the heavier spectrum of Australian music. Rather than be daunted by such a prospect, however, the vocalist exudes positivity and optimism. He completely realises the importance of Skydancer for his band, his audience and his affiliated charities.
“For the organisations that we’re working with, this also opens their audience up to our audience,” he says. “I say this with 100% confidence: Our audience are people that are willing to listen and wish to sing along. This is the kind of community that gets behind anything that needs its support, whether that’s donations or crowdfunding or helping a band to tour. They are on board with the greater good – and with the great work that these organisations are doing, I feel like it’s a win-win situation.”
Exactly where the band will take The Skydancer Project from here is unclear even to those in the band itself. Ideas such as bringing volunteers from the charities out on tour, further benefit shows and even travelling to Indigenous communities to perform are all in circulation. For now, however, Taylor is focused solely on what is in front of him and the rest of In Hearts’ Wake – the seemingly infinite possibilities of Skydancer.
“As a band, we always want to implement change,” he says. “We’ll take it as it comes, of course; this being the first proper launch into this world. I would definitely like to keep this going, though, and making it a part of what we do without making it too serious – we want it to be a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.” He concludes on a sentiment that is difficult to disagree upon: “There has to be positivity in it.”