The Top 100 Songs of 2021, Part Five: 20 – 1

I began writing about my top 100 songs of 2021, the DJY100, on November 29, 2021. I finished writing about my top 100 songs of 2021, the DJY100, on March 31, 2022. I very nearly gave up, because I was exhausted and checked out and besides everything else, who wants to read a 2021 best-of at the start of April the following year? Is this some sort of joke? An April Fool’s? Ultimately, it got to the point where I was openly challenging myself to get this shit done – I lingered on the top 10 for weeks, especially. I’m really glad that I stuck with it. If a job’s worth doing, after all.

Before I get out of here: You can catch up on the entire list via Parts One, Two, Three and Four.

Thank you so much for reading. It means a lot. I’ll be back in about eight months or so to get into all of this again. If I get this next one finished in February 2023 then it’s over for you bitches. La la love you.

– DJY, March 2022

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20. Dry Cleaning – Strong Feelings

What’s your favourite turn of phrase in “Strong Feelings”? Is it “Emo dead stuff collector”? “Spent ₤17 on mushrooms”? “Seems like a lot of garlic”? “It’s Europe”? There’s no wrong answers – and that, by proxy, can also be said of Dry Cleaning themselves. Whether you’re drawn to the rumble of the rhythm section, the Andy Gill-style guitar shapes or the droll, desert-dry delivery, you’re absolutely spot on. “Strong Feelings” was among the upper echelon of cuts from the band’s debut New Long Leg – which, itself, was among the upper echelon of 2021 albums. The top really suits them.

19. RÜFÜS DU SOL – Next to Me

Not to be all “before it was cool,” but those that knew RÜFÜS DU SOL before 2018’s Solace look at the world the Sydney expat trio have created for themselves with utmost awe. In the case of “Next to Me” and its jaw-dropping music video, that’s quite literal too. Entire universes rising and falling in syncopation with the song’s own vast landscape seems like both the perfect accompaniment and the most succinct reflection on how far RÜFÜS have come. From its solitary piano tinker to its orbiting synth spirals, everything within “Next to Me” feels properly, emphatically monumental by design.

18. TURNSTILE – BLACKOUT

Hardcore has never been the kind to shy from gory details, but the dark underbelly of “BLACKOUT” is one unique package. It’s a song about wanting your roses while you’re still alive, ruminating on the fragility of life itself – all while loud guitars slam against booming drums and percussion. It may seem at odds, but the song’s extroverted nature is Brendan Yates taking his anguish and reaching out his hand to a captive audience – as if to ask, “are you with me?” They are, of course – especially when “the main bit but slower” kicks in. Bust it.

17. Big Scary – Bursting at the Seams

After over a decade as a band, Big Scary’s fourth album Daisy made some significant changes to the mulitifaceted duo’s already-complex narrative. Amongst them came drummer Jo Syme’s long-awaited (and well-deserved) debut on lead vocals. Enter “Bursting at the Seams,” a fascinating styles clash between synth-bass disco and baroque pop in the spirit of “Love is In the Air.” Syme finds herself in the midst of new romance, and consequently tangos between love and lust. “All I want is to feel” is a bold line in its own right; when it’s suffixed with “love,” all bets are off. Terrifyingly good.

16. Olivia Rodrigo – good 4 u

Behold: The song that kicked the door open on Olivia Rodrigo’s multitudes, showing the wholly-attentive universe at large she could provide more than tear-stained balladry. It’s still at odds with the perennially jilted ex, but this time Rodrigo is pissed. Well, as pissed as one can get in mainstream pop songs – somewhere below “Caught Up There” but above “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).” Was there a better a capella on the charts this year then Rodrigo red-levelling “LIKE A DAMN SOCIOPATH”? Fuck no there wasn’t. If Rodrigo is supposedly in the business of misery, business is booming.

15. The Goon Sax – In the Stone

On Mirror II, The Goon Sax built up enough stamina to not only outrun their familial comparisons, but prove that theirs was a band prepared to go the distance. What’s interesting, though, is this much isn’t immediately apparent on “In the Stone.” In a slow-motion bloom over repeated listens, the song reveals the sum of the band’s parts in the best way possible. Louis Foster and Riley Jones circle one another in the verses, eventually actualising their synergy in the chorus that keeps on giving. Across persistent momentum and a constant stream of guitar jangle, a new legacy is solidified.

14. The Sunday Estate – Fight Me

There are certain instances you can sense with a band when you’re at the start of something big. Sometimes you’re on the money (Gang of Youths), others you’re way off (Hair Die), but that initial feeling is invariably exciting. Said feeling flutters through the pristine guitars and rumbling drums of “Fight Me,” which was not the first offering from Sydney quintet The Sunday Estate but unquestionably the first to make a lasting impression. Under the serious moonlight of tumultuous new romance, the song wrestles and writhes like late-night kisess under the watchful eye of a rainy city. Can’t fight it.

13. Middle Kids – Stacking Chairs

“Stacking Chairs” and its titular phrase feels like an unlocking: of the song, the album it’s from and the band who wrote it. “When the party’s over/I’ll be stacking chairs.” That’s love. That’s palpable love. It’s about being there when it all falls apart; about the company you keep and carry with you – root of the root. It helps that Middle Kids have hung what’s among their best-ever songs onto this rich sentiment. The bright guitars ricocheting off the military snare, the twinkling synthesizers and impeccable close harmonies showcase the Kids at full strength. The party ain’t over yet.

12. Wave Racer – Look Up to Yourself

The best 1975 song of the year was not written by The 1975. Instead, it came from a Melbourne bedroom and from a returning artist that could well have been potentially lost to the future-bass boom of the mid-2010s. It was only through a bold reinvention that Wave Racer survived – and not only that, but positively thrived at the helm of the project’s debut album. “Look Up to Yourself” is defiant in its brightness – released amidst the darkness of Australia’s 2021, it lifted spirits and provided the soundtrack to reclaiming self-belief. Once again, we race for the prize.

11. Gretta Ray – Bigger Than Me

Like most women her age, Gretta Ray grew up on Taylor Swift. She’s come to see the world through “eras,” as snakeskin sheds and butterflies rise from stolen scarves. Unlike her heroine’s clumsy foray into bombast, however, Ray lost none of her reputation rolling out her debut album Begin to Look Around. In fact, it only became stronger. Through clockwork precision and delicate layering, not to mention an assertive confidence not present in her teenage catalogue, “Bigger Than Me” took to big city life with aplomb. It’s a new world out there, but Gretta Ray is unquestionably ready for it.

10. Middle Kids – Questions

Precisely 14 days into the year 2021, Middle Kids released “Questions”. It was not the first single from their second album Today We’re the Greatest, nor was it the most successful – that would be “R U 4 Me?” on both counts there. It is, however, the single greatest song that Middle Kids have ever written. There is a very good reason that it is still holding water with such a high placing on such a list, created almost a full year on from its release.

Indeed, “Questions” is the earliest released song on the entire list – had it been released literally a week or two prior, it would not qualify. So what stood the test of time, exactly? Two things: Maximalism and calibration. The former is nothing new to the Sydney trio, of course – they arrived in a drum-roll of grandeur as early as their debut EP – but it’s the latter that’s the key to unlocking “Questions.” Instead of immediately rolling out the cavalry, the song instead builds from shimmers and glitches that are guided by hand – quite literally, as the flamenco claps pierce through the treacle of wafting synthesizers. Tim Fitz rolls through next with easily the greatest bass-line of his career, all stabs and spirals; Hannah Joy’s glowing guitar weaving between it on an upward ascent.

By going slow and steady, rather than setting off the confetti cannons in its opening moments, the trumpeting arrival (again, literal) of the song’s crescendo feels all that more rewarding and triumphant. It also plays in tandem with Joy’s lyrical framework, which is constantly seeking validation high and low in amidst the greater throes of uncertainty and indecision. Even with all the whistles and bells, when it subsides there is no grand conclusion or resolution. That’s what sticks with you – the ongoing, compelling intrigue and mystique that comes with that constant sense of seeking. When it comes to “Questions” in the grand scheme of 2021’s great singles, the first cut is the deepest.

9. The Kid LAROI feat. Justin Bieber – STAY

It’s a long way from the concrete jungle of Gadigal land to the bright lights of Hollywood. Not only has The Kid LAROI made it feel like a stone’s throw away, however, he’s broken down a myriad of barriers along the way for young Indigenous artists seeking a global stage. It hasn’t come easy, nor has it come without its own degree of backlash, but what pathway to success has? He’s part of the lexicon now, and it’s time to start putting respect on the name. “STAY” has a lot to do with this paradigm shift. Not all, of course – the Billboard smash “WITHOUT YOU” did a chunk of groundwork – but what eventuates over its 150 seconds and change of this urgent, neon-glow rush of lover’s-plea pop is a potential fully realised.

LAROI has often been labelled a rapper in the same way that Post Malone and his late mentor Juice WRLD have – insofar as the cadence and aesthetic being there to a degree, but their flows ultimately possessing too much melody to count as hip-hop in its more traditional sense. What’s interesting about “STAY,” then, is how it ostensibly serves as his audition to be the biggest pop artist in the world. Between the coarse rock-star delivery and the howling woah-ohs, a portrayal of the artist as a young Lothario comes into formation by ways of the perfect storm.

It’s gunned for with a formidable assist from two artists that have scaled the mountain themselves and lived to tell the tale: Charlie Puth and Justin Bieber. The former is responsible for the irresistible keyboard motif and the stabs of falsetto in the indelible hook, showing his prowess as one of the most distinct and compelling pop writers working today. The latter, meanwhile, makes for the jewel in the crown of 2021’s comeback king – after a disastrous yummy-yum 2020, this suave second verse recalls the Biebs at his mid-2010s peak in the best possible way.

There’s an argument to be made, then, that “STAY” is amalgamate of pop’s recent past with its present, ultimately creating something that could well be indicative of its future. For something forged beneath blinding lights, there’s a darkness on the edge of the city that feels like an old friend when “STAY” unfurls. You’ll want to stick around – may as well, after all, considering The Kid LAROI will be doing the same.

8. Lil Nas X feat. Jack Harlow – INDUSTRY BABY

The best thing Kanye did in 2021 was keep his mouth shut. No, seriously. There were moments of bliss to be found amidst the oft-delayed Donda, of course, but between his 19th nervous breakdown and the endless tirades and the unholy alliance forged between Mr. Jesus is King and Mr. Antichrist Superstar… well, you get the picture.

The best thing Lil Nas X did in 2021 was keep running his mouth. No, seriously. There were moments of bliss to be found amidst the long-awaited MONTERO, of course, but between his Satanic shoes and his new status as QPOC provocateur and the unreal music videos and the constant slam-dunks of Twitter conservatives… well, you get the picture.

Enter: “INDUSTRY BABY,” a patchwork of teamwork in tandem between two artists that have defined Black excellence in their prime. With West on the brassed-off beat to end all brassed-off beats, he allows Lil Nas to pull a classic Ye stunt: Talk his shit again. It’s a victory lap from an artist that most thought would only get one trot around the racecourse before the horse was taken off the old town road and behind the barn. It’s a double-down from an artist that had already cemented their 2021 GOAT status by literally pole-dancing into Hell and killing Satan. Oh, and why not make a megastar out of internet darling Jack Harlow while we’re at it – with what is in top contention for the best guest verse of the year.

“INDUSTRY BABY” is a great escape from the clutches of one-hit wonderdom – by this point, Lil Nas has built a boat with Tim Robbins and he is outta here. It’s at this point you realise that the hook isn’t “I’m the industry baby” – as in, he’s a newcomer – it’s actually with a comma in tow, ie. “I’m the industry, baby.” This is an arrival of the grandest kind.

7. Gretta Ray – Cherish

For a few years there, Gretta Ray was under cover of darkness. This has twofold meaning: Not only was she secretly working away on what would eventuate as her debut album, but everything she was putting out was released within the long-cast shadow of her 2016 single “Drive.” Written and recorded by Ray while still in high school, the singer-songwriter captured lightning in a bottle with an ode to young love that already felt like a classic. It was a heartfelt, endearing and endlessly rewarding song – which, in the hands of a lesser performer, could well have been her downfall.

Rather than attempt to repeat what was achieved there, Ray instead opted to keep the car running rather than hit the roundabout. If “Drive” was the car flying off at the end of Grease, then “Cherish” is the stark realisation between Sandy and Danny that this machine cannot survive in the atmosphere off true love alone. While she’s floating in a most peculiar way, Ray mourns an inevitable end over the waft of distant synths: “It’d be so brave of me to walk away,” she laments – a line so good that she opens and closes the song with it.

As the drums bring her reality hurtling down to earth, the desperation kicks in. “What do I have to do?” she asks in the song’s wrenching chorus. She’s trying to rekindle an old flame, but her match is long burnt out – just like her. High-school romance doesn’t last, and your childhood sweetheart is called that for a reason. When you’ve only just recently become legally recognised as an adult, however, there’s an unshakable sense of forever-lost innocence that comes with its demise. This isn’t just a better song than “Drive,” it’s the best song Gretta Ray has ever made. Better yet: You know now, for absolute certain, that this title will change hands once again. She is capable, she is strong, she is ready… she is cherished.

6. MAY-A – Swing of Things

In one of her earlier singles, “Apricots,” Maya Cumming boasted that she was “Something you don’t know you want.” Within that context, she was attempting to get inside the head of her crush – and, let’s face it, she probably succeeded with that kind of exuberance – but it’s also simultaneously reflective of her stature within Australian pop music. You might not have known you wanted to hear from a scrawny lesbian teen attempting to merge Avril-era punk-princess attitude with the sheen of 2020s pop, but once you’ve spent a bit of time in MAY-A’s world you start to see the bigger picture – it’s a want that quickly shifts into a need.

This is a young artist with “star” written all over them. Want proof? Here’s “Swing of Things” to get the point across. Equal parts hot pink and icy turquoise, this is Gen-Z pop that finds a way to shimmer within its verses and ultimately shine within its chorus – all while keeping its teeth gnashed and its underbelly dark. It’s pulled together by timid visionary Gab Strum (AKA Japanese Wallpaper) on production, whose ricocheting snares and distinctive beds of electronic warmth accentuate the song’s peaks and valleys. Still, it says a lot that even such a big name behind the boards is ultimately playing second fiddle to Cumming’s irrepressible presence – at once tangled-hair messy and leather-jacket cool. An island of such great complexity, this kid.

It’s a curious balance to strike between a stark, intimate confessional that can only come from direct personal experience, which is then transformed into a song that is broad and bold enough to fill out the upper tiers of an arena. This may well be the niche that MAY-A is carving for herself – a diary entry and an open book all at once. If so, it will get easier and easier to get into the swing of things as far her blossoming career goes. It’s something that – now, finally – you know that you want.

5. EGOISM – Lonely But Not Alone

Given they share most of the same letters, you’d expect the words “lonely” and “alone” to be synonymous. In reality, however, there’s a deeper relationship between the two ideas than surface value would suggest. Silverchair’s 2002 opus “Across the Night” sees Daniel Johns opine: “I don’t wanna be lonely/I just want to be alone” – the paradoxical anxious state of longing for company, but simultaneously finding yourself unable to be around people. On her 2006 track “Leave Me Alone (I’m Lonely),” honorary Australian citizen Pink wants to stew in her emotions even though she’s got someone on call – in this moment, the notion of being lonely is more enticing than being alone.

Would you have ever picked Sydney duo EGOISM to serve as the Venn diagram between Silverchair and Pink? Again, it goes beyond what surface value would suggest. The group started in high school and was originally more interested in a heavier approach to guitar music before eventually settling into artistic pop – remind you of anyone? Originally starting as outsiders, they’ve since flourished into standard-setters with a slew of certified hits to their name – remind you of anyone? Thus, somewhere in-between Diorama and I’m Not Dead, comes “Lonely But Not Alone.”

What does this script-flip mean, exactly? Weaved between its strummed bass, slick production and four-on-the-floor gridlock is a back-and-forth on last-leg relationships. It’s about sending things off with both a bang and a whimper – craving intimacy, but knowing it won’t seal up any old wounds in the process. Scout Eastment knows she’s just “another pretty girl that you messed up,” while simultaneously acknowledging that “we make up/bubble and pop” – like Bachelor Girl before her, she knows they’re bad for her but she just can’t leave them alone. In the hook, Olive Rush craves “love to borrow,” where once the transaction is complete you can “give [them] up tomorrow.” Just enough to take the edge off; just enough to last through the night.

“Lonely But Not Alone” feels, in part, like an equal and opposite reaction to 2020’s “Here’s the Thing.” While that song breached the difficulty in letting go, “Lonely” breaches the difficulty of sticking around. It’s their most ambitious pop production yet, and this shot at the moon has landed them among the stars. If Australian radio cared about supporting local music because they wanted to, not because they had to, this would have dominated the airwaves throughout 2021. Who knows, maybe TikTok will make it a hit in 2024. See you there.

4. Allday – Void

There’s a cynical framework wherein one could place Allday’s foray into indie based off his background in hip-hop – one that’s understandable, too, if you’re only across his early-to-mid 2010s output. Really? The “Fuckin” guy? The “Send Nudes” guy? What would Mr. “You Always Know the DJ” know about guitar music beyond “Girl in the Sun”? As it turned out, he knew way more than anyone was originally willing to give credit for – and so did the people he surrounded himself with while making Drinking with My Smoking Friends.

“Void,” the album’s second single, was another collaborative effort between himself and the aforementioned Gab Strum, AKA Japanese Wallpaper. Ever since the crossover of their link-up “In Motion” circa 2017, Strum has served as instrumental in Allday’s stylistic reinvention. One could argue, then, that this serves as the logical conclusion of Japanese Wallpaper renovating the frat-house that was Allday’s early work into something more architecturally sound. The song’s spiralling guitar (care of DMA’s strummer Matt Mason) feels right at home on a loop around Strum’s cooing ambient beds of electronics and Allday’s wry, tender vocal delivery.

Simultaneously daring and dreamy, it portrays a different Allday to the one we’re used to – even when juxtaposed with the singles it sandwiches on Drinking‘s rollout, both “After All This Time” and “Stolen Cars” offer a far livelier and more pop-friendly iteration of this approach. “Void” longs to be heard above the billboard noises and the city streets, offering a secret garden for listeners to revel in. It’s part reinvention and part redemption; part love-lorn and part love-lost. It’s a backyard D&M as much as it is a bedroom confessional. In a matter of minutes, Allday changes the course of his career permanently with “Void” – and it’s a rainbow road you hope will be pursued long after the final chord rings out.

3. King Stingray – Get Me Out

Place is extremely important to the music of King Stingray. As Yirrŋa Yunupiŋu sings in the first verse of the band’s second single: “There’s a place where you live/And a place where you grow.” The place where King Stingray live is East Arnhem Land, a remote community in the Northern Territory on Yolŋu country. Despite its disconnect with the rest of the Australian music community, it has served as a hub of some of the most significant names in the country’s history – among them Yothu Yindi, from whom two members of Stingray descend from, and that band’s own alum Gurrumul.

The place where King Stingray grow, however, could be anywhere – even with only a handful of songs out, they’ve already effectively purchased a ticket to the world. They’ve already set alight stages across the country, earning a reputation as one of the most intuitive and energetic new bands on a scene that’s been in desperate need of both revival and new blood. Of course, these places of living and growing are not always mutually exclusive – there’s a lot to learn from the place you were born and raised, even if so much of what we deem as life experience circles around how much we’ve travelled. If you’ve travelled for too long, you could well outgrow the place where you grow – and that’s what “Get Me Out” ultimately comes back to.

Time is also extremely important as a factor here, arguably as much as place is. When “Get Me Out” was released, it came at a time when many Australians were unable to see their friends, families and loved ones – even neighbouring suburbs felt like an ocean away in the throes of lockdowns. “The sun goes down in the distance/I wish that you could see this,” Yunupiŋu laments – a bittersweet acknowledgement that we’re all seeing the same sun set across unceded land, but we’re not able to experience it in this moment as one. “Get me out of the city” – a plea that was not only heard, but well and truly felt.

“Get Me Out” works as a lockdown-era anthem in ways that “Stuck With You” or anything from Bo Burnham’s Inside never could – while those were largely self-serving ego trips, “Get Me Out” possesses an earthly and organic universality. Its humble pub-rock approach recalls their fellow Northern Territorians the Warumpi Band, mixing the heritage of guitar-based music with their own Indigenous tradition and even their own Yolŋu matha for good measure. It’s distinctive and definitive – in other words, Australian rock in its truest sense. No matter the time or place therein, King Stingray will always have this moment as their own.

2. CHVRCHES feat. Robert Smith – How Not to Drown

The bigger Lauren Mayberry got, the harder she fell.

You can see the trajectory of CHVRCHES’ leader purely from the trio’s live performances – she went from a statuesque figure, clinging onto an extensive mic cable for dear life, to a defiant stage commander wielding a wireless like nobody’s business. She emerged from her cocoon as a brilliant butterfly of contemporary synth-pop, suffering no fools and standing her ground – and people just fucking hated that. Whether it was misogynist trolls or Chris Brown fans – which are one and the same, but that’s another story – there was an ongoing fear that Mayberry would ultimately be taken asunder by this hideous side of her success story.

There, Lauren Mayberry stands – statuesque once again, but this time, in a sense that she refuses to back down. “I’m writing a book on how to stay conscious when you drown,” she sings – an arresting, eye-opening and borderline heart-stopping opening line, and far from the only gut-punch that would ensue over the next five minutes. Mayberry had already begun work on dismembering her would-be destroyers on the group’s previous single, “He Said She Said,” but its chirpy synths and quasi-dubstep chorus drop meant its attack was somewhat defanged upon arrival. Not so with “How Not to Drown” – in fact, this may well be the most acerbic and caustic song CHVRCHES have ever made, along with their greatest.

This is a song of survival – from abuse, from defeatism, from darkness. It’s a song that melds new wave and post-punk with the band’s usual electronic fare, creating something that revels in its sinister nature and dares you to take a step forward into its shadows. It’s assisted by The Cure’s Robert Smith, someone described as an “all-time hero” by the band themselves, who takes Mayberry’s lyrics to their own private palace of disintegration (via, naturally, Disintegration) without ever purporting to speak for her – rather, he stands alongside her and the band, as a peer. When the two sing the line “I wasn’t dead when they found me,” its impact is nothing short of astounding.

The harder Lauren Mayberry fell, the stronger CHVRCHES got. Here they stand, risen from 20,000 leagues under the sea and as tall as towers. Is that the best you’ve got?

1. Liz Stringer – First Time Really Feeling

Liz Stringer never saw it coming. Surely not.

Somewhere in the cold of Canada, in 2018 – two years before the world was upended, three before what she was about to do would ever see the light of day – the veteran singer-songwriter committed “First Time Really Feeling” to record. A keyboard hummed while the persistent drums took their place, and a guitar fumbled about getting ready – there’s even a bung note in there, but no-one seemed to mind. Six minutes later, Stringer and her makeshift ensemble of airtight session musos had laid down what has come to be the signature song and modern opus of a writer and performer never truly given her roses.

“First Time Really Feeling” was recorded what feels like a lifetime away from what we know now, but in spite of that it’s found its own context and its own rhyme and reason. At a time when many are learning to start again, Stringer’s words know what you’re going through – she had to go through that, too. To her, the titular phrase comes in the wake of her sobriety, where what she was attempting to process from a cold-turkey standpoint was bordering on a foreign concept. It was a new and uncertain place, but also one that centred on an exciting premise: The possibility.

Amongst a build of steady guitars, and guided by her resonant and smoky vocals, Stringer draws a line in the sand between her past and her present. She needs a clean break, a get away; a photo opportunity, a shot at redemption. “I just want to get out/Before it starts/To hurt me,” she sings, hurtled against the hustle and bustle of her heartfelt heartland rock. No-one said this was going to be easy, but the greatest journeys all start with a single step. By venturing forth, Stringer puts herself first – which is a miraculous feat in and unto itself, and one that should be thoroughly commended.

No, Liz Stringer never saw 2021 coming when she made “First Time Really Feeling” in 2018. As far as 2021 goes, however, it wouldn’t have made sense without “First Time Really Feeling” being a part of it. This is honesty that can’t be ignored. This is love. This is loss. This is a reeling body from a sunburnt country feeling the frost of a new terrain for the first time. It’s a new possibility. Couldn’t we all use one of those.

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Listen to the DJY100 in its entirety below:

Tracks by non-male artists = 50
Tracks by Australian artists = 49

Multiple entries:

Green Screen (99, 61), Phil Fresh (97, 69), Kwame (97, 49), CHVRCHES (88, 2), Billie Eilish (86, 35), Justin Bieber (84, 9), Squid (81, 40), The Goon Sax (80, 15), Amyl and the Sniffers (79, 75), Halsey (76, 55, 54), Citizen (73, 53), Fred Again.. (68, 30), Silk Sonic (60, 37, 29), Olivia Rodrigo (50, 16), Turnstile (43, 18), Lil Nas X (39, 8), Middle Kids (13, 10), Gretta Ray (11, 7)

Thanks again. For everything.

The Top 100 Songs of 2021, Part Four: 40 – 21

What’s good? Sorry this is late – life, uhh, gets in the way. Anyway, happy to be here. List Season ends when I SAY it ends, dammit! Right, admin before we crack on: Make sure you catch up on Part One, Part Two and even Part Three if you’re feeling particularly adventurous. That one’s for all my completionists out there. Alright, on with the show!

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40. Squid – Paddling

There’s lots of descriptors thrown around when discussing Brighton’s Squid. If there was one to rule them all, however, it’s “frenetic.” Even at over six minutes long – a considerable slog for some of Squid’s post-punk peers – “Paddling” is always in a hurry. Its guitar licks elbow in edgeways, its drums barely relent in their bloodthirsty quest to keep the beat and the trifecta vocal trade-off ensures it’s in a constant state of coming in from all angles. “Don’t push me in,” barks drummer Ollie Judge with an increasing sense of dread. Who’d dare fence in this gelatinous beast?

39. Lil Nas X – MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)

It was the pole dance heard ’round the world. The most unabashedly gay pop smash of all time slid its way into the collective conscience’s hearts and minds the second it dropped. It would remain there rent-free for the remainder of the year, even when the cycle moved onto the next Lil Nas X controversy – and there always seemed to be one. Wherever you ended up, it was hard to deny “MONTERO.” Its stomping flamenco spice, its aggressively suggestive lyrics and its hip-shaking switch-ups ensured that even when the circus eventually left town, “MONTERO” never did. It’s still peachy.

38. Great Job! – Vodka Chunder

It’s not so much that youth is wasted on the young – it’s that the youth are wasted. Like, a lot. There’s been drinking songs since well before Great Job! were born, and it’s a tradition they carry with their own antipodean spin. “You smell like vodka and chunder,” cheers Charlie Hollands in the chorus, which will no doubt elicit plenty of memories and imagery of house parties gone by. In amidst the nostalgia, however, lies a pub-rock urgency that makes “Vodka Chunder” feel entirely in the moment. It’s songs like that this that will ensure you feel forever young.

37. Silk Sonic – Leave the Door Open

Bruno Mars was due a comeback after his mid-2010s streak that started on “Uptown Funk” and ended on “Finesse.” Few, however, were expecting Mars hauling funky drummer and fellow R&B aficionado Anderson .Paak along for the ride. “Leave the Door Open” wasn’t an obvious lead single, but as a debut it now makes perfect sense: the sonics don’t get much silkier than this all-time slow jam of wine, robes and rose petals. Mars and .Paak trade off one another perfectly, with the double-time outro feels especially celebratory. With satisfaction guaranteed, Silk Sonic ensured their first impression was a long-lasting one.

36. Spiritbox – Secret Garden

Canadian metal act Spiritbox focus heavily on aesthetics. Their merch moves huge numbers, they shoot elaborate music videos and there’s a distinct glossiness to every photo of them. This might be a problem if they didn’t have the songs to complement it, but as their exceptional debut Eternal Blue testifies they are an all-in audio-visual experience that thrives on both ends of the spectrum. Best of all is “Secret Garden,” a resplendent djent adventure that’s smooth to the touch but doesn’t shy from rough edges. If Courtney LaPlante’s absolutely monstrous chorus doesn’t turn you into the Maxell guy, nothing will.

35. Billie Eilish – Your Power

The bombast of Billie Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever” was one of the musical moments of 2021. Great as it was, though, its hotdogging and grandstanding was playing to the back rows of the stadium. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld said, but if you wanted the real show-stopping moment on Happier Than Ever you had to listen that little bit closer. With little more than Finneas’ steely acoustic guitars and close harmonies guiding her, Eilish painted a damning portrait of a cunning manipulator. It’s clearly hers, but the iciness is cold enough to be felt by everyone.

34. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – That Life

Do we take Unknown Mortal Orchestra for granted? Maybe. Like, it could be argued they’re consistent to the point of it being unsurprising after all these years in the game. Of course their comeback single was excellent – the sky happens to be blue as well, y’know. In all honesty, it was the help of a little blue guy and his impeccable choreography work that lead this song to truly stick in hearts and minds. As Ruban Nielsen laments the world collapsing around him amidst “Billie Jean” drums and tape-loop guitars, there’s really nothing else to do but dance apocalyptic.

33. Duran Duran – INVISIBLE

Consider Duran Duran comparable to another thing English people love, Neighbours. Despite never really leaving for 35-plus years, mentioning them in the modern era will inevitably elicit an incredulous “Is that still going?” Indeed, “INVISIBLE” was the lead single from their 15th(!) studio album – and if we’re told to dance like no-one’s watching, then Duran Duran are playing like no-one’s listening. With pop aspirations long gone, they instead melt down their New Romantic aesthetics and mould them into a darker, stranger image – all with Blur’s Graham Coxon making weird guitar shapes for good measure. Still hungry; never ordinary.

32. Royal Blood – Typhoons

Being a guitar-less rock band wasn’t enough of a gimmick for Royal Blood to hang their jackets on beyond one admittedly-excellent EP in 2014. When “Trouble Coming” dropped in late 2020, it felt symbolic of the Worthing duo getting their collective mojo back. They weren’t done, either: in the third week of 2021, “Typhoons” made its splash and continued to make waves for the rest of the year. With their most snarling groove in years, the band aped Muse circa Black Holes plus Supergrass circa… well, Supergrass. What could’ve been a natural disaster ended up as Royal Blood’s redemption arc.

31. Coconut Cream – Your Drug on Computers

You know you’re onto something when members of Middle Kids and Gang of Youths are investing early. Coconut Cream may have friends in high places, but the fact of the matter is they’re unquestionably headed there themselves. Proof? “Your Drug on Computers” offers a compelling contrast between niche nostalgia and its 21st-century Sydney setting. It’s a song of lost infatuation and old flames, brought back to flickering life through jangly guitars and the kind of rousing chorus that could fill a festival ground. As their second EP looms, make sure you’re on board before they’re inevitably off to bigger things.

30. Fred again.. – Dermot (See Yourself in My Eyes)

The premise of Fred again..’s Everyday Life project was simple: Lift samples of voices, famous or otherwise, and retool them into his own brand of technicolour house. The albums are both ostensibly variations on a theme, but these one-trick ponies well and truly know their way around the racecourse. It all comes down to Fred’s vision and his impeccable arrangements – simmering, submerged; then bursting forth, cascading. Dermot Kennedy is a singer-songwriter with a great voice, but usually his blue-eyed fare is lacking je ne sais quoi. Here, he soars over clattering piano and bustling beats. The ordinary becometh extraordinary.

29. Silk Sonic – Smokin Out the Window

If you’re doing a pastiche of any kind, it’s imperative you incorporate all aspects. Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, leading by example, have everything about the Soul Train era downpat – the clothes and the grooves, certainly, but also the histrionics. So much of it is downright ridiculous, and “Smokin Out the Window” exemplifies it to a T. Case in point: If you weren’t walking around for weeks on end yelling “THIS. BITCH.” at inopportune moments, you straight up missed out. A genuinely hilarious slice of retro-pop perfection, “Smokin” proves that when God closes a door, he opens a window.

28. We Are Scientists – Contact High

It always felt like indie nerds We Are Scientists never got their due – 2005’s With Love and Squalor, after all, had to compete with a crowded scene across both the US and UK. Still, the endearing duo has never given up or cashed in the reunion-tour card – just as well, really, given they’re still fully capable of driving, robust indie-rock. “Contact High” is arguably their best since 2009’s “After Hours,” its slit-speaker guitar distortion and A-Ha worthy chorus transcending decades. The subsequent album Huffy may have been slept on, but “Contact” showed that the formula is still downpat.

27. I Know Leopard – Day 2 Day

Sydney indie darlings I Know Leopard have never shied from introspect – indeed, it served as central to their 2019 debut Love is a Landmine from a lyrical standpoint. Never quite before, however, has frontman Luke O’Loughlin come across quite as vulnerable and defeated as this. Even pitted against one of the band’s brightest and most resplendent piano-pop arrangements to date, as he bemoans losing “another piece of me” in deceptively-cheery falsetto. Even if they weren’t open for most of 2021, no song quite took to the concept of “crying in the club” than “Day 2 Day.” A bittersweet triumph.

26. Noah Dillon – That’s Just How I Feel

Underneath that mane of frizz atop his head, Perth singer-songwriter Noah Dillion possesses a brain that just seems to have songwriting all figured out. He takes to the usual garage-rock chord progression with aplomb, but he weaves more than enough personality and innovative twists into the mix for it to be inextricably his. “That’s Just How I Feel” is perhaps the best example of his still-young career, bounding through the handclap traffic and guitar snarls to wax poetic on sourdough warriors, tough cookies, family and young love. It’s enough to make you remark aloud: Dillon, you son of a bitch.

25. Jake Bugg – Lost

Nearly a decade removed from the rambling folk-rock of his self-titled debut, Nottingham’s Jake Bugg took a considerable gamble and reassembled his entire musical structure. Forget Dylan being called Judas for going electric, Bugg could have been decreed Satan himself for how much he changed things up. As any self-respecting Satanist knows, though, Hell ain’t a bad place to be. It’s called “Lost,” but Bugg has never sounded more sure of where he is – the hypnotic loop of the piano, the swelling synth strings, that goddamn bassline. Smash the acoustic and lower the mirrorball: Jake Bugg 2.0 has arrived.

24. Big Red Machine feat. Taylor Swift – Renegade

Of all the cultural shifts that came with the pandemic, Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon being added to to a list of teenage girls’ obsessions was one of the more unexpected. Then again, so was them crossing paths with the most famous person in the world – and yet, here we are. Of the three Swift/Vernon/Dessner collabs thus far, “Renegade” is the most conventional. Don’t let that detract from its cleverness and exuberance for a second, though. The understated indietronica environment is surprisingly pitch-perfect for Ms. Swift, who offers starry-eyed wondering for Vernon to add perfectly-contrasting harmonies to. Opposites attract.

23. Wavves – Sinking Feeling

The trajectory of Wavves from lo-fi underdog to indie darling to heel landlord has been bizarre, to say the least. They arrived in 2021 broken, battered and bruised – and lead saddest foot forward. Hideaway‘s lead single, “Sinking Feeling” takes Nathan Williams and co. on a magic boat ride of sour psychedelia. Somewhere in the valley between The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” and Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love,” this solemn dance to the end turned out to be the band’s best song in nearly a decade. Heavy is the head that wears the crown that reads King Of The Beach.

22. Kanye West – Jail

The trick of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is that you’re always paying attention to what isn’t there. “Jail,” the beginning of Donda‘s exhaustive 100-minute journey, pulls the same trick – except this time, the lights being out makes Ye all that more dangerous. Only two layers of guitars – one stabbing, one wailing – guide Yeezy’s diatribe from the back of the cop car. When he’s no longer alone, you notice: Gang vocals underline lines like “We all liars,” while a certain mysterious superhero swoops in for verse three. He’s carried by the single set of footprints in the sand.

21. Debbies – Sinner

Debbies are born from a coastline defined by bushfire regrowth and teenage boredom. To entirely dismiss the duo as Gen-Z grommits, however, misses the bigger picture of a song like “Sinner.” There’s something darker in the water – that shift from “I think I fucked up my liver” in verse one to “future” in verse two hits especially different. Debbies, truth be told, are just as lost as your average Lockie Leonard – but they’re finding their way, with “Sinner” serving as a guiding light through difficult terrain. More than barely-legal burnouts, these are young men with something to say.

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

Back next week with part five!

The Top 100 Songs of 2021, Part Three: 60 – 41

Hey! Sorry it took me awhile to get this up. I got COVID! Heard of it? It’s not great! Anyway, hope you enjoy this sail over the halfway mark. Promise this’ll be done by the end of the month. While you’re at it, why not catch up on Part One here and Part Two here? There ya go!

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60. Silk Sonic – Skate

What do women want? It’s been a hot-button topic for many a year now, and most men are still without answers. Needless to say, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak are not most men. They saw the absolutely massive uptick of women getting into rollerskating over the last 12 to 18 months, and they promptly cashed in with a blissful roller-disco ode to the phenomenon. You could be cynical about it being opportunistic, but “Skate” is way too sunny to succumb to such a dismissal. It’s a broad, beautiful smile of a song – and it’s exactly what women want, too.

59. WILLOW feat. Travis Barker – t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l

Most of you probably haven’t thought of Willow Smith in a decade… and she’s only 21. Somewhere in the throes of her teens and early 20s, the former child star stopped whipping her hair long enough to notice the world around her. This resulted in a guitar-heavy pop-rock comeback for the ages, helmed by red-carpet walker (and occasional drummer) Travis Barker. The same swagger that carried her tween hit is very much intact – she’s the daughter of a Fresh Prince, after all – but its moody, darker corners breathe new life into this still-burgeoning and fascinating career. With soul.

58. The Buoys – Lie to Me Again

One of The Buoys’ first tracks was “Liar Liar” – a rambunctious garage-punk number about a no-good ex, packed with the usual early-20s angst amidst clattering drums and rousing guitars. The topic is revisited four years later on “Lie to Me Again,” with a changed line-up but the constant of frontwoman Zoe Catterall. Here, she approaches the jilted former lover with the kind of calm that can only come before a storm. It’s not as in-your-face as its predecessor, but its impact is promptly doubled by its barbed lyricism and righteously-convicted chorus. This much is true: The Buoys light up.

57. Geese – Low Era

We’re getting to that stage in history where people with compound sentences for birth years are making some of the most exciting new music. One such act are indie-disco punks Geese, who were scooped up in a bidding war circa 2020. Now the Brooklynites have arrived in earnest for us to gander at, “Low Era” feels especially pertinent – reminiscent of when The Rapture and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah hit the scene. Will Geese have staying power beyond this fleeting infatuation? Impossible to tell. For this moment of post-punk zeitgeist, however, they’re the only living band in New York.

56. Gang of Youths – the angel of 8th ave.

Prior to the pandemic, Gang of Youths moved to London and brought in Noah & The Whale‘s Tom Hobden. This season of growth and change persisted, even in the midst of global shutdown. “angel” was GOY bursting forth and rising to the occasion once more, delivering heartland pop with prolix professionalism. Its parade of shimmering strings, syncopated claps and perhaps Max Dunn’s finest bass-line yet ensured that the Gang was back in business. They might not be a big fish in a little pond anymore, but “the angel of 8th ave.” proved that there was still blood in the water.

55. Halsey – Bells in Santa Fe

If you said this time last year that one of 2021’s most fruitful collaborations would be between Halsey and Nine Inch Nails, you might’ve had more concern raised than if you’d started coughing into your fist and offering handshakes. Nevertheless, they persisted. With additional production from unexpected outsider The Bug, “Bells” sets a scene somewhere between Fair Verona and oblivion with its spiralling synthesizer orchestra. Halsey’s increasing desperation as she tears pages from her Bible and comes to term with impermanence make for one of the most arresting performances of her career. It boils, it burns and it transforms into…

54. Halsey – Easier Than Lying

Halsey has flirted with heaviness in the past (see her underrated “Experiment On Me”), but “Easier Than Lying” hits different. That’s not just a saying, by the way – from its snarling bass to its siren-wail outro and the anchoring of its frenetic drum-and-bass backbeat, there’s never been a song in Halsey’s canon quite like this one. With the intense pacing of a car chase, the song’s relentless energy is carried by another ice-cold, sting-in-the-tail performance from none other than Ms. “Without Me” herself. There was a time when Trent Reznor once marched with the pigs. In 2021, Halsey ran.

53. Citizen – I Want to Kill You

The lead single of every Citizen record since their modern genre classic debut Youth has felt like its own reset. “Cement” forged into slinking alt-rock; “Jet” rode the wave of… well, The Wave… and now “I Want to Kill You” has introduced disco drums and post-punk frenetic ferocity. The best part is that it all still feels like Citizen each time – Matt Kerekes’ writhing yelp, the steely fretwork of the Hamm brothers and that propulsive emotional build that ensures Citizen From Toledo, Ohio can be heard around the world. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and Citizen are absolutely jacked.

52. Polish Club – Stop for a Minute

Polish Club can get as goofy as anyone. They play silly games, make knowingly-hideous album art… even in this song’s video, frontman David Novak chows down on a sanga while dancing in a tux. What “Stop for a Minute” does best, however, is cut through the bullshit – even in what’s arguably the most fun musical environment the duo has ever set up for itself. That seething frustration seeps through the cracks in the mirrorball that separate the art from the artist, rattling from the ceiling against the bass drum kick. It’s not the clown crying anymore: It’s pissed disco.

51. Toby Martin – Linthwaite Houdini

Be it a pregnant city dweller or a radicalised immigrant teenager, Toby Martin has always thrived telling stories that aren’t his own with a surprising sense of belonging. The lead single from his third solo album is no exception, where he hears tell of a small-town escape artist whose grand scheme doesn’t go according to plan. Amongst the wallowing trumpet and the slinking waltz drums, Martin’s writing encompasses the envisioned triumph and the ultimate tragedy that emerges from a story as unique as this one. The truth is stranger than fiction, and few Australian songwriters truly get that like Martin.

50. Olivia Rodrigo – brutal

“Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” For an artist that was introduced to the world via post-Lorde piano balladry, few could have expected the veneer to crumble quite like it did on Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album opener. As that riff churns, she wants it on record that this sweet life of celebrity and status is far from perfect – in fact, it’s tearing her apart inside. “brutal,” true to its name, is the heaviest song on SOUR by a considerable margin. It’s a living, seething testament to the year pop was allowed to rock again. Teenage angst, meet This Year’s Model.

49. Tasman Keith feat. Kwame – ONE

It started off as a rib, when short-king MC Tasman Keith got photos taken with the towering Kwame. What ended up revealing itself over the coming weeks, however, proved this: These motherfuckers weren’t playing. “ONE” is the best song either artist has been a part of – and considering the calibre of their already-illustrious careers, that’s not said lightly. From its urgent beat to its belligerent flow, there’s absolutely no backing down on any front. When the duo knocked this out of the park on The Set, Kwame boasted: “Rap song of the fucking year.” You’re inclined to believe him.

48. Springtime – Will to Power

Gareth Liddiard had a surprisingly fruitful year. Tropical Fuck Storm’s lockdown record finally came out, he reinvented his catalogue live with Jim White and he undertook a new journey entirely with Springtime. Liddiard, White and The Necks pianist Chris Abrahams are no strangers to music with a freer, looser form than your average. That factors into their debut single “Will to Power,” but it’s far from the only story. It’s a sprawling, darkly-shaded take on Liddiard’s barbed Australiana through a strange, dirty lens. Against cascading guitar, creaking piano and the sturdy drumming shuffle of the unmistakable White, Springtime truly blossoms.

47. Holy Holy – How You Been

Somewhere in the shadow realm between pop that rocks and rock that pops lies Holy Holy. Across four studio albums, the Melbourne-via-Tasmania duo who have slowly but surely built a reputation as one of the country’s more likeable and endearing indie hit-makers. “How You Been” showcases the duo at their key strengths. Frontman Timothy Carroll’s performance is heartfelt and rousing; guitarist Oscar Dawson’s buoyant production, meanwhile, allows everything from the rubbery bass-line to the triumphantly OTT solo to cohesively gel. It’s an electric pop effort designed for dancing like no-one’s watching – much like Carroll himself in the accompanying video.

46. Limp Bizkit – Dad Vibes

hot dad ridin in on a rhino

45. Deafheaven – Great Mass of Color

In retrospect, perhaps we could have all seen Deafheaven’s stylistic departure coming. They have, after all, seemingly always existed on the very fringes of heavy metal itself – what’s one extra push out of the genre entirely? “Great Mass of Color” was a headfirst dive into the great unknown – one that, admittedly, could have seen the Northern Calfornia quintet land flat on their face. Instead, however, the band was immersed in a crystallised bliss that revelled in its tranquil undercurrent in tandem with its bursting, resplendent refrain. It’s like a dream, to borrow a phrase. You want to dream.

44. Ruby Fields – R.E.G.O

Ruby Fields is lots of things, but a rockstar is not one of them. She’s just Rubes, slinging beers at the local to get by and shooting the shit with the regulars. “R.E.G.O” is a rumination on this lifestyle – living paycheck to paycheck, but having the inextricable bonds of friendship keeping it afloat. “Haven’t you always wanted to feel like that?” Fields asks, again and again. She’s saying what we’re all thinking, and she knows it. It’s bolstered by her impeccable band, with a special nod to Adam Newling’s fret-bending lead work. Worth a coin in the tip jar.

43. Turnstile – MYSTERY

2021 was Turnstile’s year. No ifs, buts or maybes. The Baltimore natives elevated American hardcore to a level arguably not seen since John Belushi moshed to Fear at 30 Rock – the same building, coincidentally, that Turnstile saw out the year performing inside as part of Late Night. There, they played the track that launched their year: “MYSTERY,” a song that dares anyone feeling froggy to go ahead and leap. Brendan Yates’ boisterous yelp, pondering the great unknown, ricochets off churning guitars and walloping drums to forge something full of life that proudly goes down swinging. Consider the mystery solved.

42. No Rome feat. Charli XCX and The 1975 – Spinning

Around August, Charli XCX dropped an ambigious tweet with a question that left her devotees guessing: “rip hyperpop?” Her two singles since this have indicated a new direction is imminent for March’s Crash, which means that “Spinning” might be her last true hurrah as a glitched-out pop weirdo for the time being. If that’s the case, what a way to go out. Trust the Dirty Hit all-stars to assemble an all-star dirty hit – an all-syrup squishee bender with intense hypercolour and a robotic empire of Charlis parroting the titular phrase on a telling loop. She’s making us dizzy, still.

41. easy life – skeletons

“skeletons” is so excited to get going, it practically trips over itself – cue the tumbling drums and smash-cut to the word of the day. It’s a disarming beginning to a song that coasts on smooth sailing, but that may well be the point. A closer inspection, of course, sees that this future-soul cut from the Leicester lads portrays purported paranoia over a partner’s playful past. It’s a little Mac Miller; a little Rex Orange County; a little Hot Chip. There’s some fascinating moving parts at play here. What easy life have concocted, ultimately, is guaranteed to rattle some bones.

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

Back next week with part four!

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

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

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80. The Goon Sax – Psychic

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

79. Amyl and the Sniffers – Guided by Angels

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

78. Jerry Cantrell – Atone

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

77. Courtney Barnett – Rae Street

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

76. Halsey – honey

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

75. Amyl and the Sniffers – Hertz

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

74. Eliza & The Delusionals – Save Me

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

73. Citizen – Black and Red

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

72. Low – Days Like These

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

71. Kings of Convenience – Rocky Trail

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

70. Baby Beef – It Stings

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

69. Phil Fresh feat. RISSA – On the Low

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

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

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

67. Ed Sheeran – Bad Habits

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

66. BROCKHAMPTON – DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY

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

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

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

64. Modest Mouse – We Are Between

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

63. Plaster of Paris – Internalise

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

62. 1300 – No Caller ID

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

61. Green Screen – I am Boring

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

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

Back next week with part three!

The Top 100 Songs of 2021, Part One: 100 – 81

Hey team! We’re back once again with the DJY100, and there are some absolute doozies headed your way. Before we get to rocking, though, have you had a listen to the supplementary list of 50 songs I loved this year that just missed the cut? You should totally do that!


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 2021

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100. SPEED – WE SEE U

When the airhorn hits, it signals one thing: The gang called Speed has arrived. In a year of precious few throwdowns, the Sydneysiders cut through with Australian hardcore’s first proper viral hit and turned heads around the globe – see the pure joy of this YouTuber’s reaction for proof. It’s gone in 60 seconds, but its presence is felt long after the final two-step comes to a screeching halt. For those that have missed getting caught in a mosh, as well as those who remember when punk rock could be this much fun, Speed will have you in cruise control.

99. Green Screen – Date Night

On paper, you wouldn’t expect much common ground between sugar-sweet Zoe Catterall of The Buoys and the ice-cold baritone of Baby Beef‘s Hewett Cook. As it turns out, their yin-and-yang makes for an enthralling exercise in queer electro-pop with a dramatic flair. “Date Night” is one of the finest examples of this from their collaborative Green Screen project, in which the odd couple evens out over pulsating, late-night synth-bass and the flickering candle of new romance in amidst the dark of the city. “Have we been reborn/In each other’s arms?” asks Cook in the song’s bridge. In many ways, yes.

98. Mike Noga – Open Fire

Mike Noga never set out to write a swan song when Open Fire was cut – but it goes to show that you should make every album like it’s your last, because there’s every chance it could be. The late, great singer-songwriter opted for an antipodean tweak of “Dancing in the Dark” on his final record’s lead single and title track, sauntering around the synths and honing in on arguably the best chorus of his career. Many thanks to Noga’s family and friends for ensuring this saw the light of day, giving this criminally underrated musician the send-off he deserved.

97. Phil Fresh feat. Kymie and Kwame – IG Luv

If you can’t relate to DM-sliding social media horniness after two lockdowns, you’re either a devoted monogamist or just prudent. This playful bounce from Phil Fresh’s debut EP is bolstered by a pristine Kymie hook and a spotless Kwame verse, the latter returning the favour for Fresh’s excellent turn on “TOMMY’S IN TROUBLE.” Fresh himself is far from an afterthought, though – his vision is what carries this bright, technicolour hip-hop right through its runtime, not to mention his bravado and confidence ensuring the thematic crux is conveyed to the nth degree. A fire-emoji react if there ever was one.

96. Approachable Members of Your Local Community – Just Say It

There’s a cynical approach (pardon the pun) to seeing polite, goofy Jewish boys adding a blond-hair-blue-eyes Instagram influencer to their line-up. Let’s make it clear, though: Sage Mellet isn’t Cousin Oliver. She’s Frank Reynolds. She just wants to be pure – and with “Just Say It,” she climbs through the couch and serves up a resplendent indie-disco kiss-off. Her first outing at the helm of AMOYLC, complete with Gab Strum production sheen, is an instant career-best for the Melbourne outfit. Much like her brother before her, she blooms just for you – and you can’t help but be utterly charmed.

95. Tigers Jaw – Hesitation

Tigers Jaw are at the point in their career where they often find themselves playing with bands that grew up listening to them. They’re not a heritage act by any means, but a new generation has come up under their wing – or paw, in this analogy. March’s I Won’t Care How You Remember Me proved that the Scranton emo OGs weren’t about to go quietly, though – not least of all when this excellent indie-rocking single, released just seven days into the year, saw them as infectiously catchy and splendidly harmonious as ever before. Tigers Jaw: They’re still grrrrrrrreat.

94. Sly Withers – Breakfast

At the long-standing Australian intersection of pub-rock and pop-punk, Sly Withers have grown leaps and bounds the last few years cementing themselves as a great white hope of guitar music within the sunburnt country. There’s exemplary demonstrations of their excellence of execution across second album Gardens, but “Breakfast” asserts itself among the true champions. Packing the crunch of its guitars and heartiness of its lyrics into an ice-cold bowl, the Western Australians channel the American midwest and pack in as much emotional heft as three minutes will allow. It’s Jimmy Eat World eating the most important meal of the day.

93. Teenage Joans – Wine

A common trope is to claim young artists are wise beyond their years. Teenage Joans aren’t, nor have they ever purported to. They’re still making mistakes, acutely aware how early into adulthood they actually are. “Wine” reflects this, blending bright guitars and crashing drums with searing melodicism and exuberant abandon. “I saw you at the spelling bee” is an immaculate depiction of innocence lost; “You age like wine/And I still haven’t aged to like wine” is stark self-realisation about age gaps just big enough to fall through. Just because TJs aren’t wise beyond their years, doesn’t mean they’re not wise.

92. Spacey Jane – Lots of Nothing

Well, well, well… look who found themselves launched into the stratosphere in 2021. Sure, their silver-medal performance in the heated countdown certainly gave them a boost, but “Lots of Nothing” ensured the Perth pop explorers remained amongst the stars. They shine bright on this stand-alone cut, retaining their distinctive rock jangle but simultaneously nudging it out into slightly farther reaches than 2020’s Sunlight – just enough to indicate they’re making progress, and having plenty of fun while doing so. Bonus points for incorporating the word “servo” into a verse, too. Even if they eventually conquer America, they’re still Our Spaceys.

91. Skegss – Bush TV

Does the fact “Bush TV” follows an almost-identical conceptual structure to earlier single “Smogged Out” (read: big city escapism in a dead-end moment) mean Skegss have carved out a niche? Maybe, but more than anything it proves prowess with variations on a theme. With a four-chord ramble and Jonny Lani’s brisk drums giving some downhill momentum, the north-coast trio bound through home-truth honesty and rousing reflections on the state of things. They’re keeping the bastards honest, while also ensuring their bastardry doesn’t go unchecked. Once again, Skegss keep their imperfections in perfect form – don’t you dare change the channel.

90. Mitski – Working for the Knife

Comeback singles, traditionally, possess at least some degree of “I’m back, bitch” energy. It’s expected here: “Working for the Knife” is Mitski’s first single in three years, and follows on from the biggest album of her career in Be the Cowboy. You’d know none of that from listening to it, though – an understated, morose minor-chord slow-burn that mourns a life lost to the throes of capitalism. If anyone else tried this after so long away they’d be rightly ostracised. Within the framework of Mitski’s career, however, it’s another ingenious swerve from one of modern indie rock’s most unpredictable figures.

89. Moaning Lisa – Something

In their best songs, Moaning Lisa capture moments. “Carrie” is a slow-waltz into a desperate thrash of lust; “Lily” is slow-motion heartbreak; “Take You Out” slinks into new romance. That same energy radiates through “Something,” as it charts the progress of infatuation from the ambient sounds of its bass intro to the immediate post-punk guitar chops of the verses. You go along for the ride, thinking back to the moments you felt the same way. That’s the best thing about the Melbourne-via-Canberra outfit – theirs is a distinct balance of universal introspect, where it’s wholly theirs but somehow yours too.

88. CHVRCHES – Good Girls

“Killing your idols is a chore/And it’s such a fucking bore/But we don’t need them anymore.” Lauren Mayberry arrives dressed to kill at the helm of CHVRCHES’ third single from the excellent Screen Violence, pitting her convictions against cascading synth arpeggios and a mechanical kick-snare that wouldn’t feel out of place in NIN’s “Closer.” The bones of what you believe a CHVRCHES song to sound like are still very much in-tact, but the skeletal structure has shifted. The trio has created a monster here, and they’re proudly letting it loose for their own personal reckoning. No more Mr. Good Girl.

87. Palms – This One is Your One

“This One is Your One” wasn’t just about Sydney garage-rock veterans Palms making a triumphant return after six years in absentia. It was also a coming-out party for frontman Al Grigg, using the song to profess his love to his boyfriend and let the world know of the rainbow hanging over their intensity sunshine. Don’t let the schmaltz fool you, though – this is still a bright, rough-and-tumble rocker with its rough edges left proudly intact. There are few choruses in Palms’ canon simplistic as “Always, I know/Never ever gonna let you go.” Simultaneously, however, there are few more effective.

86. Billie Eilish – NDA

2021 began for Billie Eilish with The World’s A Little Blurry – an intense, two-hour-plus doco capturing her ascent and the myriad of growing pains that ensued. For a mainstream pop-star film, it was surprisingly raw – fitting, given Eilish is among the least-likely mainstream pop-stars of the last decade. “NDA” sees her venturing further down the rabbit hole of fame and privacy, skipping the playfulness of “Therefore I Am” and sinking straight into some of brother Finneas’ most intense production work to date. Full disclosure: There may not be a more fascinating story unfolding in modern pop right now.

85. Crowded House – To the Island

Neil Finn has no qualms with playing the hits – nor should he, given how many he’s got. Where he differs, however, is not relying on them. Much like the boat he paddles in this very video, Finn is still a keen explorer. With a new crew in tow – including two of Finn’s sons – the expanded quintet shift through dark waters and uncharted territory with refreshing ambition and the kind of free-wheeling experimental approach that pays off in spades. Many heritage acts fear desecrating their canon – on “To the Island,” Crowded House proudly build it even bigger.

84. Justin Bieber feat. Daniel Caesar and Giveon – Peaches

Never short of a photo opportunity, Justin Bieber instead sought a shot at redemption in 2021. Following the worst album of his career in the droll, uninspired Changes, the former child star bounced back with a more refined, mature approach to modern rnb with Justice – an album that didn’t betray his age nor permanently transmogrify him into Wife Guy Number One. Best of all was “Peaches,” his strongest solo hit in a half-decade and a perfect vehicle to raise the profiles of smooth-singing up-and-comers Daniel Caesar and Giveon. Forget “Yummy” – “Peaches” is perfectly juicy pop, coast to coast.

83. Amenra – Ogentroost

Fans of All Elite Wrestling know parts of “Ogentroost” well. An edited version guides Dutch grappler Malakai Black to the ring each night, with its sinister guitars and banshee-howl vocals. If you want to face the real heavyweight champion, however, venture forth on the full ten-minute version that opens the doom-metal band’s De Doorn LP. There were few moments in heavy music throughout 2021 that offered up a journey quite like this one, centred on a tense, atmospheric build to its tumbling drums, haunting choir (lead by Oathbreaker‘s Caro Tanghe) and seismic hurtle into the abyss. Down for the count.

82. Snowy Band – Call It a Day

A lapsed-Catholic confessional opens this fittingly-reverent, hushed jangle-pop number: “I prayed to God in a parked car.” There’s a calm and repose to the second single from Snowy Band’s second album, but this does not equate to a lack of emotion or any shortage of delightful imagery. “Full moon, overfilled, smeared yellow/Fell on the buttered side,” coos frontman Liam Halliwell atop chiming guitars and understated drums. Its breathy delivery emerges from the shadows of Melbourne suburbia, but resonates far beyond its immediate reach. If you’ve been seeking heartfelt, honest and homegrown songwriting of the indie-rock persuasion, consider your prayers answered.

81. Squid – Pamphlets

Remember when Björk arrived as a fully-formed weirdo in the 90s, and we all wondered how she could get any weirder and she found a way? That’s sort of what Squid’s 2021 looked like. Already one of the more eccentric indie exports of their native UK, their debut album already felt like it had a certain expectation to live up to. They, too, found a way – particularly on Bright Green Field‘s closer, an eight-minute art-rocker where one minute it’s oh so quiet, the next there’s an army. It unravels into their most intense, ambitious song yet. Spread the word.

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

Back next week with part two!

The Top 100 Songs of 2020, Part Five: 20 – 1

We move now, at long last, to put the lid on 2020 with the 20 best songs of the year. A warning that there’s a lot to say about the top 10, so only stick around if you’re feeling adventurous.

Parts one, two, three and four are here, here, here and here respectively.

Let’s fucking do this.

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20. Fontaines D.C. – Televised Mind

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.

9. Sports Team – Here’s the Thing

Is it still the revival? Are we in the revival of the garage rock revival? What of the post-punk revival? There’s a revival every minute, because there’s a lot of money in it. And here’s the kicker: The song that’s referencing is old enough to attend high school by now.

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.

6. Soccer Mommy – circle the drain

Dan Mangan prophesised that “the indie queens are waiting” at the end of the 2000s. Tell you something for nothing: He didn’t know the half of it. By the end of the following decade, there were more young women and girls with a prominent position in indie rock than arguably ever before. Liz Phair wouldn’t have even needed a Guyville to exile from. The aforementioned Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers were among the top proprietors, not to mention their boygenius bandmate Lucy Dacus. How about Hop Along, Big Thief, Snail Mail, Waxahatchee, Japanese Breakfast, Mitski, Diet Cig, illuminati hotties… exhausted yet?

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 Nanette to 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 Falling to “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 and Amy 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.

We are all we have.

We will always love you.

***

Listen to the complete DJY100 via Spotify below:

Thank you for reading. See you next time.

The Top 100 Songs of 2020, Part Four: 40 – 21

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.

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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 had history 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.

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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.

The Top 50 Albums of 2019

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

The Top 100 Songs of 2020, Part Three: 60 – 41

Time to cross over into the top half of the list, just as the sun sets on The Bad Year. You’re almost in the rearview mirror, you prick!

For those catching up, fear not. Part One and Part Two are standing by.

Alright, let’s rock.

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60. Amy Shark – Everybody Rise

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 fucking hate IDLES 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 you will, 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 Four LP 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.

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And there you have it! To listen to all 60 songs thus far, crank the Spotify playlist below:

Part four comin’ atcha sooner than you think!

The Top 100 Songs of 2020, Part Two: 80 – 61

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!

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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.

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

Come back next week for part three!