The Top 100 Songs of 2015, Part One: 100 – 81

It’s about that time, folks. You know how this one goes. Good, clean fight to the finish. All genres, countries and ages accepted. Only one rule: No touching of the hair or face. Alright, let’s get it on!

To pre-game, why not take a listen to this supplementary list of 50 great songs that just missed out on the top 100?

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 2015

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100. Cosmic Psychos – Fuckwit City

The greatest moments in the 30-plus year canon of Cosmic Psychos have been helmed by the infamous snarl of Ross Knight, so it’s a rare treat to hear a lead vocal from the band’s pot-bellied riff-bearer, John “Mad Macca” McKeering. Macca’s no crooner – but, then again, neither’s Knighty. It’s not exactly a top priority when there’s a big, stomping riff and a middle-finger-waving chorus to smash through. The accompanying video, which sees the band smashing tinnies and chowing down on snags, gets the point across better than words ever could: them’s the Psychos. They’re not to be fucked with.

99. Kissing Booth – Battlefield

“Battlefield” has been a staple of Kissing Booth’s live shows more or less since their formation, and it’s easy to see why – if it’s not Tom Jenkins’ thunderous tom rolls that lead it in, it’s the earnest, raised-fist chorus and undying mantra of “you’ve got the strength in you to succeed” that will firmly seal the deal. Recorded at long last for their debut, Never Settle, “Battlefield” became a highlight once again – it’s a slow-waltz through love-and-war metaphors and swinging twin-guitar warmth, reeling in listeners before bowling them over. If love is a battlefield, consider Kissing Booth victorious.

98. You Beauty – Illywhacka

They’re not pioneers of writing about love from a hardened, cynical perspective – and Lord knows they won’t be the last. What spices up the title track to You Beauty’s second album is knowing it’s from the perspective of a scam artist – someone who makes a living saying things but never meaning them. “If I misuse the words/I’m not the first,” he justifies at one point; “I do believe it’s unconscious like the rest,” he affirms at another. Throw in some thwacking snare rolls and a Johnny Marr-worthy guitar tone and you’re ready to fall for anything he says.

97. Frank Turner – The Next Storm

Positive Songs for Negative People, Turner’s comeback LP from the middle of 2015, was thematically centred on Turner refusing to let pessimism and a slew of personal ordeals serve as the obstacles they once were. As bar-room piano leads him into a fist-wielding rock shuffle, Turner takes a matter as pedestrian as the weather and lets it blossom into the perfect metaphor for his sunnier outlook. It might seem naff – especially if Turner has ever felt too endearing – but it’s hard to deny a shout-along to a refrain as wonderfully succinct as “Rejoice! Rebuild! The storm has passed!”

96. Young Fathers – Rain or Shine

Young Fathers are in it to win it, because having the Mercury just wasn’t enough. The trio – alongside Sleaford Mods – were two major acts to properly turn British music on its head and expose a darker, more unpleasant side of their respective homelands last year. It’s telling that both immediately followed up their world-class 2014 breakthroughs in 2015; equaling – and occasionally bettering – their predecessors. This slab of sweet-and-sour alt-hop stays true to its name; throwing a Motown worthy ‘hey-hey-hey’ into the blender with some deadpan abstract poetry. Theirs is a revolution that is still… well, revolving.

95. Alabama Shakes – Don’t Wanna Fight

Perhaps the most piercing, indescribable squeal this side of Kings of Leon’s “Charmer” is what lead us into the first single from Alabama Shakes’ long-awaited second album. The groove was very much still in the heart for Brittany Howard and co., shuffling through a head-nodding lick and a driving four-on-the-floor beat before letting loose a truly righteous falsetto-disco chorus that takes on double duty as a harken-back to vintage soul. Much like their finest moments from Boys & Girls, “Don’t Wanna Fight” is some kind of genre Voltron. In the right context, it’s a fully-formed and unstoppable machine. Right on.

94. Horrorshow feat. Thelma Plum, Jimblah and Urthboy – Any Other Name

This protest song, dropped in the wake of horrendous abuse toward now-retired AFL player Adam Goodes, is an endlessly-quotable all-star tirade against the systemic, institutionalised racism that has become more and more prevalent in modern Australian society. Each artist brings their A-game across the track’s runtime, laying their heart out on their sleeves and making it exceptionally clear who is in the wrong. The track’s mic-drop moment comes with Solo’s damning, defiant final point: “Racist is as racist does/So if you’re doing something racist/Hate to break it, you’re a racist, cuz.” This is our wake-up call. Australia, this is you.

93. Hockey Dad – Can’t Have Them

2014 was the year of Zach Stephenson and Billy Fleming, the Windang wunderkinds that wrote the best Australian song of the year and sent audiences young and old into a hair-flipping frenzy. It would have been entirely understandable if they wanted to go for their afternoon nap this year, but it appears the red cordial is still running through their veins. This stand-alone single is a bright, bouncy hip-shaker that strengthens Stephenson’s knack for cooed, wordless refrains and Fleming’s primitive boom-thwack Ringo fills. It bodes considerably well for the band’s imminent debut LP next year. Game on, you little scamps.

92. Drake – Know Yourself

The mixtape lifestyle suited Drake this year. Dropping new material when he felt like it with no label pressure and no pushing for a greater ambition meant that the man born Aubrey Graham was allowed to have a lot more fun. Amid the dozen-plus new songs that arrived on the If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late mixtape, it was this centrepiece that sent fans into a tailspin. Its clanking trap beat, its obnoxious sub-bass and that hook – Drizzy can make this shit happen without even trying these days. You know how that shit go. Airhorns at the ready.

91. Beach Slang – Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas

In the same year that Weston, the pop-punk band James Alex was a part of in the 90s, reunited for a handful of shows; Alex also got a second wind with the momentum of his new band, Beach Slang, who became one of 2015’s most hyped rock bands. It’s easy to both see and hear why this was the case: the paint-splatter ride cymbal, its two-chord fury; not to mention the wordless refrains one has to unlock their jaw in order to properly sing out. We are all in the garage, but some of us are looking at the stars.

90. Endless Heights – Teach You How to Leave

Every year, Endless Heights inch further and further away from the forthright melodic hardcore with which they made their name. Every year, Endless Heights write sharper, smarter songs with a greater level of introspect, heart and poignancy. Simply put: Every year, Endless Heights get flat-out better. This, the title-track to their third EP, feels like an endgame of sorts – the kind of low-key, artfully-quiet song that they have worked towards on previous efforts. It’s able to do more in less than three minutes than what may of the band’s contemporaries can achieve with five-plus. A bright, beautiful slow-burn.

89. The Bennies – Party Machine

From one end to the other, The Bennies can become a million different things – post-punk hip-shakers, knees-up ska bouncers, heavy disco (pardon the pun) ravers. When it all rolls together, it becomes something full of wild-eyed energy; a measured defiance of restrictive guidelines and genre semantics. With a third album looming, “Party Machine” feels like the Bennies single that has the most to prove – that they are ready to take this shit higher than ever before. It passes accordingly with all the flying colours of a hallucinogenic rainbow. The machine rages on. The party is just getting started.

88. Pity Sex – What Might Soothe You?

There are those that haven’t quite known what to make of Pity Sex in the past – too much of an indie band for shoegaze nerds, too much of a shoegaze band for indie kids. On their first new material in two years, the band play up their limbo with a song accentuating both sides of the coin. Twee, unisex vocals are placed under the same spotlight as hazed-out, Daydream Nation-worthy guitar fuzz – at once joyously bright and uniformly morose. Putting genre semantics aside and appreciating a great song for what it is – it, indeed, might soothe you.

87. Miguel – leaves

Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan was given a songwriting credit to this end-of-summer lament after Miguel claimed he was accidentally inspired by the Pumpkins’ hit “1979.” The similarities certainly present themselves – particularly in the off-kilter guitar patterns – but “leaves” substitutes the mid-west teenage dreaming for west-coast heartbreak and Corgan’s adenoidal nostalgia for a smooth, love-lorn crooning. Along with being a standout moment of Miguel’s excellent Wildheart LP, it certainly stands as the best thing Corgan has been attached to in well over a decade – and it says a lot that he wasn’t directly involved at all.

86. Darren Hanlon – The Chattanooga Shoot-Shoot

He’s spent over a decade as one of the country’s smartest, most celebrated songwriters – even his peers can’t help but be amazed by the way he wondrously weaves his wayward words. The standout track from his fifth album takes the Gympie couchsurfer about as far from home as he’s ever been – travelling to Tennessee on a budget bus. To borrow a phrase from Upworthy, you won’t believe what happens next. The “Folsom Prison Blues” chord progression and timely snare hits are a nice touch, too. Of all of Hanlon’s tales, this one hits number one with a bullet.

85. Micachu and the Shapes – Oh Baby

“It’s not us to give up in a rush,” crows Mica Levi over a hypnotic boom-bap rhythm and underwater synths blubbering from afar. She’s got a point, y’know – it might have been three years since we heard from Levi, Raisa Khan and Marc Pell; but they re-enter the fray as if they were never really gone. Reverb-laden crooning and an experimental hip-hop flavour to the song’s lo-fi production add spice and texture, but theirs is a dynamic so constantly-shifting and fascinating that these two aspects could just as well be just scratching the surface. Just like that, it vanishes.

84. Best Coast – Heaven Sent

Not to get all Rick Astley on the situation, but Best Coast are no strangers to love. Their knack lies in their ability to make it sound as fresh and dewy-eyed as that of young romance. No-one else in the current indie-rock climate could drop something as sappy as “You are the one that I adore” atop a major chord and not only get away with it, but be commended for it. There’s a method and an art-form to all of this – and the only ones that know the secret recipe are Bethany and Bobb. Love rules, yeah yeah.

83. Bad//Dreems – Cuffed and Collared

What other band in Australia right now could simultaneously recall God’s “My Pal” and The Remembrandt’s sole hit “I’ll Be There for You” in a single bound? It could well have something to do with how “Cuffed and Collared” vividly mashes together the fury and bounding energy of the former with the unmistakable pop ear-worms of the latter. It might be a song that details a violent altercation, sure; but you’ll be damned if you aren’t grinning every time that the hook in question rolls around – and it’s on a near-frequent loop. With Dreems like these, who needs Friends?

82. Foals – What Went Down

What the ever-loving fuck is going on here? From its seasick organ drone to its detour into a thick three-note riff – not to mention its subsequent tear-down and empirical rebuild – “What Went Down” is one of the most head-spinning, ferocious compositions that Foals have ever committed to wax. What else does it have in store? Abstract imagery! A piercing, screamed refrain! Constant, unpredictable swerves that threaten to throw the entire goddamn thing off a cliff! To paraphrase a quote from Blades of Glory‘s Chazz Michael-Michaels: No-one knows what went down, but it’s provocative. It gets the people going.

81. The Hard Aches – Knots

One of the true signs of great, honest songwriting is when the writer in question turns the knife – or, in this case, the much-mightier pen – on themselves. The Hard Aches’ Ben David exposes his flaws on this key track from the band’s debut, Pheromones; bitterly portraying himself as a pathological, unrepentant liar in a constant state of exhaustion. Towards the song’s thrilling conclusion, however, he indicates that he’s on the road to bettering himself – and his is such a blunt, forthright delivery that you just know that he’ll get there. The untying process slowly but surely begins.

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Part Two will be posted next Monday!

To download the podcast version of Part One, click here.

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The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part Four: 40 – 21

We’re so close! Parts one, two and three… missed ’em? Not to worry? You can revisit them here, here and here. Let’s get down to some top 40 pop hits. Starting now.

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40. Fucked Up feat. J Mascis – Led By Hand

Here’s a strange proposition: The best Dinosaur Jr. song of the year did have J Mascis in it, but it wasn’t by Dinosaur Jr. In a standout moment from their exceptional Glass Boys LP, Pink Eyes and co. paid homage to proto-grunge wigouts while still maintaining their hardcore punk roots. There was perhaps no greater yin-and-yang in the year than when Mascis mumbled the song’s chorus as Pink Eyes let out a Roger Daltrey-worthy “YEAH!” atop of it. An unlikely pairing on paper, “Led by Hand” had everything making a whole lotta sense quite quickly. Follow it around.

39. St. Vincent – Digital Witness

What did Annie Clark learn from her time making music with David Byrne? Two major things. The first: Horns. They’re a weapon. Use them wisely. The second: Is something categorically weird in your song? Make it weirder. Taking this on board, “Digital Witness” is one of her finest tracks to date. Whether it was the spiralling pre-chorus melody, the stinging guitar wail or that all-encompassing hook, it was nigh-on impossible to deny the resonance of this rebirth. During one of the song’s many earworms, Clark boldly states “I want all of your mind.” You got it. Anything else?

38. The Kite String Tangle – Words

We’re still learning a lot about Danny Harley, the prodigious figurehead behind Brisbane bedroom phenomena The Kite String Tangle. Tracks like “Words” allowed us as listeners to edge slightly closer in this regard, and it was something to be extremely thankful for. A restrained exploration of post-dubstep balladry, Harley shrouds himself in light-and-shade contrasts, gently coaxing out confessional lyrics as distant lights flicker and glow on the outskirts. It shouldn’t add up that such depth and maturity has been achieved at such an early stage, but one would suppose The Kite String Tangle has always been against the odds.

37. Jane Tyrrell – The Rush

Lovers can fall hard and fast for one another, but where does one find oneself when fire turns to ice? It’s a complicated subject, and one that Tyrrell details with an outsider’s eye and an insider’s mind. She may have set up two characters in the song, but it’s safe to say that she sees more than just herself within them. Driven masterfully by the unmistakable drumming of PVT’s Laurence Pike, there are soaring highs and crushing lows that weave through the song’s relatively-short runtime. Tyrrell sees us through to the bitter end. It’s not like it’s her first time.

36. Ken Stringfellow – Kids Don’t Follow

If any song is stretching the friendship for its inclusion in a 2014 list, it’s surely this: A cover of a Replacements song from the 80s that was recorded in 2004 for a tribute album to the aforementioned college-rock legends that ultimately never came to be. This hazy barroom take on the anti-authoritative punk number came from acclaimed Posies and R.E.M. alum Ken Stringfellow; and collected dust until the release of a rarities compilation at the beginning of 2014. So, here we are. You best believe this sucker was worth uncovering. A smart, somewhat-sombre reworking from a truly underrated craftsman.

35. Babaganouj – Too Late for Love

Go Violets didn’t fade away, they burnt out. Their embers remain flickering within Brisbane’s still-thriving indie-pop village, as two of its members have resumed full-time positions in this little jangly garage outfit that could. “Too Late for Love” may have been born in the sunshine state, but it’s more European in flavour – there’s a strong dose of Camera Obscura, a hint of The Wannadies and sprinklings of Belle and Sebastian’s early work. None of this is said to deride the song, of course. It’s a reflection on how it immediately feels like home. May this band burn longer and brighter.

34. Kelis – Breakfast

Her milkshake brought all the boys to the yard, but what happens when one of those boys sticks around? Now in her thirties, Kelis is exploring the concept of finding love in wake of divorce. It’s quite an adult prospect, recurring on perhaps her most mature LP to date, Food. Many went with a helping of “Jerk Ribs” when asked to name the album’s standout, but it would be foolhardy to dismiss this triumphantly horn-laden take on neo-soul, complete with stunning chorus and adorable children’s backing vocals. Much like in life, “Breakfast” is the most important meal of the day.

33. Ben Howard – Conrad

A lot of pitch-black darkness took up Ben Howard’s second album – hell, it even took up most of the cover art. Positioned towards its latter half, “Conrad” allowed the LP to let a glimmer of light into the spectrum. It continues to look at where a past love went awry; and yet the song plays to the pop sensibilities that rewarded Howard such attention to begin with. Its shipmates are his exceptional guitar work, layered to the point of being a battalion front; as well as a hummed refrain that would even garner due respect from the Crash Test Dummies.

32. Luca Brasi – Borders and Statelines

Luca Brasi’s dues have been paid in full and with interest; and many within Australia’s punk community have spent the last few years in particular wondering as to when it would be their time. It was answered not with words, but an extremely loud action. The forceful, crashing drums, the stellar twin-guitar attack and the rousing, spirited chorus they always had in them… “Borders and Statelines,” contrary to its lyrics, will come to define this band in the very best way imaginable. There is a wolf in the throne room, and its name is Luca Brasi. There will be blood.

31. Swans – Oxygen

2014 saw Michael Gira turn 60 years old. He continues to haunt the realm of alternative/avant-garde music after thirty-plus years in the game with unfinished business. Amid an exhausting two-hour-plus release – the double-LP To Be Kind – came this truly terrifying beast. “Oxygen,” already a live favourite, can now officially stand as one of the biggest, boldest compositions to ever come out under the Swans moniker upon its long-awaited recording. Its opening moments are spent picking out one of the year’s most distinctive basslines; its dying moments forcefully hurls everything it has built up into the inferno. The in-between is unforgettable.

30. Death From Above 1979 – Right On, Frankenstein!

Yes, the most hyped new rock band of the year may well have been a bass-and-drums duo; but a vengeful return from the very band that made it cool in the first place made sure we all knew whose yard we were stepping into. “Frankenstein” fires off on all cylinders from its opening seconds, pounding through a barnstorming, breakneck dose of rock & roll that exists purely on Keeler and Grainger’s terms. Plus, it’s gotta be the best false ending to a song from this year: The dust settles, the bass rings out… then, POW! Right in the kisser!

29. Bertie Blackman – Run for Your Life

Another new Bertie Blackman album means another new Bertie Blackman. From the days of her favourite jeans to her flirtations with electronica on later releases, the chameleonic Blackman has rarely allowed herself to get too comfortable within a particular style in her decade-and-change of songwriting. “Run for Your Life” is no exception to this, although it would be wise to suggest she spend a little more time in this specific corner. She sounds right at home with the gated snare, thickly-layered synthesizers and the whoah-oh’d call and response. She may well have just stumbled across her own pop paradise.

28. Kiesza – Hideaway

Fred Armisen may have sung that the dream of the 90s was alive in Portland, but his radar was a little off. The dream of the 90s, friends, is alive in Kiesza, a twenty-something Canadian up-and-comer who dominated dancefloors throughout the entire year with this certified banger in her arsenal. From a crafting perspective, “Hideaway” is retro in the sense that it can appreciate that there was a “What is Love” and a “Rhythm of the Night” for every “Teen Spirit” and “Black Hole Sun.” Its spirit is alive and shuffling once again. Mash it.

27. Coldplay – Magic

In the year that the phrase “consciously uncoupling” entered the cultural lexicon, you could well have been forgiven for forgetting that Chris Martin actually made music this year. Sure, some people would like to forget it altogether, but that’s another story for another time. We’re here to talk about “Magic,” a single that allowed Martin and co. to recall the pop simplicity of their early days while connecting it to the fresh pain of a then-recent separation. If “Magic” proves anything, it’s that we can begin again. That, and Chris Martin can still write a bloody tune.

26. Tkay Maidza – U-Huh

Don’t let Tkay Maidza’s age fool you, nor the simplicity of her big-business single. MCs twice her age would kill for a flow so tightly syncopated, hooks this high in both quality and quantity and a beat as bright and boisterous as the one that fills the spaces of “U-Huh.” There are constant surprises around every corner in the current Australian musical climate; and Maidza is the latest to make a substantial impact. One hopes the fire spat here leads to a phenomenal debut LP next year. After all, as she puts it, “We don’t tolerate broke behaviour.”

25. Yoke – Jabiluka

A phrase as simple as “I never told her” is what centres itself thematically at the core of “Jabiluka,” so named after a mine in the Northern Territory of Australia. Each time it is uttered, there are further layers peeled back to reveal the pain, the regret and the loss that comes with delivering such a line. It’s conveyed emphatically, almost taking on new meaning with every repetition. Similarly, the song itself may externally feel like a Dev Hynes-flavoured slice of downtempo indie-pop, but further listening will see those very same layers revealing. A smart yet complicated song.

24. DZ Deathrays – Reflective Skull

Who gives a fuck about how many notes you can play? If you can play the right ones, in the right succession, you needn’t worry about a single thing more. The riff that “Reflective Skull” lives and dies by was not designed for any greater intellectual pursuit. It’s a primitive headbanger, locked into an undeniable stomping groove and launched forth with reckless abandon. Ironically enough, with its less-than-more approach, this could be one of the biggest sounding tracks that the Deathrays duo have ever put their collective name to. Altogether, now: DUN, DUN-DUN, DUN DUN DUN-DUN, DEWWWW DEWWWW DEWWWW.

23. Sia – Chandelier

Ten years removed from her previous signature song, the inimitable “Breath Me,” Sia Furler has penned herself a new standard; an anthem which will forever define her as one of not only Australia’s greatest singer-songwriter exports, but as a true mastermind behind pop music in the 21st century. Hyperbole? For Christ’s sake, go listen to that chorus again. Seriously. It feels like that Maxell ad campaign where the guy is being blown away by the sound in his chair. Maddie Ziegler may have given the song a second life, but it was all a part of Sia’s grander plan.

22. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt

Don’t call it a comeback. Don’t even call it a reinvention. What we are seeing here is Brian Fallon and co. going out on a proverbial limb, gazing forlornly at what lies beyond. In leaving their comfort zone and exploring the possibilities of slower, more refined songwriting, Gaslight have undertaken a greater journey all with a single step. The title track from their latest record also served as one of their most striking, honest songs ever put to wax. It’s murmurs and whispers from a band defined by their shouts and screams, and it makes for a remarkable listening experience.

21. Tiny Ruins – Me at the Museum, You in the Wintergardens

The single greatest ode to love in 2014 came from the humble, warm abode of Auckland; where you’ll find the quaint, gorgeously understated sounds of one Hollie Fullbrook on the wind. The story is simply told, beautifully painted and pristinely arranged, as we follow the scent of young love through two uniquely different workplaces that somehow not only complement on another, but serve as a reflection on the resolute power that can come through finding love. Its greatest achievement, however, is its ability to accomplish all of this majesty in a decidedly slim 155 seconds. It just comes and goes.

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