Oh boy, you can smell how close we are here. Into the top 40 with a mix of American heartbreak, Australian soul-searching, New Zealand uncertainty and utter English chaos. What more could you want? As always: Make sure you’re up to date by reading parts one, two and three by clicking on those respective numbers. Alright, onwards!
40. Flume feat. MAY-A – Say Nothing
Taking the most promising young star of Australia’s pop scene and pairing her with the country’s hottest electronic producer of the last 15 years? Well, that’s like pouring petrol on a burning man, isn’t it. As such, ‘Say Nothing’ combines both the hushed awe spectacle of a towering bonfire with the cinematic cool of walking away from an explosion without looking at it. MAY-A vocally invests an injection of Gen-Z melodrama (which made it pitch-perfect for the Heartbreak High reboot), while Flume’s deft, structural peaks and valleys ensure the human touch comes rushing back to the normally-artificial environment. Enough said.
39. Gang of Youths – brothers
Alone at a piano, David Le’aupepe swears to tell the truth and nothing but… before proceeding to detail his father’s lies throughout the entire first verse. He then gives a guided tour of his siblings, including those he only found after his father’s passing. It’s a tough listen, but also one of the most stirring, impactful moments in Gang Of Youths’ entire canon. It brings entire arenas to stunned silence – quite the task when they’re being roused by the band’s usual kitchen-sink maximalism. It goes to show the power of honesty, of age-old balladry… and, of course, the truth.
38. Danger Mouse & Black Thought feat. Run the Jewels and A$AP Rocky – Strangers
When explaining hip-hop on Under a Rock, Wyclef Jean teaches Tig Notaro how to coolly respond with one word: “Bars”. It’s a shame ‘Strangers’ wasn’t around back then, as it would’ve been the perfect tester. No-one involved here has anything to prove, yet each comes at the task at hand like an up-and-comer that’s just been given their big break. Danger Mouse is back on his scrunch-face bullshit, letting Black Thought, A$AP, El-P and Killer Mike cypher in and out while mercilessly dropping… you guessed it, bars. If you aren’t fucking with this, you’ve clearly been living under a rock.
37. Tasman Keith – LOVE TOO SOON
Long before he dreamed of rap stardom, Tasman Jarrett keenly watched pop’s throne as a child. He dreamed that, one day, the star of the song would be the man in the mirror. ‘LOVE TOO SOON’, after all these years, is a fulfilment of both destiny and fantasy. With a ricocheting Kwame production that turns our hero into a lovelorn robot, this show-stopping single two-steps its way into a lit-up floor filler that gives its sizzling electro a real sense of electricity. Some artists stand on the shoulders of giants. Not Tasman Keith, though. He prefers to just dance instead.
36. Spoon – Wild
Jack Antonoff is the right-hand man of literally the most famous person in the world, and still finds the time for Austin weirdos Spoon. Not every band commands that kind of respect, so you’d best believe they’re still worth your attention after nearly 30 years and 10 studio albums. ‘Wild’ is the choice cut from Lucifer On The Sofa, pitting Britt Daniel’s gnarly howl against hammering hi-hats and off-beat piano that’s pure ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. It’s classic rock, through the lens of the producer at the pinnacle of modern music. It’s just the way they get by, after all.
35. Thelma Plum – When It Rains It Pours
Thunder only happens when it’s raining, and oh didn’t it rain in 2022. As the sky openly wept across the east coast for months on end, Thelma Plum was desperate for silver linings and a sense of belonging. ‘When It Rains It Pours’ was her attempt at navigating through this tide of emotions, concocting universal feelings even while simultaneously namechecking staples of her native Brisbane. Through the devastation, Plum’s tender delivery offers the comfort of a warm blanket. How will you know if ‘When It Rains It Pours’ starts to hit different? When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know.
34. Charlie Puth – Light Switch
There were two ways ‘Light Switch’ was experienced by fans: Piece by piece on Puth’s notorious TikTok account, or in its immediate, final form with its goofy, self-aware video. Both journeys have their advantages, but the destination is equally satisfying regardless. After a self-confessed false start in 2019, ‘Light Switch’ feels like the proper successor to his Sandra Dee-like reinvention on 2017’s game-changing ‘Attention’. Its neon-tinged pop rush recalls ‘Boys of Summer’, while also taking in the borrowed nostalgia of modern pop giants like The Weeknd. When those breathy “yeah”s hit and that ingenious chorus hook lands, though? All Puth.
33. Flowertruck – Likelihood
When he’s performing live, Flowertruck frontman Charles Rushforth possesses a particularly manic expression on his face – as if he’s simultaneously being told incredibly good and incredibly bad news. That sense of emotional extremity forms the epicentre of ‘Likelihood’, a song that puts perspective on brutal honesty through a lens of refined, slow-motion jangle rock. Its lyrical perspective feels almost nihilistic, while its tasteful rumbling drums and ringing guitar chords feel positively bohemian. Somewhere, in the midst of it, the odds of finding yourself relating deeply drastically go up. Life ain’t always flowers, folks. Sometimes, it hits like a truck.
32. Dry Cleaning – Anna Calls from the Arctic
Dry Cleaning could have easily followed up their debut album with a second album that sounded like… well, their debut album. No-one would have batted an eyelid, either – after all, they’d already carved a pretty considerable niche for themselves with their striking sprechgesang and robust post-punk. On the opening track of Stumpwork, however, the London band doesn’t double down – it side-steps. Florence Shaw’s quizzical, understated delivery remains the same, but she now finds herself in the midst of a bubbling electronic beat, slinking bass and smooth-jazz saxophone. True to its titular location ‘Arctic’ is cool as you please.
31. Sly Withers – Radio
To borrow a pop-punk album title, Sly Withers are the same old blood rush with a new touch. There’s familiarity, certainly, but also subversions of tropes. They take an extremely common song title and position it as a sentient enemy. They sing of love you can’t move on from, and surmise it with the pitch-perfect metaphor of “you are the food/that’s stuck between my front teeth”. They play emu – the beloved jargon term for Aussie emo – and make it feels as explosive as it felt circa 2005. Greatness is what they aim for, and their aim is true.
30. Florence + The Machine – Free
With nearly 15 years in the limelight, we’re still figuring Florence Welch out. When you think you have the answers, she changes the questions. When you’re expecting another fantastical voyage, she gets starkly, shockingly real about her personal life. When you figure another maximal endeavour of harps, choirs and bells is on the cards, in comes the primitive boom of an early drum machine and the rumble of the bass. ‘Free’ is one of the most un-”Florence” songs Florence + The Machine songs – which, in itself, might make it one of the most “Florence” Florence + The Machine songs.
29. David Knudson feat. Jake Snider – Jealous Time Steals
In 2002, Minus the Bear released Highly Refined Pirates – one of math-rock’s true genre-defining albums, complete with dazzling finger-tapped guitar parts and rousing emotive hooks. 20 years on, Dave Knudson (responsible for said tapping) made his solo debut – but didn’t come alone. Enlisting his former band’s frontman, Jake Snyder, to add understated vocal texture to his intricate indie arrangement is not just the perfect touch. It’s also the closest we’re likely to get to any kind of Minus the Bear reunion. Plus: When the triumphant horns kick in, it feels as warm and familiar as a Pachuca sunrise.
28. The 1975 – I’m In Love with You
Here’s the next instalment in The 1975’s endless quest to replicate the decade that started five years after their namesake. On this windows-down, soft-lens highway cruise, the band let the guitars chime and the doe-eyed hook syncopate itself directly into your conscience. It’s been a minute since they wrote a love song that was just a love song – ie. not moonlighting as a “what if phones but too much” or a “we’re living in the apocalypse” song. Much like the rest of Being Funny in a Foreign Language, The 1975 succeed when they get out of their own way.
27. Camp Cope – Running with the Hurricane
Georgia Maq, story goes, once found a song written by her dad – the late, great Hugh Macdonald – with this very title. Though she never liked the song, she always loved the titular imagery. It eventually became both its own song and the title of Camp Cope’s endearing, defiant third album. In its new life, the title becomes at one with the chaos of the world it’s inherited. Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich’s bass runs around it, Sarah Thompson’s drums power through it and Maq soars above it. Though their directions differ, they unify amidst the turmoil. Look at us now, dad.
26. Silversun Pickups – Alone on a Hill
Across 20 years together, bassist Nikki Monninger has been just as big a part of Silversun Pickups’ sound as Brian Aubert’s gender-bending lead vocals and pedal-stomping guitars. Though she’d taken centre-stage partially on 2015’s ‘Circadian Rhythm’, ‘Alone on a Hill’ marks her first-ever solo lead vocal. Glassy and timid, it boasts a stirring, emotive undercurrent with steady builds. Its subtle arrangement might pass you by on first listen, but over time you’ll find yourself entirely submerged in the mesmerising balladry on offer. In the year we all ran up that hill again, Silversun Pickups found pause in stillness and solitude.
25. Fleshwater – The Razor’s Apple
On ‘Funeral Sound’, from Vein.FM’s killer This World is Going to Ruin You, the band experimented with the spectrum between grungy alt-rock and downtuned alt-metal. Several of the band’s members then chased this rabbit even further down the hole months later with Fleshwater, giving a metallic finish to ‘Everlong’ style riffs and Throwing Muses-style vocals, care of not-so-secret weapon Marisa Shirar. Converge‘s Kurt Ballou provides production, cramming the band’s sound into a compact force while simultaneously allowing for the drop-B crunch of the triple-guitar prong to weave in and out of the splashing drums. Come, take a big bite.
24. Ball Park Music – Manny
Who is Manny? Why is the battery’s power so rapidly deteriorating? What, on all of God’s green earth, does “the last time they put us down/We had to slow down/And man, it felt good” mean? Perhaps we’ll never know – but, as Chazz Michael-Michaels once said, it’s provocative. The banner-dropping opener of Weirder and Weirder saw Ball Park Music rock out on a jangly one-chord jam that has everything you need: guitarmonies, a synth-bass breakdown and big dumb loud lyrics to sing as bigly, dumbly and loudly as you like. It’s always nice to be alive when Ball Park return.
23. The Northern Boys – Nobody Likes Me
How do you follow up a viral smash full of spit-take lyrics and a killer sample of a beloved 2000s banger? Easy: Make another viral smash full of spit-take lyrics and a killer sample of a beloved 2000s banger. Duh. What did you think we were going to say? ‘Nobody Likes Me’ is a big-budget sequel that largely follows the same plot as the original. Unlike The Hangover Part II, however, there are plenty of laughs to be had between Patrick and Norman’s entirely-unhinged bars about horny dogs, even hornier trans people and the horns of death. Keep dancing, Kev.
22. Zach Bryan – Something in the Orange
Back when country stars first emerging, you’d likely find them on some variety show. Zach Bryan came of age where no such thing existed, so he made his own must-see viewing: bare-bones YouTube videos. Years after the fact, he’s the biggest new name in the genre and, arguably, in American music entirely. You’ve got this heart-tearing confessional to thank, which TikTok’d its way into the yeehaw agenda while also pleasing elder-millennial traditionalists. With gritty vocal delivery, sorrowful fiddle and a chorus designed to be howled at the moon, ‘Orange’ is a new age of country dawning from an all-night revival.
21. The Beths – Knees Deep
For a genre literally called power-pop, The Beths sure do sing a lot about uncertainty and anxiety. For all the heft of their guitars and the rush of their arrangements, they’ll routinely contrast it with confessionals pertaining to their own shortcomings. That’s not a complaint, by the way – if anything, it makes them all the more human. Yeah, we can play crazy solos and write choruses that’ll get stuck in your head for weeks – but we’re shy! Everyone’s complicated, and ‘Knees Deep’ revels in that very fact. Antithetical to its title, however, you’ll want to cannonball directly in.
Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:
A pleasure to have you back. Before venturing forth, make sure you’re all caught up with Part One by taking a click over here. Don’t worry, this will still be here when you get back. Promise!
80. 1300 – WOAH DAMN
In 2021, 1300 felt like a breath of fresh air. In 2022, they felt like Mia Wallace getting stabbed in the heart with an adrenaline shot after OD’ing on cocaine. If you want that rush exemplified, wrap your bleeding ears around the non-stop massive jungle that is ‘WOAH DAMN’. The troupe’s gnashing, non-stop flows bounce effortlessly between the verse’s half-time trap beat and the chorus’ drum-and-bass break, meaning you’re constantly on your toes throughout. If you’re looking for a cut that could work both on the Tokyo Drift soundtrack and an EB Games playlist, you’d be best to hook in.
79. Wet Leg – Angelica
When you look at the songs that made up Wet Leg’s self-titled debut, you could argue that its best moments were spoiled by being released as singles in 2021: ‘Chaise Longue’, ‘Too Late Now’ and ‘Wet Dream’ chief among them. Allow this notion to be refuted by our mutual friend ‘Angelica’, who skolled all the free beer at the party and sassed every bro-dude in the room while doing so in 2022. With an irresistible three-note guitar lick, this jangly rocker was testament to Wet Leg’s newfound staying power. This isn’t a flash in the pan, it’s a skillet fire.
78. Grace Cummings – Freak
It’s the voice that pulls you in first. At once a distinctive beast and a Mosaic of iconic female rock vocalists, Grace Cummings lays every lyric bare on the floor with busted, raw-nerve singing. Perhaps nothing on her exceptional debut Storm Queen drove this home quite like ‘Freak’, which stayed true to its title and reveled in reclusion amidst reverberating piano and a piercing fiddle solo. In the final line, she calls for every freak to sing in a manner that will make you fucking scream. In an era of singer-songwriters on every corner, Cummings dares with a distinctive difference.
77. EGOISM – For Ages
Let’s talk about equal and opposite reactions. It’s a law EGOISM have developed a comprehensive understanding of in their near-decade of playing together, going to-and-fro between elaborate layering and subtle refinery on each single. Thus, from the emphatic ‘Lonely But Not Alone’ comes the effectively understated ‘For Ages’. From the depths of shimmering ambience comes a steel-cut bassline, puncturing through floating guitars and gentle, clattering drum machines. The duo, subsequently, opine the passage of time when all you want is to waste it – both with and on somebody else. Even on the comedown, EGOISM find themselves on the up.
76. Pedro the Lion – First Drum Set
As he edges toward 50, David Bazan has effectively dedicated over half his life to slow slowcore/indie-emo vets Pedro The Lion. Yet, it feels like we’re still getting to know him. This, the centrepiece of Pedro’s second post-reunion effort, takes us back to a young cub obsessing over music in a way only children can. A transition in the school band plays a pivotal role in Bazan’s evolution – and, against warm inverted chords and a tasteful flourish of text painting, he guides us through it beat by beat (no pun intended). All hail the once and future Lion king.
75. The Chats – 6L GTR
The Chats might have Dave Grohl, Axl Rose, Alex Turner and Julian Casablancas on speed-dial, but don’t let the viral hits and sell-out tours fool you: they’re not rockstars. On the opener of their perfectly-titled Get Fucked, the Sunny Coast trio turn up the Queensland heat by taking garage rock to its logical conclusion. ‘6L GTR’ is an ode to the shitboxes of our lives, and all the skidmarks they leave in their wake. You know how they say to reject modernity and embrace tradition? The Chats get it, man. If you haven’t already: Hop in. A wild ride awaits.
74. King Stingray – Camp Dog
There’s a lot more of Australia out the back. Many remote Indigenous communities observe customs entirely foreign to those who dwell in cities that never close down. For East Arnhem, it’s the camp dog – canines that not only live on the streets, but run them. Here, King Stingray cheekily dedicate this sunburnt rocker to this unique cultural touchstone. It’s a testament to the band’s muscly sharpness and their intangible sense of place, not to mention Indigenous peoples’ sense of humour – which is often overlooked in favour of their capital-S Serious art. This right here is a pure breed.
73. Softcult – Gaslight
It’s a concept that’s been within the greater lexicon for years, but how exactly does one articulate the harrowing experience of gaslighting? Literally starting your song with the lyric “it’s all my fault” is certainly one approach – and that’s just the tip of Sofcult’s proverbial iceberg that crashes into you over the next three minutes. ‘Gaslight’ is a formidable entry point for the Canadian twosome, exemplifying their precarious but crafty balancing act: emotive lyrical heft in one scale, cloudy musical wisp in the other. Where dream-pop detours onto Elm Street, you’ll find Softcult – resilient, defiant and emphatically unique.
72. Noah Dillon – I C.A.N.T
Taylor Swift isn’t always right, but the anti-hero nailed it when she told everyone “spelling is fun”. For Perth indie kid Noah Dillon (or Dillan if he’s at the airport desk), it effectively unlocks one of the liveliest, most rambunctious tracks of his still-blossoming career. Amid sprechgesang rants about orgasmic sneezing, nightly moisturizing and Number 45, Dillon lets his curly mane thrash against skiddish guitars and howled refrains that offer irrefutable proof that west is best. A rallying cry of individualism, soundtracked by the kinetic energy of one man and his band against the world. Don’t like it? F U.
71. Press Club – I Can Change
Because of reasons that should seem obvious, there’s been significant delays in getting albums out recently. Melbourne rock mainstays Press Club were chief amongst them, but if it wasn’t already apparent this isn’t a band that gives up easily. Even on what’s ostensibly Endless Motion‘s love song, the quartet are spoiling for a fight – it just so happens to be for something rather than against it this time. This level of determination has kept the band’s all-heart reputation aflame, and ‘I Can Change’ will again have you pounding your chest with a fist, Future Islands-style. The beat goes on.
70. Stella Donnelly – Lungs
Remember in School of Rock when Ms. Mullins finally lets loose to ‘Edge of Seventeen’? In its own way, that’s the sensation ‘Lungs’ gives. Donnelly – best known for a devastating ballad about sexual assault – opens her second album with stomping disco drums, glassy keyboard chiming and a certifiably groovy bass-line. Previously only playful to a degree, Flood‘s technicolour lead single painted the Perth artist in new light. Her creative horizons, thus, expand without ever losing sight of idiosyncrasies like her wispy vocal and textured guitar work. This is an iron will at work, which truly cannot be punctured.
69. Harry Styles – Music for a Sushi Restaurant
Fucking hell. Imagine the pitch meeting for this entirely deranged affair: The biggest male popstar in the world, at the helm of a food/sex funk/pop song with a MIDI horn section bleating over a wordless chorus, where he – among other things – scats. Twice. If this was any other artist, you’d have better luck green-lighting Don’t Worry Darling 2. Somehow, though, this literal Styles clash is one of 2022’s most beguiling and subversive works of art. Styles is still moving in one direction – it just happens to be a steam-train off its tracks. This is the new stuff.
68. Katie Gregson-MacLeod – complex
When an artist breaks out via The Clock App, you cynically have to ask: What’s the big deal here? Do you buy it? Enter Katie Gregson-MacLeod, a twentysomething Scottish singer-songwriter who found her humble piano demo taking the internet by storm. In its final studio form, ‘complex’ is fully realised in every sense. Its gutpunch chorus lands blow after blow lyrically and vocally, dissecting the inner turmoil of relationship imbalance that can only come from the fresh wounds of youth. Upon completion, picture Frank Reynolds after watching Mac’s interpretive dance: Tears in your eyes, whispering gently… “I get it now.”
67. Gang of Youths – in the wake of your leave
Gang of Youths love two things: Football (not soccer) and songs about death. How exactly do you MacGuyver a bridge between them? Easy: Get an “oh-oh-oh” sing-song chant in the mix of a song confronting the immediate, convoluted presence of grief. Just another day in the life of the band that brought the unbearable, terrible triteness of being to the mainstream? Not exactly. There’s a racing, frenetic energy pulsing throughout ‘wake’ – fitting, given there’s a cameo from Formula One legend Daniel Ricciardo – as well as a daring, unflinching emotional throughline. With Gang of Youths, you’ll never walk alone.
66. SPEED – NOT THAT NICE
Racism in all forms is an ugly beast, but the rise in hate-crime targeting Asian people in the wake of the pandemic has felt particularly frightening for that community on a global scale. Here, SPEED take on #stopasianhate with some Asian hate of their own – a hammer-smash of stereotypes and a slice of beatdown hardcore that’s not afraid to 86 your local 88. 2022 was the year SPEED took Australian hardcore to a global, viral scale – a rise that they did not take lightly. Tracks like ‘NOT THAT NICE’ proved why they deserved that premier spot. Hate this.
65. chloe moriondo – nice pup
Want to experience proper whiplash? Listen to the blushing bedroom-indie of the puppy luv EP and the sticky-sweet hyperpop of SUCKERPUNCH –then take into consideration that they were written and performed by the same person, six months apart. The restless 20-year-old made a lot of noise throughout 2022, and rightly so. In a more understated moment from the former EP, however, moriondo found artistic breakthrough. While Iggy Pop wanted canine transformation to get kinky, ‘nice pup’ opts for softness and vulnerability. They just want to be liked and loved, after all. Both feel easy when you’re listening to this.
64. Suzi – Everyone I’ve Met Hates Me
Out of Melbourne suburbia comes a universal feeling: Never truly knowing how people feel about you, and innermost anxieties making you assume the worst. It’s well-worn territory, of course, but what Suzi offers is newfound framework – working-class folk-rock with interwoven pop perfection. The urgent acoustic strums pair well with a knack for melodicism that belies early-20s youth, and the anthemic payoff offered within the chorus doesn’t just invite index-pointing sing-alongs – it practically demands it of you. Ironically enough, when putting such uniform excellence out into the world, you can’t imagine a single scenario where anyone would hate Suzi.
63. Gorillaz feat. Tame Impala and Bootie Brown – New Gold
For four fictional characters, Gorillaz sure have an impressive Rolodex of mega-stars to call up. Amazingly, over 20 years since their debut, they’re still finding fresh combinations – in this case, first-time voyager Tame Impala and returning ‘Dirty Harry’ star Bootie Brown. Mixing the former’s kaleidoscopic psychedelia with the latter’s old-school flow, ‘New Gold’ lights up them thar hills with mirrorball lights. A dark undercurrent swells beneath, making for pitch-perfect contrast once a blurry 2D spins into the picture. 2023 will see the animated anarchists reveal album eight, Cracker Island. Heed this warning: It could be their best in years.
62. Joyce Manor – Souvenir
The album cover of 40oz. To Fresno depicts Joyce Manor sitting on a rooftop looking out at the world. Tellingly, you can’t tell if it’s sunrise or sunset. That ambiguity plays into the album’s opening number, which musically brims with the sunshine of a new day but lyrically turns inward to reflect on days gone. When you stop to think about it, that’s always been Joyce Manor’s modus operandi – rising and falling, coming down and getting back up again. It’s something to remember them by – now, if only there was a more succinct term for such a thing…
61. Spacey Jane – Hardlight
Spacey Jane emerged from lockdown as Australia’s must-see band, matching resplendent indie-pop with torn heartstrings to undeniable effect. If their obscure Wilco nod in Here Comes Everybody‘s title wasn’t clearly hinting, this band is invested in songwriting over soundbites. ‘Hardlight’ is one of the best indicators thus far that the Western Australians are building something that’ll last. It’s a guitar line to be swept up with, harmonies to melt into and a hook to howl until you’re hoarse. It never loses flavour, or its brightness. From those that need booster seats to those that need rocking chairs, everybody’s coming around.
Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:
It’s about that time! I’ve made yet another list of incredible songs released throughout the year and smashed them all into a countdown. It’s like the Hottest 100, just with roughly 2-odd million less voters and 100% less Lime Cordiale. 100% more geriatric British men rapping, though. Swings and roundabouts.
Before we get to the crunch of the main list, please enjoy this playlist of 50 great songs from 2022 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!
ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: This list originally contained the song ‘THREAT’ by Rex Orange County. It was originally removed from the list following Alexander O’Connor’s allegations of sexual assault. He was, however, cleared of the allegations – but only after the list had been finalised. So, please consider the song effectively 101 or 100a accordingly.
– DJY, December 2022
100. Viagra Boys – Ain’t No Thief
Stockholm’s Viagra Boys might be a lot of things. They may be snide, sardonic and sneering. They might be rollicking, rambunctious and rabble-rousing. They might even be the coolest band out of Scandinavia since The Hives. But as the lead single to their latest effort Cave World will testify, they’re not thieves. Across pummelling hi-hats and a growling bass-line, the case is pleaded for these eerily similar items to yours to be purely coincidental. Do you buy it? Maybe not at first. But here’s another thing that Viagra Boys are: Persuasive. They’ll make a believer out of you yet, motherfucker.
99. Highschool – Only a Dream
Highschool join a niche category of bands like Cattle Decapitation, War, A Death In The Family and Buried Alive: Great bands named after terrible things. The Melbourne-born, London-based trio offer an electronically-tinged take on proto post-punk that is simultaneously well before their time and entirely of the now. ‘Only A Dream’ encapsulates both their broad appeal and sky-limit potential, sounding a little like Nation Of Language covering ‘Hard To Explain’ mixed with The Strokes covering ‘This Fractured Mind’. They might sound a little too cool for their namesake, but tracks this uniformly excellent are proof they paid attention in class.
98. VOIID – Lexapro
If the lead single from VOIID’s forthcoming debut album had a Pinterest board, there’d be a few things on it: Kurt Cobain in a dress, the Broad City girls pushing their smiles up with middle fingers, empty blister packets and Brody Dalle licking her amp. If that’s not enough to visualise ‘Lexapro’, a humble suggestion: Play it fucking loud. It’s VOIID’s default setting, and they make red-level distortion their playground in a particularly masterful way within these three minutes. Sugar, spice and Chemical X are bubbling in-between every pedal stomp and every snare roll, resulting in a fittingly addictive listen.
97. A.B. Original – King Billy Cokebottle
Briggs and Trials have never shied away from reckoning with the dark underbelly of culture within so-called Australia. On A.B. Original’s comeback single, here comes another one: Racist comedy in this country was normalised and part of mainstream culture up until very recently. Though Briggs comes in typically strong (opening line: “Why the fuck would I welcome the oppressor?”), this is Trials’ ultimate show-stopper moment. Not only does he deliver a slamming beat, he also offers up arsenic, career-best spitfire in his own verses. Few other duos could make a six-year gap between music dissipate within a matter of minutes.
96. Magnolia Park – Radio Reject
Born of an era where music is discovered through scrolling up rather than turning dials, Magnolia Park come at the scene with a unique mission: Bringing Black excellence to the predominantly-white genre of pop-punk. “This life’s not for me/’Cause I had bigger dreams,” singer Joshua Roberts offers up over crisp guitars and pristine production, before bowling into a chorus that everyone from blink-182 to Fireworks would kill to have in their arsenal. By daring to be different and breaking from the homogeneity, the Orlando, FL sextet are setting their own trends and playing by their own rules. Duet this, rejects.
95. The Weeknd – Out of Time [Kaytranada remix]
There’s a certain ballsiness for a producer to cut in on arguably the biggest pop-star in the world. Still, if there’s anyone that can offer a fresh, rewarding paint-job, it’s surely Kaytranada. Since breaking out in the mid-2010s, the Canadian beatmaker and DJ has brought his shuffled, sizzling production finess to everyone from Craig David to Anderson .Paak. Now, it’s his fellow countrymen The Weeknd’s turn. Originally a slow-mo 80s ballad, ‘Out of Time’ is transformed into a lush, tropical late-nite groove – which fits so well, you’ll find yourself questioning why it was ever presented in any other form.
94. Slipknot – Adderall
Imagine going back 20 years and telling folks the opening song on Slipknot’s seventh(!) album sounds like a Gothic blend of Bowie’s final album (he’s dead, by the way) and Tame Impala (your kids are gonna love ’em). ‘Adderall’ is the least Slipknot-sounding song Slipknot have ever made – and that includes every acoustic ballad, that Hammond numberand whatever ‘Iowa’ was supposed to be. To be pushing outer boundaries of your sonic spectrum in your fourth decade as a band is the kind of ambition any musician should aspire to, and the weirdness present within pays off big time.
93. Teenage Dads – Hey, Diego!
Don’t mistake Teenage Dads’ goofiness for any songwriting instabilities. The Melbourne quartet might know how to meme it up with the best of them, but when it comes to their indie-pop chops there are few bands on the circuit right now that are as sharp. Case in point: This game-six three-pointer that came within the final weeks of 2022 and threatened to steal the damn show. Already a live staple, ‘Diego”s pulsing percussive drive and knife-edge guitars pack just as much of a punch in its studio iteration. And if you thought this was a belter, wait until you hear…
92. Teenage Dads – Teddy
Truly, did you go to an Australian gig in 2022 if you didn’t find yourself screaming at a bastard cop that “Teddy doesn’t live here anymore”? Weaving through irresistible synth lines, car-chase pacing and a wordless pre-chorus that will live rent-free in your head is a narrative about mistaken identity and the endless twists and turns therein. It’s thoroughly silly, but it’s executed in such a manner that you just have to see it through – if only to find out what happens next. Despite an oft-chaotic approach, ‘Teddy’ is irrefutable proof that Teenage Dads know exactly what they’re doing.
91. Pusha T feat. Jay-Z and Pharrell Williams – Neck & Wrist
While it was, shall we say, not a particularly great year for DAYTONA‘s producer, it was much better for its lead artist. King Push continues to assert himself as one of American hip-hop’s most consistent MCs, with It’s Almost Dry feeling almost like a victory lap. ‘Neck & Wrist’ showcases Pusha’s fascinating dichotomy of being able to drop constant bars while simultaneously sounding entirely lackadaisical. The velvety Pharrell beat is accompanied by some choice lines from the man himself, plus Jay-Z drops a verse that deserved way more attention than ‘God Did’… err, did. Head and shoulders above the rest.
90. Pharrell Williams feat. 21 Savage and Tyler, the Creator – Cash In Cash Out
Skateboard P wasn’t done there, either. The veteran hat-wearer and occasional producer has friends in high places, so when he asks 21 if he can do something for him, you know the answer’s yes (skraight up). The beat is a certified speaker-rattler, with Savage having plenty of fun, but it’s a verse from someone who considers Pharrell a hero that makes ‘Cash In Cash Out’. Tyler’s verse is his ‘Really Doe’ moment – in the presence of greatness, yet dishing out enough heat to make him centre of attention. Throw in a genuinely jaw-dropping music video, and you’ve made bank.
89. Party Dozen feat. Nick Cave – Macca the Mutt
Kirsty Tickle and Jonathan Boulet formed Party Dozen six years ago as a leap of faith, departing from their indieroots to venture down the rabbit hole of jazzy noise-rock. For their third album, they took a second leap and cold-called a lifetime hero to get in the mix of one of their rowdiest and hardest-hitting tracks to date. Against all odds, it worked: Nick Cave only contributes seven words to ‘Macca the Mutt’, but their indelible repetition will bark at all hours in your head once you’ve heard it. Call that a Birthday Party Dozen. There goes the neighbourhood.
88. I Know Leopard – Nothing is Real
After nearly a decade, it’s entirely to I Know Leopard’s credit that no-one is asking “whatever happened to…”, but is instead asking “what’s next?” The run of singles the trio have dropped since 2019’s Love is a Landmine is firmly within the upper echelon of their entire canon, and ‘Nothing is Real’ does not buck this trend in the slightest. Adding a skittish rush of glitchy electronica to the band’s usual baroque pop, these orchestral manoeuvres in the dark are given a neon glow that illuminates the song’s existential quandry. Bring the beat back, because shit’s about to get real.
87. Tasman Keith feat. Phil Fresh – IDK
There’s never a dull moment when it comes to Tasman Keith. Not content with being pigeonholed, the multi-hyphenate effectively released the doves on his debut – and on ‘IDK’, this is what it sounds like when doves cry. Enlisting a fellow genre-defiant type in Phil Fresh, the pair take to a velvety 18YOMAN beat from left of centre, subsequently cutting to the core in the process. Keith’s voice may be pitched and warped, and Fresh’s heavily AutoTuned, but there’s no disguising their tales of woe from the battlefield of love. Know this: These two endlessly-creative artists are the genuine item.
86. Billy Nomates – saboteur forcefield
We’re constantly on the lookout for the next “cellar door” – one of those perfect English phrases that rolls off the tongue. May we humbly put forward ‘saboteur forcefield’, Billy Nomates’ third single of 2022. Teasingly, the title itself is never uttered directly in the song itself – rather, the two words are implemented individually in its winding, syncopated chorus. There’s layers to it, you see. The same can be said for the rest of the song, which matches dark, spiraling guitar with bright bleeps of synth against the kick of a persistent drum machine. Truly, a door worth unlocking.
85. Pete & Bas feat. The Snooker Team – Window Frame Cypher Pt. II
Anyone who says that rap is a young man’s game has never heard 10 crusty old codgers pass the mic over an absolute heater of a beat. The second in the ‘Window Frame Cypher’ series saw a mess of new characters inducted, including a wheelchair-using MC named Airmax90 and a bloke with an electrolarynx. No-one quite knows where Pete, Bas and their weirdo mates all came from. When they’re dropping bars about plowing your missus and murdering someone for a fag, though, you can only be grateful that they rocked up. It’s Sindhu World’s world, we’re just living in it.
84. The Weeknd – Sacrifice
One week. One goddamn week. That’s all The Weeknd gave us of 2022 before he swooped in with Dawn FM and threatened to overshadow the remaining 358 days with one of his strongest albums to date – at times, rivalling the creativity of standard-bearer House of Balloons. Here, Abel Tesfaye became one of the most unique Venn diagrams of recent memory by enlisting both Swedish House Mafia and Oneohtrix Point Never on production. That mix of stadium-ready pop maximalism and shadowy, sinister undercurrents made ‘Sacrifice’ an undeniable contender within the first quarter of the year – and long thereafter, too.
83. Death Cab for Cutie – Here to Forever
What began in a college bedroom in the late 90s is now a festival-headlining prospect of the 2020s, and that’s just one of the things that’s changed since Death Cab for Cutie began. Ben Gibbard always knew this was coming (sample 2003 lyric: “Old age is just around the bend/I can’t wait to go grey”), but ‘Here to Forever’ reckons with ageing in realtime. Ironically, it’s also the most DCfC have musically sounded like their younger selves in some time, getting the point across with hammering snare-rim clicks and bright, churning guitars. Don’t put them out to pasture just yet.
82. Spiderbait – My Car’s a UFO
Finlay’s finest spent the year celebrating Janet English, one of the few homegrown 90s rock chicks that’s still kicking arse to this very day. To add to their Sounds in the Key of J compilation, Spiderbait pulled into the archives and found an unreleased song about alien love recorded for the underrated LP The Flight of Wally Funk. The fact that ‘My Car’s a UFO’ has made a 2022 best-of over two decades after recording is not a reflection on the current era, but rather the evergreen nature of this fantastically-fuzzy band and their idiosyncratic excellence. Beam us up, Janet.
81. Ceremony – Vanity Spawned by Fear
Remember Ceremony? The grindcore band? The hardcore band? The punk band? The post-punk band? The goth disco band? Yeah, them. Anyway, they’re new-wave now. On their curveball standalone single for the year, the rapidly-evolving Rohnert Park natives found a new muse in INXS – specifically, the era of the band where they were taking pointers from Nile Rodgers. There’s chicken-picking guitar, breathy vocals, a stank-face guarantee of a groove and even a goddamn sax solo. Who the hell had “Ceremony song with a sax solo” on their 2022 bingo card? With ‘Vanity’, Ceremony wake up to a brand new day.
Listen to the DJY100 thus far via the Spotify playlist below:
The rest of the DJY 100 will follow on these dates:
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
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 Insidenever 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.
Listen to the DJY100 in its entirety below:
Tracks by non-male artists = 50 Tracks by Australian artists = 49
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)
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!
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 thusfar, “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.
Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:
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!
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 Whiteand heundertook 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 twosingles 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.
Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:
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!
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?
Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:
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
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.
Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:
When they were first making noise, the most common term for Fontaines D.C. was “post-punk.” It made perfect sense circa Dogrel – after all, it was all we had to go off. What if, however, Dogrel was a punk record… and A Hero’s Death was the real post-punk record? The churning bass, the Madchester big-beat drums and the surf-nightmare baritone guitar on “Televised Mind” is like night and day when paired next to, say, “Boys in the Better Land.” It’s an evolution; a primordial and powerful progression. Whatever it is, it’s post-something. They’ve once again gotten ahead of the game.
19. Gorillaz feat. Peter Hook and Georgia – Aries
“Aries:” the best Gorillaz single since “DoYaThing,” and also the best New Order song since “Crystal.” While the band’s previous collab-heavy project Humanz felt like too many cooks, Song Machine saw the fictitious troupe get the balance just right. Case in point: the legendary Peter Hook pulls out a classic high-fret bassline for 2D’s weary, emotive vocal. Meanwhile, electronica upstart Georgia patterns a V-drums undercurrent that drives it along before literally bursting into high tide (what a chorus, while we’re at it). This team-up may seem like a bizarre love triangle, but in execution “Aries” was written in the stars.
18. The 1975 – If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)
The role “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” plays shifted significantly. Its initial April release was a final burst of hype for the band’s Notes on a Conditional Form, after endless delays and an elongated hype trail. Post-Notes, it’s symbolic of better times – where we hadn’t yet been let down by the exhaustive hour-20 bloat that ensued. In either case, through the good times and the bad, “Too Shy” survived. It stood alone as one of the band’s brightest and bubbliest singles to date. Everybody wants to rule the world, but “Too Shy” actually followed through on it.
17. Cry Club – Obvious
There’s two pertinent lines in “Obvious.” The first, from the perspective of Heather Riley’s bank account, is “Bitch, you need to stay at home.” This, mind, was written well before every bitch needed to stay at home for months. The other is in the song’s chorus: “How could anyone say no?” Cry Club are irresistible by design. They are a beloved pop band making beloved pop songs. This is among the best they’ve penned, from its ascending cascade of keys to its urgent, propulsive drums and topped off with a sweet cherry of a melody. Cry Club feels like home.
16. Jackson Wang – 100 Ways
Jackson Wang is from a South Korean boy band. No, not that one. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter which one he’s from. This is about Jackson Wang, solo star. By all rights, “100 Ways” should’ve been as explosive a hit single as… well, “Dynamite.” The state-of-the-art LOSTBOY beat, the Paul Simon flip of the chorus, the oozing charisma of Wang himself… goddamn, “100 Ways” has everything going for it. What gives, America? He’s even on 88Rising, and y’all LOVE them. Wang can do more as one man than most boys can do as a group of seven – including his own.
15. Urthboy – The Night Took You
They say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Urthboy knows this well, but consider that he’s spent the last 20-plus years being unbroken. If anyone’s earned the right to go in and smash shit up, it’s him. “The Night Took You” is the sound of one of the country’s all-time greatest MCs risking it all by not spitting a single bar. A weary, heartfelt melody takes its place, accompanied by plaintive piano and stirring strings. How then, does this recipe for potential disaster taste so rich and fulfilling? It’s simple, really: Urthboy rebuilt in his very own image.
14. Good Sad Happy Bad – Shades
Several circumstances lead to Micachu & The Shapes changing their name. Raisa Khan took over on lead vocals, for one; multi-instrumentalist CJ Caladerwood expanded the band to a quartet, for another. Ultimately, it came down to drawing a line in the sand. That was then, this is now. “Shades” feels like a new chapter, in that sense. It pulls many of the same shapes as the Shapes, but it’s cast through a new lense. Khan’s reserved, distinct delivery pairs well against the harsh synth and feedback-heavy sax. It’s the future, but it’s now. It’s here. Come, see the bright side.
13. The Beths – Out of Sight
“Out of Sight” doesn’t do anything particularly different for The Beths. It’s more resplendent, sun-kissed indie-pop that revels in its darker corners while never losing its brightness. This, of course, changes once you find yourself below its surface. In the thick of this song is a shattering piece of love-lorn poetry: “I’ll keep a flame burning inside,” offers vocalist Liz Stokes, “if you need to bum a light.” Her bandmates allow the song’s sentimentality to both simmer and burst into life – see Jon Pearce’s impeccable lead guitar and Tristan Deck’s racing snare-rim. It’s not particularly different, no. It’s better.
12. The 1975 – Me & You Together Song
“We went to Winter Wonderland,” reminisces 1975 frontman Matty Healy amidst his love-letter to 90s jangle-pop. “It was shit, but we were happy.” A potentially-revelatory thought: Could The 1975 themselves be the Winter Wonderland of the pop world? This is a band acutely aware of its shortcomings, prone to self-sabotage and over-indulgence among many other things. In the times when you need them the most, however, they glisten. They are everything you need. You – and they – are happy. You’ll let them make a two-hour triple album if it means three minutes of paradise like this. You and them together.
11. Fontaines D.C. – I Don’t Belong
“Dublin in the rain is mine,” boasted Grian Chatten at the beginning of his band’s acclaimed debut album a year prior. What a difference a year makes. He can see clearly now, the rain has gone. “I don’t want to belong to anyone,” he prophesises at the beginning of his band’s acclaimed second album. A new man, fronting a new band. Methodical, refined, steely in focus. Slow to build and bright to burn. Once standing on the shoulders of giants, now giants themselves. They roam this barren, empty land. “I Don’t Belong” is a new beginning and a turning tide.
10. 5 Seconds of Summer – No Shame
When did 5 Seconds of Summer go from being – to borrow a phrase – boys to men? There are several key points along the Sydney band’s trajectory: Making it in America, crashing under the weight of expectation with their sophomore slump, blazing a comeback trail with a global number-one smash. These are all worthy answers, and testament to 5SOS’ maturation and evolution. If you want the proper answer, however, it lies within the confines of “No Shame:” They’re finally so famous that they’ve written a song about being famous.
Not only have they done that, they’ve written one of the best songs of their career. It’s a move that can go drastically wrong – lest we forget the band’s heroes, Good Charlotte, absolutely whiffing it with their 2005 tantrum “I Just Wanna Live.” What makes “No Shame” stand out, then, is its revelry. “I only light up when cameras are flashing,” boasts vocalist Luke Hemmings, stomping down on his territory as Ashton Irwin smacks out a “Closer” disco groove. That’s not the first Nine Inch Nails reference 5SOS have made of late, either. Rather than rally against the starfuckers, however, 5SOS are leaning directly into their primitive, forceful nature. “Go on, replace me,” Hemmings taunts. “When you’re cravin’ somethin’ sweeter than the words I left in your mouth/Go on and spit me out.” He’s seen his band get dumped in the bin before, he’s not afraid of it happening again.
That’s the thing about “No Shame.” It’s got nothing to lose. It’s a dark, sneering pop song, driven by a washed out, “Come As You Are”-esque guitar line and the guttural squelch of bass-synth patched in with the industrial-tinged beat programming. Australia’s biggest boy-band export have burned their lovable-larrikin image to the ground. No more cutesy cock-rock, or acoustic gaslighting anthems, or even pushing and pulling away.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
– 11 Corinthians 3
5 Seconds of Summer are men now. Treat them as such.
Needless to say, it’s anyone’s guess where Sports Team end up in this trajectory. Consider this: Arctic Monkeys got their start kicking out Strokes and Vines covers, the hyped bands of their teens. Sports Team, and bands of their ilk, almost definitely got their start on Arctic Monkeys covers. Maybe even Art Brut and Maxïmo Park too, actually – oft-forgotten names that may be more influential on the current generation of UK rock than anyone is willing to give credit for. Either way the baton has been passed, and a new breed of sardonic English artists are emerging to rattle whatever foundations are left.
Sports Team arrive on the scene as bitter upstarts. Even their name sounds ironic – like, ooh, go team! I love my sports because I’m a man! Then again, of course Sports Team are bitter. Look at the world they’ve inherited – it’s drastically different to the one that the Monkeys and Bloc Party and the like took up in. They’re being fed a constant stream of bullshit on an information superhighway – and there they are, plugged in and playing in the middle of the road, trying to not get totalled by an oncoming truck.
This is at the core of their lead single, statement piece and soon-to-be signature song. “Here’s the Thing” is a barrage of slogans and self-help mantras, rattled off with increasing frustration by frontman Alex Rice. “Jesus loves you!” he chirps. “The football’s coming home!” Of course, as the band will happily remind us at the end of every verse: “It’s all just lies, lies, lies, lies.” The band themselves aren’t exempt from the smell of their own bullshit, either. “Hey, ma! I wrote a song!,” Rice cheers at one point. “Now everything’s alright!” It’s not, of course. Who knows if it will be. Still, despite their snark and their piss-antery, there is a bubbling undercurrent of hope that a band like Sports Team exists in the first place. That’s just the thing, isn’t it.
8. Peach Tree Rascals – Things Won’t Go My Way
At the time of writing, Peach Tree Rascals don’t have a genre listed on their Wikipedia page. That might seem like an oversight more than anything – symptomatic of an incomplete article – but it’s honestly worth thinking about. We’re in an age where everything can be categorised. An entire t-shirt can be filled with the names of subgenres – and sometimes that’s just subgenres for one genre itself. How the fuck are a band like Peach Tree Rascals getting away with not having a genre? Simple, really: They’re living by example.
For those playing catch-up, the NoCal collective first took off over on TikTok circa 2019 with their single “Mariposa.” While the success story isn’t unique – it probably makes up nearly half of the no-name artists on the charts currently rubbing shoulders with established giants – the song itself certainly was. It’s a zoomer’s take on sunny-afternoon, carefree 60s pop, mixing jazzy chord strums with the whirr of AutoTune and a multitude of vocal perspectives. Think BROCKHAMPTON covering The Turtles, or maybe the other way around. It’s not uncategorisable entirely, but it’s genre-free both by choice and by nature.
While not nearly as successful – it holds some four million Spotify streams to “Mariposa”’s 150 – “Things Won’t Go My Way” arguably goes a greater distance in emphatically diversifying the Rascals’ sound. The churning indie-rock guitar progression clatters and clangs against a sturdy bassline, washed-out keys and pristine pop drums. The vocals, too, range from understated lower-octave to reverb-heavy calls out from the ether. There’s lots of elements and moving parts at work here, but it never stakes permanent residence in any immediate musical spectrum.
One could also view this as a larger issue of music attempting a one-size-fits-all mentality – a mater of homogeneity rather than originality. To dismiss Peach Tree Rascals in such a manner is to miss the point entirely. It’s not that they’re trying to be too rap for indie, too indie for rap, or anything in-between. It’s that they simply don’t want to be. They want to be themselves. That’s something not enough acts aspire to.
7. Spanish Love Songs – Self-Destruction (As a Sensible Career Choice)
Just over a decade ago, pop-punk took a turn. Its stalwarts stayed true to the “my friends over you” and “girls are so confusing” school of songwriting, yes, but its contemporaries shifted into something harsher by touch and texture. This notion of “realist pop-punk” came primarily from young American men in their early to mid 20s, attempting to find their own place in the world and assuring those around them that they were not alone in their confusions and general anxiety. The Wonder Years, Transit, Fireworks, Real Friends – even the more belligerent acts like The Story So Far and a young Turnover eventually transitioned into this more emotive musical territory.
Bands like Spanish Love Songs were born in the wake of this, and have molded themselves in this image. Whether you see it as a gritty reboot of pop-punk, the fourth wave of emo or something new entirely, it’s grown increasingly hard to deny its presence. From The Hotelier and Modern Baseball to Sorority Noise and You Blew It!, this sound made waves and developed cult status through the 2010s – occasionally spilling over into mainstream crossover with the success of by-products like Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers.
We may have entered a new decade, but the grievances and turmoil faced by this generation of songwriters hasn’t magically gone away. “Need about 30 goddamn miracles,” spits Dylan Slocum – a nihilistic twist on the tried-and-true trope of needing a miracle. While previous generations couldn’t see the forest for the trees, he “can’t see the world is burning down/’Til we’re living underwater.” It’s a devastating lyric sheet – and entirely emblematic of what follows on third album Brave Faces Everyone. What, then, makes a song like this so rousing and endearing?
For one, it’s an immaculately-crafted piece of alternative rock. The crunch of its guitar tone bounces off the wallop of the drums, with Slocum’s histrionic howl centring itself within the fold. That piercing lead guitar in the chorus cuts straight through the treacle, adding an even sweeter release to the already-powerful hook of “It won’t be this bleak forever.” That’s not even touching the military precision of the chorus’ stop-start reinvention in the finale – as a unit, SLS really stick the landing on this one.
Perhaps its most endearing moment, however, comes in the twist of its closing moments. The whole song sees Slocum fighting against the hook – it’s always bookended with an addendum like “yeah, right” or “have you seen me lately?” For its final repetition, however, Slocum doesn’t talk back. He lets it sit. It’s a flicker of hope. It’s a resolute moment after three minutes of turmoil and tragedy.
In an interview with Billboard, Slocum reasoned that the entire purpose of a project like Spanish Love Songs was to make people feel less alone. “It’s bleak stuff, but I find some comfort in knowing that we’re all in it together,” he says. He’s right – it is bleak. But it won’t be this bleak forever. It can’t be. Not with bands like Spanish Love Songs in our lives.
If it wasn’t obvious, Sophia Allison – aka Soccer Mommy – was another notable part of this wave. She could have perhaps even been its crescent, if only she hadn’t been crashed on by the ever-rising tide. Make no mistake, though: Soccer Mommy is no also-ran project, and “circle the drain” is no also-ran song. In fact, this song is so breathtakingly good that it will make you reconsider her entirely. Whether you liked her initially or not, this song proves she was considerably better than you were ever willing to give her credit for.
“circle the drain” succeeds in a way that previous Soccer Mommy tracks were not able to for one clear-cut reason: It’s found a niche. Rather than trying to keep up any kind of indie-darling purist facade, the song instead openly and outwardly opts to be a pop-rock song. Allison has noted that Avril Lavigne’s second album, 2004’s Under My Skin, was the first album she ever bought. Lavigne’s influence plays a key role here – this sounds exactly like it could be a cut from either of her first two records. We’re all adults here, by the way – we can all acknowledge those records as being excellent now.
This isn’t a bratty “Sk8er Boi” moment, though it’s not exactly “Nobody’s Home” either. Think more “Mobile,” or “Things I’ll Never Say.” Pensive, forlorn pop with a dozen guitars jangling around inside of it and processed beats that just dash across the turn of the century. Here’s where the carving knife for Allison’s niche grows particularly sharp: The song may musically be indebted to a bygone era, but its lyricism details an acute millennial malaise that can only come with someone of her age at this exact moment in time.
Perhaps it was wrong to overlook Soccer Mommy when she first arrived on the scene. Then again, perhaps that very notion makes “circle the drain” all the more triumphant. It’s one of the year’s most unexpected delicacies – a left-of-centre dream-pop diary entry that potently merges the past, the present and the future. Round and round we go, once more.
5. Miel – Must Be Fine
Miel Breduow never had to explain that she wasn’t kidding.
Under regular circumstances, a person best known for doing comedy has to clarify what’s sincere and what isn’t. From Nanetteto Wolfie’s Just Fine to… ahem… Dane Cook’s “Forward,” there are countless examples of comics moving into earnest territory. Bredouw isn’t all that different. She goofed around on Vine at its peak, ending up on countless compilations and keeping the dream of Keisza’s “Hideaway” alive. She moved over to podcasting and found a new cult following as she punched up countless jams, both with friends and on her own. She is, as Streisand would say, a funny girl.
When “Must Be Fine” came out, Miel never had to explain that she wasn’t kidding. Why?
The answer is twofold. The first is a reflection on the kind of person Bredouw is – or, at the very least, a reflection on the public persona fans and listeners have come to know through her work. Even when making ridiculous jokes or shriek-laughing at more of Chris Fleming‘s escapades, she comes across as entirely genuine. The kind of person who means what they say, who wouldn’t be laughing if they didn’t find it funny and the kind of person who sees honesty as the best policy.
More pertinent to the song itself, though, is that secondly there’s basically no other read you can give on “Must Be Fine.” It’s a cutting song – it’s sharp, and goes surprisingly deep for a two-and-a-half-minute song with two verses, two choruses and a bridge. A bridge that doesn’t lead anywhere, either – which is surprising on the first listen, but once you’re intimately familiar with your surrounds it clicks and begins to make sense. This isn’t a story with a definitive conclusion. There are no heroes and villains. It’s a time-lapse of a flower withering beneath a descending California sunset. It’s beauty and loss and tragedy within a sunburnt city landscape.
Hannah Gadsby, who performed the aforementioned Nanette, speaks of the effects of laughter in that show. “Laughter is very good for the human,” she said. “It really is, because when you laugh you release tension. When you hold tension in your human body, it’s not healthy. It’s not healthy psychologically or physically.”
Miel’s work has always released tension. It’s interesting, then, that her work that achieved this in the most accomplished of ways was not centred on laughter. And she never had to explain that she wasn’t kidding.
4. Sarah Jarosz – Johnny
“Why is it that we can feel so robbed when someone tells us a story we just heard isn’t true, and yet feel so satisfied at the end of a fictional novel?” This is a question posed by puppet-comedian Randy Feltface in his 2015 show Randy Writes a Novel, which comes at the end of perhaps the show’s finest moment of storytelling. (Referencing that quote if you haven’t seen the part in question is a bit of a spoiler, but so be it.) In songwriting, we’re so obsessed with the idea of what’s “real.” If it’s “real,” then it’s “authentic.” And if it’s “authentic,” then it’s inherently good. Or so we’re told.
“The tortured artist myth is rampant. People paint me as some kind of black witchcraft-practising devil from hell, that I have to be twisted and dark to do what I am doing. It’s a load of rubbish.” This is a quote from PJ Harvey, giving an interview to promote her 1998 album Is This Desire?. It’s an album, much like all of her work, that is steeped in character and fable-oriented lyricism. Does this make her work any less “real” or “authentic” because she didn’t literally drown her child like she sings on “Down By the Water”? Do we dare question men about this authenticity the same way we question women? Harvey’s one-time fling Nick Cave has been singing of murdering people for 30-plus years and has barely batted an eyelid in that time.
“Johnny’s on the back porch drinking red wine/He knows that it could be the very last time/He raises the glass up to his lips and wonders.” This is the opening line to “Johnny,” the lead single from Sarah Jarosz’ fifth studio album World on the Ground. Jarosz didn’t do a great deal of press for the album – for obvious reasons, of course – and so there isn’t a great deal of information as to whether the story told in the song is real.
The titular Johnny is staring down the barrel as he prepares to go in for open heart surgery – one fast move and he’s gone. It’s a moment filled with drama and suspense, and its unresolved nature only drives the intrigue even further. Did Johnny make it? Where is Johnny now? Is he even real to begin with?
Which then circles us back to these original points made by both Feltface and Harvey. Who cares if Johnny is real? “Johnny” is no less authentic because of it. It’s a striking, harmonious and emotive slice of Americana. Its lines trace around a bright octave mandolin, Levon Helm-esque drumming and rustic close harmonies that tie well into Jarosz’s bluegrass background. It’s certainly poppier than her earliest alt-country work, but that too doesn’t make it any less authentic. Any less real. From the second its tape-loop drone guides you in to the second its strummed mandolin lick guides you out, everything in “Johnny” is as real as it gets.
3. Hayley Williams – Simmer
Paramore is a band. Hayley Williams is a musician. Hayley Williams is in the band Paramore. “Simmer” is a song. “Simmer” is not a Paramore song. “Simmer” is a song by Hayley Williams.
This may seem like a collection of more moot points than a Rick Springfield song, and rightly so. Still, you would genuinely be shocked at how many people took issue differentiating when “Simmer” arrived in the first few weeks of 2020. If this is a Hayley Williams song, does that mean Paramore no longer exist? There are other members of Paramore involved – does this mean Paramore has become Hayley Williams? Hayley Williams is the only member of Paramore that has an unbroken line on Paramore’s Wikipedia timeline from start to end – surely this means she’s some sort of fascist dictator?
Again, you don’t get this kind of malarkey with male-fronted bands. For whatever reason, though, drama and discourse follow Williams around like a bad smell. It’s enough to send you mad – and, in a way, that’s a lot of what “Simmer” is about. It’s about the acknowledgement, the processing and the temperament of one’s deepest, darkest and most seething hatred. Williams has been outwardly pissed off before – hell, her first few albums with Paramore were quite literally fuelled by teenage angst. It’s never felt as subversive and as outright threatening as it does on “Simmer,” though.
Why, exactly? Consider both the context and the delivery. The context is no longer a firebrand pop-punk upstart, it’s an embattled 30-something divorcee who has grown up in public and been to hell and back twice over. The delivery is no longer a roof-raising, glass-shattering yelp – a defiant voice aiming to be heard in a dude-heavy scene. No, Williams is done with that shit. If you want to hear what she has to say, you’re going to have to lean in a little closer. When you do, in the throes of the second verse, she quite literally ideates violence. To paraphrase Tegan & Sara, you feel the knife going in.
Heightening the context is the musical environment of “Simmer.” 15 years is a long time, and you feel all 15 of them when you draw the line from All We Know is Fallingto “Simmer.” A smoky blend of trip-hop, indie and 21st-century pop lays out a trail of twists, turns and inevitable spirals. It’s a leap into the great unknown, and as Williams herself may have said 15 years prior you can feel the pressure.
How does one protect themselves, knowing danger awaits? Williams knows. “Wrap yourself in petals for armor,” she says. Don’t mistake kindness for weakness. Your anger is a gift. A riot inside the mind is no lesser of a riot.
“Simmer” is a song. It may be the best song Hayley Williams has ever sung.
2. EGOISM – Here’s the Thing
Breaking the fourth wall here slightly: Two different songs with the exact same title being in the same countdown has only ever happened once before. This was in 2018, when both Post Malone andAmy Shark released songs called “Psycho.” The pair both came at the titular phrase from unexpected places on surprisingly downbeat songs, unified by little more than a subversive take on a slightly-taboo word.
What, then, of “Here’s the Thing” and “Here’s the Thing”? Both come from upstart bands in their 20s, yes, but the similarities end conclusively there. Sports Team enlist the phrase like a weapon – a condescending, mansplaining place-setter, barked from the perspective of an elder statesmen with a chip on their shoulder. EGOISM, however, enlist the phrase as a jumping-off point. It’s the beginning of a difficult conversation. It’s the beginning of the end. The end of a beginning.
How could this phrase manage to hold such a different connotation in this context? Such weight? Truth be told, it’s part and parcel of EGOISM’s modus operandi. The band may traverse the realm of dream pop – often sonically light and airy by design – but their lyrical and thematic structure delve the inner depths as only the truest of confessionals can. It’s not for nothing that the duo of Olive Rush and Scout Eastment named their band after a school of philosophy defined as “concerned with the role of the self, or ego, as the motivation and goal of one’s own action.” EGOISM are at the centre of their own universe – and when they’re falling apart, it can only reflect in their music.
“Here’s the Thing,” with this taken into consideration, easily stands as the band’s most emotionally affecting song. Rush, who takes a stellar lead turn, spoke openly about the vulnerable place from which it came upon its release. They described it as being “about feeling like your heart is getting smashed into a million pieces.” It doesn’t get much more explicit in intent than that. This sentiment is subsequently reflected by the song’s palette, among the most tasteful the duo have ever composed. Striking math-rock chords ring out in tandem with sombre piano, while a ticking-clock snare rim ultimately gives way to a clattering loop that recalls that of Ben Lee’s similarly-pervious “Cigarettes Will Kill You.”
It’s the kind of thing one can find themselves simply entranced in, time and time again. It’s within these repeat listens one also finds themselves hearing things just that little bit different. The song’s seemingly-endless repeats of the same question – “Should you love somebody new?” – start to give way. Because of the quick succession of syllables, sometimes you can just mishear the “new” as simply an elongated part of the previous word – thus, forming an entirely new question of “Should you love somebody?”
It’s there that “Here’s the Thing” goes from wondering as to whether it’s worth starting again to wondering whether it’s worth it at all if this is where it will inevitably lead to. It’s a dark turn – and just think, that’s assembled entirely from something that’s not there. Imagine how much more there is to what’s actually present.
Eastment described “Here’s the Thing” as the best song Rush has ever written. She’s right, but not just from a songwriting perspective – from an egoism perspective. Months before “Here’s the Thing,” EGOISM had released “You You.” The Eastment-lead track covers very similar emotional ground: rising from the rubble left in the wake of a tattered relationship, knowing there is still love there but it cannot continue in the same way that it has. Eastment even acknowledges in the song’s Bandcamp notes that “Olive was going through something really similar at the time.” The mirror image is literally reflected between the two songs when Eastment takes lead on the bridge of “Here’s the Thing” – in the very same point of the song that Rush takes over from her on “You You,” no less.
I won’t mess with anyone else but I won’t mess with anyone else but I won’t mess with anyone else but you, you You, you
The pair’s inextricable link and their unshakable bond is what keeps EGOISM alive. It’s what gets the two of them through their darkest moments. “Here’s the Thing” is the crack where the light gets in. A problem shared is a problem halved.
1. The Avalanches feat. Rivers Cuomo and Pink Siifu – Running Red Lights
In order to tell this story, you have to know where three different sets of people were in the year 2000 and where they were in 2020. Yes, this is a story that’s over 20 years old; let it be told.
The three sets are plunderphonics collective The Avalanches, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo and singer-songwriter David Berman. With respect to Pink Siifu, his story doesn’t necessarily intertwine here. He appears here as more of a vessel than anything, but more on that later.
In 2000, The Avalanches released their debut studio album Since I Left You. It would turn them into one of the most internationally-acclaimed groups of next 12 months, scoring a boatload of ARIAs and selling out an explosive world tour in support of it. Their sample-heavy mix of pop, hip-hop, dance, funk, electronica, indie, rock and whatever other genres traversed their obscure record collection was a unique prospect. So much so, that The Avalanches’ idiosyncrasy raised a myriad of questions pertaining to how exactly they intended to follow such a seismic debut.
In 2000, Rivers Cuomo revived Weezer after a period of dormancy. He had spent the bulk of the late 90s – and, subsequently, the end of his 20s – in a spiral of depression. He, too, was plagued with the pressure of following up a hugely-influential debut album – and although Pinkerton was certainly not without its fans, it too found itself at the mercy of many a divided critic. With the band back in action and playing shows again, this was Cuomo’s impetus to start again – to finally achieve the greatness he’d been searching for.
In 2000, David Berman was between albums at the helm of the Silver Jews – the band with which he had made his name as a cult figure on the American indie rock circuit. His distinctive voice and unflinchingly-honest approach to lyrics and songwriting found a loving home on cult indie label Drag City, while the Jews’ initial lineup served as the launchpad for a separate juggernaut entirely in Pavement. Much like Cuomo, Berman would soon also find himself at odds with the black dog – a recurring motif throughout both his musical and personal life.
In 2020, The Avalanches were in the present tense again. Having finally followed up Since I Left You in 2016 with the technicolor experimentation of Wildflower, the group’s surviving duo – Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi – wanted to ensure that another new record would not take nearly as long. They began to assemble what would become their third album, We Will Always Love You – a tribute to those no longer with us, and a further exploration of what the group could sound like now that they were no longer defined entirely by a singular work.
In 2020, Rivers Cuomo was back at work again with Weezer. Truthfully, the band never really got off the wagon once that 2000 revival happened. The band scored big with hits like “Island in the Sun” and “Beverly Hills,” but their constant attempts at appealing to the same age demographic as they had a decade – and, eventually, two decades – prior saw their reputation end up in general disarray. Much like Paul Simon before him, Rivers Cuomo needed a photo opportunity and a shot at redemption. Thanks to Chater and Di Blasi, he was about to get one.
In 2020, David Berman was gone. He’d gone off to play the great gig in the sky a year prior, after ultimately losing his lifelong battle at the age of 52. As a collaborator on Wildflower, Berman was pulled out of reclusion by The Avalanches to contribute to a track on the album. He also later consented to having his work interpolated into a new song the band was working on – a gesture that, although he may not have fully realised at the time, was a parting gift and an eerie foreshadowing of what would come on We Will Always Love You.
There’s history in the walls of “Running Red Lights.” There’s ghosts in the walls, too. There are spirits in the night sky, looking down upon you as the city lights up. There’s over 20 years of stories in “Running Red Lights.” Stories of triumph, tragedy, love, loss, life, death and the human condition. What may be the most defining trait of the song, however, is its universality. The truth is, you can come to this song not knowing a single thing about any of its participants and get just as much out of it as someone who knows all of the above and then some.
The reason for this is that “Running Red Lights” is a momentous song – literally, of a moment. What that moment is, however, remains up to you. It can be a defiant rooftop primal scream, claiming the city for your taking. It can be a love-lorn, desperate plea to an estranged loved one. It can be your candle at the vigil memorial for someone you miss. It can be a sunlit drive, a rainy day or an autumnal stroll. Whatever it is to you, it’s yours. No-one can take that from you. No song in 2020 quite held such power in its runtime – and, indeed, long after the track subsides. It’s a crowning achievement for all involved, whether they’re around to see its fruits bared or not.
Welcome to the top 40! The cream is really rising to the top here. Remember, catching up on the list thus far is as easy as one, two, three! With that out of the way, let’s do it to it.
40. Ashley McBryde – Never Will
Consider the title track as a statement piece. One could certainly do this across both of Ashley McBryde’s major-label LPs – and, by proxy, link “Never Will” as a spiritual successor to the modern Opry classic “Girl Goin’ Nowhere.” Much like “Girl,” McBryde once again goes toe-to-toe with those who doubted her. Rather than not believing she’d make it, however, this time they’re saying the good times won’t last. It’s louder and more defiant this time around, backed with rousing electric guitars and a mantra that could reflect McBryde’s entire career: “I didn’t/I don’t/I never will.” Country’s realest, freshest voice.
39. Caligula’s Horse – Autumn
Rise Radiant, the fifth studio album from Caligula’s Horse, is replete with bombast and layered instrumentation, itself zigging when you expect a zag and vice versa. There’s something to be said, then, for a song like “Autumn.” Rather than immediately throwing listeners to the wolves, it gently fades in on a lone acoustic guitar and the subdued, tender vocals of frontman Jim Grey. The prog-rock grandiosity eventuates, yes – there’s a bass solo that leads into a guitar solo – but “Autumn” succeeds primarily as a daring venture for a band that could easily but unfairly be dismissed as by-the-numbers.
38. Baby Beef – Sticking Around
A Layman’s introduction to Baby Beef: Imagine Matt Berninger fronting the Pet Shop Boys. Both the same baritone and quizzical lyrical nature follow, matched with synths and programming that are pure, unabashed kitsch. Still, that’s just a starting point. As a song like “Sticking Around” proves, there’s more to the Beef than meets the eye. All three vocalists create standout moments for themselves, while the spaghetti-western guitar adds an unexpected twang to the otherwise glacial synth-pop. There’s no-one currently on the Australian circuit quite like them – and songs like this, fitting to its title, attest to their staying power.
37. Polaris – Vagabond
Although they didn’t get much of a chance to celebrate it, Polaris ascended to the top of the foodchain in Australian heavy music in 2020. The Death of Me not only cleared the bar set by their impressive 2017 debut The Mortal Coil, it set a new benchmark for their contemporaries entirely. We listen now to the album’s centrepiece, wholly exemplary of this fresh standard. If you’re not coming to the dance with riffs that bounce as hard, drums that slam as aggressively and hooks that feel as all-encompassing as “Vagabond,” ask yourself: What the hell are you doing here?
36. ONEFOUR – Welcome to Prison
Of course, one can’t document the rise of Western Sydney’s ONEFOUR without also addressing the ever-present elephant in the room. A Rooty Hill incident landed key members of the group in jail, leaving only two on the outside to keep the name alive. To their credit, ONEFOUR have done a fantastic job of this – not least of all for keeping shit very, very real in their lyrical content. “Welcome to Prison,” as its name suggests, hits even harder than something like “In the Beginning” purely for how much heart, honesty and introspection lies within it. They remain Sydney’s realest.
35. Ty Dolla $ign feat. Kanye West, FKA twigs and Skrillex – Ego Death
Was there a greater example of ego death in 2020 than Ty Dolla $ign releasing a song named after it from an album titled Featuring Ty Dolla $ign? Ty always plays John C. Reilly to countless artists’ Will Ferrell. “Ego Death,” then, might be his Walk Hard. It’s still flanked by others’ star power (including Kanye’s best verse in years), but also serves as a showcase of an underrated leading man. This also wasn’t a hit, but give it time and it has every chance of attaining cult-classic status. Rightfully so, too. It’s the soundtrack to a thousand boogie nights.
34. 5 Seconds of Summer – Wildflower
Is there anything more fun than cosplaying decades you weren’t around for? 5SOS – who were all born in the mid-90s – finally get to indulge on a full-blown 80s moment on “Wildflower.” It honestly makes you wonder why they hadn’t gone for it sooner. Those synth stabs! That squeaky-clean guitar! The wallop of the gated snare! Take a dash of solo Phil Collins, add a splash of solo Peter Gabriel, and you’ve got the genesis of “Wildflower.” Maybe a pinch of Talking Heads, too – ’tis the season, after all. As comforting as a pair of giant shoulder pads.
33. Waxahatchee – Fire
It’s always been easy to feel what Katie Crutchfield is singing. She’s always possessed a raw, soulful voice within the indie-rock spectrum that has housed moments of vital vulnerability across her five albums as Waxahatchee. What “Fire” does is make you see what she’s singing. “West Memphis is on fire/In the light of day.” You can see the horizon, the smoke, the terror and the beauty in a moment like that. A bittersweet countryside journey, laden with impeccable harmony and bold structure. “Fire” encapsulates one of the most compelling pieces of songwriting yet in a career defined entirely by them.
32. Something for Kate – Supercomputer
At a time when many of their contemporaries have resigned themselves to the nostalgia circuit and Days On The Green, Something for Kate deserve to be commended for existing in the present tense alone. Even if their new stuff wasn’t up to scratch, at least they were still making it. That’s what makes songs like “Supercomputer” all the more defiant and baffling: Something for Kate are still making some of the best music they’ve ever written. Paul Dempsey’s ongoing sci-fi dalliance continues in a blaze of orbiting synths, pounding toms, rousing na-na-nas and a fiery guitar outro. No nostalgia necessary.
31. Nothing Really – Yuck
“Do you think I’m yuck?” Vic Austin’s voice cracks into a higher register as she asks the song’s titular question. “I adore you,” it adds. Perhaps a separate point, but perhaps the two are wholly intertwined. Like Roger Sanchez’s tragic “Another Chance” video, Austin and her Nothing Really cohorts begin the song with a full, giant heart that is eventually shriveled and shrunken by the cruel nature of the outside world. It’s vital, purposeful indie rock – the kind one loses themselves in for days on end, hooked on a feeling. There’s never an answer given, but silence speaks volumes.
30. Genesis Owusu – Whip Cracker
Much like “This is America” before it, much of “Whip Cracker”’s power lies within its visual accompaniment. Kofi Owusu-Ansah stares directly down the camera barrel, shot in black-and-white as he unflinchingly calls out his targets. By the time the video bursts into colour, blood is dripping from his mouth. It’s one of the year’s most perfect videos for what ended up being one of its hardest-hitting songs. Owusu’s acidic bile is egged on by thudding drums, which turn on a dime into a dance-punk apocalypse around the song’s halfway point. It’s complex by nature; unrelenting in execution. Whip it good.
29. Run the Jewels feat. Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha – JU$T
When the tracklist for RTJ4 preempted its release, one particular odd-couple feature pairing raised eyebrows – and, believe it or not, it wasn‘t Josh Homme and Mavis Staples. Of course, Run the Jewels hadhistory with Zack de la Rocha – but what of Pharrell, whose happy (pun intended) disposition felt immediately at odds with the harsh reality of RTJ? As it turns out, this fab four complement one another perfectly. It’s all there: Williams’ syncopated hook, El-P’s rubbery beat clatter and prolix wordplay, Mike’s effortless verse, de la Rocha’s scene-stealing finale. “JU$T” is a legend convention meets social revolution.
28. Tame Impala – Lost in Yesterday
One of the more interesting musical elements at play on the last two Tame Impala records has been the lessened emphasis on guitar. What happens when you remove such a key element from what is, for all intents and purposes, a rock band? You get in the groove. “Lost in Yesterday,” tellingly, sports the best Impala bassline since “The Less I Know the Better.” A bustling drum shuffle – equal parts “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “The Moment” – muscles in, while an aviary of synth squalls colour in atop of the rhythm. Reinvention never felt so revolutionary.
27. Miiesha – Twisting Words
The title of Miiesha’s debut Nyaaringu stems from her native Pitjantjatjara. It translates to “what happened,” and the Queensland singer is true to it across inter-generational storytelling and heartfelt odes to her past, present and future. “Twisting Words” shows us what happened when Miiesha was underestimated, overlooked and spoken over. Spoiler alert: It made her mad as hell, and she’s not gonna take it anymore. She’s flanked by a pristine neo-soul arrangement, which builds from a warm bed of keyboards to a righteous guitar solo. It feels real, and it feels right. Believe the hype: Miiesha is the total package.
26. Gordi – Extraordinary Life
Three years removed from jaw-dropping debut Reservoir, Gordi found herself adapting and evolving. Not only was she musically recalibrating following her first album’s kitchen-sink maximalism, she was simultaneously experiencing loss in tandem with new love. With this, consider “Extraordinary Life” the centrepiece of Our Two Skins. It’s a resolute piece of folktronica that doesn’t shy away from matters of the heart. In fact, it thrives upon them. It comes from a place of open sentiment and quiet desperation, with the kind of emotion that lingers long after the final chord rings out. It’s vintage Gordi, but simultaneously brand-new. It’s extraordinary.
25. Pearl Jam – Dance of the Clairvoyants
So much got forgotten from the first quarter of 2020, their existence alone may shock you. Case in point: You forgot Pearl Jam put out a record, didn’t you. You also forgot that the lead single was a massive gamble – a new-wave, post-punk hybrid; hardly recognisable when put next to “Alive” or “Jeremy.” Here’s the best-kept secret of all: “Dance of the Clairvoyants” is the best Pearl Jam single since at least “The Fixer,” maybe even “Do the Evolution.” It’s a strutting, positively Byrne-ian musical revelation. A Pearl Jam song like this only comes around once in a lifetime.
24. Miel – I’ll Be Holding
The cover of Miel’s debut album Tourist Season sees her leaning back, eyes closed and mouth agape. It’s part daydream, part free-fall. Such a tableau feels pertinent to the sensations caused by its second single, “I’ll Be Holding.” It’s a rush of wind to the face as the city flies by in a flash, internalising a complex situation in the medium of retro-tinged dream-folk. It’s a moment to get lost in, throwing your body into an arm-flailing tube-man trance. “I’ll Be Holding” is the sound of dancing like no-one’s watching, and lord knows that kind of release was needed here.
23. The Chicks – Julianna Calm Down
For 20-plus years, the Chicks had the loudest voices in the room and knew how to use them. They called out from wide open spaces, killed Earl and refused to make nice. They took it to 11 and never turned down… until now. “Julianna Calm Down” brings the trio into close quarters with their nearest and dearest. They get real for a moment, showing a side they’ve never quite shown before. It’s the kind of tenderness that can only come from three loving mothers, passed on with the kind of wisdom that can only come with knowing each other mile-long.
22. Tigers Jaw – Warn Me
When Tigers Jaw shared their first new music of 2020, it was with a caveat: This won’t be on the album. There was one coming (still is), but you wouldn’t find “Warn Me” on it. This is a good thing, in hindsight – insofar as that you can appreciate “Warn Me” strictly on standalone merits. There’s plenty of those, too: Teddy Roberts’ double-kick thrash injects new life behind the kit, while Ben Walsh’s double-whammy of a wordless pre-chorus and a howled hook is testament to his songwriting skills. When they put their minds to it, Tigers Jaw are practically peerless.
21. Something for Kate – Waste Our Breath
Paul Dempsey claims that “Waste Our Breath” is about “trying to find an empty space.” He’s right, of course – it’s his song, after all – but perhaps the best thing about Something for Kate is that they’ve always left things open for interpretation. Whatever you hear is right too. The song’s “checkpoint on the shortest day of the year” could mean everything and nothing. “This show”? What show? Your call. It’s futile and fascinating, powered by Dempsey’s towering presence and the resilience of his long-serving rhythm section. Fill this empty space however you see fit. It’s yours now, people.
Have a listen to all 80(!) of the songs on the list so far, in order, via Spotify below:
Check back soon for the final installment! 2020’s almost done, thank the lord.