Cut the crap. That’s all Perfect Pussy want. Say Yes to Love cuts deep, fast and often. As far as the grand scheme of guitar-oriented music was concerned, it felt as if it was one of the more dangerous releases to make itself known within the calendar year – it fumed, it radiated and it sent the levels into a constant bubble of blood red. Beneath its thorny exterior, a further layer was revealed – Meredith Graves shrieks and screams out mantras, rhetoric and personal essays that added to her already-stellar reputation as one of contemporary music’s more important voices. It’s love.
“This time, I’ve got seeds on ground.” TV on the Radio sewed new life roughly three years removed from throwing dirt on the late, great Gerard Smith. Seeds allowed them to explore a more straightforward, streamlined approach to songwriting; allowing for their open-book honesty to shine through new love, old friends and healing wounds. It also allowed the band to let itself exist as an entity far greater than the sum of its parts – a chance to completely realise what they have created, what they have so wisely kept alive. Seeds is life after death – it’s not easy, but achievable.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Lazzeray, Careful You, Happy Idiot.
18. Willis Earl Beal – Experiments in Time
Sometimes, it’s suggested that an artist has “done a 180” as a hyperbolic expression to indicate a change in style. It’s rarely the case that the saying is justified in its use, however. This, along with several other contributing factors, is what makes Experiments in Time such a unique experience. Beal, formerly of the lo-fi blues and proto-folk category, turned his attention to music that is ambient, delicate and cautiously quiet. So radical is the departure, one may even be found double-checking that it is indeed the same man. A completely-unexpected sensation and a welcomed reinvention.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Slow Bus, Waste It Away, Same Auld Tears.
17. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers Spotify || Rdio
They may wander off for years at a time, but the Pornos are never really gone. You couldn’t kill those mothercanuckers with all of the weapons in Liam Neeson’s arsenal. Theirs is an undying spirit, which resurfaces on arguably be their best LP since Twin Cinema. The bombast of the title track, the defiant stride of “Marching Orders” and the Superchunk wig-out of “War on the East Coast” are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Perhaps the best thing about Brill Bruisers is that everyone will walk away with their own highlight – and there’s absolutely no wrong answers here.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Champions of Red Wine, Brill Bruisers, Marching Orders.
Australian children’s entertainer Don Spencer once sang that “The greater part of every state is off the beaten track.” It’s certainly not what he meant, but this much is true of Carpetbombing – while most local releases concerned themselves with the inner workings of city streets or behind the closed doors of suburbia, Harmony’s second LP was covered in the grit, blood and petrol of outhouses, country yards and battered shacks. It’s a grim, confronting and occasionally terrifying record. It’s more Australian than most albums have a right to be. Carpetbombing is the sounds of then and the sounds of now.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Big Ivan, Do Me a Favour, Carpetbomb.
15. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues Spotify || Rdio
Against Me! began in the bedroom of a teenager named Tom Gabel. It began again on the global stage, lead with aplomb by a thirty-something named Laura Jane Grace. The never-say-die punk spirit that was aflame with its origins continued to flicker defiantly, albeit guiding the path of significantly different subject matter – street-walking, identity crises and parenthood, to name a few. Transgender is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It’s what they – and we – needed more than anything. This, friends, is the first day of the rest of Against Me!’s life. God bless its transsexual heart.
THREE TOP TRACKS: True Trans Soul Rebel, Two Coffins, Transender Dysphoria Blues.
It doesn’t matter if you win or lose – it’s how you play the game. This has been drilled into the heads of countless children, and it sticks for a reason – it reflects on more than just its immediate point of reference. Case in point: Few played a better game in the year passed than You Beauty, the supergroup-of-sorts that brought to life a nameless NRL star of a bygone era. It didn’t even matter if you didn’t know your Joey Johns from your Freddie Fitler – the storytelling was just that enticing. Jersey Flegg was a shoe-in for best and fairest.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Now Her Skirt, Rabbits, Ann-Maree.
13. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else Spotify || Rdio
There were a lot of notable lines scattered throughout the eight tracks that made up Cloud Nothings’ third studio album, but perhaps the most telling comes in its closing number: “I’m not telling you all that I’m going through.” It’s rung true throughout the collected works of the Dylan Baldi vehicle; perhaps never moreso here – revealing a sliver of introspect and innermost struggle, but always pulling back before a complete reveal unfurls. Nowhere Else also takes the band further into the sprawling, incessant drive of noisy alt-rock, making it a true crowning achievement with the promise of continued future greatness.
THREE TOP TRACKS: I’m Not Part of Me, Now Here In, Pattern Walks.
Regardless of what you perceived to be its benefits or its drawbacks, the referendum to decide on its independence is generally perceived to be the biggest thing to emerge from Scotland within 2014… at least, it would have been for those that didn’t hear or discover Young Fathers. The collective’s debut LP was one conceived under cover of darkness, revelling in pitch blackness while also taking the initiative to lead the procession toward distant lights. This is hip-hop that wants to be a part of the revolution – and when it comes, those not with them will be first to go.
The title of Moon Hooch’s second LP stems from what they refer to their music as from a categorical standpoint. You’ll certainly be thankful they did the groundwork for you, as what they do cannot exactly fit directly into any given spectrum. It’s a niche carved on the outside of alternative music – if such a thing is even possible – that digs deep. The trio implement thunderous horns and pitting them in a duel atop ricocheting drum patterns; locking the gates until a victor emerges. This is love. This is war. This is jazz. This is rock. This is cave music.
This, friends, is my first post for 2015 and it’s also where I leave you with yet another list – the ninth overall that I’ve made documenting my top 100 songs of the year. Before I send you off, make sure you’ve caught up on parts one through four:
You all sorted there? Awesome. Hey, thank you so much for reading through and checking this all out. Thanks to my friends, fellow writers and all the bands and artists that feature here. Quite figuratively couldn’t have done it without you all. Same time next year, yeah?
20. Bleachers – I Wanna Get Better
Jack Antonoff is the kind of guy that could easily be seen as cool by association – he’s one-third of indie darlings cum chart-crushers fun., as well as longtime partner of Gen Y superstar Lena Dunham. Don’t let this context misconstrue him at all, however: He has absolutely no issue with holding his own. Look at this breakout smash, which sees Antonoff take the reins of a stuttered piano sample, arena-rock guitar and a chock-a-block chorus that almost threatens to cave in on itself before reinforcing its foundations. An anthem for overcoming odds and being the damn best you can be.
19. Ted Danson with Wolves – Bohemian (I Don’t) Like You
Maybe vocalist/saxophonist Nick Levy paid way too much attention in his high-school science classes. Maybe it was the result of a parental sex talk gone wrong. Hell, the guy could just well have a remarkable imagination matched with a witty sense of humour. It really is anyone’s guess when it comes to uncovering exactly how “Bohemian” came to be created. Whatever the case, the world is certainly a better place for its existence; as is a particular season that also serves as the song’s triumphantly-screamed opening word. Sex, nature and The Dandy Warhols. What more could you ask for, really?
18. The Smith Street Band – Surrender
For someone like Wil Wagner, singing a line like “I’m not from around here” is a shockingly confessional change from a guy who has centred entire songs – nay, entire releases – around singular and familiar surroundings. “Surrender” comes somewhere between Show A and Show B, off the proverbial beaten track and directly into the fire. It brims with the brightness of the band’s sun-kissed guitars and the energy of Chris Cowburn’s impeccably-syncopated drum fills; and feels like home even though it’s approximately 1062 kilometres away. That’s the magic of The Smith Street Band for you, of course. Long may they run.
17. Slipknot – The Devil in I
“Where is your will, my friend?” As the words escape Corey Taylor’s mouth, atop shimmering guitar noise and gentle cymbal rushes, the line has conviction in its execution that very explicitly points toward its questioning being directed inward more than anything else. Indeed, introspect and open-wound pain are what guide “Devil,” which sports all the definitive traits of a classic within the band’s extensive repertoire. It marches along dutifully, playing to both the band’s knack for creating space and their knack for tearing it apart. Much like those bogan car stickers, “The Devil in I” justifies Slipknot’s existence. Step inside.
16. Pianos Become the Teeth – Repine
There is a true weariness in “Repine,” which ostensibly serves as the centrepiece of the script-flipping Keep You record. It’s the clearest in the pained, aching vocals, but it weaves its way through the bristling guitar patterns and the emphatic thud of the verses’ half-speed drum flams. A beacon of light peers through in the song’s refrain, in a manner befitting a crack in the roofing allowing for a ray of sunlight to emerge from the darkness. “Your wick won’t burn away,” it chants. It’s a hope against hope, and one prays that it resonates with the truth. Somehow. Someway.
15. Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is confusing, distracting, disorienting. Love is winter, spring, summer and fall. Love is an artist’s entire body of work; and it’s a single word from a single line in a single song, poem or story. Love is everywhere and nowhere. Love is in every tear shed – out of happiness, out of sadness, out of anger. Love never runs on time. Love leads through the quietest places on earth through to the most crowded streets. Love is what you make it. With this in mind, “I Forget Where We Were” is a love song.
14. Babaganouj – Bluff
For a song with roughly a dozen lines of lyrics in it, as well as falling just shy of the three-minute mark, “Bluff” manages to achieve a remarkable amount. It’s practically equivalent to that biblical miracle of feeding five thousand people with merely a loaf of bread and some fish. So what gets it over the line? It appears to stem from bassist Hariette Pilbeam, venting over a once-hopeful relationship transmogrified into cyclical torture. The ultimate release that comes with her final vocal delivery indicates the song is just as much for her as it is the rest of us.
13. Georgia Maq – Footscray Station
There’s no filter to Georgia Macdonald. You simply cannot take what she does and switch it on and off. It’s a major discredit to one of this country’s most promising songwriters to suggest otherwise. This song is what one should point towards to validate the aforementioned claim of excellence: A ragged, honest waltz through lower-middle class life that also detours through mental health woes and fearless political shaming. Just know that some people will spend their entire lives waiting to write a song that amounts to even half the quality of “Footscray Station.” They will try and they will fail.
12. Young Fathers – Get Up
A lot has gone into the genetic makeup of this song. Its titular phrase has been reconceptualised by everyone from Bob Marley to R.E.M., while it also incorporates a very specific handclap pattern best known for its use in The Routers’ single “Let’s Go.” Lyrically, it drops into heaven and earth, Orwellian dystopia, revolution and debaucherous lifestyles. When it collectively shifts into its final form, however, “Get Up” belongs to Young Fathers and Young Fathers only. When the line of “You lose/I win” drops from out of nowhere, it may as well be a message – a warning – to their peers.
11. The Kite String Tangle – Arcadia
Björk once famously sang that “If you complain once more, you’ll meet an army of me.” On “Arcadia,” Danny Harley actualises it, although his admittedly feels somewhat less threatening than that of the Icelandic nymph’s. The song comes at a breaking point, where both parties have found no way out and past the point of return. It is guided by Harley’s private strikeforce of close harmony, wordless refrain and warm, lushly-painted arrangements. Rarely has the light at the end of the tunnel shone so brightly than within the confines of “Arcadia.” Here begins the true ascension to complete pop magnificence.
10. Ben Howard – End of the Affair
Perhaps subtle is an odd term to transfix upon a song that quite figuratively lays out its explicit subject matter within its title. Yet, the grace of Ben Howard as both an understated vocalist and a truly prodigious guitar player allows for a quiet, focused stare into the demise. At least, it remains so for the song’s first half. When jazz brushes slip their way into the arrangement, the hunt is on.
Howard himself goes from keeping his cool to throwing it out the window with sharp, pained howls that emerge from the darkest corners of his being. “Affair” is an exhausting, treacherous journey. One must come prepared, certainly, but one must come along for it. There’s not an option otherwise.
9. Yoke – Burden
My yoke is easy and my burden is light.
– Matthew 11:28
Opening an uplifting, higher-plane post-pop number with the line “I’m miserable” is a beguiling paradox to begin with. Let’s push that out further from a contextual standpoint by pointing out that some of the smartest, most textured and accomplished pop music to emerge from Australia within the calendar year came from a former marketed teen star in Kyle Linahan; some ten years and change removed from his only charting single.
If that wasn’t enough, perhaps the most hated band of the year in U2 serves as a template-setter for the steely guitar work, reappropriating their influential stature. “Burden” may feel baffling in a way, but it’s an indelibly-marked foray into bright contrasts and big-city dreaming. Against all odds, it works. Take a look at it now.
8. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
There was no gentle breaking of the news that The New Pornographers were to return after a four-year absence, nor was there any mistaking exactly who it was busting down 2014’s doors with its major-chord slams, sprightly drums and wholly-triumphant “baa-baa-baa”s. They may be fifteen years into the game and trudging through their collective mid-forties, but there is no rust in the wheels for the Pornos.
It’s worth noting that “Brill Bruisers” served as their sixth album’s lead single, opening number and title track. It’s a pretty big deal to throw a triple-threat like that out into the world, something that needs to have a steady amount of confidence in its DNA in order to survive. Not only did “Bruisers” do just that, it flourished. Life’s only certainties are death, taxes and The New Pornographers making everything okay again.
7. Oslow – Blue on Blue
Oslow are the sound of Sydney. Not the Sydney that you may be accustomed to, of course, but theirs is the in sound from way out. Theirs are the friendly faces that both sift through the racks and plug in their amps at Black Wire and Beatdisc Records. They soundtrack carelessly-wasted days and long nights in both the inner and outer western suburbia.
They reflect a dissonance and greater dissatisfaction, but approach it with honesty and resolve rather than melodrama or superfluous subversion. “Blue on Blue,” much like “Desert Dog Rd.” before it, is a proud product of its environment. Oslow are the sound. Raise up your hands and sing along.
6. Cloud Nothings – I’m Not Part of Me
It’s easy to forget how young Dylan Baldi is. In spite of the very markedly clear leaps and bounds his project has taken in the last few years, the project’s origins stem from when he was barely out of high school. In turn, lyrics such as “I’m learning how to be here and nowhere else/How to focus on what I can do myself” begin to paint a clearer picture when one is reminded of the immediate fact. We’re still witnessing a work in progress when it comes to the young man behind the music.
It’s also easy to forget that Cloud Nothings officially became a trio in 2014, losing their lead guitarist and not seeking a replacement. There is enough activity within “I’m Not Part of Me”’s musical structure that there is easily enough work cut out for two guitars. The fact it’s all achieved by Baldi in the one go simply adds to the seemingly-endless fascination that he inspires as a creative force in the indie rock realm. The enigma develops and work continues.
5. TV on the Radio – Happy Idiot
As lyricists, TV on the Radio have been known to draw from the abstract to convey their point. Perhaps their best-known song contains a metaphor for sex using the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Earlier in their career, they spoke a loving relationship using the shocking imagery that came with the unforgettable line “I will be your ambulance/If you will be my accident.” Fast forward to present day, however, and they’re done beating around the bush.
“Since you left me, babe/It’s been a long way down” is a line seemingly straight out of the earliest development of blues; “I’m gonna bang my head through the wall/’Til I feel like nothing at all” is about as bluntly forthright as a lyric can possibly be. These, as well as a wall’s worth of quotable phrases and lyrics, are painted over churning bass, warped vocal samples and an incessant hi-hat and snare pattern. It’s more or less a new perspective to take the band’s ideas and symbolism from. It’s a different kind of different. It’s waving at cars. It’s numbed pain and new beginnings.
4. tUnE-yArDs – Water Fountain
You can argue all you wish, but as far as 2011 was concerned, its defining musical moment came from a wide-eyed, floor-tom-wielding woman covered in bizarre make-up and neon flare, screaming the big rhetorical question of “WHAT’S THE BIZNESS, YEAHHHHHHHH?” It was here that the project of Merrill Garbus properly shed its lo-fi, relatively-quiet skin and rebirthed into a widescreen procession of avant-garde indie-pop.
We pick up more or less where that single left off with “Water Fountain,” where we’ve been lead through a pathway of school-girl handclapping games, tinkling percussion and the wandering basslines of Nate Brenner, the project’s secret weapon.
Garbus finds the most obtuse angles in her surroundings and seeks them out for both her melodic and lyrical approach, exploring to depths that a lesser performer would outright fear. Every song feels like an adventure when you’re with tUnE-yArDs, and it’s always worth your while to let it get you off the damn couch and dancing with reckless abandon. “Water Fountain” has got you all in check. Woo-hah!
3. Hockey Dad – I Need a Woman
Make all the jokes you please about the collective ages of Hockey Dad contrasted with singing about women instead of girls. Let us not forget the teachings of our saviour Prince: “Women, not girls, they rule my world.”
Besides, who has time to deal with semantics when we’re dealing with the single most delectable slice of indie rock to emerge from Australia in the entire year? Guided by the production finesse of Big Scary’s Tom Iansek, “Woman” was the first time most were properly acquainted with the Windang natives (make your own Computer Town Australia references in your own time, locals).
It left a thoroughly lasting impression, spreading far beyond the initial reaches of the so-called leisure coast – and why not? You’ve seen, you’ve heard and you know by now, surely. It’s all bright blues and hazy greens, with an Instagram filter for a millennial twist and that extra tang. It’s a joy to listen to, every single time.
2. Sleaford Mods – Tied Up in Nottz
It’s more than that.
It’s more than the single best opening line on any song to be released at all in 2014 – and perhaps this entire decade. It’s more than the z (“zed, you cunt”) in the song title.
It’s more than the vitriolic poetry tagged all over its pulsing post-punk rhythm section, equal parts “Chickentown” and Original Pirate Material. It’s more than underclass war, seedy city underbellies and breakfast-cereal analogies for the collective unconscious (“Fucking shredded-wheat Kellogg’s cunts!”).
It’s more than a repulsive, kneejerk response to a tepid, predictable popscene. It’s not even the debate over whether miscrediting “The Final Countdown” to fucking Journey instead of fucking Europe was an intentional move or not.
This? This is what you need to hear.
It’s not what you want to hear, oh no.
If Sleaford Mods have anything in greater doubt about you, it’s your truth-handling abilities. They’ll make Jack Nicholson look like Mother fucking Teresa once they’re done with you. This is simply the home truths that have to be hit.
There could be endless fuck-about picking out more of the laureate lyricism of “Nottz,” but the only one that has to stick is this: “We are REAL.”
1. Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting on You)
By now, you have arrived to this part of the list, seen the above song title and video and immediately had this reaction.
It’s understandable and forgivable. But a copout? Absolutely no way.
There was never any question as to where this song would end up – not just here, but on countless similar lists looking back at both individual and collective preferences. “Seasons” transcended that. Our lists may as well have been referred to as “The Best 99 Songs of The Year That Weren’t Seasons.”
Those that heard it knew immediately. Those that saw it on that performance during what was to be David Letterman’s last full year on air knew immediately. Christ, Letterman himself knew immediately. It was more than just a shaken hand and a throw to Craig Ferguson when it ended – he grabbed Samuel T. Herring, still an unruly mess of sweat and passion, and offered up one of the year’s best quotes: “I’ll take all of that you got!”
He wasn’t just speaking on behalf of himself that night. He saw something greater in what was offered up that night. A band four albums into their career became the best newcomers of the year. A star was born. A song already full of life was somehow reaffirmed.Perhaps most importantly however, the broken heart that dangles on the song’s lyrical precipice was sewn back together.
The love grew bigger and bigger until it encapsulated radio, the blogosphere, endless parties and every last essential playlist. This was a song to centre one’s entire universe around.
This song wasn’t just the finest to be released in this year – this song was this year.
This was dancing in the face of fear.
Dancing to the end.
Dancing like no-one was watching.
Except everybody was – for they were doing just the same.
Tracks by female artists (artist/featured artist/vocalist is female): 26.
Tracks by Australian artists: 38.
Oldest person on the list: “Weird Al” Yankovic, 54 at the time of recording.
Youngest person on the list: Hockey Dad’s Billy Fleming, 17 at the time of recording.
Angus & Julia Stone (94, 90), Hockey Dad (87, 56, 3), The New Pornographers (77, 8), Death From Above 1979 (71, 60, 30), Future Islands (70, 1), Slipknot (68, 18), Oslow (63, 7), TV on the Radio (62, 5), Coldplay (59, 27), Georgia Maq (57, 13), DZ Deathrays (50, 24), The Kite String Tangle (38, 11), Babaganouj (35, 14), Ben Howard (33, 15, 10), Yoke (25, 9).
And, once again, feel free to download the podcast version of this final part. You can do that by clicking here. It’s free, y’know!
We’re so close! Parts one, two and three… missed ’em? Not to worry? You can revisit them here, here and here. Let’s get down to some top 40 pop hits. Starting now.
40. Fucked Up feat. J Mascis – Led By Hand
Here’s a strange proposition: The best Dinosaur Jr. song of the year did have J Mascis in it, but it wasn’t by Dinosaur Jr. In a standout moment from their exceptional Glass Boys LP, Pink Eyes and co. paid homage to proto-grunge wigouts while still maintaining their hardcore punk roots. There was perhaps no greater yin-and-yang in the year than when Mascis mumbled the song’s chorus as Pink Eyes let out a Roger Daltrey-worthy “YEAH!” atop of it. An unlikely pairing on paper, “Led by Hand” had everything making a whole lotta sense quite quickly. Follow it around.
39. St. Vincent – Digital Witness
What did Annie Clark learn from her time making music with David Byrne? Two major things. The first: Horns. They’re a weapon. Use them wisely. The second: Is something categorically weird in your song? Make it weirder. Taking this on board, “Digital Witness” is one of her finest tracks to date. Whether it was the spiralling pre-chorus melody, the stinging guitar wail or that all-encompassing hook, it was nigh-on impossible to deny the resonance of this rebirth. During one of the song’s many earworms, Clark boldly states “I want all of your mind.” You got it. Anything else?
38. The Kite String Tangle – Words
We’re still learning a lot about Danny Harley, the prodigious figurehead behind Brisbane bedroom phenomena The Kite String Tangle. Tracks like “Words” allowed us as listeners to edge slightly closer in this regard, and it was something to be extremely thankful for. A restrained exploration of post-dubstep balladry, Harley shrouds himself in light-and-shade contrasts, gently coaxing out confessional lyrics as distant lights flicker and glow on the outskirts. It shouldn’t add up that such depth and maturity has been achieved at such an early stage, but one would suppose The Kite String Tangle has always been against the odds.
37. Jane Tyrrell – The Rush
Lovers can fall hard and fast for one another, but where does one find oneself when fire turns to ice? It’s a complicated subject, and one that Tyrrell details with an outsider’s eye and an insider’s mind. She may have set up two characters in the song, but it’s safe to say that she sees more than just herself within them. Driven masterfully by the unmistakable drumming of PVT’s Laurence Pike, there are soaring highs and crushing lows that weave through the song’s relatively-short runtime. Tyrrell sees us through to the bitter end. It’s not like it’s her first time.
36. Ken Stringfellow – Kids Don’t Follow
If any song is stretching the friendship for its inclusion in a 2014 list, it’s surely this: A cover of a Replacements song from the 80s that was recorded in 2004 for a tribute album to the aforementioned college-rock legends that ultimately never came to be. This hazy barroom take on the anti-authoritative punk number came from acclaimed Posies and R.E.M. alum Ken Stringfellow; and collected dust until the release of a rarities compilation at the beginning of 2014. So, here we are. You best believe this sucker was worth uncovering. A smart, somewhat-sombre reworking from a truly underrated craftsman.
35. Babaganouj – Too Late for Love
Go Violets didn’t fade away, they burnt out. Their embers remain flickering within Brisbane’s still-thriving indie-pop village, as two of its members have resumed full-time positions in this little jangly garage outfit that could. “Too Late for Love” may have been born in the sunshine state, but it’s more European in flavour – there’s a strong dose of Camera Obscura, a hint of The Wannadies and sprinklings of Belle and Sebastian’s early work. None of this is said to deride the song, of course. It’s a reflection on how it immediately feels like home. May this band burn longer and brighter.
34. Kelis – Breakfast
Her milkshake brought all the boys to the yard, but what happens when one of those boys sticks around? Now in her thirties, Kelis is exploring the concept of finding love in wake of divorce. It’s quite an adult prospect, recurring on perhaps her most mature LP to date, Food. Many went with a helping of “Jerk Ribs” when asked to name the album’s standout, but it would be foolhardy to dismiss this triumphantly horn-laden take on neo-soul, complete with stunning chorus and adorable children’s backing vocals. Much like in life, “Breakfast” is the most important meal of the day.
33. Ben Howard – Conrad
A lot of pitch-black darkness took up Ben Howard’s second album – hell, it even took up most of the cover art. Positioned towards its latter half, “Conrad” allowed the LP to let a glimmer of light into the spectrum. It continues to look at where a past love went awry; and yet the song plays to the pop sensibilities that rewarded Howard such attention to begin with. Its shipmates are his exceptional guitar work, layered to the point of being a battalion front; as well as a hummed refrain that would even garner due respect from the Crash Test Dummies.
32. Luca Brasi – Borders and Statelines
Luca Brasi’s dues have been paid in full and with interest; and many within Australia’s punk community have spent the last few years in particular wondering as to when it would be their time. It was answered not with words, but an extremely loud action. The forceful, crashing drums, the stellar twin-guitar attack and the rousing, spirited chorus they always had in them… “Borders and Statelines,” contrary to its lyrics, will come to define this band in the very best way imaginable. There is a wolf in the throne room, and its name is Luca Brasi. There will be blood.
31. Swans – Oxygen
2014 saw Michael Gira turn 60 years old. He continues to haunt the realm of alternative/avant-garde music after thirty-plus years in the game with unfinished business. Amid an exhausting two-hour-plus release – the double-LP To Be Kind – came this truly terrifying beast. “Oxygen,” already a live favourite, can now officially stand as one of the biggest, boldest compositions to ever come out under the Swans moniker upon its long-awaited recording. Its opening moments are spent picking out one of the year’s most distinctive basslines; its dying moments forcefully hurls everything it has built up into the inferno. The in-between is unforgettable.
30. Death From Above 1979 – Right On, Frankenstein!
Yes, the most hyped new rock band of the year may well have been a bass-and-drums duo; but a vengeful return from the very band that made it cool in the first place made sure we all knew whose yard we were stepping into. “Frankenstein” fires off on all cylinders from its opening seconds, pounding through a barnstorming, breakneck dose of rock & roll that exists purely on Keeler and Grainger’s terms. Plus, it’s gotta be the best false ending to a song from this year: The dust settles, the bass rings out… then, POW! Right in the kisser!
29. Bertie Blackman – Run for Your Life
Another new Bertie Blackman album means another new Bertie Blackman. From the days of her favourite jeans to her flirtations with electronica on later releases, the chameleonic Blackman has rarely allowed herself to get too comfortable within a particular style in her decade-and-change of songwriting. “Run for Your Life” is no exception to this, although it would be wise to suggest she spend a little more time in this specific corner. She sounds right at home with the gated snare, thickly-layered synthesizers and the whoah-oh’d call and response. She may well have just stumbled across her own pop paradise.
28. Kiesza – Hideaway
Fred Armisen may have sung that the dream of the 90s was alive in Portland, but his radar was a little off. The dream of the 90s, friends, is alive in Kiesza, a twenty-something Canadian up-and-comer who dominated dancefloors throughout the entire year with this certified banger in her arsenal. From a crafting perspective, “Hideaway” is retro in the sense that it can appreciate that there was a “What is Love” and a “Rhythm of the Night” for every “Teen Spirit” and “Black Hole Sun.” Its spirit is alive and shuffling once again. Mash it.
27. Coldplay – Magic
In the year that the phrase “consciously uncoupling” entered the cultural lexicon, you could well have been forgiven for forgetting that Chris Martin actually made music this year. Sure, some people would like to forget it altogether, but that’s another story for another time. We’re here to talk about “Magic,” a single that allowed Martin and co. to recall the pop simplicity of their early days while connecting it to the fresh pain of a then-recent separation. If “Magic” proves anything, it’s that we can begin again. That, and Chris Martin can still write a bloody tune.
26. Tkay Maidza – U-Huh
Don’t let Tkay Maidza’s age fool you, nor the simplicity of her big-business single. MCs twice her age would kill for a flow so tightly syncopated, hooks this high in both quality and quantity and a beat as bright and boisterous as the one that fills the spaces of “U-Huh.” There are constant surprises around every corner in the current Australian musical climate; and Maidza is the latest to make a substantial impact. One hopes the fire spat here leads to a phenomenal debut LP next year. After all, as she puts it, “We don’t tolerate broke behaviour.”
25. Yoke – Jabiluka
A phrase as simple as “I never told her” is what centres itself thematically at the core of “Jabiluka,” so named after a mine in the Northern Territory of Australia. Each time it is uttered, there are further layers peeled back to reveal the pain, the regret and the loss that comes with delivering such a line. It’s conveyed emphatically, almost taking on new meaning with every repetition. Similarly, the song itself may externally feel like a Dev Hynes-flavoured slice of downtempo indie-pop, but further listening will see those very same layers revealing. A smart yet complicated song.
24. DZ Deathrays – Reflective Skull
Who gives a fuck about how many notes you can play? If you can play the right ones, in the right succession, you needn’t worry about a single thing more. The riff that “Reflective Skull” lives and dies by was not designed for any greater intellectual pursuit. It’s a primitive headbanger, locked into an undeniable stomping groove and launched forth with reckless abandon. Ironically enough, with its less-than-more approach, this could be one of the biggest sounding tracks that the Deathrays duo have ever put their collective name to. Altogether, now: DUN, DUN-DUN, DUN DUN DUN-DUN, DEWWWW DEWWWW DEWWWW.
23. Sia – Chandelier
Ten years removed from her previous signature song, the inimitable “Breath Me,” Sia Furler has penned herself a new standard; an anthem which will forever define her as one of not only Australia’s greatest singer-songwriter exports, but as a true mastermind behind pop music in the 21st century. Hyperbole? For Christ’s sake, go listen to that chorus again. Seriously. It feels like that Maxell ad campaign where the guy is being blown away by the sound in his chair. Maddie Ziegler may have given the song a second life, but it was all a part of Sia’s grander plan.
22. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt
Don’t call it a comeback. Don’t even call it a reinvention. What we are seeing here is Brian Fallon and co. going out on a proverbial limb, gazing forlornly at what lies beyond. In leaving their comfort zone and exploring the possibilities of slower, more refined songwriting, Gaslight have undertaken a greater journey all with a single step. The title track from their latest record also served as one of their most striking, honest songs ever put to wax. It’s murmurs and whispers from a band defined by their shouts and screams, and it makes for a remarkable listening experience.
21. Tiny Ruins – Me at the Museum, You in the Wintergardens
The single greatest ode to love in 2014 came from the humble, warm abode of Auckland; where you’ll find the quaint, gorgeously understated sounds of one Hollie Fullbrook on the wind. The story is simply told, beautifully painted and pristinely arranged, as we follow the scent of young love through two uniquely different workplaces that somehow not only complement on another, but serve as a reflection on the resolute power that can come through finding love. Its greatest achievement, however, is its ability to accomplish all of this majesty in a decidedly slim 155 seconds. It just comes and goes.
There’s an endless stream of great lyrics that flow through Modern Baseball’s second album, but perhaps its most telling moments come through its asides, its mumbles and awkward fumbles. “Yeah… about that…” comes with awkward pauses on ‘Fine, Great,’ while the line “I could not muster the courage to say a single word” practically falls over itself in ‘Apartment.’ It’s an awkward and uncomfortable record, but in a way it has to be in order to convey the dissatisfaction and blank, distant gazes that come with such sighing honesty among its smart pop-punk and understated alt-rock. Whatever forever.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Two Good Things, Notes, Your Graduation.
With the wizardry of Gerling alum Burke Reid guiding them, Brisbane’s finest party-starters maintained the rage on their all-important second album. It’s worth pointing out that there was far more to the album than what was presented on surface value: While DZ kicked their boots into several slices of snarling garage rock, they also found themselves slowing to a crawl and exploring the possibilities of more than one guitar – let’s try a half-dozen. Why not? Black Rat is the sound of a band expanding their empire, refusing to be either restricted or defined by what’s previously been laid out.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Northern Lights, Reflective Skull, Gina Works at Hearts.
38. Jane Tyrrell – Echoes in the Aviary Spotify || Rdio
A supporting player that has had people begging for a lead, Jane Tyrrell is regarded as one of the finest vocalists to emerge out of Australia’s hip-hop community. Here, she takes those lessons learned and breathes fresh life into them. Assisted by a stellar team of producers and multi-instrumentalists, Tyrrell revels in deep, dark secrets; conveyed with the kind of sorrow that can only come from raw-nerve connections to every last lyric. At once breathily intimate and unreachably distant, Echoes is the sound of an artist taking flight for the very first – and certainly not the last – time.
THREE TOP TRACKS: The Rush, Echoes in the Aviary, Raven.
The bloodline of Mere Women runs through DIY punk, indie rock, basement electronica and warehouse post-punk. It fits in everywhere and nowhere at the exact same time; such is the nature of its genre traversing and integral versatility. Truth be told, there’s very few bands that quite match what it is that Mere Women do, and that’s never been more the case than on Your Town. Each note feels cacophonous, cold to the touch and bristling with anxiety and defeat. It all falls into place, painstakingly detailing what happens when things between people disintegrate into nothing at all. Truly jawdropping.
There is no band in Australian hardcore right now more important than Outright. There is no band in Australian hardcore right now that will sit you down, shut you up and give you the severe reality check that you need the way Outright will. No album in Australian music this year was able to encapsulate such fury and such authoritative defiance like Avalanche did – and in such a short amount of time. How much more evidence do you need in order to see Avalanche as a milestone for its scene and its genre? Do we have everybody’s attention now?
THREE TOP TRACKS: A City Silent, Troubled, With Your Blessing.
What kind of year has it been for Megan Washington? It’s all out in the open now. Everything. She’s publicly confessed to having a stutter, told all about a failed relationship that even had a wedding on the cards… hell, she’s even performing under her full name now. The details are not spared on There There, and its seemingly-cathartic release benefits both her and those that have always perceived her to be an excellent and important songwriter. This is Washington’s single best collection of songs, and those that investigate its innermost secrets are the ones that will be rewarded greatest.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Limitless, Marry Me, My Heart is a Wheel.
It doesn’t matter if it happened when she dropped her debut, when she teamed with David Byrne or even when she stole the show during SNL: You’ve fallen in love with Annie Clark. As St. Vincent, she has been responsible for some of the most arresting, envelope-pushing art-rock this side of the century. Not only was this reaffirmed on her self-titled LP, it showcased some of the finest examples of it. Whether she’s shredding with the flair of an 80s metal star or tiptoeing around delicate arrangements with the grace of a ballerina, the love affair remains in full swing.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Digital Witness, Bring Me Your Loves, Birth in Reverse.
Hollie Fullbrook may be a particularly quiet artist, but there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about her that will stun you into silence. She’ll be recalling a specifically-detailed story from her childhood at one point, falling helplessly in love with a nearby worker at another. What ties it all together is both Fullbrook’s knack for stunning melodies and impeccable, tidy arrangements incorporating warm horns, pinches of strings and her exceptional rhythm section. Brightly Painted One deserves to be seen, heard and known.
THREE TOP TRACKS: She’ll Be Coming ‘Round, Me in the Museum, You in the Wintergardens, Ballad of the Hanging Parcel.
It was always going to be driving a hard bargain in order to make people care about Slipknot again. Six years have passed since their previous record, a tragic loss almost ended the band entirely and perhaps their best-known player exited the fold permanently. It’s either on account of this or in reaction to it, but The Gray Chapter is an album that overcomes every obstacle. It’s an album that makes the impossible possible, pounding its fists through the coffin and rising up to complete unfinished business. It’s the sound of a band who won’t go down without a fight.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Custer, Sarcastrophe, The Devil in I.
On paper, an acoustically-oriented record from one of the most prominent, inventive electric guitarists of the past 30 years would appear to be fruitless, confusing and counter-productive. One pities the fool, of course, who would ever think to doubt or question the motives of one Joseph Donald Mascis, Jr. Whatever style of music he lends his formidable songwriting abilities to, the Dinosaur Jr. mainstay is sure to make it a worthwhile endeavour. Star marks his strongest solo album, delving into Nick Drake-esque introspect and sweetly-soft falsetto. It betrays what you know him best for, making it all the more fascinating.
THREE TOP TRACKS:Every Morning, Me Again, Wide Awake.
In case you missed out on part one, you can check out the previous 20 songs here. If not, then let’s get right back into it…
80. Manchester Orchestra – Top Notch
Four albums in and Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull is still searching. Not just for himself, or some kind of greater truth; but for what can be found and what can be learned in the ways other people. He remains one of the poignant and powerful voices within contemporary indie rock, and this is cemented with the resolute, belligerent opener to April’s Cope. An occasionally-cacophonous affair, Hull remains centred at its core. “I know there’s no way to fix it” isn’t a line delivered with despair – it’s a line delivered with acceptance. The search continues.
79. sleepmakeswaves – Something Like Avalanches
The last twelve months have seen sleepmakeswaves translate their cult status among fans of local music into something far greater than any of them could have anticipated: top 40 chart positions, ARIA and Triple J award nominations and a reputation as our single greatest post-rock export. At the centre of this has been “Something Like Avalanches,” which lead us into their exceptional Love of Cartography while also serving as quite possibly their single finest moment. Its whisper-to-shout progressions, seemingly-endless array of left-hooks and bursts of energy tidily summarise why we’re dealing with one of Australia’s most important bands right now.
78. Run the Jewels feat. Zach de la Rocha – Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)
A hip-hop behemoth, an effortlessly-cool underground king and one of the true rock revolutionaries of the 90s – what could possibly go wrong? On what was one of the year’s most badass numbers, Mike and Jaime bark with authoritative force over malfunctioning, bass-gurgling beats; dropping references to everything from Al Pacino to The Anarchist Cookbook. This all happens before leading in the former Rage Against the Machine frontman on a verse that is potentially his most vital since The Battle of Los Angeles a whole fifteen years ago. Old dogs, new tricks and a certified banger to show for it.
77. Mere Women – Our Street
The idea of impermanence within the confines of a relationship isn’t something that’s often brought up in songwriting – we’re either at blossoming, tender beginnings or the hateful, bitter end. “Our Street” is a song that looks at that moment where you see the end in sight – the hook of “I’ve walked down this street so many times” is one of both familiarity and frustration through boredom. It’s backed by some of the best guitar sound on any record in 2014; as well as a minimal but noticeable shade of accessibility shining through the band’s art-rock exterior. Misery loves company.
76. The Decemberists – Make You Better
Colin Meloy’s days of drowning children, barrow boys and giant whales are behind him. That’s not to suggest that he’s lost any of his imagination in his hyper-literate songwriting, but more that he’s focused back in on reality. On his band’s first single in four years, he guides his acclaimed wordplay through a romance that seeks co-dependence and relit flames while maintaining an honesty about what it all means. It’s unpretentious in its delivery, and yet it still leaves an impact just as strong as any of their more melodramatic numbers. A great mind of modern music has rebooted.
75. The New Pornographers – Champions of Red Wine
Less than a year after dropping an exceptional solo LP, Neko Case was at it again; this time with the Canadian collective she made her name with all those years ago. Years have passed since the last Pornos offering, and yet it immediately falls back into place; albeit with slightly different surroundings. An earth-orbiting synthesizer leads the fray; which weaves in and out of a washed-out acoustic guitar, a sturdy kick-kick-snare backbeat and some truly beautiful vocal interplay between Case and A.C. Newman over a wordless Irish-folk-flavoured refrain. No time for losers – The New Pornographers are still the champions.
74. Modern Baseball – Two Good Things
Detached, disillusioned, dissatisfied, dissociative… this, people, is how youth of today are feeling. Modern Baseball did a better job than most (if not all) of reflecting this on You’re Gonna Miss It All, providing a song that’s both endlessly quotable (“Mathematically, that can’t be more than one end of a candle/Bottom of the night, can’t find my socks”) and meticulously crafted. As one of the more subdued moments of the album, it recalls The Weakerthans in structure, while also alluding to doo-wop (see the “da-da-da” rounds following the first verse) and late-2000s pop-punk. Here they are now – entertain them.
73. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – Divorce and the American South
Last year, Dan Campbell was asking himself “Did I fuck up?” on The Wonder Years’ “Passing Through a Screen Door.” Here, he flat-out confesses “I’m a fuck-up.” Well, sort of: He’s saying it as Aaron West, the titular character of his solo project. West pleads with his estranged wife on an answering machine, revealing more of his inner turmoil than he’d care to do in person. Little else touches Campbell’s solo performance, but they’re justified inclusions – pedal steel adds guiding lights to this sad country song; while a lone trumpet sounds out the finale with a trace of hope.
72. Hilltop Hoods – Cosby Sweater
Without getting into too much detail, it wasn’t a great year for Bill Cosby. His choice of clothing from the 80s, however, was doing just fine. Alluding to a famous photo of Biggie Smalls wearing the titular jumper, the Hoods returned to the limelight with one of their most fun singles yet from a thoroughly-consistent new album (a rarity if said album is your seventh). If the rollicking beat wasn’t enough, the energy and tongue-in-cheek cultural references (Oprah, Pat Benatar, chess legend Bobby Fischer) from MCs Suffa and Pressure ensured that it went over the line. And it’s all good.
71. Taylor Swift – Shake It Off
70. Death From Above 1979 – White is Red
A teenage romance ending in tragedy is as old as the hills – and even they’re sick of hearing “Last Kiss” over and over. It’s an intriguing concept, though, when it comes from a band normally inclined to skip the foreplay – their last album was called You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, for shit’s sake. “White is Red” recalls love turned sour on a late-night runaway drive going anywhere. It’s sprinkled with clear influence of heartland-rock storytelling, yet delivered in a manner best paralleled with the band’s “Black History Month.” A colourful song that also revels in its darkness.
69. Future Islands – Doves
Releasing the doves has always been a grandiose gesture going well over the borderline of the flat-out ridiculous. This kind of theatricality is brought to mind by the title alone of this cut from Future Islands’ fourth studio album, so imagine what happens when it actually kicks in with its arena-sized snare flams and John Oates synth-chimes. It’s yet another example of the band potentially coming off as too out-there, too cheesy, too goofy… and then just nailing it entirely. A pop smash best served with that slithery dance move Samuel T. Herring does that recalls SNL‘s “sloppy swish” sketch.
68. Royal Blood – Little Monster
The backlash for rock’s next big thing arrived just as quickly as the cover stories and Dave Grohl soundbites proclaiming them to be saviours of the genre. Wherever you ended up on the spectrum, it was hard to ignore a track like “Little Monster” – if for no other reason that it was a loud motherfuckin’ song. A hybrid of QOTSA at their most stoner-metal meeting Muse at their ballsiest, the track simultaneously kicks up dust and kicks out the jams. “You say you got nothing/So come out and get some,” offers bassist/vocalist Mike Kerr. Don’t mind if we do.
67. Slipknot – Custer
Dun-dun-da, dun-dun-da, dun-dun-da-da-da. It might look like a slap-dash use of onomatopoeia, but it served as a dog whistle to metal fans returning to the world of Iowa’s premier nu-metal survivors. Genre politics aside, the fact that the band is still standing at all after all they have been through is a miracle unto itself. To deliver a song like this, however – an all-guns-blazing sensory assault that makes a song like “People = Shit” sound like Jack Johnson – surely cements them as a band that have paid their dues in full and one that deserves far more credit.
66. Collarbones – Turning
It’s always important to note the creativity in each single from Collarbones: What can initially seem like something that’s going to collapse into itself steadily and surely turns itself into a pop-and-locking wonderland. It’s as if they’ve rearranged puzzle pieces where they were clearly not originally intended to go and created a different picture entirely. In this instance, it’s a choppy, jolting slice of electro-pop that’s as much rnb come-ons as it is Macbook-hunched techno. “You make me feel like someone new,” sings out Marcus Whale – and it’s enough to get you excited for who they may be next.
65. Jenny Lewis – Just One of the Guys
We’re past the casual sex and the pained relationships of Jenny Lewis’ days in Rilo Kiley. As she approaches 40, she finds herself considering her own position in relation to her friends, her public perception and the supposed ticking clock following her around. Of course, we all know that Lewis is far more than “just another lady without a baby,” as she puts it; but it’s hearing her come to that conclusion on her own accord that makes this dreamy pop number all the more worthwhile. Now, about that tour with Kristen Stewart and Anne Hathaway as her backing band…
64. Weezer – Back to the Shack
The first words out of Rivers Cuomo’s mouth on Weezer’s first single in four years are “Sorry, guys.” No shit. Who’d have thought the man responsible for Make Believe and Raditude would be rushing to make amends with the die-hards? Perhaps it was their extensive touring of The Blue Album that made him reconsider what makes a great Weezer song, but the mojo is very much swinging in this two-chord rocker. “Maybe I should play the lead guitar,” he considers, “and Pat should play the drums.” They do just that, and we’re rocking out like it’s ’94 all over again.
63. Oslow – Cliffy
Cliff Young – aka Cliffy – was an Australian power-walker who won a marathon with a simple but clearly-effective shuffling method. Whether this was an influence on the third single from Oslow’s exceptional second EP is anyone’s guess, but a) It’s fun to speculate; and b) It’s reflected in the band’s focus on the groove and the spaces that go between each note as opposed to filling every gap. Oslow are clearly winning the race when it comes to the field of forward-thinking indie-rock emerging from Australia, so you’d best catch up – at your own pace, of course.
62. TV on the Radio – Careful You
One of the more understated romantics in alternative music singing in French? That’s how you do it. TV on the Radio have rarely shied away from romance in the past, ranging from the yearning (“Will Do”) to the R-rated (“Wear You Out”). It’s a little more subdued here, with Tunde Adebimpe sending his heart-on-sleeve lyricism into the ether with cooing keys, buzzing bass and some truly old-school drum machine loops. This is how TV on the Radio enters their forties – not with a whimper, nor with a bang, but with a kiss. Stop the world and melt with them.
61. La Dispute – For Mayor in Splitsville
Each room in the house that was conceptually centred around the band’s third album – titled, er, Rooms of the House – allowed vocalist Jordan Dreyer to explore memories, lost lives and a seemingly-forgotten past that’s slowly pieced together. At this point, he’s come across a particularly-ruined space, triggering memories of his childhood, as well as both the proverbial and literal tonne of bricks that came crashing down in the demise of his adult life. It’s clear that when he screams “I guess, in the end, we just move furniture around,” he’s not just talking a couch and a chair.