The Top 100 Songs of 2018, Part Five: 20 – 1

Welcome to the show! The votes have been tallied (they were all mine), the jury (me) has decided, and the people (maybe like three of you) are hotly anticipating what’s to come. So, here we are. The top 20 songs of 2018. Of course, don’t forget one, two, three and four before you go through the boss level.

See you next time – same DJY time, same DJY channel.

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20. Luca Brasi – Let it Slip

Luca Brasi emerged out of the east coast of Tasmania nearly a decade ago with a mantra that has long been ascribed on countless bodies: “Empty bottles, full hearts and no regrets.” How curious, then, that the lead single from the band’s fourth album speaks openly of vocalist Tyler Richardson’s regrets: “I could have burned a little brighter,” he sings. “I could have shone a little more.” “Slip” is a song about craving human connection and knowing you have to hit rock bottom in order to get back to the top. It’s as human and full-hearted as Brasi’s ever been.

19. Denise Le Menice – Heart

There’s a moment towards the end of the music video for “Heart” in which Denise (AKA Ali Flintoff) grabs a fistful of a heart-shaped cake and digs in. In a way, that’s what listening to “Heart” feels like – it’s such a sugar-rush, you just know listening to it can’t be good for your teeth. It’s a song centred on head-voice girl-talk, shimmering guitar layers and glassy, heaven’s-gate keyboards. It’s soft in the centre and melts in your mouth – one of the finest indulgences of the calendar year as far as Australian music is concerned. Let them eat cake.

18. Basement – Disconnect

Andrew Fisher has gone on record saying “Disconnect” was the lynchpin as far as writing Basment’s fourth album, Beside Myself, went. This was the song, he believed, that made the band unshakably confident in the direction they were taking. Listening intently, it’s easy to see where they got that confidence from – it bursts right out of the gates and makes its presence felt, brimming with vivacity and conviction in its delivery. Truth be told, it could be the single best… well, single, that Basement have ever made. Bonus points for that “prodigal son/what have you done” rhyme, too. Genius.

17. Laura Jean – Girls on the TV

A song like “Girls on the TV” does so much speaking for itself that writing about it almost feels like a disservice. It needs to be heard to be properly experienced. How does one describe the feeling you get as the devastating, confessional storytelling of Laura Jean cuts through the disco-lite backbeat and the layers of Casio on top? Is there a word that sums up the way one’s brain reacts as you attempt to decipher which parts are true and which parts are artistic license? Whatever happened to Ricki? Maybe she’s still out there. Her soul is still dancing.

16. WAAX – Labrador

WAAX play a lot of festivals where, if you swiped right on @lineupswithoutmales, they would be the headlining band. When vocalist Maz DeVita sings “You’re a girl/And a girl isn’t welcome in here,” you can cut the sardonic tension with a knife. Rough translation: “You think I don’t know the shit you people say?” Moments later, she’s barking and biting back in the form of their most mosh-ready chorus – one that cleaned up at every last festival they played in 2018. If WAAX can’t earn your respect, they’re going to pull it out of you with their bare teeth.

15. Courtney Barnett – Nameless, Faceless

This song shouldn’t have been so fucking relevant in 2018. A Margaret Atwood quote shouldn’t hit home so bluntly 36 years after it was first published. We shouldn’t be living in such a climate of abuse, trolling, bullying, harassment and even murder that overwhelmingly targets women. As great and as vital and as important as this song is, it wouldn’t exist in the first place if we were all just a little fucking kinder to one another. Enough said, really.

14. Troye Sivan – My My My!

In the dead territory of early January, it felt like waiting for new seasons of your favourite shows to kick off. That’s when “My My My!” arrived, and in turn made an impact as the first big pop event of 2018. The thing sounds like a complete blockbuster – it’s like a clubbier queer millennial rework of “All Night Long,” and that’s entirely a compliment. Sivan, once the doe-eyed and innocent YouTuber, is all manhood here – take that however you please, gents. It’s confident, it’s sexy, it’s fun and it’s cool – what a way to shake the cobwebs.

13. Pianos Become the Teeth – Love on Repeat

On the last Pianos Become the Teeth record, 2014’s Keep You, vocalist Kyle Durfey was still immersed in negative space and cutting emotionally-raw monuments out of the darkness. On Wait for Love, Durfey is blinded by the light: “What in you gets me so carried away?” he asks of his betrothed, sung so slowly and with such calculation it’s as if he’s figuring out what these words mean again. “Love on Repeat” is an upward spiral from a band that’s carved a career on the downbeat, and its resplendent post-hardcore beauty simply cannot be contained. Live, love, repeat. That simple.

12. The 1975 – TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME

Matt Healy, like most modern pop/rock frontmen, is a 21st century digital boy. One of his toys is the internet, and it’s compelled him to the point of literally naming an album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. Funnily, on what ends up being the band’s most computerised single to date – electronic drums, AutoTune, walls of keyboards – Healy and co. manage to hook themselves onto a key part of the human condition in the modern age. It certainly helps that they give it a dancehall swing and a mirrorball glow, too. The 1975 never sounded more 2018.

11. Ariana Grande – No Tears Left to Cry

What kind of year has it been for Ari? One she’ll never forget, that’s for certain. One of triumph, of tragedy, of hope, of despair and of absolute resilience. It all began with “No Tears” – which, as beginnings go, is a pretty incredible place to start. Although ultimately lost in the shuffle due to the success of “thank u, next,” this endearing pop twirl served as one of the more bold and defiant moments on radio for the entire year. “Can’t stop now,” she insists in multi-tracked syncopation. None would dare stand in her path. No woman, no cry.

10. Anderson .Paak – Bubblin

At first, it was a shock to look through the announced tracklist of Oxnard, Anderson .Paak’s game-six victory lap from the tail-end of 2018. Where the fuck was “Bubblin”? It had come charging out of the gates months prior, all alpha-male bravado and rap-god swagger. It was the hardest .Paak had ever gone on record – not a smooth rnb hook to be seen nor heard. Surely if you’re putting out an album that same year, you’d want the best song you’ve ever made on your own to be among its ranks?

As it turned out, Oxnard was a whole different vibe entirely – such is the nature of .Paak’s creativity. Had “Bubblin” been wedged onto the record, it would not have played well with the others. It’s a song with a life of its own, and no traditional format could have housed it. From its car-chase open to the tense, grandiose swell of its string samples, “Bubblin” made its intentions clear. It came to chew bubblegum and kick arse – and anyone who heard it knew exactly how much bubblegum .Paak had left.

9. Drake – Nice for What

“I WAN’ KNOW WHO MOTHERFUCKIN’ REPRESENTIN’ IN HERE TONIGHT!” Like last year’s chart-topping “Passionfruit,” the first voice we hear on “Nice for What” isn’t Drake’s, but someone else. In this instance, it’s Big Freedia – the self-proclaimed “queen of bounce,” who has dominated the club scene with her towering figure and undeniable stage presence for over a decade now. When she speaks, you listen – and when she wants to know who is motherfuckin’ representin‘ in here tonight, you just know she’s going to find out.

So, a quick roll call. Lauryn Hill is representin’ in here tonight – that’s her hook from “Ex-Factor” on a near-chipmunk speed that’s sampled and looped throughout. In the year that her legendary debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill turned 20, the sample felt like a timely reminder of the record’s legacy and its surviving emotional core. Murda Beatz and Blaqnmild are representin’ in here tonight – they’re responsible for this bassy, chopped-soul beat that was designed with bitchin’ systems in mind. When the samples go into overdrive in the song’s second half, it feels like fire is coming off it.

Of course, lest we forget Drake himself is representin’ in here tonight. It’s one of his strongest flows on all of Scorpion‘s exhaustive runtime, mixing his sharp raps with his knack for interwoven melody to deliver something quintessentially his. It’s his vision that brings “Nice for What” together, and in turn makes it a career-best moment. If you don’t know, now you know.

8. Troye Sivan – Bloom

There was a time when many male popstars were “confirmed bachelors” or that were described as “tight-lipped about their sexuality.” Troye Sivan is part of a generation where that hasn’t really come into play – it’s something that has been part and parcel of his image ever since he became famous. Rather than hurt his career, it’s rocketed him – the so-called “pink dollar” has turned him into a millionaire all before hitting 25. This is where the title track to Sivan’s big-business second album comes into play – a song that isn’t hiding itself away in the corner shamefully or remaining tight-lipped about a damn thing.

“I’ve been saving this for you, baby,” offers Sivan in a careless whisper over the thud of toms and wafting synth that is so airy it could float away at any moment. Soon, the floor gives way to the chug of electric bass and a gated snare that could take off Phil Collins’ head if it swung any harder. Sure, Sivan has even less right to be nostalgic for the 80s as he does the 90s, but he feels right at home in this musical environment – it feels like an homage to Bronski Beat, queer icons of yesteryear that paved the way for Sivan to be the young man he is today. “Bloom” is all the radiance of a rainbow without ever having to put up with a drop of rain. It’s here, it’s queer, get used to it.

7. Ashley McBryde – Radioland

On its largest and most obvious scale, “Radioland” is a song about Nashville. It’s about the dreamers that come there to make it big, stepping off a bus with their guitar case in hand and looking up at the skyline that Dylan so mythologised some 50 years ago now. On its smallest and most intimate scale, however, “Radioland” is a song about Ashley McBryde. She’s one of American country’s newest emerging stars, scoring big support slots for genre heavyweights like Eric Church and fulfilling dreams like playing the Grand Ole Opry since the release of her major-label debut Girl Going Nowhere. Before all of that, though, she was just “five years old with a hairbrush microphone.” All the key moments of her life were linked back to discovering her musical heroes and her favourite songs from the magic of radio – which, in turn, made her want to be a musician herself.

McBryde’s story in “Radioland” is direct and specific in its references, from the radio host (the late Casey Kasem) to the car in question (a Chevrolet). At the same time, though, it’s such a human feeling that was felt by so many of a certain age that it’s easy to insert yourself into the picture. There’s also a particular electricity and urgency to McBryde’s delivery that gives this song a bit more oomph than your average country radio playlist-filler – hell, give this a couple of tweaks and it could be a lost Gaslight Anthem single, and that’s entirely a compliment. “There ain’t a dream you can’t dial in,” McBryde promises in the song’s indelible chorus. If there’s one thing “Radioland” is about more than anything, it’s not letting your dreams just be dreams. There’s a whole world out there for the taking – and that’s not bad for a girl goin’ nowhere.

6. Kacey Musgraves – High Horse

Just as the women of country have never been afraid of getting their hands dirty, they’ve also never been afraid to dress to the nines and lower the mirrorball. “High Horse” is the centre of the country-pop Venn diagram, taking ample amounts from both without upsetting a balance. Most artists that have fallen into this category usually end up just ditching their country elements entirely and transmogrifying into pop giants – here’s looking at you, Tay-Tay and Florida Georgia Line. Kacey, on the other hand, has never forgotten her roots – the album “High Horse” comes from is titled Golden Hour, which alludes to the time of day that the sun sets but to her tiny Texan birthplace (population 200). As far as her music has progressed and as much as she’s branched out creatively, you won’t see her records shifting from the Country section of the record store anytime soon.

Think of “High Horse” as a tribute to the more ambitious efforts in the history of country music. The so-called “countrypolitan” sound, which matched southern drawls with orchestral fanfare. The crossover of Dolly Parton and Shania Twain to pop radio. The tried-and-true kiss-off song, all sass and finger-snap confidence that can cut someone down to size faster than you can play a C major. Musgraves takes all of this into battle as “High Horse” locks into its groove and comes out swinging, and she arrives on the other end of it without even so much as a smudge of her make-up. Critics from either side of the fence could hop off their titular steed and find themselves some common ground on “High Horse”’s dancefloor. There’s room for everyone. Y’all come back now, y’hear?

5. Flowermouth – Gown

“Hold on/We can make it.” Now if that wasn’t something you needed to hear in 2018, then you could well have been in the wrong year entirely. This standalone single from Perth’s Flowermouth was a light in the darkness for most of 2018. Its bright, jangly chords burst from the speakers, the hi-hats splashing like the first dive into the pool for the summer to come. That’s not to suggest that “Gown” is at all footloose and fancy-free, though – there’s an underlying tension that never quite resolves, which makes it all the more engaging to listen to. The 2:34 runtime gives it instant replay value, too – you’ll want to make the most of your time listening to what “Gown” has to offer, and no doubt want to frequently return to it.

Its short-burst nature recalls Teenage Fanclub; its major/minor contrasts and focused melodies recall Jimmy Eat World. Even with these clear comparison points, however, it’s evident that Flowermouth are on their own path – and if you’ve shown any interest in the emo revival either here or abroad, you’ll be wise to follow them down.

4. Mitski – Nobody

It’s Mitski’s party, and she’ll cry if she wants to. As it turns out, she really, really wants to – her music has a reputation that precedes it for being highly emotional, deeply pensive and painstakingly introspective. No-one lays it on the line quite like your best American girl does, and never was that more apparent than on album number five, Be the Cowboy. Specifically, we have to focus in on the album’s second single, “Nobody,” which more or less served as a memetic red flag were it played on repeat (as pointed out by the great Allison Gallagher). People may have made plenty of jokes and viral niche tweets about “Nobody,” but if we could be serious for a minute: This song fucking spoke to people, man.

Essentially a 21st century “Lovefool” without the happy resolve, “Nobody” simultaneously sighs and exalts through its bouts of romantic desperation and subtle sociopolitical commentary. The guitar chirps and the hi-hats swat down a Saturday Night Fever groove, but spiralling away in the centre of it all is Mitski herself. In any other vocalist’s hands, the pain and crushing loneliness of “Nobody” would be pure melodrama and maybe even camp. Not so with her, though – no-one is more believable when they sing lines like “I just want to feel alright” and “Still nobody wants me.” That’s not even touching the titular word, which is sung so much that it could have easily lost its sense of meaning. Again, not a chance of that happening with Mitski at the wheel – if anything, every repetition sticks the knife in a little bit more. By the time you’re up to the nightmarish second key-change in the song’s dizzying conclusion, you feel as though you’ve gone through that terrifying tunnel in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The only difference? “Nobody” isn’t a world of pure imagination. It’s as real as it gets.

3. 5 Seconds of Summer – Youngblood

Around the time of their second album, 5 Seconds of Summer had a cover story in Rolling Stone – every band’s dream, naturally. It was spread around on account of it featuring an admittedly-bizarre, hilarious story involving a botched attempt at co-writing with Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger – Google it if you’re so inclined. If you want to get a real idea of where 5SOS’ minds were at, however, skip to the end. In a moment of kids being kids, they decided to pull a prank on their management by hopping out the window of their dressing room and pretending they’d done a runner. “We could have ran,” said guitarist Michael Clifford. “We could have ran far away.”

There was almost certainly more to that than meets the eye. Think about it – these were children that were swept up in international stardom and immediately put on a pedestal to become the world’s next boy band sensation. It’s a far cry from matinees at the Annandale Hotel, that’s for absolutely certain. By the time they were done with their sophomore slump – the antithetically-titled Sounds Good, Feels Good – that desire to run could have only felt more present than ever before.

“Youngblood” is the sound of 5 Seconds of Summer hitting the ground running. It’s the sound of boys becoming men, and men becoming certified global popstars. The tussled-hair mall-punks they once were had to die in order for this song to live – and it’s undeniably a song that lives its life to the absolute fullest.

The song is propelled along by a rock shuffle – a simple structural move that allows the song to swing a little while still maintaining a standard 4/4 time signature. A music teacher might explain it thus: Instead of your usual one, two, three, four, it’s this: one-and-a two-and-a three-and-a four-and-a. Examples range from Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” all the way to Battles’ “Atlas.” Even something as simple as this is one of the largest deviations from the norm that 5SOS have ever committed to record – and we haven’t even gotten into what the expatriate Sydneysiders are doing sonically.

A love-lorn minor-key call from the darkness, the song dips its guitars in reverb and sheen as it simultaneously gives the bass a steely, bold presence. Thundering tom rolls from Ashton Irwin add a human touch in-between extended drum programming, while vocalist Luke Hemmings gives the performance of his career up-front. He’s all of 22 years old and sounds like he’s at the tail-end of a bitter divorce after a decade-long relationship – how on earth he was able to muster that sort of weariness and exhaustion on this vocal take, God only knows. The most important part is that you believe him – and, by extension, you believe “Youngblood.” You believe in 5 Seconds of Summer.

“We could have ran. We could have ran far away.”

“Youngblood” runs for its life.

2. IDLES – Colossus

You can hear “Colossus” coming from a mile away. Of course you can – it’s called “Colossus,” for fuck’s sake. It snarls, it prowls, it stomps, it creeps, it seethes, it slithers, it lurks. It goes – and it goes and it goes. It was probably the most menacing song released in 2018 – and, after the year that we all had, you probably couldn’t have asked for a more fitting soundtrack.

Primitive in nature and brutish in execution, “Colossus” builds a droning soundscape through its churning drop-C guitars and the swelling, scattered drums. Every cycle feels as though it’s pounding into your skull just a little bit harder each time, as frontman Joe Talbot drives home intense lyrical imagery over a mournful blues scale vocal melody. Perhaps no other frontman in rock right now could couple such a unique line as “I’ve drained my body full of pins” with an even more unique line in “I’ve danced til dawn with splintered shins.” There’s so much to take in when you hear it the first time, it’s still marinating when it’s repeated in the second verse. As a whole, IDLES’ Joy as an Act of Resistance was one of the year’s most quotable LPs – and you needn’t look further than its opening number as evidence.

The song’s double-time finale is less the firing of Chekov’s gun and more a bloody massacre. It’s meant to be screamed along to rather than sung, and moshed to rather than danced to. It’s pure catharsis, taking one of the year’s most steady, tense builds and promptly throwing it out the window into oncoming traffic. If you’re not left breathless and dizzy after the full 5:34 of “Colossus” has passed, you’re doing the damn thing wrong. Go again until it goes – and it goes and it goes.

1. Childish Gambino – This is America

Childish Gamino is dead. Long live Childish Gambino.

Donald Glover began rapping under the name – taken from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator – a decade and change ago, cockily spitting high-pitched raps over the likes of Adele, Grizzly Bear and Sleigh Bells. Over time, it morphed into something nigh-on unrecognisable from its beginnings, incorporating elements of dance music, soul, funk and rnb along the way. With the release of the groovy “Awaken, My Love!” in late 2016, pared with the announcement that Glover would soon be retiring the jersey, few expected Glover’s next move to have anything to do with the intense hip-hop with which he made his name.

When we first pressed play on the video for “This is America,” we were lead in with an African-style chant, shaking percussion, finger-picked acoustic guitar and Glover’s sweet, harmonious opening line: “We just wanna party/Party just for you.” If ever a listener has been lulled into a false sense of security, it was in this moment. So, this is how Childish Gambino ends – not with a bang, but with a whimper. As it turned out, we literally could not have been more wrong – it was around this time the first gunshot went off, and “This is America” truly began.

Childish Gambino is dead. Long live Childish Gambino.

“This is America” is the sound of an artist with nothing to lose. What are these motherfuckers gonna do – end his music career? Dude’s in the fucking Lion King remake. No boycott from some sweaty Fox News troglodyte is going to derail this singular moment in Glover’s extensive body of work. “This is America” is an unstoppable force and an immovable object, all in one. It rattles PA speakers the same way it rattles proverbial birdcages. It simultaneously rages against his native country’s obsession with guns and has no issue with dropping some sucker dead on the spot. It’s dissonant and subversive; celebratory and defamatory; a blaxploitation film and a dystopian horror. Glover has never released a song even remotely similar before, and it’s looking more and more likely that he never will again.

Childish Gambino is dead. Childish Gambino is fucking dead. Long live Childish Gambino. If he’s going down, every last one of us is going down with him.

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Thanks so much for reading, hope you enjoyed the list.

Before I post the playlist, some quick stats.

47% of the list is by or features Australian artists
43% of the list is by or features at least one non-male artist
37% of the list is by or features at least one non-white artist

The multiple entries were as follows:
Four entries: The 1975 (92, 49, 22, 12)
Three entries: Courtney Barnett (68, 36, 15), Troye Sivan (61, 14, 8), Drake (58, 37, 9)
Two entries: Baker Boy (100, 67), Denise Le Menice (96, 19), Kanye West (95, 48), BROCKHAMPTON (88, 76), Chance the Rapper (82, 41), Moaning Lisa (80, 43), Joyce Manor (79, 60), Dua Lipa (77, 30), Basement (73, 18), Luca Brasi (55, 20), Aunty Donna (52, 47), IDLES (44, 2), Post Malone (39, 29), Mitski (35, 4), Charlie Puth (32, 23), 5 Seconds of Summer (31, 3)

And now, enjoy the DJY100 in its entirety!

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The Top 100 Songs of 2018, Part Two: 80 – 61

Hey, reader! Make sure you’re all caught up with the first 20 songs by clicking here. They’re good, I promise – and, wouldn’t you know it, these ones are even better!

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80. Moaning Lisa – Lily

Moaning Lisa’s second EP, Do You Know Enough?, is the audio equivalent of four seasons in one day. When “Lily” rolls around, the storm is settling in and things are taking a turn for the worse. A considerable stylistic departure for the Canberra natives, “Lily” is a slow-motion lucid dream in which a private universe crumbles and drifts into the abyss. Anchored by picked-out bass and beds of guitar feedback, the song subtly sweeps and builds to what may be the single most devastating lyric of the year: “Now I have nothing left for you to take.” Welcome to heartbreak.

79. Joyce Manor – Think I’m Still in Love with You

When Joyce Manor dropped Cody back in 2016, the cool kids gave them a bunch of shit for it. Pitchfork said it sounded like Everclear – like that was a bad thing! Still, it must have gotten to them in one way or another – their fifth album, Million Dollars to Kill Me, is even poppier than last time. Hell, this track from it in particular sounds like a lost Cheap Trick single, all tight harmonies and chugging major chords. Forget leaning in – Joyce Manor have gone completely head over heels here. Fitting when you think about it, really.

78. Fiddlehead – Lay Low

A lot of hardcore kids never got over Have Heart breaking up, and fair enough too. Consider this, though: Have Heart died to so that Fiddlehead could live. There is an urgency and vitality to what this supergroup of sorts are doing, packing short and punchy songs full of throat-tearing hooks and emotive lyrical pleas straight from the heart. Of all the tracks that compose their debut LP, “Lay Low” is the pick of the litter. It comes out swinging from its opening chords and refuses to relent until you’ve felt everything there is to feel. The sun has risen.

77. Silk City feat. Dua Lipa – Electricity

There are two mayors in Silk City – super-producers Diplo and Mark Ronson. As it turns out, this town is big enough for the two of them – and just as well, considering they’ve also invited a friend in rule-setting pop sensation Dua Lipa. Her high-energy joy matches up perfectly with Ronson’s retro piano stabs and Diplo’s insistent handclaps, leading to a chorus that would be envied by anyone from HAIM to Miley and back again. This is house music on such a mammoth scale that it’s bound to wake up the neighbours. And if they don’t like it? IDGAF.

76. BROCKHAMPTON – SAN MARCOS

If you’re angling BROCKHAMPTON as a boy-band, then “SAN MARCOS” is the ballad performed on the B-stage in the arena, sitting on stools. That’s figuratively what they did when they performed this centrepiece of their fourth album for Like a Version on their eventful Australian tour – which, coincidentally, is also where the music video was filmed. It’s one of the group’s most heartfelt, introspective songs to date, showcasing both a maturity and a vulnerability within their creative spectrum. There may not be a more resonant refrain from the year passed than “I want more out of life than this.”

75. Cloud Nothings – Leave Him Now

“Leave Him Now” is a song about a troubled straight relationship in which the female party is advised to remove herself from it. The twist is: That’s it. Dylan Baldi is not putting himself forward as the substitute. This isn’t a “drop the zero and get with the hero” scenario. This is about a genuine concern for a woman’s wellbeing and stability. It takes a trope of songwriting across multiple genres and decades and subsequently turns it on its head. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also one of the catchiest songs Baldi and co. have ever written. How about that.

74. The Hard Aches – Mess

Here’s what you need to know: “Mess” is the first song on the album Mess. The word “mess” is the fourth word you hear on the entire album, and it’s repeated over a dozen times throughout. It’s a unifying theme for an album that’s ostensibly about everything falling apart. Lest we forget, this is not a new place for them – existentially, at least. They’ve been here before and they’ll be here again. So, they sing over big chords and swinging drums: “We’re not burning out.” It’s defiant. It’s purposeful. It’s resolute. Truth be told, they’ve never been more believable.

73. Basement – Stigmata

Basement have found themselves associated with a few different movements and scenes, such is the versatile nature of their music. They’re flagged for emo-revivalists while simultaneously being added to pop-punk playlists. What a song like “Stigmata” showcases, however, is what they’re capable of at their crux: An alternative rock band. A damn fine one, too. A callback to when it was a good thing to be. A time of Jerry Cantrell harmonies, Pixies dynamics and snares that hit like they’re being played next to your eardrum. The genre is unquestionably in good hands – even with gaping holes in them.


72. Confidence Man – Don’t You Know I’m in a Band

How did a semi-anonymous disco band fronted by a classic pervert and a Lolita become one of Australia’s biggest live acts? It’s all in the name: Confidence Man put themselves forward and danced like there was no-one watching, and kept doing so even as those watching amassed into thousands. NPR’s Bob Boilen once described them as “perfectly goofy,” and there’s truth to that – but it’s not the whole story. A song like “Band” is an acute takedown of the rockstar lifestyle, while also serving up a better chorus than any wannabe could dream of. They have confidence in them.

71. East Brunswick All Girls Choir – Essendon 1986

It’s funny that East Brunswick’s debut album was called Seven Drummers – when “Essendon 1986” kicks off in earnest, that’s exactly what it sounds like. Jen Sholakis is the central focus of this spiralling, seething number, her toms rumbling the earth beneath her as her bandmates carve into their respective stringed instruments. The band has never sounded this dark, this aggressive or this forthright – and it’s this immediate shift that ends up paying off to create their finest singular moment to date. A fading, sepia portrayal of restless outward Australia that, truthfully, couldn’t have come from any other band.

70. David Byrne – Everybody’s Coming to My House

The erstwhile Talking Heads frontman was behind one of the year’s most critically-acclaimed and beloved live tours, bringing a barefoot ensemble of untethered musicians onto stages across the world with a celebratory, career-spanning setlist. The tour took place on the back of what surprisingly ended up being one of the year’s more overlooked LPs in American Utopia, Byrne’s first proper solo endeavour in years. “House” was its lead single, and is filled with a classic sense of Byrnian paranoia and unease while simultaneously peppering in a sizzling horn section and head-voice, Sampha-assisted melodies. Long may the grand Byrne spectacle continue.

69. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake

“Is anybody sleepy?” a voice sarcastically quips before the gang vocals of “Wide Awake”’s second verse boldly answer back with the titular phrase. This sardonic easter egg is a reflection on Parquet Courts as a whole – they do what they do primarily with a knowing wink, playing up their surrounds while also maintaining a deadpan. “Wide Awake” is one of their most uncharacteristic songs to date – a percussive funk procession with double-dutch chants and a literal layer of bells & whistles. They even scored “fluke indie hit” bingo by playing the damn thing on Ellen – go figure.

68. Courtney Barnett – Charity

Courtney Barnett can turn on a dime – or a 20-cent piece, depending on what part of the world she’s touring in at the time. Take the huge chorus of Tell Me How You Really Feel‘s rocking final single as a prime example: Figuratively seconds after singing the phrase “Everything’s amazing” in three-part harmony, she delivers one of the year’s most brutal lines in “So subservient/I make myself sick.” It’s so subtle that you don’t even notice the first listen, but by the time you do you’re looking at a far bigger picture. Here, Barnett is seeking a deeper connection.

67. Baker Boy – Mr. La Di Da Di

Three years prior to “Mr. La Di Da Di,” a certain voice heard in a certain song asked the age-old question: Now, if I give you the funk, you gon’ take it? Not only did Baker Boy take it, he let it possess his entire being. No, “La Di Da Di” wouldn’t exist without “King Kunta” – but that wouldn’t exist without George Clinton, which wouldn’t exist without James Brown, and so on and so forth. Radiating pure positivity, Baker Boy is the latest in a long line of exceptional artists that are black and proud. Say it loud, y’all.

66. Ball Park Music – Hands Off My Body

It doesn’t get much more wholesome, family-friendly and generally PG than Brisbane’s Ball Park Music. Not to say they’re bland or uninspired, mind you – just good clean fun. What happens, then, when they promptly go off the rails? Vocalist Sam Cromack is a man possessed on this single from the band’s fifth album, propelled by an atonal keyboard blip and a persistent breakbeat as he goes around chopping body parts off. It’s easily the band’s most gruesome and dissonant song to date – and yet, in classic Ball Park fashion, it’s a certified festival killer. Everybody do the chop-chop!

65. Wafia – I’m Good

For a few years, break-up songs well and truly got Adele’d. They were all saccharine, mopey and downright depressing – a cheap imitation of “Someone Like You” done by, well, someone like her. With “I’m Good,” we’re making an earnest return to the celebratory end of a shitty relationship – it basically sounds like the audio equivalent of walking away from an explosion without looking at it. The song drips with effortless cool – its wafting synth bass and four-on-the-floor strut give it a “Stayin’ Alive” swagger, while Wafia herself breathily kisses off her shitty ex. “I’m Good”? Damn right.

64. Vacations – Steady

True to their name, Vacations sound like they’re playing live and direct from where you want to be – which is pretty funny when you find out they’re from Newcastle. All joking aside, the quartet are locked square into the tone-zone – summery guitar reverb, warm bass, roomy drums and some lush harmonies to boot. “Steady” might be the song where they most singularly nail it across the board – a bashful, honest love song filled with hazy chord inversions and an instantly-memorable refrain. Indie didn’t get a whole lot more charming in 2018 than Vacations – Australian or otherwise.

63. E^ST – I Don’t Lack Imagination

Melisa Bester isn’t the kind to mince words. Hell, she named her EP Life Ain’t Always Roses, which is about as blunt and unapologetic a phrase as you can get. “Imagination” from said EP is surrounded by – ahem – flowery production and slinky rnb melodies. The lyrics, dissecting an impervious relationship dichotomy, still manage to cut through across a slim three-minute runtime. That – and, by extension, the song itself – deserves considerable credit. Pop fans were once told to go west – either by kings or boys. Now, the future is female – and the future is E^ST.

62. The Presets – Downtown Shutdown

Among the issues Australia has faced since The Presets last put out an album are human rights crises facing asylum seekers and the swift closure of pubs and venues across Sydney. On “Downtown,” Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes decided to kill two birds with one stone (sorry, PETA) by addressing both head-on in a parade of slap-bass, pogo-bounce grooves and skittish electronics. The titular phrase is an obvious allusion to the restricted nightlife of Sydney, but the refrain is chanted by St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Choir – which is primarily made up of African immigrants. Consider the man stuck to.

61. Charli XCX feat. Troye Sivan – 1999

“Does anyone remember how we did it back then?” asks Charli XCX halfway through “1999,” seemingly to no-one in particular. Hey, Charli, do you? Lest we forget our heroine was all but seven years old in the titular year – and her sidekick for this song turned four. It’s a gripe, sure, but it’s a small con up against a long, long list of pros. Among those are Oscar Holter’s throwback beat, the hammered-home chorus and what ended up being one of the year’s best music videos. They mightn’t actually remember 1999, but they’ve made sure we’ll never forget “1999.”

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That’s it for now! You can stream all 40 songs so far via the Spotify playlist below:

2012: A Year in the Front Row. Part Three: July/August/September

Jan // Feb // Mar
Apr // May // Jun

JULY

With the first half of the year behind me, the remaining six months had a lot to live up to. For what it’s worth, I’d like to think it did; even though nothing quite compared to Janelle. We began proceedings with a two-night stand at Yours and Owls. The two nights couldn’t have had a greater contrast. On the first night, it was a tiny mixed bill of heavy acts, featuring a crowd of just around 30 people – Hira Hira, Rev Jesse, Machina Genova (still one of the loudest bands I’ve seen this year) and Brisbane stalwarts Idylls. The next night, I had to arrive at Owls over an hour before hand just in order to secure my place. The headlining set from U.K. alt-rock lads Basement was still, to date, the most packed I have ever seen Owls. The show was memorable for this alone, but all of the acts of the night – also featuring Harbourer, Cold Youth and Endless Heights – put on solid, enjoyable sets. I’ll admit I wasn’t the biggest Basement fan – I was more going to the show for the experience, as well as to support the venue. That said, they really put a respectable effort into their set, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Later that week, I had an incredible four day run that started off with light-hearted whimsy and ended with a punishing crush. It begins with an act I had waited for eight years to see live – and, not to sound like a hipster, but before they even had their own TV series. That’s right: New Zealand’s fourth most-popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk comedy folk duo, Flight of the Conchords! They packed the Sydney Entertainment Centre out within an inch of its life, and even though it was a massive show they still managed to make it feel intimate and warm. Not to mention hilarious. Holy shit, it was hilarious. Even when you knew the punchline was coming, it was still a total gut-buster. What a wonderful thing to tick off the list.

The first weekend of the month began with a mostly-forgettable matinee show, starring Heroes for Hire and their slightly-dwindling base of tween psychopaths. I was only really in attendance to check out The Sweet Apes, who mightily impressed; and the boys from Luca Brasi. As great as they were, their set was spoilt by a group of girls who sat in the front row with their backs turned to the band, chatting away and playing with their phones. I actually had to go and apologise to the Luca boys for their horrendous actions. This would later turn into a 180-comment-long thread on Heroes’ Facebook page some months later. So I guess some good came of it. Sort of.

Moving on to the main course of the weekend: Hardcore 2012! Featuring a slab of local and international punk, metal, grind, hardcore, metalcore etc. to work through, I ventured in as a casual observer, cherry-picking the best of the bunch and appreciating the ferocity and energy of the crowd, who lunged at the stage at any given opportunity. Amazingly, there were no major fights and the weekend was surprisingly dickhead-free. The Hi-Fi staff were attentive, the sound was solid, the security knew when to step in and when to let things play out; and there were easily some of the best “heavy” sets I’ve seen all year on display. Top of the lot was Ceremony, the Californian punks who gave less than zero fucks about how much they “fitted in” with the rest of the bill. Ferchrissake, the guitarist was walking around wearing a leather Prince vest. They just got up there and tore the venue apart. Rather than alienating them, the crowd totally went for it, from their intense early songs like “Pressure’s On” and “Kersed” to newer stompers like “Hysteria” and “Repeating the Circle.” What a ripper – love this band something chronic.

Of course, the big talking point was the two farewell sets from Perth’s Break Even. While Ceremony was the big one for me, I still had nothing but love and respect for the BE boys – and their spots were fantastic. I don’t think I’ve heard a bigger sing-along this year than when they opened the Sunday night with “October 27.” Truly explosive, almost bone-chillingly good stuff. Other highlights included the madness of Extortion, the unholy riffage of I Exist and the OTT fun of headliners Terror; who I’ve never given much of a chance in regards to their recorded material but have still enjoyed thoroughly across the three times I’ve seen them. Overall, a very solid weekend – “hardcore lives,” as Scott Vogel might say.

As a bookend to all of this, I headed back up to Sydney in the afternoon following to grab a spot at Black Wire for Ceremony‘s only headlining Sydney set. With support from the gnashing Dark Horse and the tuneful Life and Limb, this was a high-energy show that sticks out as easily the best of the three times I saw Ceremony this month. It took all the no-bullshit reckless punk abandon of the Hardcore shows and shoved it directly into your face – I’m genuinely surprised that no major damage was done to the venue given the sure of boisterous shouting, screaming, diving, climbing etc. that was taking place throughout the band’s hour-long set. Great fun and highly memorable in the grand scheme of 2012.

For what was supposed to be their only show of 2012, I headed along to the Annandale that Friday to see The Mess Hall kick out the jams for the first time in seven years. I have no bloody idea why it took so long between drinks, but I’ll make a point for it to never happen again. What a ripper set from these guys, turning the Annandale into a sweaty mess just like only they can do. By means of contrast, the next day I saw an old friend, Annaliese Szota – who literally used to live up the road from me – play a headlining show at a theatre where I spent years in after-school drama classes. Oh, and Monica “Play School” Trapaga was there, too, as both the MC and as a cabaret performer. Needless to say, it was a pretty full-on night of nostalgia for me from a degree of levels. Needless to say, it was also lovely.

Around the middle of the month came somewhat of a bum note thanks to a disappointing set from Ladyhawke. I’m quite the fan, and do enjoy her music. Live, however, she’s quite uncomfortable and it lacks the punch that it needs to work in this element. Ahh, nevermind. Maybe next time. At least I got to catch the legends of Franzal Rhomb a few days later, who packed in a sweaty and fun crowd to the Manning Bar along with the crew from I Exist. Fuck yeah.

Festival season yet again! This time, I packed in three Splendour in the Grass sideshows into three days. Not a bad effort, if I do say so myself. Of course, I would have loved to head along to Splendour – the only shows of the year for Explosions in the Sky and Gossip, major live highlights of years previous; not to mention acts like Azealia Banks and Bloc Party. Not bad, I say! Still, getting to see just a handful of the line-up’s best acts was sufficient enough. First up was fun., a band I had wanted to tour for years – especially considering I never got to see The Format, the first band of fun.’s vocalist Nate Ruess. I took my sister along and we had an absolute blast at their show at the Metro, which was absolutely squashed in like nothing I’d seen at the Metro in yonks.

The very next day saw Mr. Jack White decide that he would play that night’s show with his all-male band, Los Buzzardos. Said show took place at the Hordern Pavilion – and, after roughly a decade of enjoying his various projects, I FINALLY got to see the great man at work in the live environment. What can you say? Absolutely sensational stuff, especially if you’re a big fan from any period of his career. It spanned all of it – when you open with a Stooges-esque reworking of Black Math, from the iconic Stripes LP Elephant, you just know you’re in for a good night. Blister-inducing guitar work, insane drumming, a great spread of sounds and plenty of hits; as well as some lesser-known stuff. Pretty much perfect, really.

Finally, I checked out British blues-rockers Band of Skulls at the Factory. Of the three, this was probably my least favourite – not a discredit to the show, per se; but moreso a credit to both fun. and Jack, which were absolutely mammoth and top-of-the-heap. This was still a solid, entertaining rock show – particularly with a band as great as The Laurels in support. Not life-changing or anything, really; but still a very, very fun set.

For something completely different, the month ended with a return to Yours and Owls for one of the biggest surprise gigs of the year. I went along after hearing some great things about U.S. post-metal acts Rosetta and City of Ships, but had never really given either one much of a listen. Really, I was headed along to their Wollongong date almost exclusively to see my boys in Totally Unicorn; plus the excellent Brisvegan openers in Nuclear Summer. I had no idea what to expect – perhaps why this show blew me away so much. It was an intense experience, never more so than during Rosetta’s performance. Post-metal is quite the thing to pull off live, it takes quite the energy and the precision as a band. That said, I have never seen anyone quite like Rosetta – before or since. Emotionally draining, resoundingly powerful and truly rewarding. I am so, so glad I went to this show.

TOP 5:

  1. Jack White
  2. Rosetta
  3. fun.
  4. Ceremony
  5. Flight of the Conchords

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Ladyhawke. I really want to support my fellow Aspies in the live environment, but bland shows make it quite difficult.

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AUGUST

Another month, another Milhouse show. Guess where? Always a pleasure to watch these guys do their thing – not the first time in 2012, and sure as shit not the last! Next up was a great exercise in contrast involving Melbourne wunderkinds Snakadaktal. The year prior, I had seen the band at Goodgod Small Club, performing to a sold-out room where the only people under 18 were in the band. Now, I had a chance to see them again in very different circumstances, albeit just up the road at the Metro Theatre. With an adoring all-ages audience looking on, they showed just how far they’ve come in such a remarkably short period of time. Pretty special to be a part of, really.

It never rains with Children Collide – it pours. After doing two nights of their national tour in March, I followed it up with a two-night stand at their Sydney shows. They took place at The Standard, a relatively intimate and interesting venue up the other end of Oxford Street. I quite like the venue, and definitely enjoyed my time at these two shows; which featured irrepressible stoners Dune Rats and Adelaide weirdos Bad Dreems in support. The crowd was energetic and receptive, and I even managed to sneak a stage-dive in during Jellylegs, the closing number of the set. The security, however, left a lot to be desired on the second night, getting quite aggressive with some harmless punters. I informed the Standard about this, and they were thankfully very responsive and determined to make the venue a friendlier environment. I haven’t been back since, but I hope they’ve stuck to it.

It’s weird just how long I had waited for the next gig. Something for Kate had been a part of my life for over a decade, thanks to hits ranging from 1999’s Electricity to 2006’s Cigarettes & Suitcases and everything in-between. My sister Eloise and I grew up with their music, so to find ourselves in the front row of a returning SfK show in the glorious, glorious surrounds of the Annandale was more or less a dream come true. This was the night I fell in love with some of my most beloved songs of 2012, namely Miracle Cure and Eureka; both from the at-the-time unreleased Leave Your Soul to Science. Of course, it also meant I finally got to hear my aforementioned loves, plus Monsters, Deja Vu et al. Easily one of the best Annandale shows of the year.

Later that week, I’d kick off a three-day run celebrating a considerably wide stretch of Australasian music. It began with Kate Miller-Heidke and The Beards joining together in a peculiar bill that somehow managed to work quite well. The grandiose humour of The Beards allowed the audience to relax themselves into Kate’s set, which was equal parts delightful and sweet as it was intense and emotively striking. She truly is a spectacular performer; and it was so great to hear tracks from Nightflight live, which was easily one of my favourite records of the year. The following night, New Zealand post-punks Die! Die! Die! took over Yours & Owls for a ferocious evening of high-octane noise. Although the crowd was relatively small, they were fucking rabid from the get go.

There was diving into drumkits, smashing of foreheads into microphones and dog-piles onto lead singer Andrew Wilson. And yes, I was the catalyst for each. In fact, I’m pretty sure ending up with an imprint of Andrew’s mic that stuck for the entire weekend was my favourite gig injury of the year – apart from maybe the shiner I got at Refused, but that’s another story for another time. Finally, I got to support my dear little friends in Highways as they played their first-ever headlining show at the Annandale Hotel. Apart from their set, I spent the day hanging out with some new friends, teasing the Forever Ends Here boys and selling merchandise for Way with Words while hanging at Highways’ merch table. I love those little matinee shows; they’re always good fun and the vibe is always sweet. Support them!

My last two shows of the month saw me once again celebrating some local talent, as well as making a pretty major tick on the bucket list. First up was Alpine, who I saw for the eighth time in Wollongong. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever missed an Alpine show in Wollongong; supporting or otherwise. I’m pretty happy about that, now that I think about it. I adore these guys so much, and to see how much their audience has grown in the time that I’ve known them as both musicians and people really inspires me. Then, a big one: The original line-up – well, what’s left of them – of The Beach Boys. Yep, including Brian Wilson. That was the selling point for me. It ensured that I would have to be in attendance. And I am so very, very glad that I was. Yes, it was a very daggy show. Yes, there were probably too many ballads (“Disney Girls,” guys? Really?). Yes, Mike Love is a businessman first and a musician second these days. But come on. I got to hear I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times. I got to hear Wouldn’t It Be Nice. I got to hear God Only fucking Knows. The band – mostly made up of Brian Wilson’s guys – were incredible. This was a truly delightful and heart-warming show. I enjoyed it worlds more than I expected to, as well as more than I probably should have.

TOP 5:

  1. The Beach Boys
  2. Something for Kate
  3. Kate Miller-Heidke
  4. Die! Die! Die!
  5. Snakdaktal

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Far Away Stables and We Saved the Party opened for Highways. I awarded them no points. May God have mercy on their souls.

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SEPTEMBER

What a big month I had here! A few choice internationals, some brilliant locals and my second of four interstate trips in the name of live music. It all started with Seekae, the little Sydney electronic adventurers that could. In a smokey and very-sold-out Basement, they put on an intense and engaging show that sees them in the finest form of their career. Hope we hear from them again soon with album number three! The next night was spent with three great Aussie bands in Little Scout, Bearhug and Light Giant; the latter of which were playing their first-ever gig at this show. Speaking of firsts, this was also my first time at FBi Social and I had a blast checking out the friendly, intimate surrounds. I sadly haven’t had the chance to return since, but hoping to in 2013. What a surprisingly pleasant Friday night in the midst of Kings Cross.

Saturday was spent with a tonne of mates from the FasterLouder forum, who all joined together to celebrate the release of The Smith Street Band‘s excellent second album, Sunshine and Technology. With mates Hoodlum Shouts, Restorations and Milhouse in support, the Smithies took to a heaving Annandale for beer-y sing-alongs, stage-dives and a loud and lively crowd. Took all of Sunday to shake the comedown, I can tell you that much. Well, most of Sunday, at least. On Sunday night, I snuck up to Cronulla to watch my dear-friend-slash-hot-patootie Lanie Lane at the Brass Monkey. It was intimate, charming and a very relaxing way to end what was a very busy week.

What happened next… ahh, what happened next. If only I could fully describe just how incredible, exciting and life-affirming what happened next truly was. This, friends was the Poison City Weekender. Or just The Weekender. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a magical place to find yourself. Whether it was whoah-oh’ing along to the Restorations boys, stage-diving with the Smithies and Luca Brasi, discovering the genius that is Lincoln Le Fevre or falling in love with Lucy Wilson‘s voice, there was so much to do, see and get involved with. I’m not ashamed to say that after TSSB’s set – the last set of the last day – I cried. I cried for about 10 minutes straight. I can’t begin to tell you what being a part of that entire thing meant to me. I made so many great friends, I saw so many great bands, I immersed myself in the beauty of Melbourne and its live music scene. What a time.

Upon returning home, complete with an accursed Melbourne flu, I sneezed my way through a show at Wollongong’s Uni Bar, technically headlined by The Rubens but show-stolen by Bertie Blackman. I got in just as her set started and she was worth every cent. The next night, I got to see the Enter Shikari boys tear it up once again, this time at the UNSW Roundhouse. Interesting time for uni students in NSW, that’s for sure. ES were as entertaining as always, even busting out their own title track for the first time in ages much to my delight. Pity the support act, In Heart’s Wake, were such garbage. We went from letlive. to this?

Some well-deserved time off lead to a solid run of internationals for the last three days of the month. First up was the guitar-god badass, Gary Clark, Jr. I was the very first person to buy a ticket to this show, but I sure as hell wasn’t the last – that was one of the most packed audiences that I’ve ever seen at the Annandale. People were hanging from the rafters to welcome GCJ at his first-ever Sydney show, and he gave them exactly what they came for – lick after lick of the electric blues. Not to mention a voice that’s pure honey. Oh, and a killer live band. Tick, tick, tick.

Roughly 12 hours later, I returned to the Annandale to check out Defeater and Blacklisted from the States. Bit different to Gary, of course, but y’all know about the spice of life and shit. This was a really entertaining show, with both bands showing off different kinds of hardcore that were matched in intensity and conviction in delivery. Always good fun to hang out at the Annandale as often as possible. Also a shout-out to Latham’s Grip, who I hung out with and watched at the Lansdowne that evening. Good times.

At last, Sunday rolled around. The last day of the month. Admittedly, not normally a time to party. But hell, I had two reasons to celebrate: a) It was a public holiday; and b) MC Lars was in town! For those of you unfamiliar, MC Lars is a geek/comedy rapper who got really popular around 2006 on the back of his debut album, The Graduate. Despite it being so many years on since then, I’d never gotten a chance to see him live up until now, so I was pretty damn stoked to catch him. I got to be in the front row, play the part of Marty’s boss in “Signing Emo” (have a listen to the song and you’ll understand) and hug the man after him being somewhat of a mid-teens hero to me. Oh, did I mention fucking Horsell Common played, too? Are you flippin’ kidding me, bro? Sure, they’re essentially the John Farnham of mid-2000s rock, but that was a major trip to see those guys again – especially after seeing Trial Kennedy‘s final show a few months back. The only detraction from the whole thing was that it took place at Spectrum – or, as I like to call it, Satan’s armpit. What a destitute and loathsome place. Don’t expect me back at that venue anytime soon.

TOP FIVE:

  1. The Smith Street Band
  2. Restorations
  3. MC Lars
  4. A Death in the Family
  5. Gary Clark, Jr.

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: In Heart’s Wake. Suck a fuck, you hacks.