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.
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.
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!