The Top 100 Songs of 2021, Part Four: 40 – 21

What’s good? Sorry this is late – life, uhh, gets in the way. Anyway, happy to be here. List Season ends when I SAY it ends, dammit! Right, admin before we crack on: Make sure you catch up on Part One, Part Two and even Part Three if you’re feeling particularly adventurous. That one’s for all my completionists out there. Alright, on with the show!

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40. Squid – Paddling

There’s lots of descriptors thrown around when discussing Brighton’s Squid. If there was one to rule them all, however, it’s “frenetic.” Even at over six minutes long – a considerable slog for some of Squid’s post-punk peers – “Paddling” is always in a hurry. Its guitar licks elbow in edgeways, its drums barely relent in their bloodthirsty quest to keep the beat and the trifecta vocal trade-off ensures it’s in a constant state of coming in from all angles. “Don’t push me in,” barks drummer Ollie Judge with an increasing sense of dread. Who’d dare fence in this gelatinous beast?

39. Lil Nas X – MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)

It was the pole dance heard ’round the world. The most unabashedly gay pop smash of all time slid its way into the collective conscience’s hearts and minds the second it dropped. It would remain there rent-free for the remainder of the year, even when the cycle moved onto the next Lil Nas X controversy – and there always seemed to be one. Wherever you ended up, it was hard to deny “MONTERO.” Its stomping flamenco spice, its aggressively suggestive lyrics and its hip-shaking switch-ups ensured that even when the circus eventually left town, “MONTERO” never did. It’s still peachy.

38. Great Job! – Vodka Chunder

It’s not so much that youth is wasted on the young – it’s that the youth are wasted. Like, a lot. There’s been drinking songs since well before Great Job! were born, and it’s a tradition they carry with their own antipodean spin. “You smell like vodka and chunder,” cheers Charlie Hollands in the chorus, which will no doubt elicit plenty of memories and imagery of house parties gone by. In amidst the nostalgia, however, lies a pub-rock urgency that makes “Vodka Chunder” feel entirely in the moment. It’s songs like that this that will ensure you feel forever young.

37. Silk Sonic – Leave the Door Open

Bruno Mars was due a comeback after his mid-2010s streak that started on “Uptown Funk” and ended on “Finesse.” Few, however, were expecting Mars hauling funky drummer and fellow R&B aficionado Anderson .Paak along for the ride. “Leave the Door Open” wasn’t an obvious lead single, but as a debut it now makes perfect sense: the sonics don’t get much silkier than this all-time slow jam of wine, robes and rose petals. Mars and .Paak trade off one another perfectly, with the double-time outro feels especially celebratory. With satisfaction guaranteed, Silk Sonic ensured their first impression was a long-lasting one.

36. Spiritbox – Secret Garden

Canadian metal act Spiritbox focus heavily on aesthetics. Their merch moves huge numbers, they shoot elaborate music videos and there’s a distinct glossiness to every photo of them. This might be a problem if they didn’t have the songs to complement it, but as their exceptional debut Eternal Blue testifies they are an all-in audio-visual experience that thrives on both ends of the spectrum. Best of all is “Secret Garden,” a resplendent djent adventure that’s smooth to the touch but doesn’t shy from rough edges. If Courtney LaPlante’s absolutely monstrous chorus doesn’t turn you into the Maxell guy, nothing will.

35. Billie Eilish – Your Power

The bombast of Billie Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever” was one of the musical moments of 2021. Great as it was, though, its hotdogging and grandstanding was playing to the back rows of the stadium. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld said, but if you wanted the real show-stopping moment on Happier Than Ever you had to listen that little bit closer. With little more than Finneas’ steely acoustic guitars and close harmonies guiding her, Eilish painted a damning portrait of a cunning manipulator. It’s clearly hers, but the iciness is cold enough to be felt by everyone.

34. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – That Life

Do we take Unknown Mortal Orchestra for granted? Maybe. Like, it could be argued they’re consistent to the point of it being unsurprising after all these years in the game. Of course their comeback single was excellent – the sky happens to be blue as well, y’know. In all honesty, it was the help of a little blue guy and his impeccable choreography work that lead this song to truly stick in hearts and minds. As Ruban Nielsen laments the world collapsing around him amidst “Billie Jean” drums and tape-loop guitars, there’s really nothing else to do but dance apocalyptic.

33. Duran Duran – INVISIBLE

Consider Duran Duran comparable to another thing English people love, Neighbours. Despite never really leaving for 35-plus years, mentioning them in the modern era will inevitably elicit an incredulous “Is that still going?” Indeed, “INVISIBLE” was the lead single from their 15th(!) studio album – and if we’re told to dance like no-one’s watching, then Duran Duran are playing like no-one’s listening. With pop aspirations long gone, they instead melt down their New Romantic aesthetics and mould them into a darker, stranger image – all with Blur’s Graham Coxon making weird guitar shapes for good measure. Still hungry; never ordinary.

32. Royal Blood – Typhoons

Being a guitar-less rock band wasn’t enough of a gimmick for Royal Blood to hang their jackets on beyond one admittedly-excellent EP in 2014. When “Trouble Coming” dropped in late 2020, it felt symbolic of the Worthing duo getting their collective mojo back. They weren’t done, either: in the third week of 2021, “Typhoons” made its splash and continued to make waves for the rest of the year. With their most snarling groove in years, the band aped Muse circa Black Holes plus Supergrass circa… well, Supergrass. What could’ve been a natural disaster ended up as Royal Blood’s redemption arc.

31. Coconut Cream – Your Drug on Computers

You know you’re onto something when members of Middle Kids and Gang of Youths are investing early. Coconut Cream may have friends in high places, but the fact of the matter is they’re unquestionably headed there themselves. Proof? “Your Drug on Computers” offers a compelling contrast between niche nostalgia and its 21st-century Sydney setting. It’s a song of lost infatuation and old flames, brought back to flickering life through jangly guitars and the kind of rousing chorus that could fill a festival ground. As their second EP looms, make sure you’re on board before they’re inevitably off to bigger things.

30. Fred again.. – Dermot (See Yourself in My Eyes)

The premise of Fred again..’s Everyday Life project was simple: Lift samples of voices, famous or otherwise, and retool them into his own brand of technicolour house. The albums are both ostensibly variations on a theme, but these one-trick ponies well and truly know their way around the racecourse. It all comes down to Fred’s vision and his impeccable arrangements – simmering, submerged; then bursting forth, cascading. Dermot Kennedy is a singer-songwriter with a great voice, but usually his blue-eyed fare is lacking je ne sais quoi. Here, he soars over clattering piano and bustling beats. The ordinary becometh extraordinary.

29. Silk Sonic – Smokin Out the Window

If you’re doing a pastiche of any kind, it’s imperative you incorporate all aspects. Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, leading by example, have everything about the Soul Train era downpat – the clothes and the grooves, certainly, but also the histrionics. So much of it is downright ridiculous, and “Smokin Out the Window” exemplifies it to a T. Case in point: If you weren’t walking around for weeks on end yelling “THIS. BITCH.” at inopportune moments, you straight up missed out. A genuinely hilarious slice of retro-pop perfection, “Smokin” proves that when God closes a door, he opens a window.

28. We Are Scientists – Contact High

It always felt like indie nerds We Are Scientists never got their due – 2005’s With Love and Squalor, after all, had to compete with a crowded scene across both the US and UK. Still, the endearing duo has never given up or cashed in the reunion-tour card – just as well, really, given they’re still fully capable of driving, robust indie-rock. “Contact High” is arguably their best since 2009’s “After Hours,” its slit-speaker guitar distortion and A-Ha worthy chorus transcending decades. The subsequent album Huffy may have been slept on, but “Contact” showed that the formula is still downpat.

27. I Know Leopard – Day 2 Day

Sydney indie darlings I Know Leopard have never shied from introspect – indeed, it served as central to their 2019 debut Love is a Landmine from a lyrical standpoint. Never quite before, however, has frontman Luke O’Loughlin come across quite as vulnerable and defeated as this. Even pitted against one of the band’s brightest and most resplendent piano-pop arrangements to date, as he bemoans losing “another piece of me” in deceptively-cheery falsetto. Even if they weren’t open for most of 2021, no song quite took to the concept of “crying in the club” than “Day 2 Day.” A bittersweet triumph.

26. Noah Dillon – That’s Just How I Feel

Underneath that mane of frizz atop his head, Perth singer-songwriter Noah Dillion possesses a brain that just seems to have songwriting all figured out. He takes to the usual garage-rock chord progression with aplomb, but he weaves more than enough personality and innovative twists into the mix for it to be inextricably his. “That’s Just How I Feel” is perhaps the best example of his still-young career, bounding through the handclap traffic and guitar snarls to wax poetic on sourdough warriors, tough cookies, family and young love. It’s enough to make you remark aloud: Dillon, you son of a bitch.

25. Jake Bugg – Lost

Nearly a decade removed from the rambling folk-rock of his self-titled debut, Nottingham’s Jake Bugg took a considerable gamble and reassembled his entire musical structure. Forget Dylan being called Judas for going electric, Bugg could have been decreed Satan himself for how much he changed things up. As any self-respecting Satanist knows, though, Hell ain’t a bad place to be. It’s called “Lost,” but Bugg has never sounded more sure of where he is – the hypnotic loop of the piano, the swelling synth strings, that goddamn bassline. Smash the acoustic and lower the mirrorball: Jake Bugg 2.0 has arrived.

24. Big Red Machine feat. Taylor Swift – Renegade

Of all the cultural shifts that came with the pandemic, Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon being added to to a list of teenage girls’ obsessions was one of the more unexpected. Then again, so was them crossing paths with the most famous person in the world – and yet, here we are. Of the three Swift/Vernon/Dessner collabs thus far, “Renegade” is the most conventional. Don’t let that detract from its cleverness and exuberance for a second, though. The understated indietronica environment is surprisingly pitch-perfect for Ms. Swift, who offers starry-eyed wondering for Vernon to add perfectly-contrasting harmonies to. Opposites attract.

23. Wavves – Sinking Feeling

The trajectory of Wavves from lo-fi underdog to indie darling to heel landlord has been bizarre, to say the least. They arrived in 2021 broken, battered and bruised – and lead saddest foot forward. Hideaway‘s lead single, “Sinking Feeling” takes Nathan Williams and co. on a magic boat ride of sour psychedelia. Somewhere in the valley between The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” and Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love,” this solemn dance to the end turned out to be the band’s best song in nearly a decade. Heavy is the head that wears the crown that reads King Of The Beach.

22. Kanye West – Jail

The trick of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is that you’re always paying attention to what isn’t there. “Jail,” the beginning of Donda‘s exhaustive 100-minute journey, pulls the same trick – except this time, the lights being out makes Ye all that more dangerous. Only two layers of guitars – one stabbing, one wailing – guide Yeezy’s diatribe from the back of the cop car. When he’s no longer alone, you notice: Gang vocals underline lines like “We all liars,” while a certain mysterious superhero swoops in for verse three. He’s carried by the single set of footprints in the sand.

21. Debbies – Sinner

Debbies are born from a coastline defined by bushfire regrowth and teenage boredom. To entirely dismiss the duo as Gen-Z grommits, however, misses the bigger picture of a song like “Sinner.” There’s something darker in the water – that shift from “I think I fucked up my liver” in verse one to “future” in verse two hits especially different. Debbies, truth be told, are just as lost as your average Lockie Leonard – but they’re finding their way, with “Sinner” serving as a guiding light through difficult terrain. More than barely-legal burnouts, these are young men with something to say.

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Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:

Back next week with part five!

The Top 100 Songs of 2021, Part One: 100 – 81

Hey team! We’re back once again with the DJY100, and there are some absolute doozies headed your way. Before we get to rocking, though, have you had a listen to the supplementary list of 50 songs I loved this year that just missed the cut? You should totally do that!


As always, DISCLAIMER: This is not a list of the most popular songs, nor is it a list curated by anyone except myself. These are, in my view, the best songs of the year. Disagreement and discussion is welcomed, but ultimately if you have any real issues with any songs that are ranked too low, too high or not at all… make your own list!

– DJY, December 2021

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100. SPEED – WE SEE U

When the airhorn hits, it signals one thing: The gang called Speed has arrived. In a year of precious few throwdowns, the Sydneysiders cut through with Australian hardcore’s first proper viral hit and turned heads around the globe – see the pure joy of this YouTuber’s reaction for proof. It’s gone in 60 seconds, but its presence is felt long after the final two-step comes to a screeching halt. For those that have missed getting caught in a mosh, as well as those who remember when punk rock could be this much fun, Speed will have you in cruise control.

99. Green Screen – Date Night

On paper, you wouldn’t expect much common ground between sugar-sweet Zoe Catterall of The Buoys and the ice-cold baritone of Baby Beef‘s Hewett Cook. As it turns out, their yin-and-yang makes for an enthralling exercise in queer electro-pop with a dramatic flair. “Date Night” is one of the finest examples of this from their collaborative Green Screen project, in which the odd couple evens out over pulsating, late-night synth-bass and the flickering candle of new romance in amidst the dark of the city. “Have we been reborn/In each other’s arms?” asks Cook in the song’s bridge. In many ways, yes.

98. Mike Noga – Open Fire

Mike Noga never set out to write a swan song when Open Fire was cut – but it goes to show that you should make every album like it’s your last, because there’s every chance it could be. The late, great singer-songwriter opted for an antipodean tweak of “Dancing in the Dark” on his final record’s lead single and title track, sauntering around the synths and honing in on arguably the best chorus of his career. Many thanks to Noga’s family and friends for ensuring this saw the light of day, giving this criminally underrated musician the send-off he deserved.

97. Phil Fresh feat. Kymie and Kwame – IG Luv

If you can’t relate to DM-sliding social media horniness after two lockdowns, you’re either a devoted monogamist or just prudent. This playful bounce from Phil Fresh’s debut EP is bolstered by a pristine Kymie hook and a spotless Kwame verse, the latter returning the favour for Fresh’s excellent turn on “TOMMY’S IN TROUBLE.” Fresh himself is far from an afterthought, though – his vision is what carries this bright, technicolour hip-hop right through its runtime, not to mention his bravado and confidence ensuring the thematic crux is conveyed to the nth degree. A fire-emoji react if there ever was one.

96. Approachable Members of Your Local Community – Just Say It

There’s a cynical approach (pardon the pun) to seeing polite, goofy Jewish boys adding a blond-hair-blue-eyes Instagram influencer to their line-up. Let’s make it clear, though: Sage Mellet isn’t Cousin Oliver. She’s Frank Reynolds. She just wants to be pure – and with “Just Say It,” she climbs through the couch and serves up a resplendent indie-disco kiss-off. Her first outing at the helm of AMOYLC, complete with Gab Strum production sheen, is an instant career-best for the Melbourne outfit. Much like her brother before her, she blooms just for you – and you can’t help but be utterly charmed.

95. Tigers Jaw – Hesitation

Tigers Jaw are at the point in their career where they often find themselves playing with bands that grew up listening to them. They’re not a heritage act by any means, but a new generation has come up under their wing – or paw, in this analogy. March’s I Won’t Care How You Remember Me proved that the Scranton emo OGs weren’t about to go quietly, though – not least of all when this excellent indie-rocking single, released just seven days into the year, saw them as infectiously catchy and splendidly harmonious as ever before. Tigers Jaw: They’re still grrrrrrrreat.

94. Sly Withers – Breakfast

At the long-standing Australian intersection of pub-rock and pop-punk, Sly Withers have grown leaps and bounds the last few years cementing themselves as a great white hope of guitar music within the sunburnt country. There’s exemplary demonstrations of their excellence of execution across second album Gardens, but “Breakfast” asserts itself among the true champions. Packing the crunch of its guitars and heartiness of its lyrics into an ice-cold bowl, the Western Australians channel the American midwest and pack in as much emotional heft as three minutes will allow. It’s Jimmy Eat World eating the most important meal of the day.

93. Teenage Joans – Wine

A common trope is to claim young artists are wise beyond their years. Teenage Joans aren’t, nor have they ever purported to. They’re still making mistakes, acutely aware how early into adulthood they actually are. “Wine” reflects this, blending bright guitars and crashing drums with searing melodicism and exuberant abandon. “I saw you at the spelling bee” is an immaculate depiction of innocence lost; “You age like wine/And I still haven’t aged to like wine” is stark self-realisation about age gaps just big enough to fall through. Just because TJs aren’t wise beyond their years, doesn’t mean they’re not wise.

92. Spacey Jane – Lots of Nothing

Well, well, well… look who found themselves launched into the stratosphere in 2021. Sure, their silver-medal performance in the heated countdown certainly gave them a boost, but “Lots of Nothing” ensured the Perth pop explorers remained amongst the stars. They shine bright on this stand-alone cut, retaining their distinctive rock jangle but simultaneously nudging it out into slightly farther reaches than 2020’s Sunlight – just enough to indicate they’re making progress, and having plenty of fun while doing so. Bonus points for incorporating the word “servo” into a verse, too. Even if they eventually conquer America, they’re still Our Spaceys.

91. Skegss – Bush TV

Does the fact “Bush TV” follows an almost-identical conceptual structure to earlier single “Smogged Out” (read: big city escapism in a dead-end moment) mean Skegss have carved out a niche? Maybe, but more than anything it proves prowess with variations on a theme. With a four-chord ramble and Jonny Lani’s brisk drums giving some downhill momentum, the north-coast trio bound through home-truth honesty and rousing reflections on the state of things. They’re keeping the bastards honest, while also ensuring their bastardry doesn’t go unchecked. Once again, Skegss keep their imperfections in perfect form – don’t you dare change the channel.

90. Mitski – Working for the Knife

Comeback singles, traditionally, possess at least some degree of “I’m back, bitch” energy. It’s expected here: “Working for the Knife” is Mitski’s first single in three years, and follows on from the biggest album of her career in Be the Cowboy. You’d know none of that from listening to it, though – an understated, morose minor-chord slow-burn that mourns a life lost to the throes of capitalism. If anyone else tried this after so long away they’d be rightly ostracised. Within the framework of Mitski’s career, however, it’s another ingenious swerve from one of modern indie rock’s most unpredictable figures.

89. Moaning Lisa – Something

In their best songs, Moaning Lisa capture moments. “Carrie” is a slow-waltz into a desperate thrash of lust; “Lily” is slow-motion heartbreak; “Take You Out” slinks into new romance. That same energy radiates through “Something,” as it charts the progress of infatuation from the ambient sounds of its bass intro to the immediate post-punk guitar chops of the verses. You go along for the ride, thinking back to the moments you felt the same way. That’s the best thing about the Melbourne-via-Canberra outfit – theirs is a distinct balance of universal introspect, where it’s wholly theirs but somehow yours too.

88. CHVRCHES – Good Girls

“Killing your idols is a chore/And it’s such a fucking bore/But we don’t need them anymore.” Lauren Mayberry arrives dressed to kill at the helm of CHVRCHES’ third single from the excellent Screen Violence, pitting her convictions against cascading synth arpeggios and a mechanical kick-snare that wouldn’t feel out of place in NIN’s “Closer.” The bones of what you believe a CHVRCHES song to sound like are still very much in-tact, but the skeletal structure has shifted. The trio has created a monster here, and they’re proudly letting it loose for their own personal reckoning. No more Mr. Good Girl.

87. Palms – This One is Your One

“This One is Your One” wasn’t just about Sydney garage-rock veterans Palms making a triumphant return after six years in absentia. It was also a coming-out party for frontman Al Grigg, using the song to profess his love to his boyfriend and let the world know of the rainbow hanging over their intensity sunshine. Don’t let the schmaltz fool you, though – this is still a bright, rough-and-tumble rocker with its rough edges left proudly intact. There are few choruses in Palms’ canon simplistic as “Always, I know/Never ever gonna let you go.” Simultaneously, however, there are few more effective.

86. Billie Eilish – NDA

2021 began for Billie Eilish with The World’s A Little Blurry – an intense, two-hour-plus doco capturing her ascent and the myriad of growing pains that ensued. For a mainstream pop-star film, it was surprisingly raw – fitting, given Eilish is among the least-likely mainstream pop-stars of the last decade. “NDA” sees her venturing further down the rabbit hole of fame and privacy, skipping the playfulness of “Therefore I Am” and sinking straight into some of brother Finneas’ most intense production work to date. Full disclosure: There may not be a more fascinating story unfolding in modern pop right now.

85. Crowded House – To the Island

Neil Finn has no qualms with playing the hits – nor should he, given how many he’s got. Where he differs, however, is not relying on them. Much like the boat he paddles in this very video, Finn is still a keen explorer. With a new crew in tow – including two of Finn’s sons – the expanded quintet shift through dark waters and uncharted territory with refreshing ambition and the kind of free-wheeling experimental approach that pays off in spades. Many heritage acts fear desecrating their canon – on “To the Island,” Crowded House proudly build it even bigger.

84. Justin Bieber feat. Daniel Caesar and Giveon – Peaches

Never short of a photo opportunity, Justin Bieber instead sought a shot at redemption in 2021. Following the worst album of his career in the droll, uninspired Changes, the former child star bounced back with a more refined, mature approach to modern rnb with Justice – an album that didn’t betray his age nor permanently transmogrify him into Wife Guy Number One. Best of all was “Peaches,” his strongest solo hit in a half-decade and a perfect vehicle to raise the profiles of smooth-singing up-and-comers Daniel Caesar and Giveon. Forget “Yummy” – “Peaches” is perfectly juicy pop, coast to coast.

83. Amenra – Ogentroost

Fans of All Elite Wrestling know parts of “Ogentroost” well. An edited version guides Dutch grappler Malakai Black to the ring each night, with its sinister guitars and banshee-howl vocals. If you want to face the real heavyweight champion, however, venture forth on the full ten-minute version that opens the doom-metal band’s De Doorn LP. There were few moments in heavy music throughout 2021 that offered up a journey quite like this one, centred on a tense, atmospheric build to its tumbling drums, haunting choir (lead by Oathbreaker‘s Caro Tanghe) and seismic hurtle into the abyss. Down for the count.

82. Snowy Band – Call It a Day

A lapsed-Catholic confessional opens this fittingly-reverent, hushed jangle-pop number: “I prayed to God in a parked car.” There’s a calm and repose to the second single from Snowy Band’s second album, but this does not equate to a lack of emotion or any shortage of delightful imagery. “Full moon, overfilled, smeared yellow/Fell on the buttered side,” coos frontman Liam Halliwell atop chiming guitars and understated drums. Its breathy delivery emerges from the shadows of Melbourne suburbia, but resonates far beyond its immediate reach. If you’ve been seeking heartfelt, honest and homegrown songwriting of the indie-rock persuasion, consider your prayers answered.

81. Squid – Pamphlets

Remember when Björk arrived as a fully-formed weirdo in the 90s, and we all wondered how she could get any weirder and she found a way? That’s sort of what Squid’s 2021 looked like. Already one of the more eccentric indie exports of their native UK, their debut album already felt like it had a certain expectation to live up to. They, too, found a way – particularly on Bright Green Field‘s closer, an eight-minute art-rocker where one minute it’s oh so quiet, the next there’s an army. It unravels into their most intense, ambitious song yet. Spread the word.

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Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:

Back next week with part two!