Well, at the very least, I got this done earlier than last year. I finished this in a sweaty hotel room in Canberra, tip-tapping away while trying not to wake up the rest of the floor. I probably did awaken someone with my click-clacking, though – if only on account of being so excited to write about these songs at length. 2022 was fucking tough, and I genuinely don’t think I would have gotten through the year if I didn’t have songs like these as companions. Thank you to everyone responsible for them, and thank you to you (yes, you!) for reading along with this whole saga.
By the way: I just re-read what I wrote in Part Five of my DJY100 for 2021. “If I get this next one finished in February 2023 then it’s over for you bitches.” Guess what? It’s February 2023 still! It’s over for you bitches!
If you just came for the juicy bit, fair enough. If you’d like to catch up, however: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four. There ya go! Until next time.
– DJY, February 2023
20. Fontaines D.C. – I Love You
In the emotional climax of the breathtaking video for Skinty Fia‘s second single, Grian Chatten (spoiler alert) pulls his heart directly out of his bleeding chest as he breathlessly details every way his homeland has failed him. The boys of Fontaines D.C. may be in the better land now, but they have not forgotten what D.C. stands for. ‘I Love You’ is their exorcism of every conflicting emotion that arises when discussing the blood in the streams of the Emerald Isle, seething behind its guttural bassline and tense, wiry guitars. Immense, weighty and an unflinching cycle between evolution and revolution.
19. Sly Withers – Passing Through
Sly Withers have centred endless imagery around flora – from the bougainvillea out the back to sibling albums Gardens and Overgrown. On ‘Passing Through’, they centre blossoming with hopes to bloom: a casual affair that only needs water and sunlight to thrive. Easier said than done, of course, when formed under cover of darkness. Though the emo-rockers pull no punches, they still know what hits hardest, brandishing both searing guitar crunch and Jono Mata’s unflinching everyman delivery. “Are you passing through? Or will you stay awhile?”, Sam Blitvich posits in the song’s bridge. By that point, the choice is obvious.
18. Peach Pit – Vickie
Peach Pit only give you a few minutes with ‘Vickie’ – both the song and the titular character therein. Such is the joie de vivre that ensues, however, you’ll come out the other end wishing to spend endless summer days with each by your side. The heart-shaped indie-pop number offers bright, springy keyboards that bounce off chiming acoustic strumming and the kind of vocal harmonies that melt in your mouth. Interwoven is a vivid portrait of a woman best described as imperfectly perfect – the kind that can only be handled in small doses, but ultimately you couldn’t do without.
17. The Beths – Silence is Golden
They say to show not tell, but what if you could do both in order to get the point across? On the writhing, skittering lead single from The Beths’ exceptional third album, the Auckland indie-rock band perfectly capture hypersensitive anxiety that comes from the clash, clatter and bang of the outside world. They’re able to execute this twofold: First through bustling drums and knife-edge guitars, and secondly through Liz Stokes’ bloodshot, hair-pulling lyrical conviction in tandem with panicked delivery. It goes to show what an unstoppable force The Beths are – particularly when they’re on collision with an immovable object.
16. Dry Cleaning – Don’t Press Me
One-minute 50 is all it took for Dry Cleaning to let you know they were back. Technically, they didn’t really go anywhere… but, they did strike while the iron was hot. ‘Don’t Press Me’ doesn’t take up any more time than it needs to, simultaneously feeling like the band we’d come to know but with just enough seasoning to give it a different taste. Tom Prowse, in particular, muscles in from the drop, trading chops on the six-string before giving way to a picked-out chorus and a bent lick amidst Florence Shaw’s utterly beautiful nonsense. This isn’t a game, rats.
15. Tears for Fears – Break the Man
Nearly 40 years on from when they first ruled the world and nearly 20 removed from their last album, Tears For Fears returned in 2022 as if no time had passed. The duo just seem to have an understanding of what makes songs tick: push-and-pull dynamics, vividly-detailed soundscapes and the timeless juxtaposition of folksy harmonies within electronic layering. ‘Break the Man’, with its glassy romanticism and exceptional chorus, could have been let all out into the very mad world of the 80s and still had listeners head over heels. Turns out the big chair was a throne this whole time.
14. Peace Ritual – Cold Shoulder
When Endless Heights defied their name and ended, its creative core split in separate directions. While one side developed a need for speed, the other opted for the slow lane and followed the sound of Vicious Pleasure to its logical pop-grunge conclusion. Joel Martorana’s Peace Ritual came prepared, with their debut EP marrying big-swinging alternative rock with lush soft lenses of dream-pop – a holy matrimony of soaring vocals and crashing guitars. ‘Cold Shoulder’ was the pick of the litter, allowing listeners to come a little closer and revel in what the freshly-minted band have created. The only way? Up.
13. Bloc Party – If We Get Caught
After losing their all-important rhythm section and firing off a dud album in Hymns, Bloc Party felt destined for past tense. Following a tour where they played Silent Alarm every night, however, the 2.0 version of the veteran UK band found a way to rekindle its roots. It arrived in the midst of soaring guitars, tender-queer lyricism and new-gen drummer Louise Bartle cementing her place in the fold with both exceptional stick-work and perfectly complementing backing vocals. ‘If We Get Caught’ is not only the band’s best single in a decade, it’s a testament to second chances. Sound the alarm.
12. Post Malone – Wrapped Around Your Finger
Post Malone’s fourth album was, mood-wise, a proper bummer. Not that he’d exactly been a ray of sunshine prior, but he did sing ‘Sunflower’ – and this record was more a wilted rose. Somewhere between the Fleet Foxes’ pit of despair and the forced Doja Cat smile, Posty struck the emotive balance on a love-lorn synth spiral with no features and all heart. Sporting the album’s best hook and sharpest production, the fact it was not selected as a single is baffling. Still, consider it your little secret with one of the biggest stars in the world. Wrap yourself up.
11. The 1975 – Happiness
“Show me what love is.” On the opening line of The 1975’s best song of The 2022, Matty Healy not only spelt out his band’s lyrical ethos but embodied his heart-shaped creative vision – all while saxophones sizzled away and the bass plucked and slapped beneath him. Perhaps the biggest reason ‘Happiness’ felt like such a bright spot was on account of it following on from ‘Part of the Band’ – a fizzer lead single that instilled fear for what was to come. Turns out we had nothing to worry about, and all it took was the pursuit of ‘Happiness’.
10. Pete & Bas – Mr. Worldwide
Ask any YouTube comment section, and they’ll agree: Whether Pete and Bas are “for real” or not, ultimately, doesn’t matter.
The septuagenarians emerged at the end of the decade as viral sensations, defying their age and the usual conventions of hip-hop – particularly grime – by dropping what can only be described as a series of surefire bangers. Sporting the kind of wordplay that rappers half their age – hell, a third their age – would rob someone at knife-point for, the view counts and streaming numbers shot up quicker than their lower back problems. Inevitably, with this came a question of the duo’s legitimacy, including theories that their entire raps were not only ghost-written, but performed by different people entirely – Milli Vanilli style. Some kid even made a 15-minute “investigative” video essay where he pretended to interview one of said ghostwriters. That’s how seriously people took the rap duo who released a song about how the only dance move they’re able to pull of is shuffling from side to side.
Here’s a hot take for you: If you can suspend your disbelief enough to accept that one of the biggest bands in the world is made up of four cartoon characters that include a man with dents in his head, an occult vampire, a mail-order android and a possessed giant, you don’t need to worry about Pete & Bas. As they’ll happily tell you, they’re doing just fine wherever they roam – which leads us to ‘Mr. Worldwide’, their best track to date and an absolutely staunch tour of the globe. Whether they’re in Dubai smoking doobies or feeling certi in Turkey, the rattling grime beat ensures you’re flying first class — in manner far more convincing than ‘First Class’ too, while we’re at it. Their trademark tag-team back-and-forth keeps the energy bubbling, and the deal is sealed with a hilarious clip that expands their dance repertoire in a way only they and their mates know how.
Sure, it’s not that deep. But it doesn’t matter. Hasta luego, baby.
9. Dulcie – tell ur friends
The love song, at its core, is about wants – which, contrary to popular opinion, can often outrank needs if the wanting is bad enough. I want you, you want me. You want me, I want you. I want you, you want someone else. You want me, I want someone else. We don’t want each other anymore – and yet, here we are. Variations on a theme ensue on an infinite feedback loop. What’s so interesting about ‘tell ur friends’ – the pop coming-out party for classically-trained indie queens Dulcie – is that it’s about the same wants on different terms.
Across a sparse guitar part, the scene is set – wanting to wash a former flame back in the DMs out of your hair, yet still being pulled back into their vortex (complete with a cute message notification sound in the background). The protagonist wants to go deeper, to not just be a side-piece – while the DM slider is talking the talk but never walking the walk. So on it goes, in a manner that feels both acutely targeted and decidedly universal in nature. That’s a rare balance to strike, and it’s entirely to Dulcie’s credit that they’re able to believably work both sides of the spectrum in such a manner.
‘tell ur friends’ specifically recalls Aussie pop-rock of the 2000s with a post-Avril sting in its raccoon tail. If you’ve ever sung ‘Everything I’m Not’ by The Veronicas or ‘Mistake’ by Stephanie McIntosh into a hairbrush, this is a song that will speak volumes – which is especially transient in nature, given the trio were likely in pre-school when both of those songs came out. From its fast-paced drum machine to its gooey layers of vocal harmony, the song’s synaesthesia gives off bright pink hues that darken to red outer edges – it’s cute, absolutely, but it’s also blood-boiled and tensely seething; teeth gritted between lip gloss.
The unknown assailant in Dulcie’s inbox doesn’t want to make their love affair public knowledge. It’s funny, really’ once you’ve heard ‘tell ur friends’, you’ll want the world to know.
8. The Northern Boys – Party Time
Remember those two old guys from just before? Turns out they’ve got mates – like, a bunch of them. Following the viral success of tracks like ‘The Old Estate’, the mysterious Sindhu World essentially launched the extended Pete & Bas universe. Of these leery elderly figures – collectively known as The Snooker Team – two immediately stood out from the pack: Norman Pain and Patrick Karneigh, Jr. The former is a bald, belligerent bloke who raps at two levels: Shouting and screaming. The latter, meanwhile, is well-dressed manic depressive who sneers out his rhymes with Abe Simpson level rambling and bars about his mental health that will have you putting the suicide hotline on speed-dial. Though both were perfectly entertaining on their own, Sindhu’s decision to merge them together – not unlike Simon Cowell creating One Direction – was the one thing each man needed.
In 2022, they debuted as The Northern Boys – ostensibly a duo, but counting themselves as a trio on account of their mate Kev. We know absolutely nothing about Kev aside from these three things: his name, his penchant for suits and a knack for dancing. He doesn’t talk, he doesn’t rap, he doesn’t sing. He’s just there. It’s like Bez from the Happy Mondays, or the guy from The Mighty Mighty BossTones. It makes absolutely no sense, and it’s perfect. The same, in its exact entirety, can be said of the “trio”’s debut single.
Instead of going for an original beat from one of the Sindhu go-tos like 91bshots, The Northern Boys lift the entire backdrop of ‘Party Time’ from what seems to be a karaoke track version of Estelle’s 2008 breakthrough hit ‘American Boy’. It’s an odd choice, but has turned out to be a blessing in disguise – the original has since been, shall we say, desecrated somewhat thanks to the inclusion of a certain white surpremacist. Now, instead of going West, the ‘American Boy’ instrumental will forever be associated with the North going south extremely quickly – in the best way possible, mind. So endlessly quotable is this riotous, ridiculous and entirely NSFW banger, the best way to experience it is a manner Pain would certainly approve of: Raw and without protection. Infection rates are high, but this is one thing you won’t want herd immunity from.
7. Dry Cleaning – Gary Ashby
Not since ‘Ben’, the ode to a rat sung by little Michael Jackson, has there been such a remarkable and surprisingly touching ode to an unconventional household pet. ‘Gary Ashby’, the third single from Dry Cleaning’s excellent second album Stumpwork, is not named after a man – fictional or otherwise. Rather, Gary Ashby was a tortoise. The past tense is used in this instance for reasons that should seem obvious, but thankfully his memory lives on in one of the most jangly, straightforward and frankly addictive tracks the London quartet have committed to record thus far in their still-blossoming career.
From its ‘Hard Day’s Night’ guitar and bass intro to its Johnny Marr twelve-string posturing, it’s a very fast-moving song for a famously slow-moving animal. For whatever reason, you suspect Gary would have appreciated that contrast. There’s a lot to say about Dry Cleaning, and plenty more that will be said in the future. In the meantime: Have you seen Gary?
6. Future Teens feat. Dan Campbell – Team Sports
At the start of the 2010s came a new term: Realist pop-punk. Not so much a sub-genre as an attitude, it’s essentially the sound of what happens when your subject matter goes from “why don’t girls like me?” to “how the fuck am I going to make rent this month?” The energy of your kickflip days remain, but your knees don’t quite bend like they used to; you’ve made the transition from weed to CBD oil. You’d still pick your friends over them, but those friends have got their own stuff going on. Throughout this period, bands like Transit, Fireworks, Mixtapes, Tigers Jaw, Polar Bear Club, The Menzingers and The Wonder Years (more on them in a second) were there to remind you: Things are hard, and they’re going to get harder, but you are not alone.
On their second album Self Care, Future Teens took up the mantle and delivered a collection of songs that proudly carry on this tradition – songs to stage-dive to with eyes brimming with tears. Best of the lot was ‘Team Sports’, which wielded steady guitar crunch in tandem with striking confessional lyricism meant for clenched fists and index fingers poised as weaponry. Most intriguing, however, was its subject matter: not issues of mental health itself, but the gaudy discourse surrounding it.
In a world of R U OK? Day and condescending infographics, there is a litany of well-meaning but ultimately dangerous rhetoric surrounding these issues – ultimately, amateur handling of a subject broached best by experts. “They just have to ask,” seethes Amy Hoffman, almost as if they’re pacing back-and-forth in time with the palm mutes. “I wish we could just talk about/The kinds of pain/We inflict on ourselves.” Its chorus slams the main riff into a hook worthy of the emo greats, while its final bridge culminates in a throat-tearing cameo from The Wonder Years’ very own Dan Campbell. If you needed a baton pass incarnate, stand back and just watch the fireworks.
When keeping it real goes wrong, there’s always Future Teens. It’s OK to not be OK.
5. Megan Moroney – Hair Salon
Grady Smith – arguably the Anthony Fantano of country music, with his highly-influential YouTube channel sporting nearly a quarter of a million followers – turns to the camera with a knowing grin. “This! Is! The! One!” he barks excitedly, snapping his fingers after all four words. For someone who ranks songs from a “yee-naw” to a “yee-haw”, it’s pretty clear what side of the scale he’s on here. The best part? He’s absolutely right.
The “one” in question is ‘Hair Salon’, the second-ever single from Georgia girl Megan Moroney, who began to bubble under with her excellent Pistol Made of Roses EP in 2022 before cracking the Billboard Hot 100 with the swaying, doe-eyed ‘Tennessee Orange’ – a remarkable feat for an artist ostensibly in their rookie year and in a genre where only heavyweights are able to make a dent in the non-genre-specific charts. You can’t get to orange on the colour spectrum, however, before going through two different sects.
The first is yellow – or, in this instance, blonde. The titular salon is a real place: Profiles Hair Salon, located on Green Street in Moroney’s hometown of Conyers GA. Bernadette is a real woman, too: Bernadette Johnson, co-owner and hairstylist. You don’t need to know these things in order for ‘Hair Salon’ to hit, but it’s this merging of reality with Moroney’s story-telling that gives the song a certain sense of gravitas. Small-town gossip swells, but as soon as her ex is mentioned the world comes to a stand-still. “Guess it’s a damn good day to go blonde,” she sings – resigned to her silver lining as the looming cloud comes to douse an old flame. Behold: The protagonist, all dressed up with nowhere to go.
The second is red. A heart is still the same colour even when it’s broken, after all. Moroney puts all of it into the song, her smokey southern-fried vocal fry sizzling over the steely acoustic guitar and the even steelier pedal steel. That’s the other thing that gets ‘Hair Salon’ over the line: Its utter conviction and dedication to the performance itself. Every corner of the song feels anchored in its time and place, sustaining that environment until the last chord rings out. She could be mad as hell, and go after his Chevy with the baseball bat, but here’s the thing: It wasn’t cheating. The ex did nothing wrong. “I’m stuck on how you moved on,” she sings – resigned to the fact that her platinum-blonde stasis is of her own doing. Behold: The protagonist, heartbroken in a hair salon.
At the time of writing, Moroney had just made her debut at the Grand Ole Opry. 2023 will likely see further belated success for ‘Tennessee Orange’ as it crosses over to radio. A debut album is sure to follow. We could be on the precipice of the next Miranda or Carrie – and if you thought that was a Sex and the City reference, you ain’t country. And to think: She saw it all on Green Street, at 10am, while Bernadette saw to her roots.
4. Steve Lacy – Bad Habit
In 2015, a 17-year-old guitarist joined the ranks of a the future-rnb collective, fronted by Odd Future alum Syd, wrapping his knack for six-string melodies and soulful songwriting around albums like Ego Death and Hive Mind. In 2022, the lead single from the now-24-year-old’s second solo album was shared around a popular social media app over 400,000 times – crossing over into streaming figures that would leave most jaws lying on the floor, if not all.
In both instances, this much is true: The Internet made Steve Lacy the man he is today.
So, what made ‘Bad Habit’ the wildfire runaway that it was? Paralleled with the other major hits of the year, it doesn’t share a great deal in common with them – it’s four-and-a-half minutes, which may as well be ‘The Decline’ by TikTok standards, not to mention its a capella dropout and subtle, tempered production that doesn’t layer in much beyond a weave of vocals and a reeling, phaser-laden guitar loop. It could be argued, then, that in a period where basically no new stars and no new hits were in any kind of Billboard circulation, the world at large was craving something new. For Lacy, this positioned him in the perfect X-Y axis of right place and right time – and, as luck would have it, he had just the right song.
So, what made ‘Bad Habit’ the wildfire runaway that it was? Thanks to Lacy’s progressively-minded approach, it ostensibly serves as a song of all seasons. His bisexuality allows for both straight and queer people to insert their desire into the song’s lustful lens; his mix of vintage Black soul affection and iPhone-wielding production allows for both old souls and the young at heart to revel in the song’s slow-motion limelight. Its instant hook – just six words, including one that’s repeated – lent itself to the rapid-fire nature of the information superhighway, and yet its depth beyond this snapshot also lent it to those alone in their bedroom with the record player spinning on 33. Whatever universe you exist within, ‘Bad Habit’ can – and will – be part of your world.
So, what made ‘Bad Habit’ the wildfire runaway that it was? Simply put, there is not a known reality where that didn’t happen. It’s of the now, it’s of then, it’s of perennial perpetuity. It’s biscuits, it’s gravy. It’s the new default setting for a fairly common song title. You’ve just got to make a pass at it.
3. Billy Nomates – blue bones (deathwish)
In his book They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Hanif Abdurraqib writes of a night seeing a band that have since become persona non grata, so will not be mentioned here – although you’ll likely figure it out from the next piece of information. The band conclude a performance of one of their songs, and Abdurraqib comments on its closing line: “Die young and save yourself.” He describes the lyric thusly: “I used to have [it] scrawled on a notebook before I got older and started to quite enjoy living – or, at least, stopped finding death romantic.”
It’s a very human experience: the baton pass from Shakespearean ideation to existential dread. “I hope I die before I get old” becomes “I’d like to stay forever”. For those that live to tell the tale, they need to ensure that they and those closest to them survive as long as humanly possible. On the lead single from her second album, Billy Nomates is talking through a megaphone to a lone figure on a ledge – part empathy, part reverse psychology, part philosophical musing. She shares a similar sentiment to Abdurraqib in the song’s smart, striking hooks: “Death don’t turn me on like it used to,” she croons across one; “The end don’t get me high like the start do,” she ruminates across another. There’s a lot to unpack, of course: The distillation of flirting of death itself, the joy of possibility, the call to not go gently into that good night. At the core of it, there is a spirit that can only arise from both going through hell and still going all the same.
Atop a swiftly-plucked bassline and robust drum machines, Nomates directly addresses someone on the brink of ending it all. At first, she seems merciless and unflinching: “If you wanna die, then do it/You don’t need my permission,” she bluntly remarks. “It’s such an iffy ambition.” Later, she reveals that this brutal tough-love mentality stemmed from her own direct experiences: “Living was a burden/I put myself in the hospital,” she confesses. When all you want to do is die, a fight for survival becomes imperative – and though she knows where the one on the verge is coming from, the only way out is together. “Not saying I’d save you,” she pre-empts. “Love is hollow/And for the brave few.” Nevertheless, perhaps this common ground is enough to stabilise beneath their feet: “Maybe we were both born blue.”
For such a morbid song, there’s a lot of life and light within ‘blue bones (deathwish)’. It beams through the speakers, its dynamic blend of new wave and post-punk adding just the right blend of coolness and warmth. Its brightness makes for a light at the end of the tunnel – and, for once, it’s not a train. Let Billy Nomates be your friend and save yourself.
2. Fontaines D.C. – Jackie Down the Line
In the opening moments of ‘Jackie Down the Line’, Grian Chatten exudes two of the most famous syllables of the tonic solfa, which are normally given absolute gusto and joy across pop music: “Doo, doo, doo/La, la, la.” Through the frontman’s laconic, accented drawl, however, they’re basically punched out of him. In past singles by the band, Chatten has largely been brash and belligerent – he’s gonna be big, he’s too real for ya, his life isn’t always empty. ‘Jackie’, however, might be the first one in which he has sounded completely and utterly miserable. Why? Because he’s seen this all before.
The titular ‘Jackie’ in this instance alludes to two separate terms – jack, lower case, and Jackeen, capitalised. If you don’t know jack, you don’t know anything; if it doesn’t amount to jack, it doesn’t amount to anything. Thus, just as Chatten’s protagonist is in the throes of a fresh romance, he is already envisioning the end. To be “Jackie down the line,” then, is to ultimately eventuate into nothing. You will be worn down, hurt and deserted. Jackeen, meanwhile, is an old-fashioned term – something that the creators of the albums Dogrel and Skinty Fia might know a thing or two about. It refers, in a derogatory manner, to someone from Dublin – the D in Fontaines D.C. To be “Jackie down the line,” then, is to be continually at a distance – stuck under the same city sky as always, or always elsewhere even when the stars align differently.
This downbeat and broken-hearted take on the band’s sound is accentuated by one of their most unique musical arrangements to date. The militant snare-roll that cracks through the opening motif immediately alerts attention, which is then kept by the deft Fender VI bass churn of Conor Deegan III. Both electric and acoustic guitars are pitted against one another – the former a sour surf snarl, catching the final crashing wave of an endless summer, while the former plugs into an MTV Unplugged tableau in tandem with the city’s rich folk music history. You’re encompassing an entire spectrum here – at once familiar and synchronised with the band’s oeuvre, yet simultaneously alien and aloof.
What’s perhaps the most striking element of ‘Jackie’, however, are the little things. It’s not just the doo doo doo. It’s not just the la la la. It’s not just the pound of the drum that booms like a pounding bodhrán. It’s when Chatten sings of “failing eyes,” and pontificating incompatibility with the turn of phrase “I don’t think we’d rhyme” – a morsel of writing that Chatten’s hero Seamus Heaney would have treasured in his prime. It’s the way Tom Coll stays on the ride cymbal for nearly the entirety of the song, allowing it to resonate out amidst whatever breathing space is left – and, in turn, making the switch over to the hi-hat in the second verse’s pre-chorus all the more startling. It’s when nearly everything pulls away, right before Chatten switches out “Jackie down the line” for “one Jackeen of a line” – itself coming moments before the crashing final chorus. It’s the rest of the band chiming in on another pop staple – “ooh sha-la-la” – with the same dark despondence as their frontman. In these moments, the little things aren’t so little anymore. They’re a journey unto itself; a line.
“I can’t find a good word for ya,” Chatten spits in the first verse. It’s the only part of the song that doesn’t ring true. This man uses words as weapons, and ‘Jackie Down the Line’ is an army of him.
1. The Beths – Expert in a Dying Field
Across a short yet fruitful period of time, The Beths have become not only the best band working in New Zealand but one of the most idiosyncratic, heartwarming indie-rock bands on the planet. You might dismiss this as hyperbole – after all, they’re the “nice” band. They’re the clean-cut, polite Kiwis – not a hair out of place, not a note out of tune. How could a band so inherently wholesome make a dent beyond merely a passing “well, this is nice, isn’t it”? The answer is twofold: What The Beths have to say, and how they go about saying it.
To exemplify this, let’s look at the three title tracks of their studio albums to date. All three take remarkable, unique turns of phrase and create thematic structures around them that may seem small but ultimately build to literary skyscrapers. ‘Future Me Hates Me’? I know that I will later regret this, and I will look back on the past with disdain, but I am taking this risk and making my claim in the present because right now, it’s all I have. ‘Jump Rope Gazers’? We are looking upon a very depiction of innocence and carefree spirit itself, longing to be in such a position ourselves – if only we knew the way back to the schoolyard from the unforgiving nature of the city.
What, then, of ‘Expert in a Dying Field’? Liz Stokes – AKA the eponymous Beth – asks point-blank in the chorus how it feels to be just that. She’s always liked open interpretation of her work, so allow this as a stab in the dark. The field itself can be seen as a big-picture perspective on creativity and being a working musician. Since the pandemic, the arts have continued to struggle – even seemingly-progressive politicians are barely handing out peanuts when compared to their fossil-fuel friends. And yet, the compulsion continues. “I can flee the country/For the worst of the year/But I’ll come back to it.” Even if you’re able to sustain some semblance of a career, you can’t outrun – or out-fly – your problems. You can play every secret chord that the Lord abides by, and yet you’ll never fully embrace the victory march.
To hone in for a closer look, the dying field can be the battlefield Pat Benatar sang of all those years ago. Heartache to heartache, none of which can be erased from history. “You can’t stop, can’t rewind/Love is learned over time/Until you’re an expert in a dying field.” You’ve put in all this time, effort and care – in spite of your future you – to jump-rope gaze with another, and it all seems to have been for nothing when you go your separate ways. There’s no eternal sunshine for your spotless mind, either. “I can close the door on us/But the room still exists/And I know you’re in it.” Even if you’re able to move on, you can’t outrun the problems that created that stasis of being to begin with.
So, that’s what The Beths have to say. They go about saying it with a litany of striking guitar techniques – from its melodic lead picking to its propulsive palm-mute chorus, bowling over into the ringing chords that are pelted out into the ether by Tristan Deck’s muscular drum crashes. The echoing chorus – right on the tail of Stokes – adds an immediate urgency to her line of questioning, while Jonathan Pearce reprising key lines of the chorus in the all-in outro feels akin to the final stretch of a musical’s 11 o’clock number. No, Broadway is not the epicentre of any sort of rock revolution – but when it hits its emotional crescendo, just like here, there is not a dry eye in the room.
The Beths are more than just a nice band with nice songs. They are actively creating songs that are spaces to feel less alone within. To feel both heard and seen. To ruminate on your future, to gaze upon innocence lost. To reckon with plausible deniability. To close doors and open windows. To be an expert in a dying field.
Listen to the entire 2022 DJY100 here:
Tracks featuring non cis-male musicians = 49
Tracks featuring Australian artists = 42
The Weeknd (95, 84), Teenage Dads (93, 92), Pharrell Williams (91, 90), Tasman Keith (87, 37), Billy Nomates (86, 3), Pete & Bas (85, 10), 1300 (80, 46), Wet Leg (79, 50), Gang of Youths (67, 39), Megan Moroney (58, 5), Future Teens (57, 6), Full Flower Moon Band (56, 49), Dry Cleaning (32, 16, 7), Sly Withers (31, 19), The 1975 (28, 11), The Northern Boys (23, 8), The Beths (21, 17, 1), Fontaines D.C. (20, 2)
The DJY100 of 2022 is dedicated to Andrew McDonald. We love you, Andrew.