The Top 100 Songs of 2021, Part Three: 60 – 41

Hey! Sorry it took me awhile to get this up. I got COVID! Heard of it? It’s not great! Anyway, hope you enjoy this sail over the halfway mark. Promise this’ll be done by the end of the month. While you’re at it, why not catch up on Part One here and Part Two here? There ya go!

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60. Silk Sonic – Skate

What do women want? It’s been a hot-button topic for many a year now, and most men are still without answers. Needless to say, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak are not most men. They saw the absolutely massive uptick of women getting into rollerskating over the last 12 to 18 months, and they promptly cashed in with a blissful roller-disco ode to the phenomenon. You could be cynical about it being opportunistic, but “Skate” is way too sunny to succumb to such a dismissal. It’s a broad, beautiful smile of a song – and it’s exactly what women want, too.

59. WILLOW feat. Travis Barker – t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l

Most of you probably haven’t thought of Willow Smith in a decade… and she’s only 21. Somewhere in the throes of her teens and early 20s, the former child star stopped whipping her hair long enough to notice the world around her. This resulted in a guitar-heavy pop-rock comeback for the ages, helmed by red-carpet walker (and occasional drummer) Travis Barker. The same swagger that carried her tween hit is very much intact – she’s the daughter of a Fresh Prince, after all – but its moody, darker corners breathe new life into this still-burgeoning and fascinating career. With soul.

58. The Buoys – Lie to Me Again

One of The Buoys’ first tracks was “Liar Liar” – a rambunctious garage-punk number about a no-good ex, packed with the usual early-20s angst amidst clattering drums and rousing guitars. The topic is revisited four years later on “Lie to Me Again,” with a changed line-up but the constant of frontwoman Zoe Catterall. Here, she approaches the jilted former lover with the kind of calm that can only come before a storm. It’s not as in-your-face as its predecessor, but its impact is promptly doubled by its barbed lyricism and righteously-convicted chorus. This much is true: The Buoys light up.

57. Geese – Low Era

We’re getting to that stage in history where people with compound sentences for birth years are making some of the most exciting new music. One such act are indie-disco punks Geese, who were scooped up in a bidding war circa 2020. Now the Brooklynites have arrived in earnest for us to gander at, “Low Era” feels especially pertinent – reminiscent of when The Rapture and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah hit the scene. Will Geese have staying power beyond this fleeting infatuation? Impossible to tell. For this moment of post-punk zeitgeist, however, they’re the only living band in New York.

56. Gang of Youths – the angel of 8th ave.

Prior to the pandemic, Gang of Youths moved to London and brought in Noah & The Whale‘s Tom Hobden. This season of growth and change persisted, even in the midst of global shutdown. “angel” was GOY bursting forth and rising to the occasion once more, delivering heartland pop with prolix professionalism. Its parade of shimmering strings, syncopated claps and perhaps Max Dunn’s finest bass-line yet ensured that the Gang was back in business. They might not be a big fish in a little pond anymore, but “the angel of 8th ave.” proved that there was still blood in the water.

55. Halsey – Bells in Santa Fe

If you said this time last year that one of 2021’s most fruitful collaborations would be between Halsey and Nine Inch Nails, you might’ve had more concern raised than if you’d started coughing into your fist and offering handshakes. Nevertheless, they persisted. With additional production from unexpected outsider The Bug, “Bells” sets a scene somewhere between Fair Verona and oblivion with its spiralling synthesizer orchestra. Halsey’s increasing desperation as she tears pages from her Bible and comes to term with impermanence make for one of the most arresting performances of her career. It boils, it burns and it transforms into…

54. Halsey – Easier Than Lying

Halsey has flirted with heaviness in the past (see her underrated “Experiment On Me”), but “Easier Than Lying” hits different. That’s not just a saying, by the way – from its snarling bass to its siren-wail outro and the anchoring of its frenetic drum-and-bass backbeat, there’s never been a song in Halsey’s canon quite like this one. With the intense pacing of a car chase, the song’s relentless energy is carried by another ice-cold, sting-in-the-tail performance from none other than Ms. “Without Me” herself. There was a time when Trent Reznor once marched with the pigs. In 2021, Halsey ran.

53. Citizen – I Want to Kill You

The lead single of every Citizen record since their modern genre classic debut Youth has felt like its own reset. “Cement” forged into slinking alt-rock; “Jet” rode the wave of… well, The Wave… and now “I Want to Kill You” has introduced disco drums and post-punk frenetic ferocity. The best part is that it all still feels like Citizen each time – Matt Kerekes’ writhing yelp, the steely fretwork of the Hamm brothers and that propulsive emotional build that ensures Citizen From Toledo, Ohio can be heard around the world. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and Citizen are absolutely jacked.

52. Polish Club – Stop for a Minute

Polish Club can get as goofy as anyone. They play silly games, make knowingly-hideous album art… even in this song’s video, frontman David Novak chows down on a sanga while dancing in a tux. What “Stop for a Minute” does best, however, is cut through the bullshit – even in what’s arguably the most fun musical environment the duo has ever set up for itself. That seething frustration seeps through the cracks in the mirrorball that separate the art from the artist, rattling from the ceiling against the bass drum kick. It’s not the clown crying anymore: It’s pissed disco.

51. Toby Martin – Linthwaite Houdini

Be it a pregnant city dweller or a radicalised immigrant teenager, Toby Martin has always thrived telling stories that aren’t his own with a surprising sense of belonging. The lead single from his third solo album is no exception, where he hears tell of a small-town escape artist whose grand scheme doesn’t go according to plan. Amongst the wallowing trumpet and the slinking waltz drums, Martin’s writing encompasses the envisioned triumph and the ultimate tragedy that emerges from a story as unique as this one. The truth is stranger than fiction, and few Australian songwriters truly get that like Martin.

50. Olivia Rodrigo – brutal

“Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” For an artist that was introduced to the world via post-Lorde piano balladry, few could have expected the veneer to crumble quite like it did on Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album opener. As that riff churns, she wants it on record that this sweet life of celebrity and status is far from perfect – in fact, it’s tearing her apart inside. “brutal,” true to its name, is the heaviest song on SOUR by a considerable margin. It’s a living, seething testament to the year pop was allowed to rock again. Teenage angst, meet This Year’s Model.

49. Tasman Keith feat. Kwame – ONE

It started off as a rib, when short-king MC Tasman Keith got photos taken with the towering Kwame. What ended up revealing itself over the coming weeks, however, proved this: These motherfuckers weren’t playing. “ONE” is the best song either artist has been a part of – and considering the calibre of their already-illustrious careers, that’s not said lightly. From its urgent beat to its belligerent flow, there’s absolutely no backing down on any front. When the duo knocked this out of the park on The Set, Kwame boasted: “Rap song of the fucking year.” You’re inclined to believe him.

48. Springtime – Will to Power

Gareth Liddiard had a surprisingly fruitful year. Tropical Fuck Storm’s lockdown record finally came out, he reinvented his catalogue live with Jim White and he undertook a new journey entirely with Springtime. Liddiard, White and The Necks pianist Chris Abrahams are no strangers to music with a freer, looser form than your average. That factors into their debut single “Will to Power,” but it’s far from the only story. It’s a sprawling, darkly-shaded take on Liddiard’s barbed Australiana through a strange, dirty lens. Against cascading guitar, creaking piano and the sturdy drumming shuffle of the unmistakable White, Springtime truly blossoms.

47. Holy Holy – How You Been

Somewhere in the shadow realm between pop that rocks and rock that pops lies Holy Holy. Across four studio albums, the Melbourne-via-Tasmania duo who have slowly but surely built a reputation as one of the country’s more likeable and endearing indie hit-makers. “How You Been” showcases the duo at their key strengths. Frontman Timothy Carroll’s performance is heartfelt and rousing; guitarist Oscar Dawson’s buoyant production, meanwhile, allows everything from the rubbery bass-line to the triumphantly OTT solo to cohesively gel. It’s an electric pop effort designed for dancing like no-one’s watching – much like Carroll himself in the accompanying video.

46. Limp Bizkit – Dad Vibes

hot dad ridin in on a rhino

45. Deafheaven – Great Mass of Color

In retrospect, perhaps we could have all seen Deafheaven’s stylistic departure coming. They have, after all, seemingly always existed on the very fringes of heavy metal itself – what’s one extra push out of the genre entirely? “Great Mass of Color” was a headfirst dive into the great unknown – one that, admittedly, could have seen the Northern Calfornia quintet land flat on their face. Instead, however, the band was immersed in a crystallised bliss that revelled in its tranquil undercurrent in tandem with its bursting, resplendent refrain. It’s like a dream, to borrow a phrase. You want to dream.

44. Ruby Fields – R.E.G.O

Ruby Fields is lots of things, but a rockstar is not one of them. She’s just Rubes, slinging beers at the local to get by and shooting the shit with the regulars. “R.E.G.O” is a rumination on this lifestyle – living paycheck to paycheck, but having the inextricable bonds of friendship keeping it afloat. “Haven’t you always wanted to feel like that?” Fields asks, again and again. She’s saying what we’re all thinking, and she knows it. It’s bolstered by her impeccable band, with a special nod to Adam Newling’s fret-bending lead work. Worth a coin in the tip jar.

43. Turnstile – MYSTERY

2021 was Turnstile’s year. No ifs, buts or maybes. The Baltimore natives elevated American hardcore to a level arguably not seen since John Belushi moshed to Fear at 30 Rock – the same building, coincidentally, that Turnstile saw out the year performing inside as part of Late Night. There, they played the track that launched their year: “MYSTERY,” a song that dares anyone feeling froggy to go ahead and leap. Brendan Yates’ boisterous yelp, pondering the great unknown, ricochets off churning guitars and walloping drums to forge something full of life that proudly goes down swinging. Consider the mystery solved.

42. No Rome feat. Charli XCX and The 1975 – Spinning

Around August, Charli XCX dropped an ambigious tweet with a question that left her devotees guessing: “rip hyperpop?” Her two singles since this have indicated a new direction is imminent for March’s Crash, which means that “Spinning” might be her last true hurrah as a glitched-out pop weirdo for the time being. If that’s the case, what a way to go out. Trust the Dirty Hit all-stars to assemble an all-star dirty hit – an all-syrup squishee bender with intense hypercolour and a robotic empire of Charlis parroting the titular phrase on a telling loop. She’s making us dizzy, still.

41. easy life – skeletons

“skeletons” is so excited to get going, it practically trips over itself – cue the tumbling drums and smash-cut to the word of the day. It’s a disarming beginning to a song that coasts on smooth sailing, but that may well be the point. A closer inspection, of course, sees that this future-soul cut from the Leicester lads portrays purported paranoia over a partner’s playful past. It’s a little Mac Miller; a little Rex Orange County; a little Hot Chip. There’s some fascinating moving parts at play here. What easy life have concocted, ultimately, is guaranteed to rattle some bones.

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

Back next week with part four!

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: