The Top 100 Songs of 2018, Part Four: 40 – 21

It’s almost over, I promise. Right, let’s go with the top 40. Oh, before we do – you’re all over parts one, two and three right? Okay, great. Moving on!

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40. Thelma Plum – Clumsy Love

After a few years away, a comeback from Thelma Plum felt like the warm moment of hope 2018 needed. The prodigious wunderkind delivered with her breeziest, most glistening pop song to date – not demanding of repeat listens, but it felt so good you just wanted to hear it again. Assisted by Sparkadia alum Alex Burnett, Plum details a bizarre love triangle where her betrothed is in purgatory between his past and present – ie. Plum. Her confessional croons are guided via tasteful electric guitar, buzzing synth-bass and a boom-clap drum machine reminiscent of early single “Dollar.” Ripe, delicious fruit.

39. Post Malone feat. Ty Dolla $ign – Psycho

Much like the identically-titled Amy Shark single, there’s something intriguing about the paradox that lies within a mellow, down-tempo number with a title as provocative as “Psycho.” Millions worldwide ended up finding a connection to what ended up being one of the year’s biggest hits from one of our more unexpected pop-culture figureheads. Post Malone’s flow is primarily based off Nelly’s two-note rap-sing approach, adding in flourishes of melody when the moment calls for it and riding out a floating, trap-flavoured beat. He may be a critic’s punching bag, but “Psycho” is just bright enough to block out the haters.

38. The Story So Far – Upside Down

It hasn’t been an easy road to “Upside Down,” as any fan of The Story So Far will attest to. The stark self-reflection, e-bow guitar and churning Hammond organ of this single are a complete world away from the boisterous teenage riot that was their debut, Under Soil and Dirt. “It’s all love now,” sings vocalist Parker Cannon – someone who once sat comfortably within pop-punk’s angry-young-man mould. It’s a testament to the band’s persistence that they were able to assemble what is easily their strongest song yet, eschewing their usual fanfare in favour of something subdued, mature and pensive.

37. Drake – In My Feelings

Would “In My Feelings” have been as massive without its viral dance challenge? Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Don’t get it twisted, the traffic-stopping sensation was definitely a booster. Even if no-one had hopped out of their cars, however, they no doubt would have still had “Feelings” blasting inside of them. It’s one of Drizzy’s most vivacious and addictive singles ever, brimming with perfectly-timed samples (Lil Wayne, the late Magnolia Shorty) and a warm melodic keyboard descent care of producer TrapMoneyBenny. Overexposure could have easily killed this song, but through some black magic it somehow made it even stronger.

36. Courtney Barnett – City Looks Pretty

For over two years, Courtney Barnett saw the world. As soon as she was done, she retreated. The bustle of “City Looks Pretty,” then – which recalls Paul Kelly’s more rocking moments like “Darling It Hurts” – doesn’t come from the hum of the nightlife, but the great indoors. The song sees Barnett’s world as topsy-turvy: “Friends treat you like a stranger/And strangers treat you like their best friend,” she sighs over major-chord strums. The brisk tempo depicts a racing mind and internal paranoia, which only comes to pass with the song’s swaying 6/8 outro. The real world beckons again.

35. Mitski – Geyser

It was almost a unanimous critical consensus that Mitski’s Be the Cowboy was the most acclaimed album of 2018. Here’s the thing, though: You could have easily been forgiven for not making it past the first song. Not because it made you want to turn off, mind – “Geyser” is the kind of album opener that is entirely transfixing. Its ocean-floor ambience, its distant percussion, its jump-scare noise – this song is a whole world unto itself. Not only is “Geyser” the strongest opener to any Mitski album, it manages to do so without even so much as a chorus.

34. Hockey Dad – I Wanna Be Everybody

At this stage, you could forgive Hockey Dad for being over-bored and self-assured – after all, they’re in one of the most popular rock bands in Australia, and they’ve assisted in putting their native Wollongong’s music scene back on the map for the first time since the Tumbleweed days. What’s shocking about “Everybody,” then, is how bluntly it confronts the idea of impostor syndrome. Sure, Zach Stephenson may have everything a young musician could dream of – but as he croons against twanging guitar chords and walloping snare, he doesn’t feel deserving or worthy. A Trojan horse of garage-rock emotions.

33. DZ Deathrays – Like People

From downing beers in matching Ts to getting blood on their leather, DZ Deathrays have spent the last decade smashing together the heads of dance-punk and pub-rock to create a reflective skull of pedal-stomping riffs and big-swinging drums. “Like People” is as nasty and snarky as anything they’ve ever written, but even its nihilism can’t offset how damn catchy the fucker ends up being. When the chorus hits, it lands in your hands like a hot potato – fitting, given the video’s cameo from Wiggles alum Murray Cook. DZ have thrived, survived and even revolutionised themselves. There’s no stopping them.

32. Charlie Puth feat. Kehlani – Done for Me

Many male popstars have songs where they basically go unchecked and say whatever they want without any in-song consequence. “Done for Me,” like “Too Good” and “Somebody That I Used to Know” before it, gets a word in from the other party and is all the better for it. Kehlani plays Puth’s jilted lover, setting our loverboy straight while he dishes over “Billie Jean” drums and “PYT” keyboards. Considering the first time Puth tried a duet was the garish “Marvin Gaye” with the even-more-garish Meghan Trainor, it says a lot that “Done for Me” succeeds in the way it does.

31. 5 Seconds of Summer – Want You Back

This is the point where we realised we got it wrong. 5 Seconds of Summer were never supposed to be the next blink-182 or the next Green Day. They weren’t supposed to be the next One Direction, either. Get this: They were supposed to be the next Maroon 5. “Want You Back” ditches the old 5SOS sound quicker than you can remove your American Apparel underwear. Slick bass, guitar funk and falsetto rolls around this effortlessly-cool number, locking into a technicolour groove that more or less reinvents the band entirely. At last, Australia’s favourite boy band are, simply, a band.

30. Calvin Harris feat. Dua Lipa – One Kiss

After the California dreaming of Harris’ excellent Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, it seemed only natural that the Scotsman would return to his native habitat of the club. He didn’t come back empty-handed, though – or alone, for that matter. “One Kiss” is his most triumphant dancefloor-filler since “Sweet Nothing,” and it’s handily assisted by pop sensation Dua Lipa. It feels like achieving ecstasy while high on… well, you know… and Harris’ pristine production accentuates every last endorphin. There were few greater moments in pop this year than when the drop of “One Kiss” was figuratively trumpeted in. True love.

29. Post Malone – Better Now

Austin Post remains divisive. For all of his fans, he has just as many detractors and people that just don’t quote-unquote “get it.” Allow “Better Now” to assist those in the latter category, as it’s probably the closest you’ll get to understanding what our man is out here trying to do. He’s a young T-Pain after the party. He’s an emo kid that got into beatmaking rather than mic-swinging. He’s a lower-class loser that was never meant to reach these heights. “Better Now” is a view from the top, but also a reminder of how lonely it gets up there.

28. Polish Club – Clarity

“Clarity” showcases the best of Polish Club – vocalist David Novak howls and moans just like Otis, while John-Henry Pajak sneaks in the best drum fill of his career to kick off the song’s final burst. Consider their trajectory in tandem with another notable rock duo, The Black Keys. After years of lo-fi and bluesy brawlers, a touch of production polish and a newfound funk have made their way into the mix. This is Polish Club’s “Tighten Up” moment – and considering the latter arrived on the Keys’ sixth album, it means the Club is evolving at an alarming rate.

27. Hop Along – How Simple

Hop Along quietly and unassumingly returned in the first few weeks of 2018, sharing their first new song in nearly three years ahead of an album set for that April. If you didn’t have your ear to the ground you could have missed it entirely – which is why “How Simple” felt so rewarding to those that were across it. Frances Quinlan has always had one of the most – ahem – quintessential voices in indie rock, and to hear it implemented in her band’s danciest, poppiest and most upbeat moment to date felt like something special. Joy in simplicity.

26. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers – Good as Gold

Country either depicts new love or dead love. “Good as Gold” finds us at the arse-end of a busted relationship: So intertwined are the two, Sarah Shook doesn’t even look at this person, as she sings, “like a thing of mine/That I can just up and lose.” Lamenting over looming pedal steel and the scuffle of a train-track drum roll, Shook delivers a bar-country number alongside her trusty Disarmers that by every right should have taken over country radio. Soon enough, women within the genre will be too loud to ignore – and Shook will be on the damn frontline.

25. Jack R. Reilly – Pursuing Balance

Anyone who’s seen Jack R. Reilly perform knows that he always had bigger ambitions than your average troubadour. He was raised on a diet of post-punk revival and 21st century art-rock, and “Pursuing Balance” was his first major play at paying homage to that. With the assistance of Cry Club‘s Jonathan Tooke, Reilly spilled his heart over disco drums, stuttered hooks and washed out guitars, all tied together by one of the year’s most distinctive piano lines. Whether it soundtracks a weekend in the city or a night of intimacy, “Pursuing Balance” succeeds. It’s the best song he’s ever written.

24. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Hunnybee

You really never know what you’re gonna get when Ruban Nielson gets cooking. Unknown Mortal Orchestra songs could end up being roller discos, porn grooves, riff-heavy wig-outs… it’s a huge spectrum, and a full testament to his versatility as a songwriter. After the tape-loop strings subside, “Hunnybee” reveals its undeniable groove in all of its glory. The thing plays out like a complete dream – the funk of the bass, the coo of the lead guitar, its addictive chorus, the faint keyboards. It’s a masterwork, and a true career highlight from a man who’s never short on ideas.

23. Charlie Puth – The Way I Am

In Charlie Puth’s eyes, he was never meant to be a star – yet, in 2018, he was as big a star as he’s ever been. “Everybody’s trying to be famous,” he sings, almost at a whisper, before adding: “I’m just trying to find a place to hide.” It’s fitting that the riff that serves as the song’s foundation recalls the opening of Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” – Puth knows exactly where he is, and there’s no turning back. Nevertheless, “The Way I Am” finds method to the madness, and makes tracks on Puth’s road to superstardom.

22. The 1975 – Give Yourself a Try

Ben Lee once described pop music as “philosophy you can dance to,” and that’s rarely been more true than in the case of The 1975’s massive lead single from what ended up being an event album of 2018. Over a spiky guitar loop and a booming drum machine, Matt Healy offers advice and ruminates on his past. The titular hook is one of the wisest things you could possibly impart to a young person that’s struggling, and the way it’s delivered means that it no doubt landed square in the hearts and minds of its many listeners. Try, try again.

21. Gladie – The Problem is Us

As singer of Cayetana, Augusta Koch detailed the finer parts of her 20s in the throes of sweetly-melodic indie rock. With them on the back-burner, Koch began anew. Gladie may not have the same edge or bounding energy that was found in Cayetana’s finest moments, but it doesn’t really need them. Koch instead focuses on something more refined and stylistically mature, offering up brilliant lyrics and subtly-invasive hooks over warm keys and restrained drums. By the time she’s hamering home the final refrain of “We’re speaking softly/We’re not communicating,” you hear her – and Gladie itself – loud and clear.

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20 songs to go, and they’re next! What will be number one? Only one way to find out. In the meantime, have a listen to all 80 songs that have been in the countdown so far:

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

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

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80. Moaning Lisa – Lily

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

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

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

78. Fiddlehead – Lay Low

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

77. Silk City feat. Dua Lipa – Electricity

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

76. BROCKHAMPTON – SAN MARCOS

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

75. Cloud Nothings – Leave Him Now

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

74. The Hard Aches – Mess

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

73. Basement – Stigmata

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


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

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

71. East Brunswick All Girls Choir – Essendon 1986

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

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

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

69. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake

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

68. Courtney Barnett – Charity

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

67. Baker Boy – Mr. La Di Da Di

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

66. Ball Park Music – Hands Off My Body

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

65. Wafia – I’m Good

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

64. Vacations – Steady

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

63. E^ST – I Don’t Lack Imagination

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

62. The Presets – Downtown Shutdown

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

61. Charli XCX feat. Troye Sivan – 1999

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

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