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
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.
Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:
When they were first making noise, the most common term for Fontaines D.C. was “post-punk.” It made perfect sense circa Dogrel – after all, it was all we had to go off. What if, however, Dogrel was a punk record… and A Hero’s Death was the real post-punk record? The churning bass, the Madchester big-beat drums and the surf-nightmare baritone guitar on “Televised Mind” is like night and day when paired next to, say, “Boys in the Better Land.” It’s an evolution; a primordial and powerful progression. Whatever it is, it’s post-something. They’ve once again gotten ahead of the game.
19. Gorillaz feat. Peter Hook and Georgia – Aries
“Aries:” the best Gorillaz single since “DoYaThing,” and also the best New Order song since “Crystal.” While the band’s previous collab-heavy project Humanz felt like too many cooks, Song Machine saw the fictitious troupe get the balance just right. Case in point: the legendary Peter Hook pulls out a classic high-fret bassline for 2D’s weary, emotive vocal. Meanwhile, electronica upstart Georgia patterns a V-drums undercurrent that drives it along before literally bursting into high tide (what a chorus, while we’re at it). This team-up may seem like a bizarre love triangle, but in execution “Aries” was written in the stars.
18. The 1975 – If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)
The role “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” plays shifted significantly. Its initial April release was a final burst of hype for the band’s Notes on a Conditional Form, after endless delays and an elongated hype trail. Post-Notes, it’s symbolic of better times – where we hadn’t yet been let down by the exhaustive hour-20 bloat that ensued. In either case, through the good times and the bad, “Too Shy” survived. It stood alone as one of the band’s brightest and bubbliest singles to date. Everybody wants to rule the world, but “Too Shy” actually followed through on it.
17. Cry Club – Obvious
There’s two pertinent lines in “Obvious.” The first, from the perspective of Heather Riley’s bank account, is “Bitch, you need to stay at home.” This, mind, was written well before every bitch needed to stay at home for months. The other is in the song’s chorus: “How could anyone say no?” Cry Club are irresistible by design. They are a beloved pop band making beloved pop songs. This is among the best they’ve penned, from its ascending cascade of keys to its urgent, propulsive drums and topped off with a sweet cherry of a melody. Cry Club feels like home.
16. Jackson Wang – 100 Ways
Jackson Wang is from a South Korean boy band. No, not that one. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter which one he’s from. This is about Jackson Wang, solo star. By all rights, “100 Ways” should’ve been as explosive a hit single as… well, “Dynamite.” The state-of-the-art LOSTBOY beat, the Paul Simon flip of the chorus, the oozing charisma of Wang himself… goddamn, “100 Ways” has everything going for it. What gives, America? He’s even on 88Rising, and y’all LOVE them. Wang can do more as one man than most boys can do as a group of seven – including his own.
15. Urthboy – The Night Took You
They say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Urthboy knows this well, but consider that he’s spent the last 20-plus years being unbroken. If anyone’s earned the right to go in and smash shit up, it’s him. “The Night Took You” is the sound of one of the country’s all-time greatest MCs risking it all by not spitting a single bar. A weary, heartfelt melody takes its place, accompanied by plaintive piano and stirring strings. How then, does this recipe for potential disaster taste so rich and fulfilling? It’s simple, really: Urthboy rebuilt in his very own image.
14. Good Sad Happy Bad – Shades
Several circumstances lead to Micachu & The Shapes changing their name. Raisa Khan took over on lead vocals, for one; multi-instrumentalist CJ Caladerwood expanded the band to a quartet, for another. Ultimately, it came down to drawing a line in the sand. That was then, this is now. “Shades” feels like a new chapter, in that sense. It pulls many of the same shapes as the Shapes, but it’s cast through a new lense. Khan’s reserved, distinct delivery pairs well against the harsh synth and feedback-heavy sax. It’s the future, but it’s now. It’s here. Come, see the bright side.
13. The Beths – Out of Sight
“Out of Sight” doesn’t do anything particularly different for The Beths. It’s more resplendent, sun-kissed indie-pop that revels in its darker corners while never losing its brightness. This, of course, changes once you find yourself below its surface. In the thick of this song is a shattering piece of love-lorn poetry: “I’ll keep a flame burning inside,” offers vocalist Liz Stokes, “if you need to bum a light.” Her bandmates allow the song’s sentimentality to both simmer and burst into life – see Jon Pearce’s impeccable lead guitar and Tristan Deck’s racing snare-rim. It’s not particularly different, no. It’s better.
12. The 1975 – Me & You Together Song
“We went to Winter Wonderland,” reminisces 1975 frontman Matty Healy amidst his love-letter to 90s jangle-pop. “It was shit, but we were happy.” A potentially-revelatory thought: Could The 1975 themselves be the Winter Wonderland of the pop world? This is a band acutely aware of its shortcomings, prone to self-sabotage and over-indulgence among many other things. In the times when you need them the most, however, they glisten. They are everything you need. You – and they – are happy. You’ll let them make a two-hour triple album if it means three minutes of paradise like this. You and them together.
11. Fontaines D.C. – I Don’t Belong
“Dublin in the rain is mine,” boasted Grian Chatten at the beginning of his band’s acclaimed debut album a year prior. What a difference a year makes. He can see clearly now, the rain has gone. “I don’t want to belong to anyone,” he prophesises at the beginning of his band’s acclaimed second album. A new man, fronting a new band. Methodical, refined, steely in focus. Slow to build and bright to burn. Once standing on the shoulders of giants, now giants themselves. They roam this barren, empty land. “I Don’t Belong” is a new beginning and a turning tide.
10. 5 Seconds of Summer – No Shame
When did 5 Seconds of Summer go from being – to borrow a phrase – boys to men? There are several key points along the Sydney band’s trajectory: Making it in America, crashing under the weight of expectation with their sophomore slump, blazing a comeback trail with a global number-one smash. These are all worthy answers, and testament to 5SOS’ maturation and evolution. If you want the proper answer, however, it lies within the confines of “No Shame:” They’re finally so famous that they’ve written a song about being famous.
Not only have they done that, they’ve written one of the best songs of their career. It’s a move that can go drastically wrong – lest we forget the band’s heroes, Good Charlotte, absolutely whiffing it with their 2005 tantrum “I Just Wanna Live.” What makes “No Shame” stand out, then, is its revelry. “I only light up when cameras are flashing,” boasts vocalist Luke Hemmings, stomping down on his territory as Ashton Irwin smacks out a “Closer” disco groove. That’s not the first Nine Inch Nails reference 5SOS have made of late, either. Rather than rally against the starfuckers, however, 5SOS are leaning directly into their primitive, forceful nature. “Go on, replace me,” Hemmings taunts. “When you’re cravin’ somethin’ sweeter than the words I left in your mouth/Go on and spit me out.” He’s seen his band get dumped in the bin before, he’s not afraid of it happening again.
That’s the thing about “No Shame.” It’s got nothing to lose. It’s a dark, sneering pop song, driven by a washed out, “Come As You Are”-esque guitar line and the guttural squelch of bass-synth patched in with the industrial-tinged beat programming. Australia’s biggest boy-band export have burned their lovable-larrikin image to the ground. No more cutesy cock-rock, or acoustic gaslighting anthems, or even pushing and pulling away.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
– 11 Corinthians 3
5 Seconds of Summer are men now. Treat them as such.
Needless to say, it’s anyone’s guess where Sports Team end up in this trajectory. Consider this: Arctic Monkeys got their start kicking out Strokes and Vines covers, the hyped bands of their teens. Sports Team, and bands of their ilk, almost definitely got their start on Arctic Monkeys covers. Maybe even Art Brut and Maxïmo Park too, actually – oft-forgotten names that may be more influential on the current generation of UK rock than anyone is willing to give credit for. Either way the baton has been passed, and a new breed of sardonic English artists are emerging to rattle whatever foundations are left.
Sports Team arrive on the scene as bitter upstarts. Even their name sounds ironic – like, ooh, go team! I love my sports because I’m a man! Then again, of course Sports Team are bitter. Look at the world they’ve inherited – it’s drastically different to the one that the Monkeys and Bloc Party and the like took up in. They’re being fed a constant stream of bullshit on an information superhighway – and there they are, plugged in and playing in the middle of the road, trying to not get totalled by an oncoming truck.
This is at the core of their lead single, statement piece and soon-to-be signature song. “Here’s the Thing” is a barrage of slogans and self-help mantras, rattled off with increasing frustration by frontman Alex Rice. “Jesus loves you!” he chirps. “The football’s coming home!” Of course, as the band will happily remind us at the end of every verse: “It’s all just lies, lies, lies, lies.” The band themselves aren’t exempt from the smell of their own bullshit, either. “Hey, ma! I wrote a song!,” Rice cheers at one point. “Now everything’s alright!” It’s not, of course. Who knows if it will be. Still, despite their snark and their piss-antery, there is a bubbling undercurrent of hope that a band like Sports Team exists in the first place. That’s just the thing, isn’t it.
8. Peach Tree Rascals – Things Won’t Go My Way
At the time of writing, Peach Tree Rascals don’t have a genre listed on their Wikipedia page. That might seem like an oversight more than anything – symptomatic of an incomplete article – but it’s honestly worth thinking about. We’re in an age where everything can be categorised. An entire t-shirt can be filled with the names of subgenres – and sometimes that’s just subgenres for one genre itself. How the fuck are a band like Peach Tree Rascals getting away with not having a genre? Simple, really: They’re living by example.
For those playing catch-up, the NoCal collective first took off over on TikTok circa 2019 with their single “Mariposa.” While the success story isn’t unique – it probably makes up nearly half of the no-name artists on the charts currently rubbing shoulders with established giants – the song itself certainly was. It’s a zoomer’s take on sunny-afternoon, carefree 60s pop, mixing jazzy chord strums with the whirr of AutoTune and a multitude of vocal perspectives. Think BROCKHAMPTON covering The Turtles, or maybe the other way around. It’s not uncategorisable entirely, but it’s genre-free both by choice and by nature.
While not nearly as successful – it holds some four million Spotify streams to “Mariposa”’s 150 – “Things Won’t Go My Way” arguably goes a greater distance in emphatically diversifying the Rascals’ sound. The churning indie-rock guitar progression clatters and clangs against a sturdy bassline, washed-out keys and pristine pop drums. The vocals, too, range from understated lower-octave to reverb-heavy calls out from the ether. There’s lots of elements and moving parts at work here, but it never stakes permanent residence in any immediate musical spectrum.
One could also view this as a larger issue of music attempting a one-size-fits-all mentality – a mater of homogeneity rather than originality. To dismiss Peach Tree Rascals in such a manner is to miss the point entirely. It’s not that they’re trying to be too rap for indie, too indie for rap, or anything in-between. It’s that they simply don’t want to be. They want to be themselves. That’s something not enough acts aspire to.
7. Spanish Love Songs – Self-Destruction (As a Sensible Career Choice)
Just over a decade ago, pop-punk took a turn. Its stalwarts stayed true to the “my friends over you” and “girls are so confusing” school of songwriting, yes, but its contemporaries shifted into something harsher by touch and texture. This notion of “realist pop-punk” came primarily from young American men in their early to mid 20s, attempting to find their own place in the world and assuring those around them that they were not alone in their confusions and general anxiety. The Wonder Years, Transit, Fireworks, Real Friends – even the more belligerent acts like The Story So Far and a young Turnover eventually transitioned into this more emotive musical territory.
Bands like Spanish Love Songs were born in the wake of this, and have molded themselves in this image. Whether you see it as a gritty reboot of pop-punk, the fourth wave of emo or something new entirely, it’s grown increasingly hard to deny its presence. From The Hotelier and Modern Baseball to Sorority Noise and You Blew It!, this sound made waves and developed cult status through the 2010s – occasionally spilling over into mainstream crossover with the success of by-products like Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers.
We may have entered a new decade, but the grievances and turmoil faced by this generation of songwriters hasn’t magically gone away. “Need about 30 goddamn miracles,” spits Dylan Slocum – a nihilistic twist on the tried-and-true trope of needing a miracle. While previous generations couldn’t see the forest for the trees, he “can’t see the world is burning down/’Til we’re living underwater.” It’s a devastating lyric sheet – and entirely emblematic of what follows on third album Brave Faces Everyone. What, then, makes a song like this so rousing and endearing?
For one, it’s an immaculately-crafted piece of alternative rock. The crunch of its guitar tone bounces off the wallop of the drums, with Slocum’s histrionic howl centring itself within the fold. That piercing lead guitar in the chorus cuts straight through the treacle, adding an even sweeter release to the already-powerful hook of “It won’t be this bleak forever.” That’s not even touching the military precision of the chorus’ stop-start reinvention in the finale – as a unit, SLS really stick the landing on this one.
Perhaps its most endearing moment, however, comes in the twist of its closing moments. The whole song sees Slocum fighting against the hook – it’s always bookended with an addendum like “yeah, right” or “have you seen me lately?” For its final repetition, however, Slocum doesn’t talk back. He lets it sit. It’s a flicker of hope. It’s a resolute moment after three minutes of turmoil and tragedy.
In an interview with Billboard, Slocum reasoned that the entire purpose of a project like Spanish Love Songs was to make people feel less alone. “It’s bleak stuff, but I find some comfort in knowing that we’re all in it together,” he says. He’s right – it is bleak. But it won’t be this bleak forever. It can’t be. Not with bands like Spanish Love Songs in our lives.
If it wasn’t obvious, Sophia Allison – aka Soccer Mommy – was another notable part of this wave. She could have perhaps even been its crescent, if only she hadn’t been crashed on by the ever-rising tide. Make no mistake, though: Soccer Mommy is no also-ran project, and “circle the drain” is no also-ran song. In fact, this song is so breathtakingly good that it will make you reconsider her entirely. Whether you liked her initially or not, this song proves she was considerably better than you were ever willing to give her credit for.
“circle the drain” succeeds in a way that previous Soccer Mommy tracks were not able to for one clear-cut reason: It’s found a niche. Rather than trying to keep up any kind of indie-darling purist facade, the song instead openly and outwardly opts to be a pop-rock song. Allison has noted that Avril Lavigne’s second album, 2004’s Under My Skin, was the first album she ever bought. Lavigne’s influence plays a key role here – this sounds exactly like it could be a cut from either of her first two records. We’re all adults here, by the way – we can all acknowledge those records as being excellent now.
This isn’t a bratty “Sk8er Boi” moment, though it’s not exactly “Nobody’s Home” either. Think more “Mobile,” or “Things I’ll Never Say.” Pensive, forlorn pop with a dozen guitars jangling around inside of it and processed beats that just dash across the turn of the century. Here’s where the carving knife for Allison’s niche grows particularly sharp: The song may musically be indebted to a bygone era, but its lyricism details an acute millennial malaise that can only come with someone of her age at this exact moment in time.
Perhaps it was wrong to overlook Soccer Mommy when she first arrived on the scene. Then again, perhaps that very notion makes “circle the drain” all the more triumphant. It’s one of the year’s most unexpected delicacies – a left-of-centre dream-pop diary entry that potently merges the past, the present and the future. Round and round we go, once more.
5. Miel – Must Be Fine
Miel Breduow never had to explain that she wasn’t kidding.
Under regular circumstances, a person best known for doing comedy has to clarify what’s sincere and what isn’t. From Nanetteto Wolfie’s Just Fine to… ahem… Dane Cook’s “Forward,” there are countless examples of comics moving into earnest territory. Bredouw isn’t all that different. She goofed around on Vine at its peak, ending up on countless compilations and keeping the dream of Keisza’s “Hideaway” alive. She moved over to podcasting and found a new cult following as she punched up countless jams, both with friends and on her own. She is, as Streisand would say, a funny girl.
When “Must Be Fine” came out, Miel never had to explain that she wasn’t kidding. Why?
The answer is twofold. The first is a reflection on the kind of person Bredouw is – or, at the very least, a reflection on the public persona fans and listeners have come to know through her work. Even when making ridiculous jokes or shriek-laughing at more of Chris Fleming‘s escapades, she comes across as entirely genuine. The kind of person who means what they say, who wouldn’t be laughing if they didn’t find it funny and the kind of person who sees honesty as the best policy.
More pertinent to the song itself, though, is that secondly there’s basically no other read you can give on “Must Be Fine.” It’s a cutting song – it’s sharp, and goes surprisingly deep for a two-and-a-half-minute song with two verses, two choruses and a bridge. A bridge that doesn’t lead anywhere, either – which is surprising on the first listen, but once you’re intimately familiar with your surrounds it clicks and begins to make sense. This isn’t a story with a definitive conclusion. There are no heroes and villains. It’s a time-lapse of a flower withering beneath a descending California sunset. It’s beauty and loss and tragedy within a sunburnt city landscape.
Hannah Gadsby, who performed the aforementioned Nanette, speaks of the effects of laughter in that show. “Laughter is very good for the human,” she said. “It really is, because when you laugh you release tension. When you hold tension in your human body, it’s not healthy. It’s not healthy psychologically or physically.”
Miel’s work has always released tension. It’s interesting, then, that her work that achieved this in the most accomplished of ways was not centred on laughter. And she never had to explain that she wasn’t kidding.
4. Sarah Jarosz – Johnny
“Why is it that we can feel so robbed when someone tells us a story we just heard isn’t true, and yet feel so satisfied at the end of a fictional novel?” This is a question posed by puppet-comedian Randy Feltface in his 2015 show Randy Writes a Novel, which comes at the end of perhaps the show’s finest moment of storytelling. (Referencing that quote if you haven’t seen the part in question is a bit of a spoiler, but so be it.) In songwriting, we’re so obsessed with the idea of what’s “real.” If it’s “real,” then it’s “authentic.” And if it’s “authentic,” then it’s inherently good. Or so we’re told.
“The tortured artist myth is rampant. People paint me as some kind of black witchcraft-practising devil from hell, that I have to be twisted and dark to do what I am doing. It’s a load of rubbish.” This is a quote from PJ Harvey, giving an interview to promote her 1998 album Is This Desire?. It’s an album, much like all of her work, that is steeped in character and fable-oriented lyricism. Does this make her work any less “real” or “authentic” because she didn’t literally drown her child like she sings on “Down By the Water”? Do we dare question men about this authenticity the same way we question women? Harvey’s one-time fling Nick Cave has been singing of murdering people for 30-plus years and has barely batted an eyelid in that time.
“Johnny’s on the back porch drinking red wine/He knows that it could be the very last time/He raises the glass up to his lips and wonders.” This is the opening line to “Johnny,” the lead single from Sarah Jarosz’ fifth studio album World on the Ground. Jarosz didn’t do a great deal of press for the album – for obvious reasons, of course – and so there isn’t a great deal of information as to whether the story told in the song is real.
The titular Johnny is staring down the barrel as he prepares to go in for open heart surgery – one fast move and he’s gone. It’s a moment filled with drama and suspense, and its unresolved nature only drives the intrigue even further. Did Johnny make it? Where is Johnny now? Is he even real to begin with?
Which then circles us back to these original points made by both Feltface and Harvey. Who cares if Johnny is real? “Johnny” is no less authentic because of it. It’s a striking, harmonious and emotive slice of Americana. Its lines trace around a bright octave mandolin, Levon Helm-esque drumming and rustic close harmonies that tie well into Jarosz’s bluegrass background. It’s certainly poppier than her earliest alt-country work, but that too doesn’t make it any less authentic. Any less real. From the second its tape-loop drone guides you in to the second its strummed mandolin lick guides you out, everything in “Johnny” is as real as it gets.
3. Hayley Williams – Simmer
Paramore is a band. Hayley Williams is a musician. Hayley Williams is in the band Paramore. “Simmer” is a song. “Simmer” is not a Paramore song. “Simmer” is a song by Hayley Williams.
This may seem like a collection of more moot points than a Rick Springfield song, and rightly so. Still, you would genuinely be shocked at how many people took issue differentiating when “Simmer” arrived in the first few weeks of 2020. If this is a Hayley Williams song, does that mean Paramore no longer exist? There are other members of Paramore involved – does this mean Paramore has become Hayley Williams? Hayley Williams is the only member of Paramore that has an unbroken line on Paramore’s Wikipedia timeline from start to end – surely this means she’s some sort of fascist dictator?
Again, you don’t get this kind of malarkey with male-fronted bands. For whatever reason, though, drama and discourse follow Williams around like a bad smell. It’s enough to send you mad – and, in a way, that’s a lot of what “Simmer” is about. It’s about the acknowledgement, the processing and the temperament of one’s deepest, darkest and most seething hatred. Williams has been outwardly pissed off before – hell, her first few albums with Paramore were quite literally fuelled by teenage angst. It’s never felt as subversive and as outright threatening as it does on “Simmer,” though.
Why, exactly? Consider both the context and the delivery. The context is no longer a firebrand pop-punk upstart, it’s an embattled 30-something divorcee who has grown up in public and been to hell and back twice over. The delivery is no longer a roof-raising, glass-shattering yelp – a defiant voice aiming to be heard in a dude-heavy scene. No, Williams is done with that shit. If you want to hear what she has to say, you’re going to have to lean in a little closer. When you do, in the throes of the second verse, she quite literally ideates violence. To paraphrase Tegan & Sara, you feel the knife going in.
Heightening the context is the musical environment of “Simmer.” 15 years is a long time, and you feel all 15 of them when you draw the line from All We Know is Fallingto “Simmer.” A smoky blend of trip-hop, indie and 21st-century pop lays out a trail of twists, turns and inevitable spirals. It’s a leap into the great unknown, and as Williams herself may have said 15 years prior you can feel the pressure.
How does one protect themselves, knowing danger awaits? Williams knows. “Wrap yourself in petals for armor,” she says. Don’t mistake kindness for weakness. Your anger is a gift. A riot inside the mind is no lesser of a riot.
“Simmer” is a song. It may be the best song Hayley Williams has ever sung.
2. EGOISM – Here’s the Thing
Breaking the fourth wall here slightly: Two different songs with the exact same title being in the same countdown has only ever happened once before. This was in 2018, when both Post Malone andAmy Shark released songs called “Psycho.” The pair both came at the titular phrase from unexpected places on surprisingly downbeat songs, unified by little more than a subversive take on a slightly-taboo word.
What, then, of “Here’s the Thing” and “Here’s the Thing”? Both come from upstart bands in their 20s, yes, but the similarities end conclusively there. Sports Team enlist the phrase like a weapon – a condescending, mansplaining place-setter, barked from the perspective of an elder statesmen with a chip on their shoulder. EGOISM, however, enlist the phrase as a jumping-off point. It’s the beginning of a difficult conversation. It’s the beginning of the end. The end of a beginning.
How could this phrase manage to hold such a different connotation in this context? Such weight? Truth be told, it’s part and parcel of EGOISM’s modus operandi. The band may traverse the realm of dream pop – often sonically light and airy by design – but their lyrical and thematic structure delve the inner depths as only the truest of confessionals can. It’s not for nothing that the duo of Olive Rush and Scout Eastment named their band after a school of philosophy defined as “concerned with the role of the self, or ego, as the motivation and goal of one’s own action.” EGOISM are at the centre of their own universe – and when they’re falling apart, it can only reflect in their music.
“Here’s the Thing,” with this taken into consideration, easily stands as the band’s most emotionally affecting song. Rush, who takes a stellar lead turn, spoke openly about the vulnerable place from which it came upon its release. They described it as being “about feeling like your heart is getting smashed into a million pieces.” It doesn’t get much more explicit in intent than that. This sentiment is subsequently reflected by the song’s palette, among the most tasteful the duo have ever composed. Striking math-rock chords ring out in tandem with sombre piano, while a ticking-clock snare rim ultimately gives way to a clattering loop that recalls that of Ben Lee’s similarly-pervious “Cigarettes Will Kill You.”
It’s the kind of thing one can find themselves simply entranced in, time and time again. It’s within these repeat listens one also finds themselves hearing things just that little bit different. The song’s seemingly-endless repeats of the same question – “Should you love somebody new?” – start to give way. Because of the quick succession of syllables, sometimes you can just mishear the “new” as simply an elongated part of the previous word – thus, forming an entirely new question of “Should you love somebody?”
It’s there that “Here’s the Thing” goes from wondering as to whether it’s worth starting again to wondering whether it’s worth it at all if this is where it will inevitably lead to. It’s a dark turn – and just think, that’s assembled entirely from something that’s not there. Imagine how much more there is to what’s actually present.
Eastment described “Here’s the Thing” as the best song Rush has ever written. She’s right, but not just from a songwriting perspective – from an egoism perspective. Months before “Here’s the Thing,” EGOISM had released “You You.” The Eastment-lead track covers very similar emotional ground: rising from the rubble left in the wake of a tattered relationship, knowing there is still love there but it cannot continue in the same way that it has. Eastment even acknowledges in the song’s Bandcamp notes that “Olive was going through something really similar at the time.” The mirror image is literally reflected between the two songs when Eastment takes lead on the bridge of “Here’s the Thing” – in the very same point of the song that Rush takes over from her on “You You,” no less.
I won’t mess with anyone else but I won’t mess with anyone else but I won’t mess with anyone else but you, you You, you
The pair’s inextricable link and their unshakable bond is what keeps EGOISM alive. It’s what gets the two of them through their darkest moments. “Here’s the Thing” is the crack where the light gets in. A problem shared is a problem halved.
1. The Avalanches feat. Rivers Cuomo and Pink Siifu – Running Red Lights
In order to tell this story, you have to know where three different sets of people were in the year 2000 and where they were in 2020. Yes, this is a story that’s over 20 years old; let it be told.
The three sets are plunderphonics collective The Avalanches, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo and singer-songwriter David Berman. With respect to Pink Siifu, his story doesn’t necessarily intertwine here. He appears here as more of a vessel than anything, but more on that later.
In 2000, The Avalanches released their debut studio album Since I Left You. It would turn them into one of the most internationally-acclaimed groups of next 12 months, scoring a boatload of ARIAs and selling out an explosive world tour in support of it. Their sample-heavy mix of pop, hip-hop, dance, funk, electronica, indie, rock and whatever other genres traversed their obscure record collection was a unique prospect. So much so, that The Avalanches’ idiosyncrasy raised a myriad of questions pertaining to how exactly they intended to follow such a seismic debut.
In 2000, Rivers Cuomo revived Weezer after a period of dormancy. He had spent the bulk of the late 90s – and, subsequently, the end of his 20s – in a spiral of depression. He, too, was plagued with the pressure of following up a hugely-influential debut album – and although Pinkerton was certainly not without its fans, it too found itself at the mercy of many a divided critic. With the band back in action and playing shows again, this was Cuomo’s impetus to start again – to finally achieve the greatness he’d been searching for.
In 2000, David Berman was between albums at the helm of the Silver Jews – the band with which he had made his name as a cult figure on the American indie rock circuit. His distinctive voice and unflinchingly-honest approach to lyrics and songwriting found a loving home on cult indie label Drag City, while the Jews’ initial lineup served as the launchpad for a separate juggernaut entirely in Pavement. Much like Cuomo, Berman would soon also find himself at odds with the black dog – a recurring motif throughout both his musical and personal life.
In 2020, The Avalanches were in the present tense again. Having finally followed up Since I Left You in 2016 with the technicolor experimentation of Wildflower, the group’s surviving duo – Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi – wanted to ensure that another new record would not take nearly as long. They began to assemble what would become their third album, We Will Always Love You – a tribute to those no longer with us, and a further exploration of what the group could sound like now that they were no longer defined entirely by a singular work.
In 2020, Rivers Cuomo was back at work again with Weezer. Truthfully, the band never really got off the wagon once that 2000 revival happened. The band scored big with hits like “Island in the Sun” and “Beverly Hills,” but their constant attempts at appealing to the same age demographic as they had a decade – and, eventually, two decades – prior saw their reputation end up in general disarray. Much like Paul Simon before him, Rivers Cuomo needed a photo opportunity and a shot at redemption. Thanks to Chater and Di Blasi, he was about to get one.
In 2020, David Berman was gone. He’d gone off to play the great gig in the sky a year prior, after ultimately losing his lifelong battle at the age of 52. As a collaborator on Wildflower, Berman was pulled out of reclusion by The Avalanches to contribute to a track on the album. He also later consented to having his work interpolated into a new song the band was working on – a gesture that, although he may not have fully realised at the time, was a parting gift and an eerie foreshadowing of what would come on We Will Always Love You.
There’s history in the walls of “Running Red Lights.” There’s ghosts in the walls, too. There are spirits in the night sky, looking down upon you as the city lights up. There’s over 20 years of stories in “Running Red Lights.” Stories of triumph, tragedy, love, loss, life, death and the human condition. What may be the most defining trait of the song, however, is its universality. The truth is, you can come to this song not knowing a single thing about any of its participants and get just as much out of it as someone who knows all of the above and then some.
The reason for this is that “Running Red Lights” is a momentous song – literally, of a moment. What that moment is, however, remains up to you. It can be a defiant rooftop primal scream, claiming the city for your taking. It can be a love-lorn, desperate plea to an estranged loved one. It can be your candle at the vigil memorial for someone you miss. It can be a sunlit drive, a rainy day or an autumnal stroll. Whatever it is to you, it’s yours. No-one can take that from you. No song in 2020 quite held such power in its runtime – and, indeed, long after the track subsides. It’s a crowning achievement for all involved, whether they’re around to see its fruits bared or not.
Welcome to the show! The votes have been tallied (they were all mine), the jury (me) has decided, and the people (maybe like three of you) are hotly anticipating what’s to come. So, here we are. The top 20 songs of 2018. Of course, don’t forget one, two, three and four before you go through the boss level.
See you next time – same DJY time, same DJY channel.
20. Luca Brasi – Let it Slip
Luca Brasi emerged out of the east coast of Tasmania nearly a decade ago with a mantra that has long been ascribed on countless bodies: “Empty bottles, full hearts and no regrets.” How curious, then, that the lead single from the band’s fourth album speaks openly of vocalist Tyler Richardson’s regrets: “I could have burned a little brighter,” he sings. “I could have shone a little more.” “Slip” is a song about craving human connection and knowing you have to hit rock bottom in order to get back to the top. It’s as human and full-hearted as Brasi’s ever been.
19. Denise Le Menice – Heart
There’s a moment towards the end of the music video for “Heart” in which Denise (AKA Ali Flintoff) grabs a fistful of a heart-shaped cake and digs in. In a way, that’s what listening to “Heart” feels like – it’s such a sugar-rush, you just know listening to it can’t be good for your teeth. It’s a song centred on head-voice girl-talk, shimmering guitar layers and glassy, heaven’s-gate keyboards. It’s soft in the centre and melts in your mouth – one of the finest indulgences of the calendar year as far as Australian music is concerned. Let them eat cake.
18. Basement – Disconnect
Andrew Fisher has gone on record saying “Disconnect” was the lynchpin as far as writing Basment’s fourth album, Beside Myself, went. This was the song, he believed, that made the band unshakably confident in the direction they were taking. Listening intently, it’s easy to see where they got that confidence from – it bursts right out of the gates and makes its presence felt, brimming with vivacity and conviction in its delivery. Truth be told, it could be the single best… well, single, that Basement have ever made. Bonus points for that “prodigal son/what have you done” rhyme, too. Genius.
17. Laura Jean – Girls on the TV
A song like “Girls on the TV” does so much speaking for itself that writing about it almost feels like a disservice. It needs to be heard to be properly experienced. How does one describe the feeling you get as the devastating, confessional storytelling of Laura Jean cuts through the disco-lite backbeat and the layers of Casio on top? Is there a word that sums up the way one’s brain reacts as you attempt to decipher which parts are true and which parts are artistic license? Whatever happened to Ricki? Maybe she’s still out there. Her soul is still dancing.
16. WAAX – Labrador
WAAX play a lot of festivals where, if you swiped right on @lineupswithoutmales, they would be the headlining band. When vocalist Maz DeVita sings “You’re a girl/And a girl isn’t welcome in here,” you can cut the sardonic tension with a knife. Rough translation: “You think I don’t know the shit you people say?” Moments later, she’s barking and biting back in the form of their most mosh-ready chorus – one that cleaned up at every last festival they played in 2018. If WAAX can’t earn your respect, they’re going to pull it out of you with their bare teeth.
15. Courtney Barnett – Nameless, Faceless
This song shouldn’t have been so fucking relevant in 2018. A Margaret Atwood quote shouldn’t hit home so bluntly 36 years after it was first published. We shouldn’t be living in such a climate of abuse, trolling, bullying, harassment and even murder that overwhelmingly targets women. As great and as vital and as important as this song is, it wouldn’t exist in the first place if we were all just a little fucking kinder to one another. Enough said, really.
14. Troye Sivan – My My My!
In the dead territory of early January, it felt like waiting for new seasons of your favourite shows to kick off. That’s when “My My My!” arrived, and in turn made an impact as the first big pop event of 2018. The thing sounds like a complete blockbuster – it’s like a clubbier queer millennial rework of “All Night Long,” and that’s entirely a compliment. Sivan, once the doe-eyed and innocent YouTuber, is all manhood here – take that however you please, gents. It’s confident, it’s sexy, it’s fun and it’s cool – what a way to shake the cobwebs.
13. Pianos Become the Teeth – Love on Repeat
On the last Pianos Become the Teeth record, 2014’s Keep You, vocalist Kyle Durfey was still immersed in negative space and cutting emotionally-raw monuments out of the darkness. On Wait for Love, Durfey is blinded by the light: “What in you gets me so carried away?” he asks of his betrothed, sung so slowly and with such calculation it’s as if he’s figuring out what these words mean again. “Love on Repeat” is an upward spiral from a band that’s carved a career on the downbeat, and its resplendent post-hardcore beauty simply cannot be contained. Live, love, repeat. That simple.
12. The 1975 – TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME
Matt Healy, like most modern pop/rock frontmen, is a 21st century digital boy. One of his toys is the internet, and it’s compelled him to the point of literally naming an album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. Funnily, on what ends up being the band’s most computerised single to date – electronic drums, AutoTune, walls of keyboards – Healy and co. manage to hook themselves onto a key part of the human condition in the modern age. It certainly helps that they give it a dancehall swing and a mirrorball glow, too. The 1975 never sounded more 2018.
11. Ariana Grande – No Tears Left to Cry
What kind of year has it been for Ari? One she’ll never forget, that’s for certain. One of triumph, of tragedy, of hope, of despair and of absolute resilience. It all began with “No Tears” – which, as beginnings go, is a pretty incredible place to start. Although ultimately lost in the shuffle due to the success of “thank u, next,” this endearing pop twirl served as one of the more bold and defiant moments on radio for the entire year. “Can’t stop now,” she insists in multi-tracked syncopation. None would dare stand in her path. No woman, no cry.
10. Anderson .Paak – Bubblin
At first, it was a shock to look through the announced tracklist of Oxnard, Anderson .Paak’s game-six victory lap from the tail-end of 2018. Where the fuck was “Bubblin”? It had come charging out of the gates months prior, all alpha-male bravado and rap-god swagger. It was the hardest .Paak had ever gone on record – not a smooth rnb hook to be seen nor heard. Surely if you’re putting out an album that same year, you’d want the best song you’ve ever made on your own to be among its ranks?
As it turned out, Oxnard was a whole different vibe entirely – such is the nature of .Paak’s creativity. Had “Bubblin” been wedged onto the record, it would not have played well with the others. It’s a song with a life of its own, and no traditional format could have housed it. From its car-chase open to the tense, grandiose swell of its string samples, “Bubblin” made its intentions clear. It came to chew bubblegum and kick arse – and anyone who heard it knew exactly how much bubblegum .Paak had left.
9. Drake – Nice for What
“I WAN’ KNOW WHO MOTHERFUCKIN’ REPRESENTIN’ IN HERE TONIGHT!” Like last year’s chart-topping “Passionfruit,” the first voice we hear on “Nice for What” isn’t Drake’s, but someone else. In this instance, it’s Big Freedia – the self-proclaimed “queen of bounce,” who has dominated the club scene with her towering figure and undeniable stage presence for over a decade now. When she speaks, you listen – and when she wants to know who is motherfuckin’ representin‘ in here tonight, you just know she’s going to find out. So, a quick roll call. Lauryn Hill is representin’ in here tonight – that’s her hook from “Ex-Factor” on a near-chipmunk speed that’s sampled and looped throughout. In the year that her legendary debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill turned 20, the sample felt like a timely reminder of the record’s legacy and its surviving emotional core. Murda Beatz and Blaqnmild are representin’ in here tonight – they’re responsible for this bassy, chopped-soul beat that was designed with bitchin’ systems in mind. When the samples go into overdrive in the song’s second half, it feels like fire is coming off it.
Of course, lest we forget Drake himself is representin’ in here tonight. It’s one of his strongest flows on all of Scorpion‘s exhaustive runtime, mixing his sharp raps with his knack for interwoven melody to deliver something quintessentially his. It’s his vision that brings “Nice for What” together, and in turn makes it a career-best moment. If you don’t know, now you know.
8. Troye Sivan – Bloom
There was a time when many male popstars were “confirmed bachelors” or that were described as “tight-lipped about their sexuality.” Troye Sivan is part of a generation where that hasn’t really come into play – it’s something that has been part and parcel of his image ever since he became famous. Rather than hurt his career, it’s rocketed him – the so-called “pink dollar” has turned him into a millionaire all before hitting 25. This is where the title track to Sivan’s big-business second album comes into play – a song that isn’t hiding itself away in the corner shamefully or remaining tight-lipped about a damn thing.
“I’ve been saving this for you, baby,” offers Sivan in a careless whisper over the thud of toms and wafting synth that is so airy it could float away at any moment. Soon, the floor gives way to the chug of electric bass and a gated snare that could take off Phil Collins’ head if it swung any harder. Sure, Sivan has even less right to be nostalgic for the 80s as he does the 90s, but he feels right at home in this musical environment – it feels like an homage to Bronski Beat, queer icons of yesteryear that paved the way for Sivan to be the young man he is today. “Bloom” is all the radiance of a rainbow without ever having to put up with a drop of rain. It’s here, it’s queer, get used to it.
7. Ashley McBryde – Radioland
On its largest and most obvious scale, “Radioland” is a song about Nashville. It’s about the dreamers that come there to make it big, stepping off a bus with their guitar case in hand and looking up at the skyline that Dylan so mythologised some 50 years ago now. On its smallest and most intimate scale, however, “Radioland” is a song about Ashley McBryde. She’s one of American country’s newest emerging stars, scoring big support slots for genre heavyweights like Eric Church and fulfilling dreams like playing the Grand Ole Opry since the release of her major-label debut Girl Going Nowhere. Before all of that, though, she was just “five years old with a hairbrush microphone.” All the key moments of her life were linked back to discovering her musical heroes and her favourite songs from the magic of radio – which, in turn, made her want to be a musician herself.
McBryde’s story in “Radioland” is direct and specific in its references, from the radio host (the late Casey Kasem) to the car in question (a Chevrolet). At the same time, though, it’s such a human feeling that was felt by so many of a certain age that it’s easy to insert yourself into the picture. There’s also a particular electricity and urgency to McBryde’s delivery that gives this song a bit more oomph than your average country radio playlist-filler – hell, give this a couple of tweaks and it could be a lost Gaslight Anthem single, and that’s entirely a compliment. “There ain’t a dream you can’t dial in,” McBryde promises in the song’s indelible chorus. If there’s one thing “Radioland” is about more than anything, it’s not letting your dreams just be dreams. There’s a whole world out there for the taking – and that’s not bad for a girl goin’ nowhere.
6. Kacey Musgraves – High Horse
Just as the women of country have never been afraid of getting their hands dirty, they’ve also never been afraid to dress to the nines and lower the mirrorball. “High Horse” is the centre of the country-pop Venn diagram, taking ample amounts from both without upsetting a balance. Most artists that have fallen into this category usually end up just ditching their country elements entirely and transmogrifying into pop giants – here’s looking at you, Tay-Tay and Florida Georgia Line. Kacey, on the other hand, has never forgotten her roots – the album “High Horse” comes from is titled Golden Hour, which alludes to the time of day that the sun sets but to her tiny Texan birthplace (population 200). As far as her music has progressed and as much as she’s branched out creatively, you won’t see her records shifting from the Country section of the record store anytime soon.
Think of “High Horse” as a tribute to the more ambitious efforts in the history of country music. The so-called “countrypolitan” sound, which matched southern drawls with orchestral fanfare. The crossover of Dolly Parton and Shania Twain to pop radio. The tried-and-true kiss-off song, all sass and finger-snap confidence that can cut someone down to size faster than you can play a C major. Musgraves takes all of this into battle as “High Horse” locks into its groove and comes out swinging, and she arrives on the other end of it without even so much as a smudge of her make-up. Critics from either side of the fence could hop off their titular steed and find themselves some common ground on “High Horse”’s dancefloor. There’s room for everyone. Y’all come back now, y’hear?
5. Flowermouth – Gown
“Hold on/We can make it.” Now if that wasn’t something you needed to hear in 2018, then you could well have been in the wrong year entirely. This standalone single from Perth’s Flowermouth was a light in the darkness for most of 2018. Its bright, jangly chords burst from the speakers, the hi-hats splashing like the first dive into the pool for the summer to come. That’s not to suggest that “Gown” is at all footloose and fancy-free, though – there’s an underlying tension that never quite resolves, which makes it all the more engaging to listen to. The 2:34 runtime gives it instant replay value, too – you’ll want to make the most of your time listening to what “Gown” has to offer, and no doubt want to frequently return to it.
Its short-burst nature recalls Teenage Fanclub; its major/minor contrasts and focused melodies recall Jimmy Eat World. Even with these clear comparison points, however, it’s evident that Flowermouth are on their own path – and if you’ve shown any interest in the emo revival either here or abroad, you’ll be wise to follow them down.
4. Mitski – Nobody
It’s Mitski’s party, and she’ll cry if she wants to. As it turns out, she really, really wants to – her music has a reputation that precedes it for being highly emotional, deeply pensive and painstakingly introspective. No-one lays it on the line quite like your best American girl does, and never was that more apparent than on album number five, Be the Cowboy. Specifically, we have to focus in on the album’s second single, “Nobody,” which more or less served as a memetic red flag were it played on repeat (as pointed out by the great Allison Gallagher). People may have made plenty of jokes and viral niche tweets about “Nobody,” but if we could be serious for a minute: This song fucking spoke to people, man.
Essentially a 21st century “Lovefool” without the happy resolve, “Nobody” simultaneously sighs and exalts through its bouts of romantic desperation and subtle sociopolitical commentary. The guitar chirps and the hi-hats swat down a Saturday Night Fever groove, but spiralling away in the centre of it all is Mitski herself. In any other vocalist’s hands, the pain and crushing loneliness of “Nobody” would be pure melodrama and maybe even camp. Not so with her, though – no-one is more believable when they sing lines like “I just want to feel alright” and “Still nobody wants me.” That’s not even touching the titular word, which is sung so much that it could have easily lost its sense of meaning. Again, not a chance of that happening with Mitski at the wheel – if anything, every repetition sticks the knife in a little bit more. By the time you’re up to the nightmarish second key-change in the song’s dizzying conclusion, you feel as though you’ve gone through that terrifying tunnel in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The only difference? “Nobody” isn’t a world of pure imagination. It’s as real as it gets.
3. 5 Seconds of Summer – Youngblood
Around the time of their second album, 5 Seconds of Summer had a cover story in Rolling Stone – every band’s dream, naturally. It was spread around on account of it featuring an admittedly-bizarre, hilarious story involving a botched attempt at co-writing with Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger – Google it if you’re so inclined. If you want to get a real idea of where 5SOS’ minds were at, however, skip to the end. In a moment of kids being kids, they decided to pull a prank on their management by hopping out the window of their dressing room and pretending they’d done a runner. “We could have ran,” said guitarist Michael Clifford. “We could have ran far away.”
There was almost certainly more to that than meets the eye. Think about it – these were children that were swept up in international stardom and immediately put on a pedestal to become the world’s next boy band sensation. It’s a far cry from matinees at the Annandale Hotel, that’s for absolutely certain. By the time they were done with their sophomore slump – the antithetically-titled Sounds Good, Feels Good – that desire to run could have only felt more present than ever before.
“Youngblood” is the sound of 5 Seconds of Summer hitting the ground running. It’s the sound of boys becoming men, and men becoming certified global popstars. The tussled-hair mall-punks they once were had to die in order for this song to live – and it’s undeniably a song that lives its life to the absolute fullest.
The song is propelled along by a rock shuffle – a simple structural move that allows the song to swing a little while still maintaining a standard 4/4 time signature. A music teacher might explain it thus: Instead of your usual one, two, three, four, it’s this: one-and-a two-and-a three-and-a four-and-a. Examples range from Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” all the way to Battles’ “Atlas.” Even something as simple as this is one of the largest deviations from the norm that 5SOS have ever committed to record – and we haven’t even gotten into what the expatriate Sydneysiders are doing sonically.
A love-lorn minor-key call from the darkness, the song dips its guitars in reverb and sheen as it simultaneously gives the bass a steely, bold presence. Thundering tom rolls from Ashton Irwin add a human touch in-between extended drum programming, while vocalist Luke Hemmings gives the performance of his career up-front. He’s all of 22 years old and sounds like he’s at the tail-end of a bitter divorce after a decade-long relationship – how on earth he was able to muster that sort of weariness and exhaustion on this vocal take, God only knows. The most important part is that you believe him – and, by extension, you believe “Youngblood.” You believe in 5 Seconds of Summer.
“We could have ran. We could have ran far away.”
“Youngblood” runs for its life.
2. IDLES – Colossus
You can hear “Colossus” coming from a mile away. Of course you can – it’s called “Colossus,” for fuck’s sake. It snarls, it prowls, it stomps, it creeps, it seethes, it slithers, it lurks. It goes – and it goes and it goes. It was probably the most menacing song released in 2018 – and, after the year that we all had, you probably couldn’t have asked for a more fitting soundtrack.
Primitive in nature and brutish in execution, “Colossus” builds a droning soundscape through its churning drop-C guitars and the swelling, scattered drums. Every cycle feels as though it’s pounding into your skull just a little bit harder each time, as frontman Joe Talbot drives home intense lyrical imagery over a mournful blues scale vocal melody. Perhaps no other frontman in rock right now could couple such a unique line as “I’ve drained my body full of pins” with an even more unique line in “I’ve danced til dawn with splintered shins.” There’s so much to take in when you hear it the first time, it’s still marinating when it’s repeated in the second verse. As a whole, IDLES’ Joy as an Act of Resistance was one of the year’s most quotable LPs – and you needn’t look further than its opening number as evidence.
The song’s double-time finale is less the firing of Chekov’s gun and more a bloody massacre. It’s meant to be screamed along to rather than sung, and moshed to rather than danced to. It’s pure catharsis, taking one of the year’s most steady, tense builds and promptly throwing it out the window into oncoming traffic. If you’re not left breathless and dizzy after the full 5:34 of “Colossus” has passed, you’re doing the damn thing wrong. Go again until it goes – and it goes and it goes.
1. Childish Gambino – This is America
Childish Gamino is dead. Long live Childish Gambino.
Donald Glover began rapping under the name – taken from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator – a decade and change ago, cockily spitting high-pitched raps over the likes of Adele, Grizzly Bear and Sleigh Bells. Over time, it morphed into something nigh-on unrecognisable from its beginnings, incorporating elements of dance music, soul, funk and rnb along the way. With the release of the groovy “Awaken, My Love!” in late 2016, pared with the announcement that Glover would soon be retiring the jersey, few expected Glover’s next move to have anything to do with the intense hip-hop with which he made his name.
When we first pressed play on the video for “This is America,” we were lead in with an African-style chant, shaking percussion, finger-picked acoustic guitar and Glover’s sweet, harmonious opening line: “We just wanna party/Party just for you.” If ever a listener has been lulled into a false sense of security, it was in this moment. So, this is how Childish Gambino ends – not with a bang, but with a whimper. As it turned out, we literally could not have been more wrong – it was around this time the first gunshot went off, and “This is America” truly began.
Childish Gambino is dead. Long live Childish Gambino.
“This is America” is the sound of an artist with nothing to lose. What are these motherfuckers gonna do – end his music career? Dude’s in the fucking Lion King remake. No boycott from some sweaty Fox News troglodyte is going to derail this singular moment in Glover’s extensive body of work. “This is America” is an unstoppable force and an immovable object, all in one. It rattles PA speakers the same way it rattles proverbial birdcages. It simultaneously rages against his native country’s obsession with guns and has no issue with dropping some sucker dead on the spot. It’s dissonant and subversive; celebratory and defamatory; a blaxploitation film and a dystopian horror. Glover has never released a song even remotely similar before, and it’s looking more and more likely that he never will again.
Childish Gambino is dead. Childish Gambino is fucking dead. Long live Childish Gambino. If he’s going down, every last one of us is going down with him.
Thanks so much for reading, hope you enjoyed the list.
Before I post the playlist, some quick stats.
47% of the list is by or features Australian artists 43% of the list is by or features at least one non-male artist 37% of the list is by or features at least one non-white artist
The multiple entries were as follows: Four entries:The 1975 (92, 49, 22, 12) Three entries: Courtney Barnett (68, 36, 15), Troye Sivan (61, 14, 8), Drake (58, 37, 9) Two entries: Baker Boy (100, 67), Denise Le Menice (96, 19), Kanye West (95, 48), BROCKHAMPTON (88, 76), Chance the Rapper (82, 41), Moaning Lisa (80, 43), Joyce Manor (79, 60), Dua Lipa (77, 30), Basement (73, 18), Luca Brasi (55, 20), Aunty Donna (52, 47), IDLES (44, 2), Post Malone (39, 29), Mitski (35, 4), Charlie Puth (32, 23), 5 Seconds of Summer (31, 3)
Damn, dude, remember these guys? Very much of a time and place for MySpace kids from Australia. “Where the City Meets the Sea” was an end-of-school anthem. We all kinda grew up with this band. Then, we kinda moved on. Having them back in 2011 on a reunion tour was like “Oh, hey! Cool!” Then it kind got old. They’ve since made two albums no-one listened to and half the band has left – which is especially funny when contrasted with one of the quotes in this interview.
This one’s a Q&A. I initially didn’t quite like doing these, but I think I’m a bit more used to it by now – I do a lot more these days in terms of formatting. This one’s a bit too casual for my liking – I’d occasionally fall into the “hey bro, what’s goin’ on?” line of question formatting. Still, it’s funny to read now.
– DJY, May 2016
AHM: Hi Matt! The Getaway Plan had only split up for something like 18 months when the reunion was announced. It’s probably the shortest break-up time we’ve ever seen! What triggered the idea in the four of you that perhaps you’d made a mistake? MATT WRIGHT: It was more that our relationship as friends got better. Eventually, we got into the flow of just hanging out and talking – after awhile, the idea came up to make another record. It seemed silly not to.
With that said, you had already settled into your own band [Young Heretics] when the announcement of The Getaway Plan getting back together. Surely there were worries that the same problems would arise again, and that maybe the whole thing could turn bitter quickly? Not at all. It was all really, really clear and obvious from the get-go. It just worked. All the problems that we had before were irrelevant – it just felt great. We are really dedicated to this band now.
In April, the band headed out on the Reclamation tour, which was the first official tour that you guys had done since the split. How did you find it? It was absolutely amazing. The shows ruled, dude – especially the two shows we did at the Metro in Sydney. The tour was everything we hoped it would be and more, man. Back when announced the single reunion show that we did, the response was fucking insane. The show in Melbourne sold out in, like, seven minutes or something. It totally threw us. We were laughing at the fact that it happened, we just couldn’t believe it.
You guys premiered a lot of new material on the tour, including a song with Jenna McDougall [of Tonight Alive] on vocals. Is that song going to be on the album? Yeah, it’s called “Child of Light.” Jenna wasn’t available to sing on the studio version, unfortunately. We did, however, get a children’s choir in for the song.
A children’s choir? No shit! Yeah, dude! It was fucking crazy.
That’s so stadium rock – it seems like that would be something that you wouldn’t have even considered trying in your early years. That must have been a really interesting experience for you guys. We’ve always been a little overly ambitious when it comes to recording and stuff, but to pull that off…man, it was just incredible. On this record, we’ve got orchestras, choirs, double basses, horns, everything. We kind of went all out for this one [laughs].
You might as well! This is, after all, your triumphant return. Exactly!
Let’s talk about the writing of Requiem. One can only imagine it was a very different experience to creating Other Voices, Other Rooms.
It was quite different; because Clint [Ellis, guitarist] was away for most of it, off touring with [the] Amity [Affliction]. He’s left them now, but it was pretty difficult for him and us trying to balance those commitments.
So, with Clint gone, did that mean you were writing most of the guitar parts?
It was more like we were writing songs without lead parts and then letting Clint come in later to record his parts. For the most part of the writing, it was just me, Dave [Anderson, bassist] and Aaron [Barnett, drummer] in a rehearsal studio together. Clint came in around February for a week and got to recording instantly. He was loving the songs – he’d been listening to what we’d been doing thanks to that thing called the world wide web. Maybe it’ll take off [laughs]. It was alright in the end – we were closer at the end because of it. He’d actually written a lot, too. He’d been writing on the road. It was still pretty stressful for all of us, though.
With Amity growing so popular, was there ever a fear that he might choose them over you? I dunno. I think that now that we’re back, the idea of anything changing, any members moving or anything like that…[trails off] …it’s not gonna happen. [laughs] But if it did, you’d be sure that it would definitely mean the end of this band. We wouldn’t be The Getaway Plan anymore. But everything has turned out so well, and we’re all so happy with the record – I can’t see this changing anytime soon.
Did you make a point to change your sound from the one established on Other Voices, Other Rooms? We didn’t really intentionally try to do anything. You should expect something different, though – quite different. It has been four-and-a-half years since our last record. We’ve grown a lot in that time, and have a much greater understanding about working with one another. I’m not gonna say that it’s a Young Heretics and Amity hybrid…but it’s pretty different. There’s a song on the record which is probably the heaviest song we’ve ever written, which is really caustic. You’ll know it when you hear it. The whole thing is really diverse, though.
One last thing: With all of this new material, is there any chance of hearing some Hold Conversation tunes on the Requiem tour later this year? We’ve kind of decided as a band that we’re not really going to be playing those songs anymore. They were great for awhile, but it’s been so long and we broke up for two years – those songs just don’t mean as much to us anymore. Imagine you’re a kid, right, and you do a painting when you’re four years old – imagine being asked to paint that picture for the rest of your life. Those songs don’t really represent the people that we are anymore. It’s not that we’re embarrassed by them, but they just don’t fit stylistically with us as a band. The setlist is pretty full as it is, anyway.
So we’ll never hear The New Year again live? Aww, never say never – but, for now, it doesn’t look like it. [laughs]
In October of 2015, I was asked to be a guest on Out of the Box, a one-hour lunchtime program every Thursday on Sydney community station FBi Radio. The premise of the show, which was hosted at the time by the absolutely delightful Ash Berdebes, is to look at a person’s life through the music that they love; with the guest programming eight songs that mean something to them. I was honoured to be asked on the show – which has also featured really cool guests like Paul Mac, The Umbilical Brothers, Ólafur Arnalds and Evelyn Morris aka Pikelet – but I was fretting quite a bit over what to choose. I think I put together a fairly solid and diverse list; all songs that meant something huge to me at different parts of my life.
Here are the songs I chose. You can also listen to the entire hour, which features a pretty honest chat with yours truly, by streaming it through FBi’s Radio On Demand by clicking here.
A huge thank you to Ash for asking me on and for her producer, Rachel, for doing a great job. I worship this station, and couldn’t believe my luck that I got to be involved with a show.
Sesame Street – Imagine That
I picked this song for two reasons. The first is that it is the first song I remember truly loving and knowing all of the words to. I would have been three, maybe four when I first heard it. I was fascinated by all of the music on Sesame Street – Jim Henson would go on to become one of the biggest parts of my upbringing, through both Sesame Street and the Muppets. I think the reason that this song stuck out to me was that it was about using your imagination but also remembering that being you is the best because no-one else can be exactly like you. Ernie sings it, and I’ve always loved Ernie almost entirely because of this song. There’s also “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon,” which also clocked me square in the feels. I forgot about this song for a few years and then rediscovered it. The day that I did I cried and cried and cried. It all came flooding back to me. I also picked this song because I knew for a fact that it would have never been played on FBi before.
The Cruel Sea – Takin’ All Day
The Cruel Sea were the first band I ever saw live. I bought Over Easy when I was eight years old because I liked the cover. I later saw this video on rage and felt very grown-up for liking an “adult” band playing bluesy rock music. I wanted to play drums, so I wrote to Jim Elliott, the band’s drummer, via their PO box. He wrote back and we stayed in touch for many years. In 2002, they announced a show in St. George’s Basin. My dad took me – even though it was an over-18s gig – and I got to meet Jim and had a poster signed by the entire band which is still on my wall to this day. James Cruickshank recently passed away, and I know a lot of people are rediscovering The Cruel Sea – I hope this helps.
The Forest – The Bear
Flash forward to 2008. I’m in my final year of high school and a lot is going on – I’ve discovered that I have Asperger’s, having been diagnosed as a child but never told; I’ve ostensibly come out as bisexual at a Catholic high school and I’m angry, confused, lonely and trying to find sense in what’s happening in my life. Around this time, I see a band play at a local community hall called The Forest. They’re a “skramz” (emo/post-hardcore/indie) band from rural Queensland. Although they identify as Christian and I was quite outspoken against Christianity (high school rebel!), their music was so intense and passionate that it got through to me. As long as I treated the imagery as just that, we had an understanding.
I bought their self-titled, homemade EP that night. Every day before my final HSC exams, I would play it as loudly as I possibly could – somedays I’d even scream along if I was walking by myself. Javed, the band’s lead singer, works in video games now and lives in Sydney with his wife and his beautiful daughter. He may be done with this band, but I’ll forever be grateful to him for that EP and getting me through that time in my life.
Parades – Hunters
I loved Parades. More than I’ve loved a lot of bands. To this day, I have no idea why they put up with me – I was probably so annoying and so clingy. Still, they became friends – really good friends. People I trusted and cared about and wanted to hang out with. foreign tapes was another album that got me through a lot – a major break-up, more struggles with anxiety, the utter loneliness of my uni degree. The hours of travel I undertook to see these guys play – eight times in total before they split – was always made worth it.
I picked this song from the album because I once screamed the “SO IT GOES ON ENDLESSLY” part so loud I started crying. In the front row. These two other guys thought I was crazy. I lost myself in the moment. Parades allowed me to do that. I wish they were still around.
Lemuria – Mechanical
2012 features the worst thing that has ever happened to me – the untimely and accidental death of my mother to a one-person car crash in April – as well as the best week of my entire life – going to one major international gig a day from Monday November 12 to Sunday November 18; seeing Radiohead, Refused, Beck, Silversun Pickups in Adelaide, Ben Folds Five in Adelaide, Harvest in Sydney and Coldplay. The soundtrack to both of these parts of my life was the album Get Better by Lemuria. I discovered the band through a random blog some years before but had never properly given them a listen until one of their songs came on shuffle not long after my mother’s passing. It helped me through and was there for me whenever I needed it – there were weeks where it was all that I listened to. It made me feel like there were others out there that were just as lost and confused as I was.
Getting to meet Lemuria when the came to Australia in 2014 was such a huge thing for me. Nearly broke down telling them what their music meant to me. One of the highlights of my life was getting to sing “Lipstick” from Get Better with the band at Black Wire Records. I chose the last song from the album because of all the times I have screamed along the “SHUT UP” refrain until I literally couldn’t anymore; as well as it being a highlight of their show at Hermann’s Bar – surrounded by friends singing along so loudly that Sheena, the band’s singer, gave up singing into the mic and just let us carry it.
mowgli – Slowburn
Cameron Smith, Curtis Smith, Dave Muratore, Eleanor Shepherd and Jay Borchard have all been friends of mine for quite awhile. Eleanor, the bass player, I’ve known since we were in primary school. I met Cameron in 2008, watching his old band Epitomes play every other weekend. Dave was brought in as the lead guitarist for a band I was playing with at the end of 2009; a few months after meeting Jay for the first time at a La Dispute show – which is, ironically enough, the same situation in which I met Curtis, Cameron’s brother, in 2011 to complete the set.
I bring up the fact that I am friends with all of them – even though Curtis is no longer in the band – purely because I want to state that the fact I think mowgli are one of the best bands this country has produced in the 21st century is not because they are my mates. It’s because their music speaks to me on the same way that The Forest did all those years ago – they capture my rage and my passion and my disconnect from the world around me. I have seen mowgli play live over twenty times, and each time I am utterly blown away by their talents. This was my favourite song of 2013 by a considerable margin – I still rank it as one of my all-time favourite songs. I think everything about it is perfect.
The Smith Street Band – Belly of Your Bedroom
This was included as a shout-out to Poison City Records, the Poison City Weekender and the remarkable friends that I have made through both. I was almost intimidated by the scale of the Weekender at first – I arrived at my first at the age of 21, incredibly anxious, nervous, excited, overjoyed and overwhelmed. I’ve since felt immediately at home there – I almost feel like part of the furniture. The Weekender is a time when I am connected with friends from all over – some that I see every week, some that I only get to see for that weekend. Once all the shows and the side-tours surrounding it are done, it feels like the end of camp to me.
I have made so many great mates through the community that Poison City has created – the fact they have made the queer, anxious yeti (as I sometimes call myself) feel so welcome and so loved speaks volumes about the environment of it. At the centre of the Poison City universe is The Smith Street Band – I chose my favourite song of theirs, which ostensibly deals with being the weaker part of a relationship (been there, done that, bought the t-shirt) and features the vocals of another dear friend, Lucy Wilson.
Georgia Maq – Footscray Station
Since 2009, I have played solo under the name Nothing Rhymes with David. I’ve been lucky enough to share a stage with some remarkable songwriters. None have challenged me in the same way that Georgia Maq has. I find her music endlessly fascinating, remarkably engaging and uniformly brilliant. I see so much in her that she is often too self-deprecating and unaware to see in herself. I fear that she will never, ever know how good she is. Each time I watch her perform, I more or less sit in stunned silence – when I’m not compelled beyond my will to sing along, of course.
I find the storytelling in this song so incredible – it took me a good half a dozen listens to fully comprehend it. Everytime I’m in Melbourne and I find myself out at Footscray station, I think of this song and I can’t help but smile. The first time I saw her live, she couldn’t believe that I knew every word to this song and that I was in the front row singing along. I couldn’t believe I was the only one.
It’s the most magical time of year — list season! A couple of days ago, I kicked into my top 100 songs of the year, which you can catch up on over here. Over the next month, I’ll be sharing that as well as my top 50 albums of the year. While there was a lot of controversy over the fact that no album went platinum this year, I feel it’s more a sign of the times than an indication of the quality of the music released in 2014. Across the 300-plus albums I experienced throughout the year, I completely ran the entire spectrum; from the uplifting and inspiring to the menacing and terrifying and back again. Let’s take a look now at the records that defined the year for me and see what you think. Love them? Hate them? Haven’t heard them? Let me know!
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Hilltop Hoods, Lanie Lane, Indian, Colossvs, Panopticon, Fishing, Swans, Xerxes, Sturgill Simpson, Collarbones, Mary Lambert, Cynic, OFF!, Shellac, Mastodon, The Roots, Woods of Desolation, The Magic Numbers, Spoon and Pharrell Williams…
Did you honestly ever expect to see or hear from Elly Jackson again? After her universe of hype imploded in her early twenties, she’s made sure that if La Roux was to ever return, it was going to be precisely calculated and on her own terms. The hooks are just as sharp, the production just as crystallised and pristine – but it’s delivered with a smarter and more restrained look at broken hearts and ambiguous relationships. Think of Trouble in Paradise as less of a sequel to the project’s exceptional 2009 debut and more of a reboot of the franchise.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Silent Partner, Kiss and Not Tell, Tropical Chancer.
From the depths of Brisbane, a firebrand of heavy Australian music re-emerged with a new lineup and a new approach to their tactical, cacophonous grindcore. The introduction of squealing, churning saxophone mixed in a touch of the avant-garde, while the album’s longer songs allowed the band to explore their own musical surroundings with arresting, impressive results. Prayer for Terrene was more than just some sort of post-apocalyptic soundtrack – it was the sound of a band realising its full potential and making the most out of it. An essential step forward from a band leading the pack in their field.
THREE TOP TRACKS:PCP Crazy, Crashing Boar, Lied To.
Everything about The Satanist is defiant. A band venturing into its tenth album should have none of the vitality and maintained-rage that is omnipotent and omnipresent within the tracklisting here. Furthermore, The Satanist is defiant in respects to to Behemoth itself still being here – frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski was struggling with leukaemia for a couple of years, a devastating blow in any context. Perhaps it’s this that has given the band the rush of adrenalin it needs – a scream to the heavens, a clear and open statement of unfinished business. The devil rides on.
THREE TOP TRACKS: The Satanist, O Father O Satan O Sun!, Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel.
47. Loudon Wainwright III – Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet) Spotify || Rdio
At 68 years young, the senior Wainwright has a lot of grief with you people. His dog’s misbehaving, there’s nowhere to get a beer, the news is always awful and – to top it all off – he might have depression. Maybe. If he doesn’t, he will soon. At least, so we think. It doesn’t matter what subject he tackles – it’s always given a unique spin and approached with Wainwright’s distinct kind of wry, often black, humour. With The Blues, the Third remains one of the more underrated songwriters around. He just hasn’t had his respect paid – yet.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Harlan County, Harmless, Man & Dog.
The cover art of Teenage Retirement is a photo of a dude on his lonesome, chilling out in his pool and watching the world go by. It’s reflective of perhaps the best way to enjoy the debut album from this exceptional Brookyln outfit who, in a way, are picking up where albums like the Speedy Ortiz and Waxahatchee records from 2013 left off. It all ties into forward-thinking alternative rock with an all-important and oft-ignored central female voice – and as far as that realm was concerned, few dominated with such aplomb the way Chumped did. We’ll all float on.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Hot 97 Summer Jam, Old and Tired, December is the Longest Month.
Country’s crazy ex-girlfriend next door doesn’t do things by thirds. Her albums are always packed to the brim, with an A-team of producers, co-writers and instrumentalists filling each song. It’s this that has allowed her to rise to the top of the food-chain on her own terms – while her bro-down peers want any random girl up in their truck, she’s telling the same dudes that they “can’t ride in her little red wagon.” She may as well be saying that they couldn’t lace up her boots – and she has the songs to back it up. Giddy up.
Sometimes, what you need is a record of furious, unforgiving post-hardcore. Not that fringe-flicking shit with the superfluous keyboardist and the neck tatts – we’re talking about the purest definition of the term, insofar as that it’s a progression from the standards and moulds set. Wilt & Rise goes beyond your average tough-guy shit and is completely devastating on its own terms, delivered with pure conviction and a seething, unshakable rage. The band are not only the most important new voice being heard above the drone in their native UK, they’re threatening to do the same on a global scale.
THREE TOP TRACKS: White Horse, Dead Wood, Wildfire.
Immediately, there was a sense that Aaron Marsh and co. were headed far beyond any cash-in reunion territory when they announced their reformation – there was a new album on the way, six years removed from their finest hour, You Are My Sunshine. If Ixora did anything as an album, it validated their return to the fold. Copeland remains Aaron Marsh’s most important vehicle, with each new song delivering on stirring indie rock and heartstring-plucked balladry that stand up with any of their prior works. Ixora blossoms and blooms, reminding listeners to never take bands such as these for granted.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Ordinary, Erase, I Can Make You Feel Young Again.
User:neilcic has been responsible for more internet sensations than you’d ever begin to think. Put it this way: If the phrase “Snape, Snape, Severus Snape” means anything to you, then there’s plenty more where that came from. Here, Cicierega delivers a sequel to his Smash Mouth-obssessed debut, and no-one is safe. He continues to terrorise the world of pop culture and 90s nostalgia with some truly nightmarish pairings – Soundgarden and The Carpenters, System of a Down and Elton John, Oasis and Oasis. It’s jarring, it’s bizarre and it’s hypnotising in its brilliance. Keep the internet weird, son. BEST!
THREE TOP TRACKS: What Is It, Wndrwll, Crocodile Chop.
41. Mariachi El Bronx – Mariachi El Bronx Spotify || Rdio
Barely a year after yet another exceptional record from The Bronx, their alter-egos have emerged in a fanfare of trumpets, percussion and enough sing-alongs to last until The Bronx V. Despite an all-too-simple game plan and a very specific stylistic palette to draw from, MEB have substantially matured their sound across three albums; adding in a much-needed personal touch to the traditional folk music. There’s a lot of introspection going on in regards to the album’s lyricism, which serves as a beautiful contrast to the outward and extroverted music. Their greatest achievement yet – it’s high-time you joined the procession.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Everything Twice, Sticks and Stones, Right Between the Eyes.