The Top 100 Songs of 2015, Part One: 100 – 81

It’s about that time, folks. You know how this one goes. Good, clean fight to the finish. All genres, countries and ages accepted. Only one rule: No touching of the hair or face. Alright, let’s get it on!

To pre-game, why not take a listen to this supplementary list of 50 great songs that just missed out on the top 100?

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 2015

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100. Cosmic Psychos – Fuckwit City

The greatest moments in the 30-plus year canon of Cosmic Psychos have been helmed by the infamous snarl of Ross Knight, so it’s a rare treat to hear a lead vocal from the band’s pot-bellied riff-bearer, John “Mad Macca” McKeering. Macca’s no crooner – but, then again, neither’s Knighty. It’s not exactly a top priority when there’s a big, stomping riff and a middle-finger-waving chorus to smash through. The accompanying video, which sees the band smashing tinnies and chowing down on snags, gets the point across better than words ever could: them’s the Psychos. They’re not to be fucked with.

99. Kissing Booth – Battlefield

“Battlefield” has been a staple of Kissing Booth’s live shows more or less since their formation, and it’s easy to see why – if it’s not Tom Jenkins’ thunderous tom rolls that lead it in, it’s the earnest, raised-fist chorus and undying mantra of “you’ve got the strength in you to succeed” that will firmly seal the deal. Recorded at long last for their debut, Never Settle, “Battlefield” became a highlight once again – it’s a slow-waltz through love-and-war metaphors and swinging twin-guitar warmth, reeling in listeners before bowling them over. If love is a battlefield, consider Kissing Booth victorious.

98. You Beauty – Illywhacka

They’re not pioneers of writing about love from a hardened, cynical perspective – and Lord knows they won’t be the last. What spices up the title track to You Beauty’s second album is knowing it’s from the perspective of a scam artist – someone who makes a living saying things but never meaning them. “If I misuse the words/I’m not the first,” he justifies at one point; “I do believe it’s unconscious like the rest,” he affirms at another. Throw in some thwacking snare rolls and a Johnny Marr-worthy guitar tone and you’re ready to fall for anything he says.

97. Frank Turner – The Next Storm

Positive Songs for Negative People, Turner’s comeback LP from the middle of 2015, was thematically centred on Turner refusing to let pessimism and a slew of personal ordeals serve as the obstacles they once were. As bar-room piano leads him into a fist-wielding rock shuffle, Turner takes a matter as pedestrian as the weather and lets it blossom into the perfect metaphor for his sunnier outlook. It might seem naff – especially if Turner has ever felt too endearing – but it’s hard to deny a shout-along to a refrain as wonderfully succinct as “Rejoice! Rebuild! The storm has passed!”

96. Young Fathers – Rain or Shine

Young Fathers are in it to win it, because having the Mercury just wasn’t enough. The trio – alongside Sleaford Mods – were two major acts to properly turn British music on its head and expose a darker, more unpleasant side of their respective homelands last year. It’s telling that both immediately followed up their world-class 2014 breakthroughs in 2015; equaling – and occasionally bettering – their predecessors. This slab of sweet-and-sour alt-hop stays true to its name; throwing a Motown worthy ‘hey-hey-hey’ into the blender with some deadpan abstract poetry. Theirs is a revolution that is still… well, revolving.

95. Alabama Shakes – Don’t Wanna Fight

Perhaps the most piercing, indescribable squeal this side of Kings of Leon’s “Charmer” is what lead us into the first single from Alabama Shakes’ long-awaited second album. The groove was very much still in the heart for Brittany Howard and co., shuffling through a head-nodding lick and a driving four-on-the-floor beat before letting loose a truly righteous falsetto-disco chorus that takes on double duty as a harken-back to vintage soul. Much like their finest moments from Boys & Girls, “Don’t Wanna Fight” is some kind of genre Voltron. In the right context, it’s a fully-formed and unstoppable machine. Right on.

94. Horrorshow feat. Thelma Plum, Jimblah and Urthboy – Any Other Name

This protest song, dropped in the wake of horrendous abuse toward now-retired AFL player Adam Goodes, is an endlessly-quotable all-star tirade against the systemic, institutionalised racism that has become more and more prevalent in modern Australian society. Each artist brings their A-game across the track’s runtime, laying their heart out on their sleeves and making it exceptionally clear who is in the wrong. The track’s mic-drop moment comes with Solo’s damning, defiant final point: “Racist is as racist does/So if you’re doing something racist/Hate to break it, you’re a racist, cuz.” This is our wake-up call. Australia, this is you.

93. Hockey Dad – Can’t Have Them

2014 was the year of Zach Stephenson and Billy Fleming, the Windang wunderkinds that wrote the best Australian song of the year and sent audiences young and old into a hair-flipping frenzy. It would have been entirely understandable if they wanted to go for their afternoon nap this year, but it appears the red cordial is still running through their veins. This stand-alone single is a bright, bouncy hip-shaker that strengthens Stephenson’s knack for cooed, wordless refrains and Fleming’s primitive boom-thwack Ringo fills. It bodes considerably well for the band’s imminent debut LP next year. Game on, you little scamps.

92. Drake – Know Yourself

The mixtape lifestyle suited Drake this year. Dropping new material when he felt like it with no label pressure and no pushing for a greater ambition meant that the man born Aubrey Graham was allowed to have a lot more fun. Amid the dozen-plus new songs that arrived on the If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late mixtape, it was this centrepiece that sent fans into a tailspin. Its clanking trap beat, its obnoxious sub-bass and that hook – Drizzy can make this shit happen without even trying these days. You know how that shit go. Airhorns at the ready.

91. Beach Slang – Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas

In the same year that Weston, the pop-punk band James Alex was a part of in the 90s, reunited for a handful of shows; Alex also got a second wind with the momentum of his new band, Beach Slang, who became one of 2015’s most hyped rock bands. It’s easy to both see and hear why this was the case: the paint-splatter ride cymbal, its two-chord fury; not to mention the wordless refrains one has to unlock their jaw in order to properly sing out. We are all in the garage, but some of us are looking at the stars.

90. Endless Heights – Teach You How to Leave

Every year, Endless Heights inch further and further away from the forthright melodic hardcore with which they made their name. Every year, Endless Heights write sharper, smarter songs with a greater level of introspect, heart and poignancy. Simply put: Every year, Endless Heights get flat-out better. This, the title-track to their third EP, feels like an endgame of sorts – the kind of low-key, artfully-quiet song that they have worked towards on previous efforts. It’s able to do more in less than three minutes than what may of the band’s contemporaries can achieve with five-plus. A bright, beautiful slow-burn.

89. The Bennies – Party Machine

From one end to the other, The Bennies can become a million different things – post-punk hip-shakers, knees-up ska bouncers, heavy disco (pardon the pun) ravers. When it all rolls together, it becomes something full of wild-eyed energy; a measured defiance of restrictive guidelines and genre semantics. With a third album looming, “Party Machine” feels like the Bennies single that has the most to prove – that they are ready to take this shit higher than ever before. It passes accordingly with all the flying colours of a hallucinogenic rainbow. The machine rages on. The party is just getting started.

88. Pity Sex – What Might Soothe You?

There are those that haven’t quite known what to make of Pity Sex in the past – too much of an indie band for shoegaze nerds, too much of a shoegaze band for indie kids. On their first new material in two years, the band play up their limbo with a song accentuating both sides of the coin. Twee, unisex vocals are placed under the same spotlight as hazed-out, Daydream Nation-worthy guitar fuzz – at once joyously bright and uniformly morose. Putting genre semantics aside and appreciating a great song for what it is – it, indeed, might soothe you.

87. Miguel – leaves

Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan was given a songwriting credit to this end-of-summer lament after Miguel claimed he was accidentally inspired by the Pumpkins’ hit “1979.” The similarities certainly present themselves – particularly in the off-kilter guitar patterns – but “leaves” substitutes the mid-west teenage dreaming for west-coast heartbreak and Corgan’s adenoidal nostalgia for a smooth, love-lorn crooning. Along with being a standout moment of Miguel’s excellent Wildheart LP, it certainly stands as the best thing Corgan has been attached to in well over a decade – and it says a lot that he wasn’t directly involved at all.

86. Darren Hanlon – The Chattanooga Shoot-Shoot

He’s spent over a decade as one of the country’s smartest, most celebrated songwriters – even his peers can’t help but be amazed by the way he wondrously weaves his wayward words. The standout track from his fifth album takes the Gympie couchsurfer about as far from home as he’s ever been – travelling to Tennessee on a budget bus. To borrow a phrase from Upworthy, you won’t believe what happens next. The “Folsom Prison Blues” chord progression and timely snare hits are a nice touch, too. Of all of Hanlon’s tales, this one hits number one with a bullet.

85. Micachu and the Shapes – Oh Baby

“It’s not us to give up in a rush,” crows Mica Levi over a hypnotic boom-bap rhythm and underwater synths blubbering from afar. She’s got a point, y’know – it might have been three years since we heard from Levi, Raisa Khan and Marc Pell; but they re-enter the fray as if they were never really gone. Reverb-laden crooning and an experimental hip-hop flavour to the song’s lo-fi production add spice and texture, but theirs is a dynamic so constantly-shifting and fascinating that these two aspects could just as well be just scratching the surface. Just like that, it vanishes.

84. Best Coast – Heaven Sent

Not to get all Rick Astley on the situation, but Best Coast are no strangers to love. Their knack lies in their ability to make it sound as fresh and dewy-eyed as that of young romance. No-one else in the current indie-rock climate could drop something as sappy as “You are the one that I adore” atop a major chord and not only get away with it, but be commended for it. There’s a method and an art-form to all of this – and the only ones that know the secret recipe are Bethany and Bobb. Love rules, yeah yeah.

83. Bad//Dreems – Cuffed and Collared

What other band in Australia right now could simultaneously recall God’s “My Pal” and The Remembrandt’s sole hit “I’ll Be There for You” in a single bound? It could well have something to do with how “Cuffed and Collared” vividly mashes together the fury and bounding energy of the former with the unmistakable pop ear-worms of the latter. It might be a song that details a violent altercation, sure; but you’ll be damned if you aren’t grinning every time that the hook in question rolls around – and it’s on a near-frequent loop. With Dreems like these, who needs Friends?

82. Foals – What Went Down

What the ever-loving fuck is going on here? From its seasick organ drone to its detour into a thick three-note riff – not to mention its subsequent tear-down and empirical rebuild – “What Went Down” is one of the most head-spinning, ferocious compositions that Foals have ever committed to wax. What else does it have in store? Abstract imagery! A piercing, screamed refrain! Constant, unpredictable swerves that threaten to throw the entire goddamn thing off a cliff! To paraphrase a quote from Blades of Glory‘s Chazz Michael-Michaels: No-one knows what went down, but it’s provocative. It gets the people going.

81. The Hard Aches – Knots

One of the true signs of great, honest songwriting is when the writer in question turns the knife – or, in this case, the much-mightier pen – on themselves. The Hard Aches’ Ben David exposes his flaws on this key track from the band’s debut, Pheromones; bitterly portraying himself as a pathological, unrepentant liar in a constant state of exhaustion. Towards the song’s thrilling conclusion, however, he indicates that he’s on the road to bettering himself – and his is such a blunt, forthright delivery that you just know that he’ll get there. The untying process slowly but surely begins.

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Part Two will be posted next Monday!

To download the podcast version of Part One, click here.

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INTERVIEW: TV on the Radio (USA), December 2008

No need to bullshit about here: TV on the Radio are one of my favourite bands of all time. I’ve seen them live four times, I own and love all of their music and they have been with me for a very, very long time. Nearly ten years, in fact. I’ve grown to love them more and more with every album, reaching fever pitch around the time that 2008’s Dear Science came out. How fitting, then, that this was when I would interview Jaleel Bunton, formerly the band’s drummer and now their bass player following the loss of the late, great Gerard Smith. Jaleel was a very cool cat – he was talkative, engaging and smart. I was beyond stoked with how this one turned out – and even looking at it now, my work here isn’t too bad. Definitely one of the better features I put together around this time.

Smith actually gets a mention in this feature, and I nearly cried reading over it again. He was a remarkable musician, and is dearly missed. TVotR are here at the end of the month for Splendour in the Grass – infuriatingly, not doing any sideshows. Hopefully, we’ll hear some new stuff soon.

– DJY, July 2013

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“Sorry, man!”

Jaleel Bunton has returned from his promise to be right back, apologising for the noise. “I just entered a very loud rehearsal space.” This is easily forgivable – Jaleel Bunton is a fairly busy guy, consistently on the move. He is one-fifth of Brooklyn-based avant-garde rockers TV on the Radio, who are headed to Australia in early 2009 on the back of their latest album, Dear Science.

Released in September, Science has topped Rolling Stone’s end-of-year list and earned high-ranking positions in many more. It was also the second record that Bunton was an official part of the band as its drummer. Certainly, one could see this as a cementing of the band as a five-piece; and Jaleel himself tends to agree.

“The band started as just Tunde [Adebimpe, lead vocalist] and Dave [Andrew Sitek, guitarist/producer]. From that, it’s now grown into a five-way collaboration – this is the first time where everyone wrote songs for the record. We’re still trying to journey to – œfind ourselves’ as a five-piece, and I think Dear Science was a big step in that direction.”

With tight, groovy jams like Dancing Choose and Golden Age, as well as full-band freakouts like DLZ andHalfway Home plentiful on the new record, Science sounds far more like a band-focused record than their last, 2006’s wildly successful Return to Cookie Mountain. Putting this to Bunton himself, however, reveals a little uncertainty to merit of such ideas.

“One thing I like about this band is that it doesn’t really adhere to the typical band script of – ‘we were best mates in high school, started playing in our garage, rented out a studio’ – we’re not like that,” he muses. “So it wasn’t really a focus to make it more of a band record; it was just a goal to make a record that all five of us that we were proud of. We wanted everyone to participate because we were all individual writers before we met.”

Having said that, there is still certainly lenience towards the core trio – Adebimpe, Sitek and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Kyp Malone. When asked which of the three Bunton personally connects with the most when it comes to songwriting, he notes that it really “depends on the song.”

“It’s pretty hard question to answer, y’know…” He pauses, then continues by stating that the band “all works together.” “It’s a little happy home… I mean, we definitely have our issues, but I’m impressed with the fact that everyone is able to keep their egos in check- that’s a part of art.

“Everyone has their different, particular talents,” he continues, focusing on particular examples. “Dave’s a really good producer, it’s something I watch and am really amazed by. And Tunde’s a fantastic melody writer. I work well with everybody with what they’re good at, to answer your question.”

If you have never experienced TVOTR live in any shape or form, you are most certainly in for a surprise. Perhaps the band’s most well-known performance is that of their appearance on Letterman a few years back, playing single Wolf Like Me. The already-dancey track was given a wild, rollicking renovation in the live environment – a credit, in particular, to Bunton’s Bonham-sized drums. Despite the impression that songs likeWolf were meant for the live environment, Jaleel explains that each song that this is simply not the case.

“I grew up studying how to play instruments; but I know a lot of people are limited by what their hands do and not what your mind is doing,” he says, elaborating on different degrees of musicianship. “When TV on the Radio writes or records, we write music to be recorded – as we want to hear it, not as we want to feel it.”

So what changes when it’s time to put the songs in front of a crowd? “It’s the exact opposite,” he states. “We’re more concerned with what it feels like than what it sounds like. This is the first time we’ve had quite a bit of live experience under our belt, making this record, so I think that’s slipped in subconsciously.”

Another staple of TV on the Radio live performances is bassist Gerard Smith’s near-obsessive refusal to face the audience whilst he plays. Jaleel laughs and describes Smith as “one of the single most puzzling enigmas on the planet.”

“There was no moment that made him the person that never turns around on stage – and if it did, it happened a long time before I met him. I will say this,” he continues as if giving an inside scoop, “I HAVE seen him,ONE time, turn around and wink at his girlfriend at the time in the audience. It lasted a matter of four seconds and it blew my mind!”

There is absolutely no doubt here – Jaleel Bunton is a charismatic, friendly and genuinely interesting man. If you missed out on tickets to any of their sideshows, and you are heading along to any of the Big Days Out, don’t miss your chance to catch Bunton in action with TV on the Radio. Hopefully, you’ll be excited as he is to be touring this festival. When asked if he was looking forward to the shows, he replies, “Are you kidding? I can’t believe I’m going to be travelling every day with Neil Young!”