The Top 100 Songs of 2020, Part Four: 40 – 21

Welcome to the top 40! The cream is really rising to the top here. Remember, catching up on the list thus far is as easy as one, two, three! With that out of the way, let’s do it to it.

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40. Ashley McBryde – Never Will

Consider the title track as a statement piece. One could certainly do this across both of Ashley McBryde’s major-label LPs – and, by proxy, link “Never Will” as a spiritual successor to the modern Opry classic “Girl Goin’ Nowhere.” Much like “Girl,” McBryde once again goes toe-to-toe with those who doubted her. Rather than not believing she’d make it, however, this time they’re saying the good times won’t last. It’s louder and more defiant this time around, backed with rousing electric guitars and a mantra that could reflect McBryde’s entire career: “I didn’t/I don’t/I never will.” Country’s realest, freshest voice.

39. Caligula’s Horse – Autumn

Rise Radiant, the fifth studio album from Caligula’s Horse, is replete with bombast and layered instrumentation, itself zigging when you expect a zag and vice versa. There’s something to be said, then, for a song like “Autumn.” Rather than immediately throwing listeners to the wolves, it gently fades in on a lone acoustic guitar and the subdued, tender vocals of frontman Jim Grey. The prog-rock grandiosity eventuates, yes – there’s a bass solo that leads into a guitar solo – but “Autumn” succeeds primarily as a daring venture for a band that could easily but unfairly be dismissed as by-the-numbers.

38. Baby Beef – Sticking Around

A Layman’s introduction to Baby Beef: Imagine Matt Berninger fronting the Pet Shop Boys. Both the same baritone and quizzical lyrical nature follow, matched with synths and programming that are pure, unabashed kitsch. Still, that’s just a starting point. As a song like “Sticking Around” proves, there’s more to the Beef than meets the eye. All three vocalists create standout moments for themselves, while the spaghetti-western guitar adds an unexpected twang to the otherwise glacial synth-pop. There’s no-one currently on the Australian circuit quite like them – and songs like this, fitting to its title, attest to their staying power.

37. Polaris – Vagabond

Although they didn’t get much of a chance to celebrate it, Polaris ascended to the top of the foodchain in Australian heavy music in 2020. The Death of Me not only cleared the bar set by their impressive 2017 debut The Mortal Coil, it set a new benchmark for their contemporaries entirely. We listen now to the album’s centrepiece, wholly exemplary of this fresh standard. If you’re not coming to the dance with riffs that bounce as hard, drums that slam as aggressively and hooks that feel as all-encompassing as “Vagabond,” ask yourself: What the hell are you doing here?

36. ONEFOUR – Welcome to Prison

Of course, one can’t document the rise of Western Sydney’s ONEFOUR without also addressing the ever-present elephant in the room. A Rooty Hill incident landed key members of the group in jail, leaving only two on the outside to keep the name alive. To their credit, ONEFOUR have done a fantastic job of this – not least of all for keeping shit very, very real in their lyrical content. “Welcome to Prison,” as its name suggests, hits even harder than something like “In the Beginning” purely for how much heart, honesty and introspection lies within it. They remain Sydney’s realest.

35. Ty Dolla $ign feat. Kanye West, FKA twigs and Skrillex – Ego Death

Was there a greater example of ego death in 2020 than Ty Dolla $ign releasing a song named after it from an album titled Featuring Ty Dolla $ign? Ty always plays John C. Reilly to countless artists’ Will Ferrell. “Ego Death,” then, might be his Walk Hard. It’s still flanked by others’ star power (including Kanye’s best verse in years), but also serves as a showcase of an underrated leading man. This also wasn’t a hit, but give it time and it has every chance of attaining cult-classic status. Rightfully so, too. It’s the soundtrack to a thousand boogie nights.

34. 5 Seconds of Summer – Wildflower

Is there anything more fun than cosplaying decades you weren’t around for? 5SOS – who were all born in the mid-90s – finally get to indulge on a full-blown 80s moment on “Wildflower.” It honestly makes you wonder why they hadn’t gone for it sooner. Those synth stabs! That squeaky-clean guitar! The wallop of the gated snare! Take a dash of solo Phil Collins, add a splash of solo Peter Gabriel, and you’ve got the genesis of “Wildflower.” Maybe a pinch of Talking Heads, too – ’tis the season, after all. As comforting as a pair of giant shoulder pads.

33. Waxahatchee – Fire

It’s always been easy to feel what Katie Crutchfield is singing. She’s always possessed a raw, soulful voice within the indie-rock spectrum that has housed moments of vital vulnerability across her five albums as Waxahatchee. What “Fire” does is make you see what she’s singing. “West Memphis is on fire/In the light of day.” You can see the horizon, the smoke, the terror and the beauty in a moment like that. A bittersweet countryside journey, laden with impeccable harmony and bold structure. “Fire” encapsulates one of the most compelling pieces of songwriting yet in a career defined entirely by them.

32. Something for Kate – Supercomputer

At a time when many of their contemporaries have resigned themselves to the nostalgia circuit and Days On The Green, Something for Kate deserve to be commended for existing in the present tense alone. Even if their new stuff wasn’t up to scratch, at least they were still making it. That’s what makes songs like “Supercomputer” all the more defiant and baffling: Something for Kate are still making some of the best music they’ve ever written. Paul Dempsey’s ongoing sci-fi dalliance continues in a blaze of orbiting synths, pounding toms, rousing na-na-nas and a fiery guitar outro. No nostalgia necessary.

31. Nothing Really – Yuck

“Do you think I’m yuck?” Vic Austin voice cracks into a higher register as she asks the song’s titular question. “I adore you,” it adds. Perhaps a separate point, but perhaps the two are wholly intertwined. Like Roger Sanchez’s tragic “Another Chance” video, Austin and her Nothing Really cohorts begin the song with a full, giant heart that is eventually shriveled and shrunken by the cruel nature of the outside world. It’s vital, purposeful indie rock – the kind one loses themselves in for days on end, hooked on a feeling. There’s never an answer given, but silence speaks volumes.

30. Genesis Owusu – Whip Cracker

Much like “This is America” before it, much of “Whip Cracker”’s power lies within its visual accompaniment. Kofi Owusu-Ansah stares directly down the camera barrel, shot in black-and-white as he unflinchingly calls out his targets. By the time the video bursts into colour, blood is dripping from his mouth. It’s one of the year’s most perfect videos for what ended up being one of its hardest-hitting songs. Owusu’s acidic bile is egged on by thudding drums, which turn on a dime into a dance-punk apocalypse around the song’s halfway point. It’s complex by nature; unrelenting in execution. Whip it good.

29. Run the Jewels feat. Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha – JU$T

When the tracklist for RTJ4 preempted its release, one particular odd-couple feature pairing raised eyebrows – and, believe it or not, it wasn‘t Josh Homme and Mavis Staples. Of course, Run the Jewels had history with Zack de la Rocha – but what of Pharrell, whose happy (pun intended) disposition felt immediately at odds with the harsh reality of RTJ? As it turns out, this fab four complement one another perfectly. It’s all there: Williams’ syncopated hook, El-P’s rubbery beat clatter and prolix wordplay, Mike’s effortless verse, de la Rocha’s scene-stealing finale. “JU$T” is a legend convention meets social revolution.

28. Tame Impala – Lost in Yesterday

One of the more interesting musical elements at play on the last two Tame Impala records has been the lessened emphasis on guitar. What happens when you remove such a key element from what is, for all intents and purposes, a rock band? You get in the groove. “Lost in Yesterday,” tellingly, sports the best Impala bassline since “The Less I Know the Better.” A bustling drum shuffle – equal parts “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “The Moment” – muscles in, while an aviary of synth squalls colour in atop of the rhythm. Reinvention never felt so revolutionary.

27. Miiesha – Twisting Words

The title of Miiesha’s debut Nyaaringu stems from her native Pitjantjatjara. It translates to “what happened,” and the Queensland singer is true to it across inter-generational storytelling and heartfelt odes to her past, present and future. “Twisting Words” shows us what happened when Miiesha was underestimated, overlooked and spoken over. Spoiler alert: It made her mad as hell, and she’s not gonna take it anymore. She’s flanked by a pristine neo-soul arrangement, which builds from a warm bed of keyboards to a righteous guitar solo. It feels real, and it feels right. Believe the hype: Miiesha is the total package.

26. Gordi – Extraordinary Life

Three years removed from jaw-dropping debut Reservoir, Gordi found herself adapting and evolving. Not only was she musically recalibrating following her first album’s kitchen-sink maximalism, she was simultaneously experiencing loss in tandem with new love. With this, consider “Extraordinary Life” the centrepiece of Our Two Skins. It’s a resolute piece of folktronica that doesn’t shy away from matters of the heart. In fact, it thrives upon them. It comes from a place of open sentiment and quiet desperation, with the kind of emotion that lingers long after the final chord rings out. It’s vintage Gordi, but simultaneously brand-new. It’s extraordinary.

25. Pearl Jam – Dance of the Clairvoyants

So much got forgotten from the first quarter of 2020, their existence alone may shock you. Case in point: You forgot Pearl Jam put out a record, didn’t you. You also forgot that the lead single was a massive gamble – a new-wave, post-punk hybrid; hardly recognisable when put next to “Alive” or “Jeremy.” Here’s the best-kept secret of all: “Dance of the Clairvoyants” is the best Pearl Jam single since at least “The Fixer,” maybe even “Do the Evolution.” It’s a strutting, positively Byrne-ian musical revelation. A Pearl Jam song like this only comes around once in a lifetime.

24. Miel – I’ll Be Holding

The cover of Miel’s debut album Tourist Season sees her leaning back, eyes closed and mouth agape. It’s part daydream, part free-fall. Such a tableau feels pertinent to the sensations caused by its second single, “I’ll Be Holding.” It’s a rush of wind to the face as the city flies by in a flash, internalising a complex situation in the medium of retro-tinged dream-folk. It’s a moment to get lost in, throwing your body into an arm-flailing tube-man trance. “I’ll Be Holding” is the sound of dancing like no-one’s watching, and lord knows that kind of release was needed here.

23. The Chicks – Julianna Calm Down

For 20-plus years, the Chicks had the loudest voices in the room and knew how to use them. They called out from wide open spaces, killed Earl and refused to make nice. They took it to 11 and never turned down… until now. “Julianna Calm Down” brings the trio into close quarters with their nearest and dearest. They get real for a moment, showing a side they’ve never quite shown before. It’s the kind of tenderness that can only come from three loving mothers, passed on with the kind of wisdom that can only come with knowing each other mile-long.

22. Tigers Jaw – Warn Me

When Tigers Jaw shared their first new music of 2020, it was with a caveat: This won’t be on the album. There was one coming (still is), but you wouldn’t find “Warn Me” on it. This is a good thing, in hindsight – insofar as that you can appreciate “Warn Me” strictly on standalone merits. There’s plenty of those, too: Teddy Roberts’ double-kick thrash injects new life behind the kit, while Ben Walsh’s double-whammy of a wordless pre-chorus and a howled hook is testament to his songwriting skills. When they put their minds to it, Tigers Jaw are practically peerless.

21. Something for Kate – Waste Our Breath

Paul Dempsey claims that “Waste Our Breath” is about “trying to find an empty space.” He’s right, of course – it’s his song, after all – but perhaps the best thing about Something for Kate is that they’ve always left things open for interpretation. Whatever you hear is right too. The song’s “checkpoint on the shortest day of the year” could mean everything and nothing. “This show”? What show? Your call. It’s futile and fascinating, powered by Dempsey’s towering presence and the resilience of his long-serving rhythm section. Fill this empty space however you see fit. It’s yours now, people.

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Have a listen to all 80(!) of the songs on the list so far, in order, via Spotify below:

Check back soon for the final installment! 2020’s almost done, thank the lord.

The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part One: 100 – 81

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We’re back once again with a retrospective on the year that was. Here are the 100 songs that made my year – not only the building blocks for my musical experiences, but my personal ones too. It’s been a pretty amazing time to be a music fan, as all of these songs will attest to.

Before you go any further, I compiled a supplementary playlist of 50 songs I really enjoyed in 2014 that just missed out on the top 100. You can stream it over at Spotify by either clicking here or streaming directly below:

Once again, I have to preface that you are completely allowed to not enjoy all of the songs on offer here. Or even any of them, for that matter. I do put it to you, however, that nothing here is “wrong” just because you’re not a fan of it personally or if something you do like doesn’t appear. If you feel so strongly, why not make a list of your own? I double dare you.

It begins…

– David James Young, December 2014

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100. Corpus – Awash with Monotone

Feeling everything and nothing all at the same time. It’s truly one of the more difficult feelings to describe; leaving Sydney duo Corpus to enter the colour scheme and add a little synaesthesia to the mix of their cathartic, tense blend of third-wave post-hardcore and millennium-turn alt-rock. It projects a sense of distance and immediate proximity; of immeasurable loss and momentous gain. Not telling you all – and yet, in doing so, telling more than one might have ever suspected. “Awash with Monotone” is stuck in a moment – and, thanks to some masterful songcraft, it comes out alive.

99. Childish Gambino – Sober

Donald Glover is gonna just keep on doing Donald Glover. You get the feeling that he was going to be doing that anyway, regardless of whether anyone was listening or not. After ending out 2013 with because the internet, which folks either destroyed or called album of the year, the artist formerly known as Troy dropped both a mixtape and a new EP within immediate succession of one another. This end-of-summer rnb bliss release proved to be the pick of the litter, particularly when the pitch-shifted outro throws a smart, avant-garde curveball. Now we’re so high.

98. The Felice Brothers – Cherry Licorice

“I don’t care if it sounds ridic’lous!” sneers Ian Felice after announcing that the song’s title is all he’s interested in chewing on. Nor should he – as a matter of fact, “Cherry Licorice” could well be one of the most carefree songs of the year. Landing somewhere in the middle between Bob Dylan and Bright Eyes, there’s a simple joy to be had here: With its warm accordion and jangly guitar, the brothers offered up some particularly pleasant confectionery. Bonus points for rhyming ‘ladies and gents’ with ‘excrement,’ while we’re at it.

97. Die! Die! Die! – Get Hit

Two words. Six letters. An endless cycle of repetition. After awhile, “Get Hit” becomes more than a song title and a chorus – it’s a mantra; a cathartic cry out at those that are holding you back or holding you down. It exists on a vicious cycle, and there’s no getting off. Each snare roll sounds like a haymaker to the jaw, while Andrew Wilson laments over the ultra-violence with radiating guitar noise. The Dunedin natives have rarely sounded this dark, this brooding or this flat-out furious on record before. Furthermore, they’ve rarely sounded this good.

96. Chet Faker – Cigarettes and Loneliness

We all know what a love song sounds like. You’ve heard them on the radio, you’ve sung along to them… hell, you might have even written a couple yourself. This, conversely, is what a “love without love” song sounds like. Faker revels in his thinly-veiled non-chalance during the track’s verses before letting a bit of that heartbreak out as the song progresses – a little bit here and there, until he’s basically on his knees and openly mourning his failed, unrequited love without love. “Cigarettes and Loneliness” is the sound of a man falling apart.

95. Jacob feat. Luke Hughes – Floors

Much like Nicholas Cage, “Floors” is gone in 60 seconds. It does a lot more in that time, however, than Cage ever managed with that lousy remake of his. Odes to a life on the road are nothing new (what’s up, Willie Nelson?), but the vantage point of knowing that there’s always a show to be playing somewhere adds hope and a new perspective into the mix. Luke Hughes, frontman for the late, great Thesis, subsequently bowls the track over entirely with a roared refrain that is delivered with both love and hate. That’s touring for you.

94. Pixies – Snakes

If you asked “How many people thought the new Pixies album was terrible?” you’d get a raised hand from more or less everyone in the room. Were you to follow that up with “How many people actually heard the new Pixies album?,” however, the majority of those hands would be gone from the air. Yes, the proto-grunge legends somehow ended up as underdogs in 2014; but amid the backlash came this left-of-centre gem. Boasting some outstanding guitar work from Joey Santiago and some classic Black Francis weirdness, there was more to the Pixies 2.0 than met the eye.

93. Angus & Julia Stone – Heart Beats Slow

In their time away from the shared spotlight, both Angus and Julia released solo albums. While both had their merits, they also proved that there’s something truly special about their work together. The songwriting is stronger, the vocals tessellate brilliantly and the left knows exactly what the right is doing at all times. It’s as if they exist in a hive mind. It would certainly explain how a track like “Heart Beats Slow” comes so naturally to the siblings – with its drawn-out groove and reggae-tinged rhythm, it brought in the gentle breeze of familiarity and sent us sailing once again.

92. Broken Bells – After the Disco

10 years removed from The Grey Album, Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton is still finding new ways to push the proverbial envelope and challenge his listeners in his approach to both songwriting and production. Indeed, “After the Disco” almost sounds like one of his famed mash-ups – a dash of the Shins, a Chic beat, some prog-rock keys and a Queen bass-line. A potential mess, the song instead lets its colours run into something truly beautiful. What was initially thought to be a one-off between Burton and James Mercer back in 2010 has found life again – and what a life.

91. Passenger – Heart’s on Fire

It may be clear to all and sundry that a certain song stands as what pushed humble busker Mike Rosenberg into international superstar Passenger. The cracks certainly began to show, however, with this live favourite – often performed alongside Ed Sheeran and inevitably one of the more tender, beautiful moments of any Passenger set. Its premise is one that’s so simple, it could have come from anywhere – Cut Copy even attempted it several years prior with the apostrophe removed. That is, of course, until Rosenberg begins to sing. It’s clear, then, that it came from the heart. Directly.

90. Angus & Julia Stone – A Heartbreak

The Stones are often classified under the banner of folk rock, but it’s rare that a song of theirs is able to be considered as more of the latter than the former. That’s where “A Heartbreak” emerges, here serving as both the opening number to their self-titled third LP and a potential mission statement. The song is simply resplendent in its aphotic corners, muted guitars and stomping drums. The blunt yet understated lyrical content further indulges the two in their collective darkside – at the very least, they indicate that we’re not on that big jet plane anymore.

89. La Roux – Kiss and Not Tell

Elly Jackson arrived late in the game of the 2000s – figuratively within its final months – but was there just in time to drop in classics of the decade such as “In For the Kill” and “Bulletproof.” There weren’t any new classics to be found on La Roux’s second album, but there didn’t need to be. Honestly, Jackson simply sounded happy to be back making music under the moniker again. Here, she further immerses herself in synth-pop with flourishes of early Depeche Mode, a pinch of ABC and some classic La Roux ambiguity. It feels like home once again.

88. Ed Sheeran – Don’t

The second single from Sheeran’s chart-smashing x (say it “multiply”) raised a lot of questions to a lot of different people. “Is it about Taylor?” openly pondered the screaming teenage girls that make up a fair slice of the pie chart detailing his demographic. “Is it about Ellie?” tweeted the twenty-somethings supposedly above teen fandom and yet unable to help themselves in a little gossip. The most important question came, though, from true pop afficionados: “Exactly what more will it take to prove that this kid isn’t fucking around?” A career-best single from a career that is still yet blooming.

87. Hockey Dad – Beach House

The term “sports-montage rock” is often used as derogatory slang for lifeless, paint-by-numbers music that blends into the background of tackling, goal-scoring and cheering footage. This is only being brought up to preface something that must be said without any intent to insult: “Beach House” needs to be incorporated into a skate video and it needs to be done post-haste. This scorcher is a blend of Vampire Weekend hooks (“Ay! Ay! Ay!”), Wavves guitar tone and bounding, youthful exuberance. Oh, and it would be totes wicked rad if there were some kickflips to go with it.

86. Postblue – Pig

Kids have seemingly always been in bands that ape the musical stylings of a movement they either weren’t alive for or are far too young to remember directly. This, of course, doesn’t mean that those acts should be directly dismissed – it’s not the influences, per se, but what a band does with them. In regards to Melbourne-via-Byron’s Postblue, it means taking the definitive traits of the grunge era – snarling vocals, Big Muff pedal stomps and smart loud-quiet-loud dynamics – and wheezing some fresh air into them. It’s been done, sure, but right now no-one’s doing it better.

85. Latham’s Grip – Anyone Else

Anyone who’s been in a rock band can attest to that unbeatable moment where an instrumental break is being jammed upon, the eyes connect around the room and, without a word being said, it just keeps on going. That’s a huge part of “Anyone Else,” and it makes the song all that much stronger. Where many bands would cut off, Latham’s Grip push until they get through to the other side. It works wonders on what’s already an exceptional cut of garage-dwelling alt-rock. “All I’ve got is who I am,” laments vocalist Jesse Hepplewhite at one point. Sometimes, that’s more than enough.

84. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah feat. Matt Berninger – Coming Down

Where did we lose Alec Ounsworth? The foundations of the little Brooklyn band that could came crumbling sometime after 2007’s Some Loud Thunder, but its leader never gave up hope – even when figuratively the entire band left. The road to redemption begins here, with what is easily the project’s strongest single since “Satan Said Dance.” A buzzing rhythm section matches up with churning post-punk guitar as Ounsworth pours his peculiar brand of paranoia over the top. Later, The National’s Matt Berninger turns up to offer an even gloomier viewpoint; and the class of 2005 lives on somehow.

83. Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk

Mark Ronson rocking up all non-chalantly with a single in November is basically like that Bill Murray cameo in Space Jam – you didn’t see it coming and it took most of the run-time to actually happen, but it’s what you’re going to remember it for. Along for the ride is your boy Bruno Mars – once a fedora-tipping lovesick puppy, now a swagged-out smooth operator calling the shots. “Uptown Funk” is Prince, it’s Sly and the Family Stone and it’s James Brown, but there’s something more important about it. It’s the trumpets sounding the return of the king.

82. FKA twigs – Two Weeks

This ain’t no Grizzly Bear cover. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around. Over a dizzying, clattered trap beat, twigs approaches her lover in the song’s lyrics with all the subtlety and nuance of a Prince record – the mix makes it feel as though she’s practically singing directly into his ear and we’re eavesdroppers. Who’d have guessed that an ode to stoned, bestial sex would wind up as one of the sexiest-sounding songs of the year? FKA twigs has rightfully emerged atop the throne after some promising leadups to her debut. Your move, motherfuckers.

81. Röyksopp & Robyn – Sayit

Scandinavians having sex with robots? Sure, why not. An adults-only sequel to the pairing’s original collaboration, 2007’s “Girl and the Robot,” things get decidedly hot and heavy this time around – even with a strictly limited amount of words actually being spoken. It’s all in the beat – hammering, propulsive and incessant; mercilessly pounding away on the bass drum to ensure there’s not a single second across the five-minute runtime when you’re not a sweaty, dancing mess. If ever you needed proof that these three are a match made in Heaven, here it is. Let’s get freaky.

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