A pleasure to have you back. Before venturing forth, make sure you’re all caught up with Part One by taking a click over here. Don’t worry, this will still be here when you get back. Promise!
80. 1300 – WOAH DAMN
In 2021, 1300 felt like a breath of fresh air. In 2022, they felt like Mia Wallace getting stabbed in the heart with an adrenaline shot after OD’ing on cocaine. If you want that rush exemplified, wrap your bleeding ears around the non-stop massive jungle that is ‘WOAH DAMN’. The troupe’s gnashing, non-stop flows bounce effortlessly between the verse’s half-time trap beat and the chorus’ drum-and-bass break, meaning you’re constantly on your toes throughout. If you’re looking for a cut that could work both on the Tokyo Drift soundtrack and an EB Games playlist, you’d be best to hook in.
79. Wet Leg – Angelica
When you look at the songs that made up Wet Leg’s self-titled debut, you could argue that its best moments were spoiled by being released as singles in 2021: ‘Chaise Longue’, ‘Too Late Now’ and ‘Wet Dream’ chief among them. Allow this notion to be refuted by our mutual friend ‘Angelica’, who skolled all the free beer at the party and sassed every bro-dude in the room while doing so in 2022. With an irresistible three-note guitar lick, this jangly rocker was testament to Wet Leg’s newfound staying power. This isn’t a flash in the pan, it’s a skillet fire.
78. Grace Cummings – Freak
It’s the voice that pulls you in first. At once a distinctive beast and a Mosaic of iconic female rock vocalists, Grace Cummings lays every lyric bare on the floor with busted, raw-nerve singing. Perhaps nothing on her exceptional debut Storm Queen drove this home quite like ‘Freak’, which stayed true to its title and reveled in reclusion amidst reverberating piano and a piercing fiddle solo. In the final line, she calls for every freak to sing in a manner that will make you fucking scream. In an era of singer-songwriters on every corner, Cummings dares with a distinctive difference.
77. EGOISM – For Ages
Let’s talk about equal and opposite reactions. It’s a law EGOISM have developed a comprehensive understanding of in their near-decade of playing together, going to-and-fro between elaborate layering and subtle refinery on each single. Thus, from the emphatic ‘Lonely But Not Alone’ comes the effectively understated ‘For Ages’. From the depths of shimmering ambience comes a steel-cut bassline, puncturing through floating guitars and gentle, clattering drum machines. The duo, subsequently, opine the passage of time when all you want is to waste it – both with and on somebody else. Even on the comedown, EGOISM find themselves on the up.
76. Pedro the Lion – First Drum Set
As he edges toward 50, David Bazan has effectively dedicated over half his life to slow slowcore/indie-emo vets Pedro The Lion. Yet, it feels like we’re still getting to know him. This, the centrepiece of Pedro’s second post-reunion effort, takes us back to a young cub obsessing over music in a way only children can. A transition in the school band plays a pivotal role in Bazan’s evolution – and, against warm inverted chords and a tasteful flourish of text painting, he guides us through it beat by beat (no pun intended). All hail the once and future Lion king.
75. The Chats – 6L GTR
The Chats might have Dave Grohl, Axl Rose, Alex Turner and Julian Casablancas on speed-dial, but don’t let the viral hits and sell-out tours fool you: they’re not rockstars. On the opener of their perfectly-titled Get Fucked, the Sunny Coast trio turn up the Queensland heat by taking garage rock to its logical conclusion. ‘6L GTR’ is an ode to the shitboxes of our lives, and all the skidmarks they leave in their wake. You know how they say to reject modernity and embrace tradition? The Chats get it, man. If you haven’t already: Hop in. A wild ride awaits.
74. King Stingray – Camp Dog
There’s a lot more of Australia out the back. Many remote Indigenous communities observe customs entirely foreign to those who dwell in cities that never close down. For East Arnhem, it’s the camp dog – canines that not only live on the streets, but run them. Here, King Stingray cheekily dedicate this sunburnt rocker to this unique cultural touchstone. It’s a testament to the band’s muscly sharpness and their intangible sense of place, not to mention Indigenous peoples’ sense of humour – which is often overlooked in favour of their capital-S Serious art. This right here is a pure breed.
73. Softcult – Gaslight
It’s a concept that’s been within the greater lexicon for years, but how exactly does one articulate the harrowing experience of gaslighting? Literally starting your song with the lyric “it’s all my fault” is certainly one approach – and that’s just the tip of Sofcult’s proverbial iceberg that crashes into you over the next three minutes. ‘Gaslight’ is a formidable entry point for the Canadian twosome, exemplifying their precarious but crafty balancing act: emotive lyrical heft in one scale, cloudy musical wisp in the other. Where dream-pop detours onto Elm Street, you’ll find Softcult – resilient, defiant and emphatically unique.
72. Noah Dillon – I C.A.N.T
Taylor Swift isn’t always right, but the anti-hero nailed it when she told everyone “spelling is fun”. For Perth indie kid Noah Dillon (or Dillan if he’s at the airport desk), it effectively unlocks one of the liveliest, most rambunctious tracks of his still-blossoming career. Amid sprechgesang rants about orgasmic sneezing, nightly moisturizing and Number 45, Dillon lets his curly mane thrash against skiddish guitars and howled refrains that offer irrefutable proof that west is best. A rallying cry of individualism, soundtracked by the kinetic energy of one man and his band against the world. Don’t like it? F U.
71. Press Club – I Can Change
Because of reasons that should seem obvious, there’s been significant delays in getting albums out recently. Melbourne rock mainstays Press Club were chief amongst them, but if it wasn’t already apparent this isn’t a band that gives up easily. Even on what’s ostensibly Endless Motion‘s love song, the quartet are spoiling for a fight – it just so happens to be for something rather than against it this time. This level of determination has kept the band’s all-heart reputation aflame, and ‘I Can Change’ will again have you pounding your chest with a fist, Future Islands-style. The beat goes on.
70. Stella Donnelly – Lungs
Remember in School of Rock when Ms. Mullins finally lets loose to ‘Edge of Seventeen’? In its own way, that’s the sensation ‘Lungs’ gives. Donnelly – best known for a devastating ballad about sexual assault – opens her second album with stomping disco drums, glassy keyboard chiming and a certifiably groovy bass-line. Previously only playful to a degree, Flood‘s technicolour lead single painted the Perth artist in new light. Her creative horizons, thus, expand without ever losing sight of idiosyncrasies like her wispy vocal and textured guitar work. This is an iron will at work, which truly cannot be punctured.
69. Harry Styles – Music for a Sushi Restaurant
Fucking hell. Imagine the pitch meeting for this entirely deranged affair: The biggest male popstar in the world, at the helm of a food/sex funk/pop song with a MIDI horn section bleating over a wordless chorus, where he – among other things – scats. Twice. If this was any other artist, you’d have better luck green-lighting Don’t Worry Darling 2. Somehow, though, this literal Styles clash is one of 2022’s most beguiling and subversive works of art. Styles is still moving in one direction – it just happens to be a steam-train off its tracks. This is the new stuff.
68. Katie Gregson-MacLeod – complex
When an artist breaks out via The Clock App, you cynically have to ask: What’s the big deal here? Do you buy it? Enter Katie Gregson-MacLeod, a twentysomething Scottish singer-songwriter who found her humble piano demo taking the internet by storm. In its final studio form, ‘complex’ is fully realised in every sense. Its gutpunch chorus lands blow after blow lyrically and vocally, dissecting the inner turmoil of relationship imbalance that can only come from the fresh wounds of youth. Upon completion, picture Frank Reynolds after watching Mac’s interpretive dance: Tears in your eyes, whispering gently… “I get it now.”
67. Gang of Youths – in the wake of your leave
Gang of Youths love two things: Football (not soccer) and songs about death. How exactly do you MacGuyver a bridge between them? Easy: Get an “oh-oh-oh” sing-song chant in the mix of a song confronting the immediate, convoluted presence of grief. Just another day in the life of the band that brought the unbearable, terrible triteness of being to the mainstream? Not exactly. There’s a racing, frenetic energy pulsing throughout ‘wake’ – fitting, given there’s a cameo from Formula One legend Daniel Ricciardo – as well as a daring, unflinching emotional throughline. With Gang of Youths, you’ll never walk alone.
66. SPEED – NOT THAT NICE
Racism in all forms is an ugly beast, but the rise in hate-crime targeting Asian people in the wake of the pandemic has felt particularly frightening for that community on a global scale. Here, SPEED take on #stopasianhate with some Asian hate of their own – a hammer-smash of stereotypes and a slice of beatdown hardcore that’s not afraid to 86 your local 88. 2022 was the year SPEED took Australian hardcore to a global, viral scale – a rise that they did not take lightly. Tracks like ‘NOT THAT NICE’ proved why they deserved that premier spot. Hate this.
65. chloe moriondo – nice pup
Want to experience proper whiplash? Listen to the blushing bedroom-indie of the puppy luv EP and the sticky-sweet hyperpop of SUCKERPUNCH –then take into consideration that they were written and performed by the same person, six months apart. The restless 20-year-old made a lot of noise throughout 2022, and rightly so. In a more understated moment from the former EP, however, moriondo found artistic breakthrough. While Iggy Pop wanted canine transformation to get kinky, ‘nice pup’ opts for softness and vulnerability. They just want to be liked and loved, after all. Both feel easy when you’re listening to this.
64. Suzi – Everyone I’ve Met Hates Me
Out of Melbourne suburbia comes a universal feeling: Never truly knowing how people feel about you, and innermost anxieties making you assume the worst. It’s well-worn territory, of course, but what Suzi offers is newfound framework – working-class folk-rock with interwoven pop perfection. The urgent acoustic strums pair well with a knack for melodicism that belies early-20s youth, and the anthemic payoff offered within the chorus doesn’t just invite index-pointing sing-alongs – it practically demands it of you. Ironically enough, when putting such uniform excellence out into the world, you can’t imagine a single scenario where anyone would hate Suzi.
63. Gorillaz feat. Tame Impala and Bootie Brown – New Gold
For four fictional characters, Gorillaz sure have an impressive Rolodex of mega-stars to call up. Amazingly, over 20 years since their debut, they’re still finding fresh combinations – in this case, first-time voyager Tame Impala and returning ‘Dirty Harry’ star Bootie Brown. Mixing the former’s kaleidoscopic psychedelia with the latter’s old-school flow, ‘New Gold’ lights up them thar hills with mirrorball lights. A dark undercurrent swells beneath, making for pitch-perfect contrast once a blurry 2D spins into the picture. 2023 will see the animated anarchists reveal album eight, Cracker Island. Heed this warning: It could be their best in years.
62. Joyce Manor – Souvenir
The album cover of 40oz. To Fresno depicts Joyce Manor sitting on a rooftop looking out at the world. Tellingly, you can’t tell if it’s sunrise or sunset. That ambiguity plays into the album’s opening number, which musically brims with the sunshine of a new day but lyrically turns inward to reflect on days gone. When you stop to think about it, that’s always been Joyce Manor’s modus operandi – rising and falling, coming down and getting back up again. It’s something to remember them by – now, if only there was a more succinct term for such a thing…
61. Spacey Jane – Hardlight
Spacey Jane emerged from lockdown as Australia’s must-see band, matching resplendent indie-pop with torn heartstrings to undeniable effect. If their obscure Wilco nod in Here Comes Everybody‘s title wasn’t clearly hinting, this band is invested in songwriting over soundbites. ‘Hardlight’ is one of the best indicators thus far that the Western Australians are building something that’ll last. It’s a guitar line to be swept up with, harmonies to melt into and a hook to howl until you’re hoarse. It never loses flavour, or its brightness. From those that need booster seats to those that need rocking chairs, everybody’s coming around.
Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:
It’s about that time! I’ve made yet another list of incredible songs released throughout the year and smashed them all into a countdown. It’s like the Hottest 100, just with roughly 2-odd million less voters and 100% less Lime Cordiale. 100% more geriatric British men rapping, though. Swings and roundabouts.
Before we get to the crunch of the main list, please enjoy this playlist of 50 great songs from 2022 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!
ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: This list originally contained the song ‘THREAT’ by Rex Orange County. It was originally removed from the list following Alexander O’Connor’s allegations of sexual assault. He was, however, cleared of the allegations – but only after the list had been finalised. So, please consider the song effectively 101 or 100a accordingly.
– DJY, December 2022
100. Viagra Boys – Ain’t No Thief
Stockholm’s Viagra Boys might be a lot of things. They may be snide, sardonic and sneering. They might be rollicking, rambunctious and rabble-rousing. They might even be the coolest band out of Scandinavia since The Hives. But as the lead single to their latest effort Cave World will testify, they’re not thieves. Across pummelling hi-hats and a growling bass-line, the case is pleaded for these eerily similar items to yours to be purely coincidental. Do you buy it? Maybe not at first. But here’s another thing that Viagra Boys are: Persuasive. They’ll make a believer out of you yet, motherfucker.
99. Highschool – Only a Dream
Highschool join a niche category of bands like Cattle Decapitation, War, A Death In The Family and Buried Alive: Great bands named after terrible things. The Melbourne-born, London-based trio offer an electronically-tinged take on proto post-punk that is simultaneously well before their time and entirely of the now. ‘Only A Dream’ encapsulates both their broad appeal and sky-limit potential, sounding a little like Nation Of Language covering ‘Hard To Explain’ mixed with The Strokes covering ‘This Fractured Mind’. They might sound a little too cool for their namesake, but tracks this uniformly excellent are proof they paid attention in class.
98. VOIID – Lexapro
If the lead single from VOIID’s forthcoming debut album had a Pinterest board, there’d be a few things on it: Kurt Cobain in a dress, the Broad City girls pushing their smiles up with middle fingers, empty blister packets and Brody Dalle licking her amp. If that’s not enough to visualise ‘Lexapro’, a humble suggestion: Play it fucking loud. It’s VOIID’s default setting, and they make red-level distortion their playground in a particularly masterful way within these three minutes. Sugar, spice and Chemical X are bubbling in-between every pedal stomp and every snare roll, resulting in a fittingly addictive listen.
97. A.B. Original – King Billy Cokebottle
Briggs and Trials have never shied away from reckoning with the dark underbelly of culture within so-called Australia. On A.B. Original’s comeback single, here comes another one: Racist comedy in this country was normalised and part of mainstream culture up until very recently. Though Briggs comes in typically strong (opening line: “Why the fuck would I welcome the oppressor?”), this is Trials’ ultimate show-stopper moment. Not only does he deliver a slamming beat, he also offers up arsenic, career-best spitfire in his own verses. Few other duos could make a six-year gap between music dissipate within a matter of minutes.
96. Magnolia Park – Radio Reject
Born of an era where music is discovered through scrolling up rather than turning dials, Magnolia Park come at the scene with a unique mission: Bringing Black excellence to the predominantly-white genre of pop-punk. “This life’s not for me/’Cause I had bigger dreams,” singer Joshua Roberts offers up over crisp guitars and pristine production, before bowling into a chorus that everyone from blink-182 to Fireworks would kill to have in their arsenal. By daring to be different and breaking from the homogeneity, the Orlando, FL sextet are setting their own trends and playing by their own rules. Duet this, rejects.
95. The Weeknd – Out of Time [Kaytranada remix]
There’s a certain ballsiness for a producer to cut in on arguably the biggest pop-star in the world. Still, if there’s anyone that can offer a fresh, rewarding paint-job, it’s surely Kaytranada. Since breaking out in the mid-2010s, the Canadian beatmaker and DJ has brought his shuffled, sizzling production finess to everyone from Craig David to Anderson .Paak. Now, it’s his fellow countrymen The Weeknd’s turn. Originally a slow-mo 80s ballad, ‘Out of Time’ is transformed into a lush, tropical late-nite groove – which fits so well, you’ll find yourself questioning why it was ever presented in any other form.
94. Slipknot – Adderall
Imagine going back 20 years and telling folks the opening song on Slipknot’s seventh(!) album sounds like a Gothic blend of Bowie’s final album (he’s dead, by the way) and Tame Impala (your kids are gonna love ’em). ‘Adderall’ is the least Slipknot-sounding song Slipknot have ever made – and that includes every acoustic ballad, that Hammond numberand whatever ‘Iowa’ was supposed to be. To be pushing outer boundaries of your sonic spectrum in your fourth decade as a band is the kind of ambition any musician should aspire to, and the weirdness present within pays off big time.
93. Teenage Dads – Hey, Diego!
Don’t mistake Teenage Dads’ goofiness for any songwriting instabilities. The Melbourne quartet might know how to meme it up with the best of them, but when it comes to their indie-pop chops there are few bands on the circuit right now that are as sharp. Case in point: This game-six three-pointer that came within the final weeks of 2022 and threatened to steal the damn show. Already a live staple, ‘Diego”s pulsing percussive drive and knife-edge guitars pack just as much of a punch in its studio iteration. And if you thought this was a belter, wait until you hear…
92. Teenage Dads – Teddy
Truly, did you go to an Australian gig in 2022 if you didn’t find yourself screaming at a bastard cop that “Teddy doesn’t live here anymore”? Weaving through irresistible synth lines, car-chase pacing and a wordless pre-chorus that will live rent-free in your head is a narrative about mistaken identity and the endless twists and turns therein. It’s thoroughly silly, but it’s executed in such a manner that you just have to see it through – if only to find out what happens next. Despite an oft-chaotic approach, ‘Teddy’ is irrefutable proof that Teenage Dads know exactly what they’re doing.
91. Pusha T feat. Jay-Z and Pharrell Williams – Neck & Wrist
While it was, shall we say, not a particularly great year for DAYTONA‘s producer, it was much better for its lead artist. King Push continues to assert himself as one of American hip-hop’s most consistent MCs, with It’s Almost Dry feeling almost like a victory lap. ‘Neck & Wrist’ showcases Pusha’s fascinating dichotomy of being able to drop constant bars while simultaneously sounding entirely lackadaisical. The velvety Pharrell beat is accompanied by some choice lines from the man himself, plus Jay-Z drops a verse that deserved way more attention than ‘God Did’… err, did. Head and shoulders above the rest.
90. Pharrell Williams feat. 21 Savage and Tyler, the Creator – Cash In Cash Out
Skateboard P wasn’t done there, either. The veteran hat-wearer and occasional producer has friends in high places, so when he asks 21 if he can do something for him, you know the answer’s yes (skraight up). The beat is a certified speaker-rattler, with Savage having plenty of fun, but it’s a verse from someone who considers Pharrell a hero that makes ‘Cash In Cash Out’. Tyler’s verse is his ‘Really Doe’ moment – in the presence of greatness, yet dishing out enough heat to make him centre of attention. Throw in a genuinely jaw-dropping music video, and you’ve made bank.
89. Party Dozen feat. Nick Cave – Macca the Mutt
Kirsty Tickle and Jonathan Boulet formed Party Dozen six years ago as a leap of faith, departing from their indieroots to venture down the rabbit hole of jazzy noise-rock. For their third album, they took a second leap and cold-called a lifetime hero to get in the mix of one of their rowdiest and hardest-hitting tracks to date. Against all odds, it worked: Nick Cave only contributes seven words to ‘Macca the Mutt’, but their indelible repetition will bark at all hours in your head once you’ve heard it. Call that a Birthday Party Dozen. There goes the neighbourhood.
88. I Know Leopard – Nothing is Real
After nearly a decade, it’s entirely to I Know Leopard’s credit that no-one is asking “whatever happened to…”, but is instead asking “what’s next?” The run of singles the trio have dropped since 2019’s Love is a Landmine is firmly within the upper echelon of their entire canon, and ‘Nothing is Real’ does not buck this trend in the slightest. Adding a skittish rush of glitchy electronica to the band’s usual baroque pop, these orchestral manoeuvres in the dark are given a neon glow that illuminates the song’s existential quandry. Bring the beat back, because shit’s about to get real.
87. Tasman Keith feat. Phil Fresh – IDK
There’s never a dull moment when it comes to Tasman Keith. Not content with being pigeonholed, the multi-hyphenate effectively released the doves on his debut – and on ‘IDK’, this is what it sounds like when doves cry. Enlisting a fellow genre-defiant type in Phil Fresh, the pair take to a velvety 18YOMAN beat from left of centre, subsequently cutting to the core in the process. Keith’s voice may be pitched and warped, and Fresh’s heavily AutoTuned, but there’s no disguising their tales of woe from the battlefield of love. Know this: These two endlessly-creative artists are the genuine item.
86. Billy Nomates – saboteur forcefield
We’re constantly on the lookout for the next “cellar door” – one of those perfect English phrases that rolls off the tongue. May we humbly put forward ‘saboteur forcefield’, Billy Nomates’ third single of 2022. Teasingly, the title itself is never uttered directly in the song itself – rather, the two words are implemented individually in its winding, syncopated chorus. There’s layers to it, you see. The same can be said for the rest of the song, which matches dark, spiraling guitar with bright bleeps of synth against the kick of a persistent drum machine. Truly, a door worth unlocking.
85. Pete & Bas feat. The Snooker Team – Window Frame Cypher Pt. II
Anyone who says that rap is a young man’s game has never heard 10 crusty old codgers pass the mic over an absolute heater of a beat. The second in the ‘Window Frame Cypher’ series saw a mess of new characters inducted, including a wheelchair-using MC named Airmax90 and a bloke with an electrolarynx. No-one quite knows where Pete, Bas and their weirdo mates all came from. When they’re dropping bars about plowing your missus and murdering someone for a fag, though, you can only be grateful that they rocked up. It’s Sindhu World’s world, we’re just living in it.
84. The Weeknd – Sacrifice
One week. One goddamn week. That’s all The Weeknd gave us of 2022 before he swooped in with Dawn FM and threatened to overshadow the remaining 358 days with one of his strongest albums to date – at times, rivalling the creativity of standard-bearer House of Balloons. Here, Abel Tesfaye became one of the most unique Venn diagrams of recent memory by enlisting both Swedish House Mafia and Oneohtrix Point Never on production. That mix of stadium-ready pop maximalism and shadowy, sinister undercurrents made ‘Sacrifice’ an undeniable contender within the first quarter of the year – and long thereafter, too.
83. Death Cab for Cutie – Here to Forever
What began in a college bedroom in the late 90s is now a festival-headlining prospect of the 2020s, and that’s just one of the things that’s changed since Death Cab for Cutie began. Ben Gibbard always knew this was coming (sample 2003 lyric: “Old age is just around the bend/I can’t wait to go grey”), but ‘Here to Forever’ reckons with ageing in realtime. Ironically, it’s also the most DCfC have musically sounded like their younger selves in some time, getting the point across with hammering snare-rim clicks and bright, churning guitars. Don’t put them out to pasture just yet.
82. Spiderbait – My Car’s a UFO
Finlay’s finest spent the year celebrating Janet English, one of the few homegrown 90s rock chicks that’s still kicking arse to this very day. To add to their Sounds in the Key of J compilation, Spiderbait pulled into the archives and found an unreleased song about alien love recorded for the underrated LP The Flight of Wally Funk. The fact that ‘My Car’s a UFO’ has made a 2022 best-of over two decades after recording is not a reflection on the current era, but rather the evergreen nature of this fantastically-fuzzy band and their idiosyncratic excellence. Beam us up, Janet.
81. Ceremony – Vanity Spawned by Fear
Remember Ceremony? The grindcore band? The hardcore band? The punk band? The post-punk band? The goth disco band? Yeah, them. Anyway, they’re new-wave now. On their curveball standalone single for the year, the rapidly-evolving Rohnert Park natives found a new muse in INXS – specifically, the era of the band where they were taking pointers from Nile Rodgers. There’s chicken-picking guitar, breathy vocals, a stank-face guarantee of a groove and even a goddamn sax solo. Who the hell had “Ceremony song with a sax solo” on their 2022 bingo card? With ‘Vanity’, Ceremony wake up to a brand new day.
Listen to the DJY100 thus far via the Spotify playlist below:
The rest of the DJY 100 will follow on these dates:
I began writing about my top 100 songs of 2021, the DJY100, on November 29, 2021. I finished writing about my top 100 songs of 2021, the DJY100, on March 31, 2022. I very nearly gave up, because I was exhausted and checked out and besides everything else, who wants to read a 2021 best-of at the start of April the following year? Is this some sort of joke? An April Fool’s? Ultimately, it got to the point where I was openly challenging myself to get this shit done – I lingered on the top 10 for weeks, especially. I’m really glad that I stuck with it. If a job’s worth doing, after all.
Before I get out of here: You can catch up on the entire list via Parts One, Two, Three and Four.
Thank you so much for reading. It means a lot. I’ll be back in about eight months or so to get into all of this again. If I get this next one finished in February 2023 then it’s over for you bitches. La la love you.
– DJY, March 2022
20. Dry Cleaning – Strong Feelings
What’s your favourite turn of phrase in “Strong Feelings”? Is it “Emo dead stuff collector”? “Spent ₤17 on mushrooms”? “Seems like a lot of garlic”? “It’s Europe”? There’s no wrong answers – and that, by proxy, can also be said of Dry Cleaning themselves. Whether you’re drawn to the rumble of the rhythm section, the Andy Gill-style guitar shapes or the droll, desert-dry delivery, you’re absolutely spot on. “Strong Feelings” was among the upper echelon of cuts from the band’s debut New Long Leg – which, itself, was among the upper echelon of 2021 albums. The top really suits them.
19. RÜFÜS DU SOL – Next to Me
Not to be all “before it was cool,” but those that knew RÜFÜS DU SOL before 2018’s Solace look at the world the Sydney expat trio have created for themselves with utmost awe. In the case of “Next to Me” and its jaw-dropping music video, that’s quite literal too. Entire universes rising and falling in syncopation with the song’s own vast landscape seems like both the perfect accompaniment and the most succinct reflection on how far RÜFÜS have come. From its solitary piano tinker to its orbiting synth spirals, everything within “Next to Me” feels properly, emphatically monumental by design.
18. TURNSTILE – BLACKOUT
Hardcore has never been the kind to shy from gory details, but the dark underbelly of “BLACKOUT” is one unique package. It’s a song about wanting your roses while you’re still alive, ruminating on the fragility of life itself – all while loud guitars slam against booming drums and percussion. It may seem at odds, but the song’s extroverted nature is Brendan Yates taking his anguish and reaching out his hand to a captive audience – as if to ask, “are you with me?” They are, of course – especially when “the main bit but slower” kicks in. Bust it.
17. Big Scary – Bursting at the Seams
After over a decade as a band, Big Scary’s fourth album Daisy made some significant changes to the mulitifaceted duo’s already-complex narrative. Amongst them came drummer Jo Syme’s long-awaited (and well-deserved) debut on lead vocals. Enter “Bursting at the Seams,” a fascinating styles clash between synth-bass disco and baroque pop in the spirit of “Love is In the Air.” Syme finds herself in the midst of new romance, and consequently tangos between love and lust. “All I want is to feel” is a bold line in its own right; when it’s suffixed with “love,” all bets are off. Terrifyingly good.
16. Olivia Rodrigo – good 4 u
Behold: The song that kicked the door open on Olivia Rodrigo’s multitudes, showing the wholly-attentive universe at large she could provide more than tear-stained balladry. It’s still at odds with the perennially jilted ex, but this time Rodrigo is pissed. Well, as pissed as one can get in mainstream pop songs – somewhere below “Caught Up There” but above “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).” Was there a better a capella on the charts this year then Rodrigo red-levelling “LIKE A DAMN SOCIOPATH”? Fuck no there wasn’t. If Rodrigo is supposedly in the business of misery, business is booming.
15. The Goon Sax – In the Stone
On Mirror II, The Goon Sax built up enough stamina to not only outrun their familial comparisons, but prove that theirs was a band prepared to go the distance. What’s interesting, though, is this much isn’t immediately apparent on “In the Stone.” In a slow-motion bloom over repeated listens, the song reveals the sum of the band’s parts in the best way possible. Louis Foster and Riley Jones circle one another in the verses, eventually actualising their synergy in the chorus that keeps on giving. Across persistent momentum and a constant stream of guitar jangle, a new legacy is solidified.
14. The Sunday Estate – Fight Me
There are certain instances you can sense with a band when you’re at the start of something big. Sometimes you’re on the money (Gang of Youths), others you’re way off (Hair Die), but that initial feeling is invariably exciting. Said feeling flutters through the pristine guitars and rumbling drums of “Fight Me,” which was not the first offering from Sydney quintet The Sunday Estate but unquestionably the first to make a lasting impression. Under the serious moonlight of tumultuous new romance, the song wrestles and writhes like late-night kisess under the watchful eye of a rainy city. Can’t fight it.
13. Middle Kids – Stacking Chairs
“Stacking Chairs” and its titular phrase feels like an unlocking: of the song, the album it’s from and the band who wrote it. “When the party’s over/I’ll be stacking chairs.” That’s love. That’s palpable love. It’s about being there when it all falls apart; about the company you keep and carry with you – root of the root. It helps that Middle Kids have hung what’s among their best-ever songs onto this rich sentiment. The bright guitars ricocheting off the military snare, the twinkling synthesizers and impeccable close harmonies showcase the Kids at full strength. The party ain’t over yet.
12. Wave Racer – Look Up to Yourself
The best 1975 song of the year was not written by The 1975. Instead, it came from a Melbourne bedroom and from a returning artist that could well have been potentially lost to the future-bass boom of the mid-2010s. It was only through a bold reinvention that Wave Racer survived – and not only that, but positively thrived at the helm of the project’s debut album. “Look Up to Yourself” is defiant in its brightness – released amidst the darkness of Australia’s 2021, it lifted spirits and provided the soundtrack to reclaiming self-belief. Once again, we race for the prize.
11. Gretta Ray – Bigger Than Me
Like most women her age, Gretta Ray grew up on Taylor Swift. She’s come to see the world through “eras,” as snakeskin sheds and butterflies rise from stolen scarves. Unlike her heroine’s clumsy foray into bombast, however, Ray lost none of her reputation rolling out her debut album Begin to Look Around. In fact, it only became stronger. Through clockwork precision and delicate layering, not to mention an assertive confidence not present in her teenage catalogue, “Bigger Than Me” took to big city life with aplomb. It’s a new world out there, but Gretta Ray is unquestionably ready for it.
10. Middle Kids – Questions
Precisely 14 days into the year 2021, Middle Kids released “Questions”. It was not the first single from their second album Today We’re the Greatest, nor was it the most successful – that would be “R U 4 Me?” on both counts there. It is, however, the single greatest song that Middle Kids have ever written. There is a very good reason that it is still holding water with such a high placing on such a list, created almost a full year on from its release.
Indeed, “Questions” is the earliest released song on the entire list – had it been released literally a week or two prior, it would not qualify. So what stood the test of time, exactly? Two things: Maximalism and calibration. The former is nothing new to the Sydney trio, of course – they arrived in a drum-roll of grandeur as early as their debut EP – but it’s the latter that’s the key to unlocking “Questions.” Instead of immediately rolling out the cavalry, the song instead builds from shimmers and glitches that are guided by hand – quite literally, as the flamenco claps pierce through the treacle of wafting synthesizers. Tim Fitz rolls through next with easily the greatest bass-line of his career, all stabs and spirals; Hannah Joy’s glowing guitar weaving between it on an upward ascent.
By going slow and steady, rather than setting off the confetti cannons in its opening moments, the trumpeting arrival (again, literal) of the song’s crescendo feels all that more rewarding and triumphant. It also plays in tandem with Joy’s lyrical framework, which is constantly seeking validation high and low in amidst the greater throes of uncertainty and indecision. Even with all the whistles and bells, when it subsides there is no grand conclusion or resolution. That’s what sticks with you – the ongoing, compelling intrigue and mystique that comes with that constant sense of seeking. When it comes to “Questions” in the grand scheme of 2021’s great singles, the first cut is the deepest.
9. The Kid LAROI feat. Justin Bieber – STAY
It’s a long way from the concrete jungle of Gadigal land to the bright lights of Hollywood. Not only has The Kid LAROI made it feel like a stone’s throw away, however, he’s broken down a myriad of barriers along the way for young Indigenous artists seeking a global stage. It hasn’t come easy, nor has it come without its own degree of backlash, but what pathway to success has? He’s part of the lexicon now, and it’s time to start putting respect on the name. “STAY” has a lot to do with this paradigm shift. Not all, of course – the Billboard smash “WITHOUT YOU” did a chunk of groundwork – but what eventuates over its 150 seconds and change of this urgent, neon-glow rush of lover’s-plea pop is a potential fully realised.
LAROI has often been labelled a rapper in the same way that Post Malone and his late mentor Juice WRLD have – insofar as the cadence and aesthetic being there to a degree, but their flows ultimately possessing too much melody to count as hip-hop in its more traditional sense. What’s interesting about “STAY,” then, is how it ostensibly serves as his audition to be the biggest pop artist in the world. Between the coarse rock-star delivery and the howling woah-ohs, a portrayal of the artist as a young Lothario comes into formation by ways of the perfect storm.
It’s gunned for with a formidable assist from two artists that have scaled the mountain themselves and lived to tell the tale: Charlie Puth and Justin Bieber. The former is responsible for the irresistible keyboard motif and the stabs of falsetto in the indelible hook, showing his prowess as one of the most distinct and compelling pop writers working today. The latter, meanwhile, makes for the jewel in the crown of 2021’s comeback king – after a disastrous yummy-yum 2020, this suave second verse recalls the Biebs at his mid-2010s peak in the best possible way.
There’s an argument to be made, then, that “STAY” is amalgamate of pop’s recent past with its present, ultimately creating something that could well be indicative of its future. For something forged beneath blinding lights, there’s a darkness on the edge of the city that feels like an old friend when “STAY” unfurls. You’ll want to stick around – may as well, after all, considering The Kid LAROI will be doing the same.
8. Lil Nas X feat. Jack Harlow – INDUSTRY BABY
The best thing Kanye did in 2021 was keep his mouth shut. No, seriously. There were moments of bliss to be found amidst the oft-delayed Donda, of course, but between his 19th nervous breakdown and the endless tirades and the unholy alliance forged between Mr. Jesus is King and Mr. Antichrist Superstar… well, you get the picture.
The best thing Lil Nas X did in 2021 was keep running his mouth. No, seriously. There were moments of bliss to be found amidst the long-awaited MONTERO, of course, but between his Satanic shoes and his new status as QPOC provocateur and the unreal music videos and the constant slam-dunks of Twitter conservatives… well, you get the picture.
Enter: “INDUSTRY BABY,” a patchwork of teamwork in tandem between two artists that have defined Black excellence in their prime. With West on the brassed-off beat to end all brassed-off beats, he allows Lil Nas to pull a classic Ye stunt: Talk his shit again. It’s a victory lap from an artist that most thought would only get one trot around the racecourse before the horse was taken off the old town road and behind the barn. It’s a double-down from an artist that had already cemented their 2021 GOAT status by literally pole-dancing into Hell and killing Satan. Oh, and why not make a megastar out of internet darling Jack Harlow while we’re at it – with what is in top contention for the best guest verse of the year.
“INDUSTRY BABY” is a great escape from the clutches of one-hit wonderdom – by this point, Lil Nas has built a boat with Tim Robbins and he is outta here. It’s at this point you realise that the hook isn’t “I’m the industry baby” – as in, he’s a newcomer – it’s actually with a comma in tow, ie. “I’m the industry, baby.” This is an arrival of the grandest kind.
7. Gretta Ray – Cherish
For a few years there, Gretta Ray was under cover of darkness. This has twofold meaning: Not only was she secretly working away on what would eventuate as her debut album, but everything she was putting out was released within the long-cast shadow of her 2016 single “Drive.” Written and recorded by Ray while still in high school, the singer-songwriter captured lightning in a bottle with an ode to young love that already felt like a classic. It was a heartfelt, endearing and endlessly rewarding song – which, in the hands of a lesser performer, could well have been her downfall.
Rather than attempt to repeat what was achieved there, Ray instead opted to keep the car running rather than hit the roundabout. If “Drive” was the car flying off at the end of Grease, then “Cherish” is the stark realisation between Sandy and Danny that this machine cannot survive in the atmosphere off true love alone. While she’s floating in a most peculiar way, Ray mourns an inevitable end over the waft of distant synths: “It’d be so brave of me to walk away,” she laments – a line so good that she opens and closes the song with it.
As the drums bring her reality hurtling down to earth, the desperation kicks in. “What do I have to do?” she asks in the song’s wrenching chorus. She’s trying to rekindle an old flame, but her match is long burnt out – just like her. High-school romance doesn’t last, and your childhood sweetheart is called that for a reason. When you’ve only just recently become legally recognised as an adult, however, there’s an unshakable sense of forever-lost innocence that comes with its demise. This isn’t just a better song than “Drive,” it’s the best song Gretta Ray has ever made. Better yet: You know now, for absolute certain, that this title will change hands once again. She is capable, she is strong, she is ready… she is cherished.
6. MAY-A – Swing of Things
In one of her earlier singles, “Apricots,” Maya Cumming boasted that she was “Something you don’t know you want.” Within that context, she was attempting to get inside the head of her crush – and, let’s face it, she probably succeeded with that kind of exuberance – but it’s also simultaneously reflective of her stature within Australian pop music. You might not have known you wanted to hear from a scrawny lesbian teen attempting to merge Avril-era punk-princess attitude with the sheen of 2020s pop, but once you’ve spent a bit of time in MAY-A’s world you start to see the bigger picture – it’s a want that quickly shifts into a need.
This is a young artist with “star” written all over them. Want proof? Here’s “Swing of Things” to get the point across. Equal parts hot pink and icy turquoise, this is Gen-Z pop that finds a way to shimmer within its verses and ultimately shine within its chorus – all while keeping its teeth gnashed and its underbelly dark. It’s pulled together by timid visionary Gab Strum (AKA Japanese Wallpaper) on production, whose ricocheting snares and distinctive beds of electronic warmth accentuate the song’s peaks and valleys. Still, it says a lot that even such a big name behind the boards is ultimately playing second fiddle to Cumming’s irrepressible presence – at once tangled-hair messy and leather-jacket cool. An island of such great complexity, this kid.
It’s a curious balance to strike between a stark, intimate confessional that can only come from direct personal experience, which is then transformed into a song that is broad and bold enough to fill out the upper tiers of an arena. This may well be the niche that MAY-A is carving for herself – a diary entry and an open book all at once. If so, it will get easier and easier to get into the swing of things as far her blossoming career goes. It’s something that – now, finally – you know that you want.
5. EGOISM – Lonely But Not Alone
Given they share most of the same letters, you’d expect the words “lonely” and “alone” to be synonymous. In reality, however, there’s a deeper relationship between the two ideas than surface value would suggest. Silverchair’s 2002 opus “Across the Night” sees Daniel Johns opine: “I don’t wanna be lonely/I just want to be alone” – the paradoxical anxious state of longing for company, but simultaneously finding yourself unable to be around people. On her 2006 track “Leave Me Alone (I’m Lonely),” honorary Australian citizen Pink wants to stew in her emotions even though she’s got someone on call – in this moment, the notion of being lonely is more enticing than being alone.
Would you have ever picked Sydney duo EGOISM to serve as the Venn diagram between Silverchair and Pink? Again, it goes beyond what surface value would suggest. The group started in high school and was originally more interested in a heavier approach to guitar music before eventually settling into artistic pop – remind you of anyone? Originally starting as outsiders, they’ve since flourished into standard-setters with a slew of certified hits to their name – remind you of anyone? Thus, somewhere in-between Diorama and I’m Not Dead, comes “Lonely But Not Alone.”
What does this script-flip mean, exactly? Weaved between its strummed bass, slick production and four-on-the-floor gridlock is a back-and-forth on last-leg relationships. It’s about sending things off with both a bang and a whimper – craving intimacy, but knowing it won’t seal up any old wounds in the process. Scout Eastment knows she’s just “another pretty girl that you messed up,” while simultaneously acknowledging that “we make up/bubble and pop” – like Bachelor Girl before her, she knows they’re bad for her but she just can’t leave them alone. In the hook, Olive Rush craves “love to borrow,” where once the transaction is complete you can “give [them] up tomorrow.” Just enough to take the edge off; just enough to last through the night.
“Lonely But Not Alone” feels, in part, like an equal and opposite reaction to 2020’s “Here’s the Thing.” While that song breached the difficulty in letting go, “Lonely” breaches the difficulty of sticking around. It’s their most ambitious pop production yet, and this shot at the moon has landed them among the stars. If Australian radio cared about supporting local music because they wanted to, not because they had to, this would have dominated the airwaves throughout 2021. Who knows, maybe TikTok will make it a hit in 2024. See you there.
4. Allday – Void
There’s a cynical framework wherein one could place Allday’s foray into indie based off his background in hip-hop – one that’s understandable, too, if you’re only across his early-to-mid 2010s output. Really? The “Fuckin” guy? The “Send Nudes” guy? What would Mr. “You Always Know the DJ” know about guitar music beyond “Girl in the Sun”? As it turned out, he knew way more than anyone was originally willing to give credit for – and so did the people he surrounded himself with while making Drinking with My Smoking Friends.
“Void,” the album’s second single, was another collaborative effort between himself and the aforementioned Gab Strum, AKA Japanese Wallpaper. Ever since the crossover of their link-up “In Motion” circa 2017, Strum has served as instrumental in Allday’s stylistic reinvention. One could argue, then, that this serves as the logical conclusion of Japanese Wallpaper renovating the frat-house that was Allday’s early work into something more architecturally sound. The song’s spiralling guitar (care of DMA’s strummer Matt Mason) feels right at home on a loop around Strum’s cooing ambient beds of electronics and Allday’s wry, tender vocal delivery.
Simultaneously daring and dreamy, it portrays a different Allday to the one we’re used to – even when juxtaposed with the singles it sandwiches on Drinking‘s rollout, both “After All This Time” and “Stolen Cars” offer a far livelier and more pop-friendly iteration of this approach. “Void” longs to be heard above the billboard noises and the city streets, offering a secret garden for listeners to revel in. It’s part reinvention and part redemption; part love-lorn and part love-lost. It’s a backyard D&M as much as it is a bedroom confessional. In a matter of minutes, Allday changes the course of his career permanently with “Void” – and it’s a rainbow road you hope will be pursued long after the final chord rings out.
3. King Stingray – Get Me Out
Place is extremely important to the music of King Stingray. As Yirrŋa Yunupiŋu sings in the first verse of the band’s second single: “There’s a place where you live/And a place where you grow.” The place where King Stingray live is East Arnhem Land, a remote community in the Northern Territory on Yolŋu country. Despite its disconnect with the rest of the Australian music community, it has served as a hub of some of the most significant names in the country’s history – among them Yothu Yindi, from whom two members of Stingray descend from, and that band’s own alum Gurrumul.
The place where King Stingray grow, however, could be anywhere – even with only a handful of songs out, they’ve already effectively purchased a ticket to the world. They’ve already set alight stages across the country, earning a reputation as one of the most intuitive and energetic new bands on a scene that’s been in desperate need of both revival and new blood. Of course, these places of living and growing are not always mutually exclusive – there’s a lot to learn from the place you were born and raised, even if so much of what we deem as life experience circles around how much we’ve travelled. If you’ve travelled for too long, you could well outgrow the place where you grow – and that’s what “Get Me Out” ultimately comes back to.
Time is also extremely important as a factor here, arguably as much as place is. When “Get Me Out” was released, it came at a time when many Australians were unable to see their friends, families and loved ones – even neighbouring suburbs felt like an ocean away in the throes of lockdowns. “The sun goes down in the distance/I wish that you could see this,” Yunupiŋu laments – a bittersweet acknowledgement that we’re all seeing the same sun set across unceded land, but we’re not able to experience it in this moment as one. “Get me out of the city” – a plea that was not only heard, but well and truly felt.
“Get Me Out” works as a lockdown-era anthem in ways that “Stuck With You” or anything from Bo Burnham’s Insidenever could – while those were largely self-serving ego trips, “Get Me Out” possesses an earthly and organic universality. Its humble pub-rock approach recalls their fellow Northern Territorians the Warumpi Band, mixing the heritage of guitar-based music with their own Indigenous tradition and even their own Yolŋu matha for good measure. It’s distinctive and definitive – in other words, Australian rock in its truest sense. No matter the time or place therein, King Stingray will always have this moment as their own.
2. CHVRCHES feat. Robert Smith – How Not to Drown
The bigger Lauren Mayberry got, the harder she fell.
You can see the trajectory of CHVRCHES’ leader purely from the trio’s live performances – she went from a statuesque figure, clinging onto an extensive mic cable for dear life, to a defiant stage commander wielding a wireless like nobody’s business. She emerged from her cocoon as a brilliant butterfly of contemporary synth-pop, suffering no fools and standing her ground – and people just fucking hated that. Whether it was misogynist trolls or Chris Brown fans – which are one and the same, but that’s another story – there was an ongoing fear that Mayberry would ultimately be taken asunder by this hideous side of her success story.
There, Lauren Mayberry stands – statuesque once again, but this time, in a sense that she refuses to back down. “I’m writing a book on how to stay conscious when you drown,” she sings – an arresting, eye-opening and borderline heart-stopping opening line, and far from the only gut-punch that would ensue over the next five minutes. Mayberry had already begun work on dismembering her would-be destroyers on the group’s previous single, “He Said She Said,” but its chirpy synths and quasi-dubstep chorus drop meant its attack was somewhat defanged upon arrival. Not so with “How Not to Drown” – in fact, this may well be the most acerbic and caustic song CHVRCHES have ever made, along with their greatest.
This is a song of survival – from abuse, from defeatism, from darkness. It’s a song that melds new wave and post-punk with the band’s usual electronic fare, creating something that revels in its sinister nature and dares you to take a step forward into its shadows. It’s assisted by The Cure’s Robert Smith, someone described as an “all-time hero” by the band themselves, who takes Mayberry’s lyrics to their own private palace of disintegration (via, naturally, Disintegration) without ever purporting to speak for her – rather, he stands alongside her and the band, as a peer. When the two sing the line “I wasn’t dead when they found me,” its impact is nothing short of astounding.
The harder Lauren Mayberry fell, the stronger CHVRCHES got. Here they stand, risen from 20,000 leagues under the sea and as tall as towers. Is that the best you’ve got?
1. Liz Stringer – First Time Really Feeling
Liz Stringer never saw it coming. Surely not.
Somewhere in the cold of Canada, in 2018 – two years before the world was upended, three before what she was about to do would ever see the light of day – the veteran singer-songwriter committed “First Time Really Feeling” to record. A keyboard hummed while the persistent drums took their place, and a guitar fumbled about getting ready – there’s even a bung note in there, but no-one seemed to mind. Six minutes later, Stringer and her makeshift ensemble of airtight session musos had laid down what has come to be the signature song and modern opus of a writer and performer never truly given her roses.
“First Time Really Feeling” was recorded what feels like a lifetime away from what we know now, but in spite of that it’s found its own context and its own rhyme and reason. At a time when many are learning to start again, Stringer’s words know what you’re going through – she had to go through that, too. To her, the titular phrase comes in the wake of her sobriety, where what she was attempting to process from a cold-turkey standpoint was bordering on a foreign concept. It was a new and uncertain place, but also one that centred on an exciting premise: The possibility.
Amongst a build of steady guitars, and guided by her resonant and smoky vocals, Stringer draws a line in the sand between her past and her present. She needs a clean break, a get away; a photo opportunity, a shot at redemption. “I just want to get out/Before it starts/To hurt me,” she sings, hurtled against the hustle and bustle of her heartfelt heartland rock. No-one said this was going to be easy, but the greatest journeys all start with a single step. By venturing forth, Stringer puts herself first – which is a miraculous feat in and unto itself, and one that should be thoroughly commended.
No, Liz Stringer never saw 2021 coming when she made “First Time Really Feeling” in 2018. As far as 2021 goes, however, it wouldn’t have made sense without “First Time Really Feeling” being a part of it. This is honesty that can’t be ignored. This is love. This is loss. This is a reeling body from a sunburnt country feeling the frost of a new terrain for the first time. It’s a new possibility. Couldn’t we all use one of those.
Listen to the DJY100 in its entirety below:
Tracks by non-male artists = 50 Tracks by Australian artists = 49
Green Screen (99, 61), Phil Fresh (97, 69), Kwame (97, 49), CHVRCHES (88, 2), Billie Eilish (86, 35), Justin Bieber (84, 9), Squid (81, 40), The Goon Sax (80, 15), Amyl and the Sniffers (79, 75), Halsey (76, 55, 54), Citizen (73, 53), Fred Again.. (68, 30), Silk Sonic (60, 37, 29), Olivia Rodrigo (50, 16), Turnstile (43, 18), Lil Nas X (39, 8), Middle Kids (13, 10), Gretta Ray (11, 7)
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 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.
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’s 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 hadhistory 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.
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.
Amy Shark has never been the best at first impressions. Commercial success aside, she lead off her Night Thinker EP and Love Monster LP with their two weakest tracks (“Adore” and “I Said Hi,” respectively). For the upcoming Cry Forever, though, Shark has promptly stuck her best foot forward. “Everybody Rise” is career-best catharsis, prompted by Goodnight Nurse alum Joel Little assembling the catchiest synth orchestra this side of “I Write Sins.” It’s doomsday pop with a crack in everything, taking the intricately introspective and pushing it to the masses. It’s no longer just hers anymore, you see. It’s everybody’s.
59. Tame Impala – Breathe Deeper
“If you’re thinking I can’t hold my own/Believe me, I can.” So begins one of the key tracks to Tame Impala’s fourth album; a line that became increasingly defiant in nature throughout 2020. Tame ended up as one of the year’s most inexplicably-reviled acts – perhaps not assisted by “The Less I Know The Better”ascending to the top of triple j’s decade-end Hottest 100. Maybe it’s tall poppy… or, in this instance, high poppy. Whatever it is, songs like the synth-wielding roller-disco of “Breathe Deeper” proved that Parker could indeed hold his own. He still has lots to prove.
58. IDLES – Grounds
Speaking of previously-beloved bands: Boy, do people fuckinghateIDLES now, huh. Not even millennial tastemaker Anthony Fantano could sway The DiscourseTM from trashing the band, which kept going almost to the point of being a meme. Admittedly, September’s Ultra Mono wasn’t as striking as the one-two combo of its predecessors. However, it still had an ace up its sleeve in the form of “Grounds.” Jon Beavis’ “Fix Up Look Sharp” beat and a booming Kenny Beats production assist allowed for the band to defiantly swagger down the street. Don’t get it twisted: these are still men on a mission.
57. Sweater Curse – Close
The great hope of Brisbane indie pulled together an exceptional A-list to work on “Close.” Former next-big-thing Alex Lahey co-wrote with the band, while Ball Park Music‘s Sam Cromack produced. Needless to say, the lead single from their Push/Pull EP was one that felt like a proper arrival. The trio endeavour to take things to the next level and promptly succeed. Through glistening guitars, pounding drums and one of their most striking choruses to date, Sweater Curse edge closer and closer to being their city’s top export. It’s no longer a case of “if,” but “when.” The Curse ain’t broken.
56. The Beths – I’m Not Getting Excited
Much like their first album, Jump Rope Gazers opens with a rush of nervous energy. Such is its frenetic nature, however, “I’m Not Getting Excited” makes its predecessor “Great No One” sound like “Kumbaya.” It’s a spiral of word-vomit and urgent guitars, pushed along by the driving backbeat of new-kid drummer Tristan Deck. How do you sum up two years of non-stop touring into two minutes and 42 seconds? The Beths have found a way. Of course they have. This is how you open up an album, people – with both a bang and a whimper. Get listening. Get excited.
55. Protomartyr – Michigan Hammers
Not many songs throughout 2020 sounded more or less exactly like their title. Protomartyr’s exceptional single “Michigan Hammers” is the standout example of songs that did. It pounds away incessantly, keeping 16th notes running on the drums and cymbals throughout. Its guitars are knife-edge, while a horn section tempers an acidic bile rather than any sort of jazz-bar smooth. Joe Casey, up front on vocals, barks out the scarce but succinct lyrics with his quintessential sense of authority. This is working class music from a working class American state. It’s motorik from the Motor City. It’s Michigan fucking Hammers, dammit.
54. Headie One feat. AJ Tracey, Stormzy and ONEFOUR – Ain’t It Different [Remix]
Wanna feel old? There are people of legal drinking age that weren’t born when CrazyTown first flipped the Chili Peppers’ “Pretty Little Ditty.” Hell, Headie himself was all of seven. Did this childhood memory prompt the sample flip from the ever-reliable Fred Again..? Inconclusive, but credit to everyone involved for inventively reworking it alongside a chipmunked Lady Saw. Further compliments, too, to the hip-hop elite in the mix with One and Fred here. Not only do AJ Tracey and Stormzy lend ample muscle, but Sydney’s ONEFOUR prove they can hang with the giants of the industry. Different, but good different.
53. Georgia June – Baby Blue
Synaesthesia, in the most Layman of terms, is defined as “coloured hearing” – that is, translating sensations between senses, and essentially seeing sounds in the process. Even if you’re one of the many that aren’t synaesthetic, “Baby Blue” will appear to you in this very shade. Its 80s-soundtrack synths and reverb-tinged drums recall an age of innocence; its hues brush broad strokes across the refined guitar lines. The vocals glue the whole affair together, mournful yet simultaneously resplendent in nature. “The sky was painted just for you,” goes the chorus. You can picture it already. Your hearing is permanently coloured.
52. Georgia June – Don’t Leave Me Hanging Out to Dry
Bob Dylan boasted of containing multitudes in amidst the chaos of 2020. Sydney pop-rockers Georgia June probably have an idea where he’s coming from – although their eponymous vocalist might see herself more as a rainy day woman than a master of war. On their second single of the year, the quintet picked up the pace with a sneering rock shuffle. It’s paired impeccably with a kiss-off vocal, a rumbling rhythm section and an increasingly-rare but always-welcome bonus: A guitar solo mimicking the melody. Chef’s kiss for that one. Listen to “Don’t Leave Me” and you, too, shall be released.
51. Run the Jewels feat. Greg Nice & DJ Premier – Ooh La La
There was a meme doing the rounds this year captioned “Make music that makes people do this face,” accompanied by a photo of a kid with his eyes and mouth scrunched up. You know the look – mostly because you definitely pulled it the second the kick and snare dropped in on “Ooh La La.” El-P’s jaunty piano chopping against an incessant, irresistible Greg Nice sample had more heads nodding than Will Smith and Paul McCartney combined. If El and Mike swaggering atop this molotov cocktail wasn’t enough, wait until DJ Premier gets in on the cut. Ç’est très bon.
50. Violent Soho – Lying on the Floor
No-one’s accusing Violent Soho of doing co-writes with Nostradamus or anything. That said: Releasing a song with the hook “Lying on the floor/Is all I wanna do” a month prior to global lockdowns, from an album titled Everything is A-OK? They had to know something was up. All gags aside, we should be thankful that the album made its way out into the world when it did. Tracks such as “Lying on the Floor” certainly, to borrow a phrase from The Kids, hit different. Doesn’t hurt that it’s more sharp, precise post-grunge from arguably the best Australian band doing it, either.
49. The Beths – Dying to Believe
The lead single from The Beths’ top-shelf second album is equally capable of rolling with the punches as it is landing a few of its own. It opens with Thin Lizzy-aping guitarmonies, rolls into urgent snare-rim clicks, departs into early Strokes jangle before blowing up its own spot with a pure, unadulterated power-pop chorus. Yet another masterclass in structure, songwriting and performance by one of the best working rock bands in the world, let alone their native New Zealand. Not enough for ya? How about Rose Matafeo doing a train announcement? All aboard, motherfuckers. The Beths are here to stay.
48. Tigers Jaw – Cat’s Cradle
Tigers Jaw had to rebuild after three-fifths of their line-up departed in the mid-2010s. When backed into this corner, however, they came out of it with their best album in 2017’s spin. What fate, then, awaits their first album as a newly-expanded four-piece? If “Cat’s Cradle” is anything to go by, we ain’t seen nothing yet. Brianna Collins proves yet again she’s the band’s not-so-secret weapon. Her steely synths cut through the brisk power chords, while the vocals make for one of the band’s most irresistible melodies to date. The throughline from Harry Chapin to the emo revival is complete.
47. Ashley McBryde – Martha Divine
It’s odd to think of a murder ballad as “subversive,” but just about every little thing Ashley McBryde does could be considered as such. The second single from her major-label sophomore Never Will sees her taking down the most unlikely of enemies: Her dad’s new girlfriend, presumably following the death of the protagonist’s mother. Actually, “protagonist” might be too strong a word. “Anti-hero”? You don’t know who to root for, but the song’s rambunctious country-rock shuffle makes sure you’re there for every last shovel bludgeoning. “I’ll say the Devil made me do it,” she reasons. Hell yeah youwill, Ashley.
46. Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death
You know how when “Lust For Life” starts with that clatter of drums and you know shit’s about to kick off? That exact feeling hits when the title track of A Hero’s Death begins. As both the first taste of the album and the first song the band released post-Dogrel, it was imperative that the Dubliners got everything right. As luck would have it, Fontaines’ momentum kept the ball in play – and, furthermore, progressed on their established sound through adaption and evolution. It’s darker, meaner and tougher, but still resolving to maintain its fighting spirit. Life ain’t always empty.
45. Phoebe Bridgers – Kyoto
What kind of year did Phoebe Bridgers have? Career-wise, she went from being an indie darling to a personality trait. The SoCal singer-songwriter has become to alt kids what The Office is to Tinder normies. Credit where it’s due, though: Better Oblivion Community Center’s employee of the month has been putting in the work. “Kyoto” revels in both majesty and misery – who else could make a line like “I’m gonna kill you” sound so goddamn triumphant? Her prolix lyricism employs hammer-swing subtlety amidst fuzzed-out power chords and a Neutral Milk style trumpet line. It all works. It’s Phoebe, bitch.
44. Floodlights – Matter of Time
Written amidst national protests raising awareness of the Australian government’s ongoing climate inaction, there’s a simple sincerity to Floodlights’ lead-off to their debut studio album. It’s not proporting to be bigger, smarter or more powerful than it is. It’s humble, working-class rock from inner-Melbourne suburbia – think Scott & Charlene’s Wedding in their honeymoon period. It’s striking, catchy and quietly resolute by design. When all four band members hone in on the chorus of “It’s all just a matter of time for you,” you’re on their side. You’re heading to the protest on the same tramline. You believe in them.
43. Bob Vylan – We Live Here
Bob Vylan may have kicked off 2020 as a complete unknown, but this rolling stone made a point of gatecrashing the UK scene with a menacing, cutthroat EP and a take-no-prisoners approach. This is the story of the hurricane: a black English millennial spitting bile at the racist infrastructure held up by Boris and his white supremacist clowns. Self-hatred has been instilled in Vylan since he was a child, and “We Live Here” is the menacing, piercing sounds of him refusing to let it win. This is the sound of the Union Jack burning while smashing a guitar into it.
42. Touché Amoré – I’ll Be Your Host
Grief became a huge part of the Touché Amoré canon circa 2016, when their Stage FourLP left no stone unturned concerning the passing of a loved one. A side-effect of this came with touring the record, where frontman Jeremy Bolm became a stand-in outlet for other’s trauma. When he screams that he “didn’t ask to lead this party” here, it’s coming from a place of exhaustion and inner conflict. “I’ll Be Your Host” is the centrepiece of October’s Lament, both for its unbridled emotion and its searing musical intensity. It’s a meta-narrative on the band, and an endearing testament.
41. Code Orange – Underneath
Born of an expansive yet insular hardcore scene, Code Orange always shot for something bigger. Something that would cause friction, both within their bubble and outside it. Provocative, yes, but also prevalent. “Underneath,” which arrived less than two weeks into 2020, felt every bit the mission statement for the band’s defiant reinvention. Tinged with an industrial backbeat, packed with an alt-metal chorus, swerving into mathcore chaos for chaos’ sake. No-one sounded quite like this for the 50 remaining weeks of the year – not like they could come close, anyway. These are not the kids of yesterday. They’re the future.
And there you have it! To listen to all 60 songs thus far, crank the Spotify playlist below:
Here we are for part two. Response was unreal last week, thanks for checking it out and sharing it around. Here we go again! Part one here.
80. The Sidekicks – Everything in Twos
“Everything in Twos” turned up less than a month into 2015; dropped its bags and set up shop. It wasn’t going anywhere – nor should it have. Ducking and weaving through shimmering guitars and bouncing drums, it’s the type of power-pop that packs lyrical density to complement the bright, bursting tone; straight from the John K. Samson and John Roderick school of songwriting. Once you’ve surrendered to its wide-eyed charm and heartfelt, harmony-laden chorus, there’s no going back. It clocks in at 2:47, but you’ll be under its spell within the first 30 seconds – or your money back, guarantee.
79. FIDLAR – 40oz. On Repeat
The cheap beer has run dry, there’s no cocaine left and FIDLAR are not as stoked on the whole ‘stoked and broke’ thing that they were a couple of summers back. They’re still making belligerent, snotty garage pop-punk at its core, but the opening number on August’s Too saw them get a little more up-close and personal with their feelings – anger, depression, confusion et al. A dash of wurtilizer and toy piano is just enough to note growth and maturation on their part. Not a complete reinvention – because, duh, FIDLAR – but it keeps you guessing. Listening, too.
78. Bad//Dreems – Bogan Pride
Sure, these Adelaide natives enjoy a torn flanny and a smashed tinnie as much as the next bloke. Even with this in mind, Bad//Dreems are acutely aware of their native land’s major issue with hyper-masculinity. As the guitar scratches urgently against a pounding punk beat, “Bogan Pride” tears down beer-swilling muscle junkies with bitter, unrepentant fury. The irony of more of these types attending Bad//Dreems shows as their profile continues to (deservedly) rise probably won’t be lost on the band. At least they’ll always have this. Bonus points: The only song in the list to feature an exasperated “FUCK’S SAKE!”
77. Brendan Maclean – Tectonic
With synth arpeggios that orbit the planet and gated snare that could knock out Phil Collins in a single hit, “Tectonic” is the furthest that Mr. Maclean has ever ventured from the piano. Much like when Tim Freedman whipped out a keytar in the second verse of “Thank You,” the crowd was confused. But then, they cheered! And oh, how they danced! “Tectonic” is a pulsing, twirling piece of interplanetary pop – a shot in the dark that resonates in high definition. You could say the song was how Brendan got his groove back if only he’d never lost it.
76. Philadelphia Grand Jury – Crashing and Burning, Pt. II
Five years ago, the Philly Jays premiered a new song on tour entitled “A New Package for You,” another archetypal rush of knockabout indie-pop with a wild side and a spring in its step. For the band’s comeback album, the song was resurrected – a new hook, a slightly-slower tempo, a new hair-metal guitar break into the bridge and a bit of sprucing up here and there; hence the “Pt. II” suffix. Its origin story alone is indicative of how the track encapsulates their past, present and the future – it’s “A New Package” in a new package. Get excited.
75. EL VY – Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo)
The National’s Matt Berninger hasn’t always written zingers (lest we forget “Sometimes, you get up/And bake a cake or something” or “Standing at the punch table/Swallowing punch”), but initial listens to his side project’s first single will have you scratching your noggin over whatever mumbo-jumbo he’s spouting off. ‘Triple Jesus’? ‘A saltwater fish from a colourblind witch’? Who knows? Moreover, who cares? The thing about “Return to the Moon” is that it makes perfect sense in clear spite of itself. It’s a pop oddity; a guitar swagger, an off-beat handclap.If Berninger’s enigmatic charisma can’t win you over, perhaps nothing can.
74. Best Coast – Feeing OK
Five years ago was the summer that Best Coast’s debut, Crazy for You, was the ultimate girl guide – an album full of lyrics to quote endlessly on Tumblr while others would reblog and add the phrase “figuratively me!” Not to discredit that album whatsoever, but the best parts of the band’s third, California Nights, are when they’re tackling some of the bigger issues than boy problems and weed. On the album’s opener, Bethany Cosentino laments being there for everyone except herself; learning slowly but surely how to start putting her well-being first once again. It’s figuratively a great start.
73. Sweater Season – Charley
For a band quite figuratively less than a year old to be delivering a song as confident in nature as “Charley” is the equivalent of your infant child skipping the ‘goo-goo’s and ‘ga-ga’s entirely and skipping ahead to reciting a Shakespearian sonnet. In one swiftly-paced and smartly-written piece of proto-grunge indie, the band establishes a dual guitar tone to kill for – all sunshine and radiation – while simultaneously tossing killer one-liners like “I forget what I regret” – later transmogrifying into “what I have left,” for full effect – on top, almost as an afterthought. Damn baby geniuses.
72. The Sidekicks –The Kid Who Broke His Wrist
Steve Ciolak has never shied away from deeply-personal writing – it’s where he embraces it the most that his songs shine. That being said, there’s something about the way he reminisces on childhood spent and a youth now lost to a man on the verge of his thirties that, for whatever reason, feels somehow – importantly – different. It resonates in a way one might not initially expect – perhaps to do with how he still sees so much of himself in the boy that he once was; still finding himself unable to make a proverbial fist. Heartbreaking – and bone-breaking.
71. Citizen – Heaviside
For a band that used to recall acts like Sunny Day Real Estate and Jimmy Eat World, it’s strange that Mogwai and post-Deja Brand New are immediate comparison points when discussing the quietest moment from Citizen’s fascinating second LP. Yes, it’s a departure – and a major one at that – but the faded, distant shimmer of the guitar and the immediate, raw-nerve vocals that feel as though we have cut to the core of what this band is – and, more importantly, what it can be. For a song about purgatory, Citizen sure know where they’re headed on “Heaviside.”
70. Rihanna feat. Kanye West and Paul McCartney – FourFiveSeconds
A Barbadian, a black skinhead and a Beatle walk into a bar… yes, the year’s most unlikely combo were also behind the year’s most unlikely pop smash. Not that these three haven’t seen a hit or two in their lifetime – least of all Macca – but it was the manner in which “FourFiveSeconds” presented itself that made for such an intriguing prospect: Quiet. Unassuming. Raw. Soulful. No braggadocios raps, no “na-na-na”s, no nostalgia. Just an unplugged, intimate moment with true music royalty. A true career highlight for each – and given their combined history, that says a remarkable deal.
69. The Smith Street Band – Wipe That Shit-Eating Grin Off Your Punchable Face
The night Tony Abbott was elected, The Smith Street Band played a sold-out Corner Hotel, telling their captive audience that this was not a man to be trusted or one that spoke for them. In the year of Abbott’s demise in the public eye, it began with this furious, damning five-minute suite detailing his evil, hateful ways in explicit detail. It’s the angriest song the band has ever recorded – and, as it stands now, their most important. “A change is gonna come,” Wil Wagner warned, echoing sentiments of the late Sam Cooke. Less than a year later, it did.
68. Seth Sentry – Violin
No-one likes to see the clown crying. When Seth Marton isn’t goofing off, flirting with waitresses or talking about hoverboards, he’s capable of eloquent and passionate introspect. An open letter to an absent, arrogant father, “Violin” is Seth’s most private and painfully-personal song. As Marton’s cathartic furor rains down, so too does his discontent and malaise over how things have panned out. The song’s lynchpin comes in the form of its first and last line – which are one and the same. It brings the song full circle, leading one to hope against hope the bastard hears every last word.
67. White Dog –No Good
From the warehouses, garages and four-track recorders of Sydney, White Dog emerge with fists swinging and teeth sharpened. “No Good” seethes. It radiates from the back of cracked, split-open radio speakers. It prowls the streets of the inner-west wielding a switchblade. It’s the loudest, rawest and most primal sound to erupt from the DIY punk scene this year – and most other years, too, if complete honesty is allowed. If you’re not getting the message already – or maybe you just weren’t paying attention – remember this: “No Good” is the antithesis of its own name. That’s punk as fuck.
66. Major Lazer feat. DJ Snake and MØ –Lean On
Diplo is King Midas – everything he touches becomes gold. DJ Snake is King Henry VIII – he’s a wild motherfucker that’ll chop people’s heads off for the thrill of it. MØ is the lady of the lake – she holds the sword with all the power. By some bizarre head-on collision, the three have been pitted against one another in a three-way dance – and everybody wins. “Lean On” was, for many, the highly sought-after ‘song of the summer.’ More importantly, it was an assertion of pure dominance for both the charts and the dancefloor. Just go with it.
65. The Story So Far – Nerve
The best pop-punk right now is made by kids raised on Through Being Cool that are through being cool. Beyond empty slogans and Tumblr drama lies music that can be artistic, cathartic and genuinely engaging. The Story So Far have evolved into such an act, having grown up before their audience’s eyes and winding up on the wrong side of their 20s with a bad attitude and some killer riffs. Subsequently, “Nerve” stands as one of the most righteously-angry songs of both TSSF’s canon and the calendar year. Any self-respecting rock fan needs to hear them out on this one.
64. Endless Heights – Haunt Me
When Joel Martorana gave up screaming and turned his attention to singing two years ago, it was a confusing and suspicious move to some genre stiffs. As his voice rings out on “Haunt Me,” however, one struggles to recall Endless Heights without it being there. It suits the hypnotic drone of the guitars and the brisk drumming to absolute perfection, and presents itself as further evidence that the change in direction for the band was undoubtedly the right decision to make. Succinctly, “Haunt Me” gets a lot of work done in a considerably-short time. The power of Heights compels you.
63. Justin Bieber – Sorry
It takes a lot for a man to own up to his mistakes – especially if that man was, up until quite recently, a boy despised on a global scale. With an A-team of producers spreading the good word on his behalf – in this particular instance, Sonny “Skrillex” Moore – Bieber’s path to redemption is a gruelling, arduous one for us to undertake. As long as songs like “Sorry” keep turning up, however, the path shall be paved with gold. Anyone not left dancing in the spirit of the song’s phenomenal video just isn’t Beliebing hard enough in themselves.
62. Josh Pyke – Be Your Boy
Sure, he’s a bit more Smooth FM than Triple J these days, but there’s a lot to be said for the fact Josh Pyke has never changed his stripes for anyone. He’s always been a hopeless romantic, a dreamer and an old soul – and all of this entwines beautifully on what is unquestionably his best song in years. Layered percussion and cooed backing vocals prove to be a warm bed for Pyke’s rekindled-youth flame to rest upon; and its sweetly-sincere chorus will do the rest of the job in worming its way into your heart. Ahh, Pykey. You’re alright.
When photos of Silversun Pickups first surfaced, many thought that the voice they were hearing belonged to bassist Nikki Moninger. Naturally, they were in for a world of shock when they inevitably saw Brian Aubert step up to the mic, but “Circadian Rhythm” is a Sliding Doors moment of sorts that shows what life would be like if it was actually Moninger that took the lead. As luck would have it, it’s a total delight – a more subdued and intimate moment from a band that normally go to 11. This, indeed, is a dance well worth immersing yourself in.
Part three up next Monday!
Don’t forget you can download the podcast version of Part Two here.
Cut the crap. That’s all Perfect Pussy want. Say Yes to Love cuts deep, fast and often. As far as the grand scheme of guitar-oriented music was concerned, it felt as if it was one of the more dangerous releases to make itself known within the calendar year – it fumed, it radiated and it sent the levels into a constant bubble of blood red. Beneath its thorny exterior, a further layer was revealed – Meredith Graves shrieks and screams out mantras, rhetoric and personal essays that added to her already-stellar reputation as one of contemporary music’s more important voices. It’s love.
“This time, I’ve got seeds on ground.” TV on the Radio sewed new life roughly three years removed from throwing dirt on the late, great Gerard Smith. Seeds allowed them to explore a more straightforward, streamlined approach to songwriting; allowing for their open-book honesty to shine through new love, old friends and healing wounds. It also allowed the band to let itself exist as an entity far greater than the sum of its parts – a chance to completely realise what they have created, what they have so wisely kept alive. Seeds is life after death – it’s not easy, but achievable.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Lazzeray, Careful You, Happy Idiot.
18. Willis Earl Beal – Experiments in Time
Sometimes, it’s suggested that an artist has “done a 180” as a hyperbolic expression to indicate a change in style. It’s rarely the case that the saying is justified in its use, however. This, along with several other contributing factors, is what makes Experiments in Time such a unique experience. Beal, formerly of the lo-fi blues and proto-folk category, turned his attention to music that is ambient, delicate and cautiously quiet. So radical is the departure, one may even be found double-checking that it is indeed the same man. A completely-unexpected sensation and a welcomed reinvention.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Slow Bus, Waste It Away, Same Auld Tears.
17. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers Spotify || Rdio
They may wander off for years at a time, but the Pornos are never really gone. You couldn’t kill those mothercanuckers with all of the weapons in Liam Neeson’s arsenal. Theirs is an undying spirit, which resurfaces on arguably be their best LP since Twin Cinema. The bombast of the title track, the defiant stride of “Marching Orders” and the Superchunk wig-out of “War on the East Coast” are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Perhaps the best thing about Brill Bruisers is that everyone will walk away with their own highlight – and there’s absolutely no wrong answers here.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Champions of Red Wine, Brill Bruisers, Marching Orders.
Australian children’s entertainer Don Spencer once sang that “The greater part of every state is off the beaten track.” It’s certainly not what he meant, but this much is true of Carpetbombing – while most local releases concerned themselves with the inner workings of city streets or behind the closed doors of suburbia, Harmony’s second LP was covered in the grit, blood and petrol of outhouses, country yards and battered shacks. It’s a grim, confronting and occasionally terrifying record. It’s more Australian than most albums have a right to be. Carpetbombing is the sounds of then and the sounds of now.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Big Ivan, Do Me a Favour, Carpetbomb.
15. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues Spotify || Rdio
Against Me! began in the bedroom of a teenager named Tom Gabel. It began again on the global stage, lead with aplomb by a thirty-something named Laura Jane Grace. The never-say-die punk spirit that was aflame with its origins continued to flicker defiantly, albeit guiding the path of significantly different subject matter – street-walking, identity crises and parenthood, to name a few. Transgender is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It’s what they – and we – needed more than anything. This, friends, is the first day of the rest of Against Me!’s life. God bless its transsexual heart.
THREE TOP TRACKS: True Trans Soul Rebel, Two Coffins, Transender Dysphoria Blues.
It doesn’t matter if you win or lose – it’s how you play the game. This has been drilled into the heads of countless children, and it sticks for a reason – it reflects on more than just its immediate point of reference. Case in point: Few played a better game in the year passed than You Beauty, the supergroup-of-sorts that brought to life a nameless NRL star of a bygone era. It didn’t even matter if you didn’t know your Joey Johns from your Freddie Fitler – the storytelling was just that enticing. Jersey Flegg was a shoe-in for best and fairest.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Now Her Skirt, Rabbits, Ann-Maree.
13. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else Spotify || Rdio
There were a lot of notable lines scattered throughout the eight tracks that made up Cloud Nothings’ third studio album, but perhaps the most telling comes in its closing number: “I’m not telling you all that I’m going through.” It’s rung true throughout the collected works of the Dylan Baldi vehicle; perhaps never moreso here – revealing a sliver of introspect and innermost struggle, but always pulling back before a complete reveal unfurls. Nowhere Else also takes the band further into the sprawling, incessant drive of noisy alt-rock, making it a true crowning achievement with the promise of continued future greatness.
THREE TOP TRACKS: I’m Not Part of Me, Now Here In, Pattern Walks.
Regardless of what you perceived to be its benefits or its drawbacks, the referendum to decide on its independence is generally perceived to be the biggest thing to emerge from Scotland within 2014… at least, it would have been for those that didn’t hear or discover Young Fathers. The collective’s debut LP was one conceived under cover of darkness, revelling in pitch blackness while also taking the initiative to lead the procession toward distant lights. This is hip-hop that wants to be a part of the revolution – and when it comes, those not with them will be first to go.
The title of Moon Hooch’s second LP stems from what they refer to their music as from a categorical standpoint. You’ll certainly be thankful they did the groundwork for you, as what they do cannot exactly fit directly into any given spectrum. It’s a niche carved on the outside of alternative music – if such a thing is even possible – that digs deep. The trio implement thunderous horns and pitting them in a duel atop ricocheting drum patterns; locking the gates until a victor emerges. This is love. This is war. This is jazz. This is rock. This is cave music.
The sooner that Australia wakes up and smells the vibrancy of its extensive post-rock community at hand, the bloody better. Sydney’s sleepmakeswaves have become the vanguard act of it in short time, less pushing the envelope and more reading the letter it contained from atop a mountain. With the airtight production guidance of rock expert Nick DiDia, Cartography became a full realisation of everything that the band could be; exploring new depths as well as searing highs – often within the same song. This is the sound of actions speaking far, far louder than words ever could. Consider the game changed.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Great Northern, Something Like Avalanches, Perfect Detonator.
They may be the least hardcore and the least punk band in hardcore punk, but by some bizarre law of double negatives it’s made Toronto sextet Fucked Up far more hardcore and far more punk than a significant amount of their peers. Each of their albums feels momentous, grand in both scope and execution. Glass Boys proves to be no exception, in spite of a leaner runtime – in fact, it allows you to focus further in on the remarkable crafting that goes into each track. An alternate version of the LP with half-speed drums proves to be strangely-alluring additional listening.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Led by Hand, Glass Boys, Sun Glass.
Manchester Orchestra have the heart of a lion and their collective eyes on a grander universal bigger picture. It’s now taken them through four albums of life, death, acceptance, honesty, sin and confession; and though one’s take on which is the superior of them may vary from listener to listener, it’s nigh-on impossible to leave a Manchester Orchestra record empty-handed. Although often shrouded in deep-cut metaphor and surrealist lyrical imagery, Cope has its own means of cutting directly to an emotional core at its most crucial points. It’s yet another excellent release from a band that works in mysterious ways.
We’re not in side-project territory anymore, Toto. The once-unlikely pairing of Killer Mike and El-P, now onto their third release together, has begun to make more sense in the greater spectrum of hip-hop perhaps more than practically anything else this decade. Such a bold statement can be backed by noting the remarkable impact of their second album. Swarming, visceral beats, simultaneous lyrical assaults and a completely-unexpected cameo from a fiery Zach de la Rocha all assisted in allowing Run the Jewels to forcefully smash through the underground and lead riots through the city streets. All hell can’t stop them now.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Early, Oh My Darling Don’t Cry, Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck).
Some longer-term fans of dramatically-flaired electro-pop explorers Future Islands may feel somewhat disgruntled that it’s taken until their fourth studio album for a wider audience to be paying them the attention that they so rightly deserve. Think of it, instead, as a blessing in disguise: With the world now watching, we see the trio at the very best of their collective abilities; presenting a refined and distinctive take on their genre that revels in its kitsch and unfashionability so much that it comes full circle, leading to the arguably being the coolest damn record of the year. Who’d have thought?
THREE TOP TRACKS: Doves, Seasons (Waiting on You), Sun in the Morning.
For a timid Irish lad, James Vincent McMorrow certainly proved to have balls of steel when he made his launch forth into the great unknown at the start of the year. His second album was described by many as a 180 of sorts, doing away entirely with the folksy instrumentation of its predecessor. Perhaps a more fitting angle, however, would have been a 270. Post Tropical incorporated hindsight in regards to McMorrow’s raw-nerve emotional songwriting and his delicately-placed falsetto, but it also gave view to a brave new world. Who knows who he may yet become? It’s all blissfully uncertain.
THREE TOP TRACKS: All Points, Outside, Digging, Cavalier.
Two-fifths of Luca Brasi left the fold not a year before the release of their second studio album, a blow which may well have spelled the end for a lesser band. The Tasmanian natives were quick to mend, however – it wasn’t long before their triple-guitar interplay was woven into a tighter twin assault; while replacing the towering Saxon Hall on drums with the impeccably-bicepped Danny Flood was like switching out an unstoppable force for an immovable object. The craftsmanship of the songs, too, proved to be their greatest collective achievement to date. They – and we – live to fight another day.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Western Junction, Borders and Statelines, Here’s Looking at You, Kid Rock.
Kaoru Ishibashi finds himself in the realm of indie-pop with the violin as his weapon of choice over keyboards or guitar. This left-of-centre take on the genre allows for KB’s amazing technicolour dream-music to roam as freely as it pleases. On Ishibashi’s second LP under the moniker, he layers both his instrument and his voice to the point of assembling a chamber orchestra and a choir respectively. By means of beautifully striking contrast, there are also moments of quiet that reel in focus to the man behind it all. Much like its cover, Lighght is a stunning work of art.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Q & A, Philosophize in It! Chemicalize with It!, Carry On Phenomenon.
From their culture-jamming band name to their sax-wielding take on DIY math rock, there’s nary a band runnin’ ‘round these parts that’s quite like Sydney’s Ted Danson with Wolves. It may well not have been their intentions when they initially formed out in humble old Tamworth several moons ago, but it’s where they’ve ended up on their outstanding debut effort. Its hyper-literate lyrics delve into the seriously strange and the strangely serious on a tandem basis, shrieked above a mesmerising cacophony of bass rumble, drum splatter and guitar squiggle. The outsiders found a way in, at long last. WWTDWWD? This.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Tim Has a Really Good Idea (Again!), Bohemian (I Don’t) Like You, In the Throes of Golf Woes: “It Was a Coarse Course, of Course.”
Wil Wagner has said several times that there have been moments where he’s considered quitting music entirely. Throw Me in the River makes one ever so grateful he made the right call and kept his band alive. Were it to be summed up in three words? Let’s try “location, location, location.” Its songs take place all over the globe, from late nights in Calgary to a boiling day at Meredith Music Festival; not to mention its recording taking place in the small town of Forrest. No matter where you’re from, River shows that it’s where you’re at that’s most important.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Calgary Girls, Surrender, Throw Me in the River.