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:
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)