The Top 100 Songs of 2021, Part Three: 60 – 41

Hey! Sorry it took me awhile to get this up. I got COVID! Heard of it? It’s not great! Anyway, hope you enjoy this sail over the halfway mark. Promise this’ll be done by the end of the month. While you’re at it, why not catch up on Part One here and Part Two here? There ya go!

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60. Silk Sonic – Skate

What do women want? It’s been a hot-button topic for many a year now, and most men are still without answers. Needless to say, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak are not most men. They saw the absolutely massive uptick of women getting into rollerskating over the last 12 to 18 months, and they promptly cashed in with a blissful roller-disco ode to the phenomenon. You could be cynical about it being opportunistic, but “Skate” is way too sunny to succumb to such a dismissal. It’s a broad, beautiful smile of a song – and it’s exactly what women want, too.

59. WILLOW feat. Travis Barker – t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l

Most of you probably haven’t thought of Willow Smith in a decade… and she’s only 21. Somewhere in the throes of her teens and early 20s, the former child star stopped whipping her hair long enough to notice the world around her. This resulted in a guitar-heavy pop-rock comeback for the ages, helmed by red-carpet walker (and occasional drummer) Travis Barker. The same swagger that carried her tween hit is very much intact – she’s the daughter of a Fresh Prince, after all – but its moody, darker corners breathe new life into this still-burgeoning and fascinating career. With soul.

58. The Buoys – Lie to Me Again

One of The Buoys’ first tracks was “Liar Liar” – a rambunctious garage-punk number about a no-good ex, packed with the usual early-20s angst amidst clattering drums and rousing guitars. The topic is revisited four years later on “Lie to Me Again,” with a changed line-up but the constant of frontwoman Zoe Catterall. Here, she approaches the jilted former lover with the kind of calm that can only come before a storm. It’s not as in-your-face as its predecessor, but its impact is promptly doubled by its barbed lyricism and righteously-convicted chorus. This much is true: The Buoys light up.

57. Geese – Low Era

We’re getting to that stage in history where people with compound sentences for birth years are making some of the most exciting new music. One such act are indie-disco punks Geese, who were scooped up in a bidding war circa 2020. Now the Brooklynites have arrived in earnest for us to gander at, “Low Era” feels especially pertinent – reminiscent of when The Rapture and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah hit the scene. Will Geese have staying power beyond this fleeting infatuation? Impossible to tell. For this moment of post-punk zeitgeist, however, they’re the only living band in New York.

56. Gang of Youths – the angel of 8th ave.

Prior to the pandemic, Gang of Youths moved to London and brought in Noah & The Whale‘s Tom Hobden. This season of growth and change persisted, even in the midst of global shutdown. “angel” was GOY bursting forth and rising to the occasion once more, delivering heartland pop with prolix professionalism. Its parade of shimmering strings, syncopated claps and perhaps Max Dunn’s finest bass-line yet ensured that the Gang was back in business. They might not be a big fish in a little pond anymore, but “the angel of 8th ave.” proved that there was still blood in the water.

55. Halsey – Bells in Santa Fe

If you said this time last year that one of 2021’s most fruitful collaborations would be between Halsey and Nine Inch Nails, you might’ve had more concern raised than if you’d started coughing into your fist and offering handshakes. Nevertheless, they persisted. With additional production from unexpected outsider The Bug, “Bells” sets a scene somewhere between Fair Verona and oblivion with its spiralling synthesizer orchestra. Halsey’s increasing desperation as she tears pages from her Bible and comes to term with impermanence make for one of the most arresting performances of her career. It boils, it burns and it transforms into…

54. Halsey – Easier Than Lying

Halsey has flirted with heaviness in the past (see her underrated “Experiment On Me”), but “Easier Than Lying” hits different. That’s not just a saying, by the way – from its snarling bass to its siren-wail outro and the anchoring of its frenetic drum-and-bass backbeat, there’s never been a song in Halsey’s canon quite like this one. With the intense pacing of a car chase, the song’s relentless energy is carried by another ice-cold, sting-in-the-tail performance from none other than Ms. “Without Me” herself. There was a time when Trent Reznor once marched with the pigs. In 2021, Halsey ran.

53. Citizen – I Want to Kill You

The lead single of every Citizen record since their modern genre classic debut Youth has felt like its own reset. “Cement” forged into slinking alt-rock; “Jet” rode the wave of… well, The Wave… and now “I Want to Kill You” has introduced disco drums and post-punk frenetic ferocity. The best part is that it all still feels like Citizen each time – Matt Kerekes’ writhing yelp, the steely fretwork of the Hamm brothers and that propulsive emotional build that ensures Citizen From Toledo, Ohio can be heard around the world. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and Citizen are absolutely jacked.

52. Polish Club – Stop for a Minute

Polish Club can get as goofy as anyone. They play silly games, make knowingly-hideous album art… even in this song’s video, frontman David Novak chows down on a sanga while dancing in a tux. What “Stop for a Minute” does best, however, is cut through the bullshit – even in what’s arguably the most fun musical environment the duo has ever set up for itself. That seething frustration seeps through the cracks in the mirrorball that separate the art from the artist, rattling from the ceiling against the bass drum kick. It’s not the clown crying anymore: It’s pissed disco.

51. Toby Martin – Linthwaite Houdini

Be it a pregnant city dweller or a radicalised immigrant teenager, Toby Martin has always thrived telling stories that aren’t his own with a surprising sense of belonging. The lead single from his third solo album is no exception, where he hears tell of a small-town escape artist whose grand scheme doesn’t go according to plan. Amongst the wallowing trumpet and the slinking waltz drums, Martin’s writing encompasses the envisioned triumph and the ultimate tragedy that emerges from a story as unique as this one. The truth is stranger than fiction, and few Australian songwriters truly get that like Martin.

50. Olivia Rodrigo – brutal

“Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” For an artist that was introduced to the world via post-Lorde piano balladry, few could have expected the veneer to crumble quite like it did on Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album opener. As that riff churns, she wants it on record that this sweet life of celebrity and status is far from perfect – in fact, it’s tearing her apart inside. “brutal,” true to its name, is the heaviest song on SOUR by a considerable margin. It’s a living, seething testament to the year pop was allowed to rock again. Teenage angst, meet This Year’s Model.

49. Tasman Keith feat. Kwame – ONE

It started off as a rib, when short-king MC Tasman Keith got photos taken with the towering Kwame. What ended up revealing itself over the coming weeks, however, proved this: These motherfuckers weren’t playing. “ONE” is the best song either artist has been a part of – and considering the calibre of their already-illustrious careers, that’s not said lightly. From its urgent beat to its belligerent flow, there’s absolutely no backing down on any front. When the duo knocked this out of the park on The Set, Kwame boasted: “Rap song of the fucking year.” You’re inclined to believe him.

48. Springtime – Will to Power

Gareth Liddiard had a surprisingly fruitful year. Tropical Fuck Storm’s lockdown record finally came out, he reinvented his catalogue live with Jim White and he undertook a new journey entirely with Springtime. Liddiard, White and The Necks pianist Chris Abrahams are no strangers to music with a freer, looser form than your average. That factors into their debut single “Will to Power,” but it’s far from the only story. It’s a sprawling, darkly-shaded take on Liddiard’s barbed Australiana through a strange, dirty lens. Against cascading guitar, creaking piano and the sturdy drumming shuffle of the unmistakable White, Springtime truly blossoms.

47. Holy Holy – How You Been

Somewhere in the shadow realm between pop that rocks and rock that pops lies Holy Holy. Across four studio albums, the Melbourne-via-Tasmania duo who have slowly but surely built a reputation as one of the country’s more likeable and endearing indie hit-makers. “How You Been” showcases the duo at their key strengths. Frontman Timothy Carroll’s performance is heartfelt and rousing; guitarist Oscar Dawson’s buoyant production, meanwhile, allows everything from the rubbery bass-line to the triumphantly OTT solo to cohesively gel. It’s an electric pop effort designed for dancing like no-one’s watching – much like Carroll himself in the accompanying video.

46. Limp Bizkit – Dad Vibes

hot dad ridin in on a rhino

45. Deafheaven – Great Mass of Color

In retrospect, perhaps we could have all seen Deafheaven’s stylistic departure coming. They have, after all, seemingly always existed on the very fringes of heavy metal itself – what’s one extra push out of the genre entirely? “Great Mass of Color” was a headfirst dive into the great unknown – one that, admittedly, could have seen the Northern Calfornia quintet land flat on their face. Instead, however, the band was immersed in a crystallised bliss that revelled in its tranquil undercurrent in tandem with its bursting, resplendent refrain. It’s like a dream, to borrow a phrase. You want to dream.

44. Ruby Fields – R.E.G.O

Ruby Fields is lots of things, but a rockstar is not one of them. She’s just Rubes, slinging beers at the local to get by and shooting the shit with the regulars. “R.E.G.O” is a rumination on this lifestyle – living paycheck to paycheck, but having the inextricable bonds of friendship keeping it afloat. “Haven’t you always wanted to feel like that?” Fields asks, again and again. She’s saying what we’re all thinking, and she knows it. It’s bolstered by her impeccable band, with a special nod to Adam Newling’s fret-bending lead work. Worth a coin in the tip jar.

43. Turnstile – MYSTERY

2021 was Turnstile’s year. No ifs, buts or maybes. The Baltimore natives elevated American hardcore to a level arguably not seen since John Belushi moshed to Fear at 30 Rock – the same building, coincidentally, that Turnstile saw out the year performing inside as part of Late Night. There, they played the track that launched their year: “MYSTERY,” a song that dares anyone feeling froggy to go ahead and leap. Brendan Yates’ boisterous yelp, pondering the great unknown, ricochets off churning guitars and walloping drums to forge something full of life that proudly goes down swinging. Consider the mystery solved.

42. No Rome feat. Charli XCX and The 1975 – Spinning

Around August, Charli XCX dropped an ambigious tweet with a question that left her devotees guessing: “rip hyperpop?” Her two singles since this have indicated a new direction is imminent for March’s Crash, which means that “Spinning” might be her last true hurrah as a glitched-out pop weirdo for the time being. If that’s the case, what a way to go out. Trust the Dirty Hit all-stars to assemble an all-star dirty hit – an all-syrup squishee bender with intense hypercolour and a robotic empire of Charlis parroting the titular phrase on a telling loop. She’s making us dizzy, still.

41. easy life – skeletons

“skeletons” is so excited to get going, it practically trips over itself – cue the tumbling drums and smash-cut to the word of the day. It’s a disarming beginning to a song that coasts on smooth sailing, but that may well be the point. A closer inspection, of course, sees that this future-soul cut from the Leicester lads portrays purported paranoia over a partner’s playful past. It’s a little Mac Miller; a little Rex Orange County; a little Hot Chip. There’s some fascinating moving parts at play here. What easy life have concocted, ultimately, is guaranteed to rattle some bones.

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Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:

Back next week with part four!

INTERVIEW: Evanescence (USA), November 2011

Another bizarre encounter with an absolute hero of my early teens. Me and a few friends were nothing short of obsessed with Amy Lee and co., so I simply couldn’t pass up the chance to interview her; despite just turning 21 at the time. Even though Evanescence would later go on to be one of the worst bands I have ever seen, I’m very glad I did this interview. Amy, despite major diva status among most writers, was an absolute sweetheart. As shit as Evanescence became towards the end there, I can’t take that away from her. So, enjoy, I guess? You probably hated Evanescence from day one. Hell, I might not even blame you these days.

– DJY, October 2014

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If you need any indication of just how fickle the pop industry can be, look no further than the story of Evanescence. Their runaway success in the early 2000s cemented them as one of the biggest rock bands in the world, tallying up over 15 million sales worldwide and two Grammy Awards for their acclaimed 2003 debut, Fallen. A follow-up, 2006’s The Open Door, saw sales halved and the band implode whilst on tour, ultimately leaving Amy Lee as the only original member remaining. Following the end of a huge world tour, the band – and Lee herself – went into hibernation. It seemed as though the band would never resurface – but, as everyone from James Bond to Justin Bieber have warned, never say never.

“I’m glad people have still been interested after all this time,” says Lee, who finally brought back the band with a fresh line-up and a self-titled third album which dropped in October. “At the beginning [of the hiatus], me and the rest of the guys had no plans. It wasn’t the end; we just decided to take a break from it all until one of us had a cool idea. It was just a matter of following the inspiration – I mean, if I didn’t have the drive or the motivation to make another Evanescence record, we wouldn’t be here talking about it.”

In her time away, Lee decided to focus on what had made lose interest in music to begin with, resulting in multiple delays to the release of Evanescence. Thankfully, however, she pulled through, and is particularly enthusiastic about re-igniting the songwriting fire. “There definitely was a period of thinking that maybe the whole thing was done,” admits Lee, “but I can’t help it! I love writing music. I found myself writing all the time, constantly playing. I even started learning the harp, which was really beautiful. Once I started up again, and started writing and playing more and more, I was just like “Wow!” This is a big part of me. I love doing this. I love sharing it, too.”

Lee put together a new line-up with guitarist Terry Balsamo, who took over lead guitar duties upon the departure of founding member Ben Moody back in 2003. Bassist Tim McCord who played on the band’s second album The Open Door returned and fill-in musicians from the tail-end of the last world tour – drummer Will Hunt and guitarist Troy McLawhorn – joined the fold as permanent members. Lee is vocally enthusiastic about the line-up, as she appears to be about practically everything that involves the band.

“It’s a really strong line-up,” she says. “At the end of The Open Door tour, I really felt like we were playing better shows than we had been before. There was a great chemistry on-stage, and we really knew how to play off one-another and work together. We needed a whole new creative environment in order to make this record, and we needed to work more as a team than ever. It felt really good – I was so happy to have so many cool ideas to work with and to pull from. Normally, I just shack up with one guy and we make the record together – the first record was Ben, the second was essentially me and Terry. This time, I had a whole team of brains that just get it. They get what I want to hear, and they play because they love it.”

Evanescence, as a record, is a far more solid affair than the muddled and seemingly misguided sounds of The Open Door. The unity of the band’s sound that Lee enthuses about is unquestionably present and accounted for, from the anthemic lead single What You Want to the bold melodrama of The Other Side. Balsamo’s guitar also provides a darker and often quite heavy dynamic in the midst of the band’s sound, in a way that is unlike anything the band have recorded previously. Amy emphasises, however, that the direction taken on the album was never intentional – or, worse, forced out. “Will is an incredible drummer,” she says, “and working with him was so great because it drove the album from a rhythmic perspective. Terry had awesome ideas, Will had awesome ideas… and Troy was just a complete shredder from the moment we pressed record. None of it was intentional – I just think my band rules!”

With the almost operatic sense of drama and despair found in the music of Evanescence, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Lee is a very self-serious person. She proves to be very much on the contrary of this preconceived notion, however, laughing and giggling her way through her chat with FL and exuding a warmth and friendliness that one certainly wouldn’t expect from someone often seen to be a mall-goth poster child. She also even showed a notably different side recently, when she recorded a cover for a tribute album – not Korn, whom she has performed with on several occasions; nor Bjork, whom Lee cited as one of her biggest influences in the recording of Evanescence. Nope, the artist she covered was that other clear influence on Evanescence: Robin the Frog.

Yes, Amy performed a solo cover of Halfway Down the Stairs, the ballad sung by Kermit’s nephew, for The Green Album. Lee gets particularly excited when the topic of Jim Henson and the Muppets tribute album comes up – “Oh. My. God. Just Jim Henson in general has worked on so many of my favourite things!” she shouts. “I was really big into The Dark Crystal, which was one of those things that I was super-obsessed with as a kid. He’s done so much amazing stuff – so when it came to picking a Muppets song to do for this record, there was really no pressure. I went with the really obscure one because I always loved Robin the Frog. The whole experience was really cool.”

The band is currently planning a large world tour to promote Evanescence, and Lee is happy to let us in on the fact that Australia is definitely on the cards. Despite being a part of the rumour mill for the Soundwave Festival, Amy does not even acknowledge them. “It looks like we’ll be doing our own headlining tour,” she says. “I’m not sure about official dates or whatever, but it will be in the first half of the new year, for sure. We all love Australia so much, and you’ve always been so good to us!”