The Top 100 Songs of 2021, Part One: 100 – 81

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



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:

Back next week with part two!

INTERVIEW: Red Riders (AUS), November 2009

I love Alex Grigg. I call him Sydney’s Oldest Teenager – even in his early 30s, he’s living the twentysomething dream of kicking around in bands, working part-time at a cool shop and hanging out with mates all over the joint. We first met several years ago at a Living End show, at which the Riders opened. I was just excited to meet a real-life rock musician; but it wasn’t until a few years later that we got properly acquainted. This was the start of that friendship.

Although it was simply an interview to promote the new album and tour, we went off-track for a bit to talk about what a piece of shit Sam de Brito is. Hey, Sam, if you’re reading – you’re still a piece of shit. Anyway, these guys are sadly no more – you can catch Al and drummer Tom as one half of Palms; and guitarist Brad is off doing a bunch of stuff in the Shire where he’s from. I still keep in pretty regular contact with these guys, and it’s always a treat to catch up with them. For now, let’s cast our minds back to the tail-end of the 2000s and see what happens…

– DJY, April 2014


Sometimes, an artist can misrepresent themselves through their music. Take Red Riders’ Alex Grigg, for instance. In the latest single Ordinary from his band’s second album, Drown in Colour, he sings: “Nothing I do ever seems to go my way/Everything I do is ordinary.” Yet when asked about his day, Grigg casually talks about some extraordinary things.

“I had to go do a thing for Cleo magazine today,” he says on a late Friday afternoon with a chuckle. “It sounds a really bizarre thing to say it out loud, but I had to go and pretty much dress a girl, and tell them what to wear. There was a lifesaver, a comedian, a corporate guy, a rowing guy…it was just some funny thing to do. ” If that’s ordinary, who knows what’s different for him?

2009’s been a busy year for Grigg and his band. Drown in Colour, their first record since the departure of guitarist Adrian Deutsch, was released in July. It’s only now, however, that the band has been performing their own headline shows in support of the record in a variety of places up and down the east coast. According to Grigg, this delay was an initially intentional move to bring more singing mouths than scratched heads to shows.

“Our booking agent told us that you don’t want to tour straight after your album’s been released – it needs time so that people have heard it, so they know the songs when they come to the shows,” he explains. “The Little Birdy tour came along when we might have done an album tour, anyway; so that happened and now we’re out on our own tour.”

With them for most stops of the shows is Brisbane quartet The Boat People, who have just released the first single from their upcoming third album, entitled Echo Stick Guitars. “We met those guys at SXSW in February of this year,” Grigg says of the indie-pop collective. “We got to hanging out and got on really well, and our releases coincided to tour so it all worked out!”

Conversation moves to the creation of the record itself – and just how much of a challenge it was for Grigg to write on his own. The last RR album, 2007’s Replica Replica, was a 50/50 collaboration of music, lyrics and vocals between Alex and Adrian. This time around, however, it was entirely up to Grigg to get new material happening.

“While it was a little more stressful to create something and put my stamp on it,” he contemplates, “it also became a lot more personal. I think a lot of the time with me and Adrian, we were so worried about trying to keep it distinct that there were times where we had to kinda tone it down a bit.” So there’s no need to restrain anymore? “I think I don’t have to contain myself,” Grigg affirms. “I feel like I can let my personality out a lot more.”

In Deutsch’s place is Brad Heald, whom many will recognise as the bassist of The Vines. Don’t perceive him as a generic fill-in, though – as Alex explains, he is bringing something quite different to Red Riders.

“They’re such different guitarists,” he muses. “Whereas Adrian would always be filling in every last gap, Brad’s playing is kind of effect-heavy and reverb-laden, with a kind of washy sound. He even plays the old songs differently!”

Rather than lament on the departure of a member who contributed so much, Grigg chooses instead to remain optimistic about the band’s new line-up. Heald’s arrival into the fold, he believes, has injected a new dose of excitement into the band, with everything seeming new once again. With that said, is the mindset any different between the release of Replica Replica and the release of Drown in Colour?

“With the last album,” muses Grigg, “it was one where I was proud of a lot of it; but at the same time there’s a lot of it that I’m kind of undecided about.” And with this record? “I’m really proud of this one,” he says. “It’s a great feeling to make something that you really like, and getting closer and closer to creating something that even I would like even if I wasn’t in the band.”

Of course, going to see the Red Riders on tour in a small pub or club means a lot more in our current live music situation than it has in quite some time. Last month, Grigg angrily posted on Twitter against Sun Herald columnist Sam de Brito and his article commenting on the live music situation that the city of Sydney has found itself in.”

De Brito wrote: “If we are serious about saving live music in Sydney, promoters and venue owners need do only one thing” – please note: FasterLouder is NOT making this up – “get hotter chicks to gigs.” Reacting to this, Grigg slammed de Brito, calling him “a useless wanker” and “everything that sucks about Sydney” when replying to Grinspoon frontman Phil Jamieson.

“I think everyone I knew felt like punching him in the face,” he notes as we dissect the gaping flaws of the article. “I mean, the guy has just completely missed the point. He should just stick to what he understands, like doing coke in the Ivy or something. Leave us to our world and he can stay in his.”

Grigg also sees de Brito’s depiction of women in his column as despicable. “It was mainly offensive to women and girls that go to shows, y’know?” he says. “That it’s somehow bad to want to go to gigs. And that all the women in Sydney want to be like the ones off Sex and the City. I mean, it’s just ridiculous.”

In response to news of events such as the closing of the Hopetoun and the Annandale Hotel being in trouble, Alex turns our discussion to what should really be done, instead of listening to de Brito’s oblivious and glaringly sexist advice. Getting hot chicks to gigs is not the answer – simply going to them is.

“If all the people that got really worked up that the Hopetoun was closing actually went to shows all the time, maybe it wouldn’t have closed,” he ponders. “Yes, it’s about the licensing laws and the council and all these things, but it’s also about actually going out and supporting these young bands. It’s the same with what happened with FBi – it’s as much about the people as it is about the laws and what have you.”

Lack of interest isn’t the only thing to blame – people new to the area, in Alex’s humble opinion, may well have something to do with it. “The thing that gets me,” he says, “is that the Annandale’s been there forever. It’s just people that are moving into the area after the venue’s already been there for so many years – why would you move into an area where there’s a live music venue nearby if you didn’t like noise and just wanted a quiet suburban life?”

Whatever the solution may be, Grigg and the Red Riders are more than willing to contribute and support as much as they can. With a strong album to support and a fresh new energetic live show to accompany it, it will be well worth your time and effort to catch the band in action on this tour.