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

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

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40. Ashley McBryde – Never Will

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

39. Caligula’s Horse – Autumn

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

38. Baby Beef – Sticking Around

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

37. Polaris – Vagabond

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

36. ONEFOUR – Welcome to Prison

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

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

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

34. 5 Seconds of Summer – Wildflower

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

33. Waxahatchee – Fire

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

32. Something for Kate – Supercomputer

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

31. Nothing Really – Yuck

“Do you think I’m yuck?” Vic Austin’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 had history with Zack de la Rocha – but what of Pharrell, whose happy (pun intended) disposition felt immediately at odds with the harsh reality of RTJ? As it turns out, this fab four complement one another perfectly. It’s all there: Williams’ syncopated hook, El-P’s rubbery beat clatter and prolix wordplay, Mike’s effortless verse, de la Rocha’s scene-stealing finale. “JU$T” is a legend convention meets social revolution.

28. Tame Impala – Lost in Yesterday

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

27. Miiesha – Twisting Words

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

26. Gordi – Extraordinary Life

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

25. Pearl Jam – Dance of the Clairvoyants

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

24. Miel – I’ll Be Holding

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

23. The Chicks – Julianna Calm Down

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

22. Tigers Jaw – Warn Me

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

21. Something for Kate – Waste Our Breath

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

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

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

Saturday Night Live, Season 39: The DJY Awards

It’s been an interesting season for a show simultaneous described as both consistently enjoyable and a wheezing dinosaur. A major cast overhaul delivered some of the best and worst moments; and not everything that got thrown at the wall managed to stick. Even so, it set up what has the potential to be an absolutely killer 40th season of the show – and this run definitely wasn’t without its moments. Let’s take a look.

Best Host: Drake

The all-singing, all-rapping and all-Draking king of Toronto was game for absolutely anything; making his episode arguably the most consistently entertaining. His performances in the sketches were lively and he never came across as though he was too big for any part that was thrown his way. Would love to see back again.

Honourable mentions: Lady Gaga, Melissa McCarthy, Bruce Willis.

Worst Host: Jim Parsons.

Let’s ignore the fact that The Big Bang Theory is a piece of shit – this was Parsons’ chance to show us that he is, indeed, “not that guy” as he put it in the cringeworthy opening monologue song. He fell flat on his face in nearly every sketch. The episode’s only saving grace was a lush performance from Beck; who offered some brief respite.

Honourable mentions: John Goodman, Charlize Theron, Andrew Garfield.

Best musical guest: Arcade Fire.

Now that’s how you start a season. The band have never disappointed when it comes to their SNL performances, and this night was no exception. One of the best live acts in the world right now.

Honourable mentions: St. Vincent, The National, Pharrell Williams.

Worst musical guest: Eminem.

Not even a cameo from Rick Rubin could save this lifeless, blunt performance. The live band has added nothing to Em’s live sound – but, then again, Em doesn’t add very much to his live sound, either; relying heavily on guide tracks and his hype man.

Honourable mentions: Kings of Leon, Bastille, Imagine Dragons.

Best repertory player: Kate McKinnon.

It took awhile for her to prove it, but absolutely no-one on SNL right now gets as much out of so little. It can just be a look in her eyes, a twitch of her head or simply an off-hand phrase and she is away. You’re in stitches. A sharp character actor, a wicked improvise and one of the best additions that SNL has ever made to its cast.

Honourable mentions: Taran Killam, Aidy Bryant, Bobby Moynihan.

Worst repertory player: Kenan Thompson.

Oh, Kenan. You’ve had essentially nothing to work with this year, and the majority of your impressions and characters have been instantly forgettable. What’s up with that? It reminds me of Darrell Hammond towards the end – Kenan is evidently getting pretty tired. I wouldn’t be surprised if season 40 was his last.

Honourable mentions: N/A.

Best featured player: Kyle Mooney.

For every big goofy celebrity joke and pop culture reference, there has always been a few people in SNL‘s history that have thrived to keep the show weird. Kyle Mooney is one of them – and this season has been so much better for it. Highlight after highlight of bizarre, surrealist and absurdist sketches (often with partner Beck Bennett) have brought countless episodes up from good to great. When the revolution comes, Mooney will be leading the way with an awkward smirk.

Honourable mentions: Beck Bennett, Sasheer Zamata, Mike O’Brien.

Worst featured player: John Mihiser.

Oh dear. This is going to be a messy break-up, isn’t it? Look, John: You had some potential there for a second. Remember that dance scene with Lady Gaga? That was all-time, dude. But that’s one sketch out of one show of an entire year. This just isn’t going to work out. I’m so sorry. It’s not you, it’s us.

Honourable mentions: Noel Wells, Brooks Wheelan.

Best former cast cameo: Fred Armisen.

Despite only being gone for a year, Fred is just down the way from the SNL studio; working on Late Night with Seth Meyers. So any chance we get to see him again is always welcome. He provided two great cameos this season – appearing with Vanessa Bayer as Vladimir Putin’s best friends from growing up; as well as a fleeting, brilliant, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it return as David Patterson. If you saw it, you saw it.

Honourable mentions: Will Ferrell, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph.

Best cameo: Barry Gibb.

What divine intelligence would allow for Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake to reunite for not only the final SNL of 2013, but perhaps the final Barry Gibb Talk Show ever given the death of dear, sweet Robin. And what better way to end it by getting the man himself out for a bit of a dance at the end? Sure, it was an all-too-brief moment, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t make me laugh and giggle like an idiot. Talkin’ it up forever.

Honourable mentions: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jon Hamm, Liam Neeson.

Worst cameo: Zooey Deschanel.

I can deal with Franco – he even appeared in a brilliant sketch later on this episode. Tay-Tay? Any time of the week. But there was no reason for Deschanel to show up and do her dazzled-frog look. At least she didn’t play her uke.

Honourable mentions: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Miley Cyrus.

Best digital short: Flirty.

Mooney is finally allowed some proper cross-over with the main cast as he strikes up an exceptionally awkward romance with Bayer. Not only really, really funny; but also strangely sweet. I think that sums up Mooney’s contributions to the show really well, actually.

Honourable mentions: Dyke & Fats, Girls Promo, Boy Dance Party.

Worst digital short: Dongs All Over the World.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love it when the ladies of SNL come together. But if I wanted that in season 39, I’d have watched Twin Bed. Not this shit. Also, who the fuck in the writers’ room was thinking “Mmm… needs more Icona Pop?”

Honourable mentions: White Christmas, What Does My Girl Say, Dragon Babies.

Best live sketch: Heshy: Career Week Speaker.

If there was an award for most underrated cast member, I’d give it to Nasim Pedrad in a heartbeat. This had the potential to be her true breakout character and it was given next to no love, apart from a small reprise towards the end of the season with a very game Charlize Theron. The timing, the movement, the accent, even the quick cuts to Mike O’Brien in character as her son… I absolutely loved this. Not a great deal came close to entertaining me nearly as much this season.

Honourable mentions: Guess That Phrase, Black Ops, Bill Brasky.

Worst live sketch: Undercover Sharpton.

Yeah… anyone want to cover this one? Any idea what in all of fuck happened here?

Honourable mentions: Murder Mystery, Oliver, Three Wise Men.

Best Weekend Update character: Jebediah Atkinson.

A star is born. This may be one of the single best Weekend Update characters of the last 10 years. Killam is consistently on fire in the role of the 19th-century critic; going all out on every one of his targets. Even minor slip-ups and ad-libs have provided some of the biggest laughs of the season. More, please. NEXT!

Honourable mentions: Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy, Bruce Chandling, Angela Merkel.

Best recurring sketch character: Mr. Patterson.

Beck Bennett isn’t just Kyle Mooney’s right-hand man – he’s a creative force in his own right; and that is no clearer anywhere else than when he becomes Mr. Patterson, the boss of the company with the body of a baby. His physical commitment to the role is astounding, perfectly detailed and amazingly funny. It’s such a simple idea, but one that could shape the rest of Bennett’s time with SNL. The future’s here – and it’s a big, big baby.

Honourable mentions: Ex-Porn Stars, Kimye, Shallon.