The Top 100 Songs of 2018, Part Five: 20 – 1

Welcome to the show! The votes have been tallied (they were all mine), the jury (me) has decided, and the people (maybe like three of you) are hotly anticipating what’s to come. So, here we are. The top 20 songs of 2018. Of course, don’t forget one, two, three and four before you go through the boss level.

See you next time – same DJY time, same DJY channel.

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20. Luca Brasi – Let it Slip

Luca Brasi emerged out of the east coast of Tasmania nearly a decade ago with a mantra that has long been ascribed on countless bodies: “Empty bottles, full hearts and no regrets.” How curious, then, that the lead single from the band’s fourth album speaks openly of vocalist Tyler Richardson’s regrets: “I could have burned a little brighter,” he sings. “I could have shone a little more.” “Slip” is a song about craving human connection and knowing you have to hit rock bottom in order to get back to the top. It’s as human and full-hearted as Brasi’s ever been.

19. Denise Le Menice – Heart

There’s a moment towards the end of the music video for “Heart” in which Denise (AKA Ali Flintoff) grabs a fistful of a heart-shaped cake and digs in. In a way, that’s what listening to “Heart” feels like – it’s such a sugar-rush, you just know listening to it can’t be good for your teeth. It’s a song centred on head-voice girl-talk, shimmering guitar layers and glassy, heaven’s-gate keyboards. It’s soft in the centre and melts in your mouth – one of the finest indulgences of the calendar year as far as Australian music is concerned. Let them eat cake.

18. Basement – Disconnect

Andrew Fisher has gone on record saying “Disconnect” was the lynchpin as far as writing Basment’s fourth album, Beside Myself, went. This was the song, he believed, that made the band unshakably confident in the direction they were taking. Listening intently, it’s easy to see where they got that confidence from – it bursts right out of the gates and makes its presence felt, brimming with vivacity and conviction in its delivery. Truth be told, it could be the single best… well, single, that Basement have ever made. Bonus points for that “prodigal son/what have you done” rhyme, too. Genius.

17. Laura Jean – Girls on the TV

A song like “Girls on the TV” does so much speaking for itself that writing about it almost feels like a disservice. It needs to be heard to be properly experienced. How does one describe the feeling you get as the devastating, confessional storytelling of Laura Jean cuts through the disco-lite backbeat and the layers of Casio on top? Is there a word that sums up the way one’s brain reacts as you attempt to decipher which parts are true and which parts are artistic license? Whatever happened to Ricki? Maybe she’s still out there. Her soul is still dancing.

16. WAAX – Labrador

WAAX play a lot of festivals where, if you swiped right on @lineupswithoutmales, they would be the headlining band. When vocalist Maz DeVita sings “You’re a girl/And a girl isn’t welcome in here,” you can cut the sardonic tension with a knife. Rough translation: “You think I don’t know the shit you people say?” Moments later, she’s barking and biting back in the form of their most mosh-ready chorus – one that cleaned up at every last festival they played in 2018. If WAAX can’t earn your respect, they’re going to pull it out of you with their bare teeth.

15. Courtney Barnett – Nameless, Faceless

This song shouldn’t have been so fucking relevant in 2018. A Margaret Atwood quote shouldn’t hit home so bluntly 36 years after it was first published. We shouldn’t be living in such a climate of abuse, trolling, bullying, harassment and even murder that overwhelmingly targets women. As great and as vital and as important as this song is, it wouldn’t exist in the first place if we were all just a little fucking kinder to one another. Enough said, really.

14. Troye Sivan – My My My!

In the dead territory of early January, it felt like waiting for new seasons of your favourite shows to kick off. That’s when “My My My!” arrived, and in turn made an impact as the first big pop event of 2018. The thing sounds like a complete blockbuster – it’s like a clubbier queer millennial rework of “All Night Long,” and that’s entirely a compliment. Sivan, once the doe-eyed and innocent YouTuber, is all manhood here – take that however you please, gents. It’s confident, it’s sexy, it’s fun and it’s cool – what a way to shake the cobwebs.

13. Pianos Become the Teeth – Love on Repeat

On the last Pianos Become the Teeth record, 2014’s Keep You, vocalist Kyle Durfey was still immersed in negative space and cutting emotionally-raw monuments out of the darkness. On Wait for Love, Durfey is blinded by the light: “What in you gets me so carried away?” he asks of his betrothed, sung so slowly and with such calculation it’s as if he’s figuring out what these words mean again. “Love on Repeat” is an upward spiral from a band that’s carved a career on the downbeat, and its resplendent post-hardcore beauty simply cannot be contained. Live, love, repeat. That simple.

12. The 1975 – TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME

Matt Healy, like most modern pop/rock frontmen, is a 21st century digital boy. One of his toys is the internet, and it’s compelled him to the point of literally naming an album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. Funnily, on what ends up being the band’s most computerised single to date – electronic drums, AutoTune, walls of keyboards – Healy and co. manage to hook themselves onto a key part of the human condition in the modern age. It certainly helps that they give it a dancehall swing and a mirrorball glow, too. The 1975 never sounded more 2018.

11. Ariana Grande – No Tears Left to Cry

What kind of year has it been for Ari? One she’ll never forget, that’s for certain. One of triumph, of tragedy, of hope, of despair and of absolute resilience. It all began with “No Tears” – which, as beginnings go, is a pretty incredible place to start. Although ultimately lost in the shuffle due to the success of “thank u, next,” this endearing pop twirl served as one of the more bold and defiant moments on radio for the entire year. “Can’t stop now,” she insists in multi-tracked syncopation. None would dare stand in her path. No woman, no cry.

10. Anderson .Paak – Bubblin

At first, it was a shock to look through the announced tracklist of Oxnard, Anderson .Paak’s game-six victory lap from the tail-end of 2018. Where the fuck was “Bubblin”? It had come charging out of the gates months prior, all alpha-male bravado and rap-god swagger. It was the hardest .Paak had ever gone on record – not a smooth rnb hook to be seen nor heard. Surely if you’re putting out an album that same year, you’d want the best song you’ve ever made on your own to be among its ranks?

As it turned out, Oxnard was a whole different vibe entirely – such is the nature of .Paak’s creativity. Had “Bubblin” been wedged onto the record, it would not have played well with the others. It’s a song with a life of its own, and no traditional format could have housed it. From its car-chase open to the tense, grandiose swell of its string samples, “Bubblin” made its intentions clear. It came to chew bubblegum and kick arse – and anyone who heard it knew exactly how much bubblegum .Paak had left.

9. Drake – Nice for What

“I WAN’ KNOW WHO MOTHERFUCKIN’ REPRESENTIN’ IN HERE TONIGHT!” Like last year’s chart-topping “Passionfruit,” the first voice we hear on “Nice for What” isn’t Drake’s, but someone else. In this instance, it’s Big Freedia – the self-proclaimed “queen of bounce,” who has dominated the club scene with her towering figure and undeniable stage presence for over a decade now. When she speaks, you listen – and when she wants to know who is motherfuckin’ representin‘ in here tonight, you just know she’s going to find out.

So, a quick roll call. Lauryn Hill is representin’ in here tonight – that’s her hook from “Ex-Factor” on a near-chipmunk speed that’s sampled and looped throughout. In the year that her legendary debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill turned 20, the sample felt like a timely reminder of the record’s legacy and its surviving emotional core. Murda Beatz and Blaqnmild are representin’ in here tonight – they’re responsible for this bassy, chopped-soul beat that was designed with bitchin’ systems in mind. When the samples go into overdrive in the song’s second half, it feels like fire is coming off it.

Of course, lest we forget Drake himself is representin’ in here tonight. It’s one of his strongest flows on all of Scorpion‘s exhaustive runtime, mixing his sharp raps with his knack for interwoven melody to deliver something quintessentially his. It’s his vision that brings “Nice for What” together, and in turn makes it a career-best moment. If you don’t know, now you know.

8. Troye Sivan – Bloom

There was a time when many male popstars were “confirmed bachelors” or that were described as “tight-lipped about their sexuality.” Troye Sivan is part of a generation where that hasn’t really come into play – it’s something that has been part and parcel of his image ever since he became famous. Rather than hurt his career, it’s rocketed him – the so-called “pink dollar” has turned him into a millionaire all before hitting 25. This is where the title track to Sivan’s big-business second album comes into play – a song that isn’t hiding itself away in the corner shamefully or remaining tight-lipped about a damn thing.

“I’ve been saving this for you, baby,” offers Sivan in a careless whisper over the thud of toms and wafting synth that is so airy it could float away at any moment. Soon, the floor gives way to the chug of electric bass and a gated snare that could take off Phil Collins’ head if it swung any harder. Sure, Sivan has even less right to be nostalgic for the 80s as he does the 90s, but he feels right at home in this musical environment – it feels like an homage to Bronski Beat, queer icons of yesteryear that paved the way for Sivan to be the young man he is today. “Bloom” is all the radiance of a rainbow without ever having to put up with a drop of rain. It’s here, it’s queer, get used to it.

7. Ashley McBryde – Radioland

On its largest and most obvious scale, “Radioland” is a song about Nashville. It’s about the dreamers that come there to make it big, stepping off a bus with their guitar case in hand and looking up at the skyline that Dylan so mythologised some 50 years ago now. On its smallest and most intimate scale, however, “Radioland” is a song about Ashley McBryde. She’s one of American country’s newest emerging stars, scoring big support slots for genre heavyweights like Eric Church and fulfilling dreams like playing the Grand Ole Opry since the release of her major-label debut Girl Going Nowhere. Before all of that, though, she was just “five years old with a hairbrush microphone.” All the key moments of her life were linked back to discovering her musical heroes and her favourite songs from the magic of radio – which, in turn, made her want to be a musician herself.

McBryde’s story in “Radioland” is direct and specific in its references, from the radio host (the late Casey Kasem) to the car in question (a Chevrolet). At the same time, though, it’s such a human feeling that was felt by so many of a certain age that it’s easy to insert yourself into the picture. There’s also a particular electricity and urgency to McBryde’s delivery that gives this song a bit more oomph than your average country radio playlist-filler – hell, give this a couple of tweaks and it could be a lost Gaslight Anthem single, and that’s entirely a compliment. “There ain’t a dream you can’t dial in,” McBryde promises in the song’s indelible chorus. If there’s one thing “Radioland” is about more than anything, it’s not letting your dreams just be dreams. There’s a whole world out there for the taking – and that’s not bad for a girl goin’ nowhere.

6. Kacey Musgraves – High Horse

Just as the women of country have never been afraid of getting their hands dirty, they’ve also never been afraid to dress to the nines and lower the mirrorball. “High Horse” is the centre of the country-pop Venn diagram, taking ample amounts from both without upsetting a balance. Most artists that have fallen into this category usually end up just ditching their country elements entirely and transmogrifying into pop giants – here’s looking at you, Tay-Tay and Florida Georgia Line. Kacey, on the other hand, has never forgotten her roots – the album “High Horse” comes from is titled Golden Hour, which alludes to the time of day that the sun sets but to her tiny Texan birthplace (population 200). As far as her music has progressed and as much as she’s branched out creatively, you won’t see her records shifting from the Country section of the record store anytime soon.

Think of “High Horse” as a tribute to the more ambitious efforts in the history of country music. The so-called “countrypolitan” sound, which matched southern drawls with orchestral fanfare. The crossover of Dolly Parton and Shania Twain to pop radio. The tried-and-true kiss-off song, all sass and finger-snap confidence that can cut someone down to size faster than you can play a C major. Musgraves takes all of this into battle as “High Horse” locks into its groove and comes out swinging, and she arrives on the other end of it without even so much as a smudge of her make-up. Critics from either side of the fence could hop off their titular steed and find themselves some common ground on “High Horse”’s dancefloor. There’s room for everyone. Y’all come back now, y’hear?

5. Flowermouth – Gown

“Hold on/We can make it.” Now if that wasn’t something you needed to hear in 2018, then you could well have been in the wrong year entirely. This standalone single from Perth’s Flowermouth was a light in the darkness for most of 2018. Its bright, jangly chords burst from the speakers, the hi-hats splashing like the first dive into the pool for the summer to come. That’s not to suggest that “Gown” is at all footloose and fancy-free, though – there’s an underlying tension that never quite resolves, which makes it all the more engaging to listen to. The 2:34 runtime gives it instant replay value, too – you’ll want to make the most of your time listening to what “Gown” has to offer, and no doubt want to frequently return to it.

Its short-burst nature recalls Teenage Fanclub; its major/minor contrasts and focused melodies recall Jimmy Eat World. Even with these clear comparison points, however, it’s evident that Flowermouth are on their own path – and if you’ve shown any interest in the emo revival either here or abroad, you’ll be wise to follow them down.

4. Mitski – Nobody

It’s Mitski’s party, and she’ll cry if she wants to. As it turns out, she really, really wants to – her music has a reputation that precedes it for being highly emotional, deeply pensive and painstakingly introspective. No-one lays it on the line quite like your best American girl does, and never was that more apparent than on album number five, Be the Cowboy. Specifically, we have to focus in on the album’s second single, “Nobody,” which more or less served as a memetic red flag were it played on repeat (as pointed out by the great Allison Gallagher). People may have made plenty of jokes and viral niche tweets about “Nobody,” but if we could be serious for a minute: This song fucking spoke to people, man.

Essentially a 21st century “Lovefool” without the happy resolve, “Nobody” simultaneously sighs and exalts through its bouts of romantic desperation and subtle sociopolitical commentary. The guitar chirps and the hi-hats swat down a Saturday Night Fever groove, but spiralling away in the centre of it all is Mitski herself. In any other vocalist’s hands, the pain and crushing loneliness of “Nobody” would be pure melodrama and maybe even camp. Not so with her, though – no-one is more believable when they sing lines like “I just want to feel alright” and “Still nobody wants me.” That’s not even touching the titular word, which is sung so much that it could have easily lost its sense of meaning. Again, not a chance of that happening with Mitski at the wheel – if anything, every repetition sticks the knife in a little bit more. By the time you’re up to the nightmarish second key-change in the song’s dizzying conclusion, you feel as though you’ve gone through that terrifying tunnel in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The only difference? “Nobody” isn’t a world of pure imagination. It’s as real as it gets.

3. 5 Seconds of Summer – Youngblood

Around the time of their second album, 5 Seconds of Summer had a cover story in Rolling Stone – every band’s dream, naturally. It was spread around on account of it featuring an admittedly-bizarre, hilarious story involving a botched attempt at co-writing with Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger – Google it if you’re so inclined. If you want to get a real idea of where 5SOS’ minds were at, however, skip to the end. In a moment of kids being kids, they decided to pull a prank on their management by hopping out the window of their dressing room and pretending they’d done a runner. “We could have ran,” said guitarist Michael Clifford. “We could have ran far away.”

There was almost certainly more to that than meets the eye. Think about it – these were children that were swept up in international stardom and immediately put on a pedestal to become the world’s next boy band sensation. It’s a far cry from matinees at the Annandale Hotel, that’s for absolutely certain. By the time they were done with their sophomore slump – the antithetically-titled Sounds Good, Feels Good – that desire to run could have only felt more present than ever before.

“Youngblood” is the sound of 5 Seconds of Summer hitting the ground running. It’s the sound of boys becoming men, and men becoming certified global popstars. The tussled-hair mall-punks they once were had to die in order for this song to live – and it’s undeniably a song that lives its life to the absolute fullest.

The song is propelled along by a rock shuffle – a simple structural move that allows the song to swing a little while still maintaining a standard 4/4 time signature. A music teacher might explain it thus: Instead of your usual one, two, three, four, it’s this: one-and-a two-and-a three-and-a four-and-a. Examples range from Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” all the way to Battles’ “Atlas.” Even something as simple as this is one of the largest deviations from the norm that 5SOS have ever committed to record – and we haven’t even gotten into what the expatriate Sydneysiders are doing sonically.

A love-lorn minor-key call from the darkness, the song dips its guitars in reverb and sheen as it simultaneously gives the bass a steely, bold presence. Thundering tom rolls from Ashton Irwin add a human touch in-between extended drum programming, while vocalist Luke Hemmings gives the performance of his career up-front. He’s all of 22 years old and sounds like he’s at the tail-end of a bitter divorce after a decade-long relationship – how on earth he was able to muster that sort of weariness and exhaustion on this vocal take, God only knows. The most important part is that you believe him – and, by extension, you believe “Youngblood.” You believe in 5 Seconds of Summer.

“We could have ran. We could have ran far away.”

“Youngblood” runs for its life.

2. IDLES – Colossus

You can hear “Colossus” coming from a mile away. Of course you can – it’s called “Colossus,” for fuck’s sake. It snarls, it prowls, it stomps, it creeps, it seethes, it slithers, it lurks. It goes – and it goes and it goes. It was probably the most menacing song released in 2018 – and, after the year that we all had, you probably couldn’t have asked for a more fitting soundtrack.

Primitive in nature and brutish in execution, “Colossus” builds a droning soundscape through its churning drop-C guitars and the swelling, scattered drums. Every cycle feels as though it’s pounding into your skull just a little bit harder each time, as frontman Joe Talbot drives home intense lyrical imagery over a mournful blues scale vocal melody. Perhaps no other frontman in rock right now could couple such a unique line as “I’ve drained my body full of pins” with an even more unique line in “I’ve danced til dawn with splintered shins.” There’s so much to take in when you hear it the first time, it’s still marinating when it’s repeated in the second verse. As a whole, IDLES’ Joy as an Act of Resistance was one of the year’s most quotable LPs – and you needn’t look further than its opening number as evidence.

The song’s double-time finale is less the firing of Chekov’s gun and more a bloody massacre. It’s meant to be screamed along to rather than sung, and moshed to rather than danced to. It’s pure catharsis, taking one of the year’s most steady, tense builds and promptly throwing it out the window into oncoming traffic. If you’re not left breathless and dizzy after the full 5:34 of “Colossus” has passed, you’re doing the damn thing wrong. Go again until it goes – and it goes and it goes.

1. Childish Gambino – This is America

Childish Gamino is dead. Long live Childish Gambino.

Donald Glover began rapping under the name – taken from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator – a decade and change ago, cockily spitting high-pitched raps over the likes of Adele, Grizzly Bear and Sleigh Bells. Over time, it morphed into something nigh-on unrecognisable from its beginnings, incorporating elements of dance music, soul, funk and rnb along the way. With the release of the groovy “Awaken, My Love!” in late 2016, pared with the announcement that Glover would soon be retiring the jersey, few expected Glover’s next move to have anything to do with the intense hip-hop with which he made his name.

When we first pressed play on the video for “This is America,” we were lead in with an African-style chant, shaking percussion, finger-picked acoustic guitar and Glover’s sweet, harmonious opening line: “We just wanna party/Party just for you.” If ever a listener has been lulled into a false sense of security, it was in this moment. So, this is how Childish Gambino ends – not with a bang, but with a whimper. As it turned out, we literally could not have been more wrong – it was around this time the first gunshot went off, and “This is America” truly began.

Childish Gambino is dead. Long live Childish Gambino.

“This is America” is the sound of an artist with nothing to lose. What are these motherfuckers gonna do – end his music career? Dude’s in the fucking Lion King remake. No boycott from some sweaty Fox News troglodyte is going to derail this singular moment in Glover’s extensive body of work. “This is America” is an unstoppable force and an immovable object, all in one. It rattles PA speakers the same way it rattles proverbial birdcages. It simultaneously rages against his native country’s obsession with guns and has no issue with dropping some sucker dead on the spot. It’s dissonant and subversive; celebratory and defamatory; a blaxploitation film and a dystopian horror. Glover has never released a song even remotely similar before, and it’s looking more and more likely that he never will again.

Childish Gambino is dead. Childish Gambino is fucking dead. Long live Childish Gambino. If he’s going down, every last one of us is going down with him.

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Thanks so much for reading, hope you enjoyed the list.

Before I post the playlist, some quick stats.

47% of the list is by or features Australian artists
43% of the list is by or features at least one non-male artist
37% of the list is by or features at least one non-white artist

The multiple entries were as follows:
Four entries: The 1975 (92, 49, 22, 12)
Three entries: Courtney Barnett (68, 36, 15), Troye Sivan (61, 14, 8), Drake (58, 37, 9)
Two entries: Baker Boy (100, 67), Denise Le Menice (96, 19), Kanye West (95, 48), BROCKHAMPTON (88, 76), Chance the Rapper (82, 41), Moaning Lisa (80, 43), Joyce Manor (79, 60), Dua Lipa (77, 30), Basement (73, 18), Luca Brasi (55, 20), Aunty Donna (52, 47), IDLES (44, 2), Post Malone (39, 29), Mitski (35, 4), Charlie Puth (32, 23), 5 Seconds of Summer (31, 3)

And now, enjoy the DJY100 in its entirety!

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Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part Five: 10 – 1

Hey y’all! Well, how about this, huh? Here be the ten best rekkids of the year done gone past. Huge thanks for seeing through list season with me. Catch y’all next time around!

50 – 41
40 – 31
30 – 21
20 – 11

10. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt
Spotify || Rdio

Life isn’t all blue jeans and white t-shirts. The Gaslight Anthem have finally escaped the small town that almost killed them and have wound up strangers in a strange land on their fifth album. Get Hurt is an exploration through unchartered waters and foreign territory, a much-needed break from the comfort zone that, regardless of the quality of outcome, could well have killed this band had they remained within its confines.

Certainly, it wasn’t as if there was some drastic detour into acid jazz or anything of the sort – after all, as Brian Fallon himself sings at one juncture, “I still love rock & roll/I still call somebody ‘baby.’” There is a stretching of boundaries here, however, that is indicative of a prosperous future beyond nights with the radio and Maryanne. Get Hurt is the sound of Gaslight beginning again.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Stay Vicious, Get Hurt, Break Your Heart.

WATCH:

9. Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear
Spotify || Rdio

Sia Furler, for a time, was the ghost of pop charts past. Her writing credits and, if listening closely, her unmistakable voice, infiltrated dozen of singles from some of the biggest names in the industry. It’s a life that could well have made a sustainable living for the rest of her days. The call of work under her own name, however – on hold for several years at this point – eventually grew too strong.

There were stipulations: No touring, no media campaign, no public appearances. It was a fair compromise, however, when in return we received her greatest LP since 2004’s spotless Colour the Small One. Marrying her intrinsic, introspective songwriting with the sensibilities gained from her double-life in mainstream pop, Fear allowed us to see behind the blonde bob wig. We may not have seen her face all year, but this allowed for something greater – we saw her heart.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Elastic Heart, Big Girls Cry, Chandelier.

WATCH:

8. Die! Die! Die! – S W I M
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

An exercise in irony: The definitive album from a veteran band has its title based on an online acronym for “someone who isn’t me.” Truth be told, this is an album could not have come from any other band – after over a decade sharpening and refining their throttled, scorched-earth take on noise-heavy post-punk, all roads that Die! Die! Die! have travelled have ultimately lead to S W I M’s creation.

It snarls, scratches and seethes through envy, paranoia and disconnect – in other words, it’s a decidedly ugly, ruthlessly aggressive listen. It’s not user-friendly or accessible, of course. Die! Die! Die! have never been as such before. The difference is that they have never sounded so vital and purposeful in the execution of their ideas as they do here and now.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Angel, Get Hit, Out of Mind.

LISTEN:

7. La Dispute – Rooms of the House
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

A house is not a home. That doesn’t mean that it never has been, of course. Finding the house that was once a home – your home – can trigger so many memories, stories, truths and once-faded thoughts. This is conceptually explored – with considerable depth, it must be added – on La Dispute’s third studio album.

The hyper-literacy and Jordan Dreyer’s foreboding poetry that weaved its way through previous releases not only recurs on the album, but arguably latches onto its strongest subject matter to date. Each room sparks something different, allowing the protagonist to reflect on how much has changed since the transition from home to house. It’s often not for the better, but it’s perhaps this that keeps one hanging on every single word. Rooms of the House is a creative work in every sense.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Woman (In Mirror), For Mayor in Splitsville, Stay Happy There.

LISTEN:

6. Pinch Hitter – When Friends Die in Accidents
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

A chance encounter. A dead-end job. A fear of flying. An untimely demise. A sudden realisation. A friend in need. These things, while separate entities from a contextual standpoint, are tangled together in the half-hour-and-change that comprises the debut album from this unexpected team-up.

While many came to know the project from Nick van Breda and Dave Drayton from their live shows – simply two men, two voices and, yes, two banjos – Accidents allows the two to flourish in a wider spectrum. Their musings and noodlings are guided by xylophone (“Nine-to-Fine”), flutes (“All of a Sudden”) and even typewriters (“They Said This Would Stop” – no shit). It’s all tied up with the four-part title track that weaves in and out of the tracklisting – and its final blow is still as devastating long after the first time you hear it.

A folk album without guitar? It’s possible. Anything’s possible. Everything’s matter. Everything matters.

THREE TOP TRACKS: All of a Sudden, Part IV, Nine-to-Fine.

LISTEN:

5. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World
Spotify || Rdio

Back in a time when the American president was public enemy number one, Kanye West was a debut-album rookie and dance-punk was as legitimate as any rock subgenre, one guitar-less duo ruled over their six-stringed contemporaries with a half-hour of power known as You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. It was cemented by ear-splitting live shows, instant cult status and an unforgettable performance on Conan with none other than Max Weinberg sitting in.

It would take two short years for everything to fall apart for Death From Above 1979, and that – so we thought – was that. Several contributing factors lead to the band’s eventual reunion, but the most prevalent ended up being unfinished business. Despite becoming quote-unquote “adults” in the time they were apart, there was still an agenda to make loud, visceral and ripsnorting rock & roll.

That’s where The Physcial World comes in – a rarity insofar as being a sequel that not only matches up to its predecessor, but threatens to rival it so often it may well swallow the thing whole. Long live Death.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Right On, Frankenstein!, White is Red, Cheap Talk.

WATCH:

4. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Spotify || Rdio

Were you told about Benji on paper, one would rightly distance themselves from it as soon as humanly possible. Just think – a late-forties dude mumbling about his parents, his dead uncle, various sexual encounters, James Gandolfini and his home state of Ohio. What could possibly be appealing about that?

It could well be argued that Benji, as an album, succeeds on account of these traits and not in spite of them. Mark Kozelek has been known in the past to allow his simple, sombre style of songwriting and storytelling to uplift ordinary things, places and people into the extraordinary. Jim Wise sounds like an odd, weird dude. On “Jim Wise,” however, he somehow turns into an endlessly-fascinating character. The same can be said of Kozelek’s second cousin, his drummer and even his dear mother (“My mother is 75/She’s the closest friend I have ever had.”) They are – or were, in some cases – just regular people until Sun Kil Moon reels them into his world.

Whether you find him driving to a Postal Service show or tripping out on Led Zeppelin in his younger days, Mark Kozelek somehow makes the cold all the more inviting. Benji is a journey – a long, exhausting and depressing one; but one any self-respecting music fan should take at some point in their lives.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes, I Love My Dad, Carissa.

LISTEN:

3. Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were
Spotify || Rdio

“Has the world gone mad?” opines Ben Howard mere minutes into the first track on his second album, before adding a further line of questioning: “Or is it me?” By the end of I Forget Where We Were, you won’t have an answer. Hell, you won’t even have one after a dozen spins. As it progresses, the album poses far more questions than it provides answers or traces of resolve.

Perhaps it’s this that makes it such an intriguing prospect – from a songwriting perspective, it allows Howard to less scratch below the surface and more dig down as far as humanly possible. Besides bearing his name, precious little else lies on the common ground between Forget and its predecessor – here, we work through varying degrees of light and shade; love and loss; truth and lies. It takes you to points where you fear you may never return – points you feel, as a listener, you may well not be entirely prepared to go.

Herein lies the rich reward of I Forget where We Were. Ben Howard has evolved from being a mere singer-songwriter – here, he has become a journeyman.

THREE TOP TRACKS: End of the Affair, I Forget Where We Were, Conrad.

WATCH:

2. Pianos Become the Teeth – Keep You
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Ray Charles, an r&b star, once made a country album. Kanye West, a rap phenomenon, once made an album where he sang for its entirety. Radiohead, at one point the most promising prospect in guitar music, once made an album where they barely touched the things. More than once, now you mention it. What is this all leading to? It’s simple, really: The notion that risks should not only be taken, but actively encouraged. Who knows what awaits on the other side? Perhaps true greatness.That’s what happened on Keep You.

Pianos Become the Teeth – an emo band in the true sense, bypassing the mall to arrive at Orchid’s discography – made an album where their harsh screams and dissonant guitars were traded in for what are known in hardcore circles as “clean” vocals and a collective dip into the waters of the indie and post-rock spectrums. It was an all-or-nothing movie – make or break, sink or swim. The Baltimore natives risked everything and won it back tenfold.

Not only is it the finest of their three long-players, it also serves as a shining beacon from their immediate scene – a message to the outer reaches detailing the adventurous versatility at work within it. For an album whose final line is a cry of “Let’s say nothing some more,” Keep You says more in its actions than words ever could.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Repine, April, Old Jaw.

LISTEN:

1. Sleaford Mods – Divide and Exit
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Around ten years ago, in an interview with NME, Carl Barât was asked his favourite album of the year as part of a generic series of questions asked of several musicians. Barât chose A Grand Don’t Come for Free by The Streets, reasoning that the album was a reflection of England that many may not necessarily want to see or hear about.

This is being brought up a decade on for two core reasons. The first of which is to sound the trumpets to signal the arrival of a new outfit less holding up a mirror to contemporary British society and more smashing said mirror and holding up a jagged shard, just to feel the pain that the pricks of blood bring. The second is admittedly a little more petulant – it’s because the reference and the people and publication which it contains would be immediately be despised by James Williamson, the spoken-word half of Sleaford Mods who barks, grunts, prophesises and spits through every last thing that displeases him.

It’s a cruel, frustrating world in which he lives; one that constantly brands him a fool and a ne’er-do-well when it should be acknowledging him as the smartest guy in the room. “I can’t believe the rich still exist,” he laments within the album’s opening minutes. “Let alone run the fucking country.” It’s said through fuzz and distortion, and yet it lands with all the clarity of being yelled directly into your ear. He may soapbox his way through several tracks (“Liveable Shit,” “Tweet Tweet Tweet”), but certain things slash through a raw nerve. He may seethe at an upper-class acquaintance he’s attempting to manipulate (“I’m a connoisseur!/I’ve conned you, sir!/I just wanked in your toilet!”) but his envy is quick to undo him entirely (“I want a house like this, how do I get it?/It’s beautiful! It’s fucking ridiculous!”).

There are layers of complications, deep-running waters of disarray and the throbbing pain of a hangover following another bottomless night in the sewerage of another disgusting city. Divide and Exit was the sound of the everyman’s demise, the death of the common people and the experiment starting over. Sleaford Mods might not want to change the world, nor is it looking specifically for a new England – and, yet, both are achieved and found, respectively, on Divide and Exit. A voice raised to its heights for years on end has finally shifted to the forefront and being paid the attention it deserves.

THREE TOP TRACKS: You’re Brave, Tied Up in Nottz, Liveable Shit.

LISTEN:

The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part Five: 20 – 1

201420

This, friends, is my first post for 2015 and it’s also where I leave you with yet another list – the ninth overall that I’ve made documenting my top 100 songs of the year. Before I send you off, make sure you’ve caught up on parts one through four:

100 – 81
80 – 61
60 – 41
40 – 21

You all sorted there? Awesome. Hey, thank you so much for reading through and checking this all out. Thanks to my friends, fellow writers and all the bands and artists that feature here. Quite figuratively couldn’t have done it without you all. Same time next year, yeah?

***

20. Bleachers – I Wanna Get Better

Jack Antonoff is the kind of guy that could easily be seen as cool by association – he’s one-third of indie darlings cum chart-crushers fun., as well as longtime partner of Gen Y superstar Lena Dunham. Don’t let this context misconstrue him at all, however: He has absolutely no issue with holding his own. Look at this breakout smash, which sees Antonoff take the reins of a stuttered piano sample, arena-rock guitar and a chock-a-block chorus that almost threatens to cave in on itself before reinforcing its foundations. An anthem for overcoming odds and being the damn best you can be.

19. Ted Danson with Wolves – Bohemian (I Don’t) Like You

Maybe vocalist/saxophonist Nick Levy paid way too much attention in his high-school science classes. Maybe it was the result of a parental sex talk gone wrong. Hell, the guy could just well have a remarkable imagination matched with a witty sense of humour. It really is anyone’s guess when it comes to uncovering exactly how “Bohemian” came to be created. Whatever the case, the world is certainly a better place for its existence; as is a particular season that also serves as the song’s triumphantly-screamed opening word. Sex, nature and The Dandy Warhols. What more could you ask for, really?

18. The Smith Street Band – Surrender

For someone like Wil Wagner, singing a line like “I’m not from around here” is a shockingly confessional change from a guy who has centred entire songs – nay, entire releases – around singular and familiar surroundings. “Surrender” comes somewhere between Show A and Show B, off the proverbial beaten track and directly into the fire. It brims with the brightness of the band’s sun-kissed guitars and the energy of Chris Cowburn’s impeccably-syncopated drum fills; and feels like home even though it’s approximately 1062 kilometres away. That’s the magic of The Smith Street Band for you, of course. Long may they run.

17. Slipknot – The Devil in I

“Where is your will, my friend?” As the words escape Corey Taylor’s mouth, atop shimmering guitar noise and gentle cymbal rushes, the line has conviction in its execution that very explicitly points toward its questioning being directed inward more than anything else. Indeed, introspect and open-wound pain are what guide “Devil,” which sports all the definitive traits of a classic within the band’s extensive repertoire. It marches along dutifully, playing to both the band’s knack for creating space and their knack for tearing it apart. Much like those bogan car stickers, “The Devil in I” justifies Slipknot’s existence. Step inside.

16. Pianos Become the Teeth – Repine

There is a true weariness in “Repine,” which ostensibly serves as the centrepiece of the script-flipping Keep You record. It’s the clearest in the pained, aching vocals, but it weaves its way through the bristling guitar patterns and the emphatic thud of the verses’ half-speed drum flams. A beacon of light peers through in the song’s refrain, in a manner befitting a crack in the roofing allowing for a ray of sunlight to emerge from the darkness. “Your wick won’t burn away,” it chants. It’s a hope against hope, and one prays that it resonates with the truth. Somehow. Someway. 

15. Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is confusing, distracting, disorienting. Love is winter, spring, summer and fall. Love is an artist’s entire body of work; and it’s a single word from a single line in a single song, poem or story. Love is everywhere and nowhere. Love is in every tear shed – out of happiness, out of sadness, out of anger. Love never runs on time. Love leads through the quietest places on earth through to the most crowded streets. Love is what you make it. With this in mind, “I Forget Where We Were” is a love song.

14. Babaganouj – Bluff

For a song with roughly a dozen lines of lyrics in it, as well as falling just shy of the three-minute mark, “Bluff” manages to achieve a remarkable amount. It’s practically equivalent to that biblical miracle of feeding five thousand people with merely a loaf of bread and some fish. So what gets it over the line? It appears to stem from bassist Hariette Pilbeam, venting over a once-hopeful relationship transmogrified into cyclical torture. The ultimate release that comes with her final vocal delivery indicates the song is just as much for her as it is the rest of us.

13. Georgia Maq – Footscray Station

There’s no filter to Georgia Macdonald. You simply cannot take what she does and switch it on and off. It’s a major discredit to one of this country’s most promising songwriters to suggest otherwise. This song is what one should point towards to validate the aforementioned claim of excellence: A ragged, honest waltz through lower-middle class life that also detours through mental health woes and fearless political shaming. Just know that some people will spend their entire lives waiting to write a song that amounts to even half the quality of “Footscray Station.” They will try and they will fail.

12. Young Fathers – Get Up

A lot has gone into the genetic makeup of this song. Its titular phrase has been reconceptualised by everyone from Bob Marley to R.E.M., while it also incorporates a very specific handclap pattern best known for its use in The Routers’ single “Let’s Go.” Lyrically, it drops into heaven and earth, Orwellian dystopia, revolution and debaucherous lifestyles. When it collectively shifts into its final form, however, “Get Up” belongs to Young Fathers and Young Fathers only. When the line of “You lose/I win” drops from out of nowhere, it may as well be a message – a warning – to their peers.

11. The Kite String Tangle – Arcadia

Björk once famously sang that “If you complain once more, you’ll meet an army of me.” On “Arcadia,” Danny Harley actualises it, although his admittedly feels somewhat less threatening than that of the Icelandic nymph’s. The song comes at a breaking point, where both parties have found no way out and past the point of return. It is guided by Harley’s private strikeforce of close harmony, wordless refrain and warm, lushly-painted arrangements. Rarely has the light at the end of the tunnel shone so brightly than within the confines of “Arcadia.” Here begins the true ascension to complete pop magnificence. 

10. Ben Howard – End of the Affair

Perhaps subtle is an odd term to transfix upon a song that quite figuratively lays out its explicit subject matter within its title. Yet, the grace of Ben Howard as both an understated vocalist and a truly prodigious guitar player allows for a quiet, focused stare into the demise. At least, it remains so for the song’s first half. When jazz brushes slip their way into the arrangement, the hunt is on.

Howard himself goes from keeping his cool to throwing it out the window with sharp, pained howls that emerge from the darkest corners of his being. “Affair” is an exhausting, treacherous journey. One must come prepared, certainly, but one must come along for it. There’s not an option otherwise.

9. Yoke – Burden

My yoke is easy and my burden is light.

– Matthew 11:28

Opening an uplifting, higher-plane post-pop number with the line “I’m miserable” is a beguiling paradox to begin with. Let’s push that out further from a contextual standpoint by pointing out that some of the smartest, most textured and accomplished pop music to emerge from Australia within the calendar year came from a former marketed teen star in Kyle Linahan; some ten years and change removed from his only charting single.

If that wasn’t enough, perhaps the most hated band of the year in U2 serves as a template-setter for the steely guitar work, reappropriating their influential stature. “Burden” may feel baffling in a way, but it’s an indelibly-marked foray into bright contrasts and big-city dreaming. Against all odds, it works. Take a look at it now.

8. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

There was no gentle breaking of the news that The New Pornographers were to return after a four-year absence, nor was there any mistaking exactly who it was busting down 2014’s doors with its major-chord slams, sprightly drums and wholly-triumphant “baa-baa-baa”s. They may be fifteen years into the game and trudging through their collective mid-forties, but there is no rust in the wheels for the Pornos.

It’s worth noting that “Brill Bruisers” served as their sixth album’s lead single, opening number and title track. It’s a pretty big deal to throw a triple-threat like that out into the world, something that needs to have a steady amount of confidence in its DNA in order to survive. Not only did “Bruisers” do just that, it flourished. Life’s only certainties are death, taxes and The New Pornographers making everything okay again.

7. Oslow – Blue on Blue

Oslow are the sound of Sydney. Not the Sydney that you may be accustomed to, of course, but theirs is the in sound from way out. Theirs are the friendly faces that both sift through the racks and plug in their amps at Black Wire and Beatdisc Records. They soundtrack carelessly-wasted days and long nights in both the inner and outer western suburbia.

They reflect a dissonance and greater dissatisfaction, but approach it with honesty and resolve rather than melodrama or superfluous subversion. “Blue on Blue,” much like “Desert Dog Rd.” before it, is a proud product of its environment. Oslow are the sound. Raise up your hands and sing along.

6. Cloud Nothings – I’m Not Part of Me

It’s easy to forget how young Dylan Baldi is. In spite of the very markedly clear leaps and bounds his project has taken in the last few years, the project’s origins stem from when he was barely out of high school. In turn, lyrics such as “I’m learning how to be here and nowhere else/How to focus on what I can do myself” begin to paint a clearer picture when one is reminded of the immediate fact. We’re still witnessing a work in progress when it comes to the young man behind the music.

It’s also easy to forget that Cloud Nothings officially became a trio in 2014, losing their lead guitarist and not seeking a replacement. There is enough activity within “I’m Not Part of Me”’s musical structure that there is easily enough work cut out for two guitars. The fact it’s all achieved by Baldi in the one go simply adds to the seemingly-endless fascination that he inspires as a creative force in the indie rock realm. The enigma develops and work continues.

5. TV on the Radio – Happy Idiot

As lyricists, TV on the Radio have been known to draw from the abstract to convey their point. Perhaps their best-known song contains a metaphor for sex using the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Earlier in their career, they spoke a loving relationship using the shocking imagery that came with the unforgettable line “I will be your ambulance/If you will be my accident.” Fast forward to present day, however, and they’re done beating around the bush.

“Since you left me, babe/It’s been a long way down” is a line seemingly straight out of the earliest development of blues; “I’m gonna bang my head through the wall/’Til I feel like nothing at all” is about as bluntly forthright as a lyric can possibly be. These, as well as a wall’s worth of quotable phrases and lyrics, are painted over churning bass, warped vocal samples and an incessant hi-hat and snare pattern. It’s more or less a new perspective to take the band’s ideas and symbolism from. It’s a different kind of different. It’s waving at cars. It’s numbed pain and new beginnings.

4. tUnE-yArDs – Water Fountain

You can argue all you wish, but as far as 2011 was concerned, its defining musical moment came from a wide-eyed, floor-tom-wielding woman covered in bizarre make-up and neon flare, screaming the big rhetorical question of “WHAT’S THE BIZNESS, YEAHHHHHHHH?” It was here that the project of Merrill Garbus properly shed its lo-fi, relatively-quiet skin and rebirthed into a widescreen procession of avant-garde indie-pop.

We pick up more or less where that single left off with “Water Fountain,” where we’ve been lead through a pathway of school-girl handclapping games, tinkling percussion and the wandering basslines of Nate Brenner, the project’s secret weapon.

Garbus finds the most obtuse angles in her surroundings and seeks them out for both her melodic and lyrical approach, exploring to depths that a lesser performer would outright fear. Every song feels like an adventure when you’re with tUnE-yArDs, and it’s always worth your while to let it get you off the damn couch and dancing with reckless abandon. “Water Fountain” has got you all in check. Woo-hah!

3. Hockey Dad – I Need a Woman

Make all the jokes you please about the collective ages of Hockey Dad contrasted with singing about women instead of girls. Let us not forget the teachings of our saviour Prince: “Women, not girls, they rule my world.”

Besides, who has time to deal with semantics when we’re dealing with the single most delectable slice of indie rock to emerge from Australia in the entire year? Guided by the production finesse of Big Scary’s Tom Iansek, “Woman” was the first time most were properly acquainted with the Windang natives (make your own Computer Town Australia references in your own time, locals).

It left a thoroughly lasting impression, spreading far beyond the initial reaches of the so-called leisure coast – and why not? You’ve seen, you’ve heard and you know by now, surely. It’s all bright blues and hazy greens, with an Instagram filter for a millennial twist and that extra tang. It’s a joy to listen to, every single time.

2. Sleaford Mods – Tied Up in Nottz

It’s more than that.

It’s more than the single best opening line on any song to be released at all in 2014 – and perhaps this entire decade. It’s more than the z (“zed, you cunt”) in the song title.

It’s more than the vitriolic poetry tagged all over its pulsing post-punk rhythm section, equal parts “Chickentown” and Original Pirate Material. It’s more than underclass war, seedy city underbellies and breakfast-cereal analogies for the collective unconscious (“Fucking shredded-wheat Kellogg’s cunts!”).

It’s more than a repulsive, kneejerk response to a tepid, predictable popscene. It’s not even the debate over whether miscrediting “The Final Countdown” to fucking Journey instead of fucking Europe was an intentional move or not.

This? This is what you need to hear.

It’s not what you want to hear, oh no.

If Sleaford Mods have anything in greater doubt about you, it’s your truth-handling abilities. They’ll make Jack Nicholson look like Mother fucking Teresa once they’re done with you. This is simply the home truths that have to be hit.

There could be endless fuck-about picking out more of the laureate lyricism of “Nottz,” but the only one that has to stick is this: “We are REAL.”

1. Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting on You)

By now, you have arrived to this part of the list, seen the above song title and video and immediately had this reaction.

It’s understandable and forgivable. But a copout? Absolutely no way.

There was never any question as to where this song would end up – not just here, but on countless similar lists looking back at both individual and collective preferences. “Seasons” transcended that. Our lists may as well have been referred to as “The Best 99 Songs of The Year That Weren’t Seasons.”

Those that heard it knew immediately. Those that saw it on that performance during what was to be David Letterman’s last full year on air knew immediately. Christ, Letterman himself knew immediately. It was more than just a shaken hand and a throw to Craig Ferguson when it ended – he grabbed Samuel T. Herring, still an unruly mess of sweat and passion, and offered up one of the year’s best quotes: “I’ll take all of that you got!”

He wasn’t just speaking on behalf of himself that night. He saw something greater in what was offered up that night. A band four albums into their career became the best newcomers of the year. A star was born. A song already full of life was somehow reaffirmed.Perhaps most importantly however, the broken heart that dangles on the song’s lyrical precipice was sewn back together.

The love grew bigger and bigger until it encapsulated radio, the blogosphere, endless parties and every last essential playlist. This was a song to centre one’s entire universe around.

This song wasn’t just the finest to be released in this year – this song was this year.

This was dancing in the face of fear.

Dancing to the end.

Dancing like no-one was watching.

Except everybody was – for they were doing just the same.

***

Tracks by female artists (artist/featured artist/vocalist is female): 26.

Tracks by Australian artists: 38.

Oldest person on the list: “Weird Al” Yankovic, 54 at the time of recording.

Youngest person on the list: Hockey Dad’s Billy Fleming, 17 at the time of recording.

Multiple entries:

Angus & Julia Stone (94, 90), Hockey Dad (87, 56, 3), The New Pornographers (77, 8), Death From Above 1979 (71, 60, 30), Future Islands (70, 1), Slipknot (68, 18), Oslow (63, 7), TV on the Radio (62, 5), Coldplay (59, 27), Georgia Maq (57, 13), DZ Deathrays (50, 24), The Kite String Tangle (38, 11), Babaganouj (35, 14), Ben Howard (33, 15, 10), Yoke (25, 9).

And, once again, feel free to download the podcast version of this final part. You can do that by clicking here. It’s free, y’know!

Thanks so much.