Hey! Sorry it took me awhile to get this up. I got COVID! Heard of it? It’s not great! Anyway, hope you enjoy this sail over the halfway mark. Promise this’ll be done by the end of the month. While you’re at it, why not catch up on Part One here and Part Two here? There ya go!
60. Silk Sonic – Skate
What do women want? It’s been a hot-button topic for many a year now, and most men are still without answers. Needless to say, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak are not most men. They saw the absolutely massive uptick of women getting into rollerskating over the last 12 to 18 months, and they promptly cashed in with a blissful roller-disco ode to the phenomenon. You could be cynical about it being opportunistic, but “Skate” is way too sunny to succumb to such a dismissal. It’s a broad, beautiful smile of a song – and it’s exactly what women want, too.
59. WILLOW feat. Travis Barker – t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l
Most of you probably haven’t thought of Willow Smith in a decade… and she’s only 21. Somewhere in the throes of her teens and early 20s, the former child star stopped whipping her hair long enough to notice the world around her. This resulted in a guitar-heavy pop-rock comeback for the ages, helmed by red-carpet walker (and occasional drummer) Travis Barker. The same swagger that carried her tween hit is very much intact – she’s the daughter of a Fresh Prince, after all – but its moody, darker corners breathe new life into this still-burgeoning and fascinating career. With soul.
58. The Buoys – Lie to Me Again
One of The Buoys’ first tracks was “Liar Liar” – a rambunctious garage-punk number about a no-good ex, packed with the usual early-20s angst amidst clattering drums and rousing guitars. The topic is revisited four years later on “Lie to Me Again,” with a changed line-up but the constant of frontwoman Zoe Catterall. Here, she approaches the jilted former lover with the kind of calm that can only come before a storm. It’s not as in-your-face as its predecessor, but its impact is promptly doubled by its barbed lyricism and righteously-convicted chorus. This much is true: The Buoys light up.
57. Geese – Low Era
We’re getting to that stage in history where people with compound sentences for birth years are making some of the most exciting new music. One such act are indie-disco punks Geese, who were scooped up in a bidding war circa 2020. Now the Brooklynites have arrived in earnest for us to gander at, “Low Era” feels especially pertinent – reminiscent of when The Rapture and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah hit the scene. Will Geese have staying power beyond this fleeting infatuation? Impossible to tell. For this moment of post-punk zeitgeist, however, they’re the only living band in New York.
56. Gang of Youths – the angel of 8th ave.
Prior to the pandemic, Gang of Youths moved to London and brought in Noah & The Whale‘s Tom Hobden. This season of growth and change persisted, even in the midst of global shutdown. “angel” was GOY bursting forth and rising to the occasion once more, delivering heartland pop with prolix professionalism. Its parade of shimmering strings, syncopated claps and perhaps Max Dunn’s finest bass-line yet ensured that the Gang was back in business. They might not be a big fish in a little pond anymore, but “the angel of 8th ave.” proved that there was still blood in the water.
55. Halsey – Bells in Santa Fe
If you said this time last year that one of 2021’s most fruitful collaborations would be between Halsey and Nine Inch Nails, you might’ve had more concern raised than if you’d started coughing into your fist and offering handshakes. Nevertheless, they persisted. With additional production from unexpected outsider The Bug, “Bells” sets a scene somewhere between Fair Verona and oblivion with its spiralling synthesizer orchestra. Halsey’s increasing desperation as she tears pages from her Bible and comes to term with impermanence make for one of the most arresting performances of her career. It boils, it burns and it transforms into…
54. Halsey – Easier Than Lying
Halsey has flirted with heaviness in the past (see her underrated “Experiment On Me”), but “Easier Than Lying” hits different. That’s not just a saying, by the way – from its snarling bass to its siren-wail outro and the anchoring of its frenetic drum-and-bass backbeat, there’s never been a song in Halsey’s canon quite like this one. With the intense pacing of a car chase, the song’s relentless energy is carried by another ice-cold, sting-in-the-tail performance from none other than Ms. “Without Me” herself. There was a time when Trent Reznor once marched with the pigs. In 2021, Halsey ran.
53. Citizen – I Want to Kill You
The lead single of every Citizen record since their modern genre classic debut Youth has felt like its own reset. “Cement” forged into slinking alt-rock; “Jet” rode the wave of… well, The Wave… and now “I Want to Kill You” has introduced disco drums and post-punk frenetic ferocity. The best part is that it all still feels like Citizen each time – Matt Kerekes’ writhing yelp, the steely fretwork of the Hamm brothers and that propulsive emotional build that ensures Citizen From Toledo, Ohio can be heard around the world. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and Citizen are absolutely jacked.
52. Polish Club – Stop for a Minute
Polish Club can get as goofy as anyone. They play silly games, make knowingly-hideous album art… even in this song’s video, frontman David Novak chows down on a sanga while dancing in a tux. What “Stop for a Minute” does best, however, is cut through the bullshit – even in what’s arguably the most fun musical environment the duo has ever set up for itself. That seething frustration seeps through the cracks in the mirrorball that separate the art from the artist, rattling from the ceiling against the bass drum kick. It’s not the clown crying anymore: It’s pissed disco.
51. Toby Martin – Linthwaite Houdini
Be it a pregnant city dweller or a radicalised immigrant teenager, Toby Martin has always thrived telling stories that aren’t his own with a surprising sense of belonging. The lead single from his third solo album is no exception, where he hears tell of a small-town escape artist whose grand scheme doesn’t go according to plan. Amongst the wallowing trumpet and the slinking waltz drums, Martin’s writing encompasses the envisioned triumph and the ultimate tragedy that emerges from a story as unique as this one. The truth is stranger than fiction, and few Australian songwriters truly get that like Martin.
50. Olivia Rodrigo – brutal
“Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” For an artist that was introduced to the world via post-Lorde piano balladry, few could have expected the veneer to crumble quite like it did on Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album opener. As that riff churns, she wants it on record that this sweet life of celebrity and status is far from perfect – in fact, it’s tearing her apart inside. “brutal,” true to its name, is the heaviest song on SOUR by a considerable margin. It’s a living, seething testament to the year pop was allowed to rock again. Teenage angst, meet This Year’s Model.
49. Tasman Keith feat. Kwame – ONE
It started off as a rib, when short-king MC Tasman Keith got photos taken with the towering Kwame. What ended up revealing itself over the coming weeks, however, proved this: These motherfuckers weren’t playing. “ONE” is the best song either artist has been a part of – and considering the calibre of their already-illustrious careers, that’s not said lightly. From its urgent beat to its belligerent flow, there’s absolutely no backing down on any front. When the duo knocked this out of the park on The Set, Kwame boasted: “Rap song of the fucking year.” You’re inclined to believe him.
48. Springtime – Will to Power
Gareth Liddiard had a surprisingly fruitful year. Tropical Fuck Storm’s lockdown record finally came out, he reinvented his catalogue live with Jim Whiteand heundertook a new journey entirely with Springtime. Liddiard, White and The Necks pianist Chris Abrahams are no strangers to music with a freer, looser form than your average. That factors into their debut single “Will to Power,” but it’s far from the only story. It’s a sprawling, darkly-shaded take on Liddiard’s barbed Australiana through a strange, dirty lens. Against cascading guitar, creaking piano and the sturdy drumming shuffle of the unmistakable White, Springtime truly blossoms.
47. Holy Holy – How You Been
Somewhere in the shadow realm between pop that rocks and rock that pops lies Holy Holy. Across four studio albums, the Melbourne-via-Tasmania duo who have slowly but surely built a reputation as one of the country’s more likeable and endearing indie hit-makers. “How You Been” showcases the duo at their key strengths. Frontman Timothy Carroll’s performance is heartfelt and rousing; guitarist Oscar Dawson’s buoyant production, meanwhile, allows everything from the rubbery bass-line to the triumphantly OTT solo to cohesively gel. It’s an electric pop effort designed for dancing like no-one’s watching – much like Carroll himself in the accompanying video.
46. Limp Bizkit – Dad Vibes
hot dad ridin in on a rhino
45. Deafheaven – Great Mass of Color
In retrospect, perhaps we could have all seen Deafheaven’s stylistic departure coming. They have, after all, seemingly always existed on the very fringes of heavy metal itself – what’s one extra push out of the genre entirely? “Great Mass of Color” was a headfirst dive into the great unknown – one that, admittedly, could have seen the Northern Calfornia quintet land flat on their face. Instead, however, the band was immersed in a crystallised bliss that revelled in its tranquil undercurrent in tandem with its bursting, resplendent refrain. It’s like a dream, to borrow a phrase. You want to dream.
44. Ruby Fields – R.E.G.O
Ruby Fields is lots of things, but a rockstar is not one of them. She’s just Rubes, slinging beers at the local to get by and shooting the shit with the regulars. “R.E.G.O” is a rumination on this lifestyle – living paycheck to paycheck, but having the inextricable bonds of friendship keeping it afloat. “Haven’t you always wanted to feel like that?” Fields asks, again and again. She’s saying what we’re all thinking, and she knows it. It’s bolstered by her impeccable band, with a special nod to Adam Newling’s fret-bending lead work. Worth a coin in the tip jar.
43. Turnstile – MYSTERY
2021 was Turnstile’s year. No ifs, buts or maybes. The Baltimore natives elevated American hardcore to a level arguably not seen since John Belushi moshed to Fear at 30 Rock – the same building, coincidentally, that Turnstile saw out the year performing inside as part of Late Night. There, they played the track that launched their year: “MYSTERY,” a song that dares anyone feeling froggy to go ahead and leap. Brendan Yates’ boisterous yelp, pondering the great unknown, ricochets off churning guitars and walloping drums to forge something full of life that proudly goes down swinging. Consider the mystery solved.
42. No Rome feat. Charli XCX and The 1975 – Spinning
“skeletons” is so excited to get going, it practically trips over itself – cue the tumbling drums and smash-cut to the word of the day. It’s a disarming beginning to a song that coasts on smooth sailing, but that may well be the point. A closer inspection, of course, sees that this future-soul cut from the Leicester lads portrays purported paranoia over a partner’s playful past. It’s a little Mac Miller; a little Rex Orange County; a little Hot Chip. There’s some fascinating moving parts at play here. What easy life have concocted, ultimately, is guaranteed to rattle some bones.
Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:
When they were first making noise, the most common term for Fontaines D.C. was “post-punk.” It made perfect sense circa Dogrel – after all, it was all we had to go off. What if, however, Dogrel was a punk record… and A Hero’s Death was the real post-punk record? The churning bass, the Madchester big-beat drums and the surf-nightmare baritone guitar on “Televised Mind” is like night and day when paired next to, say, “Boys in the Better Land.” It’s an evolution; a primordial and powerful progression. Whatever it is, it’s post-something. They’ve once again gotten ahead of the game.
19. Gorillaz feat. Peter Hook and Georgia – Aries
“Aries:” the best Gorillaz single since “DoYaThing,” and also the best New Order song since “Crystal.” While the band’s previous collab-heavy project Humanz felt like too many cooks, Song Machine saw the fictitious troupe get the balance just right. Case in point: the legendary Peter Hook pulls out a classic high-fret bassline for 2D’s weary, emotive vocal. Meanwhile, electronica upstart Georgia patterns a V-drums undercurrent that drives it along before literally bursting into high tide (what a chorus, while we’re at it). This team-up may seem like a bizarre love triangle, but in execution “Aries” was written in the stars.
18. The 1975 – If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)
The role “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” plays shifted significantly. Its initial April release was a final burst of hype for the band’s Notes on a Conditional Form, after endless delays and an elongated hype trail. Post-Notes, it’s symbolic of better times – where we hadn’t yet been let down by the exhaustive hour-20 bloat that ensued. In either case, through the good times and the bad, “Too Shy” survived. It stood alone as one of the band’s brightest and bubbliest singles to date. Everybody wants to rule the world, but “Too Shy” actually followed through on it.
17. Cry Club – Obvious
There’s two pertinent lines in “Obvious.” The first, from the perspective of Heather Riley’s bank account, is “Bitch, you need to stay at home.” This, mind, was written well before every bitch needed to stay at home for months. The other is in the song’s chorus: “How could anyone say no?” Cry Club are irresistible by design. They are a beloved pop band making beloved pop songs. This is among the best they’ve penned, from its ascending cascade of keys to its urgent, propulsive drums and topped off with a sweet cherry of a melody. Cry Club feels like home.
16. Jackson Wang – 100 Ways
Jackson Wang is from a South Korean boy band. No, not that one. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter which one he’s from. This is about Jackson Wang, solo star. By all rights, “100 Ways” should’ve been as explosive a hit single as… well, “Dynamite.” The state-of-the-art LOSTBOY beat, the Paul Simon flip of the chorus, the oozing charisma of Wang himself… goddamn, “100 Ways” has everything going for it. What gives, America? He’s even on 88Rising, and y’all LOVE them. Wang can do more as one man than most boys can do as a group of seven – including his own.
15. Urthboy – The Night Took You
They say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Urthboy knows this well, but consider that he’s spent the last 20-plus years being unbroken. If anyone’s earned the right to go in and smash shit up, it’s him. “The Night Took You” is the sound of one of the country’s all-time greatest MCs risking it all by not spitting a single bar. A weary, heartfelt melody takes its place, accompanied by plaintive piano and stirring strings. How then, does this recipe for potential disaster taste so rich and fulfilling? It’s simple, really: Urthboy rebuilt in his very own image.
14. Good Sad Happy Bad – Shades
Several circumstances lead to Micachu & The Shapes changing their name. Raisa Khan took over on lead vocals, for one; multi-instrumentalist CJ Caladerwood expanded the band to a quartet, for another. Ultimately, it came down to drawing a line in the sand. That was then, this is now. “Shades” feels like a new chapter, in that sense. It pulls many of the same shapes as the Shapes, but it’s cast through a new lense. Khan’s reserved, distinct delivery pairs well against the harsh synth and feedback-heavy sax. It’s the future, but it’s now. It’s here. Come, see the bright side.
13. The Beths – Out of Sight
“Out of Sight” doesn’t do anything particularly different for The Beths. It’s more resplendent, sun-kissed indie-pop that revels in its darker corners while never losing its brightness. This, of course, changes once you find yourself below its surface. In the thick of this song is a shattering piece of love-lorn poetry: “I’ll keep a flame burning inside,” offers vocalist Liz Stokes, “if you need to bum a light.” Her bandmates allow the song’s sentimentality to both simmer and burst into life – see Jon Pearce’s impeccable lead guitar and Tristan Deck’s racing snare-rim. It’s not particularly different, no. It’s better.
12. The 1975 – Me & You Together Song
“We went to Winter Wonderland,” reminisces 1975 frontman Matty Healy amidst his love-letter to 90s jangle-pop. “It was shit, but we were happy.” A potentially-revelatory thought: Could The 1975 themselves be the Winter Wonderland of the pop world? This is a band acutely aware of its shortcomings, prone to self-sabotage and over-indulgence among many other things. In the times when you need them the most, however, they glisten. They are everything you need. You – and they – are happy. You’ll let them make a two-hour triple album if it means three minutes of paradise like this. You and them together.
11. Fontaines D.C. – I Don’t Belong
“Dublin in the rain is mine,” boasted Grian Chatten at the beginning of his band’s acclaimed debut album a year prior. What a difference a year makes. He can see clearly now, the rain has gone. “I don’t want to belong to anyone,” he prophesises at the beginning of his band’s acclaimed second album. A new man, fronting a new band. Methodical, refined, steely in focus. Slow to build and bright to burn. Once standing on the shoulders of giants, now giants themselves. They roam this barren, empty land. “I Don’t Belong” is a new beginning and a turning tide.
10. 5 Seconds of Summer – No Shame
When did 5 Seconds of Summer go from being – to borrow a phrase – boys to men? There are several key points along the Sydney band’s trajectory: Making it in America, crashing under the weight of expectation with their sophomore slump, blazing a comeback trail with a global number-one smash. These are all worthy answers, and testament to 5SOS’ maturation and evolution. If you want the proper answer, however, it lies within the confines of “No Shame:” They’re finally so famous that they’ve written a song about being famous.
Not only have they done that, they’ve written one of the best songs of their career. It’s a move that can go drastically wrong – lest we forget the band’s heroes, Good Charlotte, absolutely whiffing it with their 2005 tantrum “I Just Wanna Live.” What makes “No Shame” stand out, then, is its revelry. “I only light up when cameras are flashing,” boasts vocalist Luke Hemmings, stomping down on his territory as Ashton Irwin smacks out a “Closer” disco groove. That’s not the first Nine Inch Nails reference 5SOS have made of late, either. Rather than rally against the starfuckers, however, 5SOS are leaning directly into their primitive, forceful nature. “Go on, replace me,” Hemmings taunts. “When you’re cravin’ somethin’ sweeter than the words I left in your mouth/Go on and spit me out.” He’s seen his band get dumped in the bin before, he’s not afraid of it happening again.
That’s the thing about “No Shame.” It’s got nothing to lose. It’s a dark, sneering pop song, driven by a washed out, “Come As You Are”-esque guitar line and the guttural squelch of bass-synth patched in with the industrial-tinged beat programming. Australia’s biggest boy-band export have burned their lovable-larrikin image to the ground. No more cutesy cock-rock, or acoustic gaslighting anthems, or even pushing and pulling away.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
– 11 Corinthians 3
5 Seconds of Summer are men now. Treat them as such.
Needless to say, it’s anyone’s guess where Sports Team end up in this trajectory. Consider this: Arctic Monkeys got their start kicking out Strokes and Vines covers, the hyped bands of their teens. Sports Team, and bands of their ilk, almost definitely got their start on Arctic Monkeys covers. Maybe even Art Brut and Maxïmo Park too, actually – oft-forgotten names that may be more influential on the current generation of UK rock than anyone is willing to give credit for. Either way the baton has been passed, and a new breed of sardonic English artists are emerging to rattle whatever foundations are left.
Sports Team arrive on the scene as bitter upstarts. Even their name sounds ironic – like, ooh, go team! I love my sports because I’m a man! Then again, of course Sports Team are bitter. Look at the world they’ve inherited – it’s drastically different to the one that the Monkeys and Bloc Party and the like took up in. They’re being fed a constant stream of bullshit on an information superhighway – and there they are, plugged in and playing in the middle of the road, trying to not get totalled by an oncoming truck.
This is at the core of their lead single, statement piece and soon-to-be signature song. “Here’s the Thing” is a barrage of slogans and self-help mantras, rattled off with increasing frustration by frontman Alex Rice. “Jesus loves you!” he chirps. “The football’s coming home!” Of course, as the band will happily remind us at the end of every verse: “It’s all just lies, lies, lies, lies.” The band themselves aren’t exempt from the smell of their own bullshit, either. “Hey, ma! I wrote a song!,” Rice cheers at one point. “Now everything’s alright!” It’s not, of course. Who knows if it will be. Still, despite their snark and their piss-antery, there is a bubbling undercurrent of hope that a band like Sports Team exists in the first place. That’s just the thing, isn’t it.
8. Peach Tree Rascals – Things Won’t Go My Way
At the time of writing, Peach Tree Rascals don’t have a genre listed on their Wikipedia page. That might seem like an oversight more than anything – symptomatic of an incomplete article – but it’s honestly worth thinking about. We’re in an age where everything can be categorised. An entire t-shirt can be filled with the names of subgenres – and sometimes that’s just subgenres for one genre itself. How the fuck are a band like Peach Tree Rascals getting away with not having a genre? Simple, really: They’re living by example.
For those playing catch-up, the NoCal collective first took off over on TikTok circa 2019 with their single “Mariposa.” While the success story isn’t unique – it probably makes up nearly half of the no-name artists on the charts currently rubbing shoulders with established giants – the song itself certainly was. It’s a zoomer’s take on sunny-afternoon, carefree 60s pop, mixing jazzy chord strums with the whirr of AutoTune and a multitude of vocal perspectives. Think BROCKHAMPTON covering The Turtles, or maybe the other way around. It’s not uncategorisable entirely, but it’s genre-free both by choice and by nature.
While not nearly as successful – it holds some four million Spotify streams to “Mariposa”’s 150 – “Things Won’t Go My Way” arguably goes a greater distance in emphatically diversifying the Rascals’ sound. The churning indie-rock guitar progression clatters and clangs against a sturdy bassline, washed-out keys and pristine pop drums. The vocals, too, range from understated lower-octave to reverb-heavy calls out from the ether. There’s lots of elements and moving parts at work here, but it never stakes permanent residence in any immediate musical spectrum.
One could also view this as a larger issue of music attempting a one-size-fits-all mentality – a mater of homogeneity rather than originality. To dismiss Peach Tree Rascals in such a manner is to miss the point entirely. It’s not that they’re trying to be too rap for indie, too indie for rap, or anything in-between. It’s that they simply don’t want to be. They want to be themselves. That’s something not enough acts aspire to.
7. Spanish Love Songs – Self-Destruction (As a Sensible Career Choice)
Just over a decade ago, pop-punk took a turn. Its stalwarts stayed true to the “my friends over you” and “girls are so confusing” school of songwriting, yes, but its contemporaries shifted into something harsher by touch and texture. This notion of “realist pop-punk” came primarily from young American men in their early to mid 20s, attempting to find their own place in the world and assuring those around them that they were not alone in their confusions and general anxiety. The Wonder Years, Transit, Fireworks, Real Friends – even the more belligerent acts like The Story So Far and a young Turnover eventually transitioned into this more emotive musical territory.
Bands like Spanish Love Songs were born in the wake of this, and have molded themselves in this image. Whether you see it as a gritty reboot of pop-punk, the fourth wave of emo or something new entirely, it’s grown increasingly hard to deny its presence. From The Hotelier and Modern Baseball to Sorority Noise and You Blew It!, this sound made waves and developed cult status through the 2010s – occasionally spilling over into mainstream crossover with the success of by-products like Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers.
We may have entered a new decade, but the grievances and turmoil faced by this generation of songwriters hasn’t magically gone away. “Need about 30 goddamn miracles,” spits Dylan Slocum – a nihilistic twist on the tried-and-true trope of needing a miracle. While previous generations couldn’t see the forest for the trees, he “can’t see the world is burning down/’Til we’re living underwater.” It’s a devastating lyric sheet – and entirely emblematic of what follows on third album Brave Faces Everyone. What, then, makes a song like this so rousing and endearing?
For one, it’s an immaculately-crafted piece of alternative rock. The crunch of its guitar tone bounces off the wallop of the drums, with Slocum’s histrionic howl centring itself within the fold. That piercing lead guitar in the chorus cuts straight through the treacle, adding an even sweeter release to the already-powerful hook of “It won’t be this bleak forever.” That’s not even touching the military precision of the chorus’ stop-start reinvention in the finale – as a unit, SLS really stick the landing on this one.
Perhaps its most endearing moment, however, comes in the twist of its closing moments. The whole song sees Slocum fighting against the hook – it’s always bookended with an addendum like “yeah, right” or “have you seen me lately?” For its final repetition, however, Slocum doesn’t talk back. He lets it sit. It’s a flicker of hope. It’s a resolute moment after three minutes of turmoil and tragedy.
In an interview with Billboard, Slocum reasoned that the entire purpose of a project like Spanish Love Songs was to make people feel less alone. “It’s bleak stuff, but I find some comfort in knowing that we’re all in it together,” he says. He’s right – it is bleak. But it won’t be this bleak forever. It can’t be. Not with bands like Spanish Love Songs in our lives.
If it wasn’t obvious, Sophia Allison – aka Soccer Mommy – was another notable part of this wave. She could have perhaps even been its crescent, if only she hadn’t been crashed on by the ever-rising tide. Make no mistake, though: Soccer Mommy is no also-ran project, and “circle the drain” is no also-ran song. In fact, this song is so breathtakingly good that it will make you reconsider her entirely. Whether you liked her initially or not, this song proves she was considerably better than you were ever willing to give her credit for.
“circle the drain” succeeds in a way that previous Soccer Mommy tracks were not able to for one clear-cut reason: It’s found a niche. Rather than trying to keep up any kind of indie-darling purist facade, the song instead openly and outwardly opts to be a pop-rock song. Allison has noted that Avril Lavigne’s second album, 2004’s Under My Skin, was the first album she ever bought. Lavigne’s influence plays a key role here – this sounds exactly like it could be a cut from either of her first two records. We’re all adults here, by the way – we can all acknowledge those records as being excellent now.
This isn’t a bratty “Sk8er Boi” moment, though it’s not exactly “Nobody’s Home” either. Think more “Mobile,” or “Things I’ll Never Say.” Pensive, forlorn pop with a dozen guitars jangling around inside of it and processed beats that just dash across the turn of the century. Here’s where the carving knife for Allison’s niche grows particularly sharp: The song may musically be indebted to a bygone era, but its lyricism details an acute millennial malaise that can only come with someone of her age at this exact moment in time.
Perhaps it was wrong to overlook Soccer Mommy when she first arrived on the scene. Then again, perhaps that very notion makes “circle the drain” all the more triumphant. It’s one of the year’s most unexpected delicacies – a left-of-centre dream-pop diary entry that potently merges the past, the present and the future. Round and round we go, once more.
5. Miel – Must Be Fine
Miel Breduow never had to explain that she wasn’t kidding.
Under regular circumstances, a person best known for doing comedy has to clarify what’s sincere and what isn’t. From Nanetteto Wolfie’s Just Fine to… ahem… Dane Cook’s “Forward,” there are countless examples of comics moving into earnest territory. Bredouw isn’t all that different. She goofed around on Vine at its peak, ending up on countless compilations and keeping the dream of Keisza’s “Hideaway” alive. She moved over to podcasting and found a new cult following as she punched up countless jams, both with friends and on her own. She is, as Streisand would say, a funny girl.
When “Must Be Fine” came out, Miel never had to explain that she wasn’t kidding. Why?
The answer is twofold. The first is a reflection on the kind of person Bredouw is – or, at the very least, a reflection on the public persona fans and listeners have come to know through her work. Even when making ridiculous jokes or shriek-laughing at more of Chris Fleming‘s escapades, she comes across as entirely genuine. The kind of person who means what they say, who wouldn’t be laughing if they didn’t find it funny and the kind of person who sees honesty as the best policy.
More pertinent to the song itself, though, is that secondly there’s basically no other read you can give on “Must Be Fine.” It’s a cutting song – it’s sharp, and goes surprisingly deep for a two-and-a-half-minute song with two verses, two choruses and a bridge. A bridge that doesn’t lead anywhere, either – which is surprising on the first listen, but once you’re intimately familiar with your surrounds it clicks and begins to make sense. This isn’t a story with a definitive conclusion. There are no heroes and villains. It’s a time-lapse of a flower withering beneath a descending California sunset. It’s beauty and loss and tragedy within a sunburnt city landscape.
Hannah Gadsby, who performed the aforementioned Nanette, speaks of the effects of laughter in that show. “Laughter is very good for the human,” she said. “It really is, because when you laugh you release tension. When you hold tension in your human body, it’s not healthy. It’s not healthy psychologically or physically.”
Miel’s work has always released tension. It’s interesting, then, that her work that achieved this in the most accomplished of ways was not centred on laughter. And she never had to explain that she wasn’t kidding.
4. Sarah Jarosz – Johnny
“Why is it that we can feel so robbed when someone tells us a story we just heard isn’t true, and yet feel so satisfied at the end of a fictional novel?” This is a question posed by puppet-comedian Randy Feltface in his 2015 show Randy Writes a Novel, which comes at the end of perhaps the show’s finest moment of storytelling. (Referencing that quote if you haven’t seen the part in question is a bit of a spoiler, but so be it.) In songwriting, we’re so obsessed with the idea of what’s “real.” If it’s “real,” then it’s “authentic.” And if it’s “authentic,” then it’s inherently good. Or so we’re told.
“The tortured artist myth is rampant. People paint me as some kind of black witchcraft-practising devil from hell, that I have to be twisted and dark to do what I am doing. It’s a load of rubbish.” This is a quote from PJ Harvey, giving an interview to promote her 1998 album Is This Desire?. It’s an album, much like all of her work, that is steeped in character and fable-oriented lyricism. Does this make her work any less “real” or “authentic” because she didn’t literally drown her child like she sings on “Down By the Water”? Do we dare question men about this authenticity the same way we question women? Harvey’s one-time fling Nick Cave has been singing of murdering people for 30-plus years and has barely batted an eyelid in that time.
“Johnny’s on the back porch drinking red wine/He knows that it could be the very last time/He raises the glass up to his lips and wonders.” This is the opening line to “Johnny,” the lead single from Sarah Jarosz’ fifth studio album World on the Ground. Jarosz didn’t do a great deal of press for the album – for obvious reasons, of course – and so there isn’t a great deal of information as to whether the story told in the song is real.
The titular Johnny is staring down the barrel as he prepares to go in for open heart surgery – one fast move and he’s gone. It’s a moment filled with drama and suspense, and its unresolved nature only drives the intrigue even further. Did Johnny make it? Where is Johnny now? Is he even real to begin with?
Which then circles us back to these original points made by both Feltface and Harvey. Who cares if Johnny is real? “Johnny” is no less authentic because of it. It’s a striking, harmonious and emotive slice of Americana. Its lines trace around a bright octave mandolin, Levon Helm-esque drumming and rustic close harmonies that tie well into Jarosz’s bluegrass background. It’s certainly poppier than her earliest alt-country work, but that too doesn’t make it any less authentic. Any less real. From the second its tape-loop drone guides you in to the second its strummed mandolin lick guides you out, everything in “Johnny” is as real as it gets.
3. Hayley Williams – Simmer
Paramore is a band. Hayley Williams is a musician. Hayley Williams is in the band Paramore. “Simmer” is a song. “Simmer” is not a Paramore song. “Simmer” is a song by Hayley Williams.
This may seem like a collection of more moot points than a Rick Springfield song, and rightly so. Still, you would genuinely be shocked at how many people took issue differentiating when “Simmer” arrived in the first few weeks of 2020. If this is a Hayley Williams song, does that mean Paramore no longer exist? There are other members of Paramore involved – does this mean Paramore has become Hayley Williams? Hayley Williams is the only member of Paramore that has an unbroken line on Paramore’s Wikipedia timeline from start to end – surely this means she’s some sort of fascist dictator?
Again, you don’t get this kind of malarkey with male-fronted bands. For whatever reason, though, drama and discourse follow Williams around like a bad smell. It’s enough to send you mad – and, in a way, that’s a lot of what “Simmer” is about. It’s about the acknowledgement, the processing and the temperament of one’s deepest, darkest and most seething hatred. Williams has been outwardly pissed off before – hell, her first few albums with Paramore were quite literally fuelled by teenage angst. It’s never felt as subversive and as outright threatening as it does on “Simmer,” though.
Why, exactly? Consider both the context and the delivery. The context is no longer a firebrand pop-punk upstart, it’s an embattled 30-something divorcee who has grown up in public and been to hell and back twice over. The delivery is no longer a roof-raising, glass-shattering yelp – a defiant voice aiming to be heard in a dude-heavy scene. No, Williams is done with that shit. If you want to hear what she has to say, you’re going to have to lean in a little closer. When you do, in the throes of the second verse, she quite literally ideates violence. To paraphrase Tegan & Sara, you feel the knife going in.
Heightening the context is the musical environment of “Simmer.” 15 years is a long time, and you feel all 15 of them when you draw the line from All We Know is Fallingto “Simmer.” A smoky blend of trip-hop, indie and 21st-century pop lays out a trail of twists, turns and inevitable spirals. It’s a leap into the great unknown, and as Williams herself may have said 15 years prior you can feel the pressure.
How does one protect themselves, knowing danger awaits? Williams knows. “Wrap yourself in petals for armor,” she says. Don’t mistake kindness for weakness. Your anger is a gift. A riot inside the mind is no lesser of a riot.
“Simmer” is a song. It may be the best song Hayley Williams has ever sung.
2. EGOISM – Here’s the Thing
Breaking the fourth wall here slightly: Two different songs with the exact same title being in the same countdown has only ever happened once before. This was in 2018, when both Post Malone andAmy Shark released songs called “Psycho.” The pair both came at the titular phrase from unexpected places on surprisingly downbeat songs, unified by little more than a subversive take on a slightly-taboo word.
What, then, of “Here’s the Thing” and “Here’s the Thing”? Both come from upstart bands in their 20s, yes, but the similarities end conclusively there. Sports Team enlist the phrase like a weapon – a condescending, mansplaining place-setter, barked from the perspective of an elder statesmen with a chip on their shoulder. EGOISM, however, enlist the phrase as a jumping-off point. It’s the beginning of a difficult conversation. It’s the beginning of the end. The end of a beginning.
How could this phrase manage to hold such a different connotation in this context? Such weight? Truth be told, it’s part and parcel of EGOISM’s modus operandi. The band may traverse the realm of dream pop – often sonically light and airy by design – but their lyrical and thematic structure delve the inner depths as only the truest of confessionals can. It’s not for nothing that the duo of Olive Rush and Scout Eastment named their band after a school of philosophy defined as “concerned with the role of the self, or ego, as the motivation and goal of one’s own action.” EGOISM are at the centre of their own universe – and when they’re falling apart, it can only reflect in their music.
“Here’s the Thing,” with this taken into consideration, easily stands as the band’s most emotionally affecting song. Rush, who takes a stellar lead turn, spoke openly about the vulnerable place from which it came upon its release. They described it as being “about feeling like your heart is getting smashed into a million pieces.” It doesn’t get much more explicit in intent than that. This sentiment is subsequently reflected by the song’s palette, among the most tasteful the duo have ever composed. Striking math-rock chords ring out in tandem with sombre piano, while a ticking-clock snare rim ultimately gives way to a clattering loop that recalls that of Ben Lee’s similarly-pervious “Cigarettes Will Kill You.”
It’s the kind of thing one can find themselves simply entranced in, time and time again. It’s within these repeat listens one also finds themselves hearing things just that little bit different. The song’s seemingly-endless repeats of the same question – “Should you love somebody new?” – start to give way. Because of the quick succession of syllables, sometimes you can just mishear the “new” as simply an elongated part of the previous word – thus, forming an entirely new question of “Should you love somebody?”
It’s there that “Here’s the Thing” goes from wondering as to whether it’s worth starting again to wondering whether it’s worth it at all if this is where it will inevitably lead to. It’s a dark turn – and just think, that’s assembled entirely from something that’s not there. Imagine how much more there is to what’s actually present.
Eastment described “Here’s the Thing” as the best song Rush has ever written. She’s right, but not just from a songwriting perspective – from an egoism perspective. Months before “Here’s the Thing,” EGOISM had released “You You.” The Eastment-lead track covers very similar emotional ground: rising from the rubble left in the wake of a tattered relationship, knowing there is still love there but it cannot continue in the same way that it has. Eastment even acknowledges in the song’s Bandcamp notes that “Olive was going through something really similar at the time.” The mirror image is literally reflected between the two songs when Eastment takes lead on the bridge of “Here’s the Thing” – in the very same point of the song that Rush takes over from her on “You You,” no less.
I won’t mess with anyone else but I won’t mess with anyone else but I won’t mess with anyone else but you, you You, you
The pair’s inextricable link and their unshakable bond is what keeps EGOISM alive. It’s what gets the two of them through their darkest moments. “Here’s the Thing” is the crack where the light gets in. A problem shared is a problem halved.
1. The Avalanches feat. Rivers Cuomo and Pink Siifu – Running Red Lights
In order to tell this story, you have to know where three different sets of people were in the year 2000 and where they were in 2020. Yes, this is a story that’s over 20 years old; let it be told.
The three sets are plunderphonics collective The Avalanches, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo and singer-songwriter David Berman. With respect to Pink Siifu, his story doesn’t necessarily intertwine here. He appears here as more of a vessel than anything, but more on that later.
In 2000, The Avalanches released their debut studio album Since I Left You. It would turn them into one of the most internationally-acclaimed groups of next 12 months, scoring a boatload of ARIAs and selling out an explosive world tour in support of it. Their sample-heavy mix of pop, hip-hop, dance, funk, electronica, indie, rock and whatever other genres traversed their obscure record collection was a unique prospect. So much so, that The Avalanches’ idiosyncrasy raised a myriad of questions pertaining to how exactly they intended to follow such a seismic debut.
In 2000, Rivers Cuomo revived Weezer after a period of dormancy. He had spent the bulk of the late 90s – and, subsequently, the end of his 20s – in a spiral of depression. He, too, was plagued with the pressure of following up a hugely-influential debut album – and although Pinkerton was certainly not without its fans, it too found itself at the mercy of many a divided critic. With the band back in action and playing shows again, this was Cuomo’s impetus to start again – to finally achieve the greatness he’d been searching for.
In 2000, David Berman was between albums at the helm of the Silver Jews – the band with which he had made his name as a cult figure on the American indie rock circuit. His distinctive voice and unflinchingly-honest approach to lyrics and songwriting found a loving home on cult indie label Drag City, while the Jews’ initial lineup served as the launchpad for a separate juggernaut entirely in Pavement. Much like Cuomo, Berman would soon also find himself at odds with the black dog – a recurring motif throughout both his musical and personal life.
In 2020, The Avalanches were in the present tense again. Having finally followed up Since I Left You in 2016 with the technicolor experimentation of Wildflower, the group’s surviving duo – Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi – wanted to ensure that another new record would not take nearly as long. They began to assemble what would become their third album, We Will Always Love You – a tribute to those no longer with us, and a further exploration of what the group could sound like now that they were no longer defined entirely by a singular work.
In 2020, Rivers Cuomo was back at work again with Weezer. Truthfully, the band never really got off the wagon once that 2000 revival happened. The band scored big with hits like “Island in the Sun” and “Beverly Hills,” but their constant attempts at appealing to the same age demographic as they had a decade – and, eventually, two decades – prior saw their reputation end up in general disarray. Much like Paul Simon before him, Rivers Cuomo needed a photo opportunity and a shot at redemption. Thanks to Chater and Di Blasi, he was about to get one.
In 2020, David Berman was gone. He’d gone off to play the great gig in the sky a year prior, after ultimately losing his lifelong battle at the age of 52. As a collaborator on Wildflower, Berman was pulled out of reclusion by The Avalanches to contribute to a track on the album. He also later consented to having his work interpolated into a new song the band was working on – a gesture that, although he may not have fully realised at the time, was a parting gift and an eerie foreshadowing of what would come on We Will Always Love You.
There’s history in the walls of “Running Red Lights.” There’s ghosts in the walls, too. There are spirits in the night sky, looking down upon you as the city lights up. There’s over 20 years of stories in “Running Red Lights.” Stories of triumph, tragedy, love, loss, life, death and the human condition. What may be the most defining trait of the song, however, is its universality. The truth is, you can come to this song not knowing a single thing about any of its participants and get just as much out of it as someone who knows all of the above and then some.
The reason for this is that “Running Red Lights” is a momentous song – literally, of a moment. What that moment is, however, remains up to you. It can be a defiant rooftop primal scream, claiming the city for your taking. It can be a love-lorn, desperate plea to an estranged loved one. It can be your candle at the vigil memorial for someone you miss. It can be a sunlit drive, a rainy day or an autumnal stroll. Whatever it is to you, it’s yours. No-one can take that from you. No song in 2020 quite held such power in its runtime – and, indeed, long after the track subsides. It’s a crowning achievement for all involved, whether they’re around to see its fruits bared or not.
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.
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 hadhistory 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.
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.
Amy Shark has never been the best at first impressions. Commercial success aside, she lead off her Night Thinker EP and Love Monster LP with their two weakest tracks (“Adore” and “I Said Hi,” respectively). For the upcoming Cry Forever, though, Shark has promptly stuck her best foot forward. “Everybody Rise” is career-best catharsis, prompted by Goodnight Nurse alum Joel Little assembling the catchiest synth orchestra this side of “I Write Sins.” It’s doomsday pop with a crack in everything, taking the intricately introspective and pushing it to the masses. It’s no longer just hers anymore, you see. It’s everybody’s.
59. Tame Impala – Breathe Deeper
“If you’re thinking I can’t hold my own/Believe me, I can.” So begins one of the key tracks to Tame Impala’s fourth album; a line that became increasingly defiant in nature throughout 2020. Tame ended up as one of the year’s most inexplicably-reviled acts – perhaps not assisted by “The Less I Know The Better”ascending to the top of triple j’s decade-end Hottest 100. Maybe it’s tall poppy… or, in this instance, high poppy. Whatever it is, songs like the synth-wielding roller-disco of “Breathe Deeper” proved that Parker could indeed hold his own. He still has lots to prove.
58. IDLES – Grounds
Speaking of previously-beloved bands: Boy, do people fuckinghateIDLES now, huh. Not even millennial tastemaker Anthony Fantano could sway The DiscourseTM from trashing the band, which kept going almost to the point of being a meme. Admittedly, September’s Ultra Mono wasn’t as striking as the one-two combo of its predecessors. However, it still had an ace up its sleeve in the form of “Grounds.” Jon Beavis’ “Fix Up Look Sharp” beat and a booming Kenny Beats production assist allowed for the band to defiantly swagger down the street. Don’t get it twisted: these are still men on a mission.
57. Sweater Curse – Close
The great hope of Brisbane indie pulled together an exceptional A-list to work on “Close.” Former next-big-thing Alex Lahey co-wrote with the band, while Ball Park Music‘s Sam Cromack produced. Needless to say, the lead single from their Push/Pull EP was one that felt like a proper arrival. The trio endeavour to take things to the next level and promptly succeed. Through glistening guitars, pounding drums and one of their most striking choruses to date, Sweater Curse edge closer and closer to being their city’s top export. It’s no longer a case of “if,” but “when.” The Curse ain’t broken.
56. The Beths – I’m Not Getting Excited
Much like their first album, Jump Rope Gazers opens with a rush of nervous energy. Such is its frenetic nature, however, “I’m Not Getting Excited” makes its predecessor “Great No One” sound like “Kumbaya.” It’s a spiral of word-vomit and urgent guitars, pushed along by the driving backbeat of new-kid drummer Tristan Deck. How do you sum up two years of non-stop touring into two minutes and 42 seconds? The Beths have found a way. Of course they have. This is how you open up an album, people – with both a bang and a whimper. Get listening. Get excited.
55. Protomartyr – Michigan Hammers
Not many songs throughout 2020 sounded more or less exactly like their title. Protomartyr’s exceptional single “Michigan Hammers” is the standout example of songs that did. It pounds away incessantly, keeping 16th notes running on the drums and cymbals throughout. Its guitars are knife-edge, while a horn section tempers an acidic bile rather than any sort of jazz-bar smooth. Joe Casey, up front on vocals, barks out the scarce but succinct lyrics with his quintessential sense of authority. This is working class music from a working class American state. It’s motorik from the Motor City. It’s Michigan fucking Hammers, dammit.
54. Headie One feat. AJ Tracey, Stormzy and ONEFOUR – Ain’t It Different [Remix]
Wanna feel old? There are people of legal drinking age that weren’t born when CrazyTown first flipped the Chili Peppers’ “Pretty Little Ditty.” Hell, Headie himself was all of seven. Did this childhood memory prompt the sample flip from the ever-reliable Fred Again..? Inconclusive, but credit to everyone involved for inventively reworking it alongside a chipmunked Lady Saw. Further compliments, too, to the hip-hop elite in the mix with One and Fred here. Not only do AJ Tracey and Stormzy lend ample muscle, but Sydney’s ONEFOUR prove they can hang with the giants of the industry. Different, but good different.
53. Georgia June – Baby Blue
Synaesthesia, in the most Layman of terms, is defined as “coloured hearing” – that is, translating sensations between senses, and essentially seeing sounds in the process. Even if you’re one of the many that aren’t synaesthetic, “Baby Blue” will appear to you in this very shade. Its 80s-soundtrack synths and reverb-tinged drums recall an age of innocence; its hues brush broad strokes across the refined guitar lines. The vocals glue the whole affair together, mournful yet simultaneously resplendent in nature. “The sky was painted just for you,” goes the chorus. You can picture it already. Your hearing is permanently coloured.
52. Georgia June – Don’t Leave Me Hanging Out to Dry
Bob Dylan boasted of containing multitudes in amidst the chaos of 2020. Sydney pop-rockers Georgia June probably have an idea where he’s coming from – although their eponymous vocalist might see herself more as a rainy day woman than a master of war. On their second single of the year, the quintet picked up the pace with a sneering rock shuffle. It’s paired impeccably with a kiss-off vocal, a rumbling rhythm section and an increasingly-rare but always-welcome bonus: A guitar solo mimicking the melody. Chef’s kiss for that one. Listen to “Don’t Leave Me” and you, too, shall be released.
51. Run the Jewels feat. Greg Nice & DJ Premier – Ooh La La
There was a meme doing the rounds this year captioned “Make music that makes people do this face,” accompanied by a photo of a kid with his eyes and mouth scrunched up. You know the look – mostly because you definitely pulled it the second the kick and snare dropped in on “Ooh La La.” El-P’s jaunty piano chopping against an incessant, irresistible Greg Nice sample had more heads nodding than Will Smith and Paul McCartney combined. If El and Mike swaggering atop this molotov cocktail wasn’t enough, wait until DJ Premier gets in on the cut. Ç’est très bon.
50. Violent Soho – Lying on the Floor
No-one’s accusing Violent Soho of doing co-writes with Nostradamus or anything. That said: Releasing a song with the hook “Lying on the floor/Is all I wanna do” a month prior to global lockdowns, from an album titled Everything is A-OK? They had to know something was up. All gags aside, we should be thankful that the album made its way out into the world when it did. Tracks such as “Lying on the Floor” certainly, to borrow a phrase from The Kids, hit different. Doesn’t hurt that it’s more sharp, precise post-grunge from arguably the best Australian band doing it, either.
49. The Beths – Dying to Believe
The lead single from The Beths’ top-shelf second album is equally capable of rolling with the punches as it is landing a few of its own. It opens with Thin Lizzy-aping guitarmonies, rolls into urgent snare-rim clicks, departs into early Strokes jangle before blowing up its own spot with a pure, unadulterated power-pop chorus. Yet another masterclass in structure, songwriting and performance by one of the best working rock bands in the world, let alone their native New Zealand. Not enough for ya? How about Rose Matafeo doing a train announcement? All aboard, motherfuckers. The Beths are here to stay.
48. Tigers Jaw – Cat’s Cradle
Tigers Jaw had to rebuild after three-fifths of their line-up departed in the mid-2010s. When backed into this corner, however, they came out of it with their best album in 2017’s spin. What fate, then, awaits their first album as a newly-expanded four-piece? If “Cat’s Cradle” is anything to go by, we ain’t seen nothing yet. Brianna Collins proves yet again she’s the band’s not-so-secret weapon. Her steely synths cut through the brisk power chords, while the vocals make for one of the band’s most irresistible melodies to date. The throughline from Harry Chapin to the emo revival is complete.
47. Ashley McBryde – Martha Divine
It’s odd to think of a murder ballad as “subversive,” but just about every little thing Ashley McBryde does could be considered as such. The second single from her major-label sophomore Never Will sees her taking down the most unlikely of enemies: Her dad’s new girlfriend, presumably following the death of the protagonist’s mother. Actually, “protagonist” might be too strong a word. “Anti-hero”? You don’t know who to root for, but the song’s rambunctious country-rock shuffle makes sure you’re there for every last shovel bludgeoning. “I’ll say the Devil made me do it,” she reasons. Hell yeah youwill, Ashley.
46. Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death
You know how when “Lust For Life” starts with that clatter of drums and you know shit’s about to kick off? That exact feeling hits when the title track of A Hero’s Death begins. As both the first taste of the album and the first song the band released post-Dogrel, it was imperative that the Dubliners got everything right. As luck would have it, Fontaines’ momentum kept the ball in play – and, furthermore, progressed on their established sound through adaption and evolution. It’s darker, meaner and tougher, but still resolving to maintain its fighting spirit. Life ain’t always empty.
45. Phoebe Bridgers – Kyoto
What kind of year did Phoebe Bridgers have? Career-wise, she went from being an indie darling to a personality trait. The SoCal singer-songwriter has become to alt kids what The Office is to Tinder normies. Credit where it’s due, though: Better Oblivion Community Center’s employee of the month has been putting in the work. “Kyoto” revels in both majesty and misery – who else could make a line like “I’m gonna kill you” sound so goddamn triumphant? Her prolix lyricism employs hammer-swing subtlety amidst fuzzed-out power chords and a Neutral Milk style trumpet line. It all works. It’s Phoebe, bitch.
44. Floodlights – Matter of Time
Written amidst national protests raising awareness of the Australian government’s ongoing climate inaction, there’s a simple sincerity to Floodlights’ lead-off to their debut studio album. It’s not proporting to be bigger, smarter or more powerful than it is. It’s humble, working-class rock from inner-Melbourne suburbia – think Scott & Charlene’s Wedding in their honeymoon period. It’s striking, catchy and quietly resolute by design. When all four band members hone in on the chorus of “It’s all just a matter of time for you,” you’re on their side. You’re heading to the protest on the same tramline. You believe in them.
43. Bob Vylan – We Live Here
Bob Vylan may have kicked off 2020 as a complete unknown, but this rolling stone made a point of gatecrashing the UK scene with a menacing, cutthroat EP and a take-no-prisoners approach. This is the story of the hurricane: a black English millennial spitting bile at the racist infrastructure held up by Boris and his white supremacist clowns. Self-hatred has been instilled in Vylan since he was a child, and “We Live Here” is the menacing, piercing sounds of him refusing to let it win. This is the sound of the Union Jack burning while smashing a guitar into it.
42. Touché Amoré – I’ll Be Your Host
Grief became a huge part of the Touché Amoré canon circa 2016, when their Stage FourLP left no stone unturned concerning the passing of a loved one. A side-effect of this came with touring the record, where frontman Jeremy Bolm became a stand-in outlet for other’s trauma. When he screams that he “didn’t ask to lead this party” here, it’s coming from a place of exhaustion and inner conflict. “I’ll Be Your Host” is the centrepiece of October’s Lament, both for its unbridled emotion and its searing musical intensity. It’s a meta-narrative on the band, and an endearing testament.
41. Code Orange – Underneath
Born of an expansive yet insular hardcore scene, Code Orange always shot for something bigger. Something that would cause friction, both within their bubble and outside it. Provocative, yes, but also prevalent. “Underneath,” which arrived less than two weeks into 2020, felt every bit the mission statement for the band’s defiant reinvention. Tinged with an industrial backbeat, packed with an alt-metal chorus, swerving into mathcore chaos for chaos’ sake. No-one sounded quite like this for the 50 remaining weeks of the year – not like they could come close, anyway. These are not the kids of yesterday. They’re the future.
And there you have it! To listen to all 60 songs thus far, crank the Spotify playlist below:
Here we are for part two. Response was unreal last week, thanks for checking it out and sharing it around. Here we go again! Part one here.
80. The Sidekicks – Everything in Twos
“Everything in Twos” turned up less than a month into 2015; dropped its bags and set up shop. It wasn’t going anywhere – nor should it have. Ducking and weaving through shimmering guitars and bouncing drums, it’s the type of power-pop that packs lyrical density to complement the bright, bursting tone; straight from the John K. Samson and John Roderick school of songwriting. Once you’ve surrendered to its wide-eyed charm and heartfelt, harmony-laden chorus, there’s no going back. It clocks in at 2:47, but you’ll be under its spell within the first 30 seconds – or your money back, guarantee.
79. FIDLAR – 40oz. On Repeat
The cheap beer has run dry, there’s no cocaine left and FIDLAR are not as stoked on the whole ‘stoked and broke’ thing that they were a couple of summers back. They’re still making belligerent, snotty garage pop-punk at its core, but the opening number on August’s Too saw them get a little more up-close and personal with their feelings – anger, depression, confusion et al. A dash of wurtilizer and toy piano is just enough to note growth and maturation on their part. Not a complete reinvention – because, duh, FIDLAR – but it keeps you guessing. Listening, too.
78. Bad//Dreems – Bogan Pride
Sure, these Adelaide natives enjoy a torn flanny and a smashed tinnie as much as the next bloke. Even with this in mind, Bad//Dreems are acutely aware of their native land’s major issue with hyper-masculinity. As the guitar scratches urgently against a pounding punk beat, “Bogan Pride” tears down beer-swilling muscle junkies with bitter, unrepentant fury. The irony of more of these types attending Bad//Dreems shows as their profile continues to (deservedly) rise probably won’t be lost on the band. At least they’ll always have this. Bonus points: The only song in the list to feature an exasperated “FUCK’S SAKE!”
77. Brendan Maclean – Tectonic
With synth arpeggios that orbit the planet and gated snare that could knock out Phil Collins in a single hit, “Tectonic” is the furthest that Mr. Maclean has ever ventured from the piano. Much like when Tim Freedman whipped out a keytar in the second verse of “Thank You,” the crowd was confused. But then, they cheered! And oh, how they danced! “Tectonic” is a pulsing, twirling piece of interplanetary pop – a shot in the dark that resonates in high definition. You could say the song was how Brendan got his groove back if only he’d never lost it.
76. Philadelphia Grand Jury – Crashing and Burning, Pt. II
Five years ago, the Philly Jays premiered a new song on tour entitled “A New Package for You,” another archetypal rush of knockabout indie-pop with a wild side and a spring in its step. For the band’s comeback album, the song was resurrected – a new hook, a slightly-slower tempo, a new hair-metal guitar break into the bridge and a bit of sprucing up here and there; hence the “Pt. II” suffix. Its origin story alone is indicative of how the track encapsulates their past, present and the future – it’s “A New Package” in a new package. Get excited.
75. EL VY – Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo)
The National’s Matt Berninger hasn’t always written zingers (lest we forget “Sometimes, you get up/And bake a cake or something” or “Standing at the punch table/Swallowing punch”), but initial listens to his side project’s first single will have you scratching your noggin over whatever mumbo-jumbo he’s spouting off. ‘Triple Jesus’? ‘A saltwater fish from a colourblind witch’? Who knows? Moreover, who cares? The thing about “Return to the Moon” is that it makes perfect sense in clear spite of itself. It’s a pop oddity; a guitar swagger, an off-beat handclap.If Berninger’s enigmatic charisma can’t win you over, perhaps nothing can.
74. Best Coast – Feeing OK
Five years ago was the summer that Best Coast’s debut, Crazy for You, was the ultimate girl guide – an album full of lyrics to quote endlessly on Tumblr while others would reblog and add the phrase “figuratively me!” Not to discredit that album whatsoever, but the best parts of the band’s third, California Nights, are when they’re tackling some of the bigger issues than boy problems and weed. On the album’s opener, Bethany Cosentino laments being there for everyone except herself; learning slowly but surely how to start putting her well-being first once again. It’s figuratively a great start.
73. Sweater Season – Charley
For a band quite figuratively less than a year old to be delivering a song as confident in nature as “Charley” is the equivalent of your infant child skipping the ‘goo-goo’s and ‘ga-ga’s entirely and skipping ahead to reciting a Shakespearian sonnet. In one swiftly-paced and smartly-written piece of proto-grunge indie, the band establishes a dual guitar tone to kill for – all sunshine and radiation – while simultaneously tossing killer one-liners like “I forget what I regret” – later transmogrifying into “what I have left,” for full effect – on top, almost as an afterthought. Damn baby geniuses.
72. The Sidekicks –The Kid Who Broke His Wrist
Steve Ciolak has never shied away from deeply-personal writing – it’s where he embraces it the most that his songs shine. That being said, there’s something about the way he reminisces on childhood spent and a youth now lost to a man on the verge of his thirties that, for whatever reason, feels somehow – importantly – different. It resonates in a way one might not initially expect – perhaps to do with how he still sees so much of himself in the boy that he once was; still finding himself unable to make a proverbial fist. Heartbreaking – and bone-breaking.
71. Citizen – Heaviside
For a band that used to recall acts like Sunny Day Real Estate and Jimmy Eat World, it’s strange that Mogwai and post-Deja Brand New are immediate comparison points when discussing the quietest moment from Citizen’s fascinating second LP. Yes, it’s a departure – and a major one at that – but the faded, distant shimmer of the guitar and the immediate, raw-nerve vocals that feel as though we have cut to the core of what this band is – and, more importantly, what it can be. For a song about purgatory, Citizen sure know where they’re headed on “Heaviside.”
70. Rihanna feat. Kanye West and Paul McCartney – FourFiveSeconds
A Barbadian, a black skinhead and a Beatle walk into a bar… yes, the year’s most unlikely combo were also behind the year’s most unlikely pop smash. Not that these three haven’t seen a hit or two in their lifetime – least of all Macca – but it was the manner in which “FourFiveSeconds” presented itself that made for such an intriguing prospect: Quiet. Unassuming. Raw. Soulful. No braggadocios raps, no “na-na-na”s, no nostalgia. Just an unplugged, intimate moment with true music royalty. A true career highlight for each – and given their combined history, that says a remarkable deal.
69. The Smith Street Band – Wipe That Shit-Eating Grin Off Your Punchable Face
The night Tony Abbott was elected, The Smith Street Band played a sold-out Corner Hotel, telling their captive audience that this was not a man to be trusted or one that spoke for them. In the year of Abbott’s demise in the public eye, it began with this furious, damning five-minute suite detailing his evil, hateful ways in explicit detail. It’s the angriest song the band has ever recorded – and, as it stands now, their most important. “A change is gonna come,” Wil Wagner warned, echoing sentiments of the late Sam Cooke. Less than a year later, it did.
68. Seth Sentry – Violin
No-one likes to see the clown crying. When Seth Marton isn’t goofing off, flirting with waitresses or talking about hoverboards, he’s capable of eloquent and passionate introspect. An open letter to an absent, arrogant father, “Violin” is Seth’s most private and painfully-personal song. As Marton’s cathartic furor rains down, so too does his discontent and malaise over how things have panned out. The song’s lynchpin comes in the form of its first and last line – which are one and the same. It brings the song full circle, leading one to hope against hope the bastard hears every last word.
67. White Dog –No Good
From the warehouses, garages and four-track recorders of Sydney, White Dog emerge with fists swinging and teeth sharpened. “No Good” seethes. It radiates from the back of cracked, split-open radio speakers. It prowls the streets of the inner-west wielding a switchblade. It’s the loudest, rawest and most primal sound to erupt from the DIY punk scene this year – and most other years, too, if complete honesty is allowed. If you’re not getting the message already – or maybe you just weren’t paying attention – remember this: “No Good” is the antithesis of its own name. That’s punk as fuck.
66. Major Lazer feat. DJ Snake and MØ –Lean On
Diplo is King Midas – everything he touches becomes gold. DJ Snake is King Henry VIII – he’s a wild motherfucker that’ll chop people’s heads off for the thrill of it. MØ is the lady of the lake – she holds the sword with all the power. By some bizarre head-on collision, the three have been pitted against one another in a three-way dance – and everybody wins. “Lean On” was, for many, the highly sought-after ‘song of the summer.’ More importantly, it was an assertion of pure dominance for both the charts and the dancefloor. Just go with it.
65. The Story So Far – Nerve
The best pop-punk right now is made by kids raised on Through Being Cool that are through being cool. Beyond empty slogans and Tumblr drama lies music that can be artistic, cathartic and genuinely engaging. The Story So Far have evolved into such an act, having grown up before their audience’s eyes and winding up on the wrong side of their 20s with a bad attitude and some killer riffs. Subsequently, “Nerve” stands as one of the most righteously-angry songs of both TSSF’s canon and the calendar year. Any self-respecting rock fan needs to hear them out on this one.
64. Endless Heights – Haunt Me
When Joel Martorana gave up screaming and turned his attention to singing two years ago, it was a confusing and suspicious move to some genre stiffs. As his voice rings out on “Haunt Me,” however, one struggles to recall Endless Heights without it being there. It suits the hypnotic drone of the guitars and the brisk drumming to absolute perfection, and presents itself as further evidence that the change in direction for the band was undoubtedly the right decision to make. Succinctly, “Haunt Me” gets a lot of work done in a considerably-short time. The power of Heights compels you.
63. Justin Bieber – Sorry
It takes a lot for a man to own up to his mistakes – especially if that man was, up until quite recently, a boy despised on a global scale. With an A-team of producers spreading the good word on his behalf – in this particular instance, Sonny “Skrillex” Moore – Bieber’s path to redemption is a gruelling, arduous one for us to undertake. As long as songs like “Sorry” keep turning up, however, the path shall be paved with gold. Anyone not left dancing in the spirit of the song’s phenomenal video just isn’t Beliebing hard enough in themselves.
62. Josh Pyke – Be Your Boy
Sure, he’s a bit more Smooth FM than Triple J these days, but there’s a lot to be said for the fact Josh Pyke has never changed his stripes for anyone. He’s always been a hopeless romantic, a dreamer and an old soul – and all of this entwines beautifully on what is unquestionably his best song in years. Layered percussion and cooed backing vocals prove to be a warm bed for Pyke’s rekindled-youth flame to rest upon; and its sweetly-sincere chorus will do the rest of the job in worming its way into your heart. Ahh, Pykey. You’re alright.
When photos of Silversun Pickups first surfaced, many thought that the voice they were hearing belonged to bassist Nikki Moninger. Naturally, they were in for a world of shock when they inevitably saw Brian Aubert step up to the mic, but “Circadian Rhythm” is a Sliding Doors moment of sorts that shows what life would be like if it was actually Moninger that took the lead. As luck would have it, it’s a total delight – a more subdued and intimate moment from a band that normally go to 11. This, indeed, is a dance well worth immersing yourself in.
Part three up next Monday!
Don’t forget you can download the podcast version of Part Two here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
And so this is list season – and what have you done? At the start of 2014, I vowed to see more shows than I did in 2013. How’d I go? Well, 2013’s final count was 193. This year? 206! Suck shit, 2013!
A huge thanks to everyone who I rocked a show with, everyone who provided a couch or a floor when needed, all the great bands and artists, all the awesome venues, staff, crew… everyone that makes my escapades possible. I really fucking appreciate it. Let’s see how we go in 2015! Here are the best things I saw in 2014. Were you there?
– DJY, January 2015
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: The Living End, Anberlin, Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt, Jimmy Eat World, High Tension, Full of Hell, Cakes Da Killa, Bob Log III, Inner Fest, John Mayer, The Julie Ruin, Frightened Rabbit, Basement, Soundwave, Ty Segall, Savages, Fishing.
50. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard @ Oxford Art Factory, 11/12
Two albums, endless touring, more jams kicked out than an army of MC5s… 2014 was yet another wonderful time in the wild, weird world of Australia’s most psyched-out septet. It ended not with a whimper, but with a bong – sorry, bang – and we were better people for it.
49. Miley Cyrus @ Allphones Arena, 17/10
You know that scene in Shrek where they’re at the information booth and they see the weird puppet show and Donkey says, after a confused beat, “Wow… let’s do that again!”? That was this show. The year’s most bizarre pop gig, as well as its guiltiest pleasure.
48. Donny Benet @ Brighton Up Bar, 10/10
Suits, synthesizers and the sharpest pop this side of Sydney – that’s Donny Benet. He and his all-star band lead a packed, sweaty room through a guided tour of his latest, Weekend at Donny’s. Besides all that, it was worth the ticket price just to watch Jack Ladder play cowbell.
47. Hard-Ons @ Manning Bar, 7/6
30 years ago, some brats from Western Sydney made their punk-rock dreams come true. 30 years later, they’re keeping the dream alive – and we, the crusty, screaming masses, are still along for the ride. Bonus points for a scorching set from Cosmic Psychos as a Sydney treat. Fuck yeah.
46. Wil Wagner @ Newtown Social Club, 29/8
Months before Throw Me in the River was out in the world, the Smithies’ fearless leader lead a sold-out room through some of its highlights; as well as enough old favourites to sing the night away to. A relatively-quiet moment from an artist who made lots of noise in 2014.
45. Violent Femmes @ Sydney Opera House, 29/12
Do you like American music? We like American music – especially when it’s from a legendary cult folk-rock band making their debut at one of the most iconic venues in the world. A self-titled LP run-through, a two-hour setlist, a bitchin’ drum solo… we like American music best, baby.
44. Bruno Mars @ Qantas Credit Union Arena, 8/3
Make what you will of his various recorded endeavours. Live, this motherfucker is untouchable. A spotless live band and blistering choreography guaranteed a venue full of arses out of their seats; wiggling until they could wiggle no more. Remember: This is Bruno’s world – y’all are just living in it.
43. Neko Case @ Sydney Opera House, 3/3
Before she returned to the world of The New Pornographers, Case wrapped touring on the back of her excellent The Worse Things Get LP with a run of dates down under. We laughed (Case and Kelly Hogan’s banter), we cried (a pin-drop “Nearly Midnight”) and we sang (“Man”). Joyous.
42. La Dispute @ Metro Theatre, 18/6
As long as La Dispute keep coming back to Australia, they’ll continue to serve as a highlight of the year in touring. Not only do they continue to bring exceptional supports – in this instance, Balance and Composure – but they’ve completely justified their progression from basement shows to theatres.
41. James Vincent McMorrow @ Sydney Opera House, 29/5
He began the year with the release of an out-of-nowhere LP and sold-out Australian shows to back it. His return some months later felt like a victory lap; and despite some clear nerves, the charming Irishman was quick to make the lush surrounds of the concert hall his very own.
40. Future of the Left @ Factory Theatre, 3/1
The demise of the Annandale could have ruined their return plans, but Falco and his Futuristic friends pressed on in new surrounds and carried on business as usual. For those that don’t know, hilarious banter and wild breakneck post-punk is business – and business is good. Fuck the Annandale, man.
39. Laneway Festival @ RNA Showgrounds, 31/1
Turns out Brisbane does more than just bitch about the tours they don’t get – they do a pretty decent festival when they put their mind to it. Highlights included the intense Savages and a hip-hop triple-threat to see the night out: Danny Brown, Run the Jewels and Earl Sweatshirt.
38. Courtney Barnett @ Goodgod Small Club, 18/1
Before Fallon, Glastonbury and whatever other fortunes came her way in 2014, everyone’s mate Courtney Barnett turned the club surrounds of Goodgod into a boot-scooting indie-kid haven. Expect her to play rooms ten times the size in the year to come. Don’t say you weren’t warned, now. She’s earned it.
37. The Smith Street Band @ Factory Theatre, 24/11
As great, extremely loud and incredibly close those early Smith Street shows were, we’re on a bigger – and, arguably, better – scale. As they edge ever closer to being our best live act, the voices singing back are getting louder. Shows like this prove why that’s a good thing.
36. Kimbra @ Metro Theatre, 20/11
The Golden Echo wasn’t for everyone, and that’s totally fine. It was never going to be. Her live show, however, remains as flashy and exciting as it did when you first saw it. Not all that glitters is gold – but some of it is. That’s why Kimbra still rules.
35. Yes I’m Leaving @ Beatdisc Records, 8/11
Broken strings, dodgy amps, awkward pauses – potentially a recipe for disaster. Instead, we got the little rock show that could – shit got loud and shit got wild. It ended with the band piling both their instruments and themselves on top of the drum-kit. Because of course it did.
34. Outright @ Jura Books, 11/10
The most important band in Australian hardcore right now assembled an A-team of supports – Palmar Grasp, Canine, Family Values – and raised nearly $1500 for victims of rape and domestic violence. To every other band on the scene: THAT’S how you make a difference. Outright, again, lead by example.
33. Kevin Devine @ Newtown Social Club, 16/11
In the haze of the early Sunday evening, a waif-thin and unassuming figure was singing and playing guitar in Sydney’s inner-west. The only difference was the figure in question was a folk hero of sorts, surrounded by adoring admirers that knew every word to every song. Please be back soon.
32. Bluejuice @ Metro Theatre, 26/10
It’s so hard to say goodbye sometimes – especially when you’re dancing, screaming, shouting and getting a cheeky crowdsurf in edgeways. Less a funeral and more a celebratory memorial service, Bluejuice ended in style. Special mention to Jake Stone for the ballsiest dive the Metro may have ever seen. God-damn.
31. Bob Dylan @ State Theatre, 4/9
It ain’t the 60s anymore, kids. As soon as you comprehend that, then and only then will you be able to properly enjoy a modern-day Dylan show. It’s still grand in scale and as entertaining as before, just in a different context. So, how does it feel? Pretty good, actually.
30. tUnE-yArDs @ Oxford Art Factory, 28/7
The dust had barely settled from Splendour in the Grass when Merrill Garbus and her amazing technicolour band rolled into town for some sideshow action. Nikki Nack was pristinely brought to life, while old favourites still had all the stomp from their original runs. You are doing God’s work, Merrill.
29. RVIVR @ Monster Mouse Studios, 7/4
There used to be graffiti in the toilets at Black Wire that read “Queer punx rule this town.” Shows like this prove why – in an awesome space, Erica Freas and co. had fists and voices raised as high as the collective spirit in the room. DIY or GTFO.
28. QOTSA/NIN @ Qantas Credit Union Arena, 6/3
A tour that was quite literally the envy of the rest of the world – two of the biggest names in the last twenty years of rock head-to-head in a co-headlining battle for arena-rock glory. There was blood, sweat, tears and hits for days. Who won? We all fucking did.
27. The Weekender @ Various Venues, 21-24/8
It’s never not going to be a highlight of the calendar. You come for impeccable company, you stay for the dozens of exceptional bands and then life goes on as normal; while everyone not-so-secretly counts down until we get to do it all over again. Poison City for life, baby!
26. Something for Kate @ Enmore Theatre, 12/7
Whether you were down from day one or day one thousand, Something for Kate have made an impact on countless music fans in 20 years. This blockbuster set – the biggest show the band have ever headlined in Sydney – was presented as a thank-you. The pleasure was all ours.
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:
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.
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!
Crossing over to the halfway point. Let’s press on: Heartbreakers, headbangers and happy happy happy awaits you, dear reader! If you missed out, parts one and two are available to catch up on here and here. On with the show…
60. Death From Above 1979 – Cheap Talk
So, you haven’t been around for ten years. There’s a whole bunch of kids who weren’t paying attention or were simply too young the first time around. You got a lot of people waiting for you to kick down that door. What’s your game plan for returning to the party? Does it involve pummelling drums, enough bass to satisfy Meghan Trainor’s entire family and just enough cowbell to keep Bruce “Cock of the Walk” Dickinson away from a fever? If so, congratulations: You’re Death From Above 1979! Furthermore: Congratulations! You’re responsible for one of the flat-out best opening tracks of 2014.
59. Coldplay – Midnight
For a band so oft-derided for being complacent and predictable, perhaps not even the band’s fiercest detractors could have seen a track like this coming. Chris Martin is barely recognisable as he shrouds his voice in both rarely-touched-upon falsetto and layers of deep-set vocoder. The rest of the band delve into perhaps their most electronic foray to date, keeping the song moving along like clockwork – or, given the circumstances, like Kraftwerk. Although it didn’t blow up radio like “Stars” or “Magic” did, the fact it was never intended to proves that these giants can still see a bigger picture.
58. Sam Smith – Stay with Me
You know how we all wondered how Adele’s ex-boyfriend felt after hearing 21? We pretty much just did the exact same thing for this fellow twenty-something Brit with a broken heart and a chart-smashing album. This served as his “Someone Like You,” a torch ballad with enough fire within it to burn down a nearby village. His desperate pleas that filled out the song provoked some to smear him as a warbling miserablist, but the second Smith takes it to church with that chorus, there’s clearly something greater going on here. A broken heart mends, and a star is born.
57. Georgia Maq – What Do You Mean (The Bank’s Out of Money)
What do Tony Abbott, Heisenberg, Evan Dando and Bart Simpson have in common? Absolutely nothing – and it’s precisely this that makes their collective inclusion in this sensationally-scatterbrained number so entertaining. Maq is, to put it lightly, not a fan of a singular idea guiding one song – she bounds through enough ideas to last most singer-songwriters a double album in the course of just under four minutes, from comedic misunderstandings to deeply-personal family matters. It’s executed with aplomb, of course, and it’s refreshing to come across anyone bandying about an acoustic to have an askew take on songwriting structure.
56. Hockey Dad – Seaweed
Most of Hockey Dad’s songs sound as though they’re intended for a picturesque light blue sky, green grass and the suburban pavement. By means of contrast, the sun has seemingly set on “Seaweed,” which is the band’s most restrained and, for lack of a better term, tender moment. It’s the soundtrack to an endless summer coming to an end, the waves dropping back and the night taking its place. Rather than lower the collective morale, the song is a success on the terms that it showcases the band’s unexpected versatility. Besides, the sun’ll come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar.
55. “Weird Al” Yankovic – Lame Claim to Fame
Were you to name all of Weird Al’s biggest hits, you’d simply have to change the titles of other massive pop songs and go from there. How peculiar, then, that the best moment on his chart-topping comeback LP was an original. Taking cues from Southern Culture on the Skids, this cowbell-laden rocker lets Yankovic loose on the A-listers that he’s kinda-sorta interacted with over the years. Rather than get relegated to the deep-cuts, “Lame Claim” is what one should lead with in order to prove the perennial parodist can still get a laugh out of you some thirty-odd years in.
54. Sun Kil Moon – Carissa
Spoiler alert: A lot of people die on Benji, the latest album from Sun Kil Moon. Like, a lot. Carissa is the first of them, a ne’er-do-well teen rebel turned suburban mother who loses her life in a shocking, unexpected way. It’s all detailed by the low drawl of Mark Kozalek, whose uncle was her grandfather. With little more than a classical acoustic guitar, he takes us through his own grieving process; mostly involving the circumstances surrounding her death. It may not have been a pretty sight nor sound, but it made for some of the year’s most compelling listening.
53. Brendan Maclean – Holy Shit
Population, Maclean’s third EP, was essentially a whole lotta Jekyll-and-Hyde action. One minute, he’s the parading electro-pop superstar of “Winner,” the next he’s the uncertain and visibly-struggling end of a frayed relationship on “Holy Shit.” Maclean’s return to the piano allowed him to take off the cape to reveal the mild-mannered reporter beneath, adding in warm harmonies and a tightly-percussive backbone to his rock-and-hard-place confusion. It’s smart, honest and ranks among the finest songs he’s ever written. Yes, he’s the life of the party – but sometimes he’s the girl crying in the “Stupid” video, and that’s okay too.
52. Megan Washington – Limitless
Was there a more right-in-the-feels opening line this year than “There’s a certain kind of lonely where you sleep in your jeans”? In a year full of revealing moments for the Brisbane-born singer-songwriter – a touching Australian Story, reverting to her real name to release music – “Limitless” proved to be one of the most resonant. Perhaps it was the icy synths or the tightly-wound drums guiding its pained lyrics, or perhaps the the echoing detour into the bridge. Whatever the case, Washington managed to find a method within her madness. Us jeans-sleepers are all the more grateful for it.
51. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Kira Kira Killer
It’s growing increasingly difficult for us Westerners to get an idea as to what the hell is going on in the realm of Asian pop music. The only thing that we know is that we want more of it and we want more of it now. At once sounding like the final level of an adventure game and the theme song to the cutest show in the known universe, it’s a task unto itself to properly describe what Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has got going for her. Her amazing technicolour dream-pop needs to be experienced first hand. Happy! Happy! Happy!
50. DZ Deathrays – Gina Works at Hearts
Sometimes, you’ll hear a riff that’s indicative of a band ready to take it to the next level, from “Buy Me a Pony” to “Covered in Chrome.” The opening seconds of “Gina Works at Hearts” locked it in instantly – hell, even if the rest of the song was said riff, they’d have made it. Of course, there’s a lot going on here – as much a sugar-rush of power-pop as it is a rip-snorting rock-radio champion, DZ get the best out of both worlds and stake out their territory intently and defiantly. Shit’s very much about to get real.
49. Conor Oberst – Hundreds of Ways
A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, as well as prick you just as sharply with its thorns. Whether he’s a Monster of Folk, a Desaparecido or wandering through the Mystic Valley, Conor Oberst is still finding avenues in which to deliver his acutely-detailed world-watching. He’s evolved substantially from LiveJournal-worthy angst into the man that stands before you, leading a parade of ironically-triumphant horns, cooing backing vocals and chirpy lead guitar through such damning lyrics as “I hope I am forgotten when I die.” He may ramble on and on, but we’re still in the procession.
48. Interpol – All the Rage Back Home
Perhaps we’ve been looking at Interpol wrong this entire time. While their albums have often been met with indecision, indifference and derision – particularly within the past ten years – there’s something about the band’s singles that have remained entirely agreeable as a sole constant. El Pintor was bound to set people up for disappointment, given the high expectations with which it was anticipated; but its lead off proved to be one of the finest moments the NYC natives have ever put to their names. At once a slow-motion swell and an urgent rush, “Rage” is a straightforward, singular beast.
47. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Hot Wax
It’s pretty safe to say that King Gizzard are the kind of band that are working on no-one’s terms but theirs. Dropping two albums a year on average, the wonderfully-weird septet have kept audiences both simultaneously guessing their next move and standing back in awe of the miniature empire they have created. Then, of course, they’d drop “Hot Wax” and you’d be too busy shaking your hips to care about anything else. That beat! That harmonica howl! That bass! As you read this in the future, where they’ve presumably just released their twelfth album, remember this as a turning point.
46. Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea – Problem
There’s a new diva in town, and the mainstream press has not let anyone go without hearing the news – Grande was the centre of several “investigative” pieces surrounding her behaviour at photo-shoots. Still, the pint-sized popster had bigger fish to fry, and that came in the form of a dynamic kiss-off taking place in a cold war between sax hooks and sub-bass booms. “Problem” was all business from its opening moments and refused to let up. You may well have tried to deny its place at the table, but this was never about you-ou-ouuuuu. Not good. Not great. Grande.
45. Ty Segall – The Singer
For a guy who’s known for his bounding-off-the-walls energy (see his performances on Conan and that Chicago morning talk show), it’s been strange to watch Ty Segall mellow out a little more as he edges closer to 30. Following on from an entirely-acoustic affair in 2013, Segall kept people guessing on his Manipulator LP, where a song presumably included as a breather between rockier numbers ended up being one a true career highlight. “The Singer” tripped the light fantastic and put particular emphasis on the latter. Rarely has “Sing/Sing louder” sounded less like a refrain and more like a mantra.
44. Ryan Adams – Gimme Something Good
Sometimes, you gotta go back. Back when the uniform of the nation was blue jeans and a white t-shirt, your hometown was either your best friend or your worst enemy and the perfect Saturday night was out with your best girl. It’s a time that Ryan Adams has ostensibly wound up in, and on paper it may well not make sense for a noted balladeer to draw such substantial influence from this style. Once the organ calls out beneath Adams’ reverb-heavy guitar swagger, however, it’s the equivalent of the puzzle pieces setting themselves into place. Consider that something good given.
43. Jon LaJoie – Please Use This Song
Taco may have wound up with the Sacko (last place) in this year’s season of The League, but in most other respects, his portrayer took out the Shiva. Not only did he have a memorable casting in the guilty-pleasure hit Let’s Be Cops, Sir LaJoie also took his brand of provocative parody work into the realm of what’s commonly being referred to as “corporate indie” (Hi, Sheppard!). Even when taking the complete mickey out of the genre, he’s done such a dead-on impression that he’s inadvertently wound up as the king of it all. This is the right song, indeed.
42. Brody Dalle – Don’t Mess with Me
We may be ten years removed from the demise of The Distillers, but their ghost is rattling around somewhere here. Of course, it helps that their fearless frontwoman is the mastermind behind it, but there’s more to it: The first lady of rock hasn’t sounded this menacing, guttural and flat-out tough since the days of Coral Fang all that time ago. Put it this way: Most bands would get laughed out of the room if they were to try out a refrain like this song’s title. In Dalle’s hands, you’ll need a quick exit and a clean pair of pants.
41. Pinch Hitter – All of a Sudden
There aren’t many worse places to start having a panic-induced existential crisis than on the strict confines of a plane. Still, Pinch Hitter managed to take the lemons given to them and make some of the sweetest lemonade possible. Part math-rock shuffle, part fluttering baroque pop explosion, “All of a Sudden” explored the greater possibilities of this unique double-banjo project and took its listeners along for the ride. A cameo from Jen Buxton and Jai “the new Terminator” Courtney reciting the brilliant refrain of “Everything’s matter/Everything matters” take this song to a higher (pardon the pun) plane of existence. Incredible.
There’s an endless stream of great lyrics that flow through Modern Baseball’s second album, but perhaps its most telling moments come through its asides, its mumbles and awkward fumbles. “Yeah… about that…” comes with awkward pauses on ‘Fine, Great,’ while the line “I could not muster the courage to say a single word” practically falls over itself in ‘Apartment.’ It’s an awkward and uncomfortable record, but in a way it has to be in order to convey the dissatisfaction and blank, distant gazes that come with such sighing honesty among its smart pop-punk and understated alt-rock. Whatever forever.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Two Good Things, Notes, Your Graduation.
With the wizardry of Gerling alum Burke Reid guiding them, Brisbane’s finest party-starters maintained the rage on their all-important second album. It’s worth pointing out that there was far more to the album than what was presented on surface value: While DZ kicked their boots into several slices of snarling garage rock, they also found themselves slowing to a crawl and exploring the possibilities of more than one guitar – let’s try a half-dozen. Why not? Black Rat is the sound of a band expanding their empire, refusing to be either restricted or defined by what’s previously been laid out.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Northern Lights, Reflective Skull, Gina Works at Hearts.
38. Jane Tyrrell – Echoes in the Aviary Spotify || Rdio
A supporting player that has had people begging for a lead, Jane Tyrrell is regarded as one of the finest vocalists to emerge out of Australia’s hip-hop community. Here, she takes those lessons learned and breathes fresh life into them. Assisted by a stellar team of producers and multi-instrumentalists, Tyrrell revels in deep, dark secrets; conveyed with the kind of sorrow that can only come from raw-nerve connections to every last lyric. At once breathily intimate and unreachably distant, Echoes is the sound of an artist taking flight for the very first – and certainly not the last – time.
THREE TOP TRACKS: The Rush, Echoes in the Aviary, Raven.
The bloodline of Mere Women runs through DIY punk, indie rock, basement electronica and warehouse post-punk. It fits in everywhere and nowhere at the exact same time; such is the nature of its genre traversing and integral versatility. Truth be told, there’s very few bands that quite match what it is that Mere Women do, and that’s never been more the case than on Your Town. Each note feels cacophonous, cold to the touch and bristling with anxiety and defeat. It all falls into place, painstakingly detailing what happens when things between people disintegrate into nothing at all. Truly jawdropping.
There is no band in Australian hardcore right now more important than Outright. There is no band in Australian hardcore right now that will sit you down, shut you up and give you the severe reality check that you need the way Outright will. No album in Australian music this year was able to encapsulate such fury and such authoritative defiance like Avalanche did – and in such a short amount of time. How much more evidence do you need in order to see Avalanche as a milestone for its scene and its genre? Do we have everybody’s attention now?
THREE TOP TRACKS: A City Silent, Troubled, With Your Blessing.
What kind of year has it been for Megan Washington? It’s all out in the open now. Everything. She’s publicly confessed to having a stutter, told all about a failed relationship that even had a wedding on the cards… hell, she’s even performing under her full name now. The details are not spared on There There, and its seemingly-cathartic release benefits both her and those that have always perceived her to be an excellent and important songwriter. This is Washington’s single best collection of songs, and those that investigate its innermost secrets are the ones that will be rewarded greatest.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Limitless, Marry Me, My Heart is a Wheel.
It doesn’t matter if it happened when she dropped her debut, when she teamed with David Byrne or even when she stole the show during SNL: You’ve fallen in love with Annie Clark. As St. Vincent, she has been responsible for some of the most arresting, envelope-pushing art-rock this side of the century. Not only was this reaffirmed on her self-titled LP, it showcased some of the finest examples of it. Whether she’s shredding with the flair of an 80s metal star or tiptoeing around delicate arrangements with the grace of a ballerina, the love affair remains in full swing.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Digital Witness, Bring Me Your Loves, Birth in Reverse.
Hollie Fullbrook may be a particularly quiet artist, but there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about her that will stun you into silence. She’ll be recalling a specifically-detailed story from her childhood at one point, falling helplessly in love with a nearby worker at another. What ties it all together is both Fullbrook’s knack for stunning melodies and impeccable, tidy arrangements incorporating warm horns, pinches of strings and her exceptional rhythm section. Brightly Painted One deserves to be seen, heard and known.
THREE TOP TRACKS: She’ll Be Coming ‘Round, Me in the Museum, You in the Wintergardens, Ballad of the Hanging Parcel.
It was always going to be driving a hard bargain in order to make people care about Slipknot again. Six years have passed since their previous record, a tragic loss almost ended the band entirely and perhaps their best-known player exited the fold permanently. It’s either on account of this or in reaction to it, but The Gray Chapter is an album that overcomes every obstacle. It’s an album that makes the impossible possible, pounding its fists through the coffin and rising up to complete unfinished business. It’s the sound of a band who won’t go down without a fight.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Custer, Sarcastrophe, The Devil in I.
On paper, an acoustically-oriented record from one of the most prominent, inventive electric guitarists of the past 30 years would appear to be fruitless, confusing and counter-productive. One pities the fool, of course, who would ever think to doubt or question the motives of one Joseph Donald Mascis, Jr. Whatever style of music he lends his formidable songwriting abilities to, the Dinosaur Jr. mainstay is sure to make it a worthwhile endeavour. Star marks his strongest solo album, delving into Nick Drake-esque introspect and sweetly-soft falsetto. It betrays what you know him best for, making it all the more fascinating.
THREE TOP TRACKS:Every Morning, Me Again, Wide Awake.