The Top 100 Songs of 2021, Part Four: 40 – 21

What’s good? Sorry this is late – life, uhh, gets in the way. Anyway, happy to be here. List Season ends when I SAY it ends, dammit! Right, admin before we crack on: Make sure you catch up on Part One, Part Two and even Part Three if you’re feeling particularly adventurous. That one’s for all my completionists out there. Alright, on with the show!

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40. Squid – Paddling

There’s lots of descriptors thrown around when discussing Brighton’s Squid. If there was one to rule them all, however, it’s “frenetic.” Even at over six minutes long – a considerable slog for some of Squid’s post-punk peers – “Paddling” is always in a hurry. Its guitar licks elbow in edgeways, its drums barely relent in their bloodthirsty quest to keep the beat and the trifecta vocal trade-off ensures it’s in a constant state of coming in from all angles. “Don’t push me in,” barks drummer Ollie Judge with an increasing sense of dread. Who’d dare fence in this gelatinous beast?

39. Lil Nas X – MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)

It was the pole dance heard ’round the world. The most unabashedly gay pop smash of all time slid its way into the collective conscience’s hearts and minds the second it dropped. It would remain there rent-free for the remainder of the year, even when the cycle moved onto the next Lil Nas X controversy – and there always seemed to be one. Wherever you ended up, it was hard to deny “MONTERO.” Its stomping flamenco spice, its aggressively suggestive lyrics and its hip-shaking switch-ups ensured that even when the circus eventually left town, “MONTERO” never did. It’s still peachy.

38. Great Job! – Vodka Chunder

It’s not so much that youth is wasted on the young – it’s that the youth are wasted. Like, a lot. There’s been drinking songs since well before Great Job! were born, and it’s a tradition they carry with their own antipodean spin. “You smell like vodka and chunder,” cheers Charlie Hollands in the chorus, which will no doubt elicit plenty of memories and imagery of house parties gone by. In amidst the nostalgia, however, lies a pub-rock urgency that makes “Vodka Chunder” feel entirely in the moment. It’s songs like that this that will ensure you feel forever young.

37. Silk Sonic – Leave the Door Open

Bruno Mars was due a comeback after his mid-2010s streak that started on “Uptown Funk” and ended on “Finesse.” Few, however, were expecting Mars hauling funky drummer and fellow R&B aficionado Anderson .Paak along for the ride. “Leave the Door Open” wasn’t an obvious lead single, but as a debut it now makes perfect sense: the sonics don’t get much silkier than this all-time slow jam of wine, robes and rose petals. Mars and .Paak trade off one another perfectly, with the double-time outro feels especially celebratory. With satisfaction guaranteed, Silk Sonic ensured their first impression was a long-lasting one.

36. Spiritbox – Secret Garden

Canadian metal act Spiritbox focus heavily on aesthetics. Their merch moves huge numbers, they shoot elaborate music videos and there’s a distinct glossiness to every photo of them. This might be a problem if they didn’t have the songs to complement it, but as their exceptional debut Eternal Blue testifies they are an all-in audio-visual experience that thrives on both ends of the spectrum. Best of all is “Secret Garden,” a resplendent djent adventure that’s smooth to the touch but doesn’t shy from rough edges. If Courtney LaPlante’s absolutely monstrous chorus doesn’t turn you into the Maxell guy, nothing will.

35. Billie Eilish – Your Power

The bombast of Billie Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever” was one of the musical moments of 2021. Great as it was, though, its hotdogging and grandstanding was playing to the back rows of the stadium. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld said, but if you wanted the real show-stopping moment on Happier Than Ever you had to listen that little bit closer. With little more than Finneas’ steely acoustic guitars and close harmonies guiding her, Eilish painted a damning portrait of a cunning manipulator. It’s clearly hers, but the iciness is cold enough to be felt by everyone.

34. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – That Life

Do we take Unknown Mortal Orchestra for granted? Maybe. Like, it could be argued they’re consistent to the point of it being unsurprising after all these years in the game. Of course their comeback single was excellent – the sky happens to be blue as well, y’know. In all honesty, it was the help of a little blue guy and his impeccable choreography work that lead this song to truly stick in hearts and minds. As Ruban Nielsen laments the world collapsing around him amidst “Billie Jean” drums and tape-loop guitars, there’s really nothing else to do but dance apocalyptic.

33. Duran Duran – INVISIBLE

Consider Duran Duran comparable to another thing English people love, Neighbours. Despite never really leaving for 35-plus years, mentioning them in the modern era will inevitably elicit an incredulous “Is that still going?” Indeed, “INVISIBLE” was the lead single from their 15th(!) studio album – and if we’re told to dance like no-one’s watching, then Duran Duran are playing like no-one’s listening. With pop aspirations long gone, they instead melt down their New Romantic aesthetics and mould them into a darker, stranger image – all with Blur’s Graham Coxon making weird guitar shapes for good measure. Still hungry; never ordinary.

32. Royal Blood – Typhoons

Being a guitar-less rock band wasn’t enough of a gimmick for Royal Blood to hang their jackets on beyond one admittedly-excellent EP in 2014. When “Trouble Coming” dropped in late 2020, it felt symbolic of the Worthing duo getting their collective mojo back. They weren’t done, either: in the third week of 2021, “Typhoons” made its splash and continued to make waves for the rest of the year. With their most snarling groove in years, the band aped Muse circa Black Holes plus Supergrass circa… well, Supergrass. What could’ve been a natural disaster ended up as Royal Blood’s redemption arc.

31. Coconut Cream – Your Drug on Computers

You know you’re onto something when members of Middle Kids and Gang of Youths are investing early. Coconut Cream may have friends in high places, but the fact of the matter is they’re unquestionably headed there themselves. Proof? “Your Drug on Computers” offers a compelling contrast between niche nostalgia and its 21st-century Sydney setting. It’s a song of lost infatuation and old flames, brought back to flickering life through jangly guitars and the kind of rousing chorus that could fill a festival ground. As their second EP looms, make sure you’re on board before they’re inevitably off to bigger things.

30. Fred again.. – Dermot (See Yourself in My Eyes)

The premise of Fred again..’s Everyday Life project was simple: Lift samples of voices, famous or otherwise, and retool them into his own brand of technicolour house. The albums are both ostensibly variations on a theme, but these one-trick ponies well and truly know their way around the racecourse. It all comes down to Fred’s vision and his impeccable arrangements – simmering, submerged; then bursting forth, cascading. Dermot Kennedy is a singer-songwriter with a great voice, but usually his blue-eyed fare is lacking je ne sais quoi. Here, he soars over clattering piano and bustling beats. The ordinary becometh extraordinary.

29. Silk Sonic – Smokin Out the Window

If you’re doing a pastiche of any kind, it’s imperative you incorporate all aspects. Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, leading by example, have everything about the Soul Train era downpat – the clothes and the grooves, certainly, but also the histrionics. So much of it is downright ridiculous, and “Smokin Out the Window” exemplifies it to a T. Case in point: If you weren’t walking around for weeks on end yelling “THIS. BITCH.” at inopportune moments, you straight up missed out. A genuinely hilarious slice of retro-pop perfection, “Smokin” proves that when God closes a door, he opens a window.

28. We Are Scientists – Contact High

It always felt like indie nerds We Are Scientists never got their due – 2005’s With Love and Squalor, after all, had to compete with a crowded scene across both the US and UK. Still, the endearing duo has never given up or cashed in the reunion-tour card – just as well, really, given they’re still fully capable of driving, robust indie-rock. “Contact High” is arguably their best since 2009’s “After Hours,” its slit-speaker guitar distortion and A-Ha worthy chorus transcending decades. The subsequent album Huffy may have been slept on, but “Contact” showed that the formula is still downpat.

27. I Know Leopard – Day 2 Day

Sydney indie darlings I Know Leopard have never shied from introspect – indeed, it served as central to their 2019 debut Love is a Landmine from a lyrical standpoint. Never quite before, however, has frontman Luke O’Loughlin come across quite as vulnerable and defeated as this. Even pitted against one of the band’s brightest and most resplendent piano-pop arrangements to date, as he bemoans losing “another piece of me” in deceptively-cheery falsetto. Even if they weren’t open for most of 2021, no song quite took to the concept of “crying in the club” than “Day 2 Day.” A bittersweet triumph.

26. Noah Dillon – That’s Just How I Feel

Underneath that mane of frizz atop his head, Perth singer-songwriter Noah Dillion possesses a brain that just seems to have songwriting all figured out. He takes to the usual garage-rock chord progression with aplomb, but he weaves more than enough personality and innovative twists into the mix for it to be inextricably his. “That’s Just How I Feel” is perhaps the best example of his still-young career, bounding through the handclap traffic and guitar snarls to wax poetic on sourdough warriors, tough cookies, family and young love. It’s enough to make you remark aloud: Dillon, you son of a bitch.

25. Jake Bugg – Lost

Nearly a decade removed from the rambling folk-rock of his self-titled debut, Nottingham’s Jake Bugg took a considerable gamble and reassembled his entire musical structure. Forget Dylan being called Judas for going electric, Bugg could have been decreed Satan himself for how much he changed things up. As any self-respecting Satanist knows, though, Hell ain’t a bad place to be. It’s called “Lost,” but Bugg has never sounded more sure of where he is – the hypnotic loop of the piano, the swelling synth strings, that goddamn bassline. Smash the acoustic and lower the mirrorball: Jake Bugg 2.0 has arrived.

24. Big Red Machine feat. Taylor Swift – Renegade

Of all the cultural shifts that came with the pandemic, Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon being added to to a list of teenage girls’ obsessions was one of the more unexpected. Then again, so was them crossing paths with the most famous person in the world – and yet, here we are. Of the three Swift/Vernon/Dessner collabs thus far, “Renegade” is the most conventional. Don’t let that detract from its cleverness and exuberance for a second, though. The understated indietronica environment is surprisingly pitch-perfect for Ms. Swift, who offers starry-eyed wondering for Vernon to add perfectly-contrasting harmonies to. Opposites attract.

23. Wavves – Sinking Feeling

The trajectory of Wavves from lo-fi underdog to indie darling to heel landlord has been bizarre, to say the least. They arrived in 2021 broken, battered and bruised – and lead saddest foot forward. Hideaway‘s lead single, “Sinking Feeling” takes Nathan Williams and co. on a magic boat ride of sour psychedelia. Somewhere in the valley between The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” and Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love,” this solemn dance to the end turned out to be the band’s best song in nearly a decade. Heavy is the head that wears the crown that reads King Of The Beach.

22. Kanye West – Jail

The trick of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is that you’re always paying attention to what isn’t there. “Jail,” the beginning of Donda‘s exhaustive 100-minute journey, pulls the same trick – except this time, the lights being out makes Ye all that more dangerous. Only two layers of guitars – one stabbing, one wailing – guide Yeezy’s diatribe from the back of the cop car. When he’s no longer alone, you notice: Gang vocals underline lines like “We all liars,” while a certain mysterious superhero swoops in for verse three. He’s carried by the single set of footprints in the sand.

21. Debbies – Sinner

Debbies are born from a coastline defined by bushfire regrowth and teenage boredom. To entirely dismiss the duo as Gen-Z grommits, however, misses the bigger picture of a song like “Sinner.” There’s something darker in the water – that shift from “I think I fucked up my liver” in verse one to “future” in verse two hits especially different. Debbies, truth be told, are just as lost as your average Lockie Leonard – but they’re finding their way, with “Sinner” serving as a guiding light through difficult terrain. More than barely-legal burnouts, these are young men with something to say.

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

Back next week with part five!

The Top 100 Songs of 2015, Part One: 100 – 81

It’s about that time, folks. You know how this one goes. Good, clean fight to the finish. All genres, countries and ages accepted. Only one rule: No touching of the hair or face. Alright, let’s get it on!

To pre-game, why not take a listen to this supplementary list of 50 great songs that just missed out on the top 100?

As always, DISCLAIMER: This is not a list of the most popular songs, nor is it a list curated by anyone except myself. These are, in my view, the best songs of the year. Disagreement and discussion is welcomed, but ultimately if you have any real issues with any songs that are ranked too low, too high or not at all… make your own list!

DJY, December 2015

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100. Cosmic Psychos – Fuckwit City

The greatest moments in the 30-plus year canon of Cosmic Psychos have been helmed by the infamous snarl of Ross Knight, so it’s a rare treat to hear a lead vocal from the band’s pot-bellied riff-bearer, John “Mad Macca” McKeering. Macca’s no crooner – but, then again, neither’s Knighty. It’s not exactly a top priority when there’s a big, stomping riff and a middle-finger-waving chorus to smash through. The accompanying video, which sees the band smashing tinnies and chowing down on snags, gets the point across better than words ever could: them’s the Psychos. They’re not to be fucked with.

99. Kissing Booth – Battlefield

“Battlefield” has been a staple of Kissing Booth’s live shows more or less since their formation, and it’s easy to see why – if it’s not Tom Jenkins’ thunderous tom rolls that lead it in, it’s the earnest, raised-fist chorus and undying mantra of “you’ve got the strength in you to succeed” that will firmly seal the deal. Recorded at long last for their debut, Never Settle, “Battlefield” became a highlight once again – it’s a slow-waltz through love-and-war metaphors and swinging twin-guitar warmth, reeling in listeners before bowling them over. If love is a battlefield, consider Kissing Booth victorious.

98. You Beauty – Illywhacka

They’re not pioneers of writing about love from a hardened, cynical perspective – and Lord knows they won’t be the last. What spices up the title track to You Beauty’s second album is knowing it’s from the perspective of a scam artist – someone who makes a living saying things but never meaning them. “If I misuse the words/I’m not the first,” he justifies at one point; “I do believe it’s unconscious like the rest,” he affirms at another. Throw in some thwacking snare rolls and a Johnny Marr-worthy guitar tone and you’re ready to fall for anything he says.

97. Frank Turner – The Next Storm

Positive Songs for Negative People, Turner’s comeback LP from the middle of 2015, was thematically centred on Turner refusing to let pessimism and a slew of personal ordeals serve as the obstacles they once were. As bar-room piano leads him into a fist-wielding rock shuffle, Turner takes a matter as pedestrian as the weather and lets it blossom into the perfect metaphor for his sunnier outlook. It might seem naff – especially if Turner has ever felt too endearing – but it’s hard to deny a shout-along to a refrain as wonderfully succinct as “Rejoice! Rebuild! The storm has passed!”

96. Young Fathers – Rain or Shine

Young Fathers are in it to win it, because having the Mercury just wasn’t enough. The trio – alongside Sleaford Mods – were two major acts to properly turn British music on its head and expose a darker, more unpleasant side of their respective homelands last year. It’s telling that both immediately followed up their world-class 2014 breakthroughs in 2015; equaling – and occasionally bettering – their predecessors. This slab of sweet-and-sour alt-hop stays true to its name; throwing a Motown worthy ‘hey-hey-hey’ into the blender with some deadpan abstract poetry. Theirs is a revolution that is still… well, revolving.

95. Alabama Shakes – Don’t Wanna Fight

Perhaps the most piercing, indescribable squeal this side of Kings of Leon’s “Charmer” is what lead us into the first single from Alabama Shakes’ long-awaited second album. The groove was very much still in the heart for Brittany Howard and co., shuffling through a head-nodding lick and a driving four-on-the-floor beat before letting loose a truly righteous falsetto-disco chorus that takes on double duty as a harken-back to vintage soul. Much like their finest moments from Boys & Girls, “Don’t Wanna Fight” is some kind of genre Voltron. In the right context, it’s a fully-formed and unstoppable machine. Right on.

94. Horrorshow feat. Thelma Plum, Jimblah and Urthboy – Any Other Name

This protest song, dropped in the wake of horrendous abuse toward now-retired AFL player Adam Goodes, is an endlessly-quotable all-star tirade against the systemic, institutionalised racism that has become more and more prevalent in modern Australian society. Each artist brings their A-game across the track’s runtime, laying their heart out on their sleeves and making it exceptionally clear who is in the wrong. The track’s mic-drop moment comes with Solo’s damning, defiant final point: “Racist is as racist does/So if you’re doing something racist/Hate to break it, you’re a racist, cuz.” This is our wake-up call. Australia, this is you.

93. Hockey Dad – Can’t Have Them

2014 was the year of Zach Stephenson and Billy Fleming, the Windang wunderkinds that wrote the best Australian song of the year and sent audiences young and old into a hair-flipping frenzy. It would have been entirely understandable if they wanted to go for their afternoon nap this year, but it appears the red cordial is still running through their veins. This stand-alone single is a bright, bouncy hip-shaker that strengthens Stephenson’s knack for cooed, wordless refrains and Fleming’s primitive boom-thwack Ringo fills. It bodes considerably well for the band’s imminent debut LP next year. Game on, you little scamps.

92. Drake – Know Yourself

The mixtape lifestyle suited Drake this year. Dropping new material when he felt like it with no label pressure and no pushing for a greater ambition meant that the man born Aubrey Graham was allowed to have a lot more fun. Amid the dozen-plus new songs that arrived on the If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late mixtape, it was this centrepiece that sent fans into a tailspin. Its clanking trap beat, its obnoxious sub-bass and that hook – Drizzy can make this shit happen without even trying these days. You know how that shit go. Airhorns at the ready.

91. Beach Slang – Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas

In the same year that Weston, the pop-punk band James Alex was a part of in the 90s, reunited for a handful of shows; Alex also got a second wind with the momentum of his new band, Beach Slang, who became one of 2015’s most hyped rock bands. It’s easy to both see and hear why this was the case: the paint-splatter ride cymbal, its two-chord fury; not to mention the wordless refrains one has to unlock their jaw in order to properly sing out. We are all in the garage, but some of us are looking at the stars.

90. Endless Heights – Teach You How to Leave

Every year, Endless Heights inch further and further away from the forthright melodic hardcore with which they made their name. Every year, Endless Heights write sharper, smarter songs with a greater level of introspect, heart and poignancy. Simply put: Every year, Endless Heights get flat-out better. This, the title-track to their third EP, feels like an endgame of sorts – the kind of low-key, artfully-quiet song that they have worked towards on previous efforts. It’s able to do more in less than three minutes than what may of the band’s contemporaries can achieve with five-plus. A bright, beautiful slow-burn.

89. The Bennies – Party Machine

From one end to the other, The Bennies can become a million different things – post-punk hip-shakers, knees-up ska bouncers, heavy disco (pardon the pun) ravers. When it all rolls together, it becomes something full of wild-eyed energy; a measured defiance of restrictive guidelines and genre semantics. With a third album looming, “Party Machine” feels like the Bennies single that has the most to prove – that they are ready to take this shit higher than ever before. It passes accordingly with all the flying colours of a hallucinogenic rainbow. The machine rages on. The party is just getting started.

88. Pity Sex – What Might Soothe You?

There are those that haven’t quite known what to make of Pity Sex in the past – too much of an indie band for shoegaze nerds, too much of a shoegaze band for indie kids. On their first new material in two years, the band play up their limbo with a song accentuating both sides of the coin. Twee, unisex vocals are placed under the same spotlight as hazed-out, Daydream Nation-worthy guitar fuzz – at once joyously bright and uniformly morose. Putting genre semantics aside and appreciating a great song for what it is – it, indeed, might soothe you.

87. Miguel – leaves

Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan was given a songwriting credit to this end-of-summer lament after Miguel claimed he was accidentally inspired by the Pumpkins’ hit “1979.” The similarities certainly present themselves – particularly in the off-kilter guitar patterns – but “leaves” substitutes the mid-west teenage dreaming for west-coast heartbreak and Corgan’s adenoidal nostalgia for a smooth, love-lorn crooning. Along with being a standout moment of Miguel’s excellent Wildheart LP, it certainly stands as the best thing Corgan has been attached to in well over a decade – and it says a lot that he wasn’t directly involved at all.

86. Darren Hanlon – The Chattanooga Shoot-Shoot

He’s spent over a decade as one of the country’s smartest, most celebrated songwriters – even his peers can’t help but be amazed by the way he wondrously weaves his wayward words. The standout track from his fifth album takes the Gympie couchsurfer about as far from home as he’s ever been – travelling to Tennessee on a budget bus. To borrow a phrase from Upworthy, you won’t believe what happens next. The “Folsom Prison Blues” chord progression and timely snare hits are a nice touch, too. Of all of Hanlon’s tales, this one hits number one with a bullet.

85. Micachu and the Shapes – Oh Baby

“It’s not us to give up in a rush,” crows Mica Levi over a hypnotic boom-bap rhythm and underwater synths blubbering from afar. She’s got a point, y’know – it might have been three years since we heard from Levi, Raisa Khan and Marc Pell; but they re-enter the fray as if they were never really gone. Reverb-laden crooning and an experimental hip-hop flavour to the song’s lo-fi production add spice and texture, but theirs is a dynamic so constantly-shifting and fascinating that these two aspects could just as well be just scratching the surface. Just like that, it vanishes.

84. Best Coast – Heaven Sent

Not to get all Rick Astley on the situation, but Best Coast are no strangers to love. Their knack lies in their ability to make it sound as fresh and dewy-eyed as that of young romance. No-one else in the current indie-rock climate could drop something as sappy as “You are the one that I adore” atop a major chord and not only get away with it, but be commended for it. There’s a method and an art-form to all of this – and the only ones that know the secret recipe are Bethany and Bobb. Love rules, yeah yeah.

83. Bad//Dreems – Cuffed and Collared

What other band in Australia right now could simultaneously recall God’s “My Pal” and The Remembrandt’s sole hit “I’ll Be There for You” in a single bound? It could well have something to do with how “Cuffed and Collared” vividly mashes together the fury and bounding energy of the former with the unmistakable pop ear-worms of the latter. It might be a song that details a violent altercation, sure; but you’ll be damned if you aren’t grinning every time that the hook in question rolls around – and it’s on a near-frequent loop. With Dreems like these, who needs Friends?

82. Foals – What Went Down

What the ever-loving fuck is going on here? From its seasick organ drone to its detour into a thick three-note riff – not to mention its subsequent tear-down and empirical rebuild – “What Went Down” is one of the most head-spinning, ferocious compositions that Foals have ever committed to wax. What else does it have in store? Abstract imagery! A piercing, screamed refrain! Constant, unpredictable swerves that threaten to throw the entire goddamn thing off a cliff! To paraphrase a quote from Blades of Glory‘s Chazz Michael-Michaels: No-one knows what went down, but it’s provocative. It gets the people going.

81. The Hard Aches – Knots

One of the true signs of great, honest songwriting is when the writer in question turns the knife – or, in this case, the much-mightier pen – on themselves. The Hard Aches’ Ben David exposes his flaws on this key track from the band’s debut, Pheromones; bitterly portraying himself as a pathological, unrepentant liar in a constant state of exhaustion. Towards the song’s thrilling conclusion, however, he indicates that he’s on the road to bettering himself – and his is such a blunt, forthright delivery that you just know that he’ll get there. The untying process slowly but surely begins.

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Part Two will be posted next Monday!

To download the podcast version of Part One, click here.