The Top 100 Songs of 2021, Part Five: 20 – 1

I began writing about my top 100 songs of 2021, the DJY100, on November 29, 2021. I finished writing about my top 100 songs of 2021, the DJY100, on March 31, 2022. I very nearly gave up, because I was exhausted and checked out and besides everything else, who wants to read a 2021 best-of at the start of April the following year? Is this some sort of joke? An April Fool’s? Ultimately, it got to the point where I was openly challenging myself to get this shit done – I lingered on the top 10 for weeks, especially. I’m really glad that I stuck with it. If a job’s worth doing, after all.

Before I get out of here: You can catch up on the entire list via Parts One, Two, Three and Four.

Thank you so much for reading. It means a lot. I’ll be back in about eight months or so to get into all of this again. If I get this next one finished in February 2023 then it’s over for you bitches. La la love you.

– DJY, March 2022

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20. Dry Cleaning – Strong Feelings

What’s your favourite turn of phrase in “Strong Feelings”? Is it “Emo dead stuff collector”? “Spent ₤17 on mushrooms”? “Seems like a lot of garlic”? “It’s Europe”? There’s no wrong answers – and that, by proxy, can also be said of Dry Cleaning themselves. Whether you’re drawn to the rumble of the rhythm section, the Andy Gill-style guitar shapes or the droll, desert-dry delivery, you’re absolutely spot on. “Strong Feelings” was among the upper echelon of cuts from the band’s debut New Long Leg – which, itself, was among the upper echelon of 2021 albums. The top really suits them.

19. RÜFÜS DU SOL – Next to Me

Not to be all “before it was cool,” but those that knew RÜFÜS DU SOL before 2018’s Solace look at the world the Sydney expat trio have created for themselves with utmost awe. In the case of “Next to Me” and its jaw-dropping music video, that’s quite literal too. Entire universes rising and falling in syncopation with the song’s own vast landscape seems like both the perfect accompaniment and the most succinct reflection on how far RÜFÜS have come. From its solitary piano tinker to its orbiting synth spirals, everything within “Next to Me” feels properly, emphatically monumental by design.

18. TURNSTILE – BLACKOUT

Hardcore has never been the kind to shy from gory details, but the dark underbelly of “BLACKOUT” is one unique package. It’s a song about wanting your roses while you’re still alive, ruminating on the fragility of life itself – all while loud guitars slam against booming drums and percussion. It may seem at odds, but the song’s extroverted nature is Brendan Yates taking his anguish and reaching out his hand to a captive audience – as if to ask, “are you with me?” They are, of course – especially when “the main bit but slower” kicks in. Bust it.

17. Big Scary – Bursting at the Seams

After over a decade as a band, Big Scary’s fourth album Daisy made some significant changes to the mulitifaceted duo’s already-complex narrative. Amongst them came drummer Jo Syme’s long-awaited (and well-deserved) debut on lead vocals. Enter “Bursting at the Seams,” a fascinating styles clash between synth-bass disco and baroque pop in the spirit of “Love is In the Air.” Syme finds herself in the midst of new romance, and consequently tangos between love and lust. “All I want is to feel” is a bold line in its own right; when it’s suffixed with “love,” all bets are off. Terrifyingly good.

16. Olivia Rodrigo – good 4 u

Behold: The song that kicked the door open on Olivia Rodrigo’s multitudes, showing the wholly-attentive universe at large she could provide more than tear-stained balladry. It’s still at odds with the perennially jilted ex, but this time Rodrigo is pissed. Well, as pissed as one can get in mainstream pop songs – somewhere below “Caught Up There” but above “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).” Was there a better a capella on the charts this year then Rodrigo red-levelling “LIKE A DAMN SOCIOPATH”? Fuck no there wasn’t. If Rodrigo is supposedly in the business of misery, business is booming.

15. The Goon Sax – In the Stone

On Mirror II, The Goon Sax built up enough stamina to not only outrun their familial comparisons, but prove that theirs was a band prepared to go the distance. What’s interesting, though, is this much isn’t immediately apparent on “In the Stone.” In a slow-motion bloom over repeated listens, the song reveals the sum of the band’s parts in the best way possible. Louis Foster and Riley Jones circle one another in the verses, eventually actualising their synergy in the chorus that keeps on giving. Across persistent momentum and a constant stream of guitar jangle, a new legacy is solidified.

14. The Sunday Estate – Fight Me

There are certain instances you can sense with a band when you’re at the start of something big. Sometimes you’re on the money (Gang of Youths), others you’re way off (Hair Die), but that initial feeling is invariably exciting. Said feeling flutters through the pristine guitars and rumbling drums of “Fight Me,” which was not the first offering from Sydney quintet The Sunday Estate but unquestionably the first to make a lasting impression. Under the serious moonlight of tumultuous new romance, the song wrestles and writhes like late-night kisess under the watchful eye of a rainy city. Can’t fight it.

13. Middle Kids – Stacking Chairs

“Stacking Chairs” and its titular phrase feels like an unlocking: of the song, the album it’s from and the band who wrote it. “When the party’s over/I’ll be stacking chairs.” That’s love. That’s palpable love. It’s about being there when it all falls apart; about the company you keep and carry with you – root of the root. It helps that Middle Kids have hung what’s among their best-ever songs onto this rich sentiment. The bright guitars ricocheting off the military snare, the twinkling synthesizers and impeccable close harmonies showcase the Kids at full strength. The party ain’t over yet.

12. Wave Racer – Look Up to Yourself

The best 1975 song of the year was not written by The 1975. Instead, it came from a Melbourne bedroom and from a returning artist that could well have been potentially lost to the future-bass boom of the mid-2010s. It was only through a bold reinvention that Wave Racer survived – and not only that, but positively thrived at the helm of the project’s debut album. “Look Up to Yourself” is defiant in its brightness – released amidst the darkness of Australia’s 2021, it lifted spirits and provided the soundtrack to reclaiming self-belief. Once again, we race for the prize.

11. Gretta Ray – Bigger Than Me

Like most women her age, Gretta Ray grew up on Taylor Swift. She’s come to see the world through “eras,” as snakeskin sheds and butterflies rise from stolen scarves. Unlike her heroine’s clumsy foray into bombast, however, Ray lost none of her reputation rolling out her debut album Begin to Look Around. In fact, it only became stronger. Through clockwork precision and delicate layering, not to mention an assertive confidence not present in her teenage catalogue, “Bigger Than Me” took to big city life with aplomb. It’s a new world out there, but Gretta Ray is unquestionably ready for it.

10. Middle Kids – Questions

Precisely 14 days into the year 2021, Middle Kids released “Questions”. It was not the first single from their second album Today We’re the Greatest, nor was it the most successful – that would be “R U 4 Me?” on both counts there. It is, however, the single greatest song that Middle Kids have ever written. There is a very good reason that it is still holding water with such a high placing on such a list, created almost a full year on from its release.

Indeed, “Questions” is the earliest released song on the entire list – had it been released literally a week or two prior, it would not qualify. So what stood the test of time, exactly? Two things: Maximalism and calibration. The former is nothing new to the Sydney trio, of course – they arrived in a drum-roll of grandeur as early as their debut EP – but it’s the latter that’s the key to unlocking “Questions.” Instead of immediately rolling out the cavalry, the song instead builds from shimmers and glitches that are guided by hand – quite literally, as the flamenco claps pierce through the treacle of wafting synthesizers. Tim Fitz rolls through next with easily the greatest bass-line of his career, all stabs and spirals; Hannah Joy’s glowing guitar weaving between it on an upward ascent.

By going slow and steady, rather than setting off the confetti cannons in its opening moments, the trumpeting arrival (again, literal) of the song’s crescendo feels all that more rewarding and triumphant. It also plays in tandem with Joy’s lyrical framework, which is constantly seeking validation high and low in amidst the greater throes of uncertainty and indecision. Even with all the whistles and bells, when it subsides there is no grand conclusion or resolution. That’s what sticks with you – the ongoing, compelling intrigue and mystique that comes with that constant sense of seeking. When it comes to “Questions” in the grand scheme of 2021’s great singles, the first cut is the deepest.

9. The Kid LAROI feat. Justin Bieber – STAY

It’s a long way from the concrete jungle of Gadigal land to the bright lights of Hollywood. Not only has The Kid LAROI made it feel like a stone’s throw away, however, he’s broken down a myriad of barriers along the way for young Indigenous artists seeking a global stage. It hasn’t come easy, nor has it come without its own degree of backlash, but what pathway to success has? He’s part of the lexicon now, and it’s time to start putting respect on the name. “STAY” has a lot to do with this paradigm shift. Not all, of course – the Billboard smash “WITHOUT YOU” did a chunk of groundwork – but what eventuates over its 150 seconds and change of this urgent, neon-glow rush of lover’s-plea pop is a potential fully realised.

LAROI has often been labelled a rapper in the same way that Post Malone and his late mentor Juice WRLD have – insofar as the cadence and aesthetic being there to a degree, but their flows ultimately possessing too much melody to count as hip-hop in its more traditional sense. What’s interesting about “STAY,” then, is how it ostensibly serves as his audition to be the biggest pop artist in the world. Between the coarse rock-star delivery and the howling woah-ohs, a portrayal of the artist as a young Lothario comes into formation by ways of the perfect storm.

It’s gunned for with a formidable assist from two artists that have scaled the mountain themselves and lived to tell the tale: Charlie Puth and Justin Bieber. The former is responsible for the irresistible keyboard motif and the stabs of falsetto in the indelible hook, showing his prowess as one of the most distinct and compelling pop writers working today. The latter, meanwhile, makes for the jewel in the crown of 2021’s comeback king – after a disastrous yummy-yum 2020, this suave second verse recalls the Biebs at his mid-2010s peak in the best possible way.

There’s an argument to be made, then, that “STAY” is amalgamate of pop’s recent past with its present, ultimately creating something that could well be indicative of its future. For something forged beneath blinding lights, there’s a darkness on the edge of the city that feels like an old friend when “STAY” unfurls. You’ll want to stick around – may as well, after all, considering The Kid LAROI will be doing the same.

8. Lil Nas X feat. Jack Harlow – INDUSTRY BABY

The best thing Kanye did in 2021 was keep his mouth shut. No, seriously. There were moments of bliss to be found amidst the oft-delayed Donda, of course, but between his 19th nervous breakdown and the endless tirades and the unholy alliance forged between Mr. Jesus is King and Mr. Antichrist Superstar… well, you get the picture.

The best thing Lil Nas X did in 2021 was keep running his mouth. No, seriously. There were moments of bliss to be found amidst the long-awaited MONTERO, of course, but between his Satanic shoes and his new status as QPOC provocateur and the unreal music videos and the constant slam-dunks of Twitter conservatives… well, you get the picture.

Enter: “INDUSTRY BABY,” a patchwork of teamwork in tandem between two artists that have defined Black excellence in their prime. With West on the brassed-off beat to end all brassed-off beats, he allows Lil Nas to pull a classic Ye stunt: Talk his shit again. It’s a victory lap from an artist that most thought would only get one trot around the racecourse before the horse was taken off the old town road and behind the barn. It’s a double-down from an artist that had already cemented their 2021 GOAT status by literally pole-dancing into Hell and killing Satan. Oh, and why not make a megastar out of internet darling Jack Harlow while we’re at it – with what is in top contention for the best guest verse of the year.

“INDUSTRY BABY” is a great escape from the clutches of one-hit wonderdom – by this point, Lil Nas has built a boat with Tim Robbins and he is outta here. It’s at this point you realise that the hook isn’t “I’m the industry baby” – as in, he’s a newcomer – it’s actually with a comma in tow, ie. “I’m the industry, baby.” This is an arrival of the grandest kind.

7. Gretta Ray – Cherish

For a few years there, Gretta Ray was under cover of darkness. This has twofold meaning: Not only was she secretly working away on what would eventuate as her debut album, but everything she was putting out was released within the long-cast shadow of her 2016 single “Drive.” Written and recorded by Ray while still in high school, the singer-songwriter captured lightning in a bottle with an ode to young love that already felt like a classic. It was a heartfelt, endearing and endlessly rewarding song – which, in the hands of a lesser performer, could well have been her downfall.

Rather than attempt to repeat what was achieved there, Ray instead opted to keep the car running rather than hit the roundabout. If “Drive” was the car flying off at the end of Grease, then “Cherish” is the stark realisation between Sandy and Danny that this machine cannot survive in the atmosphere off true love alone. While she’s floating in a most peculiar way, Ray mourns an inevitable end over the waft of distant synths: “It’d be so brave of me to walk away,” she laments – a line so good that she opens and closes the song with it.

As the drums bring her reality hurtling down to earth, the desperation kicks in. “What do I have to do?” she asks in the song’s wrenching chorus. She’s trying to rekindle an old flame, but her match is long burnt out – just like her. High-school romance doesn’t last, and your childhood sweetheart is called that for a reason. When you’ve only just recently become legally recognised as an adult, however, there’s an unshakable sense of forever-lost innocence that comes with its demise. This isn’t just a better song than “Drive,” it’s the best song Gretta Ray has ever made. Better yet: You know now, for absolute certain, that this title will change hands once again. She is capable, she is strong, she is ready… she is cherished.

6. MAY-A – Swing of Things

In one of her earlier singles, “Apricots,” Maya Cumming boasted that she was “Something you don’t know you want.” Within that context, she was attempting to get inside the head of her crush – and, let’s face it, she probably succeeded with that kind of exuberance – but it’s also simultaneously reflective of her stature within Australian pop music. You might not have known you wanted to hear from a scrawny lesbian teen attempting to merge Avril-era punk-princess attitude with the sheen of 2020s pop, but once you’ve spent a bit of time in MAY-A’s world you start to see the bigger picture – it’s a want that quickly shifts into a need.

This is a young artist with “star” written all over them. Want proof? Here’s “Swing of Things” to get the point across. Equal parts hot pink and icy turquoise, this is Gen-Z pop that finds a way to shimmer within its verses and ultimately shine within its chorus – all while keeping its teeth gnashed and its underbelly dark. It’s pulled together by timid visionary Gab Strum (AKA Japanese Wallpaper) on production, whose ricocheting snares and distinctive beds of electronic warmth accentuate the song’s peaks and valleys. Still, it says a lot that even such a big name behind the boards is ultimately playing second fiddle to Cumming’s irrepressible presence – at once tangled-hair messy and leather-jacket cool. An island of such great complexity, this kid.

It’s a curious balance to strike between a stark, intimate confessional that can only come from direct personal experience, which is then transformed into a song that is broad and bold enough to fill out the upper tiers of an arena. This may well be the niche that MAY-A is carving for herself – a diary entry and an open book all at once. If so, it will get easier and easier to get into the swing of things as far her blossoming career goes. It’s something that – now, finally – you know that you want.

5. EGOISM – Lonely But Not Alone

Given they share most of the same letters, you’d expect the words “lonely” and “alone” to be synonymous. In reality, however, there’s a deeper relationship between the two ideas than surface value would suggest. Silverchair’s 2002 opus “Across the Night” sees Daniel Johns opine: “I don’t wanna be lonely/I just want to be alone” – the paradoxical anxious state of longing for company, but simultaneously finding yourself unable to be around people. On her 2006 track “Leave Me Alone (I’m Lonely),” honorary Australian citizen Pink wants to stew in her emotions even though she’s got someone on call – in this moment, the notion of being lonely is more enticing than being alone.

Would you have ever picked Sydney duo EGOISM to serve as the Venn diagram between Silverchair and Pink? Again, it goes beyond what surface value would suggest. The group started in high school and was originally more interested in a heavier approach to guitar music before eventually settling into artistic pop – remind you of anyone? Originally starting as outsiders, they’ve since flourished into standard-setters with a slew of certified hits to their name – remind you of anyone? Thus, somewhere in-between Diorama and I’m Not Dead, comes “Lonely But Not Alone.”

What does this script-flip mean, exactly? Weaved between its strummed bass, slick production and four-on-the-floor gridlock is a back-and-forth on last-leg relationships. It’s about sending things off with both a bang and a whimper – craving intimacy, but knowing it won’t seal up any old wounds in the process. Scout Eastment knows she’s just “another pretty girl that you messed up,” while simultaneously acknowledging that “we make up/bubble and pop” – like Bachelor Girl before her, she knows they’re bad for her but she just can’t leave them alone. In the hook, Olive Rush craves “love to borrow,” where once the transaction is complete you can “give [them] up tomorrow.” Just enough to take the edge off; just enough to last through the night.

“Lonely But Not Alone” feels, in part, like an equal and opposite reaction to 2020’s “Here’s the Thing.” While that song breached the difficulty in letting go, “Lonely” breaches the difficulty of sticking around. It’s their most ambitious pop production yet, and this shot at the moon has landed them among the stars. If Australian radio cared about supporting local music because they wanted to, not because they had to, this would have dominated the airwaves throughout 2021. Who knows, maybe TikTok will make it a hit in 2024. See you there.

4. Allday – Void

There’s a cynical framework wherein one could place Allday’s foray into indie based off his background in hip-hop – one that’s understandable, too, if you’re only across his early-to-mid 2010s output. Really? The “Fuckin” guy? The “Send Nudes” guy? What would Mr. “You Always Know the DJ” know about guitar music beyond “Girl in the Sun”? As it turned out, he knew way more than anyone was originally willing to give credit for – and so did the people he surrounded himself with while making Drinking with My Smoking Friends.

“Void,” the album’s second single, was another collaborative effort between himself and the aforementioned Gab Strum, AKA Japanese Wallpaper. Ever since the crossover of their link-up “In Motion” circa 2017, Strum has served as instrumental in Allday’s stylistic reinvention. One could argue, then, that this serves as the logical conclusion of Japanese Wallpaper renovating the frat-house that was Allday’s early work into something more architecturally sound. The song’s spiralling guitar (care of DMA’s strummer Matt Mason) feels right at home on a loop around Strum’s cooing ambient beds of electronics and Allday’s wry, tender vocal delivery.

Simultaneously daring and dreamy, it portrays a different Allday to the one we’re used to – even when juxtaposed with the singles it sandwiches on Drinking‘s rollout, both “After All This Time” and “Stolen Cars” offer a far livelier and more pop-friendly iteration of this approach. “Void” longs to be heard above the billboard noises and the city streets, offering a secret garden for listeners to revel in. It’s part reinvention and part redemption; part love-lorn and part love-lost. It’s a backyard D&M as much as it is a bedroom confessional. In a matter of minutes, Allday changes the course of his career permanently with “Void” – and it’s a rainbow road you hope will be pursued long after the final chord rings out.

3. King Stingray – Get Me Out

Place is extremely important to the music of King Stingray. As Yirrŋa Yunupiŋu sings in the first verse of the band’s second single: “There’s a place where you live/And a place where you grow.” The place where King Stingray live is East Arnhem Land, a remote community in the Northern Territory on Yolŋu country. Despite its disconnect with the rest of the Australian music community, it has served as a hub of some of the most significant names in the country’s history – among them Yothu Yindi, from whom two members of Stingray descend from, and that band’s own alum Gurrumul.

The place where King Stingray grow, however, could be anywhere – even with only a handful of songs out, they’ve already effectively purchased a ticket to the world. They’ve already set alight stages across the country, earning a reputation as one of the most intuitive and energetic new bands on a scene that’s been in desperate need of both revival and new blood. Of course, these places of living and growing are not always mutually exclusive – there’s a lot to learn from the place you were born and raised, even if so much of what we deem as life experience circles around how much we’ve travelled. If you’ve travelled for too long, you could well outgrow the place where you grow – and that’s what “Get Me Out” ultimately comes back to.

Time is also extremely important as a factor here, arguably as much as place is. When “Get Me Out” was released, it came at a time when many Australians were unable to see their friends, families and loved ones – even neighbouring suburbs felt like an ocean away in the throes of lockdowns. “The sun goes down in the distance/I wish that you could see this,” Yunupiŋu laments – a bittersweet acknowledgement that we’re all seeing the same sun set across unceded land, but we’re not able to experience it in this moment as one. “Get me out of the city” – a plea that was not only heard, but well and truly felt.

“Get Me Out” works as a lockdown-era anthem in ways that “Stuck With You” or anything from Bo Burnham’s Inside never could – while those were largely self-serving ego trips, “Get Me Out” possesses an earthly and organic universality. Its humble pub-rock approach recalls their fellow Northern Territorians the Warumpi Band, mixing the heritage of guitar-based music with their own Indigenous tradition and even their own Yolŋu matha for good measure. It’s distinctive and definitive – in other words, Australian rock in its truest sense. No matter the time or place therein, King Stingray will always have this moment as their own.

2. CHVRCHES feat. Robert Smith – How Not to Drown

The bigger Lauren Mayberry got, the harder she fell.

You can see the trajectory of CHVRCHES’ leader purely from the trio’s live performances – she went from a statuesque figure, clinging onto an extensive mic cable for dear life, to a defiant stage commander wielding a wireless like nobody’s business. She emerged from her cocoon as a brilliant butterfly of contemporary synth-pop, suffering no fools and standing her ground – and people just fucking hated that. Whether it was misogynist trolls or Chris Brown fans – which are one and the same, but that’s another story – there was an ongoing fear that Mayberry would ultimately be taken asunder by this hideous side of her success story.

There, Lauren Mayberry stands – statuesque once again, but this time, in a sense that she refuses to back down. “I’m writing a book on how to stay conscious when you drown,” she sings – an arresting, eye-opening and borderline heart-stopping opening line, and far from the only gut-punch that would ensue over the next five minutes. Mayberry had already begun work on dismembering her would-be destroyers on the group’s previous single, “He Said She Said,” but its chirpy synths and quasi-dubstep chorus drop meant its attack was somewhat defanged upon arrival. Not so with “How Not to Drown” – in fact, this may well be the most acerbic and caustic song CHVRCHES have ever made, along with their greatest.

This is a song of survival – from abuse, from defeatism, from darkness. It’s a song that melds new wave and post-punk with the band’s usual electronic fare, creating something that revels in its sinister nature and dares you to take a step forward into its shadows. It’s assisted by The Cure’s Robert Smith, someone described as an “all-time hero” by the band themselves, who takes Mayberry’s lyrics to their own private palace of disintegration (via, naturally, Disintegration) without ever purporting to speak for her – rather, he stands alongside her and the band, as a peer. When the two sing the line “I wasn’t dead when they found me,” its impact is nothing short of astounding.

The harder Lauren Mayberry fell, the stronger CHVRCHES got. Here they stand, risen from 20,000 leagues under the sea and as tall as towers. Is that the best you’ve got?

1. Liz Stringer – First Time Really Feeling

Liz Stringer never saw it coming. Surely not.

Somewhere in the cold of Canada, in 2018 – two years before the world was upended, three before what she was about to do would ever see the light of day – the veteran singer-songwriter committed “First Time Really Feeling” to record. A keyboard hummed while the persistent drums took their place, and a guitar fumbled about getting ready – there’s even a bung note in there, but no-one seemed to mind. Six minutes later, Stringer and her makeshift ensemble of airtight session musos had laid down what has come to be the signature song and modern opus of a writer and performer never truly given her roses.

“First Time Really Feeling” was recorded what feels like a lifetime away from what we know now, but in spite of that it’s found its own context and its own rhyme and reason. At a time when many are learning to start again, Stringer’s words know what you’re going through – she had to go through that, too. To her, the titular phrase comes in the wake of her sobriety, where what she was attempting to process from a cold-turkey standpoint was bordering on a foreign concept. It was a new and uncertain place, but also one that centred on an exciting premise: The possibility.

Amongst a build of steady guitars, and guided by her resonant and smoky vocals, Stringer draws a line in the sand between her past and her present. She needs a clean break, a get away; a photo opportunity, a shot at redemption. “I just want to get out/Before it starts/To hurt me,” she sings, hurtled against the hustle and bustle of her heartfelt heartland rock. No-one said this was going to be easy, but the greatest journeys all start with a single step. By venturing forth, Stringer puts herself first – which is a miraculous feat in and unto itself, and one that should be thoroughly commended.

No, Liz Stringer never saw 2021 coming when she made “First Time Really Feeling” in 2018. As far as 2021 goes, however, it wouldn’t have made sense without “First Time Really Feeling” being a part of it. This is honesty that can’t be ignored. This is love. This is loss. This is a reeling body from a sunburnt country feeling the frost of a new terrain for the first time. It’s a new possibility. Couldn’t we all use one of those.

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Listen to the DJY100 in its entirety below:

Tracks by non-male artists = 50
Tracks by Australian artists = 49

Multiple entries:

Green Screen (99, 61), Phil Fresh (97, 69), Kwame (97, 49), CHVRCHES (88, 2), Billie Eilish (86, 35), Justin Bieber (84, 9), Squid (81, 40), The Goon Sax (80, 15), Amyl and the Sniffers (79, 75), Halsey (76, 55, 54), Citizen (73, 53), Fred Again.. (68, 30), Silk Sonic (60, 37, 29), Olivia Rodrigo (50, 16), Turnstile (43, 18), Lil Nas X (39, 8), Middle Kids (13, 10), Gretta Ray (11, 7)

Thanks again. For everything.

The Top 100 Songs of 2021, Part Three: 60 – 41

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!

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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 White and he undertook 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

Around August, Charli XCX dropped an ambigious tweet with a question that left her devotees guessing: “rip hyperpop?” Her two singles since this have indicated a new direction is imminent for March’s Crash, which means that “Spinning” might be her last true hurrah as a glitched-out pop weirdo for the time being. If that’s the case, what a way to go out. Trust the Dirty Hit all-stars to assemble an all-star dirty hit – an all-syrup squishee bender with intense hypercolour and a robotic empire of Charlis parroting the titular phrase on a telling loop. She’s making us dizzy, still.

41. easy life – skeletons

“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:

Back next week with part four!

INTERVIEW: Keith Buckley (USA), September 2011

Got to have a cheeky double-dip in this interview, as I was speaking with the devilishly handsome Keith Buckley about both the impending Every Time I Die record as well as his side-project at the time, The Damned Things. It was a good time to be a fan of Keith in Australia, as he toured both at the same time as a part of that whole Counter-Revolution clusterfuck. He’s a great interviewee and a lovely guy. ETID just came through town last month and they crushed, as per usual. I also got to speak to Keith again when Ex-Lives came out, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

– DJY, February 2015

***

In the last eighteen months or so, Keith Buckley has been leading a double life – for the first time in his career, he’s lent his voice-box to two different bands. On one side of the coin, he’s been hard at work with Every Time I Die, the southern-fried hardcore rockers of which he is a founding member, working on a follow-up to their highly-acclaimed fifth album New Junk Aesthetic. “We are in the studio at this very moment,” Buckley himself confirms over the line from California. “This is my last interview, and then I have to go and record the vocals.” The as-yet-untitled record is projected for a late 2011/early 2012 release, and Buckley is already considerably enthusiastic about the sound of it.

“This is our first record with our new drummer,” he comments. Founding member Mike Novak left the group in 2009, and has since been replaced by new skin-pounder Ryan Leger. Buckley goes on about the energy of the new material – “It’s got so much more energy than our previous records – we’re really excited about it!” Interestingly enough, however, he’s reluctant to give the usual spiel about how it’s “the best record I’ve ever worked on.” It’s nothing personal – it’s just how many musicians like to drum up interest about the new material. So where does Buckley stand? Does he honestly feel the new record is going to be their best?

“The thing is,” he replies, “is that it’s not just another Every Time I Die record. Our old drummer was with us from day one. Everything you’ve ever heard of us being recorded, that’s been the rhythm section. So this is a completely new drumming style – it’s a new sound; it’s a new energy. So, when we’re looking at everything that we’ve ever done and then comparing it to the way we sound now? This is definitely some of the best stuff we’ve written. And it’s all thanks to our new drummer – he’s made us see it all in such a new way.”

Of course, let’s not forget about what else Buckley has been up to in this aforementioned double life. Teaming up with some unlikely pals from thrash metallers Anthrax and pop-punk stadium-fillers Fall Out Boy, Buckley spent most of 2010 and a part of 2011 fronting The Damned Things. The supergroup was a passion project for the five members to make some good-time rock & roll with a hair-metal and hard-rock edge to it. After three or four years in the pipeline – “You know what it’s like with our schedules,” says Buckley – the band finally released their debut album, Ironiclast, in December of last year. Although Keith maintains that he’s “not the type to get too finnicky in the studio,” it was notably different when it came to recording Ironiclast.

“I was singing,” explains Buckley, who had never previously done “clean” vocals on a record before, “and I wasn’t fully aware of what I was capable of with my voice. I was finding out things that I could and couldn’t do, just experimenting with them. It was a challenge, because I wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t like I had to invent a willingness to do it – I didn’t have to pretend that I like rock music. It was just something that I’ve always liked but have never had a chance to do. I was pushing myself physically with what I was doing with my voice, but it was never like I didn’t like the musical style – I just had to take a different approach to it.”

It should be pointed out at this stage that it was never going to be a case of Buckley leaving his band in favour of The Damned Things – although that didn’t stop a myriad of worried fans approaching Keith while he toured Ironiclast. “Everyone worries about it,” he says, “because nobody every thinks to ask outright. I have never, ever said that I wanted to tone down Every Time I Die. I never said I wanted to leave or anything like that, y’know? It was just another opportunity to write and make music, which is what I like doing. So I did it!”

A simple enough reason, certainly. But here comes the challenge – for the first time ever, Buckley will be bringing both aspects of his double life on tour at the same time. “Yep,” says Keith with a laugh, “I’m gonna be workin’ two shifts in Australia.” While both bands were scheduled to be a part of the doomed Soundwave Revolution, both The Damned Things and Every Time I Die will still get their chance to perform in the country; the former as a part f the Counter-Revolution festivals and the latter doing their own set of headlining club shows. “It’s gonna be quite different to what I’m used to,” Keith says of performing with both bands. “Normally, I just get set into the one style and run with it – but this time I’ll be going between the two. I’m not sure how it’s all going to turn out, but I sure can’t wait to find out!” Likewise, buddy.

INTERVIEW: Title Fight (USA), April 2011

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I did this interview in bed. No, seriously. I forgot it was happening and then had the phone given to me at quarter to eight in the morning, leaving me to scramble to grab my recorder and try to remember what questions I had. It’s also worth mentioning that the first time I heard of Title Fight was when I was asked to interview them. Joey from Hysteria used to spring a lot of relative unknowns on me at the time, but they all ended up being favourites – The Chariot, letlive., these guys. Learning on the job!

Anyway, for an interview that was essentially Wayne Brady’d, this turned out alright. Not great, but what can you expect given the circumstances? I got to do another Title Fight interview this past December, and it turned out WAY better. I’ll share that here eventually.

– DJY, February 2015

***

After building up a solid underground reputation, Title Fight are ready to break through to the other side with their long-awaited debut album, Shed. Combining a sense of melodic pop-punk and ruthless hardcore, Shed is the kind of album that will last in your mind far longer than its half-hour playing time. Australian Hysteria caught up with Jamie Rhoden from the band to discuss the new album, a change in recording style and their inaugural visit to the country.

AUSTRALIAN HYSTERIA: Hey Jamie, how’s your year been so far?

The year has been really good! Although we haven’t done much with it so far. We finished recording in December of last year and were pretty much home until now. We did a short tour of Canada with Comeback Kid and maybe two other shows besides that. Our record came out at the beginning of the month, and people are excited about it! We go on tour in two days.

It’s understandable that people are excited. That’s a pretty long time to be sitting on the record! Was than an executive decision – “the man” making you wait that long?

[Laughs] No, we kinda chose that time ourselves. We were trying to push for it to come out earlier, around March, because they said that the record will take two months to get from the final production stages into the pressing and all that other stuff that I don’t understand. Then everything took so long, with the mastering and the artwork and taking forever to get into contact with people, so it got pushed back a little bit. We weren’t mad at anyone – I mean, it would have been cool, but it’s really good timing for us. I think it’s worked out for the best.

Fair enough. You must be excited now that it’s finally out there, though?
Yeah, it’s definitely a big weight off our shoulders. We’ve been anticipating this for a long time – it’s our first full-length and our first release with SideOne [Dummy Records]. It’s a really big thing for us, and we had a lot of pressure. People were always going to say whatever about this – “they signed to SideOne? They sound like this now! They suck!” All that usual crap you hear whenever a band does something. So far, though, people have been really supportive. I’ve got no complaints at all!

What was the recording process for Shed like? Was it all that different to when you guys have recorded previously?
A huge difference. The other two or three times that we’ve been in the studio, it was literally somebody’s basement that we turned into a studio. We were there for three days, and finished all the songs in the studio. We were unprepared and rushed – we wanted to get everything out as soon as we could. With this one, we spent basically a year writing the album itself, and then when we went into the studio, we did two weeks of twelve-hour days. It was our first time in a real studio with a producer. All these things were really new to us, but we tried our best to make the most of them. Even though two weeks is a really long time, a lot of people who go into these big studios will be using them for months at a time. They have a day for a drum part, a day for a vocal take. We got everything done at once. It was a long time for us, but there was still a lot for us to pack in. I think, for our first time in a situation like that, we were as prepared as we could have been.

With that said, being in the studio for such an extended period of time, was there ever an underlying fear that perhaps you might be overthinking the process?

Sometimes. I think in the writing of the album, that’s especially what happened. We were afraid that we were going to write a song and we’d get reactions like “that songs sounds exactly the same as this one,” or that “that song sounds nothing like this one.” Just this fear that we would write something that wasn’t “us.” We kind of got to the overthinking point when we were really focusing on the writing, where that fear would keep creeping into the songs. “I don’t want it to sound like this,” or “I don’t want it to sound too much like that,” or whatever. We had to sit down and say to ourselves: “Why do we care?” Why do we care what it is, as long as we’re happy with it? Let’s just do our own thing – and that’s just what we ended up doing.

A debut album is always seen as a pretty big landmark for a band – was it important to make a strong first impression?
Yeah, we had that idea when we were going into record it – we wanted to make a statement, I guess you could say. I think it’s a great example of who we are as people and as songwriters and as a band at this point in time. We really wrote songs that we needed to write.

What songs from Shed would you show to someone in order to best represent what the album is about?

There’s a couple of songs that come to mind. There’s a song that we wrote called “Society,” and the entire idea behind the song is that we’re the kind of band that writes these short, fast, aggressive songs. Why can’t we write a short, slow, angry, aggressive song? We drew influence from bands that we all love but perhaps doesn’t come out that much in our music. I think it’s a cool song that kind of sticks out in its own way, and I don’t know how people are going to react to it. I’m really excited about showing it to people.

You must be looking forward to playing these songs live?
Oh, yeah. The last time we recorded was in December of 2008. We’ve been playing pretty much the same songs since then. Don’t get me wrong, those are great songs. At the same time, though, when you do the same thing at every single show, it gets fairly boring and redundant. We’re just excited to play anything new at all. But the fact is we really like the songs that we wrote, and we’re really excited to play them.

Tell us about the tour you’re about to start – we’ve heard it’s pretty massive!
Yeah, we’re doing a full U.S. tour, and it’s with Touché Amoré, The Menzingers and our friends in Dead End Path. It’s a tour that we wanted to be big, but we also wanted it to be on our terms. We wanted to be touring with bands that we like, that are diverse and that we can have a good time with. It’s gonna be cool – it’s our first-ever proper headlining tour in the States! We’ve toured a lot in the past year, but we’ve never had something big like this before.

Sounds exciting. And then you’re bringing Touché to Australia with you for the first time!
Yeah! I don’t know if we’re bringing someone else out or not – we’re working on it, but we don’t have any more info yet. But we’re coming in September! It’s our first time crossing the equator, and it’s gonna be really cool. We love going to places that are extremely foreign to us, and it’s definitely gonna be a crazy experience. Especially with Touché! We can’t wait.

INTERVIEW: letlive. (USA), April 2011

Another unexpected gem from my time writing for Australian Hysteria Magazine. I didn’t know letlive. from a bar of soap until I was on the line with Jason Butler, who ended up being on the loveliest and kindest dudes I had interviewed up to that point. This is just a quick chat, but I’ve been a huge fan of the band ever since. It was a lasting impression!

– DJY, January 2015

***

After five years of line-up changes and general turmoil in-between albums, letlive kicked back into action last year with a killer new album, Fake History. Things have been going gangbusters for the quintet from there, with the band signing to iconic punk label Epitaph and planning a re-release for Fake History with three new tracks. Australian Hysteria got the opportunity to speak to the band’s founder and leader, Jason Butler, to talk shop on the album, as well as the band’s live antics and a potential trip down under.

Australian Hysteria: Hi Jason, thanks for chatting to Australian Hysteria Magazine! Whereabouts are you?
Jason Butler: I’m actually on Venice Boulevard, making my way down to Santa Monica, California. We’re home free for about a month – we’ve got our release shows, which will only take about three days, and that’s it! I’m actually on my way to a birthday party with my girlfriend.

Sounds good! This article might be the first time our readers may have heard of letlive. How would you describe your band’s music to someone who’s never heard it before?

Something that you’ve wanted to hear for a long time. [Laughs] That’s pretty good, right?

Let’s talk Fake History. It’s your first album in five years – what do you think took so long to get this record together?

I believe it was the components of the band itself. It was willingness – what letlive was, it was a continuation on from a punk rock band I formed in high school. We cut a few albums, and – as you do when you’re young – you do what you want and you play what you want. You put out albums to be a part of something. During that time, though, we generated a different idea of letlive and what it was meant to be. So in those five years between, we were just putting the pieces back together. I’m actually the only remaining member from the original lineup. Truly, though, the beginning of letlive as you and most will know it is definitely with the five gentlemen we have now. We came to the realisation that in order to put something out in an overly-saturated culture that will hold water, you’ve got to really mean whatever it is you’re about to put out. So one day, it fell into place and we recorded it.

Epitaph have planned a re-release for the record. Do you feel at this point that it will help in exposing you to a new audience?

Absolutely. We have to illuminate and acknowledge Epitaph – it’s a milestone for us; it’s a milestone for anyone in punk rock. Of course there will be people that are dedicated to the label, and will want to check out anything Epitaph-related. Also, they’ve done so much as a label independently that they’re marked to be so authentic and natural. All these things are things that we really appreciate so early on in our career. We’re all working together.

There’s a very potent mix of both the heavier side of the music and the melodic side. Do you feel that having a diverse sound assists you in being able to play with a lot of different bands?

Y’know, I would love for that to be true. We appreciate and propagate all kinds of music that people don’t immediately assume to associate with our band. We really hope that it shines through and opens up doors – not just for us, but for other acts as well. No matter how you take it, it’s just music – you’re trying to be creative; you’re trying to latch on to something that was so primitive at one point, based on human instinct. It’s just music. I hope it’s transparent enough for people to see that’s how we feel about it. I’d love to tour with Bruno Mars – maybe if B.o.B. wants to take us out, I’ll do a hip-hop tour!

On the YouTube video for “Casino Columbus,” one of the highest-rated comments talks about what you did at a show – you threw a trash can over your head, started your own mosh pit and tried to climb the roof of a tent. Is any/all of that true? If so, when did it happen?

[Laughs] From what I’m told, it’s all true. It’s all a blur to me, but I’ve seen video! That was South by Southwest. We were playing a showcase, and I chased my microphone into a trash can. I thought I’d go for a fashion statement and wear the trash can as a top hat. I found myself outside of the tent at one point, and then climbed up the tent and found a hole and came back in. It was sort of like the tent was birthing me – it was kinda beautiful! [Laughs]

It sounds like there’s quite a bit of energy going on at these shows. How important are letlive’s live performances to you?

I think the letlive live show is just as important as the way we’re presented on record. It’s definitely different. With the album, we just tried to show as much raw energy and emotion – as trite as that may sound – as we could. It’s the exact same thing with the live show. We want people to understand that letlive is more than the five individuals on that stage. letlive is simply a vessel of some sort, and it’s much more vast than we can fully articulate at this point in time. When we can, we’ll let you know what it is; but right now, we just want people to feel something. It’s a shared energy. Even if they don’t know or don’t like what’s going on, all the energy – negative and positive – is feeding into what’s going on that stage.

Finally, when are we going to see letlive on Australian shores?

As soon as possible, man! We’ve been discussing this with our manager. I’ve heard it’s beautiful, and you guys are some of the nicest motherfuckers I’ve ever met. We did that tour with Break Even, and God-damn! You guys are just nice and cool. Not to mention my boy Jona, from Prom Queen and Bring Me The Horizon. He’s one of my favourite dudes to ever exist. As a country, if you’re all like that? I’m all about it, man. Let’s go!

The Top 50 Gigs of 2014, Part One: 50 – 26

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Bluejuice @ The Metro Theatre, Sydney

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

***

Check back soon for part two!

PHOTO CREDITS:
50. Provided by the band via Facebook.
49. Mark Metcalfe, Getty Images AsiaPac.
48. Munya Chaora, TheMusic
47. Kristy Wandle, TheMusic
46. Angela Padovan, TheMusic
45. Diabolique Photography, TheMusic
44. Glenn Pokorny, PK Productions/the AU review
43. Wayne Massingham via Flickr
42. Fletcher Crebert, All Ages Concerts
41. Megan Carew, FBi Radio
40. Dan Turner, the AU review
39. Rickford, FasterLouder
38. Sabina Rysnik, the AU review
37. Hayden Nixon, wickeddchildd
36. Ashley Mar, The BRAG
35. ZK Photo
34. Provided by the band via Facebook.
33. Annette Geneva via Flickr
32. Maria de Vera, Life Music Media
31. Erin Rooney, Vinyl Garden
30. Angela Padovan, TheMusic
29. “le maroufle” via YouTube (photo not from show)
28. Jakob de Zwart, Take 40
27. Ian Laidlaw, Beat Magazine
26. Clare Hawley, TheMusic

Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part Four: 20 – 11

Quick catch up over this-a-way: Part one, then two, then three.

Let’s finish this!

***

20. Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love
Spotify || Rdio


Cut the crap. That’s all Perfect Pussy want. Say Yes to Love cuts deep, fast and often. As far as the grand scheme of guitar-oriented music was concerned, it felt as if it was one of the more dangerous releases to make itself known within the calendar year – it fumed, it radiated and it sent the levels into a constant bubble of blood red. Beneath its thorny exterior, a further layer was revealed – Meredith Graves shrieks and screams out mantras, rhetoric and personal essays that added to her already-stellar reputation as one of contemporary music’s more important voices. It’s love.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Interference Fits, Driver, VII.

WATCH:

19. TV on the Radio – Seeds
Spotify ||Rdio

“This time, I’ve got seeds on ground.” TV on the Radio sewed new life roughly three years removed from throwing dirt on the late, great Gerard Smith. Seeds allowed them to explore a more straightforward, streamlined approach to songwriting; allowing for their open-book honesty to shine through new love, old friends and healing wounds. It also allowed the band to let itself exist as an entity far greater than the sum of its parts – a chance to completely realise what they have created, what they have so wisely kept alive. Seeds is life after death – it’s not easy, but achievable.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Lazzeray, Careful You, Happy Idiot.

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18. Willis Earl Beal – Experiments in Time

Sometimes, it’s suggested that an artist has “done a 180” as a hyperbolic expression to indicate a change in style. It’s rarely the case that the saying is justified in its use, however. This, along with several other contributing factors, is what makes Experiments in Time such a unique experience. Beal, formerly of the lo-fi blues and proto-folk category, turned his attention to music that is ambient, delicate and cautiously quiet. So radical is the departure, one may even be found double-checking that it is indeed the same man. A completely-unexpected sensation and a welcomed reinvention.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Slow Bus, Waste It Away, Same Auld Tears.

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17. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
Spotify || Rdio

They may wander off for years at a time, but the Pornos are never really gone. You couldn’t kill those mothercanuckers with all of the weapons in Liam Neeson’s arsenal. Theirs is an undying spirit, which resurfaces on arguably be their best LP since Twin Cinema. The bombast of the title track, the defiant stride of “Marching Orders” and the Superchunk wig-out of “War on the East Coast” are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Perhaps the best thing about Brill Bruisers is that everyone will walk away with their own highlight – and there’s absolutely no wrong answers here.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Champions of Red Wine, Brill Bruisers, Marching Orders.

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16. Harmony – Carpetbombing
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Australian children’s entertainer Don Spencer once sang that “The greater part of every state is off the beaten track.” It’s certainly not what he meant, but this much is true of Carpetbombing – while most local releases concerned themselves with the inner workings of city streets or behind the closed doors of suburbia, Harmony’s second LP was covered in the grit, blood and petrol of outhouses, country yards and battered shacks. It’s a grim, confronting and occasionally terrifying record. It’s more Australian than most albums have a right to be. Carpetbombing is the sounds of then and the sounds of now.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Big Ivan, Do Me a Favour, Carpetbomb.

LISTEN:

15. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Spotify || Rdio

Against Me! began in the bedroom of a teenager named Tom Gabel. It began again on the global stage, lead with aplomb by a thirty-something named Laura Jane Grace. The never-say-die punk spirit that was aflame with its origins continued to flicker defiantly, albeit guiding the path of significantly different subject matter – street-walking, identity crises and parenthood, to name a few. Transgender is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It’s what they – and we – needed more than anything. This, friends, is the first day of the rest of Against Me!’s life. God bless its transsexual heart.

THREE TOP TRACKS: True Trans Soul Rebel, Two Coffins, Transender Dysphoria Blues.

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14. You Beauty – Jersey Flegg
Spotify || Rdio

It doesn’t matter if you win or lose – it’s how you play the game. This has been drilled into the heads of countless children, and it sticks for a reason – it reflects on more than just its immediate point of reference. Case in point: Few played a better game in the year passed than You Beauty, the supergroup-of-sorts that brought to life a nameless NRL star of a bygone era. It didn’t even matter if you didn’t know your Joey Johns from your Freddie Fitler – the storytelling was just that enticing. Jersey Flegg was a shoe-in for best and fairest.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Now Her Skirt, Rabbits, Ann-Maree.

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13. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
Spotify || Rdio

There were a lot of notable lines scattered throughout the eight tracks that made up Cloud Nothings’ third studio album, but perhaps the most telling comes in its closing number: “I’m not telling you all that I’m going through.” It’s rung true throughout the collected works of the Dylan Baldi vehicle; perhaps never moreso here – revealing a sliver of introspect and innermost struggle, but always pulling back before a complete reveal unfurls. Nowhere Else also takes the band further into the sprawling, incessant drive of noisy alt-rock, making it a true crowning achievement with the promise of continued future greatness.

THREE TOP TRACKS: I’m Not Part of Me, Now Here In, Pattern Walks.

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12. Young Fathers – Dead
Spotify || Rdio || Soundcloud

Regardless of what you perceived to be its benefits or its drawbacks, the referendum to decide on its independence is generally perceived to be the biggest thing to emerge from Scotland within 2014… at least, it would have been for those that didn’t hear or discover Young Fathers. The collective’s debut LP was one conceived under cover of darkness, revelling in pitch blackness while also taking the initiative to lead the procession toward distant lights. This is hip-hop that wants to be a part of the revolution – and when it comes, those not with them will be first to go.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Am I Not Your Boy, Get Up, Low.

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11. Moon Hooch – This is Cave Music
Soundcloud

The title of Moon Hooch’s second LP stems from what they refer to their music as from a categorical standpoint. You’ll certainly be thankful they did the groundwork for you, as what they do cannot exactly fit directly into any given spectrum. It’s a niche carved on the outside of alternative music – if such a thing is even possible – that digs deep. The trio implement thunderous horns and pitting them in a duel atop ricocheting drum patterns; locking the gates until a victor emerges. This is love. This is war. This is jazz. This is rock. This is cave music.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Bari 3, No. 6, Contra Dubstep.

LISTEN:

Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part Three: 30 – 21

Crossing over the halfway point! Livin’ on some sort of prayer. Parts one and two are to be read/caught up on here and here.

***

30. sleepmakeswaves – Love of Cartography
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

The sooner that Australia wakes up and smells the vibrancy of its extensive post-rock community at hand, the bloody better. Sydney’s sleepmakeswaves have become the vanguard act of it in short time, less pushing the envelope and more reading the letter it contained from atop a mountain. With the airtight production guidance of rock expert Nick DiDia, Cartography became a full realisation of everything that the band could be; exploring new depths as well as searing highs – often within the same song. This is the sound of actions speaking far, far louder than words ever could. Consider the game changed.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Great Northern, Something Like Avalanches, Perfect Detonator.

LISTEN:

29. Fucked Up – Glass Boys
Spotify || Rdio

They may be the least hardcore and the least punk band in hardcore punk, but by some bizarre law of double negatives it’s made Toronto sextet Fucked Up far more hardcore and far more punk than a significant amount of their peers. Each of their albums feels momentous, grand in both scope and execution. Glass Boys proves to be no exception, in spite of a leaner runtime – in fact, it allows you to focus further in on the remarkable crafting that goes into each track. An alternate version of the LP with half-speed drums proves to be strangely-alluring additional listening.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Led by Hand, Glass Boys, Sun Glass.

WATCH:

28. Manchester Orchestra – Cope
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

Manchester Orchestra have the heart of a lion and their collective eyes on a grander universal bigger picture. It’s now taken them through four albums of life, death, acceptance, honesty, sin and confession; and though one’s take on which is the superior of them may vary from listener to listener, it’s nigh-on impossible to leave a Manchester Orchestra record empty-handed. Although often shrouded in deep-cut metaphor and surrealist lyrical imagery, Cope has its own means of cutting directly to an emotional core at its most crucial points. It’s yet another excellent release from a band that works in mysterious ways.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Girl Harbor, Top Notch, Cope.

WATCH:

27. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Spotify || Rdio || Download

We’re not in side-project territory anymore, Toto. The once-unlikely pairing of Killer Mike and El-P, now onto their third release together, has begun to make more sense in the greater spectrum of hip-hop perhaps more than practically anything else this decade. Such a bold statement can be backed by noting the remarkable impact of their second album. Swarming, visceral beats, simultaneous lyrical assaults and a completely-unexpected cameo from a fiery Zach de la Rocha all assisted in allowing Run the Jewels to forcefully smash through the underground and lead riots through the city streets. All hell can’t stop them now.


THREE TOP TRACKS: Early, Oh My Darling Don’t Cry, Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck).

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26. Future Islands – Singles
Spotify || Rdio

Some longer-term fans of dramatically-flaired electro-pop explorers Future Islands may feel somewhat disgruntled that it’s taken until their fourth studio album for a wider audience to be paying them the attention that they so rightly deserve. Think of it, instead, as a blessing in disguise: With the world now watching, we see the trio at the very best of their collective abilities; presenting a refined and distinctive take on their genre that revels in its kitsch and unfashionability so much that it comes full circle, leading to the arguably being the coolest damn record of the year. Who’d have thought?

THREE TOP TRACKS: Doves, Seasons (Waiting on You), Sun in the Morning.

WATCH:

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25. James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

For a timid Irish lad, James Vincent McMorrow certainly proved to have balls of steel when he made his launch forth into the great unknown at the start of the year. His second album was described by many as a 180 of sorts, doing away entirely with the folksy instrumentation of its predecessor. Perhaps a more fitting angle, however, would have been a 270. Post Tropical incorporated hindsight in regards to McMorrow’s raw-nerve emotional songwriting and his delicately-placed falsetto, but it also gave view to a brave new world. Who knows who he may yet become? It’s all blissfully uncertain.

THREE TOP TRACKS: All Points, Outside, Digging, Cavalier.

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24. Luca Brasi – By a Thread
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Two-fifths of Luca Brasi left the fold not a year before the release of their second studio album, a blow which may well have spelled the end for a lesser band. The Tasmanian natives were quick to mend, however – it wasn’t long before their triple-guitar interplay was woven into a tighter twin assault; while replacing the towering Saxon Hall on drums with the impeccably-bicepped Danny Flood was like switching out an unstoppable force for an immovable object. The craftsmanship of the songs, too, proved to be their greatest collective achievement to date. They – and we – live to fight another day.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Western Junction, Borders and Statelines, Here’s Looking at You, Kid Rock.

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23. Kishi Bashi – Lighght
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Kaoru Ishibashi finds himself in the realm of indie-pop with the violin as his weapon of choice over keyboards or guitar. This left-of-centre take on the genre allows for KB’s amazing technicolour dream-music to roam as freely as it pleases. On Ishibashi’s second LP under the moniker, he layers both his instrument and his voice to the point of assembling a chamber orchestra and a choir respectively. By means of beautifully striking contrast, there are also moments of quiet that reel in focus to the man behind it all. Much like its cover, Lighght is a stunning work of art.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Q & A, Philosophize in It! Chemicalize with It!, Carry On Phenomenon.

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22. Ted Danson with Wolves – WWTDWWD?
Bandcamp

From their culture-jamming band name to their sax-wielding take on DIY math rock, there’s nary a band runnin’ ‘round these parts that’s quite like Sydney’s Ted Danson with Wolves. It may well not have been their intentions when they initially formed out in humble old Tamworth several moons ago, but it’s where they’ve ended up on their outstanding debut effort. Its hyper-literate lyrics delve into the seriously strange and the strangely serious on a tandem basis, shrieked above a mesmerising cacophony of bass rumble, drum splatter and guitar squiggle. The outsiders found a way in, at long last. WWTDWWD? This.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Tim Has a Really Good Idea (Again!), Bohemian (I Don’t) Like You, In the Throes of Golf Woes: “It Was a Coarse Course, of Course.”

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21. The Smith Street Band – Throw Me in the River
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Wil Wagner has said several times that there have been moments where he’s considered quitting music entirely. Throw Me in the River makes one ever so grateful he made the right call and kept his band alive. Were it to be summed up in three words? Let’s try “location, location, location.” Its songs take place all over the globe, from late nights in Calgary to a boiling day at Meredith Music Festival; not to mention its recording taking place in the small town of Forrest. No matter where you’re from, River shows that it’s where you’re at that’s most important.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Calgary Girls, Surrender, Throw Me in the River.

LISTEN:

The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part Four: 40 – 21

We’re so close! Parts one, two and three… missed ’em? Not to worry? You can revisit them here, here and here. Let’s get down to some top 40 pop hits. Starting now.

***

40. Fucked Up feat. J Mascis – Led By Hand

Here’s a strange proposition: The best Dinosaur Jr. song of the year did have J Mascis in it, but it wasn’t by Dinosaur Jr. In a standout moment from their exceptional Glass Boys LP, Pink Eyes and co. paid homage to proto-grunge wigouts while still maintaining their hardcore punk roots. There was perhaps no greater yin-and-yang in the year than when Mascis mumbled the song’s chorus as Pink Eyes let out a Roger Daltrey-worthy “YEAH!” atop of it. An unlikely pairing on paper, “Led by Hand” had everything making a whole lotta sense quite quickly. Follow it around.

39. St. Vincent – Digital Witness

What did Annie Clark learn from her time making music with David Byrne? Two major things. The first: Horns. They’re a weapon. Use them wisely. The second: Is something categorically weird in your song? Make it weirder. Taking this on board, “Digital Witness” is one of her finest tracks to date. Whether it was the spiralling pre-chorus melody, the stinging guitar wail or that all-encompassing hook, it was nigh-on impossible to deny the resonance of this rebirth. During one of the song’s many earworms, Clark boldly states “I want all of your mind.” You got it. Anything else?

38. The Kite String Tangle – Words

We’re still learning a lot about Danny Harley, the prodigious figurehead behind Brisbane bedroom phenomena The Kite String Tangle. Tracks like “Words” allowed us as listeners to edge slightly closer in this regard, and it was something to be extremely thankful for. A restrained exploration of post-dubstep balladry, Harley shrouds himself in light-and-shade contrasts, gently coaxing out confessional lyrics as distant lights flicker and glow on the outskirts. It shouldn’t add up that such depth and maturity has been achieved at such an early stage, but one would suppose The Kite String Tangle has always been against the odds.

37. Jane Tyrrell – The Rush

Lovers can fall hard and fast for one another, but where does one find oneself when fire turns to ice? It’s a complicated subject, and one that Tyrrell details with an outsider’s eye and an insider’s mind. She may have set up two characters in the song, but it’s safe to say that she sees more than just herself within them. Driven masterfully by the unmistakable drumming of PVT’s Laurence Pike, there are soaring highs and crushing lows that weave through the song’s relatively-short runtime. Tyrrell sees us through to the bitter end. It’s not like it’s her first time.

36. Ken Stringfellow – Kids Don’t Follow

If any song is stretching the friendship for its inclusion in a 2014 list, it’s surely this: A cover of a Replacements song from the 80s that was recorded in 2004 for a tribute album to the aforementioned college-rock legends that ultimately never came to be. This hazy barroom take on the anti-authoritative punk number came from acclaimed Posies and R.E.M. alum Ken Stringfellow; and collected dust until the release of a rarities compilation at the beginning of 2014. So, here we are. You best believe this sucker was worth uncovering. A smart, somewhat-sombre reworking from a truly underrated craftsman.

35. Babaganouj – Too Late for Love

Go Violets didn’t fade away, they burnt out. Their embers remain flickering within Brisbane’s still-thriving indie-pop village, as two of its members have resumed full-time positions in this little jangly garage outfit that could. “Too Late for Love” may have been born in the sunshine state, but it’s more European in flavour – there’s a strong dose of Camera Obscura, a hint of The Wannadies and sprinklings of Belle and Sebastian’s early work. None of this is said to deride the song, of course. It’s a reflection on how it immediately feels like home. May this band burn longer and brighter.

34. Kelis – Breakfast

Her milkshake brought all the boys to the yard, but what happens when one of those boys sticks around? Now in her thirties, Kelis is exploring the concept of finding love in wake of divorce. It’s quite an adult prospect, recurring on perhaps her most mature LP to date, Food. Many went with a helping of “Jerk Ribs” when asked to name the album’s standout, but it would be foolhardy to dismiss this triumphantly horn-laden take on neo-soul, complete with stunning chorus and adorable children’s backing vocals. Much like in life, “Breakfast” is the most important meal of the day.

33. Ben Howard – Conrad

A lot of pitch-black darkness took up Ben Howard’s second album – hell, it even took up most of the cover art. Positioned towards its latter half, “Conrad” allowed the LP to let a glimmer of light into the spectrum. It continues to look at where a past love went awry; and yet the song plays to the pop sensibilities that rewarded Howard such attention to begin with. Its shipmates are his exceptional guitar work, layered to the point of being a battalion front; as well as a hummed refrain that would even garner due respect from the Crash Test Dummies.

32. Luca Brasi – Borders and Statelines

Luca Brasi’s dues have been paid in full and with interest; and many within Australia’s punk community have spent the last few years in particular wondering as to when it would be their time. It was answered not with words, but an extremely loud action. The forceful, crashing drums, the stellar twin-guitar attack and the rousing, spirited chorus they always had in them… “Borders and Statelines,” contrary to its lyrics, will come to define this band in the very best way imaginable. There is a wolf in the throne room, and its name is Luca Brasi. There will be blood.

31. Swans – Oxygen

2014 saw Michael Gira turn 60 years old. He continues to haunt the realm of alternative/avant-garde music after thirty-plus years in the game with unfinished business. Amid an exhausting two-hour-plus release – the double-LP To Be Kind – came this truly terrifying beast. “Oxygen,” already a live favourite, can now officially stand as one of the biggest, boldest compositions to ever come out under the Swans moniker upon its long-awaited recording. Its opening moments are spent picking out one of the year’s most distinctive basslines; its dying moments forcefully hurls everything it has built up into the inferno. The in-between is unforgettable.

30. Death From Above 1979 – Right On, Frankenstein!

Yes, the most hyped new rock band of the year may well have been a bass-and-drums duo; but a vengeful return from the very band that made it cool in the first place made sure we all knew whose yard we were stepping into. “Frankenstein” fires off on all cylinders from its opening seconds, pounding through a barnstorming, breakneck dose of rock & roll that exists purely on Keeler and Grainger’s terms. Plus, it’s gotta be the best false ending to a song from this year: The dust settles, the bass rings out… then, POW! Right in the kisser!

29. Bertie Blackman – Run for Your Life

Another new Bertie Blackman album means another new Bertie Blackman. From the days of her favourite jeans to her flirtations with electronica on later releases, the chameleonic Blackman has rarely allowed herself to get too comfortable within a particular style in her decade-and-change of songwriting. “Run for Your Life” is no exception to this, although it would be wise to suggest she spend a little more time in this specific corner. She sounds right at home with the gated snare, thickly-layered synthesizers and the whoah-oh’d call and response. She may well have just stumbled across her own pop paradise.

28. Kiesza – Hideaway

Fred Armisen may have sung that the dream of the 90s was alive in Portland, but his radar was a little off. The dream of the 90s, friends, is alive in Kiesza, a twenty-something Canadian up-and-comer who dominated dancefloors throughout the entire year with this certified banger in her arsenal. From a crafting perspective, “Hideaway” is retro in the sense that it can appreciate that there was a “What is Love” and a “Rhythm of the Night” for every “Teen Spirit” and “Black Hole Sun.” Its spirit is alive and shuffling once again. Mash it.

27. Coldplay – Magic

In the year that the phrase “consciously uncoupling” entered the cultural lexicon, you could well have been forgiven for forgetting that Chris Martin actually made music this year. Sure, some people would like to forget it altogether, but that’s another story for another time. We’re here to talk about “Magic,” a single that allowed Martin and co. to recall the pop simplicity of their early days while connecting it to the fresh pain of a then-recent separation. If “Magic” proves anything, it’s that we can begin again. That, and Chris Martin can still write a bloody tune.

26. Tkay Maidza – U-Huh

Don’t let Tkay Maidza’s age fool you, nor the simplicity of her big-business single. MCs twice her age would kill for a flow so tightly syncopated, hooks this high in both quality and quantity and a beat as bright and boisterous as the one that fills the spaces of “U-Huh.” There are constant surprises around every corner in the current Australian musical climate; and Maidza is the latest to make a substantial impact. One hopes the fire spat here leads to a phenomenal debut LP next year. After all, as she puts it, “We don’t tolerate broke behaviour.”

25. Yoke – Jabiluka

A phrase as simple as “I never told her” is what centres itself thematically at the core of “Jabiluka,” so named after a mine in the Northern Territory of Australia. Each time it is uttered, there are further layers peeled back to reveal the pain, the regret and the loss that comes with delivering such a line. It’s conveyed emphatically, almost taking on new meaning with every repetition. Similarly, the song itself may externally feel like a Dev Hynes-flavoured slice of downtempo indie-pop, but further listening will see those very same layers revealing. A smart yet complicated song.

24. DZ Deathrays – Reflective Skull

Who gives a fuck about how many notes you can play? If you can play the right ones, in the right succession, you needn’t worry about a single thing more. The riff that “Reflective Skull” lives and dies by was not designed for any greater intellectual pursuit. It’s a primitive headbanger, locked into an undeniable stomping groove and launched forth with reckless abandon. Ironically enough, with its less-than-more approach, this could be one of the biggest sounding tracks that the Deathrays duo have ever put their collective name to. Altogether, now: DUN, DUN-DUN, DUN DUN DUN-DUN, DEWWWW DEWWWW DEWWWW.

23. Sia – Chandelier

Ten years removed from her previous signature song, the inimitable “Breath Me,” Sia Furler has penned herself a new standard; an anthem which will forever define her as one of not only Australia’s greatest singer-songwriter exports, but as a true mastermind behind pop music in the 21st century. Hyperbole? For Christ’s sake, go listen to that chorus again. Seriously. It feels like that Maxell ad campaign where the guy is being blown away by the sound in his chair. Maddie Ziegler may have given the song a second life, but it was all a part of Sia’s grander plan.

22. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt

Don’t call it a comeback. Don’t even call it a reinvention. What we are seeing here is Brian Fallon and co. going out on a proverbial limb, gazing forlornly at what lies beyond. In leaving their comfort zone and exploring the possibilities of slower, more refined songwriting, Gaslight have undertaken a greater journey all with a single step. The title track from their latest record also served as one of their most striking, honest songs ever put to wax. It’s murmurs and whispers from a band defined by their shouts and screams, and it makes for a remarkable listening experience.

21. Tiny Ruins – Me at the Museum, You in the Wintergardens

The single greatest ode to love in 2014 came from the humble, warm abode of Auckland; where you’ll find the quaint, gorgeously understated sounds of one Hollie Fullbrook on the wind. The story is simply told, beautifully painted and pristinely arranged, as we follow the scent of young love through two uniquely different workplaces that somehow not only complement on another, but serve as a reflection on the resolute power that can come through finding love. Its greatest achievement, however, is its ability to accomplish all of this majesty in a decidedly slim 155 seconds. It just comes and goes.

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