Hey team! We’re back once again with the DJY100, and there are some absolute doozies headed your way. Before we get to rocking, though, have you had a listen to the supplementary list of 50 songs I loved this year that just missed the cut? You should totally do that!
As always, DISCLAIMER: This is not a list of the most popular songs, nor is it a list curated by anyone except myself. These are, in my view, the best songs of the year. Disagreement and discussion is welcomed, but ultimately if you have any real issues with any songs that are ranked too low, too high or not at all… make your own list!
– DJY, December 2021
100. SPEED – WE SEE U
When the airhorn hits, it signals one thing: The gang called Speed has arrived. In a year of precious few throwdowns, the Sydneysiders cut through with Australian hardcore’s first proper viral hit and turned heads around the globe – see the pure joy of this YouTuber’s reaction for proof. It’s gone in 60 seconds, but its presence is felt long after the final two-step comes to a screeching halt. For those that have missed getting caught in a mosh, as well as those who remember when punk rock could be this much fun, Speed will have you in cruise control.
99. Green Screen – Date Night
On paper, you wouldn’t expect much common ground between sugar-sweet Zoe Catterall of The Buoys and the ice-cold baritone of Baby Beef‘s Hewett Cook. As it turns out, their yin-and-yang makes for an enthralling exercise in queer electro-pop with a dramatic flair. “Date Night” is one of the finest examples of this from their collaborative Green Screen project, in which the odd couple evens out over pulsating, late-night synth-bass and the flickering candle of new romance in amidst the dark of the city. “Have we been reborn/In each other’s arms?” asks Cook in the song’s bridge. In many ways, yes.
98. Mike Noga – Open Fire
Mike Noga never set out to write a swan song when Open Fire was cut – but it goes to show that you should make every album like it’s your last, because there’s every chance it could be. The late, great singer-songwriter opted for an antipodean tweak of “Dancing in the Dark” on his final record’s lead single and title track, sauntering around the synths and honing in on arguably the best chorus of his career. Many thanks to Noga’s family and friends for ensuring this saw the light of day, giving this criminally underrated musician the send-off he deserved.
97. Phil Fresh feat. Kymie and Kwame – IG Luv
If you can’t relate to DM-sliding social media horniness after two lockdowns, you’re either a devoted monogamist or just prudent. This playful bounce from Phil Fresh’s debut EP is bolstered by a pristine Kymie hook and a spotless Kwame verse, the latter returning the favour for Fresh’s excellent turn on “TOMMY’S IN TROUBLE.” Fresh himself is far from an afterthought, though – his vision is what carries this bright, technicolour hip-hop right through its runtime, not to mention his bravado and confidence ensuring the thematic crux is conveyed to the nth degree. A fire-emoji react if there ever was one.
96. Approachable Members of Your Local Community – Just Say It
There’s a cynical approach (pardon the pun) to seeing polite, goofy Jewish boys adding a blond-hair-blue-eyes Instagram influencer to their line-up. Let’s make it clear, though: Sage Mellet isn’t Cousin Oliver. She’s Frank Reynolds. She just wants to be pure – and with “Just Say It,” she climbs through the couch and serves up a resplendent indie-disco kiss-off. Her first outing at the helm of AMOYLC, complete with Gab Strum production sheen, is an instant career-best for the Melbourne outfit. Much like her brother before her, she blooms just for you – and you can’t help but be utterly charmed.
95. Tigers Jaw – Hesitation
Tigers Jaw are at the point in their career where they often find themselves playing with bands that grew up listening to them. They’re not a heritage act by any means, but a new generation has come up under their wing – or paw, in this analogy. March’s I Won’t Care How You Remember Me proved that the Scranton emo OGs weren’t about to go quietly, though – not least of all when this excellent indie-rocking single, released just seven days into the year, saw them as infectiously catchy and splendidly harmonious as ever before. Tigers Jaw: They’re still grrrrrrrreat.
94. Sly Withers – Breakfast
At the long-standing Australian intersection of pub-rock and pop-punk, Sly Withers have grown leaps and bounds the last few years cementing themselves as a great white hope of guitar music within the sunburnt country. There’s exemplary demonstrations of their excellence of execution across second album Gardens, but “Breakfast” asserts itself among the true champions. Packing the crunch of its guitars and heartiness of its lyrics into an ice-cold bowl, the Western Australians channel the American midwest and pack in as much emotional heft as three minutes will allow. It’s Jimmy Eat World eating the most important meal of the day.
93. Teenage Joans – Wine
A common trope is to claim young artists are wise beyond their years. Teenage Joans aren’t, nor have they ever purported to. They’re still making mistakes, acutely aware how early into adulthood they actually are. “Wine” reflects this, blending bright guitars and crashing drums with searing melodicism and exuberant abandon. “I saw you at the spelling bee” is an immaculate depiction of innocence lost; “You age like wine/And I still haven’t aged to like wine” is stark self-realisation about age gaps just big enough to fall through. Just because TJs aren’t wise beyond their years, doesn’t mean they’re not wise.
92. Spacey Jane – Lots of Nothing
Well, well, well… look who found themselves launched into the stratosphere in 2021. Sure, their silver-medal performance in the heated countdown certainly gave them a boost, but “Lots of Nothing” ensured the Perth pop explorers remained amongst the stars. They shine bright on this stand-alone cut, retaining their distinctive rock jangle but simultaneously nudging it out into slightly farther reaches than 2020’s Sunlight – just enough to indicate they’re making progress, and having plenty of fun while doing so. Bonus points for incorporating the word “servo” into a verse, too. Even if they eventually conquer America, they’re still Our Spaceys.
91. Skegss – Bush TV
Does the fact “Bush TV” follows an almost-identical conceptual structure to earlier single “Smogged Out” (read: big city escapism in a dead-end moment) mean Skegss have carved out a niche? Maybe, but more than anything it proves prowess with variations on a theme. With a four-chord ramble and Jonny Lani’s brisk drums giving some downhill momentum, the north-coast trio bound through home-truth honesty and rousing reflections on the state of things. They’re keeping the bastards honest, while also ensuring their bastardry doesn’t go unchecked. Once again, Skegss keep their imperfections in perfect form – don’t you dare change the channel.
90. Mitski – Working for the Knife
Comeback singles, traditionally, possess at least some degree of “I’m back, bitch” energy. It’s expected here: “Working for the Knife” is Mitski’s first single in three years, and follows on from the biggest album of her career in Be the Cowboy. You’d know none of that from listening to it, though – an understated, morose minor-chord slow-burn that mourns a life lost to the throes of capitalism. If anyone else tried this after so long away they’d be rightly ostracised. Within the framework of Mitski’s career, however, it’s another ingenious swerve from one of modern indie rock’s most unpredictable figures.
89. Moaning Lisa – Something
In their best songs, Moaning Lisa capture moments. “Carrie” is a slow-waltz into a desperate thrash of lust; “Lily” is slow-motion heartbreak; “Take You Out” slinks into new romance. That same energy radiates through “Something,” as it charts the progress of infatuation from the ambient sounds of its bass intro to the immediate post-punk guitar chops of the verses. You go along for the ride, thinking back to the moments you felt the same way. That’s the best thing about the Melbourne-via-Canberra outfit – theirs is a distinct balance of universal introspect, where it’s wholly theirs but somehow yours too.
88. CHVRCHES – Good Girls
“Killing your idols is a chore/And it’s such a fucking bore/But we don’t need them anymore.” Lauren Mayberry arrives dressed to kill at the helm of CHVRCHES’ third single from the excellent Screen Violence, pitting her convictions against cascading synth arpeggios and a mechanical kick-snare that wouldn’t feel out of place in NIN’s “Closer.” The bones of what you believe a CHVRCHES song to sound like are still very much in-tact, but the skeletal structure has shifted. The trio has created a monster here, and they’re proudly letting it loose for their own personal reckoning. No more Mr. Good Girl.
87. Palms – This One is Your One
“This One is Your One” wasn’t just about Sydney garage-rock veterans Palms making a triumphant return after six years in absentia. It was also a coming-out party for frontman Al Grigg, using the song to profess his love to his boyfriend and let the world know of the rainbow hanging over their intensity sunshine. Don’t let the schmaltz fool you, though – this is still a bright, rough-and-tumble rocker with its rough edges left proudly intact. There are few choruses in Palms’ canon simplistic as “Always, I know/Never ever gonna let you go.” Simultaneously, however, there are few more effective.
86. Billie Eilish – NDA
2021 began for Billie Eilish with The World’s A Little Blurry – an intense, two-hour-plus doco capturing her ascent and the myriad of growing pains that ensued. For a mainstream pop-star film, it was surprisingly raw – fitting, given Eilish is among the least-likely mainstream pop-stars of the last decade. “NDA” sees her venturing further down the rabbit hole of fame and privacy, skipping the playfulness of “Therefore I Am” and sinking straight into some of brother Finneas’ most intense production work to date. Full disclosure: There may not be a more fascinating story unfolding in modern pop right now.
85. Crowded House – To the Island
Neil Finn has no qualms with playing the hits – nor should he, given how many he’s got. Where he differs, however, is not relying on them. Much like the boat he paddles in this very video, Finn is still a keen explorer. With a new crew in tow – including two of Finn’s sons – the expanded quintet shift through dark waters and uncharted territory with refreshing ambition and the kind of free-wheeling experimental approach that pays off in spades. Many heritage acts fear desecrating their canon – on “To the Island,” Crowded House proudly build it even bigger.
84. Justin Bieber feat. Daniel Caesar and Giveon – Peaches
Never short of a photo opportunity, Justin Bieber instead sought a shot at redemption in 2021. Following the worst album of his career in the droll, uninspired Changes, the former child star bounced back with a more refined, mature approach to modern rnb with Justice – an album that didn’t betray his age nor permanently transmogrify him into Wife Guy Number One. Best of all was “Peaches,” his strongest solo hit in a half-decade and a perfect vehicle to raise the profiles of smooth-singing up-and-comers Daniel Caesar and Giveon. Forget “Yummy” – “Peaches” is perfectly juicy pop, coast to coast.
83. Amenra – Ogentroost
Fans of All Elite Wrestling know parts of “Ogentroost” well. An edited version guides Dutch grappler Malakai Black to the ring each night, with its sinister guitars and banshee-howl vocals. If you want to face the real heavyweight champion, however, venture forth on the full ten-minute version that opens the doom-metal band’s De Doorn LP. There were few moments in heavy music throughout 2021 that offered up a journey quite like this one, centred on a tense, atmospheric build to its tumbling drums, haunting choir (lead by Oathbreaker‘s Caro Tanghe) and seismic hurtle into the abyss. Down for the count.
82. Snowy Band – Call It a Day
A lapsed-Catholic confessional opens this fittingly-reverent, hushed jangle-pop number: “I prayed to God in a parked car.” There’s a calm and repose to the second single from Snowy Band’s second album, but this does not equate to a lack of emotion or any shortage of delightful imagery. “Full moon, overfilled, smeared yellow/Fell on the buttered side,” coos frontman Liam Halliwell atop chiming guitars and understated drums. Its breathy delivery emerges from the shadows of Melbourne suburbia, but resonates far beyond its immediate reach. If you’ve been seeking heartfelt, honest and homegrown songwriting of the indie-rock persuasion, consider your prayers answered.
81. Squid – Pamphlets
Remember when Björk arrived as a fully-formed weirdo in the 90s, and we all wondered how she could get any weirder and she found a way? That’s sort of what Squid’s 2021 looked like. Already one of the more eccentric indie exports of their native UK, their debut album already felt like it had a certain expectation to live up to. They, too, found a way – particularly on Bright Green Field‘s closer, an eight-minute art-rocker where one minute it’s oh so quiet, the next there’s an army. It unravels into their most intense, ambitious song yet. Spread the word.
Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:
Back next week with part two!