Hey! Sorry it took me awhile to get this up. I got COVID! Heard of it? It’s not great! Anyway, hope you enjoy this sail over the halfway mark. Promise this’ll be done by the end of the month. While you’re at it, why not catch up on Part One here and Part Two here? There ya go!
60. Silk Sonic – Skate
What do women want? It’s been a hot-button topic for many a year now, and most men are still without answers. Needless to say, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak are not most men. They saw the absolutely massive uptick of women getting into rollerskating over the last 12 to 18 months, and they promptly cashed in with a blissful roller-disco ode to the phenomenon. You could be cynical about it being opportunistic, but “Skate” is way too sunny to succumb to such a dismissal. It’s a broad, beautiful smile of a song – and it’s exactly what women want, too.
59. WILLOW feat. Travis Barker – t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l
Most of you probably haven’t thought of Willow Smith in a decade… and she’s only 21. Somewhere in the throes of her teens and early 20s, the former child star stopped whipping her hair long enough to notice the world around her. This resulted in a guitar-heavy pop-rock comeback for the ages, helmed by red-carpet walker (and occasional drummer) Travis Barker. The same swagger that carried her tween hit is very much intact – she’s the daughter of a Fresh Prince, after all – but its moody, darker corners breathe new life into this still-burgeoning and fascinating career. With soul.
58. The Buoys – Lie to Me Again
One of The Buoys’ first tracks was “Liar Liar” – a rambunctious garage-punk number about a no-good ex, packed with the usual early-20s angst amidst clattering drums and rousing guitars. The topic is revisited four years later on “Lie to Me Again,” with a changed line-up but the constant of frontwoman Zoe Catterall. Here, she approaches the jilted former lover with the kind of calm that can only come before a storm. It’s not as in-your-face as its predecessor, but its impact is promptly doubled by its barbed lyricism and righteously-convicted chorus. This much is true: The Buoys light up.
57. Geese – Low Era
We’re getting to that stage in history where people with compound sentences for birth years are making some of the most exciting new music. One such act are indie-disco punks Geese, who were scooped up in a bidding war circa 2020. Now the Brooklynites have arrived in earnest for us to gander at, “Low Era” feels especially pertinent – reminiscent of when The Rapture and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah hit the scene. Will Geese have staying power beyond this fleeting infatuation? Impossible to tell. For this moment of post-punk zeitgeist, however, they’re the only living band in New York.
56. Gang of Youths – the angel of 8th ave.
Prior to the pandemic, Gang of Youths moved to London and brought in Noah & The Whale‘s Tom Hobden. This season of growth and change persisted, even in the midst of global shutdown. “angel” was GOY bursting forth and rising to the occasion once more, delivering heartland pop with prolix professionalism. Its parade of shimmering strings, syncopated claps and perhaps Max Dunn’s finest bass-line yet ensured that the Gang was back in business. They might not be a big fish in a little pond anymore, but “the angel of 8th ave.” proved that there was still blood in the water.
55. Halsey – Bells in Santa Fe
If you said this time last year that one of 2021’s most fruitful collaborations would be between Halsey and Nine Inch Nails, you might’ve had more concern raised than if you’d started coughing into your fist and offering handshakes. Nevertheless, they persisted. With additional production from unexpected outsider The Bug, “Bells” sets a scene somewhere between Fair Verona and oblivion with its spiralling synthesizer orchestra. Halsey’s increasing desperation as she tears pages from her Bible and comes to term with impermanence make for one of the most arresting performances of her career. It boils, it burns and it transforms into…
54. Halsey – Easier Than Lying
Halsey has flirted with heaviness in the past (see her underrated “Experiment On Me”), but “Easier Than Lying” hits different. That’s not just a saying, by the way – from its snarling bass to its siren-wail outro and the anchoring of its frenetic drum-and-bass backbeat, there’s never been a song in Halsey’s canon quite like this one. With the intense pacing of a car chase, the song’s relentless energy is carried by another ice-cold, sting-in-the-tail performance from none other than Ms. “Without Me” herself. There was a time when Trent Reznor once marched with the pigs. In 2021, Halsey ran.
53. Citizen – I Want to Kill You
The lead single of every Citizen record since their modern genre classic debut Youth has felt like its own reset. “Cement” forged into slinking alt-rock; “Jet” rode the wave of… well, The Wave… and now “I Want to Kill You” has introduced disco drums and post-punk frenetic ferocity. The best part is that it all still feels like Citizen each time – Matt Kerekes’ writhing yelp, the steely fretwork of the Hamm brothers and that propulsive emotional build that ensures Citizen From Toledo, Ohio can be heard around the world. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and Citizen are absolutely jacked.
52. Polish Club – Stop for a Minute
Polish Club can get as goofy as anyone. They play silly games, make knowingly-hideous album art… even in this song’s video, frontman David Novak chows down on a sanga while dancing in a tux. What “Stop for a Minute” does best, however, is cut through the bullshit – even in what’s arguably the most fun musical environment the duo has ever set up for itself. That seething frustration seeps through the cracks in the mirrorball that separate the art from the artist, rattling from the ceiling against the bass drum kick. It’s not the clown crying anymore: It’s pissed disco.
51. Toby Martin – Linthwaite Houdini
Be it a pregnant city dweller or a radicalised immigrant teenager, Toby Martin has always thrived telling stories that aren’t his own with a surprising sense of belonging. The lead single from his third solo album is no exception, where he hears tell of a small-town escape artist whose grand scheme doesn’t go according to plan. Amongst the wallowing trumpet and the slinking waltz drums, Martin’s writing encompasses the envisioned triumph and the ultimate tragedy that emerges from a story as unique as this one. The truth is stranger than fiction, and few Australian songwriters truly get that like Martin.
50. Olivia Rodrigo – brutal
“Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” For an artist that was introduced to the world via post-Lorde piano balladry, few could have expected the veneer to crumble quite like it did on Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album opener. As that riff churns, she wants it on record that this sweet life of celebrity and status is far from perfect – in fact, it’s tearing her apart inside. “brutal,” true to its name, is the heaviest song on SOUR by a considerable margin. It’s a living, seething testament to the year pop was allowed to rock again. Teenage angst, meet This Year’s Model.
49. Tasman Keith feat. Kwame – ONE
It started off as a rib, when short-king MC Tasman Keith got photos taken with the towering Kwame. What ended up revealing itself over the coming weeks, however, proved this: These motherfuckers weren’t playing. “ONE” is the best song either artist has been a part of – and considering the calibre of their already-illustrious careers, that’s not said lightly. From its urgent beat to its belligerent flow, there’s absolutely no backing down on any front. When the duo knocked this out of the park on The Set, Kwame boasted: “Rap song of the fucking year.” You’re inclined to believe him.
48. Springtime – Will to Power
Gareth Liddiard had a surprisingly fruitful year. Tropical Fuck Storm’s lockdown record finally came out, he reinvented his catalogue live with Jim Whiteand heundertook a new journey entirely with Springtime. Liddiard, White and The Necks pianist Chris Abrahams are no strangers to music with a freer, looser form than your average. That factors into their debut single “Will to Power,” but it’s far from the only story. It’s a sprawling, darkly-shaded take on Liddiard’s barbed Australiana through a strange, dirty lens. Against cascading guitar, creaking piano and the sturdy drumming shuffle of the unmistakable White, Springtime truly blossoms.
47. Holy Holy – How You Been
Somewhere in the shadow realm between pop that rocks and rock that pops lies Holy Holy. Across four studio albums, the Melbourne-via-Tasmania duo who have slowly but surely built a reputation as one of the country’s more likeable and endearing indie hit-makers. “How You Been” showcases the duo at their key strengths. Frontman Timothy Carroll’s performance is heartfelt and rousing; guitarist Oscar Dawson’s buoyant production, meanwhile, allows everything from the rubbery bass-line to the triumphantly OTT solo to cohesively gel. It’s an electric pop effort designed for dancing like no-one’s watching – much like Carroll himself in the accompanying video.
46. Limp Bizkit – Dad Vibes
hot dad ridin in on a rhino
45. Deafheaven – Great Mass of Color
In retrospect, perhaps we could have all seen Deafheaven’s stylistic departure coming. They have, after all, seemingly always existed on the very fringes of heavy metal itself – what’s one extra push out of the genre entirely? “Great Mass of Color” was a headfirst dive into the great unknown – one that, admittedly, could have seen the Northern Calfornia quintet land flat on their face. Instead, however, the band was immersed in a crystallised bliss that revelled in its tranquil undercurrent in tandem with its bursting, resplendent refrain. It’s like a dream, to borrow a phrase. You want to dream.
44. Ruby Fields – R.E.G.O
Ruby Fields is lots of things, but a rockstar is not one of them. She’s just Rubes, slinging beers at the local to get by and shooting the shit with the regulars. “R.E.G.O” is a rumination on this lifestyle – living paycheck to paycheck, but having the inextricable bonds of friendship keeping it afloat. “Haven’t you always wanted to feel like that?” Fields asks, again and again. She’s saying what we’re all thinking, and she knows it. It’s bolstered by her impeccable band, with a special nod to Adam Newling’s fret-bending lead work. Worth a coin in the tip jar.
43. Turnstile – MYSTERY
2021 was Turnstile’s year. No ifs, buts or maybes. The Baltimore natives elevated American hardcore to a level arguably not seen since John Belushi moshed to Fear at 30 Rock – the same building, coincidentally, that Turnstile saw out the year performing inside as part of Late Night. There, they played the track that launched their year: “MYSTERY,” a song that dares anyone feeling froggy to go ahead and leap. Brendan Yates’ boisterous yelp, pondering the great unknown, ricochets off churning guitars and walloping drums to forge something full of life that proudly goes down swinging. Consider the mystery solved.
42. No Rome feat. Charli XCX and The 1975 – Spinning
“skeletons” is so excited to get going, it practically trips over itself – cue the tumbling drums and smash-cut to the word of the day. It’s a disarming beginning to a song that coasts on smooth sailing, but that may well be the point. A closer inspection, of course, sees that this future-soul cut from the Leicester lads portrays purported paranoia over a partner’s playful past. It’s a little Mac Miller; a little Rex Orange County; a little Hot Chip. There’s some fascinating moving parts at play here. What easy life have concocted, ultimately, is guaranteed to rattle some bones.
Listen to the DJY100 thus far in the Spotify playlist below:
When they were first making noise, the most common term for Fontaines D.C. was “post-punk.” It made perfect sense circa Dogrel – after all, it was all we had to go off. What if, however, Dogrel was a punk record… and A Hero’s Death was the real post-punk record? The churning bass, the Madchester big-beat drums and the surf-nightmare baritone guitar on “Televised Mind” is like night and day when paired next to, say, “Boys in the Better Land.” It’s an evolution; a primordial and powerful progression. Whatever it is, it’s post-something. They’ve once again gotten ahead of the game.
19. Gorillaz feat. Peter Hook and Georgia – Aries
“Aries:” the best Gorillaz single since “DoYaThing,” and also the best New Order song since “Crystal.” While the band’s previous collab-heavy project Humanz felt like too many cooks, Song Machine saw the fictitious troupe get the balance just right. Case in point: the legendary Peter Hook pulls out a classic high-fret bassline for 2D’s weary, emotive vocal. Meanwhile, electronica upstart Georgia patterns a V-drums undercurrent that drives it along before literally bursting into high tide (what a chorus, while we’re at it). This team-up may seem like a bizarre love triangle, but in execution “Aries” was written in the stars.
18. The 1975 – If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)
The role “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” plays shifted significantly. Its initial April release was a final burst of hype for the band’s Notes on a Conditional Form, after endless delays and an elongated hype trail. Post-Notes, it’s symbolic of better times – where we hadn’t yet been let down by the exhaustive hour-20 bloat that ensued. In either case, through the good times and the bad, “Too Shy” survived. It stood alone as one of the band’s brightest and bubbliest singles to date. Everybody wants to rule the world, but “Too Shy” actually followed through on it.
17. Cry Club – Obvious
There’s two pertinent lines in “Obvious.” The first, from the perspective of Heather Riley’s bank account, is “Bitch, you need to stay at home.” This, mind, was written well before every bitch needed to stay at home for months. The other is in the song’s chorus: “How could anyone say no?” Cry Club are irresistible by design. They are a beloved pop band making beloved pop songs. This is among the best they’ve penned, from its ascending cascade of keys to its urgent, propulsive drums and topped off with a sweet cherry of a melody. Cry Club feels like home.
16. Jackson Wang – 100 Ways
Jackson Wang is from a South Korean boy band. No, not that one. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter which one he’s from. This is about Jackson Wang, solo star. By all rights, “100 Ways” should’ve been as explosive a hit single as… well, “Dynamite.” The state-of-the-art LOSTBOY beat, the Paul Simon flip of the chorus, the oozing charisma of Wang himself… goddamn, “100 Ways” has everything going for it. What gives, America? He’s even on 88Rising, and y’all LOVE them. Wang can do more as one man than most boys can do as a group of seven – including his own.
15. Urthboy – The Night Took You
They say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Urthboy knows this well, but consider that he’s spent the last 20-plus years being unbroken. If anyone’s earned the right to go in and smash shit up, it’s him. “The Night Took You” is the sound of one of the country’s all-time greatest MCs risking it all by not spitting a single bar. A weary, heartfelt melody takes its place, accompanied by plaintive piano and stirring strings. How then, does this recipe for potential disaster taste so rich and fulfilling? It’s simple, really: Urthboy rebuilt in his very own image.
14. Good Sad Happy Bad – Shades
Several circumstances lead to Micachu & The Shapes changing their name. Raisa Khan took over on lead vocals, for one; multi-instrumentalist CJ Caladerwood expanded the band to a quartet, for another. Ultimately, it came down to drawing a line in the sand. That was then, this is now. “Shades” feels like a new chapter, in that sense. It pulls many of the same shapes as the Shapes, but it’s cast through a new lense. Khan’s reserved, distinct delivery pairs well against the harsh synth and feedback-heavy sax. It’s the future, but it’s now. It’s here. Come, see the bright side.
13. The Beths – Out of Sight
“Out of Sight” doesn’t do anything particularly different for The Beths. It’s more resplendent, sun-kissed indie-pop that revels in its darker corners while never losing its brightness. This, of course, changes once you find yourself below its surface. In the thick of this song is a shattering piece of love-lorn poetry: “I’ll keep a flame burning inside,” offers vocalist Liz Stokes, “if you need to bum a light.” Her bandmates allow the song’s sentimentality to both simmer and burst into life – see Jon Pearce’s impeccable lead guitar and Tristan Deck’s racing snare-rim. It’s not particularly different, no. It’s better.
12. The 1975 – Me & You Together Song
“We went to Winter Wonderland,” reminisces 1975 frontman Matty Healy amidst his love-letter to 90s jangle-pop. “It was shit, but we were happy.” A potentially-revelatory thought: Could The 1975 themselves be the Winter Wonderland of the pop world? This is a band acutely aware of its shortcomings, prone to self-sabotage and over-indulgence among many other things. In the times when you need them the most, however, they glisten. They are everything you need. You – and they – are happy. You’ll let them make a two-hour triple album if it means three minutes of paradise like this. You and them together.
11. Fontaines D.C. – I Don’t Belong
“Dublin in the rain is mine,” boasted Grian Chatten at the beginning of his band’s acclaimed debut album a year prior. What a difference a year makes. He can see clearly now, the rain has gone. “I don’t want to belong to anyone,” he prophesises at the beginning of his band’s acclaimed second album. A new man, fronting a new band. Methodical, refined, steely in focus. Slow to build and bright to burn. Once standing on the shoulders of giants, now giants themselves. They roam this barren, empty land. “I Don’t Belong” is a new beginning and a turning tide.
10. 5 Seconds of Summer – No Shame
When did 5 Seconds of Summer go from being – to borrow a phrase – boys to men? There are several key points along the Sydney band’s trajectory: Making it in America, crashing under the weight of expectation with their sophomore slump, blazing a comeback trail with a global number-one smash. These are all worthy answers, and testament to 5SOS’ maturation and evolution. If you want the proper answer, however, it lies within the confines of “No Shame:” They’re finally so famous that they’ve written a song about being famous.
Not only have they done that, they’ve written one of the best songs of their career. It’s a move that can go drastically wrong – lest we forget the band’s heroes, Good Charlotte, absolutely whiffing it with their 2005 tantrum “I Just Wanna Live.” What makes “No Shame” stand out, then, is its revelry. “I only light up when cameras are flashing,” boasts vocalist Luke Hemmings, stomping down on his territory as Ashton Irwin smacks out a “Closer” disco groove. That’s not the first Nine Inch Nails reference 5SOS have made of late, either. Rather than rally against the starfuckers, however, 5SOS are leaning directly into their primitive, forceful nature. “Go on, replace me,” Hemmings taunts. “When you’re cravin’ somethin’ sweeter than the words I left in your mouth/Go on and spit me out.” He’s seen his band get dumped in the bin before, he’s not afraid of it happening again.
That’s the thing about “No Shame.” It’s got nothing to lose. It’s a dark, sneering pop song, driven by a washed out, “Come As You Are”-esque guitar line and the guttural squelch of bass-synth patched in with the industrial-tinged beat programming. Australia’s biggest boy-band export have burned their lovable-larrikin image to the ground. No more cutesy cock-rock, or acoustic gaslighting anthems, or even pushing and pulling away.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
– 11 Corinthians 3
5 Seconds of Summer are men now. Treat them as such.
Needless to say, it’s anyone’s guess where Sports Team end up in this trajectory. Consider this: Arctic Monkeys got their start kicking out Strokes and Vines covers, the hyped bands of their teens. Sports Team, and bands of their ilk, almost definitely got their start on Arctic Monkeys covers. Maybe even Art Brut and Maxïmo Park too, actually – oft-forgotten names that may be more influential on the current generation of UK rock than anyone is willing to give credit for. Either way the baton has been passed, and a new breed of sardonic English artists are emerging to rattle whatever foundations are left.
Sports Team arrive on the scene as bitter upstarts. Even their name sounds ironic – like, ooh, go team! I love my sports because I’m a man! Then again, of course Sports Team are bitter. Look at the world they’ve inherited – it’s drastically different to the one that the Monkeys and Bloc Party and the like took up in. They’re being fed a constant stream of bullshit on an information superhighway – and there they are, plugged in and playing in the middle of the road, trying to not get totalled by an oncoming truck.
This is at the core of their lead single, statement piece and soon-to-be signature song. “Here’s the Thing” is a barrage of slogans and self-help mantras, rattled off with increasing frustration by frontman Alex Rice. “Jesus loves you!” he chirps. “The football’s coming home!” Of course, as the band will happily remind us at the end of every verse: “It’s all just lies, lies, lies, lies.” The band themselves aren’t exempt from the smell of their own bullshit, either. “Hey, ma! I wrote a song!,” Rice cheers at one point. “Now everything’s alright!” It’s not, of course. Who knows if it will be. Still, despite their snark and their piss-antery, there is a bubbling undercurrent of hope that a band like Sports Team exists in the first place. That’s just the thing, isn’t it.
8. Peach Tree Rascals – Things Won’t Go My Way
At the time of writing, Peach Tree Rascals don’t have a genre listed on their Wikipedia page. That might seem like an oversight more than anything – symptomatic of an incomplete article – but it’s honestly worth thinking about. We’re in an age where everything can be categorised. An entire t-shirt can be filled with the names of subgenres – and sometimes that’s just subgenres for one genre itself. How the fuck are a band like Peach Tree Rascals getting away with not having a genre? Simple, really: They’re living by example.
For those playing catch-up, the NoCal collective first took off over on TikTok circa 2019 with their single “Mariposa.” While the success story isn’t unique – it probably makes up nearly half of the no-name artists on the charts currently rubbing shoulders with established giants – the song itself certainly was. It’s a zoomer’s take on sunny-afternoon, carefree 60s pop, mixing jazzy chord strums with the whirr of AutoTune and a multitude of vocal perspectives. Think BROCKHAMPTON covering The Turtles, or maybe the other way around. It’s not uncategorisable entirely, but it’s genre-free both by choice and by nature.
While not nearly as successful – it holds some four million Spotify streams to “Mariposa”’s 150 – “Things Won’t Go My Way” arguably goes a greater distance in emphatically diversifying the Rascals’ sound. The churning indie-rock guitar progression clatters and clangs against a sturdy bassline, washed-out keys and pristine pop drums. The vocals, too, range from understated lower-octave to reverb-heavy calls out from the ether. There’s lots of elements and moving parts at work here, but it never stakes permanent residence in any immediate musical spectrum.
One could also view this as a larger issue of music attempting a one-size-fits-all mentality – a mater of homogeneity rather than originality. To dismiss Peach Tree Rascals in such a manner is to miss the point entirely. It’s not that they’re trying to be too rap for indie, too indie for rap, or anything in-between. It’s that they simply don’t want to be. They want to be themselves. That’s something not enough acts aspire to.
7. Spanish Love Songs – Self-Destruction (As a Sensible Career Choice)
Just over a decade ago, pop-punk took a turn. Its stalwarts stayed true to the “my friends over you” and “girls are so confusing” school of songwriting, yes, but its contemporaries shifted into something harsher by touch and texture. This notion of “realist pop-punk” came primarily from young American men in their early to mid 20s, attempting to find their own place in the world and assuring those around them that they were not alone in their confusions and general anxiety. The Wonder Years, Transit, Fireworks, Real Friends – even the more belligerent acts like The Story So Far and a young Turnover eventually transitioned into this more emotive musical territory.
Bands like Spanish Love Songs were born in the wake of this, and have molded themselves in this image. Whether you see it as a gritty reboot of pop-punk, the fourth wave of emo or something new entirely, it’s grown increasingly hard to deny its presence. From The Hotelier and Modern Baseball to Sorority Noise and You Blew It!, this sound made waves and developed cult status through the 2010s – occasionally spilling over into mainstream crossover with the success of by-products like Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers.
We may have entered a new decade, but the grievances and turmoil faced by this generation of songwriters hasn’t magically gone away. “Need about 30 goddamn miracles,” spits Dylan Slocum – a nihilistic twist on the tried-and-true trope of needing a miracle. While previous generations couldn’t see the forest for the trees, he “can’t see the world is burning down/’Til we’re living underwater.” It’s a devastating lyric sheet – and entirely emblematic of what follows on third album Brave Faces Everyone. What, then, makes a song like this so rousing and endearing?
For one, it’s an immaculately-crafted piece of alternative rock. The crunch of its guitar tone bounces off the wallop of the drums, with Slocum’s histrionic howl centring itself within the fold. That piercing lead guitar in the chorus cuts straight through the treacle, adding an even sweeter release to the already-powerful hook of “It won’t be this bleak forever.” That’s not even touching the military precision of the chorus’ stop-start reinvention in the finale – as a unit, SLS really stick the landing on this one.
Perhaps its most endearing moment, however, comes in the twist of its closing moments. The whole song sees Slocum fighting against the hook – it’s always bookended with an addendum like “yeah, right” or “have you seen me lately?” For its final repetition, however, Slocum doesn’t talk back. He lets it sit. It’s a flicker of hope. It’s a resolute moment after three minutes of turmoil and tragedy.
In an interview with Billboard, Slocum reasoned that the entire purpose of a project like Spanish Love Songs was to make people feel less alone. “It’s bleak stuff, but I find some comfort in knowing that we’re all in it together,” he says. He’s right – it is bleak. But it won’t be this bleak forever. It can’t be. Not with bands like Spanish Love Songs in our lives.
If it wasn’t obvious, Sophia Allison – aka Soccer Mommy – was another notable part of this wave. She could have perhaps even been its crescent, if only she hadn’t been crashed on by the ever-rising tide. Make no mistake, though: Soccer Mommy is no also-ran project, and “circle the drain” is no also-ran song. In fact, this song is so breathtakingly good that it will make you reconsider her entirely. Whether you liked her initially or not, this song proves she was considerably better than you were ever willing to give her credit for.
“circle the drain” succeeds in a way that previous Soccer Mommy tracks were not able to for one clear-cut reason: It’s found a niche. Rather than trying to keep up any kind of indie-darling purist facade, the song instead openly and outwardly opts to be a pop-rock song. Allison has noted that Avril Lavigne’s second album, 2004’s Under My Skin, was the first album she ever bought. Lavigne’s influence plays a key role here – this sounds exactly like it could be a cut from either of her first two records. We’re all adults here, by the way – we can all acknowledge those records as being excellent now.
This isn’t a bratty “Sk8er Boi” moment, though it’s not exactly “Nobody’s Home” either. Think more “Mobile,” or “Things I’ll Never Say.” Pensive, forlorn pop with a dozen guitars jangling around inside of it and processed beats that just dash across the turn of the century. Here’s where the carving knife for Allison’s niche grows particularly sharp: The song may musically be indebted to a bygone era, but its lyricism details an acute millennial malaise that can only come with someone of her age at this exact moment in time.
Perhaps it was wrong to overlook Soccer Mommy when she first arrived on the scene. Then again, perhaps that very notion makes “circle the drain” all the more triumphant. It’s one of the year’s most unexpected delicacies – a left-of-centre dream-pop diary entry that potently merges the past, the present and the future. Round and round we go, once more.
5. Miel – Must Be Fine
Miel Breduow never had to explain that she wasn’t kidding.
Under regular circumstances, a person best known for doing comedy has to clarify what’s sincere and what isn’t. From Nanetteto Wolfie’s Just Fine to… ahem… Dane Cook’s “Forward,” there are countless examples of comics moving into earnest territory. Bredouw isn’t all that different. She goofed around on Vine at its peak, ending up on countless compilations and keeping the dream of Keisza’s “Hideaway” alive. She moved over to podcasting and found a new cult following as she punched up countless jams, both with friends and on her own. She is, as Streisand would say, a funny girl.
When “Must Be Fine” came out, Miel never had to explain that she wasn’t kidding. Why?
The answer is twofold. The first is a reflection on the kind of person Bredouw is – or, at the very least, a reflection on the public persona fans and listeners have come to know through her work. Even when making ridiculous jokes or shriek-laughing at more of Chris Fleming‘s escapades, she comes across as entirely genuine. The kind of person who means what they say, who wouldn’t be laughing if they didn’t find it funny and the kind of person who sees honesty as the best policy.
More pertinent to the song itself, though, is that secondly there’s basically no other read you can give on “Must Be Fine.” It’s a cutting song – it’s sharp, and goes surprisingly deep for a two-and-a-half-minute song with two verses, two choruses and a bridge. A bridge that doesn’t lead anywhere, either – which is surprising on the first listen, but once you’re intimately familiar with your surrounds it clicks and begins to make sense. This isn’t a story with a definitive conclusion. There are no heroes and villains. It’s a time-lapse of a flower withering beneath a descending California sunset. It’s beauty and loss and tragedy within a sunburnt city landscape.
Hannah Gadsby, who performed the aforementioned Nanette, speaks of the effects of laughter in that show. “Laughter is very good for the human,” she said. “It really is, because when you laugh you release tension. When you hold tension in your human body, it’s not healthy. It’s not healthy psychologically or physically.”
Miel’s work has always released tension. It’s interesting, then, that her work that achieved this in the most accomplished of ways was not centred on laughter. And she never had to explain that she wasn’t kidding.
4. Sarah Jarosz – Johnny
“Why is it that we can feel so robbed when someone tells us a story we just heard isn’t true, and yet feel so satisfied at the end of a fictional novel?” This is a question posed by puppet-comedian Randy Feltface in his 2015 show Randy Writes a Novel, which comes at the end of perhaps the show’s finest moment of storytelling. (Referencing that quote if you haven’t seen the part in question is a bit of a spoiler, but so be it.) In songwriting, we’re so obsessed with the idea of what’s “real.” If it’s “real,” then it’s “authentic.” And if it’s “authentic,” then it’s inherently good. Or so we’re told.
“The tortured artist myth is rampant. People paint me as some kind of black witchcraft-practising devil from hell, that I have to be twisted and dark to do what I am doing. It’s a load of rubbish.” This is a quote from PJ Harvey, giving an interview to promote her 1998 album Is This Desire?. It’s an album, much like all of her work, that is steeped in character and fable-oriented lyricism. Does this make her work any less “real” or “authentic” because she didn’t literally drown her child like she sings on “Down By the Water”? Do we dare question men about this authenticity the same way we question women? Harvey’s one-time fling Nick Cave has been singing of murdering people for 30-plus years and has barely batted an eyelid in that time.
“Johnny’s on the back porch drinking red wine/He knows that it could be the very last time/He raises the glass up to his lips and wonders.” This is the opening line to “Johnny,” the lead single from Sarah Jarosz’ fifth studio album World on the Ground. Jarosz didn’t do a great deal of press for the album – for obvious reasons, of course – and so there isn’t a great deal of information as to whether the story told in the song is real.
The titular Johnny is staring down the barrel as he prepares to go in for open heart surgery – one fast move and he’s gone. It’s a moment filled with drama and suspense, and its unresolved nature only drives the intrigue even further. Did Johnny make it? Where is Johnny now? Is he even real to begin with?
Which then circles us back to these original points made by both Feltface and Harvey. Who cares if Johnny is real? “Johnny” is no less authentic because of it. It’s a striking, harmonious and emotive slice of Americana. Its lines trace around a bright octave mandolin, Levon Helm-esque drumming and rustic close harmonies that tie well into Jarosz’s bluegrass background. It’s certainly poppier than her earliest alt-country work, but that too doesn’t make it any less authentic. Any less real. From the second its tape-loop drone guides you in to the second its strummed mandolin lick guides you out, everything in “Johnny” is as real as it gets.
3. Hayley Williams – Simmer
Paramore is a band. Hayley Williams is a musician. Hayley Williams is in the band Paramore. “Simmer” is a song. “Simmer” is not a Paramore song. “Simmer” is a song by Hayley Williams.
This may seem like a collection of more moot points than a Rick Springfield song, and rightly so. Still, you would genuinely be shocked at how many people took issue differentiating when “Simmer” arrived in the first few weeks of 2020. If this is a Hayley Williams song, does that mean Paramore no longer exist? There are other members of Paramore involved – does this mean Paramore has become Hayley Williams? Hayley Williams is the only member of Paramore that has an unbroken line on Paramore’s Wikipedia timeline from start to end – surely this means she’s some sort of fascist dictator?
Again, you don’t get this kind of malarkey with male-fronted bands. For whatever reason, though, drama and discourse follow Williams around like a bad smell. It’s enough to send you mad – and, in a way, that’s a lot of what “Simmer” is about. It’s about the acknowledgement, the processing and the temperament of one’s deepest, darkest and most seething hatred. Williams has been outwardly pissed off before – hell, her first few albums with Paramore were quite literally fuelled by teenage angst. It’s never felt as subversive and as outright threatening as it does on “Simmer,” though.
Why, exactly? Consider both the context and the delivery. The context is no longer a firebrand pop-punk upstart, it’s an embattled 30-something divorcee who has grown up in public and been to hell and back twice over. The delivery is no longer a roof-raising, glass-shattering yelp – a defiant voice aiming to be heard in a dude-heavy scene. No, Williams is done with that shit. If you want to hear what she has to say, you’re going to have to lean in a little closer. When you do, in the throes of the second verse, she quite literally ideates violence. To paraphrase Tegan & Sara, you feel the knife going in.
Heightening the context is the musical environment of “Simmer.” 15 years is a long time, and you feel all 15 of them when you draw the line from All We Know is Fallingto “Simmer.” A smoky blend of trip-hop, indie and 21st-century pop lays out a trail of twists, turns and inevitable spirals. It’s a leap into the great unknown, and as Williams herself may have said 15 years prior you can feel the pressure.
How does one protect themselves, knowing danger awaits? Williams knows. “Wrap yourself in petals for armor,” she says. Don’t mistake kindness for weakness. Your anger is a gift. A riot inside the mind is no lesser of a riot.
“Simmer” is a song. It may be the best song Hayley Williams has ever sung.
2. EGOISM – Here’s the Thing
Breaking the fourth wall here slightly: Two different songs with the exact same title being in the same countdown has only ever happened once before. This was in 2018, when both Post Malone andAmy Shark released songs called “Psycho.” The pair both came at the titular phrase from unexpected places on surprisingly downbeat songs, unified by little more than a subversive take on a slightly-taboo word.
What, then, of “Here’s the Thing” and “Here’s the Thing”? Both come from upstart bands in their 20s, yes, but the similarities end conclusively there. Sports Team enlist the phrase like a weapon – a condescending, mansplaining place-setter, barked from the perspective of an elder statesmen with a chip on their shoulder. EGOISM, however, enlist the phrase as a jumping-off point. It’s the beginning of a difficult conversation. It’s the beginning of the end. The end of a beginning.
How could this phrase manage to hold such a different connotation in this context? Such weight? Truth be told, it’s part and parcel of EGOISM’s modus operandi. The band may traverse the realm of dream pop – often sonically light and airy by design – but their lyrical and thematic structure delve the inner depths as only the truest of confessionals can. It’s not for nothing that the duo of Olive Rush and Scout Eastment named their band after a school of philosophy defined as “concerned with the role of the self, or ego, as the motivation and goal of one’s own action.” EGOISM are at the centre of their own universe – and when they’re falling apart, it can only reflect in their music.
“Here’s the Thing,” with this taken into consideration, easily stands as the band’s most emotionally affecting song. Rush, who takes a stellar lead turn, spoke openly about the vulnerable place from which it came upon its release. They described it as being “about feeling like your heart is getting smashed into a million pieces.” It doesn’t get much more explicit in intent than that. This sentiment is subsequently reflected by the song’s palette, among the most tasteful the duo have ever composed. Striking math-rock chords ring out in tandem with sombre piano, while a ticking-clock snare rim ultimately gives way to a clattering loop that recalls that of Ben Lee’s similarly-pervious “Cigarettes Will Kill You.”
It’s the kind of thing one can find themselves simply entranced in, time and time again. It’s within these repeat listens one also finds themselves hearing things just that little bit different. The song’s seemingly-endless repeats of the same question – “Should you love somebody new?” – start to give way. Because of the quick succession of syllables, sometimes you can just mishear the “new” as simply an elongated part of the previous word – thus, forming an entirely new question of “Should you love somebody?”
It’s there that “Here’s the Thing” goes from wondering as to whether it’s worth starting again to wondering whether it’s worth it at all if this is where it will inevitably lead to. It’s a dark turn – and just think, that’s assembled entirely from something that’s not there. Imagine how much more there is to what’s actually present.
Eastment described “Here’s the Thing” as the best song Rush has ever written. She’s right, but not just from a songwriting perspective – from an egoism perspective. Months before “Here’s the Thing,” EGOISM had released “You You.” The Eastment-lead track covers very similar emotional ground: rising from the rubble left in the wake of a tattered relationship, knowing there is still love there but it cannot continue in the same way that it has. Eastment even acknowledges in the song’s Bandcamp notes that “Olive was going through something really similar at the time.” The mirror image is literally reflected between the two songs when Eastment takes lead on the bridge of “Here’s the Thing” – in the very same point of the song that Rush takes over from her on “You You,” no less.
I won’t mess with anyone else but I won’t mess with anyone else but I won’t mess with anyone else but you, you You, you
The pair’s inextricable link and their unshakable bond is what keeps EGOISM alive. It’s what gets the two of them through their darkest moments. “Here’s the Thing” is the crack where the light gets in. A problem shared is a problem halved.
1. The Avalanches feat. Rivers Cuomo and Pink Siifu – Running Red Lights
In order to tell this story, you have to know where three different sets of people were in the year 2000 and where they were in 2020. Yes, this is a story that’s over 20 years old; let it be told.
The three sets are plunderphonics collective The Avalanches, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo and singer-songwriter David Berman. With respect to Pink Siifu, his story doesn’t necessarily intertwine here. He appears here as more of a vessel than anything, but more on that later.
In 2000, The Avalanches released their debut studio album Since I Left You. It would turn them into one of the most internationally-acclaimed groups of next 12 months, scoring a boatload of ARIAs and selling out an explosive world tour in support of it. Their sample-heavy mix of pop, hip-hop, dance, funk, electronica, indie, rock and whatever other genres traversed their obscure record collection was a unique prospect. So much so, that The Avalanches’ idiosyncrasy raised a myriad of questions pertaining to how exactly they intended to follow such a seismic debut.
In 2000, Rivers Cuomo revived Weezer after a period of dormancy. He had spent the bulk of the late 90s – and, subsequently, the end of his 20s – in a spiral of depression. He, too, was plagued with the pressure of following up a hugely-influential debut album – and although Pinkerton was certainly not without its fans, it too found itself at the mercy of many a divided critic. With the band back in action and playing shows again, this was Cuomo’s impetus to start again – to finally achieve the greatness he’d been searching for.
In 2000, David Berman was between albums at the helm of the Silver Jews – the band with which he had made his name as a cult figure on the American indie rock circuit. His distinctive voice and unflinchingly-honest approach to lyrics and songwriting found a loving home on cult indie label Drag City, while the Jews’ initial lineup served as the launchpad for a separate juggernaut entirely in Pavement. Much like Cuomo, Berman would soon also find himself at odds with the black dog – a recurring motif throughout both his musical and personal life.
In 2020, The Avalanches were in the present tense again. Having finally followed up Since I Left You in 2016 with the technicolor experimentation of Wildflower, the group’s surviving duo – Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi – wanted to ensure that another new record would not take nearly as long. They began to assemble what would become their third album, We Will Always Love You – a tribute to those no longer with us, and a further exploration of what the group could sound like now that they were no longer defined entirely by a singular work.
In 2020, Rivers Cuomo was back at work again with Weezer. Truthfully, the band never really got off the wagon once that 2000 revival happened. The band scored big with hits like “Island in the Sun” and “Beverly Hills,” but their constant attempts at appealing to the same age demographic as they had a decade – and, eventually, two decades – prior saw their reputation end up in general disarray. Much like Paul Simon before him, Rivers Cuomo needed a photo opportunity and a shot at redemption. Thanks to Chater and Di Blasi, he was about to get one.
In 2020, David Berman was gone. He’d gone off to play the great gig in the sky a year prior, after ultimately losing his lifelong battle at the age of 52. As a collaborator on Wildflower, Berman was pulled out of reclusion by The Avalanches to contribute to a track on the album. He also later consented to having his work interpolated into a new song the band was working on – a gesture that, although he may not have fully realised at the time, was a parting gift and an eerie foreshadowing of what would come on We Will Always Love You.
There’s history in the walls of “Running Red Lights.” There’s ghosts in the walls, too. There are spirits in the night sky, looking down upon you as the city lights up. There’s over 20 years of stories in “Running Red Lights.” Stories of triumph, tragedy, love, loss, life, death and the human condition. What may be the most defining trait of the song, however, is its universality. The truth is, you can come to this song not knowing a single thing about any of its participants and get just as much out of it as someone who knows all of the above and then some.
The reason for this is that “Running Red Lights” is a momentous song – literally, of a moment. What that moment is, however, remains up to you. It can be a defiant rooftop primal scream, claiming the city for your taking. It can be a love-lorn, desperate plea to an estranged loved one. It can be your candle at the vigil memorial for someone you miss. It can be a sunlit drive, a rainy day or an autumnal stroll. Whatever it is to you, it’s yours. No-one can take that from you. No song in 2020 quite held such power in its runtime – and, indeed, long after the track subsides. It’s a crowning achievement for all involved, whether they’re around to see its fruits bared or not.
Welcome to the show! The votes have been tallied (they were all mine), the jury (me) has decided, and the people (maybe like three of you) are hotly anticipating what’s to come. So, here we are. The top 20 songs of 2018. Of course, don’t forget one, two, three and four before you go through the boss level.
See you next time – same DJY time, same DJY channel.
20. Luca Brasi – Let it Slip
Luca Brasi emerged out of the east coast of Tasmania nearly a decade ago with a mantra that has long been ascribed on countless bodies: “Empty bottles, full hearts and no regrets.” How curious, then, that the lead single from the band’s fourth album speaks openly of vocalist Tyler Richardson’s regrets: “I could have burned a little brighter,” he sings. “I could have shone a little more.” “Slip” is a song about craving human connection and knowing you have to hit rock bottom in order to get back to the top. It’s as human and full-hearted as Brasi’s ever been.
19. Denise Le Menice – Heart
There’s a moment towards the end of the music video for “Heart” in which Denise (AKA Ali Flintoff) grabs a fistful of a heart-shaped cake and digs in. In a way, that’s what listening to “Heart” feels like – it’s such a sugar-rush, you just know listening to it can’t be good for your teeth. It’s a song centred on head-voice girl-talk, shimmering guitar layers and glassy, heaven’s-gate keyboards. It’s soft in the centre and melts in your mouth – one of the finest indulgences of the calendar year as far as Australian music is concerned. Let them eat cake.
18. Basement – Disconnect
Andrew Fisher has gone on record saying “Disconnect” was the lynchpin as far as writing Basment’s fourth album, Beside Myself, went. This was the song, he believed, that made the band unshakably confident in the direction they were taking. Listening intently, it’s easy to see where they got that confidence from – it bursts right out of the gates and makes its presence felt, brimming with vivacity and conviction in its delivery. Truth be told, it could be the single best… well, single, that Basement have ever made. Bonus points for that “prodigal son/what have you done” rhyme, too. Genius.
17. Laura Jean – Girls on the TV
A song like “Girls on the TV” does so much speaking for itself that writing about it almost feels like a disservice. It needs to be heard to be properly experienced. How does one describe the feeling you get as the devastating, confessional storytelling of Laura Jean cuts through the disco-lite backbeat and the layers of Casio on top? Is there a word that sums up the way one’s brain reacts as you attempt to decipher which parts are true and which parts are artistic license? Whatever happened to Ricki? Maybe she’s still out there. Her soul is still dancing.
16. WAAX – Labrador
WAAX play a lot of festivals where, if you swiped right on @lineupswithoutmales, they would be the headlining band. When vocalist Maz DeVita sings “You’re a girl/And a girl isn’t welcome in here,” you can cut the sardonic tension with a knife. Rough translation: “You think I don’t know the shit you people say?” Moments later, she’s barking and biting back in the form of their most mosh-ready chorus – one that cleaned up at every last festival they played in 2018. If WAAX can’t earn your respect, they’re going to pull it out of you with their bare teeth.
15. Courtney Barnett – Nameless, Faceless
This song shouldn’t have been so fucking relevant in 2018. A Margaret Atwood quote shouldn’t hit home so bluntly 36 years after it was first published. We shouldn’t be living in such a climate of abuse, trolling, bullying, harassment and even murder that overwhelmingly targets women. As great and as vital and as important as this song is, it wouldn’t exist in the first place if we were all just a little fucking kinder to one another. Enough said, really.
14. Troye Sivan – My My My!
In the dead territory of early January, it felt like waiting for new seasons of your favourite shows to kick off. That’s when “My My My!” arrived, and in turn made an impact as the first big pop event of 2018. The thing sounds like a complete blockbuster – it’s like a clubbier queer millennial rework of “All Night Long,” and that’s entirely a compliment. Sivan, once the doe-eyed and innocent YouTuber, is all manhood here – take that however you please, gents. It’s confident, it’s sexy, it’s fun and it’s cool – what a way to shake the cobwebs.
13. Pianos Become the Teeth – Love on Repeat
On the last Pianos Become the Teeth record, 2014’s Keep You, vocalist Kyle Durfey was still immersed in negative space and cutting emotionally-raw monuments out of the darkness. On Wait for Love, Durfey is blinded by the light: “What in you gets me so carried away?” he asks of his betrothed, sung so slowly and with such calculation it’s as if he’s figuring out what these words mean again. “Love on Repeat” is an upward spiral from a band that’s carved a career on the downbeat, and its resplendent post-hardcore beauty simply cannot be contained. Live, love, repeat. That simple.
12. The 1975 – TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME
Matt Healy, like most modern pop/rock frontmen, is a 21st century digital boy. One of his toys is the internet, and it’s compelled him to the point of literally naming an album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. Funnily, on what ends up being the band’s most computerised single to date – electronic drums, AutoTune, walls of keyboards – Healy and co. manage to hook themselves onto a key part of the human condition in the modern age. It certainly helps that they give it a dancehall swing and a mirrorball glow, too. The 1975 never sounded more 2018.
11. Ariana Grande – No Tears Left to Cry
What kind of year has it been for Ari? One she’ll never forget, that’s for certain. One of triumph, of tragedy, of hope, of despair and of absolute resilience. It all began with “No Tears” – which, as beginnings go, is a pretty incredible place to start. Although ultimately lost in the shuffle due to the success of “thank u, next,” this endearing pop twirl served as one of the more bold and defiant moments on radio for the entire year. “Can’t stop now,” she insists in multi-tracked syncopation. None would dare stand in her path. No woman, no cry.
10. Anderson .Paak – Bubblin
At first, it was a shock to look through the announced tracklist of Oxnard, Anderson .Paak’s game-six victory lap from the tail-end of 2018. Where the fuck was “Bubblin”? It had come charging out of the gates months prior, all alpha-male bravado and rap-god swagger. It was the hardest .Paak had ever gone on record – not a smooth rnb hook to be seen nor heard. Surely if you’re putting out an album that same year, you’d want the best song you’ve ever made on your own to be among its ranks?
As it turned out, Oxnard was a whole different vibe entirely – such is the nature of .Paak’s creativity. Had “Bubblin” been wedged onto the record, it would not have played well with the others. It’s a song with a life of its own, and no traditional format could have housed it. From its car-chase open to the tense, grandiose swell of its string samples, “Bubblin” made its intentions clear. It came to chew bubblegum and kick arse – and anyone who heard it knew exactly how much bubblegum .Paak had left.
9. Drake – Nice for What
“I WAN’ KNOW WHO MOTHERFUCKIN’ REPRESENTIN’ IN HERE TONIGHT!” Like last year’s chart-topping “Passionfruit,” the first voice we hear on “Nice for What” isn’t Drake’s, but someone else. In this instance, it’s Big Freedia – the self-proclaimed “queen of bounce,” who has dominated the club scene with her towering figure and undeniable stage presence for over a decade now. When she speaks, you listen – and when she wants to know who is motherfuckin’ representin‘ in here tonight, you just know she’s going to find out. So, a quick roll call. Lauryn Hill is representin’ in here tonight – that’s her hook from “Ex-Factor” on a near-chipmunk speed that’s sampled and looped throughout. In the year that her legendary debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill turned 20, the sample felt like a timely reminder of the record’s legacy and its surviving emotional core. Murda Beatz and Blaqnmild are representin’ in here tonight – they’re responsible for this bassy, chopped-soul beat that was designed with bitchin’ systems in mind. When the samples go into overdrive in the song’s second half, it feels like fire is coming off it.
Of course, lest we forget Drake himself is representin’ in here tonight. It’s one of his strongest flows on all of Scorpion‘s exhaustive runtime, mixing his sharp raps with his knack for interwoven melody to deliver something quintessentially his. It’s his vision that brings “Nice for What” together, and in turn makes it a career-best moment. If you don’t know, now you know.
8. Troye Sivan – Bloom
There was a time when many male popstars were “confirmed bachelors” or that were described as “tight-lipped about their sexuality.” Troye Sivan is part of a generation where that hasn’t really come into play – it’s something that has been part and parcel of his image ever since he became famous. Rather than hurt his career, it’s rocketed him – the so-called “pink dollar” has turned him into a millionaire all before hitting 25. This is where the title track to Sivan’s big-business second album comes into play – a song that isn’t hiding itself away in the corner shamefully or remaining tight-lipped about a damn thing.
“I’ve been saving this for you, baby,” offers Sivan in a careless whisper over the thud of toms and wafting synth that is so airy it could float away at any moment. Soon, the floor gives way to the chug of electric bass and a gated snare that could take off Phil Collins’ head if it swung any harder. Sure, Sivan has even less right to be nostalgic for the 80s as he does the 90s, but he feels right at home in this musical environment – it feels like an homage to Bronski Beat, queer icons of yesteryear that paved the way for Sivan to be the young man he is today. “Bloom” is all the radiance of a rainbow without ever having to put up with a drop of rain. It’s here, it’s queer, get used to it.
7. Ashley McBryde – Radioland
On its largest and most obvious scale, “Radioland” is a song about Nashville. It’s about the dreamers that come there to make it big, stepping off a bus with their guitar case in hand and looking up at the skyline that Dylan so mythologised some 50 years ago now. On its smallest and most intimate scale, however, “Radioland” is a song about Ashley McBryde. She’s one of American country’s newest emerging stars, scoring big support slots for genre heavyweights like Eric Church and fulfilling dreams like playing the Grand Ole Opry since the release of her major-label debut Girl Going Nowhere. Before all of that, though, she was just “five years old with a hairbrush microphone.” All the key moments of her life were linked back to discovering her musical heroes and her favourite songs from the magic of radio – which, in turn, made her want to be a musician herself.
McBryde’s story in “Radioland” is direct and specific in its references, from the radio host (the late Casey Kasem) to the car in question (a Chevrolet). At the same time, though, it’s such a human feeling that was felt by so many of a certain age that it’s easy to insert yourself into the picture. There’s also a particular electricity and urgency to McBryde’s delivery that gives this song a bit more oomph than your average country radio playlist-filler – hell, give this a couple of tweaks and it could be a lost Gaslight Anthem single, and that’s entirely a compliment. “There ain’t a dream you can’t dial in,” McBryde promises in the song’s indelible chorus. If there’s one thing “Radioland” is about more than anything, it’s not letting your dreams just be dreams. There’s a whole world out there for the taking – and that’s not bad for a girl goin’ nowhere.
6. Kacey Musgraves – High Horse
Just as the women of country have never been afraid of getting their hands dirty, they’ve also never been afraid to dress to the nines and lower the mirrorball. “High Horse” is the centre of the country-pop Venn diagram, taking ample amounts from both without upsetting a balance. Most artists that have fallen into this category usually end up just ditching their country elements entirely and transmogrifying into pop giants – here’s looking at you, Tay-Tay and Florida Georgia Line. Kacey, on the other hand, has never forgotten her roots – the album “High Horse” comes from is titled Golden Hour, which alludes to the time of day that the sun sets but to her tiny Texan birthplace (population 200). As far as her music has progressed and as much as she’s branched out creatively, you won’t see her records shifting from the Country section of the record store anytime soon.
Think of “High Horse” as a tribute to the more ambitious efforts in the history of country music. The so-called “countrypolitan” sound, which matched southern drawls with orchestral fanfare. The crossover of Dolly Parton and Shania Twain to pop radio. The tried-and-true kiss-off song, all sass and finger-snap confidence that can cut someone down to size faster than you can play a C major. Musgraves takes all of this into battle as “High Horse” locks into its groove and comes out swinging, and she arrives on the other end of it without even so much as a smudge of her make-up. Critics from either side of the fence could hop off their titular steed and find themselves some common ground on “High Horse”’s dancefloor. There’s room for everyone. Y’all come back now, y’hear?
5. Flowermouth – Gown
“Hold on/We can make it.” Now if that wasn’t something you needed to hear in 2018, then you could well have been in the wrong year entirely. This standalone single from Perth’s Flowermouth was a light in the darkness for most of 2018. Its bright, jangly chords burst from the speakers, the hi-hats splashing like the first dive into the pool for the summer to come. That’s not to suggest that “Gown” is at all footloose and fancy-free, though – there’s an underlying tension that never quite resolves, which makes it all the more engaging to listen to. The 2:34 runtime gives it instant replay value, too – you’ll want to make the most of your time listening to what “Gown” has to offer, and no doubt want to frequently return to it.
Its short-burst nature recalls Teenage Fanclub; its major/minor contrasts and focused melodies recall Jimmy Eat World. Even with these clear comparison points, however, it’s evident that Flowermouth are on their own path – and if you’ve shown any interest in the emo revival either here or abroad, you’ll be wise to follow them down.
4. Mitski – Nobody
It’s Mitski’s party, and she’ll cry if she wants to. As it turns out, she really, really wants to – her music has a reputation that precedes it for being highly emotional, deeply pensive and painstakingly introspective. No-one lays it on the line quite like your best American girl does, and never was that more apparent than on album number five, Be the Cowboy. Specifically, we have to focus in on the album’s second single, “Nobody,” which more or less served as a memetic red flag were it played on repeat (as pointed out by the great Allison Gallagher). People may have made plenty of jokes and viral niche tweets about “Nobody,” but if we could be serious for a minute: This song fucking spoke to people, man.
Essentially a 21st century “Lovefool” without the happy resolve, “Nobody” simultaneously sighs and exalts through its bouts of romantic desperation and subtle sociopolitical commentary. The guitar chirps and the hi-hats swat down a Saturday Night Fever groove, but spiralling away in the centre of it all is Mitski herself. In any other vocalist’s hands, the pain and crushing loneliness of “Nobody” would be pure melodrama and maybe even camp. Not so with her, though – no-one is more believable when they sing lines like “I just want to feel alright” and “Still nobody wants me.” That’s not even touching the titular word, which is sung so much that it could have easily lost its sense of meaning. Again, not a chance of that happening with Mitski at the wheel – if anything, every repetition sticks the knife in a little bit more. By the time you’re up to the nightmarish second key-change in the song’s dizzying conclusion, you feel as though you’ve gone through that terrifying tunnel in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The only difference? “Nobody” isn’t a world of pure imagination. It’s as real as it gets.
3. 5 Seconds of Summer – Youngblood
Around the time of their second album, 5 Seconds of Summer had a cover story in Rolling Stone – every band’s dream, naturally. It was spread around on account of it featuring an admittedly-bizarre, hilarious story involving a botched attempt at co-writing with Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger – Google it if you’re so inclined. If you want to get a real idea of where 5SOS’ minds were at, however, skip to the end. In a moment of kids being kids, they decided to pull a prank on their management by hopping out the window of their dressing room and pretending they’d done a runner. “We could have ran,” said guitarist Michael Clifford. “We could have ran far away.”
There was almost certainly more to that than meets the eye. Think about it – these were children that were swept up in international stardom and immediately put on a pedestal to become the world’s next boy band sensation. It’s a far cry from matinees at the Annandale Hotel, that’s for absolutely certain. By the time they were done with their sophomore slump – the antithetically-titled Sounds Good, Feels Good – that desire to run could have only felt more present than ever before.
“Youngblood” is the sound of 5 Seconds of Summer hitting the ground running. It’s the sound of boys becoming men, and men becoming certified global popstars. The tussled-hair mall-punks they once were had to die in order for this song to live – and it’s undeniably a song that lives its life to the absolute fullest.
The song is propelled along by a rock shuffle – a simple structural move that allows the song to swing a little while still maintaining a standard 4/4 time signature. A music teacher might explain it thus: Instead of your usual one, two, three, four, it’s this: one-and-a two-and-a three-and-a four-and-a. Examples range from Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” all the way to Battles’ “Atlas.” Even something as simple as this is one of the largest deviations from the norm that 5SOS have ever committed to record – and we haven’t even gotten into what the expatriate Sydneysiders are doing sonically.
A love-lorn minor-key call from the darkness, the song dips its guitars in reverb and sheen as it simultaneously gives the bass a steely, bold presence. Thundering tom rolls from Ashton Irwin add a human touch in-between extended drum programming, while vocalist Luke Hemmings gives the performance of his career up-front. He’s all of 22 years old and sounds like he’s at the tail-end of a bitter divorce after a decade-long relationship – how on earth he was able to muster that sort of weariness and exhaustion on this vocal take, God only knows. The most important part is that you believe him – and, by extension, you believe “Youngblood.” You believe in 5 Seconds of Summer.
“We could have ran. We could have ran far away.”
“Youngblood” runs for its life.
2. IDLES – Colossus
You can hear “Colossus” coming from a mile away. Of course you can – it’s called “Colossus,” for fuck’s sake. It snarls, it prowls, it stomps, it creeps, it seethes, it slithers, it lurks. It goes – and it goes and it goes. It was probably the most menacing song released in 2018 – and, after the year that we all had, you probably couldn’t have asked for a more fitting soundtrack.
Primitive in nature and brutish in execution, “Colossus” builds a droning soundscape through its churning drop-C guitars and the swelling, scattered drums. Every cycle feels as though it’s pounding into your skull just a little bit harder each time, as frontman Joe Talbot drives home intense lyrical imagery over a mournful blues scale vocal melody. Perhaps no other frontman in rock right now could couple such a unique line as “I’ve drained my body full of pins” with an even more unique line in “I’ve danced til dawn with splintered shins.” There’s so much to take in when you hear it the first time, it’s still marinating when it’s repeated in the second verse. As a whole, IDLES’ Joy as an Act of Resistance was one of the year’s most quotable LPs – and you needn’t look further than its opening number as evidence.
The song’s double-time finale is less the firing of Chekov’s gun and more a bloody massacre. It’s meant to be screamed along to rather than sung, and moshed to rather than danced to. It’s pure catharsis, taking one of the year’s most steady, tense builds and promptly throwing it out the window into oncoming traffic. If you’re not left breathless and dizzy after the full 5:34 of “Colossus” has passed, you’re doing the damn thing wrong. Go again until it goes – and it goes and it goes.
1. Childish Gambino – This is America
Childish Gamino is dead. Long live Childish Gambino.
Donald Glover began rapping under the name – taken from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator – a decade and change ago, cockily spitting high-pitched raps over the likes of Adele, Grizzly Bear and Sleigh Bells. Over time, it morphed into something nigh-on unrecognisable from its beginnings, incorporating elements of dance music, soul, funk and rnb along the way. With the release of the groovy “Awaken, My Love!” in late 2016, pared with the announcement that Glover would soon be retiring the jersey, few expected Glover’s next move to have anything to do with the intense hip-hop with which he made his name.
When we first pressed play on the video for “This is America,” we were lead in with an African-style chant, shaking percussion, finger-picked acoustic guitar and Glover’s sweet, harmonious opening line: “We just wanna party/Party just for you.” If ever a listener has been lulled into a false sense of security, it was in this moment. So, this is how Childish Gambino ends – not with a bang, but with a whimper. As it turned out, we literally could not have been more wrong – it was around this time the first gunshot went off, and “This is America” truly began.
Childish Gambino is dead. Long live Childish Gambino.
“This is America” is the sound of an artist with nothing to lose. What are these motherfuckers gonna do – end his music career? Dude’s in the fucking Lion King remake. No boycott from some sweaty Fox News troglodyte is going to derail this singular moment in Glover’s extensive body of work. “This is America” is an unstoppable force and an immovable object, all in one. It rattles PA speakers the same way it rattles proverbial birdcages. It simultaneously rages against his native country’s obsession with guns and has no issue with dropping some sucker dead on the spot. It’s dissonant and subversive; celebratory and defamatory; a blaxploitation film and a dystopian horror. Glover has never released a song even remotely similar before, and it’s looking more and more likely that he never will again.
Childish Gambino is dead. Childish Gambino is fucking dead. Long live Childish Gambino. If he’s going down, every last one of us is going down with him.
Thanks so much for reading, hope you enjoyed the list.
Before I post the playlist, some quick stats.
47% of the list is by or features Australian artists 43% of the list is by or features at least one non-male artist 37% of the list is by or features at least one non-white artist
The multiple entries were as follows: Four entries:The 1975 (92, 49, 22, 12) Three entries: Courtney Barnett (68, 36, 15), Troye Sivan (61, 14, 8), Drake (58, 37, 9) Two entries: Baker Boy (100, 67), Denise Le Menice (96, 19), Kanye West (95, 48), BROCKHAMPTON (88, 76), Chance the Rapper (82, 41), Moaning Lisa (80, 43), Joyce Manor (79, 60), Dua Lipa (77, 30), Basement (73, 18), Luca Brasi (55, 20), Aunty Donna (52, 47), IDLES (44, 2), Post Malone (39, 29), Mitski (35, 4), Charlie Puth (32, 23), 5 Seconds of Summer (31, 3)
It’s almost over, I promise. Right, let’s go with the top 40. Oh, before we do – you’re all over parts one, two and three right? Okay, great. Moving on!
40. Thelma Plum – Clumsy Love
After a few years away, a comeback from Thelma Plum felt like the warm moment of hope 2018 needed. The prodigious wunderkind delivered with her breeziest, most glistening pop song to date – not demanding of repeat listens, but it felt so good you just wanted to hear it again. Assisted by Sparkadia alum Alex Burnett, Plum details a bizarre love triangle where her betrothed is in purgatory between his past and present – ie. Plum. Her confessional croons are guided via tasteful electric guitar, buzzing synth-bass and a boom-clap drum machine reminiscent of early single “Dollar.” Ripe, delicious fruit.
39. Post Malone feat. Ty Dolla $ign – Psycho
Much like the identically-titled Amy Shark single, there’s something intriguing about the paradox that lies within a mellow, down-tempo number with a title as provocative as “Psycho.” Millions worldwide ended up finding a connection to what ended up being one of the year’s biggest hits from one of our more unexpected pop-culture figureheads. Post Malone’s flow is primarily based off Nelly’s two-noterap-sing approach, adding in flourishes of melody when the moment calls for it and riding out a floating, trap-flavoured beat. He may be a critic’s punching bag, but “Psycho” is just bright enough to block out the haters.
38. The Story So Far – Upside Down
It hasn’t been an easy road to “Upside Down,” as any fan of The Story So Far will attest to. The stark self-reflection, e-bow guitar and churning Hammond organ of this single are a complete world away from the boisterous teenage riot that was their debut, Under Soil and Dirt. “It’s all love now,” sings vocalist Parker Cannon – someone who once sat comfortably within pop-punk’s angry-young-man mould. It’s a testament to the band’s persistence that they were able to assemble what is easily their strongest song yet, eschewing their usual fanfare in favour of something subdued, mature and pensive.
37. Drake – In My Feelings
Would “In My Feelings” have been as massive without its viral dance challenge? Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Don’t get it twisted, the traffic-stopping sensation was definitely a booster. Even if no-one had hopped out of their cars, however, they no doubt would have still had “Feelings” blasting inside of them. It’s one of Drizzy’s most vivacious and addictive singles ever, brimming with perfectly-timed samples (Lil Wayne, the late Magnolia Shorty) and a warm melodic keyboard descent care of producer TrapMoneyBenny. Overexposure could have easily killed this song, but through some black magic it somehow made it even stronger.
36. Courtney Barnett – City Looks Pretty
For over two years, Courtney Barnett saw the world. As soon as she was done, she retreated. The bustle of “City Looks Pretty,” then – which recalls Paul Kelly’s more rocking moments like “Darling It Hurts” – doesn’t come from the hum of the nightlife, but the great indoors. The song sees Barnett’s world as topsy-turvy: “Friends treat you like a stranger/And strangers treat you like their best friend,” she sighs over major-chord strums. The brisk tempo depicts a racing mind and internal paranoia, which only comes to pass with the song’s swaying 6/8 outro. The real world beckons again.
35. Mitski – Geyser
It was almost a unanimous critical consensus that Mitski’s Be the Cowboy was the most acclaimed album of 2018. Here’s the thing, though: You could have easily been forgiven for not making it past the first song. Not because it made you want to turn off, mind – “Geyser” is the kind of album opener that is entirely transfixing. Its ocean-floor ambience, its distant percussion, its jump-scare noise – this song is a whole world unto itself. Not only is “Geyser” the strongest opener to any Mitski album, it manages to do so without even so much as a chorus.
34. Hockey Dad – I Wanna Be Everybody
At this stage, you could forgive Hockey Dad for being over-bored and self-assured – after all, they’re in one of the most popular rock bands in Australia, and they’ve assisted in putting their native Wollongong’s music scene back on the map for the first time since the Tumbleweed days. What’s shocking about “Everybody,” then, is how bluntly it confronts the idea of impostor syndrome. Sure, Zach Stephenson may have everything a young musician could dream of – but as he croons against twanging guitar chords and walloping snare, he doesn’t feel deserving or worthy. A Trojan horse of garage-rock emotions.
33. DZ Deathrays – Like People
From downing beers in matching Ts to getting blood on their leather, DZ Deathrays have spent the last decade smashing together the heads of dance-punk and pub-rock to create a reflective skull of pedal-stomping riffs and big-swinging drums. “Like People” is as nasty and snarky as anything they’ve ever written, but even its nihilism can’t offset how damn catchy the fucker ends up being. When the chorus hits, it lands in your hands like a hot potato – fitting, given the video’s cameo from Wiggles alum Murray Cook. DZ have thrived, survived and even revolutionised themselves. There’s no stopping them.
32. Charlie Puth feat. Kehlani – Done for Me
Many male popstars have songs where they basically go unchecked and say whatever they want without any in-song consequence. “Done for Me,” like “Too Good” and “Somebody That I Used to Know” before it, gets a word in from the other party and is all the better for it. Kehlani plays Puth’s jilted lover, setting our loverboy straight while he dishes over “Billie Jean” drums and “PYT” keyboards. Considering the first time Puth tried a duet was the garish “Marvin Gaye” with the even-more-garish Meghan Trainor, it says a lot that “Done for Me” succeeds in the way it does.
31. 5 Seconds of Summer – Want You Back
This is the point where we realised we got it wrong. 5 Seconds of Summer were never supposed to be the next blink-182 or the next Green Day. They weren’t supposed to be the next One Direction, either. Get this: They were supposed to be the next Maroon 5. “Want You Back” ditches the old 5SOS sound quicker than you can remove your American Apparel underwear. Slick bass, guitar funk and falsetto rolls around this effortlessly-cool number, locking into a technicolour groove that more or less reinvents the band entirely. At last, Australia’s favourite boy band are, simply, a band.
30. Calvin Harris feat. Dua Lipa – One Kiss
After the California dreaming of Harris’ excellent Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, it seemed only natural that the Scotsman would return to his native habitat of the club. He didn’t come back empty-handed, though – or alone, for that matter. “One Kiss” is his most triumphant dancefloor-filler since “Sweet Nothing,” and it’s handily assisted by pop sensation Dua Lipa. It feels like achieving ecstasy while high on… well, you know… and Harris’ pristine production accentuates every last endorphin. There were few greater moments in pop this year than when the drop of “One Kiss” was figuratively trumpeted in. True love.
29. Post Malone – Better Now
Austin Post remains divisive. For all of his fans, he has just as many detractors and people that just don’t quote-unquote “get it.” Allow “Better Now” to assist those in the latter category, as it’s probably the closest you’ll get to understanding what our man is out here trying to do. He’s a young T-Pain after the party. He’s an emo kid that got into beatmaking rather than mic-swinging. He’s a lower-class loser that was never meant to reach these heights. “Better Now” is a view from the top, but also a reminder of how lonely it gets up there.
28. Polish Club – Clarity
“Clarity” showcases the best of Polish Club – vocalist David Novak howls and moans just like Otis, while John-Henry Pajak sneaks in the best drum fill of his career to kick off the song’s final burst. Consider their trajectory in tandem with another notable rock duo, The Black Keys. After years of lo-fi and bluesy brawlers, a touch of production polish and a newfound funk have made their way into the mix. This is Polish Club’s “Tighten Up” moment – and considering the latter arrived on the Keys’ sixth album, it means the Club is evolving at an alarming rate.
27. Hop Along – How Simple
Hop Along quietly and unassumingly returned in the first few weeks of 2018, sharing their first new song in nearly three years ahead of an album set for that April. If you didn’t have your ear to the ground you could have missed it entirely – which is why “How Simple” felt so rewarding to those that were across it. Frances Quinlan has always had one of the most – ahem – quintessential voices in indie rock, and to hear it implemented in her band’s danciest, poppiest and most upbeat moment to date felt like something special. Joy in simplicity.
26. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers – Good as Gold
Country either depicts new love or dead love. “Good as Gold” finds us at the arse-end of a busted relationship: So intertwined are the two, Sarah Shook doesn’t even look at this person, as she sings, “like a thing of mine/That I can just up and lose.” Lamenting over looming pedal steel and the scuffle of a train-track drum roll, Shook delivers a bar-country number alongside her trusty Disarmers that by every right should have taken over country radio. Soon enough, women within the genre will be too loud to ignore – and Shook will be on the damn frontline.
25. Jack R. Reilly – Pursuing Balance
Anyone who’s seen Jack R. Reilly perform knows that he always had bigger ambitions than your average troubadour. He was raised on a diet of post-punk revival and 21st century art-rock, and “Pursuing Balance” was his first major play at paying homage to that. With the assistance of Cry Club‘s Jonathan Tooke, Reilly spilled his heart over disco drums, stuttered hooks and washed out guitars, all tied together by one of the year’s most distinctive piano lines. Whether it soundtracks a weekend in the city or a night of intimacy, “Pursuing Balance” succeeds. It’s the best song he’s ever written.
24. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Hunnybee
You really never know what you’re gonna get when Ruban Nielson gets cooking. Unknown Mortal Orchestra songs could end up being roller discos, porn grooves, riff-heavy wig-outs… it’s a huge spectrum, and a full testament to his versatility as a songwriter. After the tape-loop strings subside, “Hunnybee” reveals its undeniable groove in all of its glory. The thing plays out like a complete dream – the funk of the bass, the coo of the lead guitar, its addictive chorus, the faint keyboards. It’s a masterwork, and a true career highlight from a man who’s never short on ideas.
23. Charlie Puth – The Way I Am
In Charlie Puth’s eyes, he was never meant to be a star – yet, in 2018, he was as big a star as he’s ever been. “Everybody’s trying to be famous,” he sings, almost at a whisper, before adding: “I’m just trying to find a place to hide.” It’s fitting that the riff that serves as the song’s foundation recalls the opening of Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” – Puth knows exactly where he is, and there’s no turning back. Nevertheless, “The Way I Am” finds method to the madness, and makes tracks on Puth’s road to superstardom.
22. The 1975 – Give Yourself a Try
Ben Lee once described pop music as “philosophy you can dance to,” and that’s rarely been more true than in the case of The 1975’s massive lead single from what ended up being an event album of 2018. Over a spiky guitar loop and a booming drum machine, Matt Healy offers advice and ruminates on his past. The titular hook is one of the wisest things you could possibly impart to a young person that’s struggling, and the way it’s delivered means that it no doubt landed square in the hearts and minds of its many listeners. Try, try again.
21. Gladie – The Problem is Us
As singer of Cayetana, Augusta Koch detailed the finer parts of her 20s in the throes of sweetly-melodic indie rock. With them on the back-burner, Koch began anew. Gladie may not have the same edge or bounding energy that was found in Cayetana’s finest moments, but it doesn’t really need them. Koch instead focuses on something more refined and stylistically mature, offering up brilliant lyrics and subtly-invasive hooks over warm keys and restrained drums. By the time she’s hamering home the final refrain of “We’re speaking softly/We’re not communicating,” you hear her – and Gladie itself – loud and clear.
20 songs to go, and they’re next! What will be number one? Only one way to find out. In the meantime, have a listen to all 80 songs that have been in the countdown so far:
We have arrived at the Bon Jovi position of the DJY100. We are halfway there, folks. And then some. Part one is here, part two is here and now… part three!
60. Joyce Manor – Million Dollars to Kill Me
Of Joyce Manor’s five albums, Million Dollars may be its most cryptically titled. Does it allude to some sort of bounty? Defiance? Survival? The cost of living? The album’s title track doesn’t make it any clearer – in fact, it muddies the waters even further by detailing a demised relationship where, while both parties are still fond of one another, the proverbial writing is on the wall. Truth be told, none of that really matters when it comes down to it. “Million Dollars” is one of the strongest, sharpest songs Joyce Manor has ever written. What’s in a name, anyway?
59. CHVRCHES – Get Out
Fun as it may be, synthpop is a genre with limited scope by definition. Nevertheless, CHVRCHES have found ways to make room, innovating within their palette across three albums in five years. Their most recent, Love is Dead, was their most ambitious and accessible to date. “Get Out” was the lead-in, and ended up being about as strong a start one could hope for. With claps so hard there’s no way they could have been produced by a human, matched up with a vulnerable vocal delivery that could have only come from a human, “Get Out” exists in perfect tessellation.
58. Drake – God’s Plan
Everything about “God’s Plan” feels massive. That’s to be expected at this stage when it comes to Drake, of course – his movements feel seismic in the present-day pop climate – but the way this song announced itself to the world somehow hit in a different way. That could well have something to do with its good-samaritan music video, which is well on its way to a billion YouTube views, or the earth-orbiting Cardo beat kicking in. Maybe the endlessly-quotable lyrics had soemthing to do with it. Whatever it was, it worked. The Lord works in mysterious ways, after all.
57. Death Cab for Cutie – Gold Rush
“Gold Rush” has been dismissively referred to as Ben Gibbard’s first “get off my lawn” song. Sure, our emo hero of yesteryear is now a married 42-year-old millionaire – but he ain’t Clint Eastwood yet. Rather, he’s channelling two iconic women of the 70s here: Yoko Ono – whose “Mind Train” is sampled in the song’s feedback-loop backing – and Joni Mitchell, who penned a similar song of gentrification and disenfranchisement in “Big Yellow Taxi.” At a time where they could have easily phoned it in, Death Cab deserve kudos for delivering such a sonically-interesting curveball. “Gold Rush,” decidedly, glitters.
56. The Beths – Future Me Hates Me
It’s a phrase that, somehow, hadn’t been strung together before The Beths concocted it for their debut album’s title track. It’s something that uses a double negative of tense to create something immediately familiar – “I am doing something that I might not regret now, but that I will soon look upon as a mistake.” It’s about the inherent risk that comes with a budding relationship, as detailed through the lense of tingly, electric power-pop that hammers home huge chords and warm vocal arrangements. The Beths make music for the here and now – that’s why it’s called the present.
55. Luca Brasi – Never Better
A standout from the Tasmanians’ fourth album, “Never Better” is a reflection on facades and brave faces. If we’re ever asked if we’re okay, all of us have used the titular phrase as means of reassurance. Here, vocalist Tyler Richardson removes the veneer and draws in listeners with some of his most brutal, honest lyrics: “Every effort feels so tired and rehearsed,” he laments at one point; “I’m coming apart at the seams,” he confesses at another. His bandmates drawback and venture into more restrained, twinkly musical territory to ensure these words are crystal clear. Songs like “Never Better” matter.
54. Cash Savage and the Last Drinks – Pack Animals
If you walk into the Old Bar in Fitzroy, a giant Cash Savage poster is a centerpiece on the band-room wall. It’s borderline messianic – fitting really, for whenever Savage is on stage, sermon is in session. Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut you down: “Pack Animals” is one of Savage’s most biting, blunt songs ever. As The Last Drinks encroach on a pulsating rhythm with urgent, dischordant delivery, Savage righteously tears into some poor normie dickhead who thinks he understands political correctness because he’s read 12 Rules for Life. Fuck him, and fuck you if you don’t like this.
53. Press Club – Suburbia
Less than two years into their time as a band, Melbourne’s Press Club have promptly swept the nation with a must-see live show and a take-no-prisoners debut album. If you’ve somehow been centrally located beneath a boulder of some description, fear not: Your immediate entry point is “Suburbia,” a song so rousing and anthemic that a crowd can overpower a PA when singing its refrain. Vocalist Nat Dunn sounds like she’s going so hard the mic might blow up, while her bandmates seemingly have sparks flying off them the whole time they’re locked in together. Your heart belongs here now.
52. Aunty Donna feat. Demi Lardner – Best Day of My Life
Supreme overlords of comedic absurdism, Aunty Donna have been making dark surrealism a compact, shareable form for years. In 2018 they turned their attention to music, creating an album of send-ups and gut-laugh pastiches. Among the highlights is a song that also doubled as the opening number of their festival show for the year, a back-to-school celebration about all the things that make young students tick. Maybe some that probably shouldn’t, too – see the cameo from self-described “horrid little troll” Demi Lardner for more. “Best Day” is as tasty as a scone and as hard-hitting as a big stick.
51. James Bay – Pink Lemonade
James Bay? The motherfucker with the hat? That James Bay? Yes, believe it or not, the “Hold Back the River” singer had a Charlie Puth-style pop reinvention in 2018, releasing a decent coming-of-age “I fuck now” record in Electric Light. In a weird way, however, Bay almost overshadowed himself – “Pink Lemonade” is so far ahead as the album’s frontrunner, you almost question why the other songs bothered showing up. A neon-tinged nu-rock number, the song sees Bay indulging a more soulful tear in his vocals while a wall of electric guitar churns against the slick production. Best served cool.
50. Amy Shark feat. Mark Hoppus – Psycho
The likes of Amanda Palmer and Nardwuar have waxed lyrical about the art of asking. So it went that Amy Shark reached out to her teenage idol, blink-182’s Mark Hoppus, to work on a song for her debut album. Not only did it eventuate, but it turned out to be the highlight of the record. “Psycho” offers a dark, duelling perspective on an intense relationship as soundtracked by pensive guitars and restrained drum programming. The latter eventually gives way to live drums complementing Shark’s high notes, and it’s one of the year’s best dynamic payoffs. Ask and you shall receive.
49. The 1975 – Sincerity is Scary
The 1975 have never released a song like “Sincerity is Scary” before. It’s soulful, piano-driven and would feel more at home in a jazzy nightclub than a pop playlist. It may well be the single biggest stylistic leap they have ever taken – and yet, they made it to the other side completely unscathed. They didn’t do it alone, certainly – a sizzling horn section and a faithful gospel choir propel the song’s finer points – but it’s a complete credit to how adaptable and ambitious this band has become that songs like this can thrive.
48. Nas feat. The-Dream and Kanye West – everything
In 1996, Nas released one of all-time definitive hip-hop tracks in “If I Ruled the World” – a song with big dreams, hopes and aspirations. “everything” is its spiritual successor, some 22 years on, and although its surroundings are bleak there is that same white light of hope that seeps in as the piano resolves on a major chord and Kanye proclaims – almost exactly as Lauryn Hill did – that he would change everything if he could. “everything” is a song about black history, success stories and perseverance. It’s easily the best Nas song in at least a decade.
47. Aunty Donna feat. Boilermakers and Montaigne – The Best Freestylers in the World
The best satire of a form comes from a place of love. Montaigne loves to belt out a big hook, Matt Okine loves hip-hop and the Aunty Donna boys love improv. The difference here is that Montaigne and Okine are actually good at these things normally. When Broden, Mark and Zack throw themselves into the world of freestyle rap, they are deers in headlights. What follows is something so ridiculous that it ends up being completely hilarious and a loving satire of the form. Bonus points: Okine’s street-tough, ad-libbed barks of “Target Country, motherfucker!” and “That’s too much for pants!”
46. Cry Club – Walk Away
In 2017, Australia underwent a plebiscite to determine whether marriage equality should be legalised. It sparked a few key songs in reaction: The aforementioned Cash Savage wrote “Better Than That,” while Brisbane’s Good Boy offered the blunt “A Waste of Approximately 122 Million Dollars (Taxpayer Funded).” For their debut single, Cry Club rallied against every curmudgeonly conservative fuck that stood in the way of a massive step towards equality. It rumbles, it rages and when the count-along pre-chorus kicks in it fucking rules. Forget their trademark glitter: “Walk Away” is the sound of a band donning warpaint. Join the Club.
45. Muncie Girls – Picture of Health
It can take a lot of courage to reach out from a point of despair, uncertain as to how you’ll come across and how it might impact the people you care about. With “Picture of Health,” Muncie Girls’ Lande Hekt sees themselves in another – and that’s not a good thing in this case. It’s a song that’s just as much about co-dependence as it is about self-care, and how there’s nothing wrong with seeking solace in either. As luck would have it, it’s also one of the sharpest and catchiest songs the band has ever written. A healthy choice.
44. IDLES – Danny Nedelko
The idea of helping your fellow man and treating others as you wished to be treated seems like such a basic concept, but if 2018 proved anything it’s that humanity isn’t quite there yet – especially over in the UK, which is more openly racist and transphobic than ever before. IDLES literally have to spell it out on the second single from their second album, paraphrasing Yoda and referencing Pavement for good measure. Such is the passion and conviction of “Danny Nedelko,” you feel like you could kick in the door of number 10 in one go once it’s finished.
43. Moaning Lisa – Carrie (I Want a Girl)
Time for some girl talk. Moaning Lisa’s breakthrough single is, by their own admission and design, a very lesbian affair. It’s celebrity crushes and heart-eyes-emoji lust, as backed by a slinking bass-line and a big-business riff. They cut to the point, and will wash you right out of their hair if you disagree. Even if you’re not – as 10 Thing I Hate About You put it – a k.d. lang fan, there’s so much to enjoy here that it doesn’t even matter. If you can appreciate a tongue-in-cheek indie-rocker with an attitude to it, you can get behind “Carrie.”
42. Skegss – Smogged Out
Unfairly dismissed by most as doofus garage-rock for burnouts and the bullies from your high school, Skegss have had to fight more than your average band for credibility and validity. It’s unclear whether they’ve achieved it with My Own Mess, their long-awaited debut LP, but at this juncture they’re well beyond fretting over what the post-woke blue ticks of the world reckon about them. Their allegiance is to KISS-principle jangle with subtle undertones and festival-mosh choruses. “Smogged Out” may be one of their best efforts in this department yet, putting a pogo bounce into a song of malaise and pity.
41. DJ Khaled feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo and Chance the Rapper – No Brainer
In 2017, DJ Khaled assembled his own Avengers and gave us “I’m the One,” which promptly took over and simultaneously saved the universe. Although not a complete reunion – Weezy is inexplicably absent – “No Brainer” is a sequel that’s just as enticing a big-budget blockbuster as its predecessor. Although from a scientific standpoint there was no song of the summer this year, “No Brainer” felt about as close a contender as you were likely to get: A whole crew of A-listers flexing over a bassy beat and smart, simple chord progressions? The choice is obvious. Even little Asahd approves.
Part four with you at the start of 2019 – it’s so soon!
Check out the updated playlist with all of the DJY100 in it so far:
He’s making a list, and checking it twice. ‘Tis the season for the DJY100 to kick off yet again, so welcome aboard! In case you missed it, I recently put up a playlist of 50 great songs that just narrowly missed out on being in the final list. If that’s at all of interest, you can have a listen over here:
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 2018
100. Baker Boy feat. Dallas Woods – Black Magic
If you’ve been fortunate enough to catch one of Baker Boy’s high-octane live shows in the past 18 months, you’ll immediately recognise this song as its opener. It’s about as brassy and bold an introduction as one can get – through the rumble of the didgeridoo and with assistance from exceptional up-and-comer MC Dallas Woods, Baker Boy hurtles a steady flow of bilingual braggadocio at listeners with barely a moment to catch your breath. “Either you do or don’t have it,” philosophises the song’s mantra-like hook. In case it wasn’t already clear, Baker and Woods are in the former pile.
99. Daphne & Celeste – BB
Daphne & Celeste first rose to fame by teasing boys in hit single “U.G.L.Y.” – as in, you ain’t got no alibi. Almost 20 years later, they reconvened and targeted a whole new generation with a sly, hilarious takedown of white guys with acoustic guitars. Every Tom, Dick and Sheeran gets promptly served in this unexpected comeback, surging with electro-pop urgency and scoring a few triple-word scores in its lyrics. Under the watchful eye of producer/songwriter Max Tundra, Daphne & Celeste are as fun and cheeky as they ever were. “All singer-songwriter bros sound the same”? We didn’t say that!
98. Boat Show – Restless
Less than 30 second into “Restless,” it lands. “You’re a dickhead/Trash shit” can lay easy claim to the thorniest, snarkiest opening line of 2018. Would you expect any less from the same sardonic Perthians who gave us “Cis White Boy” not a year prior? One of the standouts of second album Unbelievable, Boat Show focus less on hardcore-punk intensity here and more on head-bopping garage rock. This doesn’t deaden the message, however – if anything, it drives it home with all the more clarity. In their biggest year to date, Boat Show had tracks like “Restless” to back it up.
97. The Gooch Palms feat. Kelly Jansch – Busy Bleeding
Ask anyone who menstruates, and they’ll tell you the same thing: It sucks the big one. Still, if there’s any band that can spin a negative into a positive, it’s Newcastle’s finest export. Drummer Kat Friend takes the lead on this rousing, defiant rocker – and when backed up by a fellow menstruator in TOTTY‘s Kelly Jansch, she sounds more or less unstoppable. Spinning their usual jangle-rock into something a bit slicker and tougher, “Busy Bleeding” is the sound of The Gooch Palms broadening their horizons and expanding their palette. It’s unexpected, but that’s what happens when you’re seeing red.
96. Denise Le Menice – Addiction
When she’s not exhuming her inner riot grrrl at the helm of the aforementioned Boat Show, Ali Flintoff likes to enter the dream-pop landscape as Denise Le Menice. Although not quite the same extremes, consider Denise the Adventures to Boat Show’s Code Orange – a chance for an artist well-versed across multiple schools of songwriting to engage the finer points of each. On her debut release as DLM, Flintoff gets warm and fuzzy – and not just on the guitar tone. With chirpy harmonies and a persistent drum machine, “Addiction” threatens to have one forming just that with repeat listens.
95. Kanye West & Lil Pump feat. Adele Givens – I Love It
Skrrrt! What may proudly be the dumbest pop hit on record in 2018 was a bizarre feast for the senses. From its oversize suits to its skull-rattling bass, “I Love It” leant in on Lil Pump’s lackadaisical AutoTune flow and West’s reckless abandon to create something essentially inescapable. Should we have expected more from the man responsible for “Jesus Walks” and “Hey Mama”? Sure, but we also could have expected a whole lot less from the kid whose sole claim to fame was “Gucci Gang.” Basically, “I Love It” is a frat party. Not on board? Then don’t COME, motherfuckahhh.
94. Kira Puru – Molotov
Much like previous single “Tension,” “Molotov” lives and dies by its bassline. Listen to that fucker – it sounds like it could cut through steel. In sashays Puru, who takes the distinct groove and promptly parades across it. It’s pure peacocking, and in the context of “Molotov” it works a goddamn charm. It’s safe to say Puru has never sounded like she’s had more fun on record than this boozy big-swinger. After years of singing the blues, “Molotov” is the sound of Puru bursting into millennial pink. “Watch me now,” she says before the beat kicks into overdrive. With pleasure.
93. Cat Heaven – Razorlight
The structural DNA of Cat Heaven meant they were always going to thrive in the realm of post-punk – two-thirds of the band form the current rhythm section of Sydney’s beloved Mere Women, while the remainder shredded away in perennial underdogs Hira Hira. With their powers combined, Cat Heaven form a robust power trio, easily filling out the spaces that linger in their songs through instinct and propulsive dynamics. “Razorlight” serves as the embodiment of their collective talents – a twisting bassline, a hat-heavy drum groove, striking guitar dissonance and the emotive, tortured vocals of Trisch Roberts. Simply put: Heavenly.
92. The 1975 – Love It if We Made It
Matt Healy has never sounded as wrought and as entirely desperate on record than when he’s yelping this song’s titular phrase, sounding as if he’s on the verge of tears. He spits Trump quotes with acidic bile, staring down the eve of destruction. As A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships rolled out single by single, it became less a question of what The 1975 were going to do next and more of a question of who they would be. In the case of “Love It,” they became doomsday preppers with an army of synths and gated snares in their arsenal.
91. Charlie Collins – Mexico
Emerging from the shadow of previous band Tigertown, Charlie Collins here forges an inroad into alt-country with formidable results. Although just her second single as a solo artist, Collins’ years of singing and songwriting factor in considerably to the sound of “Mexico.” It’s an inherently accessible song, from its big swinging pre-chorus to the sweet-spot harmonies that garnish its central hook. The twangy low-end guitar, courtesy of husband Chris Collins, also lends a distinct western feel. As its title suggests, “Mexico” is centred on time and place – and it’s quite the journey. Long live Charlie Collins – sorry, viva.
90. Brendan Maclean – Where’s the Miracle
Thriving on tension and release, Aus-pop bon vivant Maclean makes a considerable departure from his previous singles on “Where’s the Miracle.” Fearlessly shaking the family tree, Maclean builds to the titular question being asked over and over by ways of wafting synths and palm-muted strings. Although it’s cathartic, the tragedy lies in the fact you’re no closer to answering it by the song’s end. It says a lot that such heavyweights as Donny Benet, Montaigne and Ainslie Wills are present and accounted for here, and yet the focus remains on the man himself. That’s conviction. That’s staying power. It’s miraculous.
89. The Weeknd – Call Out My Name
It’s easy to forget the man who became one of the world’s biggest rnb crossover stars was once an underground king, riding high on a hat-trick of mixtapes throughout the summer of 2011. With the release of My Dear Melancholy, The Weeknd came the closest he’s come in years to capturing something that bridges between eras. Its lynchpin is its opener, arguably the most powerfully love-lorn song has penned since “Wicked Games” – or, at least, since “The Hills.” It’s pure soul vocally, while the production feels like a heart shattering in slow motion. There’s vitality in the Starboy yet.
88. BROCKHAMPTON – NEW ORLEANS
It’s a fascinating contrast. “Perfectly fine!” a voice assures in the opening moments of BROCKHAMPTON’s iridescence. “It’s fine!” If Ron Howard were narrating this, he’d quickly interject: “Things were not fine.” What follows is a car-alarm beat that has all the grace and subtlety of a swinging hammer, with its half-dozen rappers all galloping in to hurl their own grenades across the battlefield. For a group that targets and positions itself as a boyband, it borders on genuine shock that they’d put something forth as confrontational and abrasive as this. Still, it makes for one hell of an album opener.
87. Camp Cope – How to Socialise and Make Friends
From humble surrounds of Melbourne suburbia, Camp Cope’s imagery borrows primarily from the minutiae of everyday life – finding the extraordinary within the ordinary. On their second album’s title track, something as simple as riding a bike is used as an extended analogy for moving on – with every new trick comes new confidence; with that confidence life begins again. “I’ll wave to you as I ride by,” sings Georgia Maq defiantly as she’s propelled ahead by her engine-room rhythm section. She could ascend to the heavens, E.T. style, and it would feel entirely realistic. Such is their songwriting prowess.
86. Young Thug feat. Elton John – High
Thugga is far from the first person to play on the infamous “I’m gonna be high as a kite by then” line from Elton’s “Rocket Man.” He might be the first, however, to do so with such an explicit blessing from Captain Fantastic himself. The irrepressible rapper turns John into a via-satellite hook guy, dispensing his own twists and turns atop of barren piano and trap hats. Despite its pensive nature, there’s something surprisingly wholesome about the whole thing. Whatever Sir Elton sees in Young Thug, you’re entirely thankful that he sees it. Overall staying power? A long, long time.
85. Shinedown – DEVIL
Towards the end of 2018, Adam Levine made comments concerning rock’s absence within the mainstream and the charts. “I don’t know where it is,” he said. “If it’s anywhere, I wasn’t invited to the party.” Consider “DEVIL” as his – and your – invitation to radio-rock in 2018. Though far from Shinedown’s first rodeo, they haven’t sounded so in control in at least a decade. The drums pummel and swing, channelling the rough-and-tumble drop-D guitar as it matches Brent Smith’s boisterous proclamations. Was there a better raison d’etre in a 2018 single than “It’s about to get heavy?” Probably not.
84. Pusha T – If You Know You Know
King Push spent the year getting shit done. He was the first artist to drop an album during Kanye’s Wyoming sessions, the first rapper to get a beef into 2018 mainstream news and was arguably one of the key hip-hop artists that wasted the least amount of time across the collective calendar year. With the release of DAYTONA, he basically walked away from an explosion without looking at it – that’s how fucking cool he was. It all began with this merciless and effortlessly swaggering intro track – pure bombast and showmanship atop a classic Yeezy beat. Go off, King.
83. White Blanks – Go Right Now
There’s a bittersweetness to the single from these Wollongong garage-dwellers. On one hand, it’s a rousing, defiant fist-pumper that fires off hooks relentlessly until they stick in the brain. On the other, the celebration wasn’t to last – in November, the band announced their upcoming tour would be their last. Although they weren’t around for a long time, anyone who saw the Blanks live knew that it was more often than not a good time. Their spirited take on a tried-and-true genre was to be commended, and “Go Right Now” is as fitting a swan-song as you’re likely to get.
82. Chance the Rapper – I Might Need Security
Of all the deep-cuts in the sample library, no-one could have ever seen a Jamie Foxx HBO special being anywhere near the top of the pile – let alone it working to the degree it does. Then again, no-one was expecting anything from Lil Chano at all this year – to get six new tracks total was quite the pleasant surprise. Of that half-dozen, “Security” easily tops the list. If it’s not Foxx’s expletive-laden sample that grabs you, then surely Chance’s uber-specific political targets and news-flash flow will. If you ain’t down with that, we got two words for ya.
81. LOSER – LOSER
It takes a lot of confidence to give your band a title track – especially if it’s figuratively your very first release. Still, LOSER have all the reason in the world to be confident – comprised of Poison City’s finest alum, they know exactly what they’re doing. Here, the trio muscle in on fast-paced, index-finger-wagging power-pop. Its urgent guitar buzzsaws its way through the speakers, only to have the chorus promptly bowl you over. It’s almost predestined to soundtrack a night at one of the many Melbourne pubs these guys cut their teeth in. Starting again never sounded so good.
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget you can stream all of part one via Spotify here: