The Top 100 Songs of 2018, Part Four: 40 – 21

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!

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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-note rap-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.

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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:

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

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

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

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

DJY, December 2015

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100. Cosmic Psychos – Fuckwit City

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

99. Kissing Booth – Battlefield

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

98. You Beauty – Illywhacka

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

97. Frank Turner – The Next Storm

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

96. Young Fathers – Rain or Shine

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

95. Alabama Shakes – Don’t Wanna Fight

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

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

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

93. Hockey Dad – Can’t Have Them

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

92. Drake – Know Yourself

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

91. Beach Slang – Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas

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

90. Endless Heights – Teach You How to Leave

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

89. The Bennies – Party Machine

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

88. Pity Sex – What Might Soothe You?

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

87. Miguel – leaves

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

86. Darren Hanlon – The Chattanooga Shoot-Shoot

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

85. Micachu and the Shapes – Oh Baby

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

84. Best Coast – Heaven Sent

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

83. Bad//Dreems – Cuffed and Collared

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

82. Foals – What Went Down

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

81. The Hard Aches – Knots

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

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Part Two will be posted next Monday!

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