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

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

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40. Squid – Paddling

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

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

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

38. Great Job! – Vodka Chunder

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

37. Silk Sonic – Leave the Door Open

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

36. Spiritbox – Secret Garden

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

35. Billie Eilish – Your Power

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

34. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – That Life

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

33. Duran Duran – INVISIBLE

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

32. Royal Blood – Typhoons

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

31. Coconut Cream – Your Drug on Computers

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

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

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

29. Silk Sonic – Smokin Out the Window

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

28. We Are Scientists – Contact High

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

27. I Know Leopard – Day 2 Day

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

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

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

25. Jake Bugg – Lost

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

24. Big Red Machine feat. Taylor Swift – Renegade

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

23. Wavves – Sinking Feeling

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

22. Kanye West – Jail

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

21. Debbies – Sinner

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

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

Back next week with part five!

The Top 100 Songs of 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: