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!

2012 – A Year in the Front Row. Part Two: April/May/June

Jan // Feb // Mar
Jul // Aug // Sep

APRIL

It’s somewhat fitting that I saw Hands Like Houses play a show on April Fool’s Day. Despite international acclaim and touring, they proved to be one of the most lifeless and uninspired bands I’ve seen live this year. What a joke. Still, at least I got to see Sound of Seasons tear it up at that show. Great live act, those kids. Onto the gorgeous surrounds of the Enmore, where I was fortunate enough to see ska legends The Specials tear the joint a new one. This was honestly one of the most energetic shows I went to in all of 2012 – I had no idea things would get this wild! For nearly two hours a solid crowd of roughly 1500, the band tore through their classics with all the energy and vitality that came with their release some thirty years ago. What a treat, what an honour. Definitely a major year highlight.

Milhouse launched their debut seven-inch in style, with a show at the venue they’re practically the house band of now: Black Wire Records. A very fun night indeed. The very next day, I had the chance of doubling up on a tour yet again – this time, twice in one day. Brisbane brats Bleeding Knees Club were playing in the afternoon in Sydney before playing that night in Wollongong. While it was fun to watch some kids going completely mental at what was quite possibly their first gig, the Gong show was something else entirely. Shit got decidedly loose, especially when local legend Jack Reilly got on stage with the boys to tear through a blink-182 cover. Oh, what a night!

With the Dig It Up! Festival in town, I had the chance to see the legendary Redd Kross play their cracking debut album, Born Innocent, in its entirety. While the Oxford Art Factory isn’t usually a great rock venue, this was the perfect room for these guys to thrash through the album and bring to life their wild younger years. Getting to press the flesh with the legendary Steve McDonald was also a total honour. A few days later, I was back at the same venue to see Brissie ex-pats An Horse play a rare Sydney show. A great audience and some top-shelf songs – wish these guys came back more often. Finally, I wrapped up the month with a show at Yours & Owls, which you’ll be hearing plenty more of later in the year. Here, I got to check out the frighteningly good Adelaide crew Night Hag grind to their heart’s content, with ample support from The Reverend Jesse Custer and Endeavours. Good times.

TOP 5:

  1. The Specials
  2. Redd Kross
  3. An Horse
  4. Bleeding Knees Club
  5. Night Hag

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Hands Like Houses. For all the hype, potentially the blandest band in all the land.

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MAY

Holy fuck. What a heavyweight month this was! Aside from maybe November, I can’t think of another period where I saw such incredible music being performed at such a consistent rate. An exhausting, exhilarating and life-affirming time in 2012. I kicked things off by farewelling The Butterfly Effect‘s vocalist, Clint Boge, with their final Sydney show with him at the UNSW Roundhouse. I’ll be the first to admit how daggy this lot can be, but I decided early on that I’d get there early, get the barrier and party like it was 2006. What a fun show this was, a complete nostalgia trip and a great send-off to a band that genuinely meant the world to me back in my mid-teens. Excellent fun, probably more than I should be admitting.

The next night saw me regain some of my “cred” by attending a packed-out show from the wonderful Frank Turner. In support was folk-punk’s first lady Jen Buxton, your new favourite punks The Smith Street Band and the jolly travelling bluesman William Elliott Whitmore. All four acts put on sets that superlatives simply cannot do justice to. It was a night to celebrate the arrival, if you will, of Frank. After selling out Wembley, he came to Australia with high spirits and an arsenal of anthems spanning all four of his albums. This man is honestly one of the reasons why I make music, so it truly was an honour to watch him bring his fervent folk-punk energy to the Manning Bar. You had to be there to get it.

Groovin’ the Moo – bit of a rubbish festival, but they bring the goods every now and then. Case in point: City and Colour & Wavves, who both put on great shows in Sydney. Having never seen C&C as a live band, it was quite fulfilling to hear so many tracks that I’ve loved over the years come to life so classily. Dallas is a great performer, understated and charming. I really appreciated the fact he asked everyone to put away their camera phones – one of my biggest vices at shows, so it was nice to get a break from it, however momentary. Although a totally different style of performer, Nathan Williams (aka Wavves) put on a cracking hour set at the Oxford Art Factory. All the best tracks from his own arsenal, plus a Sonic Youth cover (100%) and some gut-bustingly funny inside jokes made this a super-fun show.

Nearing the end of the month meant shit got increasingly more real. And it doesn’t get more freakin’ real than Prince. Holy shit, this was a spectacle and a half. To walk in and see the Allphones turned into a house of purple – complete with a stage shaped like Prince’s symbol – was breathtaking enough. Then, he decides to make things even more insane by OPENING with a fifteen-minute version of Purple Rain. Read again: OPENING with that. Where do you go from there, exactly? Pretty simple: Hit after hit after hit. This was a joyous, funky thing to be a part of; and I’m so glad I got that chance. Truly memorable stuff right there.

Following on from that, I got to see two long-time live favourites across two consecutive nights at the Patch – Dead Letter Circus and Tonight Alive. The former brought a meaty, volatile crowd with them; which was to be expected, really. Thankfully, I had myself a nice spot on the corner of the front row, tucked away and just enjoying their groovy tunes. Great live act, only getting better. As for Tonight Alive, this was the start of a pretty special run of shows with those guys – one show in Wollongong and two shows in Sydney, as a part of their final Australian tour for the year.

I always love these shows, if anything just for the company that comes with them and the incredible circle of people I’ve met through the band and its fans. It gets better, however: My boys in Totally Unicorn were the opening act, which meant that they got to terrorise a bunch of unsuspecting pop-punk kids and blow their freakin’ minds. All three shows had their good points, but the highlight of the bunch was easily the all-ages show at the Factory Theatre. There’s just something about AA Tonight Alive shows that have such an unshakable energy to them. The crowd is always mental, the kids up the front know the score and we can all go mental in unison. I usually have a pretty low tolerance level of AA crowds, but this was totally fine. In fact, it enhanced the experience.

May ended with not so much a bang as an absolute freak explosion. Two words: Janelle. Monae. Friends from across the country came out for this one, as the petite dynamo turned the Opera House concert hall into a next-level party. I can’t begin to tell you how much I needed this fucking show. After admiring Janelle for over two years, it was a complete thrill to finally get the chance to see her and her electric band do their thing, playing songs that still meant the absolute world to me like they did when they first came out. All roads truly felt like they lead to this very show. I can’t really give you much more detail than that. It was out of this world. Amazing. Life-changing. Pretty damn sure this was the one. As awesome as the rest of the year was, nothing quite compared to this night, these songs and this moment in time.

TOP 5:

  1. Janelle Monae
  2. Prince
  3. Frank Turner
  4. The Butterfly Effect
  5. Tonight Alive

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Young Guns, the main support for Tonight Alive. Sorry, lads; you seemed lovely but you were trying to do an arena show to an audience of about 50 people and it really didn’t work in your favour.

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JUNE

By contast, June was actually one of my quietest gig months. Not that it was a barren wasteland or anything, but I felt like a senior citizen compared to my frequent travels of the month prior. Even so, I probably needed the break more than I was willing to admit. I eased back into gigging post-Janelle (or PJ, as I so measure my life these days) with a small gig at Goodgod, one of my favourite new Sydney venues. My chums in Mrs. Bishop were launching a new single, and it was great to catch up with them and bask in their cooing harmonies. The week after, I bid farewell to an old mate in Trial Kennedy, who decided to notch up the nostalgia factor a little extra by adding After the Fall to the line-up. Getting in one last sing-along to Damage on Parade was a year highlight, as was the chance to FINALLY hear Mississippi Burn live; which is my all-time favourite TK song.

After having a ball (pardon the pun) at her last show in 2010, there was no way I was going to miss Lady Gaga on her Born This Way Ball tour. Although I wasn’t as big a fan of BTW as I was of her previous efforts, this was still an absolutely awesome show, full of wonder and big pop sing-alongs – which, if you know me well enough, are pretty much my bread and butter. The thing I love about big-arse pop shows like this one are that, even if it’s only for just a couple of hours, you can escape from whatever’s going on in your life and dive headfirst into a whole new world, Aladdin style. Gaga is a great entertainer and someone who can keep up energy levels like few others can. It’s truly a sight to see. Put aside your doubts and try it out sometime.

The end of the month came quickly, with two more shows before it was done. First was a trip all the way out to Epping, where I ended up at a cafe called Pablo’s in order to see my dear buddies in Collarbones and Fishing; as well as Dappled Cities side-project Swimwear. This was put on by The Gate, aka Joe Hardy, who puts in great efforts to bring great original live music to unconventional places. The show was an absolute treat for the senses, squishing in with a stack of other music lovers to soak up some glitchy goodness. You KNOW a show’s gone well when it ends with an en-masse sing-along to Jenny From the Block. Finally, there was my dear old buddy Jonathan Boulet, hitting the big time with his largest hometown show ever at the Metro Theatre. Having followed his work for years across all of his projects, to see this show go so well was a big thing for me. Jono continues to amaze and inspire with his work, and his live shows (starring his remarkably handsome band) are no exception. Good times!

TOP 5:

  1. Lady Gaga
  2. Trial Kennedy
  3. Jonathan Boulet
  4. Fishing
  5. Mrs Bishop

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: None! Everyone ruled! How good is that?