Like many other Australian music fans, I try to make the annual effort for vote for Triple J Hottest 100, a competition that has been going on since 1993 (in its current form). For those not familiar with Triple J Hottest 100, it’s a competition run by radio station Triple J to determine which 100 songs, according to the station’s listeners, were the best for that year. Voters are presented a list of songs that have been played on Triple J during the year and are then asked to select songs into a shortlist. That shortlist must then be whittled down to 10 songs which then get submitted as votes. I’ve been voting for the Hottest 100 since 2010, although it’s been a rather pointless exercise. When presented with the list of songs that appeared on Triple J I’d always struggle to find 10 songs that I’d listened to, leading me to enter my own into the list. This was due to the fact that I almost exclusively listened to metal bands that were too obscure even for Triple J and often had been inactive for several years. However, this is not the case with 2014. Thanks to my volunteer work as a music journalist I have been paying more attention to what’s been happening in the world of music, particularly Australian music. This is why, for the first time ever, I had difficulty getting my shortlist DOWN to 10 as opposed to UP to ten.
Getting my shortlist down to 10 from 37 was quite a challenge. I imposed several rules upon myself when choosing songs. One was that, unlike previous years, I was only allowed to choose songs from Triple J’s official list. None of my own were allowed. Another rule which helped me get the numbers down was to have only one song per artist. After much deliberation, here are my choices for the best songs to come out in 2014.
10 – ‘Get Away’ by Chvrches
Chvrches is quite a significant band for me. Before discovering this Scottish electronic band, what I thought was electronic music was actually EDM, a genre that I hate with a passion. Discovering Chvrches and their 2013 LP ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ led me to other electronic artists such as M83. ‘Get Away’ was written for a reworked version of the 2011 film ‘Drive’ that will feature an entirely new score (it should also be noted that Chvrches contributed two songs to ‘The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1’ soundtrack). Why was ‘Get Away’ on this list? This song features everything that I really love about Chvrches, plus more. The song contains a very interesting soundscape without actually using that many tracks (Chvrches is a three-piece band). Synth chords are complimented by a sampled drum beat, the occasional synth arpeggio, a hypnotic male vocal sample and frontwoman Lauren Mayberry’s youthful voice filling out Chvrches’ signature sound.
9 – ‘Dear Youth (Day 52)’ by The Ghost Inside
This latest release by the Los Angeles-based metalcore band did rather well in Australia, reaching #16 on the Aria charts. The album ‘Dear Youth’ isn’t much of a deviation from what The Ghost Inside is good at. The music itself is incredibly heavy, the kind of thing that starts moshpits with no trouble at all. However, The Ghost Inside doesn’t rely on crushing heavyness and “fuckin’ sick breakdowns duuuude!”. The faster parts of their songs contain guitar melodies that compliment the heavy nature of their music very well. Especially on this song, the mixture of screaming vocals and harsh singing notes build up the total sound that this band have always pulled off so well.
8 – ‘Reflective Skull’ by DZ Deathrays
After winning the Aria award for best hard rock/heavy metal performance twice (2012 and 2014), it’s no surprise that several of DZ Deathrays’ songs were on the list for Triple J Hottest 100. The duo hail from Brisbane and their style of music has been referred to as ‘dance punk’ and ‘thrash pop’ among others. The sounds that the band can achieve with only one drummer and one singer/guitarist are more limited than with other bands. However, this is just part of their sound. Out of the several songs from their latest LP ‘Black Rat’ that were on Triple J’s list, I ended up choosing ‘Reflective Skull’ because this was the catchiest song and the one that made me want to dance the most. Considering that the ‘dance’ part is very crucial to their sound, this was the factor that led me to choose ‘Reflective Skull’ in a very tough decision between that and ‘Ocean Exploder’.
7 – ‘Back To The Shack’ by Weezer.
“Sorry guys. I didn’t realise that I needed you so much. I thought I’d get a new audience. I forgot that disco sucks.” That is what Weezer explain to their listeners in the lead single from their LP ‘Everything Will Be Alright In The End’. In fact, this is exactly what they say, these being the opening lines of the song. Weezer’s last few releases haven’t received the greatest reactions from critics and fans alike so with this latest album, Weezer decided to return to the sound that made them popular back in the 1990s. Lyrics like “Back to the strat with the lightning strap,” and “kick in the door, more hardcore, rocking out like it’s ’94” over the power chord progressions familiar to alternative rock fans complete their message. Regardless of whether or not Weezer should care what their fans think, the band has returned in good form with ‘Back To The Shack’ and their latest album in general.
6 – ‘I’m In Your Mind Fuzz’ by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.
Choosing between the various songs offered by this Melbourne-based psychedelic garage rock band was a very difficult one. This was because three of the tracks were actually the same song. The first several tracks from the second 2014 release ‘I’m In Your Mind Fuzz’ are part of one continuous song. There isn’t even much variation, with the same motifs and chord progressions spanning the entire extended song. Most parts of this song were on Triple J’s list. The reason I went with ‘I’m In Your Mind Fuzz’ is because by this stage in the continuous song, the riffs had been fleshed out to their full potential and all the various ideas had come together nicely. Though they are a contemporary band, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s albums sound like they were recorded in a garage during the hight of the psychedelic rock movement of the 1960s. This style and sound is what really draws to me this band.
5 – ‘Stranger In Moscow (Michael Jackson cover)’ by Tame Impala.
Continuing on with the retro psychedelic theme is Tame Impala from Perth. Like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Tame Impala absolutely nails the 1960s lo-fi recording sound. However, they manage to do this while including modern influences, namely synthesizers and sampled drums. When I first heard this song I didn’t realise that it was a cover as it seemed like something that Tame Impala chief songwriter and singer Kevin Parker would write. Upon comparing it to the original, I found that the new version did Michael Jackson’s justice while making it a distinctly Tame Impala sounding song. The pop and soul influences in the original have been replaced by very atmospheric sounds which are such a staple of Tame Impala’s music. Keeping the original sound while incorporating the new band’s influences are what I look for in a good cover song and ‘Stranger In Moscow’ shows this perfectly.
4 – ‘A Little God In My Hands’ by Swans.
Since discovering the seminal American experimental rock band earlier this year, Swans’ ability to include so many contradictory elements within a song and make them blend so well has amazed me. ‘A Little God In My Hands’ from their album ‘To Be Kind’ is a perfect example of this. There is one single motif that is carried on by the bass guitar and the drums throughout the whole song. Interweaving over this is singer/songwriter Michael Gira’s hypnotic yet harsh singing. This then gives way to harsh synthesizers and brass instruments that sound like a swarm of bees attacking one’s inner ear, which is then replaced by airy bell chimes. This changing of sounds is what really drives this song and despite the confronting nature of the music, everything just fits in so well with everything else. This is a hallmark of Michael Gira’s song writing that I have come to appreciate so much.
3 – ‘Necrotic Manifesto’ by Aborted
This is not actually the first time that Aborted have earned themselves a place on my Triple J Hottest 100 list. The difference now is that their song ‘Necrotic Manifesto’ from the titular album was actually on Triple J’s list. Aborted is a brutal death metal band from Belgium that I first heard about when I was 17. I’m now 25 and I still feel blown away by their music every time I listen to it. The band combines the usual elements of brutal death metal, these being incredibly distorted downtuned guitars, drums that sound like machine guns and harsh growling and screaming vocals. It seems to me that Aborted gets more intense with every album they release. This song especially demonstrates how this band masters all aspects of the genre. They can play fast atonal riffs with a blast beat backing, yet they can also pound their listener’s ears with incredibly heavy, mid-paced breakdowns. There are many bands that play in this style but I’m glad that radio stations like Triple J are exposing their metal fans to Aborted.
2 – ‘Keep In The Dark’ by Temples.
Temples is a fairly new English indie/psychedelic band who play music that sounds like it was recorded in the 1960s (can you tell I’m a big fan of this style of music?). I would say that their album ‘Sun Structures’ was better produced than King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard’s material, sounding like it was recorded in a studio 45 years ago as opposed to a garage 45 years ago. There are many different chord progressions in ‘Keep In The Dark’, all of which have their place. These range from simple acoustic guitar/drums/singing parts to the chorus which features ambient backing chords and even a harp. All of these elements combine to give the entire song an atmospheric, dreamy feel. Temples’ ability to produce this feel is what got them such a high spot on my list.
1 – ‘Girl I Want’ by The Vines
Without a doubt, Australian alternative rock band The Vines are one of my favourite in the genre. In fact, they’re one of my favourite bands period. The Vines have had a rather turbulent history, mostly thanks to the erratic behaviour of their frontman Craig Nicholls. After the release of their 5th album ‘Future Primitive’ in 2011, the other three members of the band quit, leaving Nicholls as the sole member. Then in early 2012, it was announced that Nicholls had found two new members, these being drummer Lachlan West and bassist Tim John, both formerly of The Griswolds. This year the new incarnation of The Vines released ‘Wicked Nature’ which was was much closer musically to their earlier albums ‘Highly Evolved’ and ‘Winning Days’. Though I am a fan of their later albums before the massive lineup change, ‘Wicked Nature’ is an amazing album that showcases the full extent of Nicholls’ song writing talent. A defining feature of The Vines’ music is their blending of 1960s garage rock and 1990s alternative rock. ‘Girl I Want’ is a perfect example of this with a catchy jangly verse-and chorus pattern. The bridge of the song features Nicholls’ playing an erratic solo on his highly distorted electric guitar. This blending of noise and catchy music is what I’ve always loved about The Vines and the fact that this album is such a strong comeback is the reason why this song in my number 1 vote for best song of 2014.
Songs that I didn’t include but really, really wanted to.
For me, the hardest part of choosing 10 songs is not getting the list down from 37, but rather getting it down from the last 13 or so. Three in particular stand out as hard choices to drop from my list. Brisbane-based indie rockers Babaganoüj had an incredibly catchy single in the form of ‘Bluff’. The simplicity of this song is what I really like about it but as I whittled down my shortlist, it was this simplicity that made it loose out to other songs had more intricate song writing. At a very different place on the musical spectrum is ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’ by Polish blackened death metal band Behemoth. As far as Behemoth goes, this is a powerful track, with pounding drums and a steady dark guitar riff that carries on through a large portion of the song. Though the song is typical of Behemoth’s dark sound, it lacked the intensity of ‘The Necrotic Manifesto’, it didn’t quite make the cut. Finally, ‘Easy Rider’ by Action Bronson provides the listener with an interesting blend of psychedelic rock and hip-hop. Though I truly admire this song, its ingenuity didn’t grab me quite as much as the aforementioned ten tracks did.