I try not to take the structure and order of my top ten lists too seriously this time of year as it changes each day depending on my mood. Sometimes my top ten includes artists from all around, and sometimes my top ten is just championing ten Australian independent artists. Sometimes for the Hottest 100 it’s more so the artists that have a stronger chance of making the countdown.
So this list here is not my most accurate top ten - which is where you’ll definitely find songs like ‘Kyoto’ by Phoebe Bridgers or ‘If You’re Too Shy’ by the 1975. This here instead is ten excellent songs from ten excellent artists across Australia that I hope you all listen to and follow after this.
Bec Sykes - Edithvale
I received a message from Bec back in mid-July, sharing her debut song with me which had just been uploaded to triple j Unearthed at the time. I remember that moment so clearly - my face absolutely lighting up hearing Bec’s voice take center stage in the opening verse - “I want to be in love again”. That line and the performance of it made such an impression that I fell so in love with the song and artist, taking me back to when I would play London Grammar’s debut album on repeat. Remember how we all felt when that group released ‘Strong’? Well that’s how ‘Edithvale’ made me feel, and that was a super special moment.
Genesis Owusu - The Other Black Dog
Sometime around my high school days I first came across a song that would be one of the first local Canberra songs I had heard. It was Citizen Kay’s ‘Ansah Brothers’ featuring Genesis Owusu, and I thought it was amazing that these two brothers were making awesome music and they lived in my city, Canberra. Well fast-forward 7 years or so and Genesis Owusu continues to make awesome music. In fact, “awesome” is an understatement when you listen to this most recent single ‘The Other Black Dog’. The intoxicating production swirls and twirls behind a run of familiar Genesis Owusu vocal deliveries, making this song feel both comforting and normal, but at the same time feeling the complete opposite. ‘The Other Black Dog’ is the sonic equivalent of an Escher Room with stairs going in every which way direction. It’s something I don’t know if many others could pull off, but Genesis Owusu does it with ease.
Nothing Really - Yuck
The song came out long ago in much simpler times - January. It’s hard to make the call at the start of the year that a new release will make it to the top ten at the end of the year, but I knew this one would. I knew this year would close with me still talking about this song - and here I am. ‘Yuck’ is a heart-pounding anthemic single that features one of the best hooks that brings out the inner emo-heartbreak tragic in me. “Do you think I’m yuck? I adore you” lead vocalist Vic sings in perfect step to the beat, with me on the other end imagining a room full of fellow tragics singing along. This track came out not long after a break up that left me feeling pretty bummed out, so I clung to this like no other and never let go.
Egoism - Here’s The Thing
“Can you stop being so goddamn perfect and talented” I’ve definitely said on a number of occasions when talking about Egoism. Earlier this year the Sydney duo dropped ‘You You’ - a beautiful and perfect song that slid its way into my top ten list very early. But here’s my thing - when it comes to voting/listing/countdowns, I like to vote for one song per artist. Share it a round a bit, right? So when Egoism shared with us ‘Here’s The Thing’ in September, I was kinda mad, because now they have two beautiful and perfect songs and I can’t decide which I like the most. I ended up listing ‘Here’s The Thing’ as my favourite, but honestly both songs deserve to be here. Scout and Olive are making comfort music that genuinely feels so warm and embracing to listen to. If there was ever a perfect time for this band to be making music like this, it was in 2020, and I’m honestly glad we had Egoism to help us feel a little bit okay this year.
Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers - Desk Chair
Somehow on not one, but two occasions last year I overheard people on the Fortitude Valley streets during Bigsound discuss whether this band was called "Teen Jesus and The Jean Teasers” or “Jean Teasers and the Teen Jesus”. If you need, just remember that this band is pretty much royalty to our Canberra hearts, so “Jesus” comes first. The group shared this song a couple of years ago as an acoustic version for Laundry Echo, and ever since I’ve been waiting for the studio recording. But when they started teasing this single, I thought "What if I’ve hyped this up too much and it doesn’t live up to my expectations?" Well, there was no need to worry, because it did live up to them and it was everything I wanted. It has all the grunge and Doc Marten energy we wanted out of this band and it’s been on strong rotation ever since.
Wolfjay - In Memory Of
Wolfjay stole my heart a couple of years back with the release of ‘She Calls To Me’ - a stunning and gorgeous song that introduced me to the electric dream-pop producer-performer. They went on to release a three-track release last year that I’ll tell you to listen to if you like The 1975 (which I know you all do). Then Wolfjay shared with us ‘In Memory Of’ - a track with waving and pulsing electrics, grungy percussion, and dreamy vocals. Wolfjay will rip you a new one in the chorus with “And I'll pass you in the street, pretend I don’t recognise your face anymore” and they won’t slow down enough for you to catch your breath. The song felt fresh and exciting upon its release and it still does, cementing Wolfjay as one of the most interesting and exciting artists that you should probably keep a keen eye on for next year.
Azim Zain and his Lovely Bones - You Just Hit The Jackpot, Tiger
I was lucky enough to have worked with Azim on the album artwork for the three singles leading up to his debut album ‘Be Good’, with the third being ‘You Just Hit The Jackpot, Tiger’. It is kinda strange seeing a song in my top ten with a familiar album artwork, but this song genuinely blew me away. Knowing Azim, I knew this song would be good, but I didn’t know it would be this good. And knowing Azim and what the past year and a half has looked like for him, this song hit particularly close to home. Towards the end of the song it when Azim dials it up to an 11, stretching his vocal range to max capacity to drive home the words “Cause I admit that I’m the one who has to leave” and knighting this song as the most emotionally driven and contextually heartfelt singles from the year.
The Flowers - You Don’t Say
The Flowers shared their debut with us last year - ‘Truly Madly Sleepy’, a song that was on heavy rotation and got better and better upon each listen. Well nothing much has changed since then with the band still making songs that get heavy rotation and continue to get better and better, hitting a new level of excellence with ‘You Don’t Say’. The song opens sarcastically with “You don’t say, that’s so funny, I’ve never heard that before” which I definitely felt a little bit. I’ve heard all the jokes about being over 6 foot tall and it gets tiring. People asking you how the weather is up there, and people complaining about standing next to you in photos. If you’re the type of person that makes comments or jokes about someone’s height - just stop. But anyway, this song rules and comes with an infectiously catchy “do do do do, do do” hook that you don’t hear much in music these days? Maybe I’m wrong, but I know I’m right about The Flowers being a bloody good band and ones to watch out for in 2021.
Beckah Amani - Standards
I complained before about artists releasing multiple excellent songs in a year and how I only vote for one song per artist, so it makes for a Sophie’s Choice decision. Beckah Amani did it too this year, first with ‘Standards’, and then with her most recent single ‘Stranger’. Beckah makes stunning stripped-back folk that makes as much space as possible for her voice, and rightfully so. Just listen to these two songs and you’ll hear what I mean. Beckah’s voice is kind and delicate but packs an incredible punch when it comes to driving the songs home. Beckah shared in September that ‘Standards’ was written during the height of the BLM protests over our winter and how racism has affected her over the years. The colonial westernisation of beauty we place on people with in this country is damaging to say the least, and this is what Beckah addressed in the song - sharing that she shouldn’t have to sway away from her heritage and roots to fit it. This song is equal parts incredible and important, and I can’t wait to see what else Beckah Amani is cooking up for us next year.
Ruby Gill - Borderlines
I end this list with one of the more recent and probably most anticipated releases of the year - Ruby Gill’s ‘Borderlines’ is her sophomore single since ‘Your Mum’ back in 2018. We’ve been waiting a long time for that song’s follow up, and boy did Ruby deliver. The song is seamless and Ruby makes it look so easy, making music that feels like it’s second nature to her. ‘Borderlines’ sees Ruby share her perspective and experience with Australia’s immigration system that leaves her feeling stuck in a limbo state between not being able to return home and not truly being able to explore Australia freely. The frustration in the shitty system is felt and heard in Ruby’s vocals and words, and it makes this song exactly what we expected from Ruby. She knows how to captivate and draw the full attention of any listener and we know this from how she did exactly that on ‘You Mum’. Ruby did it again on ‘Borderlines’ and instantly upon the song’s release I knew it was going to creep it way into my top ten as a last minute addition, and here it is.
I could probably go on and on forever about the amazing releases we've had this year, but for now, here's ten releases I really wanted to show and share with you all. Thank you to each of these artists for keeping me company this year, and thank you to the Australian music community in general for giving me something to look forward to each and every week with new amazing music always just around the corner. I look forward to seeing what next year brings us, and I look forward to what these artists do in the future.
I'm probably going to take a break for the rest of the year, with some exciting things happening in my life right now that I want to focus on. I love you all, thank you for reading. Lots of exciting things happening with Homegrown Sounds too for next year, so keen an eye out for some announcements soon. I'll see you then!