It’s the end of the year, which means it’s list time! First up, my 30 favourite left-field pop songs from Australia, Canada and beyond. Enjoy.
Delightfully bouncy guitar pop from Montreal. Not a bad way to kick off at top 30 list.
29. DZ Deathrays
Shred for Summer
A perfectly named song from this Brisebane trio. Definite Jane’s Addiction vibe going on here.
28. Moody Beach
27. Miesha & the Spanks
The Girls are OK
In a world of microgenres, it’s nice to know that straight-ahead rock and roll, in this case courtesy of this fine Calgary outfit, is still a glorious thing.
26. Booji Boys
Ditto for punk rock. No-frills, unadorned noisy perfection, straight out of Halifax.
25. The Vovos
This weird and wonderful tune, from Melbourne’s The Vovos, is the epitome of left-field pop. Probably the most purely delightful song on this entire list
Melbourne’s Ausmuteants nail punk’s proud tradition of standing up to unjust authority. “Hands up; we’ll still shoot.” A harrowing glimpse of the nasty side of 2019.
A harrowing, desperate cover of a 2009 Steel Warriors song from this Yuri man from New South Wales’ South Coast, who also happens to be one of Australia’s most exciting rappers.
22. IV League
Yet another soaring pop anthem from a Melbourne group that over the course of only a few songs has demonstrated an uncanny knack for soaring pop anthems.
21. Heart Attack Kids
Do What You Do
Two guys from London, Ontario, who know how to bring the noise, with a detonating sound you can hear from space.
20. The Double Happiness
No Place Nundah
A nostalgia-washed homage to a backwater town from this Brisbane band. I kind of love this song.
You’re Not Always On My Mind
Exhibit A for the theory, which I am starting right now, that Hobart’s Quivers are time travellers from the late 1980s. A mellow tune that has classic Dad Rock written all over it.
18. Tram Cops
Jittery, wistful lo-fi goodness from a forward-looking Melbourne outfit.
17. Big Mike & Gianni La Bamba
Bad Boys (Single Edit)
Seeing Big Mike & Gianni La Bamba open for Donny Benét (twice!) was one of the highlights of my year in Germany. Big Mike is a hulking, muscled blond dude from Cologne who looks like he’s either just come from or is going to the gym. He raps (in German) about working out and partying – he’s basically a Teutonic Andrew WK. And his music, courtesy of Mr. La Bamba, is a delightful throwback to hard-edged 80s dance music. One highlight of their live show (other than the very fit, shirtless men that seem to comprise 50% of their audience) is a rap that’s done to the tune of the Hall and Oates’ hit “Out of Touch” that kind of sneaks up on you (“Is… is he rapping in German to a Hall and Oates song?”) This song isn’t that one, but as a celebration of Kolsch Bad Boys, it’s almost as awesome (in the 80s sense of the word).
16. Ultra Magnus
Nice heaviness and great flow from this Toronto rapper. Yes, please!
New at Drugs
Joyous power-pop from Toronto’s Jackie. I’m pretty sure I’ve never before heard a song about a mom (your mom) trying drugs for the first time. Jackie packs a lifetime of history and a staggering amount empathy into three minutes.
Fuck, what a great pop song.
14. Dead Little Penny
Curve-y shoegaze from Auckland. Mmmmmmmm…..
13. Hello Seahorse!
I’ve been a fan of Hello Seahorse! from the moment I saw them open for The Killers in Mexico City in 2009. Ten years later, they’re still delivering phenomenal tuneage, their secret weapon being Lo Blondo (Denise Gutierrez), who has one of the distinctive voices in all popular music – any language, any genre. Mujer, their latest, continues the winning streak.
12. Gold Fields
Ballarat heroes return with some dancey goodness that showcases Gold Fields’ growth as a band.
11. The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience (The Lonely Island)
Bikini Babe Workout
Few things brought me more joy in 2019 than The Lonely Island’s 30-minute ode to the Oakland A’s steroid addled heroes. There is no reason why The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience should exist – I’m pretty sure no one was clamouring for a 30-minute set of raps about/by Jose Canseco and Mark McGuire, but the world is a better place for its existence. It’s only a matter of time before The Lonely Island pull and Parker and Stone and stage a Broadway musical, right? Please say yes.
10. Donny Benét
An 80s disco-style ode to the joys of four square meals a day, this is vintage Benét.
9. Smaller Hearts
The standout song from these Haligonians’ strong second album. Picture a warm Pet Shop Boys, or an optimistic Depeche Mode. I don’t know about you, but I’m sold.
8. Tropical Fuck Storm
The Planet of Straw Men
Angry, righteous, off-kilter and noisy, with the best male-female vocal tradeoffs in the business, Tropical Fuck Storm is the 2019 band we both need and deserve.
7. Pale Lips
You’re A Doll
Another highlight of a year in Germany: Seeing Pale Lips play a small room in Münster in February, at a time when I was pretty much ready to head home but still had months to go. Tight, poppy, 60s-style rock and roll that I could listen to until the sun goes out.
6. Heart Beach
Hobart’s (now Footscray) Heart Beach somehow find another gear. Cliffhanger injects an already fully formed sound (deliberate drums backing Yo La Tengo-style dissonance) with an epic level of soulfulness courtesy of Claire McCarthy plaintive vocals. A song made for movies – you know the scene. There’s something special about this band.
Sydney’s (now London, UK) JuliaWhy? take the next step. Muscular dreampop. Their new album is excellent. I can’t wait to see where they go next.
4. Sampa the Great
“Young veteran; new classic.” Long may she rule.
3. Sahara Beck
I Haven’t Done a Thing Today
triple j Unearthed Embedded Player
Sahara Beck, the Brisbane artist who’s been recording since she was what, 15? (my goodness), gifts us with a wonderfully upbeat, Killers-esque tune in all the best ways. One of my 2019 go-to mood-lifters.
High Over Love
Pure, joyous guitar pop from a Sydney four-piece. Seriously – just go listen to it. I’m running out of adjectives.
This Perth four-piece (née Childsaint) has finally released their first album (huzzah!), and it doesn’t disappoint. Eight songs of heartbreak, regret, reseignation and resolve, capped by this quietly haunting acoustic tune. Beauty in despair.