The whole point of this blog and these mixes is to give me an excuse to seek out new and exciting music. Looking over the following list of my favourite fifty songs from the past five years, I’d say it’s gone pretty well. I’ve discovered bands I’d never otherwise come across and genres that I’d have likely given short shrift. So, thanks to everyone on this list for putting out such fantastic music. May you enjoy similar creativity in the years ahead.
New Moon Blues
Seeing this Toronto musician perform Relax, the album that this wonderful song is taken from, at an intimate house concert was one of my musical highlights of the past decade. We’d happened upon it because ATR faves Heart Beach were playing it; as it turns out, we were the only people there who had no connection to the bands. The strings on this song – hauntingly beautiful. It’s also, as it turns out, the perfect soundtrack for a solo walk around Paris on a cold November day.
I’ve been on board with Chromeo since seeing them perform in a field at 3 a.m. to about 100 people just south of Mexico City. They have bigger hits, but for my money, nothing captures Chromeo’s romanticism, funkiness, sexiness and sense of humor than this ode to the simplest of vacations. It’s a love song for people with kids and careers. I’m good with that.
New Club Banger
Exhibit A for why I started recording these mixes. I never would’ve found this mystery band if I hadn’t actively been looking for new Canadian and Australian music. Who are Podiums? Who knows? They’re from Hamilton, they don’t have a bio, their name is not search-engine friendly, they’ve released two songs on Bandcamp, and this one is no longer even available there. Belying the title, this is a delightful bit of light, indie rock. To quote the song: “Yeah! Ooh! Uh!”
Local St. Catharines heroes released a hell of a song with “Futureproof,” an epic five minutes of anxious guitars and propulsive drums. Think an even-more-nervous Bloc Party and you’re halfway there.
Exhibit B for music that I would never have gotten into without these mixes to force this white Canadian dude to discover new musical genres. In this case, Australian Indigenous hiphop, which is thriving thanks to people like Briggs (you know he’s further down this list) and Birdz, who’s signed to Briggs’ Bad Apples label. Politics and history give Birdz’ lyrics stakes and the beats blow your mind.
45. Confidence Man
triple j Unearthed Embedded Player
Pop. Pure pop.
44. The Drones
The rules for this list are simple: Songs must have been released between 2015 and 2019, coinciding with when I started putting together these mixes online and for terrestrial radio. They must’ve been played by me on the show at some point. And maximum one entry per band. Still, because of their involvement in a few projects, Briggs and The Drones’ Gareth Liddard are only people to show up more than once on this list (three times each). Liddard’s first showing is for this blunt, urgent, dissonance-friendly vivisection of right-win Australian politics. “Fuck Western supremacy.”
43. Speedy Ortiz
Another musical highlight from the past decade: Seeing Speedy Ortiz receive all the love at a Bowery Ballroom show in New York. “Puffer” and Foil Deer, the album it comes from, is proof positive that rock music remains vital at this late date.
42. Lucky Luke
My introduction to Indigenous hip hop, discovered thanks to triplejunearthed.com.au. Strident and righteous, an ode to Lucky Luke’s (Indigenous) Australia is a thrill to listen to, and an education
“Actions speak loder than words, so give us back our land.”
41. Tim & the Boys
Cleaned-up, precise punk rock from Sydney. Love the generic name. Shout-out to Ryan Saar, whose now-defunct show on FBI Radio was my entry point to Tim & the Boys and so much more fantastic Sydney (and beyond) music.
40. IV League
Change My Mind
This Brisbane band has a knack for arena-scale anthems. Here’s one of them.
Gareth Liddiard makes his second appearance on this list as the producer of this pure slice of Melbourne punk. Rest in Piss has my vote for the best punk album of the past five years. Take a listen to see why.
38. Hello Seahorse!
Algún Día (Alicia)
If the only thing I’d done during my year in Mexico (2009-10) was discover for myself the music of Hello Seahorse!, the trip would’ve been worth it. (Bonus shout-out to Candy, coming up below). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Denise Gutierrez has one of the best voices in popular music, any language, any genre. Listen to this track and tell me otherwise. I’ll wait.
I Don’t Know
Angsty emoish guitar pop. Toronto’s Pony is a band to watch.
36. Teeth & Tongue
Melbourne guitar pop. It’s just good. Listen to it.
Franz Ferdidand and Sparks were the supergroup that we didn’t know we needed. Clever, poppy rock music with a sense of humor? That’s practically the motto of this show, so, yeah, I’m a fan.
34. The Beths
Future Me Hates Me
I’m late to New Zealand’s The Beths, who are doing their best to resurrect the best of 90s style indie rock. Definitely worth paying attention to.
33. Black Cab
Exhibit C for bands I never would’ve discovered otherwise. Dance rock that sounds like it’s sung by the guy from Men Without Hats. Love these guys.
32. Pale Lips
You’re A Doll
Few songs over the past five years have brought me more joy than this delightful tune, which may be a metaphor, or maybe not? Delightfully clever lyrics. Rock and roll? Rock and roll. Rock and roll!
31. Donny Benét
One of four totemic All the Rage bands, Donny Benét manages the difficult balancing act between having a sense of humor that doesn’t diminish his for the music. In this case, off-kilter 80s-style Italian disco (electronica? No matter. It’s got a sultry beat, odd lyrics, and an absolutely insane music video.
The invention of the indie rock three-piece. JuliaWhy?’s newest album, Hysteria, showcases their growth as artists, but I have a soft spot for the rawness of their first album, Wheel, including this standout tune.
Formerly Childsaint, another band I discovered on triplejunearthed.com.au. Haunting dissonance.
28. Smaller Hearts
Another band to watch. Think a warmer Pet Shop Boys or a friendlier Depeche Mode. And they’re from Halifax. They’re good now, and they’re going to get better.
High Over Love
I looooove the romanticism of the song. (If I’m misinterpreting it, don’t tell me; I don’t want to know). Your guitar pop earworm for 2020.
26. Old Kid
Folk rock from a Hamilton guy. A haunting song that feels so very lived-in. “OK, okay. I’m not okay.”
25. Victories at Sea
One of only two UK bands on the list. A song that’s stuck with me some five years since I first heard it, so it makes the list. You can dance to it.
24. The Courtneys
One for the road. Great vocals, happy guitars.
23. Laura Sauvage
Alien (Anything Like It, Have You?)
The lush, Pet Shop Boys-style tuneage of this particular song was my entry point into “The Beautiful”, but there’s so much more to Laura Sauvage’s thrillingly ambitious album. It’s always exciting to watch musicians swing for the fences, and even better when it connects.
22. Sahara Beck
If you’re keeping score at home, here’s All the Rage totemic artist number two, and the song (which I came across courtesy, again, of triplejunearthed.com.au) that caught my attention. Like JuliaWhy? above, she’s grown as an artist since recording this song, but it remains a great song thanks to its simple melody (mostly just acoustic guitar) and insightful, evocative lyrics.
21. Safe Sex
A Raven and a Writing Desk
triple j Unearthed Embedded Player
Another band whose identity is a mystery to me, beyond that they’re based in Perth and have some songs on triplejunearted.
Conjuros y Rituales
Candy, a band I came across while in Mexico City in 2009, may have broken up, but not before releasing their masterpiece, Atlas. While their first album, Stranger, was a straightforward (English-language) punky rock album, Atlas saw them experimenting with their sound, expanding it to be more atmospheric and complicated, while still retaining their ear for a catchy melody.
19. Sampa the Great
I heard this for the first time a couple of months ago. It’s one of the best songs of the decade. How is this song so good? Sampa the Great’s flow is thrilling. Jaw-droppingly phenomenal.
18. Johnny Headband
Totemic ATR band number three, from Detroit. The best unsigned band in the United States, Johnny Headband know their way around a melody and a beat. I want more.
17. Tropical Fuck Storm
The Planet of Straw Men
Garath Liddard makes his third and final appearance on this list via this supergroup, which features some of the best male-female vocal tradeoffs you’re ever likely to come across. And their live show, which I caught in Cologne earlier this year, is suitably no-nonsense. Weird and dissonant? I’m in.
16. Police Force
Freakin’ Out the Squares
Another band, this time from Brisbane, with a search-engine-hostile name, who released what is, for my money, one of the most menacing songs of the past decade (it’s on Tenth Court Records, if you’re interested in the whole album). Recalls the nastier (in a good way) Primal Scream songs, made more intimidating for its intentionally muddled vocals. These are the kinds of gems that won’t be handed to you from a Spotify playlist.
15. Petra Glynt
Hugely ambitious song and album by this Montreal artist. Swings for the fences lyrically and melodically; connects noisily, operatically.
She’s My Collar
Probably the most mainstream tune on this list. I like its sultry tale of a (destructive?) co-dependent relationship. Kali Uchis is a hell of a singer.
13. A.B. Original
2 Black 2 Strong
Second appearance on this list by Briggs (here alongside Trials). The music is 90s gangsta rap, which matches perfectly the lyrics’ defiant celebration of Aboriginal Australian culture. It hits hard, while also being darkly funny.
12. Kirin J. Callinan
Big Enough (feat. Alex Cameron, Molly Lewis & Jimmy Barnes)
And now for something completely different: A song that is so over the top (EDM! Random country shout-outs! Cowboys! Nonsensical shout-outs to Christianity and Judaism! Whistling! Jimmy Barnes’ craaaaazy scream!) that it really shouldn’t work at all. But it does, and it is extravagantly fabulous. In an alternate timeline, this is the Greatest Song of All Time.
Now or Never Now
Canada’s most consistently great band?
10. Camp Cope
Lost: Season One
Camp Cope’s follow-up to their self-titled debut didn’t do much for me (though I did enjoy Georgia Maq’s Würst Nürse punk rock side project), but this, their debut single, is an unimpeachable primal scream of longing for human connection.
The Children Came Back
I’ve taught this song in my Politics and Sports class to give (Canadian) students a sense of the breadth of Aboriginal Australian culture and society. Briggs juxtaposing a list of prominent Aboriginal Australians with memories of the Stolen Generations (the title playing off of Archie Roach’s famous song, “Took the Children Away”) captures both the vibrancy of Aboriginal Australian culture and society and the brutality inflicted on this society. Mostly, though, it’s a song of hope for a culture that has already survived, what, 80,000 years?, and that will continue to persevere and flourish. A hell of a song.
8. Phantistic Ferniture
Fuckin ‘n’ Rollin
Timeless guitar pop.
The incarnation of regret and loss, wrapped in fuzzy guitars.
Kill V Maim
A thrilling pop explosion from an album of thrilling pop moments. Art Angels is one of the best Canadian albums ever, which makes “Kill V Maim” one of the best Canadian songs ever. That sounds about right.
5. Laura Jean
Girls on the TV
A gut punch of a song, its cinematic lyrics and the story it tells made all the more potent by the soft-spoken way Laura Jean delivers them.
4. The Jezabels
The sound of a band fully realizing its potential. Soaring, anthemic, unabashedly feminist synthpop. The Jezabels can hold their own with the biggest, most popular bands in the world. They’re world class.
3. Heart Beach
Totemic ATR band number four. Heart Beach emerged fully formed with their first song (this one) from their first (self-titled) album. It’s all here: the spare drums and bass, the bracingly sharp guitar, the plaintive male-female lead vocals, in this case in the service of feelings of desperation and a desire for escape. This is a band that announces itself, and demands your attention. If you want a comparison, think a stripped-down Yo La Tengo. “Cliffhanger,” their excellent and most recent single, is probably a better song (the kind of growth you’d expect even from a band that nailed their sound on Day One), and the optimistic and bright “Counting,” from their second album, Kiss Your Face, is probably my favourite, but “Holiday” is the song that first made me take notice.
2. Run the Jewels
Talk to Me
I feel Run the Jewels, and nothing more than El-P’s verse on this song. Preach.
1. US Girls
This song blew my mind when I heard a previous version of it on the Free Advice Column EP. It continues to blow my mind. A perfect marriage (ironic pun intended) of music and lyrics, “Incidental Boogie” is almost hypnotic in its depiction of an abusive relationship from the woman’s point of view. And it, like the entire In A Poem Unlimited, sounds fucking fantastic. Meg Remy is at the absolute top of her game.