Luke Nuttall (Editor / Writer)
Four Years Ago
The ongoing theme with Creeper seems to be that their really great songs are the ones that routinely make use of everything in their arsenal that allows them to stand out. That’s certainly why Sex, Death & The Infinite Void was so good as an album, but Four Years Ago is nudged into excellence in the same way as Crickets was a couple of years ago, namely by making use of how dynamic this band can be. Here, Will Gould and Hannah Greenwood stand opposite each other, as characters whose relationship has undergone a slow, real disintegration where the ever-widening distance is conveyed with such drama and swell. It’s the best example of the gothic Americana that Creeper have come to embrace, not only in the rich, warm sound that has an irresistible swirl, but in terms of atmosphere, in how the somber weight hangs heavy and how Gould and Greenwood’s respective vocals contrast so wonderfully. It mightn’t be up there with Creeper’s absolute best, but on an album that was trying demonstrably to widen just what that definition of ‘best’ for this band is, Four Years Ago is absolutely wonderful.
3am is a decidedly uncharacteristic song for Halsey, and every place that sentiment can be applied in is what makes it so great. For one, there’s a real punch to the sound of it, in gritty pop-rock with its teeth clenched, not marginalising texture or power, and picking up some real momentum by doing so. That’s just a more palatable sound than what’s become expected of Halsey, but it’s her presence here that really takes 3am over the top. As a song where she’s drunk and clawing at any form of human connection – regardless of how faked it might be – she’s got the coiled frustration in her voice that makes it hit, but its place on an album designed to present Halsey as patently flawed and liable to succumb to her own vices does a lot more to paint this song in a deeper spectrum of colour. She’s restless and burned out, but owns it unfailingly, to the point where embracing this sort of pop-rock feels as though it would be a major career win for her in the long run. For what is basically her first try at doing something like this, she pulls it off marvelously.
Ashton Irwin’s Superbloom went unfairly ignored this year, but it’s explainable. ‘The solo album from the drummer of 5 Seconds Of Summer’ isn’t an elevator pitch that would pull many more discerning music fans in, but even the fact that it yielded a song like Greyhound is a flooring achievement in its own right. Put simply, this is rock music that feels decidedly outside the realm of what anyone is currently doing, drawing from grunge, prog and parts of Britpop for the sort of spiralling headrush of a song that just seems to get bigger and bigger and pack more thrills in as it does it. Irwin himself has the gravity as a performer to really make this work, and in a lot of visceral, animalistic imagery, it makes a some pretty rote themes of perseverance feel as though they actually mean something, especially when the song itself has the vibe of clambering over real adversity and rippling with tenacity while doing so. It’s the sort of song that illustrates how far from his usual mainstream fare Irwin’s pivot this year was, but in no way is it superficial or poorly thought out; if anything, Greyhound stands as a more legitimate rock song than many self-proclaimed rock bands released this year.
The Killers ft. Weyes Blood
Even at their very best, The Killers are the sort of band whose music has more resonance for its immediate size than what the band can actually do with it. Sometimes though, that perfectly middle section is hit, and thus we get a song like My God, where the vast vistas and elemental might of The Killers’ music are at their most tempestuous, not necessarily saying much but hitting such a peak of euphoria from just how colossal everything is. Amplified by the booming production, the airy contributions from Weyes Blood and a chorus that just seems never-ending in how far Brandon Flowers’ adventurousness and liberation seems to stride, this sort of monolithic pop-rock is exactly what The Killers were designed to make, and rarely has it been this satisfying to see come together. It isn’t deep by any means, but depth isn’t needed when literally everything else is cranked up to the max and allowed to barrel ahead at full steam, and My God shows how that can all work flawlessly.
Who’s Gonna Save U Now?
This is the sort of song that almost feels tailor-made to circumvent the usual critical faculties that would put a song on the top of a list like this. It isn’t particularly intelligent, nor does it push any sort of musical boundaries, but if there’s anything that can be said for Who’s Gonna Save U Now?, it’s that it places Rina Sawayama in the position of a true pop mastermind. On sound alone, it nails the balance between titanic arena-rock bombast, ultra-refined pop gloss and a hyperpop mindset to distance itself from the mainstream, and brings it all together for a moment that’s so unfailingly sure of how brilliant it is. Sawayama alone has the range and control in her voice of a real megastar, before the huge percussion and guitars crank that up even further into a solo and key change that’s pure delirium in the best possible way. And yes, even for a song that amounts to little more than telling off an ex, the showmanship that goes into it makes those particularly broadsides feel all the more pointed and powerful. Put simply, this was a contender for this slot from the moment it came out, and sticking for that long on the strength of its pop magic alone really seals the deal better than anything else could.
Georgia Jackson (Deputy Editor / Writer)
Conan Gray managed to capture exactly what it’s like to be in your early twenties on Kid Krow this year, no song managing that better than Little League. It’s a song that deserves to be in the ‘Ribs by Lorde’ hall of fame for songs lamenting the loss of childhood and the days of being carefree without consequence. The energy of the drums and guitars make this the most rock-leaning track on Kid Krow, building an atmosphere enough to make anyone listening want to scream the chorus at full pelt driving down a motorway with their best friends. There’s both a joy and a melancholy here, and while the subject matter isn’t exactly new ground, it’s delivered in such a way that you’ll feel understood like never before.
Watch Me While I Bloom
New ground was broken all over the place for Hayley Williams on Petals For Armor this year, but few songs captured the raw, slow burn triumph of the record like Watch Me While I Bloom.While not being one of the more optimistically-arranged cuts from the record (see Over Yet or Dead Horse), it’s certainly one of the lyrical beacons of hope, detailing coming out of the other side of a depression with a revitalised perspective. The off-kilter, minimal verses and the way Williams sells the chorus over a bass groove before snapping into a dancing-in-your-bedroom party feels like a tasteful, toned-down version of a concept we’ve heard again and again, something that makes Hayley Williams’ perspective on such topics so riveting.
Levitating may have taken all the credit as Dua Lipa’s newest danceable hit, but nine months on, underestimated Pretty Please feels like the insider’s choice for Future Nostalgia’s highlight. Helmed by a slinky bass line and Lipa’s commanding alto, Pretty Please effortlessly glides between acts, adding on synth flourishes and pot and pan bangs with no element ever feeling like overkill. It’s sex-driven but oodles of fun, disco-ready but almost vulnerable, tailor-made for the back corner of the party with your crush. It may be the only real slow burn on an album filled with songs like 2020 rave anthem Hallucinate or instantaneous pop jams like Don’t Start Now or Physical, but Pretty Please truly feels like it gets better every time. Definitely the underestimated track of Future Nostalgia.
Towards the back end of Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible, satellites* * provides a slice of pure Enter Shikari euphoria. A show of solidarity towards the LGBTQ+ community, it rushes through a dreamy intro and garage beats into one of best choruses on the whole record. While probably being one of the less notable songs on Nothing Is True… in terms of experimentation, it’s instantly loveable for capturing heart-melting emotion while never sacrificing musicality, feeling like a quintessential Shikari song almost straightaway. It has an untouchable quality, but will most importantly though, satellites* * will become an anthem for the many LGBTQ+ fans it emblematically joins hands with.
The lyrical prowess Taylor Swift has shown on her folklore and evermore records has been next level even for her, delving into first-person fiction and being unafraid to use flowery, ornate language to fully immerse anyone who listens into the stories she tells. champagne problems is not only a masterclass in such songwriting, but a song that perfectly sums up everything these records are. A piano ballad that builds beautifully into its climactic bridge (one of Swift’s best), it tells the story of a rejected marriage proposal in such a nuanced way that you feel for both the narrating would-be bride (who alludes to struggles with their mental health) and the ‘crestfallen’ rejected. The picture she paints is so vivid and wrenching, full of warmth and emotion considering the more stark instrumentation it’s set to, and surely it sets a bar for Swift to meet on future projects.