Review - Top 5 songs in the Triple J Hottest 100

With an end result that surprised nobody, Triple J announced the winners of its annual Hottest 100 poll yesterday. The extraordinary omnipotence of Wally De Backer's  'Somebody That I Used To Know' (featuring Kimbra, of course) continued, with the Gotye song finishing at the pointy end of the listeners list. He was joined by an American act, a Frenchman and two Aussies. Let's look:

Read our review of last year's Top 5 songs in the Hottest 100, here on TheVine.


5. M83 - 'Midnight City'

Evoking the great electro-tsunami of 2007/2008 — back when Justice wrote steam-rolling riifs; when MGMT were a buzz band; when Cut Copy wrote bangers — M83's most identifiable track from last year's sprawling double-album Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is based almost entirely on a processed vocal riff. Proof that if you have an individual, recognisable-hook then it doesn't really matter what else you're mumbling. 'Midnight City' has an immediacy that's lacking from much of Anthony Gonzalez's otherwise graceful album. And thankfully there's no twee American kids voices running throughout -- a George Lucas-esque device Gonzalez employs on several album tracks to suggest some sort of innocent nostalgia. But which results in the emotional heft of a yoghurt commercial. (And the album's secret ingredient? Once-Beck (and NIN) bassist (and multi-instrumentalist), Justin Meldal-Johnsen. Just listen to the basslines.)


4. Boy & Bear - 'Feeding Line'

"We’ve enough guitar-toting faux-folk troupes in Britain already without Australia sending us theirs too. As with much of the current middle-class boho milieu foot-stomping its way to prominence with relentlessly chipper vim, Boy And Bear know their way round a melody and a chorus; yet their rootsy rattle’n’roll fails to connect with anything more grabbing than a vague lyrical nostalgia."

So wrote the NME of the Sydney groups debut Moonfire. Fellow UK media outlet Drowned in Sound said nearly exactly the same thing in a different cadence:

"The tightness of the many vocal harmonies and the breadth of indie-folk timbres on
Moonfire show a great deal of accomplishment – it’s simply that they don’t tell us anything about the world in which they were written or what goes on in their composers’ minds. As a result, Boy & Bear sound more like a personality-free replica of a radio-friendly sub-genre of the folk tradition, and fall way short of convincing us that they’re the real deal."

Brits should feel comfortable casting down such generalisations, since they've been at the coalface of the folk-waistcoat (folk-coat?) revival in recent times -- ever since the likes of Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling and Noah and the Whale emerged plucking from the West end of London in the late 2000s. Their inceptions were around the same time, sure, but that success would have a lot to do with the native-folk feedback loop echoing from the other side of the Atlantic, in Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes (both of whom are nominated for Grammy's this year, incidentally).

As the antipodes is want to do, often there's a pause before we report back on our influences. So as the rest of the world moves on, Boy & Bear seem caught being capable of something more, while their audience is content with a feedback loop of their own.


3. Matt Corby - 'Brother'

'Brother' is strikingly similar in tone, intent and position on the folk-landscape to the Boy & Bear entry. It's hard not to think a groundswell of fans leftover from Matt Corby's Australian Idol-flutter have propelled the singer to a stardom out of balance with the sturm und drang of his song/s. 'Brother' sees him shirking his voice's natural beauty for a sort of vigorous defiance of...something. Corby has said that the tune came about after a falling out with a friend, but you wouldn't know it from the vague accusations that run parallel to the hook — a falsetto vocal hiccup not dissimilar at all to our M83 entry — and an eventual capitulation into growling. When Corby can escape his own feedback loop (if he ever can), he certainly has all the tools in place — voice, looks...he can finger-pick with four fingers. Whether or not he's up to challenging his audience will be key.


2. Black Keys - 'Lonely Boy'

I'm loathe to understand the Black Keys stardom. Quality band, quality dudes...sure. But bona fide stardom? (El Camino debuted at #2 in the U.S, was named in Time Magazine's Top 10 albums of 2011 and their show at Madison Square Garden sold out in fifteen minutes!) Is it the vacuum left by the White Stripes and the Strokes? Is it their pop-link to a cultural American vestige that's been leapfrogged wholesale by middle-America's embrace of computer music? Is it for want of the blues? "We don't do this anymore, but...well we need a reminder every release cycle to preserve the dream-selling. This year, step up...the Black Keys."

There's a million bands playing music identical to 'Lonely Boy', none of whom would have blipped the Triple J servers. Why the Black Keys get a free pass seems more to do with "brand alignment" than music. But at seven albums in, you can at least say they aligned it themselves.


1. Gotye - 'Somebody That I Used To Know'

From our Number One series on TheVine:

"...the point where the songcraft really becomes special, is the introduction of Kimbra. Up until she starts singing the third verse, De Backer's male character scans as  self-centred and searching; lost in his own emotions. He talks about how he "felt so lonely in her company", and is glad the relationship is over, before the chorus unleashes his anger at their split. There’s little consideration for the object of his hurt, or why they might have failed to connect. He suggests it's her fault. Kimbra then, returns the salvo; playing the part of the now-missing-in-action ex returning to have her say.

Kimbra's character enters the scene with "Now and then I think about all the times you screwed me over / but made me think that it was something I had done", abruptly shifting the complexion of the song. To this point Gotye had us believing he was the victim. But it’s difficult now — armed with this new information —  to blame Kimbra’s character for repelling this emotionally manipulative lover. And thus it becomes clear that both are unreliable narrators, the two singers singing from the perspective of hurt characters — complex humans regressed to raw emotions. Here then, the Mellotron flute sound enters the mix while Kimbra sings, showing a subtle indication that Gotye (the producer/writer) intends for you to feel Kimbra’s side of the argument is perhaps correct—or at least, of brooding significance; the Mellotron has a breathy, airy sound with nostalgic overtones, and it’s a stark contrast to the rest of the percussive instruments in the song – xylophones, guitar strings and percussion – which all sound like they’ve been hit or plucked. To hear that breath of air during her verse, and nowhere else, makes her points sound soothing, more reasonable.

Kimbra’s verse builds to the emotional peak of the song. Halfway through her short section, a static, one note bass line enters the mix, which alters the landscape of the song once more, ratcheting up the tension again. As it builds, the sound of Kimbra's voice changes, becomes harsher and angrier; until the music pauses, and she belts out — unexpectedly — the chorus hook. But it's a stooge — the real climax is when Gotye re-enters the frame, cutting off Kimbra’s verse by singing "you didn't have to cut me off". In re-addressing the issue in real time during the song, the duo are cleverly replaying the same conflicts that split them apart in the first place. And though he's singing the same lyrics as in the previous chorus, the emotional heft is now different. In the first chorus, the listener gives the male character benefit of the doubt about his feeling aggrieved that he’s no longer friends with his ex; here, after hearing her side of the story, his complaints sound hollow; we have pity for him rather than empathy. And in this narrative use — these dueling narrators — Gotye (the artist) has achieved a high-watermark in his pop song-making; he allows the listener to feel like they're deducing the story for themselves."

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Read our review of last year's Top 5 songs in the Hottest 100, here on TheVine.

Triple J Hottest 100

100 Mr Little Jeans – The Suburbs
99 The Beards – You Should Consider Having Sex With A Bearded Man
98 Jay-Z and Kanye West – Niggas in Paris
97 Foo Fighters – Arlandria
96 The Strokes – Machu Picchu
95 Grouplove – Naked Kids
94 The Wombats – Our Perfect Disease
93 Kimbra – Two Way Street
92 James Blake – The Wilhelm Scream
91 City and Colour – Fragile Bird
90 Beastie Boys – Make Some Noise
89 Beruit – Santa Fe
88 Bombay Bisycle Club – Shuffle
87 Gotye – In Your Light
86 Seeker Lover Keeper – Light All My Lights
85 Cosmo Jarvis – Gay Pirates
84 360 – Throw It Away {Ft. Josh Pyke}
83 The Kills – Future Starts Slow
82 Little Dragon – Ritual Union
81 Busby Marou – Biding My Time
80 Pnau – The Truth
79 SBTRKT – Wildfire {Ft. Little Dragon}
78 Husky – History’s Door
77 Metronomy – The Look
76 Redcoats – Dreamshaker
75 Skream and Example – Shot Yourself In The Foot Again
74 Drapht – Bali Party {Ft. Nfa}
73 Skrillex – First Of The Year (Equinox)
72 Flight Facilities – Foreign Language
71 Luke Million – Arnold
70 She’s Like A Comet
69 Bon Iver – Calgary
68 Arctic Monkeys – Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
67 New Navy – Zimbabwe
66 Bon Iver – Perth
65 Kasabian – Re-Wired
64 Owl Eyes – Raiders
63 Foo Fighters – Rope
62 Stonefield – Black Water Rising
61 Radiohead – Lotus Flower
60 Joe Goddard –Gabriel
59 Washington – Holy Moses
58 Lykke Li – I Follow Rivers
57 The Rubens – Lay It Down
56 Sparkadia – China
55 Architecture in Helsinki – Escapee
54 The Grates – Turn Me On
53 Bon Iver – Holocene
52 Kimbra – Good Intent
51 The Drums – Money
50 Boy and Bear – Part Time Believer
49 Boy and Bear – Milk & Sticks
48 Art Vs Science – A.I.M. Fire!
47 Sparkadia – Mary
46 Active Child – Hanging On
45 The Kooks – Junk Of The Heart (Happy)
44 Hermitude – Speak Of The Devil
43 Grouplove – Itchin’ On A Photograph
42 Florence and the Machine – What The Water Gave Me
41 The Strokes – Under Cover Of Darkness
40 Foster the People – Houdini
39 Benny Benassi – Cinema {Skrillex Remix}
38 Ball Park Music – All I Want Is You
37 360 – Killer
36 Florence and the Machine – No Light, No Light
35 Illy – Cigarettes
34 Gotye – I Feel Better
33 Jay-Z and Kanye West – Otis {Ft. Otis Redding}
32 Noah and the Whale – L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N
31 Ball Park Music – It’s Nice To Be Alive
30 Calvin Harris – Bounce {Ft. Kelis}
29 Drapht – Sing It (The Life Of Riley)
28 Owl Eyes – Pumped Up Kicks {Like A Version}
27 Example – Changed The Way You Kiss Me
26 The Wombats – Techno Fan
25 Kimbra – Cameo Lover
24 The Wombats – 1996
23 Emma Louise – Jungle
22 Snakadakal – Air
21 Skrillex – Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites
20 Bluejuice – Act Yr Age
19 Nero – Promises
18 The Wombats – Jump Into The Fog
17 Seeker Lover Keeper – Even Though I’m A Woman
16 Grouplove – Tongue Tied
15 Foster The People – Helena Beat
14 Foster The People – Call It What You Want
13 Florence + The Machine – Shake It Out
12 Architecture In Helsinki – Contact High
11 Calvin Harris – Feel So Close
10 Hilltop Hoods – I Love It {Ft. Sia}
9 The Jezabels – Endless Summer
8 360 – Boys Like You {Ft. Gossling}
7 San Cisco – Awkward
6 Lana Del Rey – Video Games
5 M83 – Midnight City
4 Boy & Bear – Feeding Line
3 Matt Corby – Brother
2 The Black Keys – Lonely Boy
1 Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know
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5 comments so far..

  • OldBOY's avatar
    Date and time
    Friday 27 Jan 2012 - 6:56 PM
    5. Underwhelmed. 4. Underwhelmed. 3. Whelmed. 2. der. 1. Wunderful. 5/5 Marcus. Boy & Bear sound great, but it strikes me as 'early days' in the song-writing dept. No matter. Whereas Husky's debut album displayed real deftness - making sophisticated choices on each and every track. And I don't care what NME has to say about 'um (if anything).
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  • nomad's avatar
    Date and time
    Saturday 28 Jan 2012 - 7:12 AM
    I feel like this was written solely to give the author an avenue to vent about their disagreement with the songs chosen. The world is dominated by uninspired music these days but the songs in this list don't fall into that category at all. 1/5 Marcus.
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  • Marcus's avatar
    Date and time
    Saturday 28 Jan 2012 - 4:13 PM
    Two out of the five songs here have been on personal high rotation in 2011.
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  • tsode's avatar
    Date and time
    Monday 30 Jan 2012 - 7:58 PM
    Gotye & Kimbra: An extremely rare case in which Triple J and their listeners somehow accidentally embraced the same pop song that mainstream pop listeners also loved, and therefore didn't come off as bitter hipster snobs.
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  • jonnoseidler's avatar
    Date and time
    Monday 30 Jan 2012 - 10:28 PM
    I too am bemused by Black Keys' continued resilience and popular. They add nothing to the musical landscape whatsoever. No-thing. Production from Dangermouse is not a free ride to making derivative music, which is saying something for one which focuses on the blues.
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