There was sooooo much good music to choose from this year. It was pretty hard condensing this list down to just 20 tracks, but I decided to stick with it, otherwise there would be too many embedded YouTube videos and this page would take three hours to load.
There are no pop singles this year and a lot less hip hop and EDM choices than usual. It was mostly rock songs I gravitated to - the death of mainstream rock actually seems to have done the genre some favours by encouraging new bands to experiment rather than attempt to create radio singles.
While you're here, don't forget to also check out my worst songs of the year. I also plan to do a list of my favourite albums, but that will probably be in January 2022 as I've got too much Christmas stuff to focus on at the moment. Anyhow, without further ado...
20. ‘Yell at the Moon’ – Meat Wave
Jagged punchy riffs play out over intense
rolling drums in this energetic rock song from Chicago trio Meat Wave. The song
ends with the singer literally howling at the moon. Forget chillwave. Forget
vaporwave. It’s time to embrace m e a t w a v e.
19. ‘Point and Kill’ - Little Simz ft. Obongjayar
UK rapper Little Simz pays tribute to her Nigerian roots
with this fun afrobeat-flavoured single. I love the groovy guitar lick and I
love the catchy chorus from Obonjayar. The cinematic video is also incredible.
18. ‘Finish Him’ – Namasenda ft Joey LaBeija
Stockholm singer Namasenda and New York singer Joey LaBeija joined
forces this year to deliver this sassy hyperpop bop. The infectious autotuned
vocals pair so well with the futuristic racing beat.
17. ‘Witch Slap IOU’ – WOOZE
80s-flavoured crooned vocals ride abrupt angular riffs and
pulsing synths in this kooky song from British/Korean rock duo WOOZE. I don’t know
what ‘Witch Slap IOU’ means, but the song most certainly slaps.
16. ‘Average Death’ – The Armed
Combining a mixture of frenetic percussion, jittery rhythm
changes and distorted production, this track from anonymous Detroit hardcore group
The Armed is truly hectic. And yet the band still allows a shoegazey beauty to
poke through at points.
15. ‘Bussifame’ – Dawn Richard
This dance/rap song from New Orleans r&b artist Dawn
Richard is a total banger. The lively vocals, glossy synth stabs and colourful
dance choreography make for a really fun combo. It’s kinda what Azealia Banks
was doing 10 years ago, but a lot more polished.
14. ‘Monomyth’ – Animals As Leaders
This face-melting polyrhythmic assault from instrumental prog-metal
outfit Animals as Leaders definitely isn’t easy-listening, however the speed
and complexity of it is so damn impressive. The interpretive dancing is also
impressive too, considering this is one the least danceable tracks ever made.
13. ‘Champagne Poetry’ – Drake
Congratulations to Drake who has managed to make it onto both
my best and worst songs of 2021 lists. This track may well be the Toronto
pop-rap superstar’s best song to date, featuring some of his most passionate
and introspective bars combined with a phenomenal beat that keeps evolving.
12. ‘Blackout’ – Turnstile
Every track released this year by Baltimore hardcore band Turnstile
was a banger, but this single ‘Blackout’ has been getting the most plays from
me. The riffs are so fun, the anthemic chorus slaps, the samba-like percussion
is a nice creative touch and the breakdown at the end is the cherry on top.
11. ‘Little Deer’ – Spellling
Oakland singer Spellling had me spellbound this year with
her single ‘Little Deer’. Her unique soulful voice is like a mix of Goldfrapp
and Kate Bush. The soaring strings and flourishes of harp meanwhile give the
whole song the grandeur of a Bond Score.
10. ‘Fearmonger’ – Saba
This single from Chicago rapper Saba is so funky and
feelgood, and yet the lyrics are quite dark, making for an interesting contrast.
I love how despite its clear influences (I hear a lot of Outkast and Kendrick
Lamar in there), Saba’s vocal delivery is still uniquely his.
9. ‘Amazonia’ – Gojira
band Gojira have tackled environmental themes throughout their career. However,
they’ve never sounded as desperate and as direct as they do on ‘Amazonia’,
which is about the destruction of the Amazon rainforest: ‘the greatest miracle/is burning to the ground’. The boing-bong tribal percussion and Sepultura-like
heavy riffage add to the power of the track.
8. ‘How The Hell You Make A Man’ – Scooby Jones
This single from producer/singer Scooby Jones is criminally
underrated. The groovy bassline and ‘whoa-oh-oh’ hook are so infectious
and I love the dreamy deep house synths. This should have been playing in clubs
everywhere this year.
7. ‘Famous Last Words’ – James Blake
Is this track
uplifting or gloomy? Singer-songwriter James Blake truly blurs the lines in
this song with an off-kilter chord progression and melancholy lyrics that are
filled with love and regret. The fluttering ‘oooohs’ are soothing, while the
pulsing electronica is menacing. It’s a really unique mix of emotions.
6. ‘Red Room’ – Hiatus Kaiyote
This gorgeous track from Melbourne neo-soul band Hiatus Kaiyote sees
singer Nai Palm exploring the whole range of her vocals over smooth bass and
detuned pianos. There’s a
vulnerability to her voice that sucks you in and I’m loving how the lyrics are
both soothing and slightly unsettling: ‘it feels like I’m inside a flower/ it feels like I’m inside
5. ‘John L’ – Black Midi
chaotic track is the work of UK noise rockers, Black Midi. Frontman Geordie
Greep delivers folksy prose over machine gun bursts of guitar and violin that
periodically give way to dramatic and suspenseful pauses. About two thirds of
the way through, the track then disintegrates into a jazz-prog freakout. All of
this is accompanied by a psychedelic dance choreography, which plays out like
one of Dr Suess’s nightmares.
4. ‘Forever, For Now’ – Local Authority
This track from
Brisbane post-punk band Local Authority opens with some dreamy melancholy
synths and then builds into a hypnotic shoegaze ballad that almost sounds
Deftones-y at the end. The male and female vocal interplay is carried out
really well and I love the addition of the howling guitar solo. Few shoegaze
songs are able to pace themselves this well – in this case, the band know
exactly when to bring in the next exciting component while keeping the track
3. ‘Dirty Mouth’ – Alice Phoebe Lou
This song from
South African singer-songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou is an absolute blast. According
to Alice, this song was written as: ‘a big smiling middle finger to all the men that have pulled
me down’. Over energetic twangy guitars, she takes her
usually vulnerable fluttering voice and injects a bubbly swaggering confidence
into it, delivering powerful lines like: ‘My body fell asleep/ when they took it away from me/ but I
got it back/ now I do what I like with it’. It’s accompanied by an infectiously feelgood
video of her dancing and playing guitar on the beach.
2. ‘Badibaba’ – Goat Girl
rock group Goat Girl deliver this stunning and equally eerie song about the
self-destruction of the human race. Psychedelic guitars, woozy synths and
groovy bass make up the instrumentation – it’s like The Bangles meets And You
Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead. The catchy harmonised hook is oddly
uplifting, while the instrumental outro is contrastingly menacing.
1. ‘Narrator’ - Squid
This song from Brighton rock band Squid is utterly nuts. It
completely blew me away on first listen and continues to astound me by just how
inventively mad it is. The loopy vocals
and haywire guitars that make up the first few minutes are already creative
enough, but then the song veers off in a whole new direction – for the last two
thirds of the song, it becomes a suspenseful Willy-Wonka-boat-ride in which
vocalist Oliver Judge incants the words ‘I’ll play miiine’ over a hypnotic bassline and swirling guitars. It
builds and builds until it satisfyingly erupts. Guest vocalist, Martha Skye Murphy,
provides soft spoken word, which later evolves into blood-curdling screams over
crashing cymbals. It’s the most exciting rock single released in years.