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
French metal 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 my eyelids’.
5. ‘John L’ – Black Midi
This thrillingly 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 hypnotic.
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
South London 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.