So many songs were released in 2021, but in the end, so few of them really stick… at least for me. Whereas there are so many to choose from, they are only a few songs that ask for a repeat. Here are 21 remarkable songs released in 2021, in no particular order of preference.
Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen – “Like I Used To”: An emotional bombast, a big heartbreak sprawling like a timeless anthem with a strong classic vibe. The two songstresses’ voices blend to perfection or splendidly alternate for the verses. There’s a bit of Bruce Springsteen meets Stevie Nicks’ vocals meets ABBA’s visuals (in the video), with a touch of piano arpeggio and an esquisse of a dancefloor. This was the duo of the year.
Lord Huron – “Not Dead Yet”: Bright and catchy with desperately sad lyrics, the song brings an almost Elvis-like oh-oh-oh that will make you jump from your seat no matter what. The genius combination between the acoustic guitar and the crescendo tempo makes the song progress like a nostalgic train. The track is on Ben Schneider’s (aka Lord Huron) fourth full-length album, “Long Lost” released this year in May.
St Vincent – “Pay Your Way in Pain”: A very creative song mixing disco balls, funky lounge, soul music, and plenty of swagger. It’s a savant combination of retro and modernism with a touch of Bowie, Prince, and some surprisingly cathartic vocals. The genre-free song is featured on Annie Clark’s (aka St Vincent) sixth album, “Daddy’s Home,” released in May.
Brandi Carlile – “Right on Time”: This is certainly the most mainstream song on the list, but the song is such an emotive and dramatic bombast with sweeping orchestration and Brandi Carlile’s stratospheric vocals, that it’s difficult to resist. This is a track from her new album, ‘In These Silent Days,’ released in October.
The Marias – “Hush”: A sultry and dark electronic song delivered with the sensual abandon of Elizabeth Fraser on a Massive Attack track, then merging with a big and more energizing poppy hook. The song is featured on the Marias’ debut album, ‘Cinema,’ inspired by famous filmmakers and released in June.
Pearl Charles – “What I Need”: A hooky Americana-style breakup tune that could recall music I was listening to a few decades ago, there may be a bit of Rilo Kiley in there? In any case, the song is done effortlessly and has layers of great songwriting; it is featured on Pearl Charles’s album “Magic Mirror” released at the beginning of 2021.
The Velveteers – “Charmer and the Snake”/ “Motel #27”: Two songs from the Velveteers because I couldn’t choose between the two styles. “Charmer and The Snake” has an infectious and hooky bass riff with a sexy croon and the song sounds like an instant classic with attitude and shades of glam rock. Meanwhile “Motel #27” is a very different story with monster guitar riffs and thunderous drums building a raw punk rock aggression. The trio from the mountains of Boulder, CO manage to strip-down rock and roll to its most primal elements, the riff, the rhythm, the snarl; their debut album, “Nightmare Daydream” was produced by Dan Auerbach and released last October.
Genesis Owusu – “Gold Chains”/”Don’t Need You”: Same story, double feature for Genesis Owusu. “Gold Chains” is a crunchy funk-rap number incorporating a bit of Prince and beyond, while it resists any categorization with its mix of confidence, swagger, and humor wrapped in a jazzy, funky hip-hop delivery, and an earworm for the chorus. ”Don’t Need You” is another funk-meets-soul cool track with touches of sexy R&B, a commanding tone, and a disco-ball dancefloor. These genre-bending songs are featured on his debut album “Smiling with No teeth” released last March.
Gabriels – “Love and Hate in a Different Time”/”Blame”: Another double feature for this Elton-John-approved new trio. ‘Love & Hate in A Different Time’ sounds like a jump in the past, encapsulating Black American music in a few minutes, with smooth vocals, hand claps, warm gospel harmonies, and a lot of soul. ”Blame” has superb aching vocals over a fully orchestrated and swelling song that immediately appears timeless while creating a very cinematic vibe. Both tracks are on Gabriels’ debut EP, ‘Love & Hate in A Different Time.’
IDLES – “The Beachland Ballroom”: A poignant and hard-hitting slow one with plenty of soul guided by vocalist Joe Talbot’s emotional vocals, which explode in all their rawness toward the middle of the song. The track is named after Cleveland’s popular music venue and offers a strong metaphor for the journey the band undertook, a journey from the tavern to the ballroom. The tune is featured on “Crawler,” IDLES’ studio album released in November.
Kate Clover – “Crimewave”: A killer track executed with swagger, fuzzed-out guitars, a frenetic tempo à la Oh Sees, and s fuck-all attitude. This is the perfect track for a ferocious mosh pit, combining a gritty and vintage sound with plenty of pop hooks and garage punk rock esthetics. The single was released this year but look out for Kate Clover’s debut LP in early 2022.
Iceage – “Shelter Song”: The song builds up around Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s gravelly and drunken vocals, it soars like a fuzzy arena-size anthem with a powerful choir and many layers to shelter you from the apocalypse. This is the opening track on Iceage’s album “Seek Shelter” released in May.
Courtney Barnett – “Before You Gotta Go”: A tuneful song with a touch of nostalgia that works like a gentle ballad in the middle of peaceful and beautiful nature during a bright afternoon. There’s not too much happening but the song works because of its honest simplicity. It is featured on Courtney Barnett’s new album, “Things Take Time, Take Time,” released in November.
Beach House – “Once Twice Melody”: A very Beach House song with a sweeping cinematic vision, overwhelmingly nostalgic synths, Victoria Legrand’s ethereal and sensual vocals building this kind of dreamy soundscape they are famous for. “Once Twice Melody” is the title track of Beach House’s upcoming eight studio album.
Radiohead – “Follow Me Around”: A lost and found Radiohead song, recorded during the joint sessions for the band’s fourth and fifth studio albums “Kid A” and “Amnesiac,” and finally released as a bonus track on their new compilation album “Kid A Mnesia,” released in November. Despite its stripped-down and lo-fi approach, the song sounds like a too straightforward rocker to have been included on any of these albums. It mostly features acoustic guitars and some strong vocals by Thom Yorke.
Big Red Machine – “The Ghost of Cincinnati”: Another stripped-down and acoustic delivery that will recall the intimate and confessional work of Jose Gonzales or even Elliott Smith. The song, performed by Aaron Dessner with orchestration from his twin brother Bryce, evokes a ghost stalking the streets of their hometown, interrogating the past and contemplating their fate. Big Red Machine is a collaboration between musicians Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon and the song comes from their second studio album “How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?” released last August.
Valerie June – “Call Me a Fool”: A beautiful bluesy-folk song led by Valerie June’s soulful to gritty voice, while delicate harmonies and vintage R&B build an inviting groove for a dream. The track is on the singer-songwriter’s third album, “The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers,” released in March.
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis – “Carnage”: I could have included any song of the album, so why not the titled track? The unique dreamy melody contrasts with vivid childhood imagery before a string-and-choir-charged rapturous moment when the chorus arrives, “And it’s only love driving through the rain…” simply beautiful. The song is featured on “Carnage”, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s first full-length studio album as a duo, which was released last February.
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