The Top 10 Songs of 2021

#10: “Scratchcard Lanyard”/ Dry Cleaning

The juxtaposition of Florence Shaw’s monotone spoken word vocals and immediately engaging punk rock riffs create a unique sound without parallel on this opening track to New Long Leg. The absurdity of the lyrics is an added bonus.

#9: “Jackie”/ Yves Tumor

The pain is palpable on “Jackie”, a real gut punch that features shiny, explosive guitar riffs above its hollow percussion. Tumor draws us in with a relatable obsession over a lost love- that familiar feeling of insomnia and loss of appetite.

#8: “Victim”/ The War on Drugs

There’s a decided 80s synth vibe to the entirety of this most recent album from The War on Drugs, but “Victim” looms a standout due to its layered precision. A simple piano key explodes into a dominating hook before picking up a brooding percussion underbelly in the vein of older catalog classics like “An Ocean Between The Waves”, and what it sacrifices in rawness it more than makes up for with polish and grandeur.

#7: “Hard Drive”/ Cassandra Jenkins

Spoken-word vocals are not only apparently becoming all the rage, but “Hard Drive” shows how versatile musically they can be, as light saxophone notes melt into peaceful piano and guitar lines that carry us away while Jenkins alternates between speaking verses and singing choruses. This juxtaposition creates a calming effect that seemed to hit 2021 right between the eyes.

#6: “Atlantic”/ The Weather Station

There’s vivid imagery throughout lead singer Tamara Lindeman’s whispery, range-laden vocal performance, but what really separates “Atlantic” as the best song on one of this year’s greatest albums is the persistence and propulsion of the percussion arrangement. Subtle flute notes add intrigue behind the commanding piano line, creating an anxious, ominous warning about the climate crisis. Lindeman described the song as ​”trying to capture something of the slipping feeling I think we all feel, the feeling of dread, even in beautiful moments.”

#5: “Dethroned”/ black midi

The shapeshifting highlight to the infinitely beguiling Cavalcade opens with a light saxophone, steadily evolving into a three part opus behind leadman Geordie Greep’s (what a name!) possessive baritone wails. Time signatures collide throughout the first movement before exploding into the stomping breakdown of the middle section, eventually speeding up and collapsing back upon itself throughout the chaos of the coda.

#4: “Forever (Sailing)”/ Snail Mail

The best music is that which truly emotes, and here we witness Lindsey Jordan at her most vulnerable. She’s trying so hard to sing softly and sweetly through her patented nasal delivery, but can’t help it as her voice cracks and aches through lines like “Some nights I reach for you like you’re beside me.” Swanky orchestration complete with string elements adds intrigue to the lounge groove; this is the greatest song in a young catalog with a ton of future potential.

#3: “Little Things”/ Big Thief

For a band as on top of its game as Big Thief to continue to move forward, you like to see some evolution of musical ideas. “Little Things” demonstrates just that as time signatures collide behind fluttering, playful and perfectly intertwined guitar lines while Adriane Lenker sings of an obsessive, joyful love. If this is a sign of what is to come, fans should have high expectations for the release of the 20-track mammoth Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You on February 11.

#2: “Like I Used To”/ Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen

This collaboration between two of today’s greatest female vocalists is an absolute triumph on every level. Having live music back in 2021 was wonderful, and the highlight for me was watching Angel Olsen tell the Pitchfork Festival crowd at Union Park in Chicago that she had “a friend” coming to join her to play a song to close her fantastic set. Anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention knew exactly what was coming, and it delivered.

#1: “Be Sweet”/ Japanese Breakfast

The song of the year is an absolute FIRE JAM, complete with sugary vocals, bouncing beats and rolling 80s synth guitar riffs that combine for a moment of pure energy that is pop perfection.

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