Putting a bow on 2021’s Warm Visions list week with my final big piece: 100 of my favorite songs of the year. Doing this the same as the last few years, where I alphabetize 90 of my favorite songs and rank my top 10. There’s no way I can rank 100 songs. Plus it’s all arbitrary. This is what it means to me, not what it means for the greater music scene beyond. All based on my taste, not anyone else’s.
That being said, I feel like there were some pretty universally-loved tracks from this year. I scanned a few friends’ playlists before finalizing this one and felt confident I wasn’t in the dark regarding certain hits from the year, and even felt like hey, maybe I got the good stuff on my list here. I really love listing out my favorite songs, especially after posting my albums list, because I get to feature little musical moments that I have fawned over for the whole year but haven’t gotten to place anywhere else. Maybe it’s a rogue single or on an album that otherwise underwhelmed. Either way, we’ve got sounds of all shapes, sizes and colors below. A nice little grab bag of flavor.
I linked a Spotify playlist below for you to check them all out. Check out 90 of my favorites and peep my Top 10 below that. Hope you enjoy and happy listening.
Feel free to listen along with the Spotify playlist here – and if you have the resources, please support these artists on Bandcamp, buy a ticket to their show, or buy merch on their website.
- ADA LEA – “my love 4 u is real”
- ÄLÄGATOR – “Haluan herätä”
- ALEXALONE – “Unpacking My Feelings”
- AMYL AND THE SNIFFERS – “Hertz”
- ANNA B SAVAGE – “Baby Grand”
- AROOJ AFTAB – “Mohabbat”
- BADGE EPOCH – “Please”
- BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD – “Sunglasses”
- BLACK MARBLE – “Say It First”
- BLACK MIDI – “John L”
- CAROLINE – “Everything for everyone”
- CFCF – “Night/Day/Work/Home”
- CIRCUIT DES YEUX – “Sculpting The Exodus”
- CLAIRE ROUSAY – “Discrete (The Market)”
- CLEO SOL – “23”
- COCO – “Last of the Loving”
- DANNY L HARLE – “On A Mountain”
- DAWN RICHARD – “Jacuzzi”
- DEAN BLUNT – “the rot”
- DIJON – “Many Times”
- DJ SEINFELD – “Tell Me One More Time”
- DOOHICKEY CUBICLE – “Forever”
- DUMMY – “Daffodils”
- ERIKA DE CASIER – “Drama”
- ESTHER ROSE – “Good Time”
- FLOATIE – “Shiny”
- FLOATING POINTS, PHAROAH SANDERS & THE LSO – “Movement 6”
- FOAMBOY – “Peach Smoothie”
- FOR THOSE I LOVE – “Birthday / The Pain”
- GEESE – “Fantasies / Survival”
- GENESIS OWUSU – “Don’t Need You”
- GILLIGAN MOSS – “Special Thing”
- GROUPER – “Kelso (Blue sky)”
- HATCHIE – “This Enchanted”
- HAYDEN PEDIGO – “Carthage”
- HELADO NEGRO – “Gemini and Leo”
- HIATUS KAIYOTE – “Chivalry Is Not Dead”
- HILDEGARD – “Jour 2”
- HORSEGIRL – “Sea Life Sandwich Boy”
- INDIA JORDAN – “And Groove”
- IZZY JOHNSON – “existing”
- JAPANESE BREAKFAST – “Paprika”
- JENNY HVAL – “Jupiter”
- JIMMY EDGAR – “BE WITH YOU (feat. Millie Go Lightly)”
- JOHN CARROLL KIRBY – “Rainmaker”
- KARIMA WALKER – “Reconstellated”
- KATY KIRBY – “Cool Dry Place”
- KERO KERO BONITO – “Well Rested”
- LAKOU MIZIK & JOSEPH RAY – “Ogou (Pran Ka Mwen)”
- LAURA STEVENSON – “Don’t Think About Me”
- LIGHTNING BUG – “I Lie Awake”
- LILY KONIGSBERG – “True”
- LITTLE SIMZ – “Woman (feat. Cleo Sol)”
- LOW – “All Night”
- L’RAIN – “Blame Me”
- LUNAR VACATION – “Mold”
- MAGDALENA BAY – “Chaeri”
- MAKTHAVERSKAN – “This Time”
- MARISSA NADLER – “If I Could Breathe Underwater (feat. Mary Lattimore)”
- MISS GRIT – “Impostor”
- MOONSHINE – “Peter Pan (feat. Banga & Andy S)”
- MR TWIN SISTER – “Fantasy”
- MY IDEA – “Stay Away Still”
- NATALIE JANE HILL – “If I Were A Willow”
- NU GENEA – “Marechià (feat. Celia Kameni)”
- OVLOV – “Eat More”
- PDP III – “Walls of Kyoto”
- PINK SIIFU – “BACK’!”
- POM POM SQUAD – “Head Cheerleader”
- PSYMON SPINE – “Modmed”
- ROCHELLE JORDAN – “Next 2 You”
- ROSIE LOWE & DUVAL TIMOTHY – “Son”
- SAM EVIAN – “Dream Free (feat. Hannah Cohen)”
- SARA BUG – “Rosebank”
- SASHA AND THE VALENTINES – “Flower”
- SHANNON & THE CLAMS – “Vanishing”
- SLOPPY JANE – “Jesus and Your Living Room Floor”
- SMERZ – “Believer”
- SOFIA KOURTESIS – “By Your Side”
- SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE – “The Server Is Immersed”
- SUN JUNE – “Everywhere”
- SWEEPING PROMISES – “Pain Without a Touch”
- TIRZAH – “Send Me”
- TOBACCO CITY – “Never On My Mind”
- TURNSTILE – “UNDERWATER BOI”
- UNIIQU3 – “Microdosing”
- THE WEATHER STATION – “Parking Lot”
- YOLA – “Dancing Away In Tears”
- YVES TUMOR – “Jackie”
- 박혜진 PARK HYE JIN – “Let’s Sing Let’s Dance”
10. MAPLE GLIDER – “Good Thing”
Love a good burst of dynamics! “Good Thing” starts and ends very tender, but the middle features one of the best emotional, climactic moments of any song from this year. Sharon Van Etten immediately comes to mind. The whole Maple Glider LP is great – please don’t miss it.
9. ANZ – “You Could Be (feat. George Riley)”
Dazzling, sparkling tune that will get the party turning. Great vocal performance from George Riley and Anz provides a shiny instrumental bed with depth and propulsion.
8. DRY CLEANING – “Her Hippo”
Definitely the song that made me feel the coolest while listening. That guitar line is just so badass, it feels like you’re hurtling down a desert freeway in a convertible. Steeled gaze over the horizon, unfeeling. A tense sense of movement throughout. “Scratchcard Lanyard” from Dry Cleaning is also high up in my favorite songs of the year, just saying.
7. DOSS – “On Your Mind”
Despite this being the song I listened to the most this year by far, I can’t confidently say it’s the “best” song of the year. It’s simple, but incredibly easy to listen to and it’s well-made, giving me a rush of ecstasy that little else could this year. Strangely it brings me back to the first time I ever played Crash Team Racing, specifically the sewer halfpipe course. Just freestyle doing jumps and boosts off a futuristic sewer halfpipe. It’s even better than that sounds.
6. MDOU MOCTAR – “Afrique Victime”
On my first listen of the Mdou Moctar album, I was pretty consistently blown away after each track. Then they saved this absolute monster for the second-to-last one. Like I said about in my Top Albums of 2021 post, the songs on this record make you feel like lightning is coursing through your veins. The back half of “Afrique Victime” makes you feel like you’ve not only been struck by lightning, but you’re also running through seven brick walls, on fire, with jumper cables coming from the world’s biggest power plant attached to you. It will pump you UP. Absolutely furious guitar performance by Souleymane that should rival the greatest masters.
5. INDIGO DE SOUZA – “Kill Me”
I’d say “Kill Me” is the best rock song of 2021. Expertly arranged, performed and written. Everything is in the right place to exact maximum impact on its listener. Pounding drums, guitar and bass back up de Souza’s duo of wistful and skying vocals. Gotta love the gang vocals on the back half, really ramping up the intensity of the track. Being a massive Hop Along fan, it’s no surprise that this is high up in my list.
4. WET – “Blades of Grass”
I wrote at length about this track for its own feature on the blog earlier this year, but it’s by far one of the prettiest things I’ve heard all year. Both Kelly Zutrau’s standalone and processed vocals are beautiful, the shimmering, tender instrumental is gorgeous, and the whole track feels like a massive sigh after being beaten down for too long. Vibrating air, trembling water, low-burning flame.
3. JAZMINE SULLIVAN – “The Other Side”
I embarrassingly forgot about this song for most of the year, but when Jazmine Sullivan’s great new album came out around January I was instantly enamored with this song. Something in my brain subtracted it from my consciousness for a minute, but I recently returned to it and hoo boy, how can anyone dislike this song? Sullivan tells an engaging fantasy of rags to riches, with a step-by-step plan go from not being able to pay rent to living the “bougie” life (the other side). Totally euphoric harmonies layer the track at nearly every angle, and you know Sullivan will bring the outrageous vocal pops. I think the totally lavish and blown out production highlight the grandiosity of this fantasy, but man, it feels good to step in once and a while.
2. SPELLLING – “Boys at School”
While my favorite track on SPELLLING’s The Turning Wheel changes all the time (right now it might be “Legacy”), “Boys at School” is the crown jewel. This track cannot be denied. It’s a massive epic that showcases the growth Tia Cabral has undergone over her career. It’s one of those songs that’s over seven minutes but feels much shorter. It’s theatrical without getting corny. It features a glammy guitar solo. It features big, booming piano keys with bass synthesizer underneath. It starts off creepy and ominous like a lot of her earlier material, but by the end it’s broken out of its velvet casket and into a gothic mansion, with lightning striking around it. I’d say this track is a triumph and again, again, AGAIN – seeing it live and the resulting explosion of applause afterwards was a massive highlight for this year.
1. CASSANDRA JENKINS – “Hard Drive”
The last time my favorite song and album of the year was done by the same artist was all the way back in 2010 with LCD Soundsystem. I’m sure I don’t feel the same way about 2010’s best now, but that’s how rare this happening is for me. Usually there’s a barn-burning single that I’ll obsess over for months and months off an album that I feel pretty good about. Whereas the albums are just solid altogether. This time, Cassandra Jenkins really did pull off having both. The album and specifically this song (and ok, definitely “Crosshairs” too) defined my year.
The thing is – it’s not just me, either. I’ve talked to so many people who have been touched by “Hard Drive” this year. It came out at the perfect time for all of us. We’re ailing from a broken year and hopeful for a change of pace. We need a moment of peace to re-align ourselves. Jenkins reassures us: “just breathe, count with me”. Dreamy guitar and saxophone press us forward down the highway of life (is that too cheesy to write?). It’s a wide open world and sometimes it’s difficult to get us to break out of our shells or blinders. An Overview On Phenomenal Nature and “Hard Drive” broke down our barriers, helped us open our eyes to the world around us, reevaluate our collective traumas and look to the sky at sunrise with a smile, thinking of a future where we can connect again.