I know there has been some concern within the hallways of the venerated Indie Pong office about my lack of… contribution as of late.
Fear not though, because I’ve returned with my BEST write-up of the year: one in which I lace your Spotify with my top 21 songs of 2021.
This is a challenge every year, and I had to make some hard calls here…
No Between the Buried and Me representation? Nothing from Adele, or… Drake?
Drake will actually NEVER make my end of the year list, so let’s just shut that shit down right now.
In any case, after careful consideration, I’ve arrived with my list. There’s no order here, I’ve simply sequenced things below in a way that made for the most enjoyable listening experience. I’d encourage not shuffling.
1. Passage- Rafael Seyfried
Did I stumble across a more delightful winter anthem this year?
I don’t think so.
I spent many nights at my drafting table, writing or drawing to this piece of music, and I can’t compliment it highly enough.
Effortlessly beautiful, if not melancholy, there is both whimsy and hope creeping out from under the rug here— something that ultimately speaks to optimism, and a sincere belief that things will get better.
2. Sandman- ASAP Rocky
When it comes to ASAP Rocky rapping, I can take it or leave it. That said, I have no doubt in my mind that we will look back upon Clams Casino as one of the early 21st centuries great sonic architects, and here, his work is in very fine form.
What can be said about this beat that hasn’t been said already? Here, Rocky may well have been so in awe of the production, that he blessed the track with the patented* “Get em Girls,”-era, Cam’Ron Harlem flow.
3. Lord I Need You- Kanye West
Truthfully, there are four or five cuts from Donda that could have graced this spot, but as the song’s last 40-some odd seconds rank amongst the greatest thing Kanye has ever given us, I think it needs to be this one.
The closing section of this tune reveals Kanye at perhaps his most vulnerable? Bringing nuanced, delicate communication to life in a song, is a tricky thing to do well, and Kanye’s note choices, combined with his delivery make for an incredible masterful statement.
This is heartfelt shit.
4. Pyrocene- Genghis Tron
Man, this is just like the best thing that’s ever come down the pipe.
Apparently, non-electronic drums are new to the proceedings for Genghis Tron, and the way in which they situate themselves amongst an army of synthesizers is nothing short of glorious.
Truth be told, I’ve been afraid to listen to anything else from this album because this song is so damn good. I know I should, and I will soon, but I’m fearful that the other songs will fall short of this tune’s brilliance.
5. GERONIMO- Trippie Redd and Travis Barker featuring Chino Moreno
I believe my brother might have initially refused to listen to this on principle, due to Trippie Redd’s involvement. I’m hoping he eventually relented, but this is an A-1 slice of widescreen, shoegaze bliss.
Can you hear all of my favorite colors from a desert sunset?
There’s pink, off-brand orange, deep purple, blue blue, ore, sand, and a flash of white.
If this song was embalming fluid, I’m trying to smoke, and that’s probably the nicest thing I can say about a piece of music.
6. Sad Mezcalita- Xiu Xiu & Sharon Van Etten
I feel like this is the soundtrack that wasn’t for one of Gomez and Morticia’s tango dance routines circa the 1990s Adams Family movies.
You can hear it, can’t you?
This is both spooky, and gorgeous. It’s a perplexing piece, taking into consideration the specifics of its switches, but I’ll be damned if it’s not a hypnotic, sublime piece of music.
7. Xiu- Yu Su
Me and Mates have been cool in 2021, after some beef involving— uh… Timber Ridge?
Look, I still don’t know what a Timber Ridge is. Sounds like all the trees got cut down to line the pockets of some fat cats.
Strange, considering the school didn’t even have a locker room?
Like really? The board couldn’t pony up for that?
Perhaps that’s what led to the Bessie Rhoads rebrand?
In any case, Mates put me on to this song, and it’s a monster.
In our conversation, he said it was an early song of the year contender, and it’s on this list for that reason.
Do you need the greatest song in existence for your next kitchen dance party?
Look no further, because this is it.
8. Marie- Lost Horizons featuring Marissa Nadler
No disrespect to the blonde-haired women (actually, all the disrespect to the blonde-haired women, cuz you all keep losing 😂😂) but dark-haired songstresses RULED THE ROOST this year, with Ms. Marissa Nadler and Ms. Chelsea Wolfe leading the pack, for the spooky summoning ritual set.
If you put this on Cocteau Twin’s, “Treasure,” back in 1984, it wouldn’t be out of place.
It’s THAT GOOD.
And this is not to say that Ms. Nadler seeks to emulate Ms. Fraser either. She simply understands the lane in which she’s cruising, and brings the most glorious of aspects of her ethereal voice to this: the perfect soundtrack for a nostalgic morning walk along a foggy beach.
9. Happy Birthday- Hospital Bracelet
This song has some SWAG and some MATH.
That might sound weird, because math can’t (or shouldn’t?) factor into swag, but that’s the best I have.
There’s probably a time signature in here that I can’t count, but there’s also some LEAN behind the drum kit, and some DOOM in those power chords.
This song changes up on a dime, and it’s all the more delightful for it. I hear shades of The Beths, and also Sleepy Sun, wrapped up in something that’s unique and fully comfortable being it’s own thing.
I can’t wait to dig into further into this band’s discography.
10. Straight Lines- VOLA
Folks, sometimes the Youtube algorithm throws you some bullshit.
But sometimes, it blesses you with a JEWEL.
This is an example of the latter.
A djent-y opening gives way to a key-change, proggy grandeur, and a MEAN, MEAN synth solo from this band who I’d heard nothing of until just a few short months ago.
It’s very rare that I have an, “oh, wow,” moment the first time I hear a song, but when that first chorus drops in here, I about lost it.
I can’t recommend this highly enough. Listen to it loud, and listen to it often.
11. Lonely- Sofia Valdes
I believe it was Karl who put me on to this one, so thank you Karl.
It’s not easy to make delicate sound effortless, but here, Ms. Valdes does so.
There’s a warmth about this song that makes me wonder about where it was recorded. If there was a fireplace crackling in a dimmed room, accented by saturated earth tones as Ms. Valdes sang, I wouldn’t be surprised.
There’s a nostalgia about this song that I appreciate as well. I’m not sure where that comes from, but it almost makes you long for a very particular loneliness one might encounter in the winter— something with a light at the end of the tunnel, that will arrive with spring.
In any instance, this is wonderful.
12. Easy- Pale Waves
THE Interlude/breakdown of 2021?
Found within the confines of this song.
From 2:06 to 2:16, we are treated to one of the year’s flat out MASTERSTROKES. A song that has previously been marked by its candy-coated bombast is stripped down to simply guitar and voice, recalling every great thing about the summer of 1999 that you’d forgotten until now.
You can literally HEAR the fireflies, vividly recall how gangster the final lightsaber fight in Episode I was, the specifics of playing Final Fight on the TV in your Cedar Point hotel room, AND…
Well, the list would get too long.
To be clear, this is just a great pop song too, but man— that ten-second stretch?
13. Jitterbug Perfume- Sam Birchall
At 34, I find it more and more unlikely that anyone’s guitar playing is going to really blow me out of the water because— I’ve just heard it all at this point?
For the most part, yes, but then a player like Sam Birchall comes along, and flips everything on his head.
In my listening experience, devastating technical proficiency, unfettered expression, and pure joy are a tri-pronged unicorn: it’s uncommon that you’ll find all three within a lead player’s lines.
You can probably have two of them working for you if you’re really good, and most of people get by on one, or, perhaps, one and a half.
Mr. Birchall hits the hat trick though, managing to somehow fuse bluegrass, post-djent (did I just make that a thing?) jazz, and math into a blinding, beautiful concoction that’s 100 percent his.
His sense of melody is wildly adventurous, and the composition here has life that’s uncommon within such technically dazzling music.
This was one of my favorite things that I just happened to stumble across this year. I can’t wait to hear what he does next.
14. Crimson Stone- Converge & Chelsea Wolfe
Y’all— when this song explodes, it BLOWS UP.
The march to 3:58 is a murky, eerie trek in which Ms. Wolfe’s voice is in tip-top shape, with her collaborator Stephen Brodsky more than up to the task of both supporting, and responding to her words.
When Jacob Bannon enters the mix though, his howls offer the perfect launching pad for perhaps the most haunting vocal harmonies of the year, as Wolfe and Brodsky elaborate on his shouted statement(s).
This song is six minutes and 47 seconds long, and there’s a part of me that wants the whole song to encompass what we get from 3:58-4:45.
I fully expect Ms. Wolfe is at least a sorceress part-time, and she’s found some very able-bodied collaborators in the legendary Converge.
As this comes from an album called “Bloodmoon: I,” I’m very anxiously awaiting what comes next from these folks.
15. X- Bicep featuring Clara La San
As I noted earlier in the year, I feel like this song has finally answered a long burning question of mine: “What might it have sounded like if Autechre continued forging the sound they established on, “Garbage,” and, “Tri Repetae,” as opposed to discarding it?”
The answer is, perfection, and this song can’t get enough spins.
16. Outside (Better Days)- MO3 and OG Bobby Billions
MO3 was tragically, murdered in late 2020, so this piece of music is all the more chilling and sorrowful in light of that.
Perhaps the most startling and powerful part of the song comes in the form of a short saxophone solo that closes the song out. Haunting and pleading, it leaves you feeling shaken, after the final note sounds.
17. Ritchie Sacramento- Mogwai
This was another tough one, because there are four or five other songs on this album that could have also made the cut, but we’re going with Ritchie.
Mates is the reason I gave this one a second chance, actually. When I first heard it, I didn’t really think much of it. Upon further listens though, I became more and more enamored with the fact that it was able to split the difference between sounding crystalline and warm with such little effort, to say nothing of the bulldozer bassline that pops up in the chorus.
Vocals are not a regularly occurrence in the band’s music, and here, they’re very, very, strong. It’s not the happiest piece of music perhaps, but there’s a particular kind of peace that I feel while listening to it, and I appreciate that.
18. Skyfall- SION
I’ll admit, I was skeptical of this collaboration, when I first heard about it.
A quote-unquote, “YouTube musician,” partnering with one of the greatest vocalists across ANY genre, for the last 20 years?
I just didn’t know.
Needless to say, when I heard the first single, I was sold hook, line, and sinker.
Jared Dines has done a tremendous job with the music on this album, managing to call to Jones-era Killswitch, while keeping things fresh within the formula.
And there is a formula— the verses tend to be rugged and raw, giving way to an explosion in the chorus that encompasses everything great about a 1,000,000 gigawatt sunburst. It works for the entirety of the album, and I’m here for it.
Jones voice is arguably at its most raw, and devastatingly beautiful here, and while pretty much any song from this album could have made the list, I think this one deserves a spot the most.
I’ll be playing this album well into next year, and I’m glad I gave it a chance.
19. Save Your Tears (Remix)- The Weeknd & Ariana Grande
I can’t stand the Weeknd, but here, he has Mrs. Grande in tow, so it’s all good. She’s hitting some of the best songbird notes of her career, and coming with some gorgeous vocal harmonies, so I’m all in.
20. Traitor- Olivia Rodrigo
I’ll admit, I was (wrongly) clowning this when I first heard about it.
One of my cousins who’s flag is planted firmly within camp Gen Z was breaking down this album, and I just couldn’t take the idea seriously.
An 18-year old, making a thoughtful, well-put-together album about a failed relationship?
I had JOKES, but as it turns out, the joke was on me, because this is a masterful piece of work.
What Ms. Rodrigo sings about on here is likely, universal. We all have probably had an ex who moved on a little too quick for our liking after the breakup, and there’s a very particular kind of pain and distrust that pops up, when it happens.
Ms. Rodrigo comes across as truthful and sincere here, and her performance left me feeling humbled.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing what she does next.
21. Mombasa- Deafheaven
Closing out the playlist with what may well be the best song Deafheaven ever releases?
It’s the only way to go.
Found within here are some of the most beautiful vocal melodies and harmonies of 2021. The song’s bridge, one that leads to the catharsis of SCORCHED EARTH and blast beats, has no business being as beautiful as it is.
It’s something that leads you to believe all is safe, beautiful, and warm, before yanking the rug out from under you, and plunging you headfirst towards the planet’s molten core.
And the lyrics, when Mr. George Clarke finally begins to scream?
Worthy of a reflective essay penned by anyone who dedicated themselves to pursuing a creatives life during their 20s, I think:
Where they can’t let you down,
Where you can’t fail them now,”
This song is a masterful movement, and I’m truly not sure if the band can eclipse what they’ve done here.
When the decade ends, this will most certainly be in the conversation for the top 10, and I’m looking forward to continuing to appreciate its brilliance.