The Best Songs of 2021

Looking back on 2021, the achievement I am most proud of has been starting this blog. Having the space to record my thoughts about music has been an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable experience and I’m looking forward to posting more regularly in 2022. A huge thank you to everyone who has read and liked my posts and followed Myriad Voices, it means a lot to know you have got something out of reading my work.

As ever, making numbered lists is an extremely flawed and arbitrary process, and my intention with this list is really to make recommendations rather than declare any sort of winners and losers. There’s a lot of fun to be had in narrowing down the best music of the year into just 10 tracks but so much unfortunately gets left out. So before I count down my favourite tracks of 2021, here are a few other songs I thoroughly enjoyed this year that came close to making the top ten:

‘good 4 u’ – Olivia Rodrigo

‘Woman’ – NAO, featuring Lianne La Havas

‘Scarcity is Manufactured’ – Deerhoof

‘Kiss Me More’ – Doja Cat, featuring SZA

‘Feel Alive’ – Chase Ceglie

‘High & Hurt’ – Iceage

10. ‘Little Things’ – Big Thief

One of the releases I’m most looking forward to in 2022 is the upcoming album by New York indie rock outfit Big Thief. Of all the diverse and lively singles they’ve released in anticipation of this project, the fuzzy, rambling folk of ‘Little Things’ is the best example of the band’s off-kilter, chaotic charm.

9. ‘You All Over Me’ – Taylor Swift, featuring Maren Morris

One of these days I’ll get through a post on this blog without mentioning Taylor Swift. But not this time. Because with the quiet sincerity and unassuming innocence of ‘You All Over Me’, a bonus addition to her re-recorded breakthrough album Fearless, she has won me over once again.

8. ‘Stand for Myself’ – Yola

The glorious, monumental finale to Yola’s sophomore record of the same name, ‘Stand for Myself’ is a triumphant celebration of self-empowerment, hope and inner-strength. As ever, Yola draws heavily on the classic sounds of soul, rock and country, but on this stunning track these intermingle to create something new, indefinable and unmistakably Yola.

Read my full album review here.

7. ‘Get You Down’ – Sam Fender

An electrifying single from Sam Fender’s impressive second LP, ‘Get You Down’ hits upon that rare, Springsteen-esque mixture of anxiety and euphoria. Fender’s commanding voice, the palpable pain in his lyrics, the restless riffs and incendiary saxophone solo come together for four minutes of explosive, rip-roaring rock and roll.

Read my full album review here.

6. ‘Tried to Tell You’ – The Weather Station

The dazzling pinnacle of Tamara Lindeman’s elegant and sophisticated fifth studio album as the Weather Station, ‘Tried to Tell You’ dramatises grief and regret, be that on an interpersonal or a global, geopolitical scale. Over the soft, rippling groove, Lindeman’s cool vocals confess, ‘I feel as useless as a tree in a city park, / standing as a symbol of what we have blown apart.’

5. ‘The Melting of the Sun’ – St. Vincent

Beginning coolly, as suave electric piano chords drift into earshot, and culminating in a magnificent, fiery crescendo, awash with gospel harmonies and molten guitar, ‘The Melting of the Sun’ is St. Vincent’s tribute to the women artists who came before her and who faced abuse and prejudice at the hands of a misogynistic entertainment industry:’Brave Tori told her story, police said they couldn’t catch the man. / And proud Nina got subpoenaed singing ‘Mississippi good goddamn’.

Read my full album review here.

4. ‘Paprika’ – Japanese Breakfast

Speaking to Anthony Fantano of The Needle Drop, Michelle Zauner, the mastermind behind Japanese Breakfast explained: ‘Sometimes as a musician […] you’re just running so fast to try to catch up and take advantage of every opportunity and sometimes you forget to look around […] and enjoy it.’ This feeling was the inspiration for her 2021 album Jubilee‘s dazzling opener ‘Paprika’. Packing the song with military drums, triumphant horns, glimmering synths and just about everything but the kitchen sink, Zauner hit the maximum number of tracks possible on her music software. A slap in the face to minimalism, ‘Paprika’ is a joyous and bombastic song about, in Zauner’s own words, ‘revelling in the beauty of music.’

Read my full album review here.

3. ‘How Dare You Want More’ – Bleachers

Picking just one Bleachers song for this list was incredibly difficult. Both ‘How Dare You Want More’ and ‘Stop Making This Hurt’ are two of the best singles of the year and of the band’s discography. But the euphoric saxophone solo at the end of ‘How Dare You Want More’ just gives it the edge. Jack Antonoff and the band bring an irresistable street-party atmosphere – think the wild, collaborative spirit of early Bruce Springsteen tracks like ‘Blinded by the Light’ and the lively bounce of Paul Simon’s ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’.

Read my full album review here.

2. ‘Hard Drive’ – Cassandra Jenkins

To call a song ‘therapeutic’ or even ‘soothing’ might suggest a flat, aimless melody with empty lyrics, whereas ‘Hard Drive’ glides through its etheral soundscape of shimmering guitar and trailing saxophone with a gradually unfolding sense of purpose. But the comforting, restorative power of this song is undeniable. Over five minutes, an anxious Jenkins traces out a meandering narrative, collecting advice from a network of aquaintances and strangers. ‘When we lose our connection to nature, we lose our spirit, our humanity, our sense of self,’ one voice explains. With its compassionate tone and mesmerising beauty, ‘Hard Drive’ is a song for healing both humanity and the spirit. ‘We’re going to put your heart back together,’ another character promises, ‘close your eyes, take a deep breath, count with me: 1…2…3…’

Song of the Year: ‘Like I Used To’ – Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen

With its bright, arpeggiating piano and gutsy riff, wistfully reminiscent of ‘Born to Run’, ‘Like I Used To’ is another song that wears its Springsteen influence on its sleeve. But right from the dissonant chord and stinging feedback that open the track, Van Etten and Olsen bring something else too: a smoky, red-wine maturity, an openhearted vulnerability, an innocence fraying at the edges. As Laura Snapes puts it, the song ‘feels fantastically lived in’, its floorboards creaking under the weight of all the experience and feeling the songwriters pour into it. It’s a song about the inevitability of pain and dissapointment but also about why the pursuit of love and happiness is worth it all the same.

Listen to Myriad Voices’ Best of 2021 on Tidal here

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