This is a musicblog. Every weekday we post a couple of mp3s and write about them. Songs are only kept online for a short time. This is a page from our archives and thus the mp3s linked to may not longer be available. Visit our front page for new songs and words.

December 8, 2021

BEST SONGS OF 2021

Hello world! We're still standing. Here are my 100 favourite songs of 2021: songs I love more than sand-worms, insurrections, and successfully traversing the Suez Canal.

Said the Gramophone is an old blog and we publish rarely. Writing about these songs is a tradition now almost two decades old and at this point it feels deeply seasonal -- at the end of November I start feeling like I imagine pumpkins must feel in August; or bears as the first frosts appear. I have something to do now. A habit that's made its way into my bones.

In 2021, I listened to as much or more music than in any year I can remember. I listened from home—because attending concerts was, for a while there, plausibly lethal. Still, I bought a ticket to see Michael Feuerstack and David-Ivar Herman Düne in September, in a basement up the road, and as I whispered along I felt like I was finally waking up from something. That's because I was. And we'll all go on waking.

This year I feel more out of sync with the singles charts than at any other time I can remember. Many of 2021's most popular tunes still don't make any sense to my ears. Perhaps I'm getting old. Perhaps people clung to flimsy sounds. But you know where to find that other stuff if you want to.

What you'll find below is the 17th such list at Said the Gramophone: see 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. I follow just one arbitrary rule: that no primary artist may appear twice.

The best way to browse the proceeding is to click the little arrow beside each song and then to listen as you read. The things you like you can then download by right- or ctrl-clicking with your mouse.

You can also download the complete 100 songs in three parts:

I have also created a Spotify playlist for these tunes (#18 and #62 are missing). (Update: Here it is on Apple Music, with the same absences. Thanks Joey!) Remember: pay for the music you enjoy. Now more than ever. Giving money to Spotify is truly insufficient.

#

This list is my work—me, Sean, and not any of Said the Gramophone's other contributors. Don't blame them for my unfortunate taste.

If this is your first time at Said the Gramophone, please don't hesitate to page through the dusty archives. You can also follow me on Twitter or read my books: I'm the author of two novels—Us Conductors, from 2014, which reimagines the story of the theremin, and The Wagers, a novel about luck, which the Globe & Mail described as "a literary fireworks display, an explosion of joke-filled energy that manages to be a novel of ideas, but one delivered as if it were a caper story." Learn more—or get the ebook/audiobook/French/Italian/Czech translations via my author website.

Among the artists below, 47 are American, 20 are British (the highest ever), 16 are Canadian (the lowest ever), and there are five Australian, three Swedish, two French, two Nigerian, two Dominican, one Belgian, one Brazilian, one Colombian, one German, one Ghanaian, one Guinean, one Japanese, one Pakistani, one Senegalese, one South African, one Spanish and one Kiwi artist(s). 41 of the frontpeople/bandleaders are men, 56 are women (the most ever?), 0 identify as non-binary, and three are mixed duos. This is the way it worked out; it certainly ain't perfect. Here are some charts of this and past lists' demographics.

My favourite songs of the year do not necessarily speak to my favourite albums of the year. Songs and LPs are entirely different creatures.

My favourite albums of 2021 were:

I promise: all of these are fantastic, and are worthy of many hours of listening.


And now, without any further rigamarole, a mountain of proudly mixed metaphors:

Said the Gramophone's Best Songs of 2021 - original artwork by Eric Metcalfe
(original artwork by Eric Metcalfe; photo by Vancouver ArtGallery)

  1. Big Thief - "Little Things" [buy]
    The thing I love about this song (incidentally the first Big Thief song I've ever truly adored, with that rose-red shimmer in yr chest) is its press. There's nothing much to it but that press—the ring-ring-ring-ring-ring-ring-ring of a guitar. Adrienne Lenker murmurs; the drums fall down and get up again; another guitar darts at the periphery; but mostly ring-ring-ring-ring-ring, a hammer that won't stop. Hammer on heart, gold on silver, relentless and shining—this life, this awful splendid life, and its ravish.
  2. Low - "White Horses" [buy]
    A song like a ruinous glitch—like a chasm that's unsealed beneath your household, your city, underneath the whole world. Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker sing in stately harmony while the everything around them seethes, shudders, and yet still stands.
  3. Mia Doi Todd ft. Jeff Parker and Money Mark - "Music Life" [buy]
    There can be majesty to something natural, intuitive, true. A tune by Mia Doi Todd was one of the first songs I ever reviewed; 20 years later, the gifted singer turns her attention to the years lived in between: the rewards and disappointments of a life given over to music.
    Chances are you've got a few friends
    who burned the candle at both ends
    And every day was a weekend
    until the dark night came for them
    in a hotel or hospital room
    And now you'll be seeing them soon
    in dreams and memories bittersweet
    And in songs sung so beautifully
    Songs sung so beautifully
    Life lived so fully.
    If you give your life to music.
    Jeff Parker's guitar and Money Mark's piano crowd in like so many memories—noisy enough to put the edge on, to keep the sugar from settling, to keep the sparks all suspended in the air.
  4. Indigo de Souza - "Hold U" [buy]
    Not to be confused with Masta Ace's 2011 classic (previously), nor Gyptian's "Hold You" (#33 on my Best of 2010), this breakthrough single by the North Carolina musician Indigo de Souza plays in a joyous, nourishing space between stability and lift. It's indie-pop rich in skip and skitter, the lo-fi soar of its choruses. But the undergirding is serious, low and almost mournful—a sequence of organ notes that you could build a foundation on, or a home.
  5. Chlöe - "Have Mercy" [video]
    By far my favourite pop (or R&B) song of the year—a cheeky, sinuous debut by Chloe Bailey, one half of Chloe x Halle. Although it stumbled on the charts, I find its allure self-evident, undeniable: the contrast of (frisky) melody and (steely) delivery; Chlöe's charisma; and a production devoted to playfulness, constantly tickling the ear. A tremendous coming-out.
  6. Kacy Hill - "So Loud" [buy]
    A supple, golden-hour ballad, trained on Cyndi Lauper, Haim, and the drum breakdown from "In the Air Tonight." From one of my favourite records of the year.
  7. Ben LaMar Gay ft Ohmme - "Sometimes I Forget How Summer Looks On You" [buy]
    A birthday-cake-coloured swirl of melody, harmony, and something nearly nauseating. It's easy to imagine "Sometimes I Forget..." as two or three (or five or six) different songs, tea-time soul and spiritual jazz and Flaming Lips'-like churn, but LaMar Gay's command of musical arrangement lets it all work together as one—triumphant, emotional, absolutely unreplicable. A tour de force of tune.
  8. Skiifall ft. Knucks - "Ting Tun Up pt. II" [video]
    This is the second version of "Ting Tun Up," but I missed the first (nobody's pefect). The best song by a Montreal rapper... ever? Gleaming in a way that's hard to put into words, illuminated both by YAMA//SATO's rhodes beat and by Skiifall's rolling flow. A sound I want to settle in and dwell inside, like landscape.
  9. Tonstartssbandht - "What Has Happened" [buy]
    Like a long joke, like a heartache, like a message rolled up and hidden in a tulip shell. Hard to explain who Tonstarssbandht are, what they do, except to say that "What Has Happened" isn't shaped like anything else you'll ever hear; you've never heard this particular shade of grey.
  10. Ali Sethi & Nicolas Jaar - "Yakjehti Mein" [video]
    As much as I loved Nicolas Jaar's latest record with Darkside ("The Limit" might easily have made this list), the rarest treasure of his 2021 is "Yakjehti Mein," a luminous collaboration with the Pakistani singer Ali Sethi. A pair of poems—"Hum dekhenge" and "Aaj bazar mein pa bajola chalo"—written by the great poet Faiz and now set to music in a call for Palestinian liberation. Sethi's voice seems to vibrate at two frequencies—patient and consoling, urgent and plaintive—and Jaar's electronics move around it like jewelled clockwork. Simply extraordinary—and from a rumoured long-player still in the works.
  11. Myriam Gendron - "Shenandoah (II)" [buy]
    My son used to attend the same daycare as Myriam Gendron's children and I'd often see her outside on the street, each of us bundling and cajoling and wrangling with the stuff of parenthood. We rarely spoke. Her first record, a transfiguration of poems by Dorothy Parker, was one of my favourite folk releases of the past 25 years. Shyness then, from both of us. But also, I think, a tacit recognition of the work we were each undertaking: the wordless solidarity of our effort and our love. The American traditional "Shenandoah" is probably the keystone of Gendron's second album, Ma délire. It appears twice, as an instrumental and then again like this, translated into French. Gendron's "Shenandoah (II)" is low-fidelity, slow-motion, an expression of love and longing that seems to transcend place and time, from colonial Missouri to post-colonial Montreal; but the singer also makes a subtle shift to its lyrics, lifting the song away from the Rocky Mountains and into an expression of devotion that stretches far further, beyond any measure, to the very ends of the Earth ("jusqu'au bout de la terre").
  12. CHVRCHES - "Asking for a Friend" [buy]
    The opening track from Screen Violence—synth-pop that quivers and slams, silver-glassy, red light flashing everywhere.
  13. Wau Wau Collectif - "Mouhamodou Lo and His Children" [buy]
    A tune like the best kind of fairy tale, tender and magical, ancient and youthful, visited by a saxophone and a flying saucer. Wau Wau Collectif is a collaboration between the Swedish musician Karl Jonas Winqvist, Senegalese engineer Arouna Kane, and an array of West African and North European partners. Mouhamoudou Lo may well be the name of the main male voice; the children might be his children; I don't know, I just close my eyes and imagine them, peaceful and playful, bathed in a cosmic folk music.
  14. Katy J Pearson and Maudlin - "Willie of Winsbury" [buy]
    For six months I've been smitten, unreasonably smitten, by this bizarre, cross-pollinated rendition of "Willie of Winsbury"—a British traditional dating back to 1775. Katy J Pearson's from Bristol; Maudlin's from not-sure-where; and from an instrumental perspective they give the tune all appropriate pomp and filigree. But Pearson's more Dolly Parton than Sandy Denny—instead of singing it flat and windy, she gives the tune a shrill, urgent tremolo. The country-folk inversion is strange and sour and faintly science-fiction, as if it comes from a universe with different maps.
  15. A1 x J1 - "Latest Trends" [buy]
    A1's 15, J1's 17, they made this song for Houseparty, then TikTok, then Spotify, Youtube, worlds beyond. It's not clear how any of these platforms allow A1 or J1 to actually earn a living, however this is evidently their goal—pounds sterling, or USD$ at the minimum. "You wouldn't know this, but my heart is cold like my home is," A1 explains in the chorus. "I can't have a bitch, 'cause I'd probably lose focus." They're cold 🥶 hard capitalists singing as sweetly as lovers, K-Ci & JoJo reinvented for the gig economy.
  16. Lucy Dacus - "VBS" [buy]
    "In the summer of '07 I was sure I'd go to Heaven / but I was hedging my bets / at VBS." So begins this song about adolescence and bible school—it goes basically the way you'd think. But Dacus has the songwriter's gift of saying a lot with a little, and her doubled vocals (think Andy Shauf or Elliott Smith) lend tenderness to "VBS"' luckless, lonely, lovely thump. A song like a crucifix uncertainly worn.
  17. Amyl and the Sniffers - "Guided by Angels" [buy]
    Punk-rock from Australia: Amy Taylor snarls her salvation, pogo-ing in place as divine light pours from her nipples, her nostrils, the points of her middle-fingertips.
  18. Sault - "Bitter Streets" [more]
    Sault, the winners of 2020, didn't rise to the same heights in 2021, but they probably made more money: the group's bandleader, Inflo, produced three tracks on the new Adele record (not to mention two much better albums by Cleo Sol and Little Simz). Still, the London-based R&B collective remains one of the most compelling, prolific and consistent bands in the world. In June they released Nine, their fifth album in 25 months, and "Bitter Streets" was the highlight: an uncanny, groovy ballad; a little Gladys Knight and a little Connan Mockasin; a classic sound made contemporary, all its light dispersed.
  19. Charlotte Cardin - "Daddy" [buy]
    I'm not usually susceptible to the idea of a guilty pleasure but this song is called daddy, and it's not a tune about Cardin's father. I find the phrase inane, vaguely odious—so imagine my surprise (and reluctance): "Daddy" is by far my favourite recording of the Montreal singer's career. Never mind the lyrics, or try your best: listen instead to the melody's drift and flutter; to the band's quick, scrupulous groove. Possibly the easiest listen of the year (assuming you don't understand English).
  20. Mustafa - "The Hearse" [buy]
    Mustafa the Poet's magisterial debut album invents a new kind of sound: soft-textured folk music about street violence and its collateral damage, informed by hip-hop but only scarcely, like a common weather. "The Hearse" skirts the grandiosity of much of his other work, casting its tragedy in a pulsing, playful light. It's neither a love song nor a war song, it's a lament cast in ecstasy—the dangerous pleasure of a common fate.
  21. Goodbye Honolulu - "Cut Off" [buy]
    Full disclosure: Goodbye Honolulu's drummer is my cousin. But the family connection made me hold this song to a higher standard, frankly. "Cut Off" bounces with the ping of the Ramones, the pong of the Strokes—the kind of rock'n'roll that makes you think of drunk kisses, brickwork, and running through the streets on a rainy night. Nervy and electric with just enough sweetness, especially in its closing bars, to bring a happy ending to life.
  22. Flock of Dimes - "Two" [buy]
    Flock of Dimes remains the solo project of Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner and "Two" is the locket swinging around Head of Roses' neck. The video plays with mirrors, doubling, but the song's as much about separation as togetherness: a flower-soft synth-pop tune asking what love is if it doesn't involve subsubming the other, swallowing them up.
  23. Tokischa & Rosalía - "Linda" [video]
    My favourite Spanish pop-star lends her persuasive phonetics to Tokishcha, a Dominican rapper whose affect brings to mind an extremely intelligent little sister. "Linda" feels like double-dutch and playing catch and like putting yourself in a position where at any time a boulder might smash you to smithereens.
  24. Coldplay - "Higher Power" [video]
    I like Coldplay—except when they're terrible, which is increasingly often, but not here, on a tune co-written by Max Martin, a song that's breathless, kinetic, alive with a sincere and expansive joy.
  25. Tierra Whack - "Stand Up" [buy]
    A bone-dry beat. A rapper with one obsidian eye and one opal. Something faintly Yorgos Lanthimos about her—and not just the Favorite-inspired video. A couple decades after Missy, Whack rhymes like no one else can or would: "I am like the mayor / I am not the mayor." Someone give her a chain of office.
  26. Lisa LeBlanc - "Entre toi pi moi pi la corde de bois" [buy]
    I was quickly taken with his teaser-track from LeBlanc's upcoming Chiac Disco (the title's an allusion to the singer's distinctive strain of Acadian French and, um, the popular 1970s dance craze). Over burbling keys and strings as smooth as sucre à la crème, LeBlanc sings a lean, catchy tune about hanging around the cottage & doing jack shit.
  27. Leo Bhanji - "Damaged" [buy]
    A song like a sort of incantation—bedroom musings mumbled and deconstructed alongside samples from past, present, future: Dilla? The Noviciat des Soeurs Missionnaires de Notre-Dame d'Afrique? Metal Gear Solid? I adore the shimmer of it, the simultaneous thinness and presence, like smoke hanging in the air.
  28. Martha Wainwright - "Love Will be Reborn" [buy]
    Martha recorded her last record just up the street from me, in her own tiny venue, with musicians from the supernatural music group Bernice. There's a little of 1985 in it; and a little of 2085; but this tune is simply a song about love and its rebirth, that uncounted-on redemption; and she sings the hell out of it.
  29. Doja Cat ft. SZA - "Kiss Me More" [buy]
    Love a raunchy R&B song that begins with the words, "We hug and kiss". Love a song like the soundtrack to a mellow amusement-park ride. Love Doja Cat's alternating flows, the way she uses a change of cadence to electrify a verse. "Kiss Me More" basks in its Christmas-light glow—the kind of fun that's rare + sugared, but still essentially wholesome.
  30. Little Simz ft. Obongjayar - "Point and Kill" [buy]
    Little Simz executes this song with a clear conscience, an even stare. Her new record, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, is a massive leap forward—it lifts Little Simz to the ranks of my favourite rappers working today. Here, the 27-year-old Londoner is assisted by the Nigerian singer Obongjayar, by Inflo's clink & bass & horns, as well as by a memory of M.I.A.—sweeping like a pendulum across her flow. But the centre is hers, bright and mighty, true to itself as fruit on a tree.
  31. Falle Nioke & sir Was - "Wonama yo ema" [buy]
    This collaboration between Falle Nioke, who was born in Guinea, and sir Was, from Gothenburg, is a weightless marvel, like a waft of bergamot and clary sage. Nioke's vocals interweave across synths, woodwinds, and traditional African instruments; each repetition feels like a subtle rearrangement of the air.
  32. Ethel Cain - "Crush" [buy]
    Swathed in Floridian sunlight, draped in the flannel of the Jesus and Mary Chain, the songwriter Ethel Cain drifts in and out of phase—ghost and portent. "Crush" is either a lighting-up or a snuffing-out.
  33. Holly Humberstone - "Please Don't Leave Just Yet" [buy]
    A rainy, achey, reluctant long song, gleaming like streetlights, co-written and co-produced by Matt Healy of The 1975.
  34. Gayance - "Fruta Gogoia" [buy]
    Montreal's Gayance transforms Gal Costa's performance of "Fruta Gogoia" from something sober and nearly morose into a site of (eerie) play—a sound that's upbeat, funky, yet at the same time weirdly haunted, like a dancefloor inherited in a will.
  35. Taylor Swift - "Holy Ground (Taylor's version)" [buy]
    Taylor Swift re-recorded all of her 2012 album Red because she doesn't control the masters of the original version. This was a matter either of principle, pique, stubbornness or greed. (If it was principle, I'd encourage the singer to do more to change this practice industry-wide.) Whatever the motivation, some of the re-recorded versions are better and some of them are worse: "Holy Ground" is improved, kicked up another notch, a little of the twang swapped-out for raw stomp. I'm not sure this song benefits from a wiser singer: some mistakes ring truer when they're newer. But I hear more pleasure in Swift's voice here—she knows even better the preciousness of a song like this and its singing.
  36. Pino Palladino & Blake Mills - "Ekuté" [buy]
    A nervy, scrumptious instrumental by Blake Mills (Fiona Apple, Alabama Shakes) and Pino Palladino (one of the greatest session bassists of all time). This track features Marcus Strickland's horns, Chris Dave on drums, and none other than Andrew Bird on violin. If it were a calendar it'd be lunar; if it was a clock, it'd cuckoo.
  37. The Kid LAROI ft. Justin Bieber - "Stay" [buy]
    Like getting a tattoo of your ex on the itchiest part of your body.
  38. Madi Diaz - "Nervous" [buy]
    The buzz of a headache, the buzz of a guitar-string, the buzz of a crush and its occasionally ill-effects. Madi Diaz's voice dips and crests like a swallow that can't quit its mate, like a ball on a string just waiting to get whapped.
  39. Abstract Mindstate - "A Wise Tale" [stream]
    One of this year's oddly slept-on stories was Abstract Mindstate, an early-2000s hip-hop duo resurrected by the interest of—and production by—Kanye West. With a smart, conscious style that's leagues away from West's recent escapades, the Chicago MCs delivered a strong album filled with the kind of soul samples that made a certain bygone rap era feel so agreeable. "A Wise Tale" was the lead single and the LP's highlight—a mea culpa with a grin on its face, the sort of warning you'd ignore just to hear it repeated again.
  40. Selena Gomez & Camilo - "999" [video]
    A sparkling Spanish-language tune from Gomez (who normally performs in English) and the Colombian pop singer Camilo. Lithe and lilting, with a rhythm like the click and crackle of ice in a highball.
  41. Black Country, New Road - "Track X" [buy]
    At disparate moments cozy or skeletal, at home or alienated, horns & guitar & coos & recrimination from a British band that feels like Nick Cave crossed with Xiu Xiu.
  42. Natalie Bergman - "Talk to the Lord" [buy]
    Crooked kitchen-sink gospel, where that crookedness is the thing that gives it life. Like the twinkle of a clean plate on a dirty dish-rack, profane proof for the existence of God.
  43. Sweeping Promises - "Pain Without a Touch" [buy]
    That first riff like a stab in the back; then they keep coming, one after another, and you turn toward the knife, happy as a clam. Everything about this garage-rock tune is braided around the chorus, the title, with Lira Mondal singing like a breathless, alpine Neko Case.
  44. Anna Fox Rochinski - "Cherry" [buy]
    Quilt's Anna Fox Rochinski rides a rainbow road of twanging guitars and Mariah Carey mini-runs on the way to "Cherry"'s steady, chiming ruby of a chorus.
  45. The Goon Sax - "In the Stone" [buy]
    A call & answer in alto and baritone, happily sombre, as a guitar chugs. A song of (emotional) vampires, the way we're all hiding sets of fangs.
  46. Katy Kirby - "Traffic!" [buy]
    Katy Kirby's Cool Dry Place was one of the highlights of my end-of-year—an aching, breaking record for when the weather turned. At times just gentle singer-songwritery, almost straight-ahead, but with moments of slight refraction—whether it's autotune, twang or a swell of synthetic angels.
  47. The Limiñanas and Laurent Garnier - "Saul" [buy]
    My favourite French psych group collaborates with the French producer Laurent Garnier for a record that feels like Serge Gainsbourg crossed with Blade Runner—"Saul" uncoils with libidinous menace, lustrous trouble. "Il y a de la cruauté dans l'air (there's cruelty in the air) / à l'école (at school) / au village (in the village)..."
  48. Illuminati Hotties - "Pool Hopping" [buy]
    Like Bejar, Malkmus or Mark E Smith, Illuminati Hotties' Sarah Tudzin has a gift for phrases like gumdrops—the kind of things you just want to pop into your mouth. "Stealth makeout / breakfast take-out," she squawks. Or, later: "All rip'rs / No more skip'rs!" But the music's a long way from Destroyer, Pavement or The Fall—an indie rock much more methodical, engineered, less like an oil-painting and more like a shiny, possibly over-elaborate jet.
  49. Cleo Sol - "Spirit" [buy]
    The singer of my favourite and fifth-favourite songs of last year returns with a more serene, quietened record (the title is Mother); "Spirit" is one of its serene, slightly-less-quiet treasures. An unfolding of drums & piano and eventually horns & choir—Sol responds to loss with open-hearted, nearly lavish, abundance.
  50. Billie Eilish - "I Didn't Change My Number" [buy]
    I really like this grimly swinging Billie Eilish tune—it's a kiss-off and a threat, but most of the violence is tucked inside the chords and synth patches, like a cheerful greeting-card scratched in poison ink.
  51. Springtime - "Will to Power" [buy]
    Springtime's a six-legged supergroup featuring Tropical Fuck Storm's Gareth Lillard, The Necks' Chris Abraham, and Dirty White's Jim White (aka my favourite drummer of all time). Isolate just the piano part and "Will to Power"'s anemic, almost rinkydink—but that's like ignoring the heat as you hurtle into a star: Lillard howls like a villain at the end of a Bond movie, spittle flying, roaring about what he's done and what he's due.
  52. Third Eye Blind - "Box of Bones" [buy]
    This is my list, I don't need to apologize for anything.
  53. Sun-EL Musician ft. Simmy - "Higher" [buy]
    A South African sunrise.
  54. LUMP - "Animal" [buy]
    LUMP is a team-up between singer-songwriter Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay, who has a long-time folktronica project called Tunng. But "Animal" (and the record it's from, Animal) avoid the stale safeness that a description like that might suggest. There's instead something probiotic to this music: twitchy, alive, with a slightly carbonated tang.
  55. Wet Leg - "Chaise Longue" [pre-order]
    Powered by cute girls, a cool video, and this excellent, double-entendre-crammed single, I can't decide if Wet Leg are the next Yeah Yeah Yeahs or the next Right Said Fred. But there's no getting away from "Chaise Longue"'s sleek, sealskin appeal: a ticking clock, catchy riffs, and Rhian Teasdale's stern purr about "buttered muffins" and her lover's Brobdingnagian D.
  56. Piers Faccini - "Dunya" [buy]
    "Dunya" is a collaboration between Faccini, who lives in France, and the Algerian musician Malik Ziad. Lashed with strings and excellent, specific drumming by Simone Prattico, it's a sombre mixture of Faccini's agile, occasionally soppy, songcraft and a heavier North African influence—the sort of outstanding fusion that Faccini's label, NØ FØRMAT, has come to reliably produce.
  57. Ayra Starr - "Bloody Samaritan" [video]
    From Nigeria, a shot against the bow that ripples and pulses yet is suffused with a melancholy, nearly crestfallen, spirit.
  58. Lil Nas X ft. Doja Cat - "SCOOP" [buy]
    Clearly the best pop star in the world right now—and "SCOOP" is a gold-and-chocolate confection, a song that feels like a highly useful verb.
  59. Rostam - "Bio18" [buy]
    He credits Debussy and Ravel, but I hear the mighty Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou in the DNA of this song—an influence ne plus ultra, if you ask me. "Bio18"'s languid beauty is even and unobtrusive, rooted in Rostam's piano as well as some excellent percussion and a marvelous sax part by Henry Solomon.
  60. Wolf Alice - "How Can I Make It OK?" [buy]
    The kind of track that makes me nostalgic for heartache—makes me wish I could rent it at the store, take it as a date to the movies. Wolf Alice are one of the world's best bands, with a command of sound that is occasionally almost too much—leaves me longing for a little more fumble or flop.
  61. Jose Gonzalez - "Tjomme (DJ Koze remix)" [buy]
    There are a couple of tunes I love on Local Valley, Gonzalez's latest ("Lilla J" and "El Invento" especially), but I just can't resist the way DJ Koze remade "Tjomme," folding and unfolding it, leaving creases all over, different ways to arrange it, to hear it, each repetition like a day or a week or a month or a year, take 2, take 3, take 10, you still have time to change the final cast.
  62. Le Mav ft. Tay Iwar - "Supersonic" [more]
    Silky Nigerian pop that waits almost an entire minute before showing its hand: that's when the knock comes, brrup tup, a call anyone in their right mind would answer.
  63. Julien Sagot - "Cendre et descendre" [buy]
    A song like one of those "cartoons for grown-ups" where someone walks along a grey, night-lit street while flames gutter and flare from the stormgrates. Vive les bandits, vive les bandits! A lament and a weary joke for this land and all its greed.
  64. Sofia Kourtesis - "La Perla" [buy]
    Techno in white, off-white, eggshell, ivory, linen, alabaster, porcelain, cream, seashell. A prayer, a holiday, a clean set of sheets.
  65. Aldous Harding - "Old Peel" [buy]
    A song that's there for the taking, for the misinterpretation. Sheets of Easter, feats of Easter—hot clown and the creek is turning. It might be a spell and it might be a memoir—a Canterbury Tales for a woman who has seen too much, who learned sorcery from a one-legged lecher. (And a final thump from a blackjack down upon your head.)
  66. Tion Wayne - "Wow" [buy]
    Brutal, bounding drill music—a tune that bounces like the recoil from a pistol or a hammer.
  67. Hand Habits - "Aquamarine" [buy]
    Dusky synth-pop about the heaviest things—deception, suicide, parenthood—but glittering here, skittering, a singer who has learned to make candles come back to life just by pointing at them.
  68. Arooj Aftab - "Mohabbat" [buy]
    Glittering Persian folk-music—the production's at times too glittering in fact, like trying to see into a sequin room. But Aftab's voice is supple and steady, a bearer of feelings more complex than mere shine.
  69. Spinabenz ft. Whoppa Wit Da Choppa, Yungeen Ace & FastMoney Goon - "Who I Smoke" [video]
    For me, the most disturbing song of this year—but a tune I also kept returning to, studying like a pearl under a loupe. Yes: a celebration of gang killings built atop a sparkly "Thousand Miles" sample. It's certainly not the most gruesome tune I've ever loved, but the mixture of violence, delight and something like "sincerity" is genuinely unsettling. (Vanessa Carlton, for the record, has no problem with it.)
  70. Fiver - "June Like A Bug" [buy]
    Mystical folk-country that takes the month of June and rolls it in iridescent butterfly parts, fly parts, grasshopper parts. Sorrow and fury, acceptance and resistance, the pinch of a pin as it pierces the fabric of your shirt.
  71. TDA - "Présence" [buy]
    A clamorous industrial pop-song, like a Christmas tree made of scrap metal and gloom.
  72. Karine Polwart & Dave Milligan - "The Old Men of the Shells" [buy]
    Something seized me, and held me, in this performance of a Scottish traditional. It's the arrowlike trajectory of Polwart's voice but also, and maybe especially, the cool plainness of Milligan's piano. A song not washed in suds and flowerpetals but swept by wind.
  73. Barrie - "Dig" [buy]
    A weird northwestern grit-of-teeth—angry, needy, nearly tropical (!). Like a Peter Doig painting of a Casiotone song.
  74. Julie Doiron - "The Letters We Sent" [buy]
    A flaming arrow from Julie Doiron, one of my favourite songwriters in the world. A song of finding your heart has broken (open); of letters you may or may not decide to burn. Daniel Romano's closing guitar solo sets the end of the song alight, makes it all into tinder, filling the sky with smoke. Neil Young in cotton pyjamas.
  75. Worlasi - "Fkn Guy" [buy]
    Wry and lighthearted pop about the infuriating allure of... boys. From Ghana.
  76. Fake Fruit - "No Mutuals" [buy]
    From Oakland, California—a singer with an excellent, blunted punk shout; a band with growl and grin in their guitars; and a message to a fool who's making trouble.
  77. Big Red Machine ft. La Force - "8:22am" [buy]
    Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner and friends—or at least one friend, La Force's incandescent Ariel Engle—perform a song of moments, of impressionistic glimpses, glances, the chill of dawn and the black of night, the way a memory ties a gold cord around your heart and stays there, tightening, loosening, tightening again.
  78. Damien Jurado - "Johnny Caravella" [buy]
    The most profound, heartbreaking, thunderous song ever written about a character from WKRP in Cincinnati.
  79. El Alfa, Busta Rhymes & Anitta ft. Wisin, CJ and El Cherry Scom - "La Mamá De La Mamá (Remix)" [video]
    A transnational party track, with Busta Rhymes setting the tone up front: heavy, purposeful, playful. Not that they needed him: the mostly Spanish-language original was already a smash (110 million views), anchored by El Alfa's ejaculations and that relentless 4/4 beat.
  80. Tirzah - "Send Me" [buy]
    Like Sam Cooke crossed with an industrial-grade printing press: somewhere that's blasted twice a day with compressed air, its components sprayed down with bleach. Tirzah allows her wanting to sound rudimentary, nearly childlike—but she combines these stripped-down vocals with a clockmaker's vision, specific and meticulous, selecting whatever gear will make the song shiver.
  81. Waxahatchee - "Streets of Philadelphia" [buy]
    Waxahatchee's Saint Cloud, released last year, is one of those records that's still gaining power over me—that's looming larger & larger in the back-catalogue of my life. Katie Crutchfield released an expanded version this year, with a few covers—including this take on Bruce Springsteen's classic, a favourite tune from my teenage years, which I heard first during a classmate's oral presentation. (Her name was Ramona; thanks, Ramona!) Either Crutchfield's voice fits your heart like a key, I suppose, or else it doesn't; but I'm a flimsy cabinet.
  82. Perfume Genius - "Borrowed Light (Katie Dey remix)" [buy]
    Katie Dey shatters "Borrowed Light" and reassembles the shards—faces skew in the mirror, loom, pixellate. Tenderness remains.
  83. Ada Lea - "Damn" [buy]
    A proud addition to the tradition of songs that take place when you're having a bad time at a party. "Damn" plays like a short film; it gathers force as its chorus montages repeat. "I've had it with this place / we've all gone insane," Alexandra Levy sings—a statement we've all lived through this year, climbing the walls of our own small lives.
  84. H.E.R. ft Thundercat - "Back of my Mind" [buy]
    One of those rare places where the guest bassist really does refine the song: H.E.R.'s plaintive R&B is granted a permanence, maybe even a grace, by Thundercat's roaming counterpoint. Together they make a sound that feels like it could endure, lending itself to future trouble.
  85. Kacey Musgraves - "Justified" [buy]
    Like a pastel convertible through a West Texas evening.
  86. Wet - "Larabar" [buy]
    A melting, lonely tune, falling apart at the seams. (Every era learns a different way to come apart.)
  87. Tristen - "Complex" [buy]
    I just love the way Tristen rhymes complex with complex, the repetition fitting itself like a set of red solo cups. Tristen's Tristen Gaspadarek; she's a Nashville songwriter with a band keeping pace beside her—all of them on horses, cantering through the morning, not yet thinking about lunch.
  88. Josie Dunne - "Cooped Up" [video]
    The pop singer Josie Dunne has been rebooting her career with a year-long series of songs & videos called Tennis. Each of them offers a different flavour of Carly Rae Jepsenesque delights, and "Cooped Up" is my favourite of the bunch: eager, breezy, happy as a bluebird with its particular quarantine situation.
  89. Yuma Abe - "Omaemo" [buy]
    Sun-kissed Japanese folk, like Mac DeMarco after 10 years of office work—finally over himself, alert to his good fortune, staring happily at the flowers in the window.
  90. Ed Dowie - "Dear Florence" [buy]
    If the Gates of Heaven opened up in an en-suite kitchen.
  91. Dntel - "Fall in Love" [buy]
    For The Seas Trees See, the long-time electronica-maker (and Postal Service co-founder) known as Dntel turned his sights to traditional folk music, borrowing acapellas such as Kate Wolf's "The Lilac and the Apple Tree" and warming them, bending them, twisting them back on themselves. I couldn't work out where he got the pieces for "Fall In Love," but I love the weird, burred thing he made with them—turning a clear-voiced tune cloudy, making plainsong feel alien.
  92. Rozi Plain - "Silent Fan" [buy]
    An unsettling admiration. On this Adult Swim single, the English singer-songwriter takes the notion of the "fan," the admirer, and turns it in the light, exploring its facets, the shadow it leaves upon the velvet. There's a peacefulness to "Silent Fan," a wary readiness—the sense that Plain is up to the task—but at the same time a tremor underneath: from saxophone and even weirder things, worrying at the edges.
  93. Tuns - "My Memories" [buy]
    I suspect that almost everyone who has watched Get Back has asked themselves, "Shouldn't everyone make music like this?" The answer is no: not everyone should make music like the Beatles. But thank god Tuns do—the only Canadian indie supergroup devoted to repaving Nathan Phillips Square with a dappled Strawberry Field. "Memories" is honey-sweet and strafed with harmonies; it catches the light like a crossing-guard's gold tooth.
  94. Le Ren - "I Already Love You" [buy]
    Le Ren is steady in her heartache and bright-eyed in her wishing, her ears attuned to Nashville and to Fife (even though she lives in Montreal). Her music is clean. It's unhurried. It will hang in the air, sad and old-souled, until whenever it is it's needed.
  95. Dry Cleaning - "Every Day Carry" [buy]
    Make it to the far side of the canyon in the second half of "Every Day Carry" and you will feel like you have gulped down gasoline, the fancy kind of gasoline, Ultra Super-essence of whatever it's called, the sort of thing that makes your muscles go wiry and your eyes glow red. "I just want to put something positive into the world but it's hard because I'm so full of poisonous rage," Florence Cleopatra Shaw explains. "I just can't creep comfortably." This band—and this singer—move about like shadow people, they can slip through walls.
  96. Cate Le Bon - "Running Away" [buy]
    Imagine a Medieval tapestry. Soaking wet, because someone dipped it in the moat. Fragrantly perfumed, because somebody sprayed it with oud. And when you hold your ear up close to it? You hear the Benny Goodman Band.
  97. Twin Shadow - "Johnny & Jonnie" [buy]
    There's something fondly "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" about "Johnny & Jonnie," enough so that you wonder if it's a joke. But the lyrics say otherwise—lines about gay lovers fleeing Texas in the 70s, taking refuge in New Orleans. Maybe the joke's what they find there: a series of pratfalls and punchlines, happy disasters, true love sputtering while dub reverb fires.
  98. Liars - "Sekwar" [buy]
    The sinister squelch of an asshole ascendant: but Angus Andrew tastes his trouble; he knows what he's got isn't good for him. "All the substance seeping out / from the storeroom of my mind," he growls. "All the colours that I wanted to hold." A sound like doomed rock'n'roll.
  99. Quivers - "Radio Song" [buy]
    Maybe I shouldn't be so passionate about a cover of a 30-year-old R.E.M. song, but Melbourne's Quivers redeem it with such subtle finesse: slowing the whole thing down, infusing it with power, amputating the (many) bad bits. In their care, "Radio" becomes not just hopeful but noble somehow: "The world is collapsing / around our ears / I turned up the radio. / [Now] I can't hear it."
  100. Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul - "Thank You" [buy]
    It's not often you get a dance track so dripping with sarcasm. But "Thank You" somehow balances pleasure and contempt, shimmying backward across the room even as it rolls its eyes. The title of Adigéry and Pupul's upcoming LP seems apt: Topical Dancer. But there's nothing tedious about Adigéry's anti-patriarchal/anti-colonial techno: like with Marie Davidson, I'd listen to her renew a driver's license.
And that's 100 songs, if my counting's correct. Thank you for reading! Thank you for listening! Sorry for any broken links, please pay for the music you love. (Invest in what's important or it will go away.) Don't be strangers.

Leave a comment if you like? Tell a friend?

And see you next year.

Posted by Sean at 8:32 AM | Comments (32)