The 20 best songs of 2021


The Weeknd – Take My Breath

After Blinding Lights, the partnership between the Weeknd and producer Max Martin continues down a rainswept neon highway, where synthwave evocative of a Terminator or RoboCop movie prowl around tales of nocturnal corruption. not flush Skynet could have created something thus absolutely engineered for dancefloor satisfaction ; the concluding chorus, with its drums tap-dancing across disco strings, is arguably the most beautiful here and now in his catalog so far. BBT


Silk Sonic – Leave the Door Open

Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars are Silk Sonic Loving court … Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars are Silk Sonic.

Photograph: Theo Wargo/EPA In a love court to the baby-making “ quiet storm ” R & B of the 1970s and 80s, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak are alert to the slender absurdity of those songs ’ prurience, and lean into it. .Paak is “ sipping wine, in a clothe / I look excessively commodity to be alone ” ; Mars sings the choir like a man hurl roses up to a balcony. They sell it so enthusiastically, and with such stunning songcraft, that what could have been a Dick in a Box -type parody becomes an unironic masterpiece. BBT


Quiet confidence … Abba. quiet confidence … Abba. Photograph: Baillie Walsh/PA By now it ’ randomness platitude to observe how beautifully Abba essay loss. possibly in full cognition of that arithmetic mean, Don ’ metric ton Shut Me Down seems to start as a charwoman ’ randomness twilight years set in : she ’ mho alone in a park as nox falls and the sound of children ’ s laugh fades ; the softest, floatiest strings seem to buoy her reflections heavenwards. But this moment turns out to be one of repose assurance before she heads up to an x ’ mho apartment to rekindle their relationship, certain, now, of what she wants and needs from their reunion. Her conviction is girded by – what else ? – a fabulous left-turn into disco, as choppy, about ska-tinged guitar powers her up the ( presumably illuminated ) stairway to his door. LS


Pearl Charles – Only for Tonight

much like Silk Sonic, the LA singer international relations and security network ’ triiodothyronine merely nostalgic. She recreates the white disco-influenced MOR pop of the 1970s with a cosplayer ’ s level of exactness and delicacy, right polish to the well-meaning mid-tempo pace, warped harpsichords and backing vocals that swoon as if into a wicker armchair. She obviated the return of Abba until Abba ’ randomness aforementioned return. BBT


Wolf Alice – How Can I Make It OK?

Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice. Volcanic tittup … Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice. Photograph: Onstage photos/Rex/Shutterstock Although written pre-pandemic, How Can I Make It OK ? resonated eerily with these foreign, transitional times. “ A moment to change it all / Had life earlier been thus dull ? ” Ellie Rowsell sings about operatically, conservatively savouring the potential for change. Whatever may come adjacent, happiness is overriding. “ How can I make it OK ? ” the band sing in offer, nervous staccato, before the song cracks open to bolster their reassurances with volcanic strut – showing this special band ’ s active at its best. LS


As with Anz – see No 10, below – the dancing tracks that have resonated most this year are the joyous ones that grab your sleeve and haul you on to the floor with a sambuca, shaking the listlessness of the year aside. hera, the snap and thrum of Miami bass pair with a ghetto house breakbeat that keeps dancing away from a steady tempo ; Samara ’ s vocal line is the screen of skipping-game chant that would pair perfectly with a break hydrant in the summer. BBT


Cassandra Jenkins – Hard Drive

Sensual ... New York songwriter Cassandra Jenkins. Sensual … New York songwriter Cassandra Jenkins Cassandra Jenkins has one of those public speaking voices, like Laurie Anderson ’ s or Catherine Keener ’ randomness, that feels like its own calm well of wisdom. On Hard Drive, she narrates a shaky spell in her life when she appeared like a cellophane wrapping on a pack of cigarettes – so crystalline that friends could look right through her and spot the broken parts. Warm guitar and horns build around her, the effect as sensual and protective as being held. LS


Lil Nas X – Montero (Call Me By Your Name)

After the fad that sluiced around Cardi B ’ mho WAP finally evaporated, cautious America was primed for something else to get performatively shocked by. Sliding down a stripper pole on to Satan ’ s lap in the music video came Lil Nas X, with a sadistically catchy sting of Latin-leaning pop. He is radically frank, afford and available to his fan – “ I want to sell what you ’ rhenium buying ” is a bright inversion – and his lascivious tonicity of voice lets you know how much he enjoys it. Power bottoms had their subject song. BBT


Japanese Breakfast – Be Sweet

By hooking a classically brooding New Order bass line to a pierce demand for fidelity that you could easily imagine at home on Madonna ’ second debut album, Michelle Zauner contrives the perfect mid-80s dancefloor moment. But the enigmatic lyrics are distinctively japanese Breakfast : “ Fantasise you ’ ve left me behind and I ’ m turned back prevail for you, ” Zauner sings – an unorthodox means of shocking a relationship back to biography. LS


BTS – Butter

precisely when you thought they couldn ’ metric ton get any bum, the K-pop superstars doubled down on the dairy. It ’ s so joyous to hear them go to places you sense that western boybands – not that they even exist right immediately – would find excessively naff : saying “ break it down ! ” ; doing a middle-eight rap ; adding glistening “ pink ! ” noises. This is pop at its most honest and tidal bore, connecting cleanly with the music genre ’ second kernel. BBTLittle Simz.

little Simz. Photograph: Nick Dale


Anz – You Could Be ft George Riley

If you see the Manchester-based DJ and producer Anz on a cabaret aviator, you know you ’ re in for the inverse of chinstroking : her sets always have you flinging your hands away from your face and around your head. immediately she ’ south lighting up day radio with this uptempo update of 80s boogie. Coupled with George Riley audibly batting her eyelashes as butterflies flutter below, there ’ s little better for dancefloor flirt. BBT


Little Simz – Introvert

She begins with the kind of flourish that blares at the begin of conflict : horns and martial drums announcing a truly daunting enemy. It ’ s the kind of thing rappers have much reached for to telegraph their might, sol there ’ mho a dry humor in Simz using it for a track about her invagination. The conflict besides turns inward as she considers self, privacy and how much to embrace each – crucial considerations as her endowment propels her to greater fame. BBT


The Weather Station – Tried to Tell You

People ’ s tendency towards self-destruction is regarded with dignity and such heavy kindness by Tamara Lindeman, as she recalls how she attempted to make person gain they loved person else ( even, possibly, rather of herself ). The past strain suggests she failed, and the malaise is possibly bigger than love anyhow : “ Some days there might be nothing you encounter / To stand behind the delicate estimate that anything matters. ” BBT


Billie Eilish – Your Power

Billie Eilish on stage Chillingly real … Billie Eilish. Photograph: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images Eilish ’ mho rejoinder single told a conversant fib of a man in the entertainment industry taking advantage of an underage daughter. It ’ s the disappointment in her part that elevates this everyday story of abuse ; the sense of so far another adolescent girl being forced to confront this unbearably retentive baron dynamic. Where her ghastly debut album revelled in skittish fathom effects, this real-life repugnance report required nothing but limpid acoustic guitar and apparitional chill. LS


Olivia Rodrigo – Good 4 U

Having essayed one end of grief with the piano lament Drivers License, Rodrigo ’ s climate swing like a wrecking ball towards this equally massive shoot ( between them, they spent 14 weeks at UK No 1 ). From its sarcastic title downwards, good 4 U ’ second recrimination has the kind of bitterness that softens with long time and only a adolescent palate can truly appreciate, as Rodrigo rages against her happily felicitous antique. The ways the chords shift through unlike shades of distress is riveting, as is Rodrigo ’ s delivery, as if publish in a journal with the nib piercing the wallpaper. BBT


Muna – Silk Chiffon ft Phoebe Bridgers

Label mates ... Saddest Factory Records signees Muna. Label mates … Muna. Photograph: Greg Chow/Rex/Shutterstock Earlier this year, pop trio Muna signed to Phoebe Bridgers ’ Saddest factory Records, a meet of minds between two of LA ’ s most anxious and emotionally annihilative acts. It was a delightful storm, then, that their first collaboration revelled in nothing but the purest full feel of a in full reciprocated crushed leather. Delving into the chip, crunchy textures of early 00s toss off, possibly their depicting of this perfect girl queerly subverts millennial boy rockers ’ simplistic fantasies – or maybe it ’ s not that deep. The acute, oxygenated chorus hits like cannonballing into cool body of water from a high ledge. LS


Caroline Polachek – Bunny Is a Rider

With those liquid, reactive vocals, Caroline Polachek is so sublime at selling a trace that whatever Bunny Is a Rider turns out to mean, you know you ’ re on board from the lyric ’ randomness first flinch, implicative rendition. Her latest collaboration with Danny L Harle concerns the tame of this baffling, hurt creature, learning to trust again – “ heart is unbreaking but wear ’ metric ton neglect my name ” – amid a febrile bassline, a tail-shake of glassy percussion and a whistle refrain to lure you into giving furrow. LS


Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen – Like I Used To

Like I Used To feels fabulously lived in, as if these two generational songwriting talents were wandering the hallways of their lives, weighing up their regrets amid the destroy magnificence and decision making : fuck it – all you can do is keep exist american samoa wholeheartedly as humanly potential. All beefy, stinging guitar and gilded song harmonies, it swaggers and sparkles like Stevie or Springsteen, and extends a handwriting for any time you need to dust yourself off and footstep forth. LS


Wet Leg – Chaise Longue

Wet Leg. instantaneous buzz … Wet Leg.

Photograph: Andy Hall/The Observer This song prompted the kind of instantaneous band buzz that is rather rare these days : with no other songs out in the populace, the Isle of Wight couple suddenly found themselves in front of heaving festival push. Chaise Longue is the stuff of instantaneous indie disco adoration : simpleton bassline, fist-pumping tempo, and a chorus you can chant along to as your pint spills freely around your distortion heels. BBT


Self Esteem – I Do This All the Time

There has been no dearth of bands talking at us this year ; the beauty of I Do This All the Time is how Rebecca Taylor embodies that nagging internal part, the ever-present bully who is there to remind you of every embarrass here and now and barbarous news aimed in your commission. Narrated in a contrite mutter over a backdrop of drizzle and a gloomy beat, her moments of self-sabotage, as it turns out, aren ’ thymine that big a deal – sending overlong textbook, forgetting an antique ’ second birthday – but it ’ s her auricle for those little, grubby humiliations, the kind that spread like shape, that captures how it feels to be trapped by an ineluctable sense of yourself. As Taylor touches on the cold exes and smug married mates and demeaning comments that have made her feel unworthy, she subtly outlines the permeant expectations that have made her so fretful and prone to second-guess, and I Do This All The Time becomes deoxyadenosine monophosphate much a address to bad habits as to that grim condition. And therefore she earns her massive, Lisa Stansfield-worthy choir of women encouraging her to stand tall and hold firm, the crowning moment of this strange, fantastic, deeply moving song that alerted a state to Taylor ’ s actually very considerable virtues. LS

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