Year In Review: Top 10 Indie Pop, Rock, & Folk Releases Of 2021

Let’s be honest: 2021 was a wild year.

From the breakup of Daft Punk to the blockage of the Suez Canal to the seemingly constant emergence of new COVID-19 variants, we didn’t really catch much of a break.

But, as unpredictable as this year may have been, some pretty amazing music has come out of it- music that has transported me away from a society obsessed with boneless pugs and NFTs (I still have no idea what those are) and allowed me to transcend into a dreamy soundscape, if only for a little while.

So without further ado, here are my Top 10 indie tunes for the year that was 2021.

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10. “All You’ve Got Is Everyone”Saintseneca

This song is a bit heavier than the ones that follow, but something about Saintseneca’s sound really makes me feel at home. Perhaps it’s because the band is native to my stomping grounds of Columbus, Ohio, possessing a sound that lies somewhere between somber alternative and folk-punk.

“All You’ve Got Is Everyone” originally began as a Christmas song, but frontman Zac Little was led elsewhere. The five-and-a-half-minute-long runtime makes the listener feel held, exploring the anxieties and overwhelming feelings surrounding the new year and new beginnings. Despite this, the song’s descanted outro carries a feeling of hope and looks forward to the future, rather than back at the events of the past.

9. “Take A Load Off”Marissa Burwell

“Take A Load Off” is one of those songs I have to play in the car when I’m feeling a little bit stressed with life’s demands. The Saskatchewan native’s intimate “letter to herself” feels as if it’s being sung directly at me, commanding an easygoing feeling almost instantaneously. The track is steady and fuzzy, sprinkled with the occasional brass solo to give it a little bit of unconventional flair. Burwell’s voice is gentle and uplifting, like a warm cup of coffee on a snowy December day.

8. “Steeeam” Shelly

So this one was technically from late 2020, but let’s be honest; the past few years have kind of melted together.

Bedroom-pop sensation Clairo, along with fellow artists Claud, Josh Mehling, and Noa Frances Getzug teamed up to form indie supergroup Shelly. “Steeeam” comes from the band’s self-titled EP, which was written, recorded, and released amid the pandemic. The track, about a long-distance relationship, is laden with reverb, yet contains twangy guitars and vocals reminiscent of surf rock. Clairo’s voice shines through on the track: “Sitting here, on my own, oceans away / Breathe in, keep it to myself I guess.” The lyricism completely captures the nihilistic yearning of the band’s age demographic, and its instrumentation is equally as beautiful.

7. “Slow Down” – EEP

Texas shoegazers EEP and their 2021 release of Winter Skin are undoubtedly one of my favorite musical discoveries of the year. “Slow Down” has a similar message to Marissa Burwell’s “Take A Load Off,” but the song is much more of a lush, meditative soundscape. It encourages rebirth and patience, and although it’s not as upbeat as the rest of these contenders, it certainly deserves a spot on my Top 10 list for the listening experience alone. The vocals, instrumentation, and production are all incredible. I simply love this song and think everyone needs to hear it.

6. “No Hard Feelings” Wolf Alice

Wolf Alice’s June release, Blue Weekend, is one of my favorite records of the year. “No Hard Feelings” was a standout track for me, featuring only an intricate bass riff and vocalist Ellie Roswell’s delicate soprano timbre. Blue Weekend, and this track in particular, are unique from the rest of the UK band’s releases because of Wolf Alice’s daring to be more experimental and self-satisfactory, defying industry expectations and filling the space they’ve carved out for themselves since their 2010 formation.

5. “Best Laid Plans”Geordie Gordon

Another favorite of the year is Geordie Gordon’s record, The Tower. The 10-track record reflects on the highs and lows of the pandemic, and “Best Laid Plans” is definitely my favorite. It’s got elements of 70s funk along with feel-good summertime rock, making it an easy and pleasurable listen. The song is, like so many others on this list, encouraging, containing lyrics that accept the result no matter the outcome: “Sometimes the best-laid plans just don’t end up in the story.”

4. “New Woman”The Rayes

You know those songs you swear you’ve heard before but you’re not sure where? This is one of them. Pulling inspiration from acts such as Fleetwood Mac, HAIM, and The Mamas & the Papas, The Rayes have a hauntingly beautiful sound that’s both modern and retro: the best of both worlds. Jordan and Rebecca Stobbe’s sister act is comforting, fresh, and invites you to stay for a while and just listen.

3. “San Fidel” Quiet Takes

Quiet Takes has had a busy year, releasing a steady slew of singles preceding both of her 2021 EPs, San Fidel and Weekly, Weakly. The titular track of the former is a cool, chilled-out electro-pop tune with syncopated beats and heavenly vocal layers. Sarah Magill’s Joni Mitchell-esque prose songwriting ebbs and flows seamlessly with her Cocteau Twins-like instrumentation on “San Fidel,” making it the perfect song to play if you whether you’re feeling introspective or just need to chill.

2. “Eastside” DAISY

DAISY has been described as both “loud jazz” and “R&B punk,” and I think both are pretty accurate descriptors. Vocalist Daisy Hamel-Buffa, the namesake of the Los Angeles band, soothes your ears with rich, velvety melodies backed by lush synths and full percussive beats. “Eastside” is the leading single from their latest EP, S.O.M.E., a funky R&B ballad all about unreciprocated love. As objectively sad as the lyrical content may be, the smooth beauty of Hamel-Buffa’s voice makes it all worth my while.

1. “Harpees”The Go Rounds

Alas! My #1 pick for indie track of the year.

The Go Rounds are masters of making genres bend seamlessly, and this song is my favorite in their entire discography. It has a visceral energy that pours out of every note, which is the standard for the band, and it has incredibly complex and stimulating arrangements beneath the surface that just scratch your brain in the perfect way. The Go Rounds consistently push the boundaries with their innovation and creativity within their work, and I’m a huge fan of everything they have done thus far. The lyrics of “Harpees” are both dark and hopeful at the same time, which I think sums up 2021 pretty well.

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