It’s been a year since I made my Top 10 list of new songs that helped me forget I was living in 2020.
And low and behold, not much has changed in the state of the world to make me want to remember 2021. In fact, in my own experience, it was actually… worse? Maybe next year will be the year. Third time’s the charm, right? Right?
Here’s my Top 10 Songs of the Year that didn’t make me forget 2021 exactly, but got me through it all the same.
10. Happier Than Ever – Billie Eilish
As the only A-list celebrity track on the list, I was tempted not to include it. But the thing is, I played this song on repeat too many times for it to be ignored. In hindsight, there’s a reason Billie Eilish is so popular.
Having released her second full-length album by the same name, her track “Happier Than Ever” made a lasting impression – if her Grammy nominations have anything to say about it – and it’s quite justified. Different from anything she has previously done, the song takes you through her recent breakup. The first half is rather simple and subdued, just Billie’s heavily reverbed voice and a guitar strumming slowly as she sings about how much happier she is to be away from her ex. The kicker – and what really makes the song what it is – is the complete change of pace after repeating the first verse, shifting into a punk rock anthem that’s impossible to not sing along to while dramatically headbanging.
The appeal: it’s relatable to everyone – that anger and frustration. And it was incredibly refreshing to hear an alternate side to Billie’s sound. I hope she continues in this direction.
9. Love Love Love – My Morning Jacket
Although they’ve been around for quite awhile – nine albums worth to be exact – I actually never listened to a single song by My Morning Jacket until this year. Thank God I did.
The Louisville-bred band has established themselves as a vital force in American rock n’ roll, influencing generations, and “Love Love Love” definitely shows you why. By the first second, it instantly has your attention on lock, harmonically chanting the title – which acts as the main refrain – while a chugged, single-note, fuzzy beat provides a groovy sway and bright trickling components give added texture. It all comes to a head by the lacerated crunch of a guitar solo that leads the song to it’s conclusion.
One thing is for sure: this record would be epic live. And it’s not so much the musicianship or even the lyricism, as it is the overall energy the track exudes that grants this claim.
8. Good Morning Sunshine – Sunshine & the Blue Moon
This five-piece Toronto band first caught my attention after dropping their sophomore album Born 2 Boogie over the summer.
“Good Morning Sunshine” was the first song of theirs I heard, and it had me hooked immediately. Inspired by dreary hazy mornings – “when you wake up and don’t want to do the things you’re supposed to do, with your mind more prone to wander” – it’s the epitome of mellow, something you’d listen to on a lazy Sunday afternoon either on the road or by the pool, productivity be damned. Low-swinging guitar grooves paired with lead singer Kai Davey-Bellin’s crooning drawl leave room for a rather out of body daze, like floating high above the clouds, and 60s psychedelia is a clear influence here, as it is throughout the rest of the record.
But don’t let Sunshine & the Blue Moon’s heady atmosphere fool you- they have plenty to say, especially when it comes to the uneasy state of the world.
7. A Thread to Find – Shannon Lay
Shannon Lay was another discovery made this year that I’m immensely grateful for. The singer-songwriter made a huge impression with her profoundly smooth and soothing voice, along with her use of melody.
Joined by a soft acoustic guitar riff, the in and out swell of cellos, and luscious harmonies, Lay narrates the new, unfamiliar worlds we discover within ourselves and admires the bravery it takes to face them. All the while she reminds us, “You’re on your own, but not alone,” as reassurance that we are all in this together, even if we’re not actually together. The tone of the track is consistently inviting throughout, a wonderfully easy listen that feels like a breath of fresh air. Clean and crisp and oh so much better than the stuffiness of the indoors – and we all know what that feels like by now.
“A Thread to Find” is the perfect example of the phrase “simple, but effective”, and this rings just as true in her album Geist, of which the single stems from.
6. How Come? – Stray Fossa
Stray Fossa first impressed me with their single “Diving Line”, but it was because of their track “How Come?” that I kept coming back.
The new wave dream-pop tune is a rather lucid, serene experience for many reasons. The guitars, which hold a major spotlight in the one minute long intro, weave around and intersect each other at various moments, both heavy with chorus and sonically rich. The bass and drums are both tight and focused, save for the snare, which is nice and fat, moving the song along at a steady pace. The vocals, relaying an interaction of misunderstanding, gently whisper through the soundscape, expanding the dreamy dimensions exponentially.
Together, these elements allow the listener to become intimately acquainted with the song’s message and it’s hushed, chill ambience. I’d be surprised if anyone disliked this one, for, if anything, the production alone is deserving of recognition.
5. What’s On Your Mind – Drug Store Romeos
From across the pond, Hampshire trio Drug Store Romeos released their debut album The world within our bedrooms and truthfully, picking just one song off of it to include in this list was fairly difficult – they’re all so good.
But alas, I’ve chosen, and “What’s On Your Mind” gives the perfect impression for new listeners. The song showcases sublime drum work and deeply nostalgic intensity, holding a weighted tempo all the way up until a little over halfway through, where the momentum increases and the song ends in a climactic arrangement of euphoria. And even though multiple tempo and rhythmic changes are found throughout the record as a whole, in this track, you basically get to hear their subdued but tranquil vibe, that they favor and particularly feature in their other songs, mixed with the strikingly resounding and involved sound of others. The best of both worlds.
4. Hush – The Marias
The Marias, founded by the couple María Zardoya (lead singer) and Josh Conway (producer/multi-instrumentalist) and joined by Jesse Perlman (guitarist) and Edward James (keyboardist), are vastly known for their sensually dynamic, dreamlike fusion of genres such as funk, indie pop, psychedelia, and lounge.
And within their latest album CINEMA, their single “Hush” gives listeners a taste of their lush indie pop side with a futuristic feel. A revenge song of sorts, the track tells that one person who always feels like they have an opinion over how you’re living your life to basically shut up and, in this case, hush. “Don’t act so special/ What I do is not for you” Zardoya sings in her stunningly seductive timbre, oozing swagger and empowerment as does the strutting beat and hypnotic textures that surround her. It’s a fairly addictive tune that inspires confidence with every play.
3. Deep Sea Diver – Briston Maroney
I reviewed the Nashville-based indie/Americana singer’s debut album, Sunflower, back in April, and as much as I loved the entire record (it was my #1 most listened to album of the year), there was one track that I vibed with the most.
One of his more melancholy tunes, “Deep Sea Diver” – of which was actually first released as a single in August 2020 – offers a laid-back rhythm heightened by an emotional electric guitar and Briston Maroney’s richly raw vocals. The mood of it sits like a filter made up with just a touch of cold hues to make it profound and sincere, but not quite blue enough to lack a warm groove. The meaning of the song is derived from his own personal feelings over the overwhelming magnitude of the world and the sense of being way too deep in it all – the uncertainty, the distress, the negativity. And if that isn’t just the perfect illustration of what the last two years have been like, I don’t know what is.
2. Brightside – The Lumineers
I’ve been a fan of The Lumineers for quite some time now, and when they dropped their first single off their upcoming album, I clicked ‘Play’ faster than Usain Bolt.
And as expected, it was a highly delightful listen, one that I took to many, many times from then on. I just couldn’t help but go back to it. The track is so unbelievably catchy, is the thing. The descriptive lyrics that paint a young love story and the easy, joyous melody are certainly sing-along worthy, giving the same amount of a freeing adrenaline rush like running away with your lover. And paired with the resonant drum beat, guitar crunch, and their signature tambourine, shaker and harmonica, “Brightside” is conducive to the very reason The Lumineers are so well-liked. It’s a testament to the fact that they always know what they’re doing. They know their sound and they amplify it with every new release.
1. Light My Love – Greta Van Fleet
If you’re one of those “I miss the way music used to be” type people, then first, you must not be looking hard enough, and second, look no further.
With a sound – and voice – reminiscent of a Rush and Led Zeppelin lovechild and fashion rivaling Freddie Mercury, Greta Van Fleet is single-handedly reviving the 70s rock n’ roll era many have been missing, one soulful anthem at a time. And it’s in “Light My Love” that this band shows you everything that makes them stand out, love ballad-style. For starters, there’s the instrumentation, which is impeccable if not overwhelming – there’s a crazy, nostalgic level of talent here. The fancy drum work and intricate guitar riffs contend with the greats. The keys harbor that Elton John-esque charm. The composition as a whole is a fine reprieve from overcomplexities that sometimes convolute this genre.
And then there’s frontman Josh Kiszka’s insane voice, which is Geddy Lee times 10, which also means you either absolutely love it or don’t care for it. In this case, I’m very much the former. In a nutshell, it’s what my dad said to me after hearing it for the first time, with a look of pure awe on his face: “Wow. That was really good.”