This was easily the hardest list to make out of the year-end lists so far mainly just because of how much I had to cut down. This original list was somewhere around 55 songs and I realized that not only did I not want to put y'all through that, but I also didn't want to put myself through it either. There's a lot of variety on here for sure, but that's to be expected with a list like this. There are also a few honorable mention songs that I want to be sure I point out and give their credit as these were the hardest songs to cut out from this list (these will also all be included on the playlist at the bottom of this list).
Those honorable mention songs are adhd by Slowthai, New Shapes by Charli XCX ft. Christine and The Queens and Caroline Polachek, Starlight by Yola, All It Cost Me Was Everything by Cody Jinks, and Keep Moving by Jungle.
With those out of the way now, here are my picks for the 30 best songs of 2021.
30. Yves Tumor - Jackie
I was late to the Yves Tumor party last year and I'll be damned if I'm late to it again. There are instances where compression and a mix suffocating you can work and this is definitely one of those. This song is thick, heavy, and just crushing. I love the sinister vibe this song has along with Yves' usually great voice. If you haven't given this a shot already, definitely throw it in your rotation soon.
29. Weezer - Here Comes The Rain
I don't know what exactly it is about this song but it scratches a specific itch for me and I honestly want to hear more piano-rock songs from Weezer. Maybe it's Rivers channeling his inner Beatles or maybe it's just how catchy that hook is, it also might just be how awesome the strings on the songs are to the point where I think this song would sound worsewith guitars in their place. If you need a good entry point for OK Human, I'd say this is a solid as it gets. (You should really listen to it in order but more on that in the next list.)
28. Cody Johnson - Known For Loving You
The first time I heard this song, I automatically knew it was gonna be included in this list because this might be one of Johnson's best songs to date. I don't say that lightly either, I've been following him for a long while now and as his profile continues to expand, I'm glad his music isn't suffering. I think when Cody gets on a song like this, he's unbeatable. The whole thing instrumentally sort of If You're Going Through Hell by Rodney Atkins but not to the point of ripping him off. Johnson's vocal performance on the song is perfect for the upbeat tempo and the driving fiddle and electric guitar leads. I think the lyrics on the song are super fun as well with Johnson singing about how he could have all of this fame, wealth, and excess yet, "...when I'm gone / no matter what I did or didn't do / I wanna be known for loving you." I hope Johnson adds this to his live repertoire soon because this would be amazing live.
27. BROCKHAMPTON - THE LIGHT
Is someone chopping onions right here? No? Are we sure? Okay then damn...this song really stings. Most of the new BROCKHAMPTON album revolves around themes of loss, specifically Joba losing his father to suicide in September of 2020. I'm still shocked at how open he was about this loss on this album and this song is the first true gut-punch lyrically about the situation with Joba spending the whole first verse of the song rapping about how he misses his dad, how he feels like he could've done more, there's also a rough few lines where he says he wishes he could talk to him one more time so he has that image in his mind versus the image of his dad's room after he shot himself. It's a tough song emotionally but the beefy drums, organ chords, and loud distorted guitars make this thing instrumentally pleasing where the lyrics are so low.
26. Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram, Jon Randall - In His Arms
The first single off of The Marfa Tapes, this has slowly become one of my favorite Miranda Lambert songs. A shimmering acoustic ballad, Miranda sings of missed connections and lovers she wishes she could've pulled a little closer. I love Miranda's vocals on the song because it shows just how great her voice is when all of the processing and studio polish is removed. She's just as great a singer in the studio as she is in this raw setting. I also really like the lyrics on this song, especially what's supposed to be the chorus with Miranda wondering where those missed connections have ended up. Maybe he's breaking horses in San Antonio, maybe he's lost in the Marfa lights, maybe he's playing with a house band in Dallas? Miranda isn't sure, but she does wish she was in his arms right now, and she even wonders if he's thinking the same. Again, we'll never know for sure, but the result of it is this beauty of a song.
25. Royal Blood - Boilermaker
I've been waiting to put this song on one of these year-end lists ever since this duo of Ben Thatcher and Mike Kerr live debuted the song on tour in 2019 and the finished product is an absolute heater. It's also neat to find out that this song was produced by none other than Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age fame. As far as Royal Blood's singles go, I think this might be one of their strongest in a really long time, probably since I Only Lie When I Love You. The groove and the energy of this song are both irresistible. I also love the extended bridge with the descending bass line, especially when the choir and synths get added in. I also have to give props to Ben's drumming on the song because it is fantastic and that man holds a groove better than a lot of other drummers in modern rock are. If you're a Queens of the Stone Age fan and you haven't given this song a shot yet, I highly suggest it, you'll find a lot to like.
24. The War on Drugs - I Don't Live Here Anymore (ft. Lucius)
Quick! Someone grab my arm before I transcend too high and hit my head on the ceiling! The War on Drugs has been one of my favorite discoveries of the last year and the feelings of warmth and comfort I get from their music are unmatched. I can't really elaborate but they just sound comfortable. This song, the title track of their latest album, is no different. I love the booming drums throughout the song and I find Adam Granduciel's lyrics all over the song to be pretty smart. He's looking back on lots of past memories with a love interest he had that has obviously splintered and rather than sitting and being upset about it, he's moved on, he doesn't live in that state of mind anymore. I have to say that the chorus on this song is incredible. It just feels so happy and triumphant for a song that's pretty sad lyrically. Adam's knack for writing hooks is also flexed on here and I also really like the guitar solos he brings all over the song. The band was recently added to the bill for this year's Innings Festival in Tempe, AZ which I'm attending and I can't wait to dance like an idiot in the pit to this song.
23. Eric Church - Break it Kind of Guy
This is the least like Eric Church I think Eric Church has ever sounded and I love it. Don't think I'm saying that to discredit him either, I love Eric and I've been in his corner ever since the first time I heard Creepin'. But man, I'm glad he and his band just decided to cut loose and have fun on his two new records because it leads to songs like this. While Eric portraying himself as a badass is nothing new, it just feels so fun on this song. Whether he's calling his boss son telling him to tell his Dad to get lost or saying, "When it comes to raisin' hell / 'Bout to take y'all to school," you can't deny the energy Eric has on the song. I also love the outro with Eric essentially just saying, "I'm not gonna do it this way, I'm gonna do it my way" which leads to a funny, "Don't tell me how to sing it! It's my damn song!" I also love the funky groove of this song instrumentally with a fun bass line, guitars with a lot of vibrato, and drums that just ask for dancing. This is easily one of the best songs off of this triple album project from Church so if you need a good song to start before diving in, here it is.
22. Flatland Cavalry - Some Things Never Change
Cleto Cordero. That's all I need to say for you to know why I like this song so much. Okay maybe that's not all I need to say but for most of you, you'll get what I mean right off the bat. For those of you who don't know why that's such a big deal, let me break it down a little bit. Cleto Cordero and his band, Flatland Cavalry, are self-described as "Easy on the ears, heavy on the heart." Need an example? Here it is. As song with driving fiddle and acoustic guitar leads paired with Cordero singing about how his dream girl will appear in a bar or dancehall he's at only for her to disappear at the end of the night "when the lights come up and the smoke clears." To Cordero, it's like clockwork that this happens or in his words, "Like a bonfire fades when it runs out of flame." I also have to mention how awesome the fiddle is on this song. While Flatland's music is no stranger to fiddle leads, this has to be one of the best ones that they've laid to tape, especially the solo that ends the song out, it's just pure heat.
21. St. Vincent - The Melting of the Sun
Has Annie Clark missed yet? I'm honestly asking, I don't think she has yet. I could've chosen any song from Daddy's Home to throw on this list but if I have to pick what I think is the best song, it's definitely this one. Normally I hate songs that have lyrics that are only based on name-dropping other artists, songs, and albums but somehow Annie makes it work, mainly because it's from a different angle. Rather than trying to make these names work as a way to tell a story or make rhymes, this song serves more as a tribute to these artists and in Annie's words, "a love letter to strong, brilliant female artists. Each of them survived in an environment that was in a lot of ways hostile to them." But as far as the song goes musically, this thing is a beautiful mix of spacey synths, some simple but really great sounding drums, and of course, Annie's guitar which really shines before the last verse as Annie gets to solo for a little bit. The outro of this song is fantastic as well with a choir behind her and the song getting a little more steam musically. I really hope Annie finds a way to fit this into the setlist when I get to see her again in February.
20. Charley Crockett - I Need Your Love
Every time I hear a Charley Crockett song I feel like I've tripped and fallen into a time machine that took me to the 1960s. Seriously, you could slip this dude in between a George Jones and a Buck Owens song and I would believe that it's from the same time period. I was pretty late to the party when Welcome To Hard Times came out but when I first found out a new album of original material was due out from Charley, I knew I had to pay attention. (I say original material because he released an album of James Hand covers earlier in the year.) This song was the lead single and it made me fall in love with Charley all over again. Between Charley's voice, the horns on the song, and the pivot towards soul music, there's not much not to love on this song. Lyrically, this is a goofy love song but Charley really sells it with his vocals, especially when it comes to him singing a line like, "I can't ask to move the mountains, so just give me the strength to climb." This song just oozes swagger and if there are more songs like this in Charley's wheelhouse, I hope they come out next year when he'll likely put out another album since he never sleeps I guess.
19. Bleachers - Stop Making This Hurt
It's easy to hate Jack Antonoff. He produces just about every main pop girls album under the sun and as time goes on it seems like he gets more and more basic and not really daring enough with the artists he works with. But man, when he drops a banger, it's a banger. This song is probably the best thing he's released under any project he's worked on this year and it genuinely gets better and better each time I listen. There's so much to like about this song. Whether it's the driving piano and bassline, the snappy drums, the panned horn section, the warm guitars. This song alone reminded me why Antonoff is such an in-demand producer because this instrumental is pure heat. Lyrically I think this song is pretty fun too as he mentions how the world is spinning not just for him but for his family and friends as well, opening the song by singing about how friend and collaborator Lana Del Rey is on the road and doesn't recognize her country or in the second verse singing about how his mom is trying to "break free of New Jersey." I'm also pretty sure that the chanted "STOP MAKING THIS HURT" is one of the best hooks of the past year and it gets me hype every time I hear it. This song is fantastic and likely the best off of the latest Bleachers effort so if you don't want to listen to the whole thing, at least add this to your rotation.
18. IDLES - The Beachland Ballroom
In 2021, IDLES came storming back and won me over as a fan again. From the second I heard this song, I was blown away by a few things. First, a moody rock song produced by Kenny Beats has no right to sound this good, but it does. Also, Joe Talbot's singing voice on this song is fantastic and it's a nice change in pace considering I'm used to hearing him scream his head off. (He does eventually scream but it's not until the very end of the song.) This song just feels really tense with the slower tempo, big piano and synth chords, and I love those quick bursts of cymbals and distorted guitars that pop up. Lyrically the song is all about recovering from trauma, something that the album is based around too after frontman Joe Talbot nearly died in a car accident. Talbot comes through with some unsurprisingly solid lyrics on this track, I really like the lines about trying to move forward "inch by inch, foot by foot" on his knees before falling down again on all fours. The entire outro of the song is even more tense with the guitars going higher and the strumming getting faster, more cymbals, and Joe is yelling, "IF YOU SEE ME DOWN ON MY KNEES, PLEASE DO NOT THINK THAT I'M PRAYING." It's a very dramatic song and I'm glad I decided to give it a listen because it ended up pulling me back in and letting me give IDLES another shot.
17. Morgan Wade - Wilder Days
Before this year began, I had no clue who Morgan Wade was. I saw her name on a few festival lineups and I had seen BJ Barham from American Aquarium tweet about her and talk her up to be the next big star in country music. Now, almost a year later, she sure is shaping up to be that way. She's on just about every publication's "Artists to Watch in 2022" list, she's opening a stadium tour for Luke Combs, and this song even got up to #14 on Billboard's Heatseekers Chart back when this album was released. I believe this song deserves that success the most out of all the songs on the album. Why? Because you'll be hard-pressed to find a song that blends Country and Alternative as well as this one does. Produced by Sadler Vaden of Jason Isbell's 400 Unit, this song not only solidifies Morgan as a great singer and writer but also shows that Vaden's talents aren't strictly limited to being a great guitarist. I love the reverb on the guitars all over this song and the groove on this song is irresistible as well. Morgan's lyrics on the song are also fantastic singing about how she finds her perfect guy but he's cleaned up his act but still has a little wild side to him. In an interview with Apple Music, Morgan says that "if time would have allowed it, [we] would have gotten into some trouble and been more of a Bonnie-and-Clyde-type thing." If you're not on the Morgan Wade train yet, you better hurry because it's leaving the station really soon.
16. Jack White - Taking Me Back
I don't think this song being here will shock anyone that knows me. Jack could've released a song where he just burps for 3 minutes straight and it'd probably end up on this list. Luckily, that's not the case. Instead, this is a straight-up arena rock jam. If you thought Over and Over and Over slapped, Taking Me Back is coming to kick your legs out from under you then punch you in the nose. There's so much going on but at the same time, it never gets overwhelming. There are synths flying all around the place, guitars and cymbals panning back and forth, and of course, since this is Jack White, there's a buttload of fuzz to go along with it. You can also tell that this was Jack in his studio just having fun given that there are multiple synth and guitar solos, different instrumental bridges, and I absolutely love the bit in the middle of the song with the distorted arpeggios, it's a really solid touch. I think what I like most about this song is the fact that it manages to be both a classic Jack White song and yet still push forward. It has the weirdness of Boarding House Reach and it has a blaring riff like something you could've found on Icky Thump. I also have to bring up the point that this was also a new experiment for Jack given he pulled a Kevin Parker by recording and producing every sound on this song himself. Knowing that makes some of the production on here feel a little more impressive and the drum groove on here made me realize that Jack is also a fantastic drummer (yes, I know he played drums in The Dead Weather but I think it's his weakest side project so I don't listen to them much.) If you want me to make a long story short to end this, this song is a banger and Jack White isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
15. Halsey - Easier Than Lying
This...this is the exact thing I was expecting to hear when I first heard that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross would be producing a new album for Halsey. That still sounds wild to say but yes, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the two sole members of the legendary Nine Inch Nails produced an album for Halsey, a singer whose two biggest mainstream successes have come from singing on a Chainsmokers song and a Benny Blanco song. This song, however, is very much not like those stylistically but I don't think I needed to tell you that. Instrumentally, this is the most any song on this album sounds like NIN and I wouldn't be surprised to find out that this was something that got left off of The Downward Spiral (the drums especially really remind me of Mr. Self Destruct) and I'm very happy to report that Halsey has the proper energy and dark lyrics to match the vibe of the song. The entire chorus of the song is super heavy with Halsey singing "I sleep with one eye open and one eye closed / 'Cause I'll hang myself if you give me rope / I lost all my faith and lost all hope / That everything means anything at all / One eye broken and one eye bruised / 'Cause I gave myself away for you / You liar, you don't love me too / It's easy for you after all." I also love the second verse where she sings about her heart being an "innocent artery" that needs some "undivided hypertension" before she sings about telling her heart to quiet down which leads to everything dropping out except for her voice and a bass drum that sounds like a heartbeat. This song might be one of the best that Halsey has laid down so far in her career and while I don't expect her to continue working with Reznor and Ross, I'm not exactly opposed to it either.
14. Lil Nas X - INDUSTRY BABY (ft. Jack Harlow)
BABY BACK! AY! COUPLE RACKS! AY! COUPLE GRAMMY'S ON HIM! COUPLE PLAUQES! AY! Every time I think Lil Nas X is fading into irrelevancy, he comes back and drops another banger that makes me fall in love with him all over again. In 2021, this was that song, even though he dropped multiple great singles leading up to his first full album, MONTERO. I think this is still the strongest single he's ever dropped on a pure quality level. His verses have a fun flow, the chorus is catchy as hell, and he's just so cocky and full of swagger and he has every right to be. There's a lot of subtle flexes with him saying he's yet to lose while he's been popular and also saying that he's not scared to switch styles saying he's telling rappers he doesn't see them because he's making pop banging "like Bieber." I also love the marching band vibe of the instrumental with the huge horn section, the snare drum line, it surprisingly fits well next to the trap hi-hats and huge sub-bass. Oh yeah, Jack Harlow is on the song, too, and the chemistry these two have is undeniable. You can really tell they brought the best out of each other while they were recording this. Harlow's verse is also a celebration of success, rapping about how a lot of people are hating on him now that he's reached this level of success but he blames it on himself saying "I must be gettin' too flashy." I also really love his line near the end where he raps, "Saw your time is comin' soon, but just like Oklahoma / Mine is comin' sooner." It's a fantastic performance from both on all fronts and if you somehow haven't heard this song yet, what are you doing? Just turn on your local pop radio station and enjoy this song in all it's greatness.
13. Porter Robinson - Look at the Sky
I know this is probably a statement that everyone is sick of hearing at this point but 2020 was a rough year for everyone. A pandemic swept the nation that we still see the effects of almost 2 years later, everyone was forced inside, many people lost family members and loved ones and many had their mental health deteriorate as we stayed inside longer and longer. Porter Robinson was one of those people but he used that to make something very inspired and very hopeful. This song was the fourth single released for his album Nurture and it's easily one of the most powerful songs on the album. The verses show Porter really upset and confused with himself while trying to make this album to the point where I think he was just writing out what was pissing him off and decided to sing about it as a way to cope with it. He sings about being somewhat addicted to the fame and notoriety he was receiving at 18 when he first started touring. There's also a really cutting line in the second verse where he says, "Are you close? / Shouldn't it come to you naturally? / And everyone knows (Oh) / You're losing your gift and it's plain to see." Yet it comes to a very positive and hopeful resolve with Porter saying before the bridge that he felt a change and is more sure of himself and his art. The big message of hope comes in the chorus, however, with Porter singing, "Look at the sky, I'm still here / I'll be alive next year / I can make something good, oh / Something good." This song is an undeniable banger instrumentally too. I love how ethereal the first half of the chorus feels with these super grand synths and some fuzzy bass chords as well, it's just such a well-arranged song from the opening piano playing to all of the effects he stacks on his voice. That's a feat in itself, to process his voice this much yet still have this much emotion pour through is really great. Even if EDM isn't your cup of tea, I cannot recommend this song enough.
12. Tyler, The Creator - CORSO
They say money can't buy happiness and there's no one to prove that more true than Tyler does on this song. This song shows Tyler on a victory lap. IGOR was the #1 album in the country upon release, he had an extremely successful tour and festival run behind it, and you could make a claim that EARFQUAKE finally broke him into the mainstream. So what's Tyler doing in the aftermath of it? Well, he's buying cars, he might buy a boat, he's taking trips all around the globe. Yet, as he says, he's spending "millions, just to fill voids up." This song is the direct aftermath of the events that conspired on IGOR. Essentially, Tyler found himself in a race against the clock trying to win over a love interest before someone else got her and it seems like he lost that race. He tries to put on a happy face and make it seem like he was too good for this love interest saying, "In the end, she picked him, I hope when they f*ckin' / She still thinkin' of me 'cause I'm that perfect." He also tries to turn to his wealth again at the end of the song saying, "Remembered I was rich, so I bought me some new emotions / And a new boat 'cause I'd rather cry in the ocean." This song instrumentally is one of the hardest beats Tyler has produced in a long time with some soft pianos and a drum break mixing with some super deep 808s. Tyler also enlisted the help of DJ Drama on this song who might come off as annoying at first but I promise, in the context of the album, he makes much more sense on here. I still think his contributions on here are great saying that what Tyler is about to do is "something legendary" and then before the third verse saying, "Okay, now you understand what we came here to do," after Tyler has been rapping his ass off. It's a great intro to the album and the narrative and, oh yeah, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST SUCKAS!
11. Silk Sonic - Fly As Me
I don't want to hear a single one of you say that this sounds like Old Navy Commercial music because that might be one of the most disrespectful and discrediting things you can say about this song and this album as a whole. If you've never listened to Anderson .Paak's solo material, Bruno Mars is on a mission to make sure you do in the near future and I can't thank him enough for it. This is technically the first new song on the Silk Sonic album and I kid you not, I replayed this song three times on the night of release after I heard it because I was so hooked by it. I would try to talk about every reason why this song is great but I'm limiting myself on space in an effort to finally finish this list. For starters, again, if you've never listened to Anderson's solo work, please do it soon. His charisma and energy on the song are incredible to the point where I can almost picture him smiling in the booth while he's recording his vocals. The lyrics on the song are fun too with Anderson flexing his excesses to impress a girl going so far as to tell her, "Go ahead, sprinkle some truffle on your mashed potatoes." What the song boils down to is Anderson telling this girl, "I deserve to be with somebody as fly as me...and you deserve to be seen with somebody as fly as me." Bruno isn't on this song as much as he is a few others but man, his hook on this song is lethal. Also lethal is the bassline and guitar riff on this song along with the super sharp horns that pop up before the verses and during the end of each chorus. This song is just so well produced too, you can feel the warmth coming off of the drums and it just sounds so nice. One last time for good measure, go listen to Anderson's solo work if you haven't yet. After you listen to this song, of course.
10. Squid - G.S.K.
I will assure you guys now that this is the weirdest song on this list. British post-punk was an undefeated genre in 2021 and while there was a lot of great stuff that came out, Squid is the band that caught my ear the most. This song is just such a wild way to open up an album. There are so many twists and turns and they all catch you off guard because you don't know when to expect them. The song goes from a verse backed by trumpet and some strumming guitars before some synths are thrown into the mix. After this, there's some guitar noodling before someone shushes the band. The lick comes back again before there's a huge wall of distortion and the drums pick up, the cymbals get bashed on a little harder, then it sounds like it gets sucked out of the song into another smoother section. This song still catches me by surprise even when I'm paying attention to it. The bassline on this song is also really good and manages to add a bit of a sinister vibe to this song. Speaking of, this song and album are supposed to be set in a dystopian world ruled by the title's namesake, the G.S.K., a pharmaceutical company in the middle of this city that runs just about everything. Singer and drummer Ollie Judge sings about praying to the company and speeding along from pharmacy to pharmacy just hoping he's making enough to have a warm dinner for him at home. If not, he'll go through the windshield since he can't slow down. I think this is one of the wildest album openers of the year and while I don't really know if I can pick just one, I think it's not that tough to say that this is one of the best album openers of the year. The only reason why I don't feel 100% confident in that statement is because...
9. Brandi Carlile - Right On Time
It almost feels illegal that Brandi Carlile is still this great and still this consistent. It's been almost 17 years since she dropped her debut album and she is still a fantastic writer and if anything, she's only gotten better in these 17 years at it. Right on Time is a piano ballad capitalized by, as Brandi calls it, a "mega-money note...just to torture myself." I understand how it can be vocally straining but as long as her voice can handle it, I welcome any and all "mega-money notes" from Brandi. Lyrically, this song is about the aftermath of a fight with someone you're close with, whether it be a friend, a family member, a significant other, and having to cut each other off. Brandi sings from a strange perspective on this song as she misses the person she cut herself off from but she doesn't necessarily feel bad for doing whatever she did. Brandi is also sort of scared at what happened singing that she didn't mean to take her anger out on this person yet she always does but she does it because she knows they're the strongest person in the room and can take it (except for this time I guess). The chorus of the song really ties everything together nicely and I love the line where Brandi sings that she loses this person "in these silent days," essentially feeling more lonely the longer she doesn't hear from this person but she's still not apologetic, ending the chorus by singing, "It wasn't riiiiiiiiiiiiiight (that's the mega-money note), but it was right on time." I think Dave Cobb did a fantastic job on the production here, I love how drawn out the guitars are and how well they mesh with the lush strings and Brandi's piano playing. This song is compelling and beautiful enough as an instrumental alone but when you throw Brandi's fantastic songwriting and voice on top of it, you have perhaps the best country song of 2021.
8. The Killers - Quiet Town
When you think of The Killers music what do you usually associate it with? For a lot of people, they're immediately associated with they're dumb, fun pop-rock bangers like When You Were Young, Human, and of course, Mr. Brightside. For some others, they're associated with their live shows which are commonly very grand, bright, and full of confetti, lasers, all of the Las Vegas fixings. This song is very much neither of those and that's apparent right from the beginning when we hear a field recording from someone in the town of Nephi, Utah where frontman Brandon Flowers spent most of his teenage years. The man at the beginning of the song says that there's a train that will always pass through the city, everybody hears it and knows about it, yet every 2 or 3 years someone will get hit by that train. The man also says that he sees it as a way to escape the city and escape this life. Super cheery start to this song eh? For the rest of the song, Brandon flexes his storytelling muscle just about the best he has ever done in his career so far. His first verse is about a sadly true story of a young couple getting hit by the train while they were taking some "sheet metal and household appliances" back home while it was pouring down rain. Nobody in the town expected it to happen and it caught almost everyone by surprise with Brandon saying that the couple was expecting to get married once they graduated high school and have a kid but "trouble came and shut it down." This song takes an even darker twist in the second verse when Brandon starts singing about what plagues the city the most, opioids. The end of the verse is one of the most disturbing in the song with Brandon singing, "When we first heard opioid stories / They were always in whispering tones / Now banners of sorrow mark the front steps of childhood homes / Parents wept through daddy's girl eulogies / And merit badge milestones with their daughters and sons / Laying there lifeless in their suits and gowns." And a reason why this is all so disturbing to hear is that Brandon paints a great picture of how tight-knit this community is, saying that people don't even lock their doors at night and are always more than willing to lend a hand if you need it. This song is fantastically written and, just like Brandi, Brandon has also only gotten better as a writer over the course of his career.
7. Twenty One Pilots - Shy Away
Wow! Shocker guys! I really like a Twenty One Pilots song! Who would've ever guessed? Maybe this is a biased pick but I can't help but ignore this song given I think this is one of the best songs they've ever released. Is that a bold take? Maybe, but I don't care. There are two things I need to point out before I talk more about this song. The first is Tyler Joseph's production chops because after taking over the reins on the band's last album, Trench, Tyler is still improving as a producer and while I do think there are a few misses across the album as a whole, this song gets everything right. From the peppy and bright drums to the panned guitar licks in the second verse, there are a lot of nice touches that make this thing really shine instrumentally. Oh and that's the other thing...there's guitar on this song. While this isn't the first song the band has released with guitar in it, this is the first they released that has it this prominently featured. I think stylistically, this is a mix of a lot of mid-2000s pop and alternative rock, I catch shades of The Strokes and Phoenix mainly but I can also feel The Killers influence on the song too. I also love the guitar lick and synth lines that drive the song, I'm glad that Tyler took the time to actually learn guitar a little bit because I would be bummed if he learned guitar only to write garbage riffs. The rhythm section on this song is fantastic too, the bassline is groovy as hell, super punchy, and Josh Dun will always be a beast on the drums. The chorus on this song is solid too and lyrically, Tyler has said this song was inspired by a conversation he had with one of his younger brothers after he asked Tyler to show him his songwriting process. From that comes an empowering set of lyrics with Tyler telling his brother to take risks, to "shed your modesty," and to not "shy away" from wanting to do what he wants making music. There's also a great breakdown near the end of the song too before the chorus hits one more time with a big explosion of synths, some distorted guitars, and Tyler screaming his head off in the background. While yes, I might be biased to put this song here this high, I genuinely think this is a fantastic indie-rock banger and if you haven't yet had the chance to give this a spin, do that soon.
6. Olivia Rodrigo - good 4 u
In case you didn't notice it, pop-punk is having a bit of a revival right now. The results have been...varied, but when one hits, it's great. On good 4 u, if you can't tell already, it hits. I think this song honestly could've been way worse but this song is smart in that it's not trying to "rawk out!!!! \m/" or be super loud and thrashy. This song wants to be a pop song, it just so happens to have some distorted guitars, distorted vocals, and some upbeat drums. Because of this, you're not getting a mix that's super blown out and compressed and you're not getting something soulless, to use the phrase again, everything clicks on this one. Another thing that I think helps Olivia out here is that she's obviously a student of Paramore and Avril Lavinge, she's also made it known that she's a huge Courtney Love fan as well (after Love accused her of plagiarism, Olivia responded by saying, "I'm just flattered that Courtney Love even knows I exist), so she's not entering this territory completely green behind her ears. What comes out of it is Olivia's best song so far and just a straight-up banger, honestly, I am convinced that there is crack in this song because it shouldn't be as addicting as it is. Olivia's vocal performance on the song is super fun and super charismatic, it gives the song another boost of energy as if it needed anymore in the first place. I also have to bring up the lyrics of the song because even though I'm not her intended audience, I still love these lyrics about her breaking up with someone only for him to move on a little too quickly. She's pissed off on the song and the lyrics are super cutting, telling this guy at one point that hopefully the therapist she found for him will help him be a better man for his new girlfriend, there's also the line in the chorus where she says she's glad that he's doing great, looking happy and healthy but not her but it doesn't matter because he wouldn't have asked anyway. Hearing this song makes me want more songs in this style from Olivia but given that this is only her first album, it's hard to really know what to expect next. All I can say for now though is that this song slaps and Olivia has a really bright future ahead of her, so long as she doesn't kill this ex.
5. Dayglow - Close To You
In 2019, Sloan Struble released an album called Fuzzybrain under the name Dayglow. As he described it at a show I went to, he upload the album to Soundcloud, closed his computer, moved into his dorm at the University of Texas, saw how well the album was performing, and dropped out to pursue music full time. That's mostly thanks to his viral hit Can I Call You Tonight which made the rounds on TikTok and helped him get a lot of buzz. Now, almost 3 years later, Sloan is only getting bigger, finding slots at major festivals around the world, selling out an entire headline tour, and releasing his second album, Harmony House. The lead single from that album is this song, Close To You, I have a lot of great things to say about this song and limited space so I'll try to be as concise as I can be. First things first, the synths on this song are incredible. I don't know what kind of black magic Sloan whipped up in his home studio to make them sound this great but oh my lord it's fantastic. I also can't deny the groove on this song. No matter where I hear this song, I always feel the need to get up and dance and put a smile on my face because it's that great. Especially when the chorus hits and you have the punchy drums, piano and synth chords mingling together, and Sloan also hitting some fantastic harmonies, especially when he reaches up into that falsetto, it's so catchy. The only thing holding me back from having this in the #1 or #2 spot (which I almost did) is that I don't think lyrics are that special though I do find Sloan to be a pretty honest writer. The song deals with Sloan getting too caught up in his head and thoughts to go talk to a girl that he likes, as he says in the chorus, "I'm only overthinking when I'm close to you." It's not offensively bad but I also don't really listen to Sloan's music for the lyrics since he's so great at producing these songs so it's not a big surprise that this song isn't as great lyrically as it is instrumentally. Regardless of that criticism, this song impresses me every time I listen to it and it never fails to put a smile on my face. If you want to get some background from Sloan about the making of this song or if you're just curious about his music-making process in general, check out this video to see his "behind the scenes" look at the song.
4. Dominic Fike - Kiss of Venus
I wanted to try my best to avoid covers in this list entirely. It's the reason I cut American Aquarium's cover of John Deere Green by Joe Diffie and the reason I cut Jason Isbell and Sadler Vaden's cover of Honeysuckle Blues by Drivin N Cryin. But this one is very different. The main reason I cut those out is that they were trying to be as faithful to the original as they possibly could. This cover is different. Originally by Paul McCartney, Paul assembled a great cast of talent to remix and cover different songs off of his most recent album, McCartney III, essentially giving everyone creative freedom for whatever they wanted to do. Dominic decided to completely rearrange and reimagine the song. Originally an acoustic song, Dominic's version has some quirky guitars and synths, a big string section, and two new verses that he wrote. The song starts with what sounds like some marimba before it quickly transitions into the guitar leads and some steady snare drums. I also love the bridge on the song where it sounds like Dominic is singing and playing some chords through a phone. The new lyrics on the song shift the focus from astronomy to the division of the news cycle in today's age. It also somehow turns into a love song with Dominic saying in the first verse, "baby, what's your take on it? / Does it make you wanna leave? / 'Cause I could look the other way for you." I also really like the second verse, there's a line I love at the end where Dominic says, "Go to college / Go find your major / Realize you're minor in the scheme of everything." The double-entendre of that line is fantastic. I think what makes me the happiest about this cover, however, is just the fact that Paul was willing to do it. So many artists who have gotten older only go on to prove how out of touch and angry with life they are, whether it's Eric Clapton suing a fan for selling a bootlegged CD or David Crosby struggling to understand why Phoebe Bridgers would smash a guitar on SNL. McCartney is doing his best to make sure that when he's gone, music is still in good hands. While he could've easily told Fike and anyone else that was on this project to make it as close to the original as they could, he wanted to make sure everyone had fun with it. The direct result of it is remakes of his songs that end up as great as this one did.
3. Arlo Parks - Hope
I first listened to this album on the recommendation of Billie Eilish after she had posted her listening to this on her Instagram story and congratulating her on the release of her debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams. When it came to picking which song from that album would make this list, I honestly had a really tough time. There's so much good stuff on this album but given that I return to this song the most, it only felt fitting to put it in this slot. Between Arlo's poetic lyrics and amazing vocal delivery, the amazing production (especially on the drums, sheesh), and just the way this song flows, it's probably one of this album's highest points. Lyrically the song is all about isolation. Arlo sings about the anxiety and sometimes depression that comes from being isolated, away from those you loved, and not just that but also sometimes the shame that comes with it. And the themes of that are present from the opening line when Arlo sings, "Millie tried to talk the pleasure back into being alive." It's a really dramatic opening line and it sets the tone well. I also really like her second verse here where she sings, "Started sweating bullets when her dad asked, 'How d'you really feel?' / She said, 'I've been feeling like something inside me wants to scream' / Won't call my friends, I'm persuaded that they'll leave in the end / Can't feel my legs, I'm feeling like a liar at best." There's also a spoken word third verse that Arlo said she wanted to feel like the other end of a phone call and it's probably the most profound thing she says on the song saying:
I've often felt like I was born under a bad sign
Wearing suffering like a silk garment or a spot of blue ink
Looking for light and finding a hole where there shouldn't be one
I cannot communicate the depth of the feeling
Truth is I'm still learning to be open about this
But know that I know and you're not alone
The chorus is hopeful though Arlo wants to make sure the message is getting through to the listener saying, "We all have scars / I know it's hard / You're not alone like you think you are." I'm very glad I found this album and Arlo before it was too late and I missed the train because Arlo has a very great road ahead of her. I'll never be able to thank Billie Eilish enough for posting about her and talking her up. Oh, speaking of Billie Eilish...
2. Billie Eilish - Happier Than Ever
I think to break it down simply, this song is 50% indie-folk singer-songwriter style acoustic, 50% My Chemical Romance and Queen-inspired rock, and 1000% the best thing Billie has recorded to date. I don't even think it's close and that's high praise considering how big of a fan of Billie's I am. A sprawling, mutli-phased, 5 minute long song, Happier Than Ever shows Billie somehow at her most vulnerable and her most confident at the exact same time. The first half of this song is Billie questioning an ex, asking if he reads her interviews or if he went out of his way to just pass through her neighborhood. She also starts her list of complaints saying he would do the opposite of things she told him which would lead her to be more afraid and "miserable." Instrumentally, the song is barren up until the end of the second chorus. The only things accompanying her voice are some harmonies and an acoustic guitar and honestly, she's great on this half of the song in itself. If this was the whole song, I'd probably be a little upset that it was barely two minutes long but I'd still really enjoy it. But instead of staying in this lane, the tempo picks up and the acoustic guitar fades into an electric guitar. As Billie starts singing again, there are a few notes of synth bass and some bent electric guitar notes before the song just explodes into a wall of distortion, guitar chords, and the drums being bashed away at. And don't worry, Billie is still singing. In fact, she's singing some of the most cutting lyrics on the entire album on this song. The verse right after the song transitions shows Billie recounting a call she had with her ex while he was driving home drunk, saying "You scared me to death / but I'm wastin' my breath / 'Cause you only listen to your f*ckin friends." She then tells him that she doesn't relate to him because "I'd never treat me this sh*tty." The whole final verse is Billie just unloading on this guy, saying she never said anything bad about him, yet all he did was make her sad. She also says that he "ruined everything good" by saying he was misunderstood. But I have to point a few lines that I think trump everything else, most notably, probably my favorite line on the album, "I could talk about every time that you showed up on time / But I'd have an empty line 'cause you never did." There's also the final line where Billie says that this guy made all of her moments his own before belting out, "JUST F*CKING LEAVE ME ALOOOOOOOONE!" I also have to say that hearing this song live was just as magical and cathartic as you would imagine it is. While Billie has continued (in my opinion) to be a disappointing live performer, I would definitely pay money to see her again just so I could experience being in the middle of 50 thousand kids screaming "YOU MADE ME HATE THIS CITYYYYY." Alright, now that we've gotten all of this anger out, let's dance.
1. Japanese Breakfast - Be Sweet
Holy guacamole this song is amazing, truly and honestly. This song continues to blow me away each time I hear it. And to be honest, I don't know what it is about this song that makes it so catchy and great to me but I think I have a few clues. First, the chorus on this song is irresistibly catchy and I have to be careful when I listen to this song because I know in the future I'm gonna find myself in a serious situation and all I'll be able to think of is this damn chorus and humming along to "Be sweet to me BAY BAY!" I've never really talked about songs being earworms on this blog in a positive light but this song is so good that I don't mind it being stuck in my head. There's so much more to love in the chorus too besides that hook. The harmonies on the hook are incredible, I love the twinkly synths and funky guitar chords that pop up throughout it as well. It's weird that this song somehow sounds futuristic but also makes me nostalgic for a time I can't remember. The second reason I think I like this song so much is because of the rhythm section. That bassline is killer and the drums on this song sound fantastic as well. They're both just perfectly funky and have the perfect head-bobbing tempo. The next reason I suspect I love this song so much comes with a question. Do you love synths as much as I do? Then you'll love this song as much as I do. Whether it's the cinematic swells in between the chorus and second verse or the ascending and descending solo at the end, there's so much here for all you synth lovers. Lastly, but certainly not least, Michelle Zauner is a reason why I think I love this song as much as I do. Her voice is one of the most unique I've ever heard and when she hops on a song like this, it's pure magic. Also, some of the harmonies she pulls off on this song are fantastic, like this song genuinely may have the best harmonies of 2021 as well. While the upbeat vibe and shiny synths may make this song sound seem happy, Michelle's writing on the song will make you think twice about that. On the song, she's singing towards a significant other telling him she wants a little more affection from him since she's had fantasies of him running away and leaving her. That's all she wants, for him to be sweet to her. I don't know how many times I've listened to this song, probably way too many, yet I still haven't burnt myself out on it yet. If I can have a song in rotation for months on end and never skip it, it's gotta be worth standing out. In case I haven't made it clear yet, I'll say it one more time for good measure. I think this song is incredible and I hope I get a chance to see this band play this song live somewhere because I will bust out dance moves I didn't even think were possible in the pit.
Linked below is a Spotify playlist with all of these songs in order from #30 to #1 along with the honorable mentions on the top. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoy these songs as much as I do.