Mood Bling
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Mood Bling

The 21 Best Tracks of 2021

Here we are, solidly into the soaring twenties and, even though sociopolitical realities may make it feel more like the choring twenties, music is flying higher than ever.

The peculiarities of my own musical taste are at least as far out in the stratosphere as ever. Sure, I’ve got a few pop tunes on my year-end list, and yeah, there’s some minor overlap with Pitchfork’s “best songs,” but generally, my selections are weird, eclectic, and off-the-grid.

If there’s one overarching theme it’s that difficult times tend to foster great music and this year was no exception. Here are a few of the sub-themes that emerged for me:

  • Melancholy, beauty, and kinship were evident across tracks like serpentwithfeet’s lovely “Fellowship” and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s sweeping epoch “Soon It Will Be Fire
  • The internet is fucked and young women in particular are bearing the weight of some nasty fallout so well captured by Olivia Rodrigo’s “jealousy, jealousy
  • Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry (whom I wrote about earlier this year when he passed away at the age of 85) was still unbelievably prolific and shows up in my list more than once.
  • Jungle is back(!) as evident in Virgil Abloh’s “Delicate Limbs,” and at least 4 others on my expanded 121 Best Tracks of 2021 playlist
  • The global village is so intertwined now that it’s hardly worth mentioning, but in my expanded list there are artists representing Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Congo, Faroe Islands, France, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mali, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, South Africa, UK, USA, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and more
  • There’s a lot of fun to be had even in rough times with playful tunes from artists like Equiknoxx, Remi Wolf, Melissa Carper, and Dville Santa

Side note: It’s 2022! Why are we still so concerned with albums? Back in the physical-format heyday—when there was often a bunch of filler squeezed onto an over-priced slab of plastic in order to capitalize on one or two good tunes—there was little choice but to buy into the album paradigm. In those days it made sense for critics to spotlight artists who could break through those industry practices by producing an album of consistent quality.

Thankfully, the advent of streaming and personalization algorithms have unshackled us from album-oriented bloat. Of course epic albums are still being produced. I’m not saying the art form is or should be dead. But technological progress in distribution has made albums much less relevant as a vehicle for summing up the state of music. Jon Caramanica did a noble job of standing up for this idea during his NYTimes podcast about the best albums of 2021.

I also agree with Caramonica’s stance that artists who release music in December shouldn’t be penalized just because pundits have already compiled their year-end lists, which is why my list features a few tracks from the end of 2020.

As music continues to strive toward the beauty and levity so needed in these times, musical imperfection also remains of utmost importance as a reflection of harsh realities. Melancholy and disruption balanced with joy and comfort are the stuff of life. This list as a whole, and some of the tracks in and of themselves, meander across that spectrum and I appreciate the many artists willing to go there.

The 21 Best Tracks of 2021

Want more? The 121 Best Tracks of 2021 is also available on Spotify ->

1) Buzzy Lee “Strange Town”

2) Yebba “Louie Bag (ft. Smino)”

3) Tierra Whack “Stand Up”

4) LUWTEN “Restless Before Breakfast”

5) Olivia Rodrigo “jealousy, jealousy”

6) Hypnotic Brass Ensemble “Soon It Will Be Fire (ft. Moses Sumney)”

7) Remi Wolf “Quiet On Set”

8) Biig Piig “Lavender”

9) serpentwithfeet “Fellowship”

10) Big Thief “Change”

11) Equiknoxx “Urban Snare Cypher”

12) Clark “Lambent Rag”

13) Virgil Abloh “Delicate Limbs — Special Request Remix (ft. serpentwithfeet)”

14) Iron & Wine “This Solemn Day”

15) Populous “Vita lenta”

16) Miso Extra “1013”

17) Melissa Carper “Makin’ Memories”

18) The Upsetters “Nuh Fi Run It Down (Version)”

19) Rob Burger “Bird’s Lament”

20) Paul Frick “Neo Biedermeier (Daniel Brandt’s Version)”

21) Dville Santa “Laboratory”

And if you still want more:

The 121 Best Tracks of 2021

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