Being a part of a magazine is like being in a marriage – if a marriage involved a host of people of all different nationalities and mindsets, that is. More often than not, we’re an agreeable bunch when it comes to culture. But just like a union, compromise is an essential element to keeping the whole ship running straight.
While compiling our list of the 50 Best Songs of 2021, the number of tunes to choose from throughout the course of the entire year totalled well over 50. As one of two primary new music writers, I personally covered a gigantic slate of songs that currently sits at over 400 (and I only started in March: there’s a whole three-month gap of songs that I haven’t even discussed). To whittle down literally thousands of new songs into a concise list of 50 was a monumental task, and even though we were all happy and damn proud of the final results, it is only inevitable that some personal favourites didn’t make the list.
Did my own personal advocacy for certain artists cause some other picks to be sacrificed? Without a doubt. I’m not afraid to admit that I made perhaps the strongest case to include ‘good 4 u’ by Olivia Rodrigo on the list, likely at the expense of some of my other picks in addition to the potential loss of respect from some of my colleagues (no regrets). That’s the give and take that comes from working in what is for all intents and purposes a highly democratic workplace: decisions have to be made, and battles have to be picked.
So what happens when some of your personal favourites get left on the cutting room floor? You sweep them up and give them a separate platform, of course! One of the true delights of my job is being taken aback by an artist that I had never previously heard of. It happens quite frequently, and I had a few times this year where a nice tune from a band or artist that I never paid much attention to wound up getting put in regular rotation while I was in the car, on the bike, or just sitting around doing nothing.
These are some of the songs that would have appeared on the year-end list if I was the sole writer and editor of this website (which thank God I’m not). From classic returns to form and reliably raucous tunes to new discoveries and name-making songs, here are ten great songs that just missed our 50 Best Songs of 2021 list.
1. ‘How Am I Still Alive?’ – Lauran Hibberd ft. Lydia Night
Let’s start with the first artist I ever covered here at Far Out: indie punk Lauran Hibberd, whose ascent through 2021 probably wasn’t quite given the proper amount of attention. With a fantastic EP Goober and a string of awesome singles throughout the year, Hibberd is quickly establishing herself as one of the most consistently fun and exciting songwriters of the modern-day.
Pairing up with The Regrettes Lydia Night for a wonderfully fatalistic look at love and heartbreak, ‘How Am I Still Alive?’ is the perfect mix of horny surreal imagery (“he drops his trousers in my shampoo”) and mammoth power chords that never stopped getting kicked around in my head. It’s now nine months later, and my love for this song has yet to dull, even as 400-plus songs found their way onto my desk.
2. ‘Bush TV’ – Skegss
My biggest soft spot is for punk-adjacent work. I made a point that songs like ‘Security’ by Amyl and the Sniffers and ‘Help is on the Way’ by Wavves (and, yes, ‘good 4 u’) found their way onto the final list, but a few tunes had to be dropped for the sake of diversity. That’s a bummer, only because it meant that I couldn’t give a shout out to Australian surf-punks Skegss and their ferociously fun single ‘Bush TV’.
Skuzzy, catchy, and devilishly charming, it took me about two months to realise that ‘Bush TV’ is actually a break up song. It’s not like the words are hard to decipher, but the song itself is so loose and appealing that the venom is hidden under thick layers of pop-punk. The spiritual successors to American punk bands like NOFX and early Green Day, Skegss are the band for anyone still kick flipping like the Warped Tour never ended: people like me.
3. ‘Will You Remember Me’ – Wax Works
The best moments you remember actually tend to be some of the smaller ones: towards the end of my college life, my friend Vedankt and I drove to get what was promised to be some of the best street tacos in the DC area. He asked about my job at Far Out, and I played him the most recent song I reviewed. It was a synth-driven indie pop song from an English upstart named Adam Levey, producing and performing under the name Wax Works.
‘Will You Remember Me’ caught his ear, and as one of the biggest music fans I know, his seal of approval meant the world to me. I liked ‘Will You Remember Me’ before this incident, but now it remains inextricable from that memory, and every time I hear it I can still see the rain on the windshield and smell the allure of fresh chorizo. I’m usually pretty isolated here: the only American at Far Out, living away from my college friends, working in a quiet bedroom office, but getting to share these songs is easily the best part of what I do.
4. ‘John, Take Me With You’ – JW Francis
When I dove into my Spotify Wrapped playlist, I was shocked to see some of the figures: my numerous hours of listening to the Grateful Dead was not a surprise, but my nearly-endless replays of Fleetwood Mac certainly were. My constant return to Rosie Tucker’s ‘Habanero’ (which made its way onto our final list) was pretty obvious, but an obscure track from Latin rockers Ozomatli called ‘(Who Discovered) America’ recorded back in 2004 being my top song of the year certainly gave me pause (only briefly, because that’s a great song).
Another surprise: of all the songs that I covered at my job here at Far Out, the top-ranked one was ‘John, Take Me With You’ by JW Francis. A kooky and sweet slice of indie rock and bedroom pop, ‘John, Take Me With You’ burrowed its way into my brain and stayed there for an entire year. Francis is one of the more eclectic young artists working today, but he managed to pull together one perfect earworm that has remained completely inescapable to me or anyone who’s been in my car over the past seven-ish months.
5. ‘Misty Morning’ – Kandle
There were very few artists that I came into this job spearheading from the very beginning. In fact, it can probably be reduced to three: Phoebe Bridgers (who is already astronomically famous), Rosie Tucker (who I never shut up about), and Canadian singer-songwriter Kandle.
Here’s the thing: Kandle has been making awesomely eccentric indie rock for damn near a decade. Her debut, In Flames, is one of my favourite LPs of the past ten years, and just this year she put out the fantastic Set the Fire. That album includes ‘Misty Morning’, the aching piano ballad that finds the singer kicking back at her sorrows and embracing the lighter side of love. As someone way too emotionally invested in her music, I’m looking forward to a potentially happier Kandle that might be coming in the future.
6. ‘You Stupid Bitch’ – girl in red
girl in red has had plenty of acclaim this year: she’s like if ‘good 4 u’ was from a legitimate punk rocker (I’m going for the world record of unsolicited mentions of ‘good 4 u’ in a single article. Currently at 4). If you liked ‘good 4 u’ (5) and want an entire album of it, let me direct you to If I Could Make It Go Quiet, girl in red’s debut record that was released earlier this year.
The album has a ton of great tracks on it, but if your personal tactic for confronting the darker side of life is to throw on ball-bustlingly loud music until you’ve either reached catharsis or a new nadir, than ‘You Stupid Bitch’ is the perfect cut for you. Comically unsubtle, ‘You Stupid Bitch’ is the rant we all want to yell at someone who needs to just open their eyes and see what they’re missing, but in a more stylish and more tuneful way than most of us are capable of.
7. ‘Beautiful James’ – Placebo
What’s better than a new artist making a name for themselves? A classic band showing that they still have what it takes to crank out great songs. I was never a huge Placebo guy (the Placebo market in America was always slightly underground and well before my time – their debut came out two years before I was born). But damn if I wasn’t happy to hear a band that’s usually in legacy mode put all their heart into a brand new single.
‘Beautiful James’ is classic Placebo: Brian Molko’s high impassioned wail, the mix of rock, pop, and electronica, a melody for the ages that stays inside your skull whether you like it or not. I very much did and still very much do, and I return to ‘Beautiful James’ with ever-increasing frequency. It’s just a great jolt of energy from a band that’s showing renewed signs of life.
8. ‘Boilermaker’ – Royal Blood
Do you know what else I love? Big, dumb rock music. It gets a bad rap these days, especially since the era of monolithic guitar riffs and gigantic drums featuring innuendo-laden lyrics is firmly in the rearview mirror. If you do it wrong, you end up sounding like Greta Van Fleet. If you do it right, you end up with an indelible song like Royal Blood’s badass ‘Boilermaker’.
Produced by Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme, ‘Boilermaker’ is a swaggering riff rocker that is completely unafraid of being out of step with the current wash of indie rock and bedroom pop. The boys in Royal Blood are more concerned with kicking ass and taking names, common sense be damned. If all you want from new music is some Zeppelin-esque rock and roll, ‘Boilermaker’ is where you need to turn your attention.
9. ‘Watching Cartoons’ – La Luz
A good bass line will always set you on the right path forward, and the bouncy bit of low end that keeps swirling throughout California indie rockers La Luz’s single ‘Watching Cartoons’ is the secret weapon that keeps the languid and lush track driving forward.
Dreamy and psychedelic, complete with sitar and giant waves of harmony, ‘Watching Cartoons’ will easily appeal to rock true believers and basement-dwelling stoners of all kinds. For the second year in a row, we’ve all been shut inside our homes, so who can’t relate to the insulted feeling of channel flipping and couch surfing? La Luz just happen to make it sound way cooler than it actually is.
10. ‘Kill Me’ – Indigo de Souza
In a year where women completely dominated their way through the world of rock and roll, Indigo de Souza carved out her own unique niche as the true torchbearer for pushing guitar rock into the future. Her second LP, Any Shape You Take, is ten tracks of self-reflection and anxiety that happens to sound like the biggest and most empowering therapy session that could possibly happen.
The peak is on album closer ‘Kill Me’, which lets the sprawling nature of the album unravel into four minutes of unhinged bliss. Has a celebration of being fucked up ever been as catchy and fist-pumping as ‘Kill Me’ is? An existential crisis in the form of a massive scream along, ‘Kill Me’ proves that anyone even remotely interested in rock music needs to hitch their wagon to de Souza’s convoy immediately.