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(Credit: Far Out)

Music

The 50 best songs of 2021

If you look at the figurative pages of music magazines across the year, one notion seems to rise to the top of the pile: we are not listening to music in the way we used to. Whether it is Adele ensuring her album is listened to throughout by having Spotify remove the shuffle option, the explosion of TikTok ‘audio’ sending songs flying to the top of the charts, or even the surge in vinyl purchases, it is plain to see that music is evolving. 

One place this evolution is most prevalent is the cut and paste ethos that we’ve all adopted since the advent of downloading and streaming songs. No matter your preferred platform, there’s a good chance your interface is full to the brim with playlists, recommended radio options and a hefty dose of forgotten album filler in the trash. Far-flung from the LP-boom of the 1970s, now songs, are the only way to really gain some traction. Below, we’re celebrating the very best of the year with the 50 best songs of 2021.  

Of course, it would be remiss of us not to mention the unusually difficult creative and artistic situation we find ourselves in. Naturally, the global pandemic hit the very nature of art with the powerful swipe of a six-tonne sabretooth tiger. 2021 was supposed to be the year we got our lives back and while that notion still seems fragile at best, at least we can find solace in the resolution of our favourite bands and artists refusing to let confinement or contamination destroy their drive to provide universal expression for their audience. 

Cover songs may have been fashionable in 2020 and bled into this year, as livestreams took over our lives and the ability to record in working studios was virtually unheard of, but we also got a plethora of great songs to at least soundtrack the collapse of civilisation with some banging tunes. 

Below, we’ve picked out our favourite songs from the year and slimming a list of thousands of great songs to just 50 was one of our most gruelling tasks. However, we’ve managed to bring you the finest songs the world had to offer us. Enjoy.  

Far Out’s 50 best songs of 2021: 

50. ‘Good Woman’ – Staves 

With its rich harmonies, tight production, and barrelling momentum, The Staves’ ‘Good Woman’ sees the indie sisters-in-folk shake off their celestial image and rail against assumed female passivity. 

Released amid the cider-drinking days of the nu-folk boom, their 2012 debut, Dead & Born & Grown & Live, earned them a reputation as one of the most wholesome and languid bands on the scene. Even in 2017, they still seemed entirely committed to quietly churning of gently plucked folk ballads, but 2021 seems to have marked a watershed moment. ‘Good Woman’ is a testament to Staves’ refusal to fade away. 

49. ‘Turning of Our Bones’ – Arab Strap 

From their stunning studio venture, As Days Get Dark, this subversive floor filler is at once groove-laden and terrifyingly gothic, weaving Bauhaus guitar lines and pulsing 404 beats. 

Deeply confrontational in its pessimism and wonderfully embittered, Arab Strap’s return to the fray sees the Scottish duo attack everything from nostalgia (“I don’t give a fuck about the past”) to old age and apathy. It’s dark, it’s twisted, it’s delicious.  

48. ‘Help Is On the Way’ – Wavves

This beautifully wonky slice of psych-infused alt-rock from Nathan Williams and co. offers a welcome return to the west-coast sound the California three-piece honed on King Of The Beach back in 2010. 

After spending the intervening years pressing grapes into expensive wine for Californians and producing his 2018 Sweet Valley record, Eternal Champ II, it’s quite possible Williams has gone a little soft. But, while many of the tracks on Wavves 2021 album Hideaway suffer from a better-safe-than-sorry approach, ‘Help Is On The Way’ has an irresistible vitality. 

47. ‘Spike the Punch’ – Alex Lahey 

An anthemic throwback to 2000’s guitar-driven pop, this offering from Alex Lahey sees the singer-songwriter invite us into the same ecstatic, deeply confessional world offered up in their 2019 release, The Best Of Luck Club

Released ahead of Lahey’s Australian tour, it would seem ‘Spike The Punch’ has been crafted for the set purpose of sending crowds into a frenzy, offering us a reminder of all the things we didn’t miss about pre-Covid nightlife with an endearingly self-conscious exuberance. 

46. ‘Habenero’ – Rosie Tucker 

Self-deprecating, expertly crafted, and unashamedly whimsical, ‘Habanero’’ is proof of Rosie Tucker’s incredible talent for writing lyrics with near-novelistic scope. 

While ‘Habanero’ is far from unique in its instrumentation or production, there are few songs of its ilk that have managed to capture the intense self-interrogation that overcame so many of us during the Covid-19 pandemic with as much wit. 

45. ‘Leave the Door Open’ – Silk Sonic 

This velvet-lined, smooth-talker of a track serves as the perfect remedy for those of you who have suffered under the amount of indie-gloominess released in 2021. 

The debut single from Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s joint venture, ‘Leave The Door Open’ could easily have been plucked from The Isley Brothers’ songbook and has set Silk Sonic up for one hell of a fruitful 2022.

44. ‘Good 4 U’ – Olivia Rodrigo 

No one fired up the cultural divide like Olivia Rodrigo this year. Directly appealing to teenagers, Rodrigo rattled off three emotionally turbulent singles and a wild debut LP while becoming an easy pick for surprise artist of the year. In a short time, she raised the ire of crotchety old curmudgeons and scored millions of fans in the process. Not bad for 12 months of work.

‘Good 4 U’ is much like a McDonald’s cheeseburger: made on an assembly line, probably bad for your health, and a cheap imitation of something a little more authentic (Thanks Paramore!). But good god is it delicious, and no one is above the pure delight of the song’s anthemic shout-along chorus.

43. ‘The Things She Says to Me’ – SPINN 

With this back-to-basics slice of jangle-pop, Liverpudlian quartet SPINN travelled back in time to show us the kind of music their dads might have listened to in the mid-1980s. Yes, if it’s the La’s you’re into, then SPINN’s ‘The Things She Says to Me’ is certainly the one for you.  

After being forced to postpone their second album and the supporting tour, ‘The Things She Says To Me’ has played no small part in allowing SPINN to keep up the momentum. With its glistening, chorus laden guitar lines and clean-cut charm, it’s no wonder their fans are so eager for more. 

42. ‘Keep Moving’ – Jungle

Duel falsetto vocals? thumping bass? Glimmering synth lines? It must be Jungle. This honey-sweet offering saw the duo re-establish their dominance on the festival circuit, bringing the sunshine of their California sound to the bleak British summertime

Quickly becoming one of the songs of the summer, ‘Keep Moving’ was the perfect soundtrack for our return to public life, celebrating the joy of new beginnings in the face of so much unexpected change. 

41. ‘Haunted House’ – Holly Humberstone

Holly Humberstone’s paper-thin vocals and minimalistic arrangements have made her one of the standout stars of the year. 2021 has seen her collaborate with the likes of Sam Fender, and perform on the main stage at London’s All Points East Festival, where she quickly won over the event’s uneasy audience. 

With its Shirley Jackson-esque lyrics and mellow, close-miked piano, ‘Haunted House’ is at once deeply nostalgic and heart-warmingly optimistic, reflecting the renewed mindset of someone taking their first steps into adulthood. 

40. ‘A Dream with a Baseball Player’ – Faye Webster

It’s been a colossal year for American singer-songwriter Faye Webster. Her fourth studio album, I Know I’m Funny Haha, was released to critical acclaim across the board. The highlight of the record was, undoubtedly, ‘A Dream With a Baseball Player’. 

A soul/R&B driven number, the emotive saxophone that drops in and out is splendid. Webster sounds like a mix of Gwen Stefani and Erykah Badu and dazzles us. The track is a laidback lament to a fleeting love lost. She sings, ‘How did I fall in love with someone I don’t know?’, and that’s a sentiment we can all get behind.  

39. ‘How Not to Drown’ – CHVRCHES ft. Robert Smith

The return of CHVRCHES this year with their fourth album, Screen Violence, was warmly welcomed by everybody. Lauren Mayberry and Co. built on the strides made on 2018’s Love Is Dead, with a much darker turn. 

The record draws on the feelings that the pandemic brought to the fore; isolation, disillusionment and fear, creating a heady offering that has considerably more weight than their other efforts. The highlight has to be the second single, ‘How Not to Drown’, featuring the lord of all things gothic, Robert Smith. Synthy, haunting and huge, as Smith and Mayberry sing, “watch as they pull me down”, a shiver runs down your spine, as it evokes all the haunting beauty of Disintegration-era Cure. Fantastic. 

38. ‘Weights’ – Bartees Strange

It’s been a huge year for English-American musician, Bartees Strange. On ‘Weights’ he channels the punk subversion of both Placebo and Bloc Party, and the synth strings that wail in the background give the track a darker edge, placing ‘Weights’ on the boundary of goth. 

There’s bits of TV on the Radio, New Order and perhaps even early Editors on ‘Weights’, making it a delightfully edgy piece of music that pulls you in instantly. A perceptive take on a faltering relationship, the future looks bright for Bartees Strange. 

37. ‘That Funny Feeling’ – Phoebe Bridgers

I don’t think anybody would argue with me by saying that Phoebe Bridgers has had the year of her career so far. 2021 has been massive for the indie heroine, and after the release of her sophomore album Punisher in 2020, she’s gone from strength to strength, becoming something of a media personality. Her cover of comedian Bo Burnham’s touching ‘That Funny Feeling’ is one of the most candid points of all of 2021. 

She slightly tones down the spirit of the original, and the added instrumentation at the end is beautiful. A real tearjerker, have the tissues ready. Oh, and she’s donating all the proceeds from the song to Texan abortion funds to protest the state’s draconian anti-abortion law. Phoebe Bridgers we salute you.

36. ‘Glory’ – Snail Mail

Another artist who’s had a huge 12 months has been Lindsey Jordan, AKA Snail Mail. Her second album, Valentine, hits the right spot and has confirmed her as one of the vanguards of the current alternative revival, which boasts the likes of Beabadoobee and Phoebe Bridgers. An introspective piece of indie rock, there are nods to Veruca Salt, Slowdive and even Sonic Youth on ‘Glory’. 

Valentine has been a cathartic record for Jordan, who’s had a tough couple of years, and the release hits its pinnacle on ‘Glory’.

35. ‘Virginia Beach’ – Hamilton Leithauser & Kevin Morby

The collaboration between Hamilton Leithauser and Kevin Morby was the one we never knew we needed. ‘Virginia Beach’ is modern Americana at its finest. Featuring the gorgeous Spanish guitar that constantly rolls in the background, Leithauser and Morby are a winning combination. 

In a press release for the track, Morby said: “It was my attempt at evoking Cash and Dylan’s ‘Wanted Man'”, and he succeeded. A song about travelling off the beaten track across the many vistas of the American heartland, we hope Leithauser and Morby have more in store for us in the not too distant future.

34. ‘Be Sweet’ – Japanese Breakfast

Michelle Zauner and Japanese Breakfast have killed it this year. Their third effort, Jubilee, is their most mature effort yet. Harking back to the atmospheric sort of indie you’d hear in the mid-’80s with legends like Jane Wiedlin, ‘Be Sweet’ is a luscious piece of music that you’re guaranteed to have on repeat. 

There’s the funky bassline, staccato guitars and bright synths that made this one of Summer’s vital dancefloor bangers. Fans of The 1975 will love it. 

33. ‘Liz’ – Remi Wolf

This is a neo-soul masterpiece. On her 2021 album, Juno, Remi Wolf has definitively shut up her detractors, proving that she is much more than plainly an ex-American Idol contestant. She channels her inner SZA, and has created a technicolour world like no other on Juno

Her vocals are amazing on ‘Liz’, and her range is quite something. Wolf even treats us some of those iconic Minnie Ripperton-esque high notes, demonstrating that she is one of the most captivating vocalists currently out there. The production is dreamlike, and ‘Liz’ has helped to quash much of this year’s ill-feeling. 

32. ‘Katrina’ – Yves Tumor

One of the most original releases this year, Yves Tumor’s surprise EP, The Asymptotical World, caught everybody off guard. One would argue that this is the best-produced body of work that has graced our ears this year. Co-produced and engineered by Tumor’s longtime collaborator, Yves Rothman, the EP acts as something of logical middle ground between 2018’s Safe in the Hans of Love and 2020’s Heaven to a Tortured Mind, even though it comes after both of them.

The Kevin Shields-esque riff on ‘Katrina’ is pure quality, and this multi-faceted, edgy track will leave you wanting more. It’s a mix between shoegaze, trip-hop and noise, and confirms that Yves Tumor is one of the most refreshing artists of the modern era.  

31. ‘Chase It Down’ – Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth

Another stellar pairing we didn’t know we needed is Primal Scream head honcho Bobby Gillespie and Savage’s commanding frontwoman, Jehnny Beth. Their collaborative effort Utopian Ashes, is everything you’d expect. 

Political, with nods to southern soul and composers such as Ennio Morricone. The album opener ‘Chase It Down’ is something of real, mature beauty. There’s an authentic atmosphere that you can’t quite put your finger on, and the two’s quite distinct voices provide an effective contrast to each other. It’s the stuff of movie soundtrack dreams. 

30. ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’ – The War on Drugs

Opening with a little repeating synth note, this song announces its driving 1980s origins before it even gets going. However, with references to Bob Dylan’s famed “creature void of form” this track, in truth, isn’t a send-up to the ‘80s alone but a celebration of the wide-ranging influences that have wrung out in the singular sound of The War on Drugs since they began, one of which features in the song itself with Lucius lending a hand.

The song chronicles a journey but it is far from a maudlin march of life, it joyously stands aside from the stream that speaks of and picnics by the side of realism in blissful meditation. You can dive into the track or simply enjoy the dazzling surface, it offers up both options freely in a beautiful pairing of wisdom and wistfulness. 

29. ‘Security’ – Amyl and the Sniffers

With Comfort to Me, Amyl and the Sniffers offered up one of the finest punk albums of recent times. ‘Security’ is a track that defines the straightforward adrenaline shot that the band aims to deliver time and time again until the point that headbanging becomes as involuntary as the mullet that has suddenly formed on your previously bald head.

Caustic but filled with humour and delivered with searing intent and wry smile, this is the mantra that Joey Ramone marched into songs some fifty years ago. It is a mantra that will never be dated and always remain relevant, as it cuts through the malaise of life with a sense of grinnin immediacy. Never has someone “looking for love” sounded so damn urgent about it.

28. ‘Phoenix’ – Big Red Machine

With the sheer amount of talent combing for this song, success was surely inevitable. Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes has one of the best voices in modern music and he wistfully whisks through this ditty with the ease of a bird taking to flight. Alongside the bustling horns and remarkably impressive drumming arrangement, the song offers up colourful depth and linear simplicity in equal measure.

The triumphant joy of the piece, however, comes from the perfectly melodic chorus. Aaron Dresner may have cited The Band’s masterful The Last Waltz as an inspiration for the record, but that stretches well beyond the number of collaborations it houses — the inherent singalong vibe of their old folk-rock classics is mirrored beautifully in ‘Phoenix’ in a golden realm where great music seems to come so easy.

27. ‘Cigarette Packet’ – Sorry

The sonograph for ‘Cigarette Packet’ is certainly a busy one. From the get-go the song races into a cluttered collection of sounds and continually introduces new elements into the mix as it races along. This cacophony imbues the song with a certain mania, then by the end of the song you realise that you’ve barely breathed for almost two and a half minutes, like a long sustained draw on a cigarette and the inevitable headrush.

The song might not be to every taste, but it is this divisive innovation that makes the song so refreshing. There is an inherent newness to the track that never lets up. In fact, the song almost defies judgement, moving too fast to be caught up to and probed at, which might not be ideal from my point of view, but it certainly proves exciting and undoubtedly singular.

26. ‘Smile’ – Wolf Alice

Wolf Alice have now established themselves as an indie-pop favourite amid the current circuit. With ‘Smile’ they exhibit the sort of unfettered youthfulness that makes them sonic a slice of lemon when supping on any playlist. 

Heavier than some of their efforts, the track rides along on a rumbling bassline and unspools almost like a rap. Broken up with a delicious middle eight, the evolution of the song is a meta declaration of the evolution of the band. The song is dripping with live-act confidence and it kicks like a mule when witnessed in concert.

25. ‘Parking Lot’ – The Weather Station

With ‘Parking Lot’ The Weather Station managed to cook up just about the most endlessly listenable songs of the year. It might not knock your socks off and hurl them into next week, but as far as songwriting goes it is just about perfect and that is a word never used lightly. Everything is in its rightful place with ‘Parking Lot’. 

The story it tells is one of reservation, and on the surface, that might form a juxtaposition with the bouncing major melody but, in truth, it delivers a message that creative insecurity and exuberance go hand in hand as one joyously makes sense of the other. This is a message that comes to fore after you get beneath the peak Fleetwood Mac grooving melody, and it is a credit to the wondrous song that it continues to reveal itself after the thousandth listen while still offering the same toe-tapping balm as the first time you were whisked into its effortless wonder. 

24. ‘Peach’ – Future Islands

‘Peach’ might touch upon death, but it has never sounded so blissful. In fact, the stunning lyrics to the song can be glossed over with a casual listen as gorgeous bass tone and inherently welcoming melody piques the interest of audiophiles. This brilliant production work is among the best of the year as perfectly tweaked song bristles along at a spring breeze zip.

Bliss doesn’t have to be ignorant is the message of this bittersweet piece of pop introspection. Future Islands may well be known for their adrenalised live performances, but ‘Peach’ is a song that perfectly displays the reflective side that gives them a reason to cut loose. This is new wave with something truly primordial in the mix and that is a feat well and truly worth celebrating.

23. ‘Hypnotized’ – Tune-Yards

In ‘Hypnotize’ wild unfurling imagery springs forth from the nonsense poetry that weaves around jazzy meddling of drum, bass and chiming sparse guitar. This rumbles along with interest, before catching up with a beautifully buoyant chorus that makes sense of it all during which Merrill Garbus’ vocals take a step up and bask in the spotlight.

It would be easy to get too convoluted when making a song like this and layer the electronics a little too much, however, by keeping the verse spacious and bouncy, it allows for the booming chorus to kick like a mule without being over-reliant on it. In the world of indie electronica, tune-yards are quickly crafting themselves as one of the most interesting acts around.

22. ‘Fixer Upper’ – Yard Act

Buying a house is a dauntingly existential task. However, in the world of music, the domestic side of life is often sequestered in order to focus on the same regurgitation of emotive spiel that has plagued a thousand tired pop songs. Not ‘Fixer Upper’ though, the Yard Act’s revel in the mire of mortgages and knocked through walls for a song that prides itself on grinning originality.

This is the sort of wild realism that dulls the aforementioned existential dread of life in the tedious lane and embalms civility with an inherent sense of colourful mayhem. In other words, this track is refreshingly funny and switches the tales on mundanity, finding art in the artless like John Cooper Clarke at his best. 

21. ‘Days Like These’ – Low

With a gospel-like into ‘Days Like These’ gets off to a dramatic start and slowly introduces a guitar tone of such honeyed belle that you feel like you could float on it. Thereafter, the crank of a fuzzed-out amp proves to be the next moment of sonic diegesis as the strange journey through sound playfully experiments with a sense of movement that adds an allegorical note to the title of the track.

Calming but without ever entering a lull, ‘Days Like These’ is an almost perplexing track. More so than any other song this year, the creative discussion behind it is obfuscated amid the mingling wall of sound that it presents. This proves a refreshing feat as the song keeps you guessing and refuses to be boxed.

20. ‘Wilshire’ – Tyler, the Creator 

After deviating from rap on 2019’s Igor, where Tyler, The Creator expressed his soulful side, this year he returned to doing what he does best on Call Me If You Get Lost, and ‘Wilshire’ is the album’s piece de resistance.

The eight-minute track, which Tyler recorded in just one take, sees him talk the listener through a relationship, from the moment their eyes first met to the end. It’s pure storytelling from the former Odd Future leader, who shows that vulnerability is a strength on ‘Wilshire’. 

19. ‘Albuquerque’ – Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

When lockdown stopped Nick Cave & Warren Ellis from spending time on the road, they dealt with the headed the studio to create Carnage. Rather than traipsing through America on tour and seeing places like Albuquerque, the duo used their creativity to take them there instead.

The beautifully quaint track finds Cave suffering from wanderlust as he regretfully sings, “We won’t get to anywhere, darling, Unless I dream you there, We won’t get to Albuquerque, Anytime this year.”

18. ‘Woman’ – Little Simz

After 2019’s Mercury-nominated Grey Area, Little Simz levelled up again this year with Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. The record is about coming to terms with yourself, and on ‘Woman’, Simbi delivers a powerful feminist anthem.

‘Woman’ is brimming with infectious feel-good energy, as she gives nods to various women in her life who deserve to be showered with praise, even if they don’t always see eye to eye. The emotional tail-end of the track features a voice note from an estranged loved one which adds a tonne of gravitas to the intensely moving authentic affection Simz percolates on ‘Woman’.

17. ‘D.O.A.’ – Baxter Dury

The imperial Baxter Dury released ‘D.O.A.’ earlier this year in conjunction with his best-of album, Mr Maserati. Rather than be a pastiche of his former work, the track sees the ‘Prince of Tears’ delve into new territories by interpolating hip-hop production.

Although sonically, it’s somewhat of a left-turn from Baxter, the song’s eerie atmosphere is a familiar one for his legion of fans. Dury revealed the song was influenced by Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and Tyler, The Creator, after bonding with his son Kosmo during lockdown over those records, and it’s a musical shift that suits him to a tee.

16. ‘Second Time’ – The Goa Express

The North of England boasts an unmatched rich heritage in British guitar music, and The Goa Express are keeping that lineage alive. This year was a relatively quiet one for the Calder Valley upstarts, who released just two songs. However, ‘Second Time’ signals a glistening future for the group.

The track marked a leap forward for the group. While their previous material saw them exhibit a lo-fi sound, ‘Second Time’ is gleefully upbeat. It also possesses a contagious chorus reminiscent of those early Britpop days before it soon became a caricature of itself. 

15. ‘Concorde’ – Black Country, New Road

Black Country, New Road released their debut album, For The First Time, which led to a Mercury nomination at the beginning of the year. In February, the follow-up, Ants Up There, arrives, and if the transfixing ‘Concorde’ is anything to go by, another Mercury nomination will soon be in the post.

On their debut, BCNR showed that from a technical standpoint, nothing was off-limits; however, from a songwriting sense, the progress they’ve made in that short time is demonstrated on the delightful ‘Concorde’. Characteristically, it’s six minutes long, with the group theatrically developing the track across the time as it wondrously erupts.

14. ‘Superstar’ – Beach House

​​Beach House are sharing their eighth studio album, Once Twice Melody, in two parts, with the second half of the record arriving next year. ‘Superstar’ is the highlight from their first batch of songs released and sees the dream-pop duo unlock an eerie side to their sound.

The track is impeccably layered, as it gradually builds up to construct a profoundly moving piece that is as exquisite as anything they’ve made throughout their extensive career. It’s also impossible to escape from the haunting disposition of the lyrics, as Victoria Legrand painfully sings, “Superstar, shining far, When you were mine, It may be out of sight, but never out of mind.” 

13. ‘The Beachland Ballroom’ – IDLES

In 2020, IDLES scored their first number one with Ultra Mono, yet, they knew deep inside they desperately needed to re-invent themselves for their next chapter. The Bristolians did so majestically with their fervent comeback single, ‘The Beachland Ballroom’.

With their third album, IDLES were in dangerous territory of stagnating. In one song, ‘The Beachland Ballroom’, by taking a momentous leap out of their comfort zone, they proved those who dared to write them off wrong. It’s the most grandiose track they’ve ever made, but they’ve grown into a band that is capable of pulling off the spectacular, and frontman Joe Talbot’s angst-ridden vocals still mean the track retains an immediate touch.

12. ‘Working for the Knife’ – Mitski

Mitski teased her upcoming 2022 album, Laurel Hell, in spellbinding style with the synth-heavy ‘Working For The Knife’. The American singer-songwriter exhibits her vulnerability from the start of the encapsulating effort when she admits, “I cry at the start of every movie, I guess ’cause I wish I was making things too, But I’m working for the knife.”

On the hypnotising track, Mitski reflects on her twenties passing her by in a blink of an eye and not being precisely where she assumed she’d be in life. For added context, in 2019, Mitski announced she was taking an indefinite break from touring because she could no longer cope with the “constant churn”. Throughout ‘Working For The Knife’, she explains this difficult but necessary decision to step away in heartbreaking detail through her chosen weapon, the knife, which exists in all of our lives to some degree. 

11. ‘Bigger’ – Orlando Weeks

When former frontman of The Maccabees, Orlando Weeks, delivered his debut solo offering, The Quickening in 2020, he dealt with the tribulations of fatherhood. However, on his forthcoming album, Hop Up, the singer toasts the beauty of the life he now leads, too.

Despite releasing the track in the middle of a bleak, rain-soaked winter, if you close your eyes and listen to ‘Bigger’, suddenly it’s July again, the sun is beaming down, and life couldn’t be more perfect. On the song, Weeks shares the vocals with the sensational Katy J Pearson. This mesmeric combination, coupled with the sweet synth-pop on display, gives ‘Bigger’ a Talking Heads feel, which is always worth extra brownie points. 

10. ‘Thumbs’ – Lucy Dacus

‘Thumbs’ has existed well before 2021. It was a feature of Lucy Dacus’ live show all the way back since 2018, and the song provided the initial seeds for Dacus to fully explore her upbringing on one of this year’s best albums, Home Video. But all that woodshedding paid off, and the final released version is a haunting tale of anger and anxiety that ends up as one of the year’s most life-affirming songs.

The most important part of the track isn’t the deadbeat dad who makes life hell for Dacus’ close friend, but the lengths Dacus is willing to go to shield this person from pain. “You don’t owe him shit even if he said you did” is the perfect answer to a friend in need, and no one was more of a friend to thousands of lonely souls this year than Dacus. 

9. ‘Pulcinella’ – Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts took us on a wild party-filled joyride on Sympathy for Life, but all parties must end, and the hangover that haunts the album’s final track is the most recent stroke of genius from a band who have a seemingly endless amount of tricks up their sleeve.

‘Pulcinella’ does exactly what an album closer should do – namely, put the past ten songs into perspective. Has all this hedonism and excess amounted to anything real? Can the mask really come off at the end of the night? In the world of Parquet Courts, even the goofiest and most drug-fueled excursions come with a real sense of reflection and pathos. 

8. ‘Holiday’ – Turnstile

It’s rare to hear a totally unique sound crop up in the modern-day. Music is just too homogenised, too wrapped up in itself, and too freely mixed to get anyone who doesn’t seem to have any obvious forefathers. But true originals are there if you look hard, and Baltimore’s Turnstile have emerged with a twist on hardcore that no longer makes them so easily tied to the genre.

Glow On is fifteen songs of rage and beauty that has something for everyone. Jazz, pop-punk, funk, samba, hip hop — it’s a playground for the Baltimore band. ‘Holiday’ might be the one song most closely tied back to hardcore, with shades of At the Drive It peaking through, but there remains something so indelibly inexplicable about the song. It just rocks in a way you can feel in your gut and your heart. 

7. ‘Rae Street’ – Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett has done just about everything an artist could hope for: establish a strong following, be able to switch back and forth between different genres, and play by her own rules. What else is left? How about continuing to match the high bar you’ve already set for yourself?

Starting off exactly like Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight,’ ‘Rae Street’ unwraps with easy energy that lets you completely let your mind wander free. That is until you get stopped in your tracks with a single lyric that cuts through, like “All our candles, hopes and prayers / Though well-meaning / They don’t mean a thing / Unless we see some change.” Only Barnett has the skill to be able to do it over and over again.

6. ‘I Do This All The Time’ – Self Esteem 

Few artists have had a more acclaimed 2021 than Rebecca Lucy Taylor, AKA Self Esteem. Her second album under this alias, Prioritise Pleasure, is a no-holds-barred autobiographical rumination about her life and finds Taylor taking pride in deviating from the exhausting societal expectations.

On the track, she powerfully takes ownership of being a woman in her 30s who isn’t married with children and exclaims about how following our definition of happiness is all that’s important. Like all of Taylor’s work, she takes inference from her own life, and the lyric, “All you need to do, darling, is fit in that little dress of yours, If you weren’t doing this, you’d be working in McDonald’s,” is a direct quote from what she was told by a former tour manager when she was in Slow Club.

“I was looking around the room at people that I’d been in a band with for ten years, thinking, ‘Can somebody stand up for me here?’ but nobody did,” Taylor later told Far Out about the moment which influenced the soul-stirring, ‘I Do This All The Time’.

5. ‘Chaise Longue’ – Wet Leg

A driving drum beat, a steady bass line, some deadpan vocals, a sex joke or two, and a Mean Girls reference. Mix these elements together and what do you get? One of the most exciting debut singles from a band in a long time. 

Wet Leg left quite an impression with their first single ‘Chaise Longue’, including confusing the hell out of our very own Tyler Golsen, but with enough time passed the song has emerged as one of the most unforgettable listening experiences of the year. Rock and roll always needs a good jolt of fun and goofiness, and Wet Leg were happy to gift us with the year’s most inane and ear-catching delight.

4. ‘Seventeen Going Under’ – Sam Fender 

Sam Fender carved out one of 2021’s most-talked-about albums with Seventeen Going Under, and the title track encompasses the reflective themes of the record. ‘Seventeen Going Under’ marked the start of the second chapter for Fender, and although, sonically, it’s still cut from the same Springsteen-cum-The War On Drugs cloth as his debut, the track marked an enormous step up lyrically.

Fender painfully reflects on the troubles that decayed his later teenage years following his mother developing fibromyalgia, which prevented her from working, ensuring he had to become the breadwinner.

“She said the debt, the debt, the debt, So I thought about shifting gear, And how she wept and wept and wept, Luck came and died round here.” On the chorus, he emphatically adds, “I see my mother, The DWP see a number, She cries on the floor encumbered, I’m seventeen going under.”

3. ‘Scratchyard Lanyard’ – Dry Cleaning

No band this year came out of nowhere to take over quite as Dry Cleaning did. Armed with angular riffs, mundane observations, deadpan vocals, and fat bass, Dry Cleaning did what almost no other act have done in a while: arrived fully formed and completely unique. There’s no better illustration of just how vital their off-kilter style is than on ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’.

Despite the chaos around her, lead singer Florence Shaw stays cool under pressure. Perhaps in spite of her best attempts, her bizarre lyrics still connect, even if I still have no idea what it feels like to be a “hearty banana”. What could better describe the devolved dystopia of a world we currently find ourselves in where people keep going about their lives in the middle of a deadly ongoing global pandemic than the line: “Do everything and feel nothing”?

2. ‘Little Things’ – Big Thief

Featuring buzzy guitar lines and a newly expansive palette of sounds and rhythms, Big Thief rose to new heights on their brilliant single ‘Little Things’. Never had the band allowed themselves to sound so open, so loose, or so freeform before. 

With one song, the band emancipated from the tweeness of their past and set course for a wildly exciting future. Generally on the folkier and more solemn side, ‘Little Things’ is refreshingly triumphant and celebratory, even as Adrianne Lenker unfurls a tale of being used and discarded. It’s Big Thief at their most sprawling, and the first time that they ever seemed like they could elevate from indie-rock’s best-kept secret to one of music’s most essential acts.

1. ‘Like I Used To’ – Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen

Even though neither artist released an album this year, Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen still won 2021 with a single, pitch-perfect duet that acts as a grand declaration of their combined crowning as indie rock’s most vital voices. Powerful, dramatic, and damn catchy to boot, ‘Like I Used To’ is able to be smart, funny, surreal, and life-affirming in ways that no other song this year could match.

2021 was supposed to be the year to get back on track: eradicating coronavirus, opening up travel, getting our collective shit together. Instead, we were faced with yet another year of political instability, cultural upheaval, global health crises (plural), and idiotic decision making from our fellow man. 

But ‘Like I Used To’ doesn’t come off as ironic. Instead, it remains the most hopeful vision of what can still be accomplished. In a time where autonomy is as far away as it’s ever felt, no lyric this year has hit home the way “Taking what’s mine like I used to” does. It’s still possible, with Olsen and Van Etten making it sound like it’s just around the corner. ‘Like I Used To’ takes anthemic fist-pumping to a new level, leaving 2021 on an optimistic high note for the future.

Below, we’ve got the perfect playlist, to sum up 2021, with Far Out’s 50 favourite songs of the year.