These are the songs that made our year better, they formed an unique playlist that is so versatile and beautiful that it just never grows old to listen to the many talented bands and artists that helped us through the hard times and made the good times even better.
50. Danny Elfman – “Serious Ground”
Danny Elfman’s signature orchestral arrangements, off-kilter singing and direct lyrics make Serious Ground a dizzying, essential thrill ride.
– Drew Pitt
49. The Vaccines – “El Paso”
“El Paso” by The Vaccines is the perfect juxtaposition of upbeat instrumentals with downhearted lyrics.
48. Gojira – “Born for One Thing”
“Born for One Thing,” the opening track off of Gojira’s latest album Fortitude, is a true headbanger that highlights the talent of Gojira through their tight instrumentation.
– Erin Winans
47. Converge – “Lord of Liars”
Converge teaming up with Chelsea Wolfe, her bandmate Chisholm and Cave In’s Stephen Brodsky? The results could be nothing less than stellar and “Lord of Liars” is an exemplar of this star-studded collab.
46. Evanescence – “Yeah Right”
Amy Lee uses her voice to bring high strung emotions and classiness about her personal experiences and views to point out what the music industry looks like according to Lee and the sarcasticness gives an idea of how upset Lee is with how the music industry treats her and the band.
– Caitlin Stoddard
45. Till Lindemann – “Ich Hasse Kinder”
Till Lindemann’s “Ich hasse Kinder” features a buzzing bitcrushed bass and upbeat, technical drumming that pushes the song forward and lends it high-level danceability.
44. Non Serviam – “I Watch You From Afar”
On “I Watch You From Afar,” Non Serviam throw black metal, industrial and hardcore into a meat grinder, coming out with one of the hardest tracks of the year. With its searing, machine gun drums, fuzzed-out guitar lines and ethereal vocals, this one begs for a good headbanging.
– Austin Wood
43. Bullet For My Valentine – “Parasite”
“Parasite” calls to the past with sound bites of recognizable lines from their previous songs and propels forward with intense aggression.
– Erin Winans
42. Dessa – “Who’s Yellen Now”
Dessa’s track “Who’s Yellen Now,” is a fun, politically charged song, incorporating some serious ’90s/’00s inspiration. The song is a direct reference to U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen.
41. Badflower – “Johnny Wants To Fight”
L.A. based rock band Badflower left listeners craving more with one of the most delightfully catchy songs of 2021 “Johnny Wants To Fight.”
40. The Bug – “Pressure”
“Pressure,” is a true head banger that you don’t want to end. The Bug blessed us with a dub, ragga and exquisitely grimy hit. The song has captivating drops with hard hitting bass.
– Eve Pierpoint
39. Wolves In The Throne Room – “Spirit of Lightning”
Wolves in the Throne Room’s track “Spirit of Lightning” is a stunning composition. The hellish voices hissing beneath the slow bass thrum and the articulate cymbal work at the beginning of the song prepare listeners for the tempo’s eventual breakneck uptick, chaotic climax, and resolution featuring intense, medieval tonal qualities.
– Nick Ellis
38. Sunflower Bean – “Baby Don’t Cry”
Many of this year’s trends — in fashion and music alike — drew heavily from the early 2000s, and this track is no exception. Indie rock band Sunflower Bean combined the pop melodies of the era with the reverbed vocals of today to create a nostalgic song perfect for summer playlists.
– Skyler Graham
37. Every Time I Die – “Post-Boredom”
Everytime I Die jolts souls with righteous music that consists of face smacking guitar riffs that are capable of causing people to air guitar while Keith Buckly uses his strong voice to scream out the bold lyrics that are on this tune.
36. Kat Von D – “Lost At Sea”
Kat Von D’s track “Lost At Sea” is quite impressive. It’s a clubby, dance song, with just a dash of alternative. It feels reminiscent of something Lady Gaga would do, while also sounding Gossip Girl-esque, incorporating that sexy, party feel. Whether you know her for her tattoos or her music, Kat Von D is definitely an artist worth checking out.
– Audrey Herold
35. Diplo and Sidepiece – “On My Mind”
”On My Mind” by Diplo and Sidepiece is reminiscent of early 90s club music. The feel-good energy from the lyrics and beat of the song immediately makes you want to dance along.
– Quynn Lubs
34. The Linda Lindas – “Racist, Sexist Boy”
There’s nothing more punk than using music to fight hate, as The Linda Lindas show with their performance of “Racist, Sexist Boy.” The four girls evoke the roots of punk and best of riotgirlll with this powerful track that shares their anger toward a boy who didn’t deserve the time of day.
– Skyler Graham
33. Angels and Airwaves – “Losing My Mind”
We might all agree, the last two years were pretty intense, and “Losing My Mind” by Angels & Airwaves might be the song that summarizes this time the best. The lyrics are honest and fun, while the beat and vocals by DeLonge are catchy and easy to sing along to.
32. Tejon Street Corner Thieves – “Love’s Pilot”
The Colorado duo deliver unyielding bluegrass rhythm and raucous fiddles and vocals while sketching out a trucker’s paradise. Never has the afterlife sounded so fun and wild.
31. Sleigh Bells – “True Seekers”
“True Seeker” is a track that balances heavy bass, dissonance, and airy vocals in a way that sounds incredibly fresh. In 1980s style riffs, it is one of the catchiest, smartest songs of the year.
– RaeAnn Quick
30. Poppy – “Her”
It feels like Poppy has really settled into herself on “Her.” Going for a more focused and industrial sound than her previous metal explorations, this track exells in its rawness and simplicity.
– Dana Alward
29. Jerry Cantrell – “Atone”
Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell made his glorious return to solo music for the first time in more than 18 years with the announcement of his new album Brighten. To celebrate the news, Cantrell released “Atone,” a track that simultaneously explores classic Americana music stylings while highlighting his unique vocals and trademark aggressive guitars.
28. Khemmis – “Living Pyre”
“Living Pyre,” a track from Khemmis’ newest album Deceiver, synthesizes the album’s strongest qualities into a single track. With dark, creative syncopation juxtaposed with stoic lyricism, the track masterfully manipulates shifting tempos. The sparse solo section seems to defer to the more prosaic roadmap of the song. The energy crescendos before the last chorus with heavy death growls which lead the song out to its final sway.
27. Lung – “Sun God”
Kate Wakefield of Lung has constructed a fun combination of classical and driving death rock on “Sun God.” Floating above a bed of dirty, distortion, Wakefield’s vocals float soothingly above the driving rhythm from drummer Daisy Caplan. There’s a spooky quality to “Sun God” which is complimented well by not going on too long in its runtime.
– Raymond Flotat
26. Kaada – “Lieder ohne Worte”
Kaada creates their own heaven by having the guitar and keyboard playing fill the air with elegant delicate guitar riffs and light keyboard notes that create a nice balanced musical flow on this track.
25. Garbage – “Anonymous XXX”
Garbage captures the complicated feelings of empowerment and emptiness of casual hookups in this track. The wide array of instruments making up the scoring only adds to these themes, with dark guitar filters at interplay with lighter sounds such as bongos and brass stabs. “Anonymous XXX” is unpredictable and a haunting delight to listen through.
– Dana Alward
24. Death Valley Girls – “Little Things”
In sultury, raspy vocals, Death Valley Girls urges us to “live in our daydreams.” While the life and reality we live in everyday may not seem so sweet, it’s best to just exist in our heads sometimes. “Little Things” is the encouragement we need to do so.
– Jahniya Morris
23. Chvrches – “How Not To Drown”
With a sweeping, anthemic chorus, punchy drums and a Robert Smith feature, Chvrches continue to channel their love for ‘80s goth/synth-pop on “How Not To Drown.” The lyrics are fittingly morose. As Lauren Mayberry said, “These lyrics are about a time when I just wanted to disappear, and the only time I ever thought about quitting the band. I felt like I was in over my head at the deep end and not sure how to get back.” This infectious, haunting slice of goth perfection is proof that Mayberry, indeed, did get back.
– Austin Woods
22. Olivia Rodrigo – “good 4 u”
Everyone can relate to the angst of their teenage years, and never has it been projected so raw in the mainstream than from newly found pop superstar Oliva Rodrigo. With its straightforward and catchy lines and emotionally charged lyrics, this powerful track took the world by storm and propelled the young artist into the well-deserved spotlight.
– Dana Alward
21. Tyler, The Creator – “Lemonhead”
A gritty drumline and a deep tuba set the tone for this triumphant production. The quick pace and prominent synth note, feels reminiscent of Tyler’s previous works. His flows and rhymes match that too with quick, witty and harsh wordplay. 42 Dugg’s feature, despite the two being different, meshes effortlessly on the track.
20. Courtney Barnett – “Before You Gotta Go”
A highlight for this year has been the work of Courtney Barnett. With a vintage rock aesthetic, twanging guitar, and an undeniable charm, there is a certain warmth that radiates in the track. This song, with its timeless mantras, acts as a sanctuary from distress.
19. Fucked Up – “Track II”
This year, punk band Fucked Up released The Year of the Horse, the ninth installment in their series based on the Chinese zodiac. The album had four extensive parts, each coming together to tell the story of “the naive Blanche (voiced by indie artist Julien Baker) and her beloved horse Perceval.” The drama of the story, though, truly peaks in Track II, throughout which the passionate vocals highlight the tranquil instrumentation that creates this medieval atmosphere. This song is not only crafty in its musicality but in its storytelling abilities — the band is able to utilize shifts in genre to portray shifts between characters and their moods. Check out a video for Year of the Horse here.
– Skyler Graham
18. Lil Nas X – “Industry Baby”
Lil Nas X undoubtedly deserves a high ranking on our list for his track “Industry Baby.” With a feature from Jack Harlow and production by Kanye West, this star-studded song is deserving of being put on repeat. The single opens with trumpets before uniquely blending with a trap beat and vocals courtesy of Lil Nas X himself. The lyrics are notably boisterous, highlighting the rapper’s numerous successes while taking shots at haters: “And this one is for the champions / I ain’t lost since I began, yeah / Funny how you said it was the end, yeah / Then I went did it again, yeah.” All of the boasting is definitely warranted as Lil Nas X only just released his debut studio album Montero this year and has already become a household name.
– Skyy Rinco
17. The Armed – “An Iteration”
The Armed blend hardcore, power-pop and experimental music on the artfully-crafted Ultrapop and no song encapsulated that energy better than “An Iteration.” Opening with a metal-influenced blast beat and bending guitar leads, the true star of the song is drummer Urian Hackney’s simultaneously face-melting and bopping drumming. The song eventually subsides from its frenetic opening, with a bass-driven verse and esoteric lyrics. The vocal delivery oscillates between sung-spoken passages, gently crooned hooks and a passionately screamed chorus. Pair it with a Metal Gear Solid referencing video and you’ve got one of the hardcore highlights of 2021.
16. Gary Numan – “Saints and Liars”
Numan brings an atmospheric bent to this hard rock track that makes it positively addicting. His sparse voice layers over the industrial production that prevents either from becoming rote. By the time you reach the hook you’re pulled so deep in that it seems the surface of whatever body of water you’ve been dragged under will never be found. But everytime the hook cuts in, with Numan howling “And this is who you are” you’re pulled back above the waves, only to be submerged again and again in an effort to find solid ground. Luckily, the waters in which you’ll drown are perfect, so dive in.
15. Japanese Breakfast – “Be Sweet”
Japanese Breakfast’s hit song, “Be Sweet,”, is an exciting and lively song that will make you want to dance around your room while singing along. It is such a fun song and shows her talent as a singer and creative. The beat is energetic but the lyrics are extremely deep and actually a little sad. You can’t tell by just listening to it without reading into the lyrics. She created this song in such a remarkable way that you are unable to feel the contraindication between the lyrics and melody. It is an iconic move by her, and one that sets this song apart from most.
14. Wolf Alice – “Smile”
By no easy means, Wolf Alice has dominated this year in terms of their mature, cinematic album Blue W eekend. The track “Smile” acts as a biting criticism to sexist remarks. In the always-experimental band, this song takes a much more heavier sound that much of the other works on the work. The vocals in their gravely power reassert power in a way that creates one of the most assertive songs of the year. This year was dominated by Wolf Alice’s work, but “Smile” truly showcases the instrumentals, vocal performance, and lyricism that put the band on the map.
13. Full of Hell – “Reeking Tunnels”
“Reeking Tunnels” is a track from Full of Hell’s latest studio album called Garden of Burning Apparitions. Presenting with stick-worked drums and pulsing bass forward, the track comes at listeners right away with intense vocals and enough energy for two songs. The track contains some throwback distortion effects on the rhythm guitar as the lead picks out some looping prose arpeggios over the chorus. The lyrics present a vision of Hell deeply rooted in traditional doom metal imagery, with lines like “There is no haven to speak of / Gorging on what remains / Mostly skin and hair / Only to again retreat.”
12. Turnstile – “Holiday”
Who would have thought that in 2021 hardcore could still be refreshing? Even more surprising, that it could feel so novel and new without taking a radically new approach to the genre? Turnstile did just that this year with their album Glow On and “Holiday,” one of the earliest songs from that record is among the best. The song begins with a subtle, almost silent electronic beat before it rages into its trad-hardcore opening riff before becoming something so much more melodious without abandoning its mosh-worthy roots.
– Matt Matasci
11. Me and That Man – “Angel of Light”
Even on an album full of star-studded collaborations, it makes sense the best from New Man, New Songs, Same Shit Vol. 2 emerges from two black metal stars synergizing wonderfully. The stacked vocals in the chorus convey so much menace and divine power against resonant yet rustic guitarwork. Myrkur and Nergal glide from gently haunting to jagged and hellish and back again without ever feeling awkward. What might be a silly worship song about the main downstairs is brought to life by pitch-perfect command of atmosphere that pushes the boundaries of what Americana can be.
– Blake Michelle
10. Little Simz – “Point & Kill”
Incorporating influences from their origin of Nigeria, Little Simz recruits Obongjayar on the 15th track on her album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. The funky bassline and percussive melody really drive the instrumentation. At the same time, Obongjayar uses his vocals as an instrument as well. The many layers he produces, between his main vocal and harmonies, fill up the track in such a choral way. Simz uses her turn at the chorus to match the energy of her feature. However, she hops on soon with a flow so smooth against the beat. It’s a fun and even motivational way to let us know that they are unstoppable. Whatever they want, is already within their reach and nobody is stopping them anytime soon.
– Jahniya Morris
9. Ghost – “Hunter’s Moon”
Ghost brings a solid performance of instrumentation that brings the feeling of hate while Tobias Forge uses his vocals to passionately sing about vengeance toward those who have done wrong to him and people can sing along to this piece while the music blares from their headphones and speakers.
– Caitlin Stoddard
8. Lil Nas X – “Montero”
“Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” by Lil Nas X is the queer party anthem that the world needed. The song starts off slow with a little acoustic guitar, but then quickly picks up into something that can only be described as dance worthy. The mixture of the acoustic guitar and electronic sound, complement each other rather nicely, adding a uniqueness to the track. Lyrically, the song, much like the music is fun and sexy. Lil Nas X covers everything from wanting to “feel on your as in Hawaii” to wanting to “f**k the ones” he envies. The song has this glamorous, bad bitch feel, “cocaine and drinking with your friends.” It’s truly addictive. The song’s reference to the film Call Me By Your Name, a queer love story, is much appreciated as well. All in all this song is beautifully different and bold, mixing different mediums and creating a spectacular concoction
7. Sleigh bells – “Locust Laced”
Sleigh Bells returned this year with their album Texis. The duo of Derek Miller (guitars) and Alexis Krauss brought forth “Locust Laced” as their first single from the new outing. Not surprisingly given the band’s reputation, the song succeeds massively in a similar formula as previous outings from the band. A playful synth melody appears to herald a simple and soothing song. Krauss sings a joyful melody in a ‘60s pop approach along with a chorus of backing singers. Meanwhile Miller comes in with industrial strength distorted guitar in counterpoint to the remainder of the music. From there, the band expertly jumps in between the different feelings, artfully mutating from sinister chaos into melancholy awe back into whimsical partying back to soothing. All things being equal, it’s exactly what has made Sleigh Bells such a wonderful band. Their juxtaposition of elements came about in a time of rampant, plaintive indie rock success, where their edgy modern industrial vibes were always out of step with their safer contemporaries. That’s exactly why their music always feels special. Just going where others are too afraid to is thrilling enough.
6. Failure – “Submarines”
Failure’s latest record, Wild Type Droid, brings plenty of thrilling guitar explorations and atmospheric vocal performances, but no song brings the heat as hard as “Submarines.” Whatever guitar tone you like, you can rest assured that Failure brings an even better one to “Submarines.” It clatters and twangs, as if a country acoustic were run through whatever filters that Chevelle uses on their records. Over the top of this rapturous tone you’ve got a classic post grunge style of vocals that keeps the rest of the track aloft rather than down in the mud where the guitar tone would imply it to be living. At the same time, there are clear nods to groups like TOOL, Nirvana and Bush throughout the composition of the track, but these nods only enhance the track, never overplaying their hand or overstaying their welcome, just adding a hint of a spice that we know and love.
– Drew Pitt
5. Tomahawk – “Predators and Scavengers”
Tomahawk returned in 2021 with another unheralded gem of an album in Tonic Immobility. In particular from this album, the cut “Predators and Scavengers” really shined. Starting with the tremulous tremolo picking from band leader/guitarist Duane Denison and a steady rhythm from drummer John Stanier, the song patiently grows from noisy scronk to having ghostly vocals by singer Mike Patton glide over. After a few bars, frantic scales accompanied by howls from Patton change up the pace only to shift right back to the tremolo picking again and again. This tension builds until all participants let loose in the rocking chorus as Patton roars, “Predators and scavengers, all I ever see / Have we had enough, will we call their bluff? / Predators and scavengers, jackals, savages / Sketchy kings and queens, cross your countries (sweet!)” It’s a not too subtle look at the fractious and incompetent state of American politics. After the breakdown of the first chorus, the tension slowly builds again until the instrumentation crescendos once more and Patton screams, “I saw it from those hungry eyes / Scavengers are all fucked tonight.” Not a second is wasted in this song and it demands your attention instantly, before blowing itself out like a gasoline explosion that’s run of fuel for the flame.
4. Caroline Polachek – “Bunny is a Rider”
Maybe it’s the chill vibes, the periodic whistling or just Polacheck’s unique vocal style, but there is something magical about “Bunny Is A Rider.” The production of the song shows some true craftsmanship and the lyrics that combine human emotions with the fascination of Alice In Wonderland are both hypnotic and catchy. Polacheck is known to not shy away from more experimental production and combining it with pop sounds that could be found in the best clubs around the world, so it really isn’t too surprising that “Bunny Is A Rider” is one of the top songs of the year. The fresh beats and cool vocals just create one of a kind song that can only be written and performed by Polacheck herself. We wouldn’t be surprised if you would like to keep singing the chorus or try to whistle for the rest of the day after listening to the track. Because of the elaborate production of the song, it’s almost like you can find something new and exciting every time you listen to the track, just like looking at your favorite painting and discovering a new detail.
3. Converge – “Blood Moon”
“Blood Moon,” the opening track off of Converge’s Bloodmoon: I, does what an opening song should do for an album: get people sucked in and eager for what’s to come. This song not only showcases the talent of the band and the interesting, fresh direction they’ve taken but also what Chelsea Wolfe brings to this collaboration. On this almost eight-minute epic, Converge and Wolfe create a doomy/dark track that’s heavy and haunting. The dynamic between Wolfe’s and Jacob Bannon’s vocals is downright chilling, with Wolfe being a great balance to Bannon’s screaming. Both the band and Wolfe push themselves in new ways that are goosebump-inducing for any metal fans. Not only are the vocals great, but the laying for the instrumentation is also something worthy to note that builds as the song goes on. Sometimes, collaborations can end with disappointing results, but “Blood Moon” serves to prove to listeners that this album collaboration is a spectacle that needs to be heard by all. This song is a prime example of how these metalcore pioneers and a gothic/doom/folk singer/songwriter are a solid match to make something truly epic.
– Erin Winans
2. Emma Ruth Rundle – “Blooms of Oblivion”
Emma Ruth Rundle’s “Bloom of Oblivion” echoes with a peaceful calm, yet rings with the type of emotional turmoil to cry along through long, lonely nights by the fireplace. The production is serenely immersive. Dense, reverberating piano keys are layered over echoing, empty guitar strums, with the drifting inwards and outwards of tranquil, melancholy violin strings. The strings seem to weave their way through the track, stringing together Rundle’s vocals before the track crescendos and cascades upon itself, creating a mesmerizing, bittersweet tune of heartbreak and loss.
–Bryan Wei Tran
1. Halsey – “I Am Not a Woman, I’m a God”
When it was announced that Halsey’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power would be produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails, the pop and alternative music worlds took notice. Would the alt-pop superstar truly be able to incorporate the sensibilities of the industrial icons in a way that makes sense? The resulting album proved to be a huge success, the subversive-yet-accessible stylings of NIN proving to be a suitable pairing for Halsey’s adventurous approach to pop music. Never before has Halsey sounded so confident in her delivery, and while her style has always been unique among alternative pop artists, “I am not a woman, I’m a god” takes this bravado to all time high levels. Fitting in well with the powerful statement of the album title, Halsey weaves sinister vocal hooks over a classic, pulsating Nine Inch Nails electronic-rock arrangement. For those that worried the marriage of styles wouldn’t be a good fit, the good news is that Reznor and Ross never overpower the young singer. Instead the pair provide her with the best template over which to deliver the latest in her ever-maturing songwriting style. The two members of Nine Inch Nails have shown a fearlessness in taking on nearly any project that comes their way (the Soul soundtrack a perfect recent example) and producing a pop album with all of the pop album expectations is just the latest. That says nothing for Halsey, who shows even more fearlessness in enlisting one of the greatest alt-rock minds of all time to produce her latest record. While “I am not a woman, I’m a god” may not end up being the radio mainstay that Halsey’s earliest singles have become, it’s certainly a clear indication of an artist that will continue to grow and challenge us throughout her career, and that makes it the year’s most exciting song.