We are more than halfway through 2021 and its been a great year for new music. Today, I’ll highlight a few of the best tracks of 2021.
Some are by artists who I’m very familiar with, while others are recordings that I enjoy with little context or knowledge. Sort of the way we often listen to music these days. All can be found on this Be Here Now playlist, which includes songs from all the artists mentioned in this column and many more. Here is a link:
Tempesst, “High On My Own” – A paean to the joys of exploration, enhanced by an exhilarating, half-time chorus that opens up like a time lapse video of a flower blooming.
The War On Drugs, “Pain (live)” – We’ve been waiting four years for a new album from The War on Drugs, one of the truly compelling bands of the 21st century. The good news is that new music is on the way this fall. In the meantime, enjoy this track from their excellent live set released earlier this year.
Lord Huron, “Mine Forever” – The indie-folk staple’s new album Long Lost is one of the best of the year. This mysterious, spaghetti-western-laced track would have fit perfectly in the movie Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.
Celeste, “Stop This Flame” – She’s a new Brit star who makes soulful, sometimes diva-style dance music with hints of Amy Winehouse.
St. Vincent, “Down and Out Downtown” – St. Vincent is the contemporary David Byrne (unless David Byrne is still the contemporary David Byrne). Her 2017 album Masseduction was one of the best of the decade. Her new album, Daddy’s Home, is a gauzy trip influenced by 1970s soul and funk and this bleary morning-after track is a highlight.
Aaron Frazier, “Bad News” – This is fresh retro soul, with plenty of all-falsetto ear candy.
Iceage, “Shelter Song” – This Danish rock band plays every song like it will be their last. They have a powerful new album out, Seek Shelter, and this lead track adds a spiritual, gospel sheen to their punk ethos.
Japanese Breakfast, “Paprika” – Michelle Zauner, who leads Japanese Breakfast, is one of the most intriguing musicians to break through in recent years. She recently authored a memoir that made The New York Times’ nonfiction bestseller list, and she bridges the gap between indie rock and pop music as well as anyone. This infectious track from her new record, Jubilee, is pure pop pleasure layered with horns and synths.
Curtis Harding, “Hopeful”– it’s a timely, optimistic protest anthem with horns, strings, huge background church vocals and Isley Brothers-style guitar from this underrated contemporary soul singer.
Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days” -- While much of commercial country radio can feel saccharine and sound like it was manufactured on an assembly line, there remains a vibrant alt-country world led by the likes of Jason Isbell and others. Morgan Wade’s new song has the authentic, honest vibe that fits with the best of the genre.
Follow Cliff on social media:
Header image: Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast. Courtesy of Wikipedia/David Lee.