Jark's 2021 in Music (1 Viewer)

Jark

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BEGINNING VERY SOON

 
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let's go! got three weeks to start and finish this so wish me an ounce of luck!

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90-86

90. Mabel - Let Them Know
89. Dimension - Sensory Division
88. Rita Ora & Imanbek - Bang Bang
87. Foxes - Sister Ray
86. Drama - Dark Rain

Mabel's big comeback single was clearly aiming for Future Nostalgia-esque domination, even snatching man of the moment SG Lewis (Hallucinate) for production duties, but dear old Mabes' entire career these days feels painfully focus-grouped, so of course this explosion of gay, complete with iconically shit lyrics (blonde hair, yeah I bleached it may be my life mantra, but as a pop lyric? girl...) flopped painfully—until a performance on Love Island (in this economy!) propelled it into the top 20. is Mabel on life support now? I can't tell, the charts are so confusing these days.



Sensory Division is a dark, sparse nu-rave banger that scales epic heights and plays on loop in the grimy warehouse club of my post-pandemic fantasies. occasional popstar, Covid bad girl and full-time Taika Waititi shagger Rita Ora teamed with Imanbek for the 3/4 brilliant Bang EP, whose title track sampled Axel F to shockingly good effect. this one had strong "fun for the locals" flavour and in an alternate universe was a major UK smash. Foxes made a quick comeback with Sister Ray, her most straightforwardly dance-pop single to date, and nobody really paid any attention, but I'm sure this top 87 finish will warm her heart this Christmas.

finally, @funky the snowman faves DRAMA dropped Dark Rain a couple of months back, a beautifully jazzy number that gracefully throws back to the mid-90s while keeping Via Rose's trademark sultry vocals front and centre. it's low-key but glides on an effortless groove, and feels like a warm hug in these winter months.

 
:disco: to Let Them Know, Sister Rey, and Dark Rain
 
85-81

85. Doja Cat - Woman
84. Kacey Musgraves - Easier Said
83. MØ - Live to Survive
82. Ichon - La Vie
81. Adele - Oh My God

next up, it's Ms. @The Pipogues' favourite Doja Cat single. Woman is kind of a weird song to open an album with—it's so laid back and feels like a typical track four. for a little while I was like: what is this? it's infectious, but as the album opener? really? but this song is designed to worm its way under the skin, and when it does it's relentless. the build of energy over the rap verse, the highly silly lyricism (I could smile and jiggle it 'til his pockets empty, I could be the CEO, just look at Robyn Fenty!)—it all comes together beautifully. as with the maroity of Doja Cat's music, Woman rides on pure charisma. most of your faves could never.



a few tracks from Kacey Musgraves' excellent star-crossed album appear on this list—Easier Said, from the album's strongest section in the second half, touches elegantly on Golden Hour's success (I built a rocket ship and I went to space, even way up there I kept my head on straight), and the strain that put on her marriage (girl—marrying a man called Rust was your first mistake). this is a lovely, relaxed vibe, and the gentle introspection is tastefully done.

MØ came back with a massive disco banger that in many ways felt very un-MØ. Live to Survive is balls to the wall, with bells and whistles courtesy of SG Lewis, but sadly didn't make much of an impact. perhaps her moment in mainstream pop has passed—a shame on this (extremely gay-interest) evidence. and Ichon (nope, not sure either) came through with one of my early faves of '21. La Vie is built around a dark and addictive synth-funk groove and one chorus that comes around 4 or 5 times, lulling you into a kind of hypnosis. it's delicious. give it a listen if you don't already stan!



Adele finds way more space to experiment on 30 than previous records, and Oh My God is kind of a weird song. Greg Kurstin's spliced and pitched vocal samples echo through the stop-start verses before the chorus finds a smoother rhythm. she may not score another huge hit from this album, but Oh My God is exactly what she needs right now: an anthemic, left-field stomp that proves her riskiest and most interesting single choice in forever. shades of Rolling in the Deep linger, and the interplay between her belting vocal on the middle 8 and the backing vocals that swirl around it is heaven.
 
85-81

85. Doja Cat - Woman
84. Kacey Musgraves - Easier Said
83. MØ - Live to Survive
82. Ichon - La Vie
81. Adele - Oh My God

next up, it's Ms. @The Pipogues' favourite Doja Cat single. Woman is kind of a weird song to open an album with—it's so laid back and feels like a typical track four. for a little while I was like: what is this? it's infectious, but as the album opener? really? but this song is designed to worm its way under the skin, and when it does it's relentless. the build of energy over the rap verse, the highly silly lyricism (I could smile and jiggle it 'til his pockets empty, I could be the CEO, just look at Robyn Fenty!)—it all comes together beautifully. as with the maroity of Doja Cat's music, Woman rides on pure charisma. most of your faves could never.



a few tracks from Kacey Musgraves' excellent star-crossed album appear on this list—Easier Said, from the album's strongest section in the second half, touches elegantly on Golden Hour's success (I built a rocket ship and I went to space, even way up there I kept my head on straight), and the strain that put on her marriage (girl—marrying a man called Rust was your first mistake). this is a lovely, relaxed vibe, and the gentle introspection is tastefully done.

MØ came back with a massive disco banger that in many ways felt very un-MØ. Live to Survive is balls to the wall, with bells and whistles courtesy of SG Lewis, but sadly didn't make much of an impact. perhaps her moment in mainstream pop has passed—a shame on this (extremely gay-interest) evidence. and Ichon (nope, not sure either) came through with one of my early faves of '21. La Vie is built around a dark and addictive synth-funk groove and one chorus that comes around 4 or 5 times, lulling you into a kind of hypnosis. it's delicious. give it a listen if you don't already stan!



Adele finds way more space to experiment on 30 than previous records, and Oh My God is kind of a weird song. Greg Kurstin's spliced and pitched vocal samples echo through the stop-start verses before the chorus finds a smoother rhythm. she may not score another huge hit from this album, but Oh My God is exactly what she needs right now: an anthemic, left-field stomp that proves her riskiest and most interesting single choice in forever. shades of Rolling in the Deep linger, and the interplay between her belting vocal on the middle 8 and the backing vocals that swirl around it is heaven.

La Vie is indeed wonderful !
 
80-76

80. Elaine Mai - No Forever
79. SZA - Good Days
78. London Grammar - I Need the Night
77. Little Simz - Woman
76. Lana Del Rey - Violets for Roses

right, now we're getting to it. let's keep going. it's a bit shocking to me to put together a list like this and have to place so many great songs outside of the top 50 even. it really does show what a marvellous year it's been for music. at #80, Elaine Mai with No Forever—a dreamy house banger that got plenty of love from me this spring and summer. I truly don't know a thing about Elaine Mai, except that she's Irish and looks it, but this song drifts by like a lazy cloud surveying its kingdom. it's serving a bit of longing, a bit of melancholy but also a touch of detachment. the dance music gheys among you should give it a shot.



occasional releaser of song SZA came back right at the beginning of the year with Good Days, which immediately blew up—so of course she then retreated back to trolling her fans about not releasing any more music for the remainder of the year. which is weird and annoying, because she's clearly operating at a high level artistically right now. Good Days is all kinds of dreamy, and dips into ethereal spaces not too often explored in R&B. the instrumental final minute or so almost feels like a throwback to that late '90s William Orbit sound. it feels timeless, and her vocal is as nimble and evocative as ever. more of this please, SZA, and less twitter troll fuckery.

London Grammar came back with their best album to date (more on that shortly); the gorgeous penultimate track I Need the Night is a banger in as much as any LG track can be, which is to say the tempo is still leisurely, but Hannah imbues the vocal with a little urgency for a change. it's really testament to her supreme qualities as a vocalist that she can purr a nonsense lyric like "she's got a brand new favourite, tell all the shrinks and haters" (what is this song about?) and somehow pull it off. this track could easily have been a single, but as it is remains a lovely hidden gem.

I may have to write a minor essay about Woman by Little Simz. I actually knew nothing of her before her 4th album, Sometimes I Might be Introvert, was suddenly everywhere. and what a place to dive in. Woman is typical of the album—Simbi riding a laid-back, soulful beat with infectious confidence. the lyrics of the verses celebrate women all over the world from cultures not often highlighted in pop, a breezy tour through Tanzania, Barbados, Sierra Leone and more... it only takes her one or two rhyming couplets to paint vivid images of these unsung heroines. my personal favourite: Miss Ethiopa can play so jazzy, then sit you down and school you on Selassie. *chef's kiss*. Woman radiates joyful cool and feels like the strongest argument yet for Little Simz being the most exciting rap artiste the UK has to offer.



it won't be a SHOCK to learn that this list is full of standout tracks from Lana's two albums of '21, and first up at #76 it's Violets for Roses. what to say about a song this achingly pretty? my words can't do her poetry justice. written presumably this year (the girls are running round in summer dresses, with their masks off, and it makes me so happy), the central metaphor serves as a warning to a man: don't make a woman change who she is for you. which, in very Lana fashion, could also double as a kiss-off to her critics. it's amazing how her lyricism puts these thingns so much more eloquently than her insta captions...
 
75-71

75. Billie Eilish - OverHeated
74. Charli XCX - Good Ones
73. ANZ - You Could Be
72. Satin Jackets - Secret Lover
71. Elton John & Dua Lipa - Cold Heart (PNAU remix)

Billie is another whose religion I converted to in '21. watch out for her album in contention for my #1 of the year. this mid-album banger goes hard on the whisper vox, a neat trick that forces you to really listen carefully as Ms. Eyelash throws copious amounts of shade at society for expecting her to be a skinny bitch and policing her physique. she also takes aim at "these inanimate bitches... posin' for pictures with their plastic bodies", and if that's not one of the most delicious throwdowns of the year I don't know what is.

a year after her distinctly DIY lockdown album (and weakest effort to date) how I'm feeling now, Charli performs a u-turn on Good Ones, a super-polished and sleek 80s electropop homage that feels designed for TikTok. fortunately she makes every second count, and Good Ones packs a ton of hooks into its 2:17 runtime as Charli swoops between her pure, rarely heard upper register and the lower growl of the lamentable hook: I want the bad ones 'cos they're all I know—I always let the good ones go. this feels like Charles operating somewhere close to her peak, and teasing/threatening us with a sharp return to her form on her upcoming record (already certified aluminium foil!). special mention to the video. that demented funeral-crashing choreography is to die for, hunty.



I discovered ANZ via a Pitchfork review of her most recent EP, of which You Could Be is the easy standout. while most of her music is instrumental or dubby house, You Could Be features a deliriously fizzy bubblegum vocal from George Riley; its charms are simply not possible to resist. I know I'm unhinged, a little crazy; we just met, but I'm feelin' you baby, goes the chorus hook. You Could Be exists at the most accessible intersection of dance and pop, and feels like the kind of song that should be soundtracking every gay pre-drinks from Leeds to LA. huns, I'm manifesting, but you'll need to do your part.

Satin Jackets' recent streak of singles has leaned hard into warm disco with sparkly synth textures, and Secret Lover feels a lot like a Roosevelt track, with a bit more tempo. Jon Paul's scratchy vocal makes a nice contrast to the smooth groove he's riding, and the song flashes by in such a breeze of late-summer sunset vibes that the only reasonable option is to play it twice.



now, if you'd predicted which chart-defunct legend of pop would somehow score a UK #1 single in 2021, I doubt Elton John would've been the name on anybody's lips. still, his renaissance moment in pop culture has been a slow-burn thing for a while now (see that regrettable Rina collab for further evidence), and sometimes all it takes is the right song at the right time. as remixed by Aussie trio and renowned Elton stans PNAU, Cold Heart places vintage Elton vox over a feather-light disco glide, but it's reigning Queen of Pop™ miss Dua of Lipa who really brings the track to life. rarely has Greater Albania's finest sounded more relaxed or more in-command; each time her chorus comes around, one has very little chance but to freshly laminate one's stan card. oh no-no, oh no!

 
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70-66

70. Chris Malinchak - Cellophane
69. KUU - Dancing In the Dark
68. Kacy Hill - Seasons Bloom
67. Miami Horror - Emagination
66. Annie - April

Chris Malinchak fell off my radar completely after So Good to Me, but his album from this year is full of dreamy, atmospheric house tunes, and Cellophane glides beautifully. built around lovely riff, with a silky vocal that glides above a few jazzy inflections, it feels like the kind of song you could shimmy to in the club and lose yourself completely.

KUU (the side project of Alex Metric, Riton and vocalist/Jessie Ware's songwriter-in-chief Shungudzo) put out several great singles across the last year or so. Dancing in the Dark is my personal pick. is it basic? perhaps. am i basic? undeniably. but this summer, when life was happening again and the city air was fresh with possibility, the combination of that crunchy, hard-hitting bass and several irresistible vocal hooks (oomy-oomy-oomy-oomy-aaayyyy!) proved just what the doctor ordered. a top-tier bleep-bloop bop.



Kacy Hill was a new discovery for me in '21. her paperweight vocals carry a really lovely degree of emotion, her brand of organic pop falling somewhere between Carly Rae and various Spotify girls like Anna of the North. Seasons Bloom is just a gorgeous breeze of a song. personal highlight? the collapse of the second verse into a soft cloud of vocoder, after which the chorus comes around and brings the whole affair to a lovely climax. now I'm seeing your face in the moonlight, oh and you're making me cry...

Aussie funk babes Miami Horror casually tossed out a bonus/unreleased track from a decade-old album this year, and somehow Emagination sounds like the perfect culmination of everything going on in nu-disco at the turn of this decade. how'd they do that? Emagination is an absolute delight of rich, sparkly production and ethereal vocals gliding on top of that crescendo of synthetic sound like silk. it's blissful noise.



2021 was a quieter year for Annie after last year's comeback record, but she did bless us with an EP of new tracks to extend the Neon Lights era, and the undisputed highlight of the new stuff (and of the whole album, arguably) is this sensational Richard X collab which had been sat for years gathering dust in the archives. Annie occupies entirely her own space in pop, her trademark whisper vox a gravitational force with unexplained power, and Richard X's stunningly textured production gives them the perfect platform. Innocence lost like rain, but I'll spend my life waiting for April again. 💕 what a song. I know @FetchFugly is with me on this one, but give it a go if you didn't already indulge.
 
65-61

65. Olivia Rodrigo - drivers license
64. Disciples - Solid Gold
63. CHVRCHES - Lullabies
62. Purple Disco Machine - Dopamine
61. Lana Del Rey - Dance Till We Die

it's almost impossible to think that this time last year, none of us knew Olivia Rodrigo's name. the first megasmash of the year, drivers license (not one for the grammar nazia) has arguably been eclipsed by other tracks that followed from her debut, but still remains a towering example of great, rousing songwriting. what begins as a relatively bare bones piano ballad builds and builds, eventually reaching crescendo in a middle 8 that sounds almost freakishly like vintage Lorde. but that's not a criticism; Olivia is clearly a major vocal talent in her own right. it's funny to think drivers license had the girls (and by the girls I mean the gays) shook and accusing her label of payola when it exploded overnight—in retrospect, this track is equal parts classic debut single and tantalising tease of even greater things to come.



house kings Disciples released their coolest, most effortless track since the great Only the Gods / Better On My Own with Solid Gold, a funky and downright slinky club slapper that shifts between smooth verses and a chorus that stinks of sweaty Soho basement club at 4am. and yes, that's a high compliment. a distorted breakdown ushers in echoes of Daft Punk before the chorus drops back for one last dance. like the best parties, this one is all over just a little too soon.

I thought I'd outgrown CHVRCHES after that near-disaster of a third album. I should've known better than to write them off though—Lauren and the boys are simply too talented. as an album Screen Violence goes hard on the big, epic synth-led bangers, but it's the record's softest moment that really hooked me. Lullabies is achingly pretty with one of the loveliest choruses of their career. while the music pulls you into its warm embrace, the lyrics tell another story: paralysed and spinning backwards, lullabies don't comfort me... sad resignation never sounded more beautiful.

after a stellar 2020, Purple Disco Machine kept the party going with a pair of dazzling singles in '21. my favourite is Dopamine, a good-times smash that propels itself forward on a dirty, driving bassline and sultry club vibes. it feels somehow like both a throwback to the gleaming disco of the '70s and the dance-pop of the early 00s, with Eyelar's vocal and some very homosexual BVs relishing an under-the-skin response to sexual attraction. this is becoming another slow-burn hit for one of the most reliably brilliant names in dance music; we love to see it!



I'm sure I've said much about Dance Till We Die in the legendary Chemtrails thread already. the penultimate track from Lana's sixth album luxuriates in subtle jazz influences that render it a rich highlight on that album, and the 2nd verse is one of my favourite Lana moments ever. Clementine's not just a fruit... it's my daughter's chosen name. why does that sound so heartbreaking? the song then erupts into a different beast when the middle 8 hits, a sudden adrenaline hit. Lana's vocals have rarely sounded more tender or fuller with love than on this highly underrated gem of a song. @Jingle POP!, do you stan yet?
 
can we expect more Purple Disco Machine and by more I mean the tracks that are actually GOOD? Exotica, Hypnotised and Fireworks fuming!
 
can we expect more Purple Disco Machine and by more I mean the tracks that are actually GOOD? Exotica, Hypnotised and Fireworks fuming!
Hypnotised was last year beb! there is, however, at least one more to come...
 
some HOT STATS for the HOT STATS FREAKS among us...

the top 60 features:
-43 artistes
-just 10 of whom are male
-zero UK or US #1 singles
-one UK + US top 10 single
-60 songs that should've been top 10 singles
-the most represented act has 4 songs remaining
 
I'm sure I've said much about Dance Till We Die in the legendary Chemtrails thread already. the penultimate track from Lana's sixth album luxuriates in subtle jazz influences that render it a rich highlight on that album, and the 2nd verse is one of my favourite Lana moments ever. Clementine's not just a fruit... it's my daughter's chosen name. why does that sound so heartbreaking? the song then erupts into a different beast when the middle 8 hits, a sudden adrenaline hit. Lana's vocals have rarely sounded more tender or fuller with love than on this highly underrated gem of a song. @Jingle POP!, do you stan yet?
Of course I do :disco:

I prefer "White Dress" (:eyes: ) and "Yosemite" to it but they're all among her best.

I must admit "Violets for Roses" is slowly making its way to 10/10 territory for me. The way her voice purrs "Ever since I fell out of love with you..." makes me weak.
 
i just realised what that olivia rodrigo songs reminds me of! it's the birdy track that was a hit a few years ago, isn't it? wings or something?
 
60-56

60. Agnes - Here Comes the Night
59. Halsey - Honey
58. HARLOE ft. Mick Jenkins - PWR RNGR
57. Jungle ft. Bas - Romeo
56. Utada Hikaru - One Last Kiss

after almost a decade, albumphobic Swedish chanteuse Agnes finally dropped her follow-up to Veritas... at 7 full-length songs you might call that a stingy wait:reward ratio, but when the music is this fabulous, who's really counting? Here Comes the Night packs a little late-ABBA disco spirit into a bulletproof chorus and a chugging midtempo beat that goes whole hog with church bells and disco strings. if you're nothin' but a dreamer with a fearless heart, if you wanna get lost together in the afterdark... on her one-woman mission to make spiritual disco a thang, Agnes makes every invitation irresistible.



If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power (much more on this album later) goes to some dark places, but Honey is perhaps its most straightforwardly feel-good highlight, a pop-rock smash that perfects what Olivia Rodrigo, Machine Gun Kelly, Miley and so many others have been doing lately with their mid-00s homaging throwbacks. Halsey reminisces about a lover who was "sweet like honey," whose drip still lingers in the back of her throat, and Honey goes down deliciously smoothly—an instant classic and obvious radio smash that sadly seems destined to be slept on.



HARLOE releasing a string of 2021's most exciting pop singles and being such a flop with it is the kind of pop injustice/disconnect I simply cannot deal with. if you don't know PWR RNGR already, please check it out immediately—a sexy, bombastic funk-pop capital-B bop awaits. many a time I've completely lost it at the part after the 2nd "chorus" (everything here is chorus) where she enters falsetto and suddenly starts singing in what might as well be a different language. also: I LIKE YA, LIKE YA. WANT TO TOUCH YA. WANT TO FUCK YA. WANT TO LUV YA, YEAH. :disco:put some respect on it!

sticking with feel-good boppery, Jungle delivered a couple of killer singles from their album this year, and despite being an obvious summer smash Romeo has endured well beyond. there's something to be said for a song that could happily soundtrack both a majority-str**ght barbecue and a gay funk/disco/70s throwback party on a yacht. come for the horns and claps, strip for an after-dinner dip.



Utada pairing up with AG Cook for the latest Evangelion theme song is not something that anybody might've seen coming; even less unlikely, the gorgeous creative union that resulted in one of 2021's sweetest, sparkliest midtempo anthems-turned-club bangers. One Last Kiss starts soft and builds beautifully, Hikki's crystalline vocal cruising above swirling synths and crunchy bass to move things to the fringes of the dancefloor. the song feels both like an evolution of the highlights of Heart Station and fresh new territory—a casual reminder that Hikki is the most accomplished J-pop star ever to play the game. :disco:
 
55-51

55. Marina - Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land
54. Aly & AJ - Lucky to Get Him
53. Nick Jonas - This is Heaven
52. Majid Jordan - Forget About the Party
51. Adele - Love is a Game

Marina's fifth album kicks off with its title track, and within ten seconds it's clear this is an artist on a mission. Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land is a total stomper of an opener, built around an addictive riff that never releases its grip. the self-help lyrics are of course a load of old shit, albeit enjoyably hokey (I am here to take a look inside myself, recognise that I could be the eye of the storm—well, good for you sis!), but this one is all about the statement it makes. welcome back, miss Diamandis.



this dreamy midtempo from the midsection of Aly & AJ's long-awaited first proper "album" since returning floats in its own leisurely bubble for a couple of minutes, before upping the ante with an aggressive production switch-up that gives it the sudden feel of a Charli XCX banger. lyrically, the song occupies unusual territory, mostly serving as a warning to an unknown woman not to take her man for granted. who is this person, and what's the connection? by the time the final line rolls around, delivered with a casual matter-of-factness by Aly, everything becomes clear: next thing you know, he's all mine... so don't fuck it up.

nobody was really here for Nick Jonas this time around, which is a shame as This is Heaven is clearly his best work since Jealous. with a little help from a choir, the pocket-sized daddy of my most Christian fantasies takes us to church with a deliriously romantic ode to luxuriating in love. by the time a falsetto adlib breaks into a euphoric sax solo for the middle 8, we're all kneeling at Nick's altar to offer devotion (if you know what I mean). check out the SNL perf (great suit, beautiful suit) to see him serving.



it's alright, you make 4am feel like it's midnight, goes one of the year's most romantic rhyming couplets. steered by Majid's trademark silky-soft vocal, and dripping easy sex appeal, Forget About the Party makes a pretty convincing case for snubbing your friends' board games evening and partying under the sheets until morning comes. the fact that it does so over an acoustic guitar, arguably the least sexy musical instrument on the planet, with nothing but a few harmonies and adlibs for persuasion? that's talent.

on the cinematic, six-minute closer of 30, Adele goes full throwback soul, her weary lower register rising above a symphony of strings to offer killer introspective zingers that re-examine her relationship with the L-word. love is a game for fools to play; what a cruel thing, to self-inflict that pain. 30 has several songs that run to this length, but Love is a Game is the only one really earns all six minutes; by the time the big vocal climax comes around, along with a priceless confession (I'm a fool for it! you know I'm gonna do it all again...), you get the feeling Adele is finally ready to see the light at the end of the tunnel. her vocal has never sounded creamier or richer than here, and musical therapy has rarely been so triumphant.
 
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So many songs that @Fairytale of New Jark posted about, I liked, and then immediately forgot about again! I'll need to catch up/remind myself of them
 
Love "Love is a Game" and "This is Heaven". As it goes, I'm also a fan of "2Drunk" and "Spaceman" :disco:
 
2Drunk is def a big ol' BAWP. it's funny how he's poison as a solo artist now despite serving the best pop music of his solo career.
 
50-46

50. Lorde - Mood Ring
49. No Rome ft. Charli XCX & The 1975 - Spinning
48. Kacey Musgraves - Justified
47. Majid Jordan - Summer Rain
46. Laura Mvula - Got Me

2021 wasn't exactly a vintage year for Lorde, but maybe things could've been different if Mood Ring had been the proper lead single from Solar Power. this wellness industry satire (more than just a straight-up pisstake, Lorde seems to have plenty of affection for the subject) sung almost entirely in her higher register throws it back to the early 00s with Jack Antonoff's Jewel-esque guitar backing and some ridiculously on-the-nose lyricism (don't you think the early two thousands seem so far away?). but while Mood Ring does feel as superficial as the healing rituals she undertakes in the video, closer inspection reveals some genuine feeling. it's all there in the outro adlibs: Watch the sunset, look back on my life; I just wanna know, will it be alright? even when her focus is narrow or niche, Lorde usually finds a way to mine deeper, more universal emotions.

bonus points for lovely platinum wig.



my love like a city, all night everywhere, goes the bouncy bridge on Spinning, a No Rome collab which feels like it might as well just be a solo Charli XCX single—and it would be one of her best. the energy is fresh with this one, and true to its lyrics it feels like a hyperkinetic trip through a neon city after dark, from bar to club to drunken metro ride home. Charli's vox are pitched and squeezed, beautifully blurring the human/helium divide. great stuff.

it's not hard to see why Justified got the lead single treatment from star-crossed. on an album of songwriting so light a lot of it could float away in a mild breeze, Justified feels rock-solid, an impassioned defence of Kacey's right to cry in the wake of her marriage's break-up—even if she as much to blame as he is. did I change my mind?, she asks, a vocodered adlib chiming in proudly: a million times. if the end of something is messy, Justified knows the only way to survive it is to ride it out. an excellent addition to the discography of one of pop's most interesting voices.

Summer Rain has to be the poppiest Majid Jordan single to date, and while my Canadian kings do sultry, beat-heavy R&B like nobody else, turns out they're an excellent fit for breezy synthpop too. but if the music is boppy, the sexual frustration is real. when Majid's vocal hits falsetto on the chorus with a cry of looook what you do to me!, you feel that tension between restraint and the need for release. the guys have said this song is an about possessing an immature view of romance, conjuring up an ideal of somebody just to get lost in the heatwave and your own desire to love. for 4 blissful minutes, imagination feels as sweet as summer rain.



witness the flip from the dirty, mechanical verses of Got Me to the pulsating, 80s-homaging synthpop explosion of the chorus. this is a song which wants to sweat first and dance later, a breathless ode to lust and sex built on top of the year's slinkiest, most downright fun instrumentals. Laura Mvula's vocal, so often just a bit too much, finds its sweet spot here, evoking pure smut in cruise control and then taking it up a gear or three to bask in the power dynamics of attraction. there's plenty to be said for being a slave to the sound of your command, and on her best song, Laura makes sexual surrender sound like life's most pleasurable sport.
 
45-41

45. Halsey - Lilith
44. Garbage - No Gods No Masters
43. Lana Del Rey - Yosemite
42. Doja Cat - Need to Know
41. Hard Feelings - Holding On Too Long

Lilith
brings a welcome dose of playfulness to Halsey's dark record, chugging along on a sunny, industrial midtempo beat while Halsey's vocals are put through the grinder. when she sings I've been corrupted, her voice is temporarily twisted into something like a malfunctioning machine—it's one of the more fun moments on the record. but because nothing on this album is straightforward, the song can't help distorting itself into something altogether more sinister in its final moments. it almost feels to me like something from Madonna's Re-Invention tour, electronic and weird and disturbed—and happy to fade out into unsettling white noise if it means keeping the listener on their toes...

the title track from their seventh album has to be one of Garbage's most feel-good singles since the early 00s, an absolute stormer of a summer's day uptempo that nonetheless packs a little bite under the surface. save your prayers for yourself, Shirley barks, 'cos they don't work and they don't help! to be honest I'm not totally sure what No Gods No Masters is about, but by the time Shirley winds back the years in her falsetto bridge (all our friends, all our lovers... all our... babies...) I'm very much down for the rave/protest/riot... over and over again.



now for a hard swerve into strummy, downbeat guitar ballad territory. Yosemite was supposedly a Lust For Life era leftover that got revived—and that's our luck, because this is the towering highlight of Chemtrails, a slow meandering trip through some hazy memory and inexplicable feeling. honey, you make me feel I'm invincible, just like I wanted—no more candle in the wind, the poet of our times sings, although whether she's manifesting something that doesn't exist is never quite clear. the middle 8 is my favourite part of all: television static was quite overwhelming feels like such a Honeymoon era callback to me, but this is Terrence Loves You without the extremes in emotion; something more subdued, more accepting of the passage of time. whatever "it" was they did, Lana seems just about ready to move on.

on Need to Know, which is officially a Dr. Luke solo production (even if in a recent interview, Doja claims his credits are vanity credits and casts doubt on his actual contribution), Doja Cat rides a looping synth sample so spacey it feels like a clubnight on Planet Her must be the future's hottest ticket. this song is nothing but a tits-out, balls-deep ode to fucking, but as always Doja veers between sweet and horny as though the two were next-door neighbours. best lyrical moment? we're spoiled for choice, but I'm a big fan of:

sorry if I gave a random erection,
probably thinkin' I'm a telekinetic,
oh wait, you a fan of the magic?
pooof! pussy like an Alakazam!


I mean, please. give it up for the poet laureate of our generation.



Holding On Too Long, from the duo of Hot Chip legend Joe Goddard and Horse Meat Disco vocalist Amy Douglas, feels like the most beautiful culmination of all the things we've (largely) been missing this past 18 months+ in one heavenly house banger: joy, ecstasy, expression, the mystery of what lies around the corner when you step onto a crowded dancefloor... it feels like an entire, blissful night out condensed into three minutes of sparkle and killer bass. or 7 minutes, if you choose the luxury of the full-length edit, which really will take you to all the way to church—a fine substitute for the club in the present moment.
 
we're down to top 40 so let's take a quick pause to get into the...

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16. Lorde - Solar Power

spare a thought for poor Lorde. four years of feverish anticipation from the gays for the follow-up to Melodrama, and the moment it drops they disown her. :D to be fair, it's not like she courted any kind of success with this record. she seems entirely happy to do her own thing, commercial success and even fanbase adoration be damned. and Solar Power is not a bad album—I spent plenty of time with it. it's just one of those albums with three or four highlights, a few more decent tracks, and a little too much filler. it could comfortably have been an EP.

best tracks: The Path, Solar Power, Mood Ring

15. CHVRCHES - Screen Violence

CHVRCHES came back with a very solid record after the bratty misfire of Love is Dead. I haven't spent as much time with Screen Violence as I should, but it's testament to its front-to-back quality that an entirely different set of singles could've been chosen without losing anything. Final Girl in particular was absolutely screaming for a release—don't wanna find your daughter in a body bag is a wonderful lyric that cuts straight to the album's central themes of body horror and the male gaze, while Better If You Don't is a lovely closer that showcases something new for the band sonically.

best tracks: Final Girl, Lullabies, How Not to Drown

14. Doja Cat - Planet Her


like any gay worth his salt I queened out over Say So, but Doja Cat the artiste had never really grabbed me until her second album dropped. Planet Her is a fairly tight collections of tracks that combine eclectic production with consistently strong lyricism and the super versatile vocal/rap delivery skills that separate Doja from the female rap crowd. the first half of the album is particularly strong, with the Janet/Damita Jo-esque Payday and the etheral Love to Dream serving as highlights (plus the killer singles, naturellement).

best tracks: Need to Know, Love to Dream, Payday, Kiss Me More, Woman



13. Little Simz - Sometimes I Might be Introvert

Little Simz won a ton of praise and well deserved hype for her second proper album Sometimes I Might be Introvert (although "Best New Artists" at the BRITS seems like a stretch). the album has a gorgeously smooth and soulful flow, only disturbed by a handful of very bizarre interludes that don't quite land. even when she's rapping about losing contact with family members, Simbi tends to sound relaxed and in control, so it's no surprise that the album breezes by beautifully, and the synthy bounce of Protect My Energy feels like a radio-ready breakout moment.

best tracks: Woman, Protect My Energy, Rollin Stone, Miss Understood

12. Agnes - Magic Still Exists

Agnes should've been higher in this list—it's not like this album, which fires on all cylinders at all times, disappoints on any level. all it would've taken is a couple more full-length bangers. as it is, the over-reliance on interludes and long outros can give Magic Still Exists the feel of an EP. still, we were spoiled for both singles and quality album tracks; 24 Hours remains the dark disco banger from heaven, and both Love and Appreciation and Selfmade go deliriously hard. next time, a few more days in the studio please, queen.

best tracks: 24 Hours, Here Comes the Night, Selfmade, Love and Appreciation



11. Purple Disco Machine - Exotica

file this one under the major surprises of 2021. obviously like any house music queen I've always enjoyed a good Purple Disco Machine remix, but those can be a little samey, and I had no clue they were gearing up to release an album this varied and high-quality. while the pop singles like Hypnotized (which is ageing beautifully—a surefire future classic) are serving a whole coterie of impossibly catchy hooks, there are also Daft Punk-channeling nu-disco floorfillers alongside calmer, more elegant moments that throw it back to earlier periods of dance music history. we stan a vers queen.

best tracks: Can't Get Enough, Dopamine, Hypnotized, I Remember, Fireworks
 

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