(1) Illuminati Hotties - "Threatening Each Other Re: Capitalism"
Let Me Do One More is a strong Album Of The Year candidate, and amidst the noise it's really the ballads that stand out. To me, this is exactly how artists should be interacting with political themes: not with bumper sticker slogans but in telling personal stories that illustrate larger structural concerns.
(2) Brandi Carlile - "You And Me On The Rock" (feat. Lucius)
In These Silent Days is a fantastic album from start to finish, but it took me quite a while to get through it because this is the second song on the record and I kept listening to it on repeat.
(3) The War On Drugs - "I Don't Live Here Anymore" (feat. Lucius)
Not sure when Lucius became this year's must-have collaborator, but it's certainly working.
(4) Ada Lee - "Damn"
Now that Big Thief is kind of professionally weird, there's an opening for someone to make the kind of songs they used to make, and here's Ada Lee.
(5) Snail Mail - "Valentine"
Lindsey Jordan is back with a great new single and a video that basically everyone has described as some level of "upsetting."
(6) Bartees Strange - "Weights"
His Amsterdam show was just postponed again, but think about how much fun it would be to hear songs like this live and just incredibly loud.
(7) Church Girls - "Basement"
Oxford-based record label Big Scary Monsters seems to be adding more American bands (both Church Girls and Weakened Friends, who we will get to), and for me there is really no more trustworthy mark of quality than seeing a band sign to BSM.
(8) Ducks Ltd. - "Under The Rolling Moon"
Jangly Canadians with members of The Beths on backing vocals, what's not to love?
(9) Weakened Friends - "Quitter"
Is this already the best band ever to come out of Maine? A few lazy google searches suggest: maybe.
(10) Let's Eat Grandma - "Hall Of Mirrors"
Back with their first new music in three years, still finding a way to stay unique in a very crowded synthpop space.
(11) Hatchie - "This Enchanted"
Harriet Pilbeam will keep making this exact song over and over again, and honestly why shouldn't she?
(12) MUNA - "Silk Chiffon" (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)
Keeping the summer vibes alive for just a little bit longer.
(13) Little Simz - "Introvert"
If you're interested in UK hip hop that could be described as "majestic" or "orchestral," then boy do I have an album for you.
(14) Lunar Vacation - "Gears"
Kind of transitioning into the "fall music" section of the playlist now.
(15) Strand Of Oaks - "Somewhere In Chicago"
Written as a tribute to John Prine, I think he would approve.
(16) Lydia Loveless - "Let's Make Out"
Part of her live shows for years, finally getting a studio release. It does seem like you can feel some of that live energy.
(17) Hovvdy - "True Love"
If Alvvays is on permanent hiatus, I guess we do need someone to step into that "vv standing in for w" awkward band name space.
(18) John Mellencamp - "Wasted Days" (feat. Bruce Springsteen)
Feels different than his collaborations with Bleachers or The Killers but I guess the principle is the same: If you worship The Boss with a strong enough devotion, eventually he will show up on one of your songs. Just give it time.
(19) Sun-El Musician - "Higher" (feat. Simmy)
I'm sure there are exceptions, but it feels like every time an artist switches from their native language to English, their music gets just a tiny bit more formulaic.
(20) Radiohead - "If You Say The Word"
An outtake from the Kid A/Amnesiac sessions that basically didn't make the cut for those two albums because it wasn't weird enough. If you wish Radiohead kept making albums like OK Computer, you'll like this.
(21) Aeon Station - "Queens"
There are a handful of albums throughout music history that have been delayed so long that they became punchlines (Guns N Roses' Chinese Democracy, Dr. Dre's Detox, etc.). The indie rock version of that is the long-awaited follow-up to The Wrens' 2003 album The Meadowlands (periodic reminder that "She Sends Kisses" is a perfect song). It's been rumored to be "nearly done" for more than a decade, and a few news stories earlier this year made it sound like 2021 might actually be the year. However, like Lucy pulling away the football yet again, it was not to be. Aeon Station is the new project from Kevin Whelan, one-half of Wrens, and it pretty conclusively demonstrates that he has given up on a new Wrens album ever becoming a reality. So, in a nutshell, this is a pretty good song, and everyone is sad that it exists.
(22) Generationals - "Mercy"
Generationals have been around for more than a decade now, making great songs that almost no one cares about. So ... here's another one of those.
(23) Ezra Furman - "Going To Brighton"
I haven't seen season three of Sex Education yet, but I have listened to Furman's EP of music from the show, so my expectations are high. If you were looking for an indie update on "You Shook Me All Night Long," well, that's weird, but here you go.
(24) The Regrettes - "Monday"
Punk-adjacent band with an Olivia Rodrigo cameo in the video, this is very on brand for 2021.
(25) Brightside - "This Time"
This one, on the other hand, is very on brand for roughly 2012, which is why it's convenient that their album is called ... 2012.