Top 21 of 2021
Jessie Ware - “Please”
Jessie Ware came in hot and heavy this year, adding disco inspired hits to the Platinum Pleasure edition of last year’s album What’s Your Pleasure? This particular funky disco-inspired track dominated my 2021 playlist. Dripping with sexy possibility, she describes meeting someone with potential, someone who can fulfill her desire of mutual pleasure, someone who can get in her life. She promises to be the girl of their dreams as long as they reciprocate sweetness and know how to please her. It’s playful, flirty, dancy, and fades out to her crooning that she is a little superstitious … just the perfect blend of premonition and excitement.
Inaya Day - “Feelin’ Feelin’”
I first heard this track a few weeks before going to NYC in August and could. not. stop. playing. it. Her voice beckons you to join her (“feelin feelin, something bout the way I’m feelin”) and you have no choice. When Danny Krivit surprised everyone and spun it twice in a row at 718 sessions in Queens, I almost lost my goddamn mind. Sweating and spinning around the dancefloor with my beloveds, I was in a blissful place of total joy. And just when we thought it was ending, it started again. Inaya describes the song as "an invitation to love and giving it permission to reign," which it absolutely does. Sting International (also from Brooklyn) helped craft this soon-to-be-legendary house anthem. They expertly wove the 4x4 beat around Inaya’s irresistible invitation (“Trust me love / I'm right here love / Come close to love”).
Jake Shears, Boys Noize - “All I Want” (Purple Disco Machine Remix)
From Jake Shears’ seductive opening “give it to me / all I want is you,” we are hooked. The PDM remix gives us that funky disco edge to twirl around the dancefloor / living room into the arms of your lover. The synth and the vocals and the drop blend perfectly, including the buildup and the drop at the end. No edits needed. Just a pure sweaty sexy disco house delight.
SG Lewis - “Time”
This collaboration between SG Lewis and the singer from Rhye, Mike Milosh, was another sweet sultry electro track. Opening with a soundbite about harmony: the sun’s coming up and he wants to play with his lover, imploring them not to waste this moment. The anticipation is making him fucking crazy and it is just delicious.
Christine and the Queens - “Freedom”
Chris absolutely nailed the remake of George Michael’s 90’s classic. Chris adds a new more melancholic twist accompanied by a piano, a drum machine, and a few backup singers. When I was a kid I didn’t realize this song was about a closeted George Michael wanting freedom and independence (“I think there’s something you should know / I think it’s time I told you so / there’s something deep inside of me / there’s someone else I have got to be”). I’ve learned to love the song more and differently over the years - especially in its ode to living life with integrity (“all we have to do now is take these lies and make them true / all we have to see is that I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me”). Part of Chris’ magic is shape-shifting and avoiding gender norms, smashing through rigid gender constructs the same way she smashes through this rendition of “Freedom.” Another part of the excitement is how Chris applies this anthem to the next generation of trans masculine and genderqueer folks, and how these lyrics have a different power coming from Chris (“I just hope you understand, sometimes the clothes do not make the man”).
Anoraak, LUXXURY, Lauren Turk - “Fire Inside”
This song opens with a glittery electro piano moment (“Feels like everything has a heartbeat / all I wanna do is give my love to you”). She’s giving you breathy passionate vocals and the promise of a commitment. She knows where she has been and where she’s going. She slyly recognizes that what’s coming her way will keep her fire burning and was what she wanted all along (“I’ve been alone for so long / I needed to write my own song / Fire inside was so strong / been waiting for you all along”). Despite this song coming out in August 2020, I discovered it in 2021, and it was on heavy rotation this year thanks to its irresistible and funky charm.
Agnes - “Love and Appreciation”
Agnes is running and leaping across the stage to this sweeping ode to loving your fellow human. The driving piano, soaring vocals, and gospel back-up singers make this an undeniably catchy feel-good dance bop. (“We all need love and appreciation, sweet love and a little recognition / We all need love and appreciation, sweet love and good vibrations / If you’re living not speaking your truth, ain’t nobody getting closer to you”). Agnes speaks a universal truth and reminds us of the urgency and simplicity of this message of universal love.
Jessie Ware - “Hot n Heavy”
She did it again. It’s impossible not to dance to this song. She first demands to that stranger on the dance floor: “Where did you come from? How do you move like that? I’ve never seen someone so free. Tell me your name.” The song progresses into a breathy disco electro fantasy where she begs to know how to lay her hands on the perfect design of the object of her affection. Like Jessie, we are willing and ready to set our hearts on fire.
UNKLE - “Find an Outsider (Ronin Reconstruction)”
The opening breakbeat hooked me, transporting me back to driving around in high school aimless and restless with my best girlfriend Liz B to UNKLE’s freshman album Psyence Fiction. They returned two decades later as ahead of their time as ever, giving you a promise (and a beautiful vocal) skipping across space and time: “All I can do is tell you that I’m yours / and keep you from falling.”
Gus Gus - “Our World”
This album (Mobile Home) was playing non-stop on my trip to Reykjavik for the summer solstice in June. This Icelandic electro group brought us into their world with a fiery dark synth tour that felt like a mescaline trip through a rave in an underground lava tunnel. “Our World” welcomed us into their lunar soundscape espousing lyrics that bordered on the religious.
Shire T, Maribou State - “Blue Kiss”
This hard fast drum and bass track blew. my. fucking. mind. when I first heard it. The beats race out of the gate, heavy bass not far behind. Then that voice (“time after time / when I’m alone / I keep thinkin’ of you babe / and the way you make me feel”). It took me a minute, but I recognized the vocals from an old gayyyyyyy house remix (Veronica’s “Someone to Hold”) that I used to love to dance to back in the day at Roxy or Tunnel. Maribou State flattened out the exceedingly high drama of the late 90s house version, and sped it up, but kept the longing of the RnB original. I find myself playing this full blast shouting along “Wooooo!” whether I'm alone or in groups, I can’t help it. This is sonic wizardry.
Billie Eilish - “Oxytocin”
Bass. Bass. Bass. Bass. Bass. Bass. The first time I heard this in a basement kiki I asked Tom immediately who the artist was … and was stunned. Its deep dark gnarly sexy vibes evoke a mistress / slave dungeon energy. The soft smoothness of her voice contrasts the rich booming bass but it comes together brilliantly. She’s so seductive she knows even god herself will want to watch (“if you only pray on Sunday, can you come my way on Monday? / cause I like to do things god doesn’t approve of / if she saw us she’d have to look away, she’d wanna get involved ”).
Biig Piig - “Feels Right”
This track came out in November 2020, but still featured prominently on my 2021 playlist. On this song, this Irish/Spanish songstress has a premonition about being on the precipice of something grand, beginning something fresh with someone new. The guitar starts off the song slowly, softly, but when the 4 x 4 beats start, they are an unlikely (but great) backdrop. She uses both bass and drums to lure you in - withholding them so you focus on her soft voice and lyrics, but then letting the beat drop when she tells you it feels right, and has you rolling along with her into this promising new future (“do you promise me that you’ll honour me / don’t give up / cause it feels right / and if I follow you, I know that I should hesitate / but it feels right / and just the thought of you gives me the taste I know I’ll crave”). It’s so good she already knows that this will be something she will crave!!!
Kylie Minogue and Jessie Ware - “Kiss of Life”
Disco has made a comeback for a while now and I am still so fucking psyched. The result is sugary sweet disco hits like this dream collaboration between Jessie Ware and Kylie Minogue. While the video left more to be desired, the audio fucking hit each of my chakras one by one unleashing the kiss of life inside my very being. They traded verses in a masterful harmony that was sweet and sexy, paying homage and paying it forward: “Kiss of life / all night dancing / free your mind / pay attention / keep your eyes on my lips / sweet sugar high / give me the kiss of life.”
&on&on - “Don’t Say a Word”
While this track was the highlight of Disclosure’s DJ-Kicks for me, this whole album was one the best DJ mixes I heard this year. Disclosure mixes each track so seamlessly you don’t even realise they are mixing different genres. From the slow fade morning opening to this soulful house gem, to the drum and bass track later in the set, it will have you skipping down the street, giving deep focus at work, or shimmying around a midnight basement kiki. The lyrics convey exhaustion, despite being delivered in a calm, cool, and collected refrain (“just shut up / don’t say a word / I’ve had enough of you to last me a lifetime / I’m about to walk out that door”). They embody an over-it-ness that we’ve all had at one point or another this second year of covid. Blending this track into “love is the key / the key to existence” is a genius choice in substance and form: messaging that no matter how fed up you are, there is one universal truth.
Dames Brown - “What Would You Do?” (feat. Andrès and Amp Fiddler)
Who can resist another soulful house classic from Dames Brown? These ladies from Detroit sing a refrain that will have you strutting across the dance floor (“You can’t make me change my mind / I’m gonna love you for a lifetime”). As a follow up to their classic “Calling Out Your Name,” they radiate joyful devotion but are clear that their lover needs to stop playing games otherwise they’ll be saying “shoulda, woulda, coulda.”
London Grammar - “How Does it Feel?”
Her voice soars from its deep contralto opening to a higher pitch asking (an ex? an estranged family member?) how it feels when she’s gone. There’s no mistaking the finality of her decision. She is over it, gone, done. (“Pure emotion / let it burn, like fire / do you yearn for a change? / and I hope that you’ve learned to never make the same mistake”). Few can give the vocal range she gives, and this song is such a great showcase of it.
Crystal Waters - “House of Light (Move)”
This soulful house gem brings Crystal Waters back to the main stage. Having come a long way since the 90s smash hit “Gypsy Woman” she still embraces love and empathy as the core message (“Welcome to the House of Light / Welcome to the House of Love”). She asks her global audience a question she knows the answer to: “M-O-V-E do you wanna move with me?”
Christine and the Queens, Charli XCX, Caroline Polachek - “New Shapes”
Giving you 80’s synths, this threesome gives you three different views on a relationship. Maybe they are in a throuple, maybe it’s just different experiences with requited love… whatever it is, it works. Charlie starts off with her tendency to run away from her lover (she needs freedom). Chris continues with more optimism, offering different paths for her lover they can follow together (but it’s not clear how). Caroline follows up in her verse with more devastation - her heart having been twisted into a new shape trying to get closer to her lover (she needs more). Somehow they made a sad quirky queer song into a catchy dance floor bop. Despite the fact that they don’t have what their lover needs (“what you want / I ain’t got it”) they definitely have what we want.
Roisin Murphy - “Assimilation”
Remixing last year’s epic album Machine into Crooked Machine with the help of Crooked Man (aka DJ Parrot), Roisin revisits the epic dancefloor banger “Simulation” in this tune which invites her back to the realm of her wildest dreams. Parts ethereal and parts electro her heavy breathing punctuates her description of her heartfelt fantasy (not so far) beyond her wildest dreams. She expertly assimilates the simulation, synthesizing the dream into reality.