It’s safe to say 2021 has been a tough one… but if there’s one positive to take away from this year, it’s the immense amount of incredible new music that’s been released! We wanted to shed some light on some of the tunes that got us through the hard times, accompanied the good times, and generally saw us through 2021.
To start our annual round-ups, we’re sharing our ‘Tracks Of 2021’ ahead of features on our favourite albums and ‘highlights’ next week. There’s been a HUGE amount of music released throughout the year, so we haven’t held back with this list! Read about our whopping 43 favourite songs of the year and hit play on our mammoth, super eclectic playlist at the end of this post…
Little Simz – ‘Speed’
Little Simz has done it again, this year’s album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (in my case it’s always) is a total, immense masterpiece. ‘Speed’ is my favourite track on the album, in the same vein as previous faves ‘Boss’ and ‘Offence’, it’s propelled by a gritty, driving energy and Simz’s spot on lyricism, with a touch of orchestral grandeur. The perfect motivational anthem I’ve needed to get me through 2021.
(Mari Lane – Co-Founder)
Planningtorock – ‘Gay Dreams Do Come True’
I was lucky enough to see Planningtorock this year at Scala. It really was so powerful to watch an artist, and a human, express themselves through music, and even more powerful when they opened up about their historic struggles – you can hear their joy and freedom in the music they make today. This track encompasses just that.
(Natasha Walker – Co-Founder)
Halsey – ‘i am not a woman, i’m a god’ (Gazelle Twin Remix)
One of my favourite artists, Gazelle Twin, remixed one of my favourite tracks of the year from Halsey – and I’ve had it on a loop since it was released. Gazelle Twin brings her trademark shadowy energy to this powerful remix and I can’t get enough of it.
(Kate Crudgington – Co-Founder)
Denise Chaila – ‘061’
Another infectious offering from Irish artist Denise Chaila, ‘061’ is propelled by a swirling, gritty drive, showcasing her immense, immersive rap, combining a tongue-in-cheek wit with poignant cultural references. I just love Chaila’s empowering energy and the unashamed confidence of the lyrics: “History made, your children’s children’s children will learn about me…. I’m here to stay, if you hate it you should write to your local MP.”
Maria Uzor – ‘Innocence‘
There is no denying how much we love Maria Uzor on Get In Her Ears – first meeting Maria as part of post-punk dance duo Sink Ya Teeth. I was lucky enough to catch Maria at a last minute gig at The Windmill supporting Black Midi and OH WHAT A NIGHT! The energy that Maria brings to the stage is enough to get anyone’s feet moving and shoulders shifting – this is one of my fave songs from her debut EP Innocence and Worldliness. So excited to see what 2022 has in store for Maria!
Sans Soucis – ‘I’m On‘
An uplifting blend of lush vocals, warm synth textures and smooth beats, songwriter & producer Sans Soucis’ single ‘I’m On’ is a genre-bending reflection on her own experiences of recovering from an extended period of depression, and the joy she experienced when she was able to reconnect with herself again.
Self Esteem – ‘I Do This All The Time’
It took me ages to realise that I loved this song. But that’s hardly surprising, is it? ‘I Do This All The Time’ has pretty much reinvented pop. Rebecca Lucy Taylor, also known as Self Esteem, broke every rule to create the most uplifting, empowering song of the year, maybe even the decade. Like a dance-floor pep talk from someone you really care about, the powerful lyrics explore self-love, self-loathing, and that tricky space in-between. I love how Taylor’s rich northern vocals speak so directly to the listener, and the way the verses unexpectedly build to a big, punchy pop chorus, like magic. ‘I Do This All The Time’ is an important song that shows the limitless possibilities of an artist at the height of their creative powers.
(Vic Conway – Contributor)
CIRCE – ‘Mess With Your Head‘
A glistening dark-pop tune that ruminates on the rush of emotions that come when you surrender yourself to love, I adore this track by London-based artist Circe. Co-produced by Emre Turkmen (formerly Years & Years), ‘Mess With Your Head’ is a dazzling blend of sultry vocals, Kate Bush inspired beats and jagged electronics, flowing in the same cinematic vein as Circe’s previous creations. I love everything she creates and I can’t wait to hear more from her in 2022.
HAVVK – ‘Halfway Out’
Taken from Irish band HAVVK’s epic latest album Levelling, stirring single ‘Halfway Out’ oozes an ethereal splendour as the haunting, celestial power of Julie’s vocals immerses the listener instantly. The whole album intertwines this captivating, twinkling majesty with a grunge-tinged grit throughout, and I’ve been listening to it on repeat this year. I had the pleasure of chatting to front person Julie about the album back in October – have a read of the interview here.
Pixie Cut Rhythm Orchestra – ‘Empty Envelope’
Recommended to me by Fears, Dublin trio Pixie Cut Rhythm Orchestra stole my heart this year. This track ‘Empty Envelope’ is a disarming, brooding lament to the cyclical nature of bad decisions. Vocalist Sarah Deegan delivers cutting lines with a raw and rare type of grace, her lyric “I’m not that sweet” swirls around my skull all the time.
Meggie Brown – ‘Dusty Smells’
Taken from their recent EP HOME, ‘Dusty Smells’ was my introduction to London based artist Meggie Brown, and I became a fan instantly. A nostalgia-inducing anthem for anyone struggling with their identity, I love the deadpan-yet-poetic reflections of this track and its scuzzy, lilting musicality. Of ‘Dusty Smells, Meggie Brown – who has recently come out as transgender – explains: “Coming to terms with one’s gender identity has been both beautiful and challenging during this lockdown. When I wrote and recorded ‘Dusty Smells’ I wanted it to match through sound how non-binary those emotions and realisations were.”
Trouble Wanted – ‘Lonely Cowgirl’
‘Lonely Cowgirl’ comes from a band I had the total pleasure of seeing live at my first gig of 2021. I rocked up to The Shacklewell Arms and was delivered with this sexy, queer, western delight by Trouble Wanted, who are just brilliant live. The video directed by Lydia Garnett (who is also in the band) is such a delight. To set the scene for you all now, “IN A FANTASY ROADSIDE BAR A LONELY COWGIRL AND A DYKE TRUCKER SHARE MORE THAN JUST LUSTY LOOKS.” What a night.
VERO – ‘Beg!’
A seething guitar anthem fuelled by the anger that’s left behind by a flawed relationship, ‘Beg!’ is the debut single from Stockholm-based trio VERO. Released via PNKSLM and one half of an upcoming 7″ single that’s set for release on 14th January, the track is saturated with brooding bass lines, swirling riffs and stinging vocals. I LOVE it and can’t wait to hear more from the trio next year.
Bad Waitress – ‘Strawberry Milkshake’
Taken from the Toronto based band’s debut album No Taste, ‘Strawberry Milkshake’ blasts into the ears with pulsating hooks and thrashing beats, as Kali-Ann Butala’s seething vocals soar with a riotous power. I have been obsessed with the album over the last few months, and I cannot wait to hear more from this exciting new band.
M(h)aol – ‘Asking For It’
A vital, lurching anthem that provided a moment for rage and reflection during an overwhelming International Women’s Month back in March, M(h)aol’s ‘Asking For It’ is a damning aural statement that makes listeners think twice before pointing the finger at victims of gender-based violence, instead of directly at their perpetrators.
Grandmas House – ‘Always Happy’
A thumping post-punk anthem, ‘Always Happy’ by Bristol trio Grandmas House was a solid GIHE favourite this year. Released via Brace Yourself Records, the track is a raucous juxtaposition of the confident image we project externally to others, when internally we often feel the complete opposite.
LibraLibra – ‘Candy Mountain’
This year’s single from total heroes LibraLibra, ‘Candy Mountain’ showcases their knack for creating immense, swirling soundscapes, propelled by the magnificent, angst-driven power and gritty splendour of front woman Beth Cannon’s impassioned vocals. Another wonderfully genre-defying cacophony from the band. Kate and I were lucky enough to catch LibraLibra live at their single launch in November – they really are one of the most exciting bands to see; fizzing with a captivating charisma and riotous energy.
Wet Leg – ‘Chaise Longue’
Like everyone else with ears, I am OBSESSED with Isle of Wight duo Wet Leg. We caught them at their debut London show at Omeara earlier this year, and it was a joy to listen to their infectious indie anthems. They also walked on stage to ‘Concerning Hobbits’ from The Lord Of The Rings soundtrack, which is an iconic move in itself.
ARXX – ‘Deep’
Brighton duo Hanni and Clara – aka ARXX – have been long-term faves of us at GIHE, ever since first blowing us away with their debut EP Daughters Of Daughters back in 2018, and have put on epic live shows for us on numerous occasions. This March, they blasted back into our ears with ‘Deep’ and it still packs a punch on each listen. An empowering ode to leaving behind all your anxieties and getting what you want, it instantly hits you with its raw, anthemic rush and gritty, sensual prowess. Consistently honing their sound with each offering, impossible to pigeonhole into one genre, ARXX continue to impress us with everything they do and remain one of the most exciting bands I’ve ever come across.
Fräulein – ‘Belly’
London-based duo Joni Samuels and Karsten van der Tol – aka Fräulein – are fast becoming the band I’m most excited about. Building with a visceral power to a brooding, immersive cacophony, ‘Belly’ will take you on a fierce sonic journey; an evocative soundscape showcasing this innovative duo’s consistent ability to develop their exquisite musical prowess with each new release. And we’re crossing all our fingers and toes that we’re able to kick off 2022 with Fräulein playing for us on 21st January at The Victoria, along with Breakup Haircut and Naz & Ella – tickets on DICE now!
BISHI, Darren Chetty – ‘Good Immigrant’
Multi-instrumentalist and GIHE fave BISHI released her third album Let My Country Awake earlier this year, which this track is taken from. The record explores dual identities and urges listeners to lean into compassion and empathy in a chaotic and disconnected world. BISHI is so supportive of the underground music scene and women in the arts and it was a joy to have her as a guest on our Soho Radio show earlier this year.
Wendy Rae Fowler – ‘This Is Not A Love Song’
Taken from her Wendy Rae Fowler’s recently re-released and re-mastered album Warped: Resurrection, ‘This Is Not A Love Song’ offers a truly bewitching soundscape. Oozing a dark, psychedelic allure, it’s propelled by a gritty energy as Wendy’s soaring, bewitching vocals flow against whirring psychedelic hooks and tribal beats, creating a captivating escape from reality.
Brimheim – ‘poison fizzing on a tongue’
Mari played this track from Danish artist Brimheim on one of our Soho Radio shows earlier this year and I have been OBSESSED with her music ever since. I cannot wait to hear her new album, the magnificently titled Can’t Hate Myself Into a Different Shape, when it’s released in January next year.
Momma – ‘Medicine’
A melodic reflection on the intoxicating power of new romance, this single from New York City four-piece Momma is so, so, SO good! Released via Polyvinyl Record Co. & Lucky Number, the track is an aural headrush centred around the passionate emotions that come with an all-consuming crush, full of hazy vocals and infectious guitar riffs.
Bleach Lab – ‘Real Thing’
This Bleach Lab track melts me every time I listen to it. I had a lovely chat with Jenna & Frank about this and their EP, A Calm Sense Of Surrounding, which also makes me a big ball of feelings too. Read here.
Beckie Margaret – ‘FF’
Beckie Margaret’s ‘FF’ was Inspired by the Bob Marley quote “I don’t have that type of richness. My richness is life, forever.” Released via Cool Thing Records, her voice dissolves me every time I hear it, and this lush, atmospheric offering is no exception.
Okay Kaya – ‘If I can Help Somebody’
Okay Kaya was the last person I saw before lockdown 2020 at SET in Dalston, so I was over the moon when I saw she had released some new music. ‘If I can Help Somebody’ is the lead single from her mixtape The Incompatible Okay Kaya (out now on Jagjaguwar). This cover strips back the song we normally hear performed with a gospel choir, and if you listen really closely, you can almost hear the emotion about to break in her voice. What a voice; what gentleness.
Elodie Gervaise – ‘Free Babe‘
Here is one of my fave discoveries of 2021: mixed beats, intricate synths and electronics… I think when I first played this song I described it as some kind of audible light show. From French-Australian artist, Elodie Gervaise, whose new EP, Syzygy (undoubtedly my word sound of the year), is great – so go listen if you haven’t heard it yet!
KIN – ‘The Runaways’
Consisting of Grace, Adam and Ritu, GIHE faves KIN have previously played live for us and continue to charm our ears with their glistening alt-pop. Reflecting on the mixed feelings of leaving a settled life and starting afresh somewhere new, ‘The Runaways’ showcases the distinctive celestial allure of Grace’s vocals alongside chiming hooks and a shimmering energy. ‘The Runaways’ is accompanied by a really beautiful self-directed video which you can watch here.
Duval Timothy ft. Lil Silva & Melanie Faye – ‘Fall Again‘
I am totally obsessed and in love with this song. Rhythmic piano to start, before it slowly layers and builds, with hazy gentle vocals sweeping over the top such a dreamy sonic soundscape that feels so good in my ears.
Mai – ‘Control’
An evocative electronic gem that urges listeners to surrender to the inevitability of change, I love Essex-based musician & vocalist Mai’s debut single ‘Control’. Released via Cool Thing Records, the track is a collaboration between Mai aka Rosie Gulliver of Petty Phase, and songwriter and producer Liam Watkins from A Cause In Distress.
O Hell – ‘Down’
After years spent touring and recording music in alternative bands around the UK, Lucy Sheehan ventured into fresh sonic territory under new moniker O Hell earlier this year. Influenced by a love of eclectic, brooding soundscapes and aspirations for pure self-autonomy, their debut single ‘Down’ is an “exercise in refusing compromise” brimming with Sheehan’s distinctive vocals and jagged electronics.
Tirzah – Tectonic
No surprises that Tirzah made it onto my 2021 list. Anyone who has asked what I’ve been listening to over the last couple of years, will have consistently had one answer – TIRZAH. Her album Colourgrade came out this autumn and I got to see her not once by twice – totally mesmerising. This song ‘Tectonic’ is one of my faves; totally hypnotic, discordant drones, rough vocals and mixed together with that intensity we all know and love from Tirzah. And don’t even get me started on the lyrics.
Alex Loveless – ‘Phone Keys Wallet’
I had this lo-fi, sultry single on repeat when Hackney-based musician Alex Loveless shared it earlier this year. Recorded, mixed and produced entirely by Loveless, the track is lifted from their debut EP of the same name.
F.R.U.I.T.Y – ‘U.P.S’
Taken from their eponymous debut EP which was released in August this year, ‘U.P.S. from Belfast-based queer artist Dan O’Rawe – aka F.R.U.I.T.Y – is propelled by off-kilter glitchy beats and offers a wonderfully quirky, futuristic soundscape whilst reflecting on themes of identity in O’Rawe’s trademark deadpan Northern Irish drawl. A perfect soundtrack to woozy summer evenings, which I’m missing a lot right now…
FLOSSING – ‘SWITCH’
FLOSSING is the new project from Heather Elle, formerly of Bodega and The Wants. I love her candid, moody sound on ‘SWITCH’, which explores her own sexuality and “the deviant nature of men.” If you like what you hear, you should check out her EP, Queen Of The Mall, too.
Evil House Party – ‘Head Held High’
I love this captivating synth-pop tune from Copenhagen-based duo Evil House Party. Taken from their debut EP Grand Theft Audio, the track is a heady reflection on personal uncertainty, lamenting the struggle of trying to survive in the real world whilst also trying to fulfil your dreams.
DROWND – ‘Sinner’ (KANGA Remix)
I’m a big fan of KANGA’s industrial, pop-tinged sounds and I am obsessed with her remix of DROWND’s track ‘Sinner’. Full disclosure – DROWND is the new project of my older brother Joe – and I am thrilled that KANGA has remixed this track for him, as he is also a big fan of her work. You can check out the slick visuals for the original DROWND track here.
SPIDER – ‘Water Sign’
A slow-burning, dark-pop tune that ripples with sultry power, I’m a big fan of this single from Irish-born, London-based musician and producer SPIDER. Filled with atmospheric synth textures and heady beats, ‘Water Sign’ is inspired by the Goddess Olokun of the Nigerian bini tribe, who presides over the darkest depths of the ocean.
John Glacier – ‘Icing’
This song comes in at just under two minutes and leaves me gaggin, gasping for more… It is by elusive East London vocalist John Glacier, taken from her 12-track project SHILOH: Lost For Words, released earlier this year. Be sure to pay attention because this track is over almost as soon as it starts.
Flowerkid – ‘I Met The Devil At 4 Years Old‘
This song comes from Sydney-based Flowerkid, and is taken from his much-anticipated debut EP, Everyone Has A Breaking Point. The EP covers many personal issues and topics, from gender dysphoria, to mental health a misogyny – seeking true self-expression beyond ever-restricting heteronormative constraints. Cannot argue with that. It’s also a tune.
Fears – ‘fabric’
Irish musician Fears was fearless in her musical efforts this year, releasing her debut album Oiche via her own label TULLE Collective, drumming & touring with M(h)aol and still finding time to chat to us on our radio show. I love the cyclical, buoyant synth loops on this track ‘Fabric’, which mirror intrusive or recurring thought patterns, whilst her lyrics capture the mental push-and-pull of processing, accepting and learning to let things go.
Shamir – ‘Cisgender’
I’ve been a fan of Shamir for years and really admire how they’re constantly developing their sound and not shying away from being their true self. And this year’s ‘Cisgender’ is a beautiful and moving reflection on their non binary identity. I don’t think anything I say about this track will do Shamir justice, so I’ll leave you with the lyrics: “I’m not cisgender / I’m not binary trans / I don’t wanna be a girl / I don’t wanna be a man / I’m just existing on this god forsaken land.” Solidarity and love to you Shamir, always.
Massive thanks to all the artists and bands creating wonderful tunes this year! Keep an eye out for our Albums Of The Year, 2021 Highlights and Ones To Watch for next year, and listen to our Tracks Of 2021 playlist now: